HL Deb 12 May 1851 vol 116 cc858-62

On the Motion that the House do now resolve itself into Committee,


said, that if the Bill passed in its present shape, it could not possibly go through the other House of Parliament. Its effect would be to deprive one half of the poor in districts where churches had been built by subscription of their right to free seats. The number so accommodated at present was nearly 300,000; and it was proposed to deprive 145,000 of this right, at the instance of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, for the sake of increasing the stipends of the ministers. The congregations in general deeply sympathised with the wants of their ministers, and no man would doubt that it was most expedient to discover some way of affording adequate remuneration for their laborious services; but the desire to give the minister of a church a sufficient salary was no reason for selling the free sittings in that church. Besides the general character of the Bill, there were many particular clauses to which he objected. Had the proposal been to make the payment for seats voluntary, it would have been less objectionable; but the second clause authorised the churchwardens to make a selection from the deserving poor of such as they thought entitled to free seats. This was to give an exclusive privilege to what might be called the aristocracy of the poor. The Bill referred to "ancient parishes;" but a question might be raised what were ancient parishes, and whether those which, like Marylebone, had been divided into districts, were entitled to the designation. The provision for payment to the incumbents was a somewhat strange one. With regard to the 12th clause, it might be doubted whether that did not infringe the Statutes of Mortmain. By subsequent clauses the right of election was confined to subscribers above 50l.; but it should be remembered, that the largest number of subscriptions, and perhaps the most valuable class, were below that amount—at any rate they showed the sympathy of the poor subscribers; and he did not see why they should be deprived of the right of patronage. He also objected to the right of nomination being given to the bishop in extra-parochial places; this was enough to prevent benevolent persons from building churches in such places. The 21st clause went to render stipendiary curates perpetual curates, and make them independent of the patrons. It would be much better, considering the many objectionable provisions of this Bill, and that the measure was not a common-place one, but of high importance, and well deserving the attention of the House, to refer it to a Committee upstairs.


did not object to the Bill being referred to a Select Committee; but he was unwilling that their Lordships should pass its consideration under the impression which might be made upon their minds by the statements of the noble Lord. If the noble Lord had paid any attention to previous legislation on that subject, he would have seen that many of his objections were founded on erroneous views of the matters at issue. The noble Lord said the object of the Bill was obviously to raise money; but its real object was church extension. Its object, no doubt, was to raise money in the first instance, but only for the purpose of raising churches, because, without money, no church could be built. The Bill was founded on a report of the Commissioners, and their only object was to discover the best mode of building and endowing churches. There had long been a popular cry that the Church should raise money within herself, for the purpose of extending her bounds, and thus by the means existing within herself to diffuse more widely the benefits of her teaching. One of these means was supplied by pewrents; certainly no new idea. It had been the custom to make a large proportion of pews free and unappropriated; and that proportion, in a majority of cases, had been found more than the poor availed themselves of, and therefore it had been proposed after setting apart a certain number of pews, to take away the remainder, and make them the means of maintaining the officials of the church. Unfortunately, it was not the poorest of the poor that went to church, and of those who went, the majority would rather pay a small sum for their sittings, than have them entirely gratis. The experiment had been tried in his diocese, and the rents were paid at the round sums of 1s. 6d., 2s. 6d., 5s., and 7s., and by far the larger portion were let at 5s. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had no power now to assist any parish in this way, even although the poor themselves desired it. To enable them to do so, was alone the intention of the clause; and their Lordships would confer a great boon on the poorer classes by granting, where the case was clearly made out, and only in those cases, such a power, leaving always, be it remembered, a large proportion of the seats free and unincumbered. The noble Lord objected to the 13th clause, which vested the right of nomination in some cases in the hands of contributors of not less than 50l. If the noble Lord had referred to the 2nd of William IV., and 1st and 2nd Victoria, he would have found that principle already acknowledged by the Legislature. He (the Bishop of London) would remind their Lordships that when the last-mentioned Act was before them, a strong inclination was felt that the right of election should not be so general; and if their Lordships knew the incalculable evils that arose from the election being extended to so large a body of men, they would rather restrict still further that limitation. He had in his diocese one or two instances in which the election was vested in the parishioners at large; and it was impossible to describe the indecencies and the impieties resulting from that mode of election. Even public-houses were opened; bribery, equal to that which had been recently brought before the other House, was perpetrated; and he need not say how much the interests of religion suffered from such disgraceful proceedings. Rather than give way on this point, he should prefer that the election should be still restricted. The noble Lord objected to the clause respecting donatives, and complained that if an incumbent were not presented within a certain time, the appointment should lapse to the bishop. He must again inform the noble Lord, that that did not give to the bishop any jurisdiction that he did not possess already.


had no desire to impugn the motives which had animated the framers of the present Bill, who, he thought, were prompted solely by a desire to increase the means of church accommodation for the poor; but he objected to that clause of the Bill which, when applied to churches already built, gave power to impose rents and fees on sittings which had hitherto been free. Many gentlemen who had contributed largely to the erection of churches within their districts, had done so, in a great measure, from a desire to provide free accommodation for their tenants and dependants; and it was to the sort of ex post facto legislation, which would impose rents on these free seats, that his principal objection lay. As the Bill was to be referred to a Select Committee, there was but one other point to which he would refer, and that was the provisions of the 11th clause. By the existing law, any person desirous of building a church might, with the consent of the bishop, have it consecrated, taken out of the parish, and made the church of a district, provided that the accommodation were not greater than for a certain proportion of the inhabitants of the parish, and the church itself not within a certain distance of the parish church; and he knew a case in the north of England where this provision had been taken advantage of by a gentleman, who, understanding that it was the intention of a party adverse to the pastor of a certain parish to erect a second church, within the parish, for the purpose of preaching a doctrine different from his, immediately stepped forward and himself built a church at his own expense, with accommodation so proportioned, that no third church could be erected within the parish. Now, the present Bill contained no such restriction, and it was perfectly possible, that if it happened that the bishop and clergymen held different opinions, there might be in one parish, and in one town, established two churches, a hundred yards from each other, one of them set up, not for the purpose of increasing church accommodation, but merely in opposition to the peculiar tenets of the clergyman of the parish. For such a case as this the present law provided a remedy; but there was no provision for it in the present Bill. If any sectarian feelings should arise, although the accommodation for the parish should be amply sufficient, the present Bill authorised such an opportunity as he had instanced for the introduction of the element of disunion, and churches might be built, not for the purpose of meeting actual accommodation, but merely for sectarian objects. He was exceedingly glad to find that the Bill was to be referred to a Select Committee, and he hoped that it would be found to be a distinguished means of increasing religious worship, and extending the accommodation for the labouring classes.


wished to ex- plain that the power of imposing rents upon seats hitherto free would not rest with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but the Church Building Committee, who were an entirely different body; and again, there was a provision by which the subscribers could, by agreement, on application to the bishop of the diocese, make certain modifications in this particular.


in reply, said that the Bill had been framed upon a report, presented about two years ago, upon the best mode of affording facilities for the subdivision of parishes, and signed by persons of all opinions in politics and religion. The measure had received their unanimous support, and it had also been extensively approved of by the clergy. He believed that it was well calculated to promote church extension within the pale of the Church itself; and that it would promote no serious innovations or violent alterations. It might be questioned whether a provision giving to the parishes the power of accepting or rejecting the enactments would not be an improvement; but that was a point which might be considered in Committee. He should be happy to go into Committee at once; but as it appeared to be the wish of the House that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, he had not the slightest objection to that course. He had no doubt that such a Committee would consider it with every disposition to do justice to the intentions with which it had been brought forward, and would consider its bearings with a cordial wish to amend it, if that was possible.

After a few words of explanation from the Bishop of LONDON,

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn; and Bill referred to a Select Committee.

House adjourned till To-morrow.

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