HL Deb 24 May 1860 vol 158 cc1634-41

House in Committee (according to Order.)

Clause 1. (Contiguous Benefices in a City, Town, or Borough, may be united.)


said, the primary object of the measure was to meet the peculiar case of the City of London. The population having migrated to the suburbs, the City churches were now almost unoccupied, and it was consequently desirable that the churches should be sacrificed, and that accommodation should instead be provided for the inhabitants of outlying districts. He doubted, however, whether the principle should be extended any further, and whether legislation ought not to be confined to the exceptional case of the Metropolis.


said, that in many of the old corporate and cathedral towns there were a number of small churches, ill-endowed, ill-built, and inadequate for the wants of the population, and which were a positive hindrance to church accommodation, because as long as they stood they would prevent more commodious churches from being erected. Such a Bill as the present would probably make it easier to remedy this evil, and by uniting certain benefices and allowing the demolition of some of these old churches would provide more adequately both for the support of the clergy and the spiritual wants of the district. He could see no reason why such a measure should be exceptional in its operation. If the principle were good for London, it was no less good for other places similarly circumstanced. He hoped therefore their Lordships would consent to make this measure a general one.


said, that if it were thought desirable to extend a measure of this sort generally, there was no need of the elaborate machinery of this Bill, The object could he effected by means of the provisions of the Pluralities Act.


thought that the application of the Pluralities Act would not be sufficient, because this Bill proposed in certain cases to authorize the pulling down of churches, which the Phi ralities Act did not.


pointed out that if the measure were confined to the Metropolis it would become if not a private, at least a hybrid Bill, and would require certain stages to be gone through before it could proceed further.


said, he must call their Lordships' attention to the fact that this Bill was in principle a continuance Act of an Act which expired this year; and that, therefore, this or some other Bill was necessary. The Bill did not apply to the whole country; it was confined to any "City, Town, or Borough," and did not extend to rural parishes.


suggested the insertion, after the words "any City, Town, or Borough," of the words "inserted in the schedule to this Act annexed." The principle would thus he laid down that this legislation was exceptional and only applicable to the places mentioned in the schedule, the places whose names should be inserted in the schedule might he made subject of future consideration.


recommended the right rev. Prelate to accept this proposal. He entirely agreed with the noble Earl, as he was always glad to do whenever he was able. The suggestion would meet the wishes of both sides of the House—it would extend the operation of the Bill to all those places to which it ought to be extended, and it would prevent its application to places to which it ought not to be applied.


observed that a grievance existed the extent of which was uncertain, and a remedy was proposed which was accompanied by careful restrictions. If those restrictions were insufficient, let them be increased; but let not their Lordships run the risk of omitting by inadvertence places from the schedule which ought to be included in it.


assented to the suggestion.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 14 agreed to, with Amendments.

Clause 15 (Site of Church pulled down not to be sold or let without certain Consents).

THE EARL OF POWIS moved to insert the words ("shall be taken or construed to legalize the Sale or Letting of the Site of any Church to be pulled down, if there shall have been any interments or Deposits in any Grave or Vault under the Site of such Church"). The object of this Amendment was similar to that of the clause which was inserted by the House of Commons in the Act which was now expiring.


said, be should certainly be the last man to consent to any desecration either of churches or churchyards; but the object of the clause was simply to do that which had been already authorized by numerous other Acts both public and private. Some of these Acts had authorized the sale not of the sites of the churches only but of the churchyards. By the 19th Charles II., which was an: Act for the re-building of the City of Lon-don after the Fire, and the 22nd Charles H., the same power was reserved; and by; the 1st Will. IV. the Corporation of the City of London were empowered to dispose of the burial ground of St. Olave's, South-wark, and to remove the bodies. That was under the London Bridge Approaches Act. There were several other instances in which I the Corporation of the City of London had been empowered to take down churches and to dispose of the site and of the burial grounds. It was by no means the intention of the framers of this Bill to put up these churches for sale by auction, or to look merely to raising money by the sale of them. The Bill, as it stood, would simply I rest in very responsible persons the discretion of determining when the power given; by Parliament should be exercised. Pub-lie opinion had much changed in this matter, it being seen that there was no real danger of the desecration of churches or I churchyards under such guarded provisions as those under discussion. He was, there fore, disposed to adhere to the clause in its present shape. If the House of Commons should think fit to introduce an Amendment like that now proposed by the noble Lord, it would be competent for them to do so when the Bill went before them.


ob- jected altogether to ecclesiastical precedents drawn from the days of Charles II., and with respect to the other precedents referred to by the right rev. Prelate there was probably none that did not involve advantages to the Corporation of the City of London. Now a distinguished statesman had once recommended to him never to have anything to do with the City Corporation, for that they were the greatest jobbers he ever knew in the whole course of his political life. Bearing in mind everything that fell from that excellent person, he objected to act on precedents derived from the Corporation of the City of London. The right rev. Prelate said that public opinion had changed in respect to interments of the dead—but respect for the dead was an instinct of human nature that could never be forgotten, and he thought it was far better for them to do what they knew and felt to be right than leave it to the House of Commons to tell them they had done wrong.


supported the Amendment, alluding to an observation once made by Captain Cook, the great navigator, who had remarked that he found no more certain test of the comparative civilization and degree of mental culture attained by the wild tribes he had visited, than the degree of respect which they paid to the place where the remains of their dead were deposited.


said, that the principle of the clause had been frequently acted upon from the time of Charles II. to the present reign for purposes of local improvement; and surely it was not to be objected to when the object was to provide means of religious instruction to thousands who would otherwise be left spiritually destitute. Care would, no doubt, in every case be taken that no violence was done to decency and that reverence for the dead which they all; wished to cultivate. If the Amendment were adopted the mere fact of a single leaden coffin lurking in some corner of an old wall would prevent the sale of an ecclesiastical site, which it was most desirable to dispose of for the religious training of thousands of the living. He trusted their Lordships would not deprive the Bill of this beneficial clause.


observed, that the effect of the Amendment moved by the noble Earl opposite would he that no title to any church could be made out without an objection being taken by the conveyancer, that it was necessary to establish that there never had been a corpse buried under any part of the church.


thought the words proposed to be introduced would go much further than his noble Friend (the Earl of Powis) intended, and would extend to cases where, from the lapse of time there were no vestiges of mortal remains, but where, it appeared from ancient records interments had once taken place.


said, that the plea for disposing of the sites of these churches in order to obtain the means of providing religious instruction elsewhere, would justify the sale of all churches and churchyards. There were two classes of churches in the City, some built merely for congregational purposes, and others for burials besides. The distinction to be recognized was, that where the churches were erected merely as places of worship, the consecration was confined to the fabric, but where interments took place the ground was consecrated as well as the fabric. His Amendment, in fact, only asked them to continue a principle in legislation they had adopted five years ago.


said, that, on the contrary, by passing the Bill, including this clause, in the form in which it was proposed by the right rev. Prelate, they would only be acting in conformity with what had been done by Parliament on former occasions, and conferring a great benefit on future generations.


hoped their Lordships would not adopt the Amendment, which would, in fact, make the Bill wholly inoperative. It was not likely that the Bishop of the diocese and the Archbishop of the province, with the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whose sanction was required before the remains of the dead could be removed or the graves and vaults disturbed, would sanction any "desecration." Surely this provision was a sufficient guarantee against improper proceedings.


cited a Report made by the Inspectors of Graveyards upon this subject, in answer to a communication which had been addressed to them by the Home Secretary. They noticed the great differences which existed between some of the churches in London and others; but the general tenor of their Report was far more against the removal of the remains therein deposited than in favour of it. Their Lordships should be very careful about assenting to a scheme on which these gentlemen expressed so qualified an opinion.


believed the noble Earl was referring only to the first part of the Inspector's Report, and not the second. At the end of their Report they recommended that nothing should be done without the sanction of the Secretary of State, and that provision was embodied in the Bill, It had been stated that some churches were built only for congregational purposes, and others for burials as well; but he believed that scarcely a single church could be found in the City of London under which interments had not taken place; so that if the noble Earl's Amendment were adopted not a single church could, under any circumstances, be disposed of.


suggested that some provision should be made, by which the parishioners themselves might be consulted, and their opinion taken as to what should be done with the church.


pointed out that, by the 7th and 8th clauses of his Bill, the vestry would have the power of objecting, and then the matter would have to go first before the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and then to the Privy Council.

Amendment negatived: Clause agreed to.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 (Bishop may allow additional Church left standing to be used for certain services).


observed that this clause gave power to the Bishop of London to give the use of these churches to any congregation of Foreign Protestants, He would not object to this for the performance of the Church Service in the Welsh or any foreign language; but it would be placing a Bishop of the Church of England in rather an invidious position to call on him to decide to what other foreign denomination he would grant the use of the Church.


said, he hoped the proposal embodied in the clause would obtain the consent of the House: for it was quite in accordance with the spirit of the Church of England to hold out the hand of fellowship to the Protestants of Foreign nations. He remembered seeing in Canterbury Cathedral some French inscriptions, and the explanation of their being there was, the Archbishop of a former time had allowed a congregation of French Protestant refugees to assemble for worship in the Metropolitan Church of England, and to put up there some texts of Scripture in their own language, that they might not feel too much like strangers in the land to which persecution for their faith had driven them. He believed the present Bishop of London had acted in the same spirit, in admitting this recognition of that brotherhood which the Church of England claimed with Protestants throughout Europe; and he (Lord Taunton) feeling warmly on this subject, as from his connections he might be expected to do, did not love the Church of England the less, because he regarded her as a bulwark of Protestantism in the world. As a suggested consequence of assenting to this proposal, that members of the Mormon or similar persuasions would be admitted to hold their services in those churches, he (Lord Taunton) could not believe that the time was likely to come when the discretion of using his authority in such a case might not safely be left in the hands of the Prelate occupying for the time being the Bishopric of London.


said, that such an expression of feeling came very gracefully from the noble Lord, considering his family traditions; and he agreed with the noble Lord, so far as the question related to the maintenance of the great principles of Protestantism; but the wording of the clause was very loose and vague.


hoped the right rev. Prelate would not abate one jot of this clause, which, in his opinion, was greatly in favour of true religious freedom. If the right rev. Prelate withdrew the clause he would cause disappointment to thousands and tens of thousands of Protestants in the kingdom. From the earliest days of the Reformation it had ever been the desire of the heads of the Anglican Church to cultivate friendly relations with the Protestants of the Continent, as was shown by the fact that in the days of Archbishop Cranmer, Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr were appointed Professors at Oxford. In the days of Elizabeth, Archbishop Usher wrote and spoke in the same spirit; and in our own days the late Archbishop Howley was in favour of a continuance of the same friendly intercourse. [The noble Lord read a passage from the late Prelate's writings to that effect].


said, that if the late Archbishop Howley would have supported, as it appeared from the quotation he would have supported the clause, it was impossible for him to oppose it; for in his mind the late Archbishop Howley approached as near to the perfection of the Christian character as any man could he expected to arrive.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 18 to 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 (Property to be sold to vest in Ecclesiastical Commissioners).


strongly urged that instead of pulling down the churches they should pull down the pews, and leave the whole of the sittings free and unappropriated.


said, there was an old principle observed in parish churches for certain seats to be appropriated to persons resident in the parish; and he thought that it would give dissatisfaction to the parishioners if they wore not to have seats set apart for them.


asked whether under this Section there would be any possibility of pulling down St. George's-in the-East?

Clause agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

The Report of the Amendments to be received on Monday, the 4th of June next.