The Bishop of Llandaff
, in presenting petitions in favour of Church-rates, begged to repeat what he had stated on a former occasion, namely: that when petitions came before their 676 Lordships for the redress of grievances, the lower those petitioners were in society, the humbler and the more helpless they were, the greater claim had they on their Lordships' attention. The petitions which he had to present were signed exclusively by ratepayers. This he regretted for the reason he had just slated; he wished that the poor inhabitants had been allowed to join with the rate-payers in signing these petitions. There was, however, a great distinction to be drawn between the petitions of rate-payers who prayed for the continuance of Church-rates, and the petitions of persons not rate-payers, who prayed for the abolition of Church-rates. It was a remarkable circumstance, that petitions against the abolition of Church-rates were pouring in daily from the rural parishes. In that district with which he was more intimately connected, he knew one county from every rural parish of which a petition had been sent in favour of the continuance of Church-rates, and in every other county of the same district, the rural parishes, with few exceptions, had drawn up similar petitions. He begged to remark, in answer to some observations that had been made in that House on a former evening, that great weight ought to be attached to these petitions from the rural parishes, not so much from the fact that they contained any great number of signatures, but that the whole number of the rate-payers of the parish had joined in the petition. Where there were only nineteen or twenty rate-payers in a parish, it followed that the proportion of the rate which each individual rate-payer would have to pay, would be much greater than where the rate-payers were much more numerous. The fewer was the number of the ratepayers, the greater was their interest to abolish the rate; so that when all the ratepayers of a parish petitioned the Legislature not to agree to any measure which would relieve them from the payment of the rate, he thought that a much greater degree of weight ought to be attached to the prayer of such petitions. A great deal had been said upon the subject of the presentation of a petition by a noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham), signed by 19,000 of the inhabitants of Birmingham, and praying for the abolition of Church-rates. Now, the more this grievance, as the petitioners called it, was diffused, the less would each individual have to pay, and consequently he was not disposed to attribute great 677 importance to the circumstance of any great number of persons signing such a petition. If, therefore, the petition which had been presented by the noble and learned Lord, had been signed by 90,000 persons instead of 19,000, he should not have been inclined to attach more weight to it, inasmuch as, from the extensive diffusion of the rate, each individual was much less interested in its abolition. He did not consider that the number of signatures added much to the importance of such petitions.
said, that the right rev. Prelate seemed to have entirely mistaken what he stated the other night, in reference to uneducated persons being less fit to give opinions upon abstract questions of state policy than educated persons. He (Lord Brougham) had never said one word on the subject; but in answer to an observation from the right rev. Prelate, that uneducated persons were not the fittest persons to give opinions upon such questions, he had said that the very last petition which he had looked at, presented on the right rev. Prelate's side of the question, did not appear to have been signed by very educated persons, inasmuch as they had not been able to write their own names, but signed their names as marksmen. What the right rev. Prelate contended for, therefore, was, that the signatures of 90,000 persons were less valuable than the signatures of 19,000. If a certain given sum were to be paid, and if it were to be spread over 90,000, of course each individual would feel it less than if it were confined to 19,000; but if the sum to be paid increased in proportion to the numbers by whom it was to be paid, then the amount of rates to be paid by each individual was the same in a large as in a small place.
The Bishop of Llandaff
said, that the Church did not increase in that ratio. The Church did not grow, and he would contend that a distinction should be made between the petitioners on his side and those on the other. The opinions of those who paid rates were more valuable than those of non-payers, but it was only fair to establish the distinction, that the ratepayers who petitioned for the abolition of the rates were biassed by a pecuniary interest, and, therefore, this interest, pro tanto, detracted from the weight of their opinion, whilst the rate-payers who petitioned for the continuance of the rate, 678 gave weight to their opinion by the fact, that, notwithstanding the weight of the burthen, they were willing to bear it.
§ Petitions laid on the Table.