HL Deb 28 July 1840 vol 55 cc1069-73
The Bishop of London

in moving the third reading of this bill, said it might be expedient for him to state the objects of this measure. Their Lordships were perhaps not aware of the real circumstances of the case, and he would therefore inform them, that it arose from the extremely nourishing condition of the river Weaver navigation, in consequence of the faithful discharge of their duty by the trustees of the river. A certain Act of Parliament which had been passed, empowered them to expend such portion of the tolls as they might think fit in maintaining the good order and use of the navigation, and they held it to be roost important for that purpose, that the labourers employed on that river should be honest and trustworthy persons. But it was impossible to expect that, unless they were religious, and there was no possibility of their being so unless they received religious instruction. The trustees had already passed a bye-law preventing the labourers from working on the Sabbath-day, but the consequence of that was, that a numerous body of persons assembled on the banks of the river on Sunday, having little opportunity of attending any place of divine worship, or obtaining religious instruction; for of the churches at the three principal points of the river, two afforded very insufficient accommodation for religious worship, and the third no accommodation at all. The trustees therefore proposed to devote the sum of 6,000l., part of their accumulated funds, to the building of three churches on the banks of the river. He did not hesitate to say, notwithstanding what had been alleged to the contrary, that the middling classes of the county of Chester, to say nothing of the higher classes, whose feeling was evident from the almost unanimous vote of the magistrates at quarter sessions, were decidedly in favour of this bill. He himself considered it a measure that would produce very beneficial results, and he therefore should move, that it be now read a third time.

The Marquess of Westminster

rose for the purpose of moving as an amendment, that the bill be read a third time this day six months. It was a measure that would lead to very important results in regard to the public rates and trusts of the country. He admitted it had a very great advantage in being supported by the right rev. Prelate who had just sat down; but, grieved as he was at that right rev. Prelate being a promoter of it, he had the satisfaction of knowing that another right rev. Prelate, who was to have the patronage created by it, was opposed to the measure. When their Lordships recollected that the right rev. Prelate had not attempted to make a single statement on the subject, he thought they would pause before they gave their sanction to a measure, in itself so objectionable. It was a bill in direct violation of a trust and an act of Parliament; and if it were passed, it would be a dangerous precedent in future for interfering with all trust funds and public rates. It was said, that there was a certain number of workmen on the banks of this river in a state of religious destitution; but that they denied: they said they did not want this offer, they were perfectly satisfied to remain as they were. From the petitions which had been presented, he might say, that the feeling of the county was directly against the bill—most notoriously, decidedly, and strongly against it. And yet the right rev. Prelate seemed to think, because the workmen were satisfied with their present condition, that was the very reason why the bill should be forced upon them. It was true they had been prevented from working on the Sabbath-day, and they were no doubt thankful for it, as they wanted a day of rest; but they wanted nothing more.

Lord Lurgan

said, that he never had had to do with so serious a question as that of the Weaver Churches in any committee on a private bill. He had given it all the attention in his power, and he must say, it did appear to him that a very serious responsibility lay at the door of the trustees of the River Weaver Fund. The population of that district were left destitute of religious instruction and of pastoral aid. He never thought it possible that any part of this country, whatever might be the case with regard to Ireland, could be in a state of such deplorable destitution as the evidence before the committee showed that that district was. In addition to the other facts proved before them, this distinctly appeared, that there was upon the river a floating population of upwards of 1,000 persons, and they were left to idleness and vice throughout the whole of the Sunday. The only question for the House was this—were they entitled to take the Weaver Fund for the purpose of building and endowing churches? It was strictly a Parliamentary trust fund; there was nothing in it of private bounty. It was a fund applicable in the first instance to the improvement of the navigation of the river; applicable in the second place to the aid of the public works of the county of Chester. When those objects were accomplished, but not until then, Parliament acquired a right to deal with the fund, not judicially, but acting as the Legislature of the country. A sum of 300,000l. had been paid to the county of Chester, all that was necessary for the navigation of the river had been effected, yet a large surplus remained, and those who had the management of that surplus came to Parliament and asked permission to apply it to the purposes which the bill now before them had been introduced to effect. The object of the present measure was to apply the funds in question to the relief of spiritual destitution, and he believed that few in that House would be found to say that no churches ought to be built, and that no stipends for clergy ought to be created.

Lord Stanley (of Alderley)

observed, that the present was not by any means a doubtful question. Was the House prepared to interfere with rights of the trustees—rights created under an act of Parliament? Their Lordships could not pass this bill without violating certain trusts It might be contended that the same power which established those trusts could alter them. But if an act of Parliament was not a good foundation for property to rest upon, he wished to know what security there was for the property of the Church, or even for the estates of their Lordships and of the gentry of this country? It was not to be denied that there was a great want of churches in some parts of the country, and that mischiefs resulted from that want; but that was no excuse for diverting property from its original design. If such a thing could be done, hereafter there would be no security or force in an Act of Parliament. He feared that too many of their Lordships had already made up their minds to agree to the passing of this bill, but it should be recollected that this was the first time that it had been fairly discussed. Did their Lordships come to the consideration of the question now before them unbiassed and unprejudiced? No; but after the subject had been stated in a favourable manner by those who supported the measure; and after it had been agitated, and not only agitated, but settled in not a very full House, when those who were opposed to it were forbidden to speak upon it, they were persuaded to suffer the bill to go into committee, and when it got into committee there were only five or six clauses in the bill, and it was speedily hurried through that stage. But, without dwelling upon that, he would call upon their Lordships to consider with how much danger this bill was fraught. It went to overturn certain rights vested in certain persons. A surplus portion of the river had been appended to the county of Chester under an Act of Parliament, for the sake of obtaining certain tolls in aid of the county-rate. What right had their Lordships to take away that property? They might just as well take away the acres belonging to those gentlemen. Their Lordships might have a good object in view, but was a good object to be gained by an act of spoliation? If churches were wanted, why not supply them by other means? A sum of money had recently been voted in the other House of Parliament for the building of new churches. Why was not that fund applied to this purpose, or a similar vote sought for? No, their Lordships would not adopt such means, which would be more legitimate, but, in spite of all the power of an Act of Parliament already in existence, and of all that the rate-payers could say to the contrary, they would take away the money raised under that act, and apply it to a different purpose than that for which it was originally intended. By the same rule that this sum of 20,000l. was taken away, any sum of money the Church chose to call for might be diverted from its proper channel to be spent in the building of churches.

Bill read a third time, and passed.