§ (Earl Russell.)
§ (NO. 55). SECOND READING.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ EARL RUSSELL
My Lords, I rise to ask your Lordships to give a second reading to this Bill. The reasons for the Bill, are contained in its Preamble. It is stated that the collection of church rates has ceased to be made or collected in a great number of the parishes in the country, and that in others their collection has given rise to litigation and ill-will, and it is pleaded that it is advisable that the abolition of compulsory church rates should take place. The first part of the Bill is exceedingly clear and exceedingly plain, and practically puts an end to the compulsory payment of church rates. Your Lordships will see from the provisions of the Bill that, so far as the objection to church rates is concerned, the grievances complained of are entirely abolished, and entire satisfaction is given to those who have hitherto opposed the levying of church rates. The first clause of the Bill enacts that henceforth no proceeding shall be instituted in any ecclesiastical or other Court to enforce the payment of church rates. The next clause of the Bill provides that where money had been borrowed on the faith of church rates, or in cases where the parish is liable for an extra rate, the re-payment of the money shall continue to be secured by means of church sates. Provision is also made in regard to particular cases. The words are very general; and if they do not completely answer their object, I should be ready to assent to the introduction of any words to carry that object into effect. The object is to preserve the sum or allowances made in certain places and parishes where sums which are not applicable to the building or repair of churches, or to any purposes for which church rates are usually levied, have been, by Act of Parliament or otherwise, set apart for the purpose of giving a salary or allowance to the minister of the church in lieu of other claims that he might have. There are several cases in this metropolis—Bishopsgate and Bethnal Green for example—where by Act of Parliament the tithes have been commuted for an annual sum collected upon houses, and those sums are called by the name of church rates. It is evident that it would 1112 be inequitable to abolish the collection of such sums; and persons deriving an income from such allowances would have a fair right to complain if their income was put an end to by Act of Parliament. The second part of the Bill, which begins at the 5th clause, is by no means of the same nature as the first, and is intended solely for the purpose of keeping up the machinery of church rates where it may be considered a convenient mode for obtaining the sums necessary for the repair of the fabric of the church. Your Lordships are aware that the circumstances in connection with the levying of church rates is very different in different parishes. I remember some years ago asking an archdeacon what his experience was in relation to church rates; and his answer was that generally in towns there was a good deal of difficulty, and very grave disputes, and that very often church rates were altogether refused; but that in country parishes his experience was totally different, that with a rate of a ½d., ¾d., or a 1d. in the pound the repairs of the church were satisfactorily effected, and there was no difficulty in obtaining the vote for the rate, or in its collection. Now, the object of the clauses which commence with the 5th clause is to maintain the existing machinery in force where parishes would think it a convenient mode of collecting sums for the repair of churches; but the rate to be levied by means of that machinery will be entirely voluntary. Still, I should suppose there were a great many country parishes in which that machinery is very convenient, where there are few or no Dissenters in the parish, and all the Churchmen are willing to vote for a rate, and where therefore it would be very convenient that things should, as far as possible, be allowed to go on as usual without any disturbance of the existing system. There are further clauses in the Bill the object of which is prevention; and which declare that persons who do not happen to have subscribed to a former voluntary rate shall not be entitled to vote with respect to the levy of that which is about to be collected. Besides these there is a clause empowering owners to take upon themselves the burden of the charge instead of tenants and giving them power to vote accordingly. Such are the general provisions of the Bill, which are exceedingly simple, and which, having been brought in by Mr. Gladstone in the other House, has been received there with almost unanimous support. I trust, therefore, 1113 that it will also meet with your Lordships assent.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Earl Russell).
THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM
said, he must confess that he had expected to have heard more reasons adduced in support of the Preamble of the Bill than had been advanced by the noble Earl on the present occasion. He certainly could not have thought that a Bill dealing with a question which had received so much discussion and consideration for the last thirty years, and with regard to which there had been so much diversity of opinion, would have been submitted to the notice of their Lordships' House with so little preface and with so few facts adduced in its support. The noble Earl rested his whole case upon the statements of the Preamble that, in certain parishes, church rates had been discontinued in consequence of opposition, and that in other parishes their collection had given rise to litigation and ill-will. But their Lordships were left without any facts to substantiate those statements. The Preamble was no doubt true to some extent; but only, as shown by the Returns which had at various times been laid before Parliament, to a very limited extent. From these Returns it appeared that the amount received for church rates and applied to church purposes was not now less than it was in former years, taking into account the large sums contributed in several parishes under special local enactments, and by means of voluntary contributions; and certainly the last Return laid before their Lordships, in 1867, showed that, in a large majority of the parishes of England, church rates were still made and collected, and that the amount levied by such process was even then largely in excess of that which the noble Earl opposite and the Government of which he was a member in former times thought was the right sum to charge upon the Consolidated Fund for the maintenance of the churches of this country. If he felt that it was the proper course for Her Majesty's Government to call upon that House to reject the Bill upon the second reading, there would be but little difficulty in showing that the actual facts with regard to church rates and the present position of the question ought rather to induce their Lordships to condemn than to support the Bill. But there were other grounds to be taken into con- 1114 sideration upon this question beyond those set forth in the Preamble of the Bill. The question had been repeatedly brought under the consideration of Parliament, and Members on both sides of the House of Commons had, at various times, endeavoured to bring forward some measure which would be accepted as a satisfactory arrangement of this difficult and troublesome matter. Although those endeavours had failed in producing any measure which had met with general assent, they had no doubt had the effect of sending up to their Lordships' House the Bill now under discussion without any decided or strong opposition in the other House of Parliament; and the measure was not opposed in the House of Commons by the Government upon the second reading, nor after it had passed through Committee was there any division affecting its principle. It therefore came before their Lordships with, no doubt, a strong approval of the principle contained in it from the other House. Moreover, it could not be denied that during the thirty years or so that this question had been under consideration the circumstances with regard to church rates had to a considerable extent changed, and that it could no longer be argued that it was the universal law of the country that the churches were supported or maintained by means of church rates. That state of circumstances had arisen, not alone from the opposition which there had been in many cases to the levying of church rates; but from the fact that the spiritual wants of the population had greatly increased, requiring in many places the erection of new churches and the formation of new parochial districts. These districts had been formed and churches had been built where no compulsory powers existed by which the parishioners could be called upon to contribute to the support of those churches. That had made a material difference in the state of the question from the time when it was first brought prominently under the consideration of Parliament; and the fact that there were a considerable number of the churches in this country for the maintenance of which no compulsory powers existed, and the numerous attempts made in the other House to effect by compromise a settlement of the question, might well justify the Government in not asking the House to reject this Bill on the second reading, but rather to place it in the hands of a Committee, who would consider the various points connected with it. 1115 If the Committee succeeded in making the measure satisfactory, the Government would ask their Lordships to pass the measure when it came buck to them, and if the Committee failed in doing so they would then propose its rejection. If additional reasons were wanting for the course he had indicated, they were, he thought, to be found in the Bill itself. It consisted of two principles; but signally failed in providing the machinery for giving proper effect to those principles. The first portion was devoted to the abolition of the present power of levying compulsory rates, coupled with certain saving clauses and qualifications to guard a number of local enactments, in cases where those enactments had provided for charges by what were called church rates. The second portion purported to provide a substitute — which he presumed was the substitute the noble Earl referred to when, on a former occasion, he said he should vote against the total abolition of church rates unless some substitute was provided. The substitute now proposed was the voluntary collection of rates, and the voluntary support of the Church. This was the proposition of the Bill to meet the views of those who had steadily opposed unconditional abolition. In its present shape, however, the Bill fell singularly short of carrying out these objects. Here was a Bill for giving back to the owners and occupiers of land in this country the rates which they now paid for the maintenance of the Church, and which amounted to something over £300,000 a year; and it was proposed to return this amount to persons who had hardly asked for it, and to rest the chance of recovering the loss upon the voluntary contributions of those persons. It was essential, when they were dealing with so large an amount of taxation — which was applied to the maintenance of the fabrics and services of the Church — one-third of which, in round numbers, might be stated to be applied to the maintenance of churches whose decadence the whole nation would deplore—that the machinery and conditions provided as the substitute for compulsory rates should be carefully and well considered. He was not disposed to think that ultimately the funds of the Church would fall greatly short, under a system of voluntary contributions, as compared with a system of compulsory rating; but it was essential to the well-working of such a system as was now proposed that the power of con- 1116 trolling and applying the funds raised should be kept under the public eye; that the whole district for which they were collected should have a right to see to their application; and that full powers to contribute should be given to all those who might wish to do so. Now, as the Bill was framed, although the 5th clause enacted that the parishioners in vestry might agree upon a voluntary rate to be assessed upon the occupiers, the 8th clause appeared to take away that right. By the 5th clause it would appear that it was the parishioners in vestry who were to decide on the question of the rate, which, under a voluntary system, would seem to be the proper mode; but, according to the 8th clause, no person was to have the right to vote upon the question of a voluntary rate, or to be churchwarden or other officer, who had not paid his share of the preceding voluntary rate; so that persons in arrears of rate, or parishioners who had not agreed to the rate, were practically deprived of all power over the application of the funds, the control and management of which would thus come under the control of a few instead of the whole vestry. He thought that, if the voluntary system was to be relied on at all, the full right of all parishioners to vote on any question connected with the church or the election of churchwardens should be retained; and it would, in his opinion, be a great misfortune if, under the voluntary system, the control of the parish church and its maintenance were to fall into the hands of a few wealthy persons connected with the parish. It was also essential that all persons being owners of property in a parish, or representing owners, should have power to contribute to the voluntary rate, but the 10th clause, while it enabled owners to pay instead of occupiers, and to claim the vote, failed altogether to enable trustees of property to contribute, a voluntary church rate not being a legal charge. Property belonging to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, for instance, would be unable to contribute, although the property so exempt might form a considerable part of a parish. He could not see, moreover, how the voluntary system could be carried out unless there was power to compel payment from those who had agreed to a rate; for it frequently happened, particularly in the case of small parishes, that the cost of repairing a church was spread over two or three years and over several successive rates. But those repairs under the volun- 1117 tary system would depend on a rate being made, which there would be no means of compelling even those who were consenting parties at the vestry where the rate was agreed upon to pay. He thought a voluntary rate could not be successfully applied without some system by which those who agreed to the rate should be compelled to carry out their agreement. There was another point to which attention ought to be directed, and that was with regard to the liability of churchwardens and their duties with respect to Church property; and it must be recollected that it is not only the church but the burial grounds which the Bill makes dependent on voluntary contributions. Nor was it at all clearly set forth in this measure as it stood whether where a voluntary rate was refused in the first instance, and, therefore, had never been made, any rate could afterwards be levied. There were many other points which would require very careful consideration before the measure could be placed in such a form that the House ought to be called upon to say whether or not it would accept the voluntary system as a substitute for compulsory rating; and upon those grounds Her Majesty's Government had decided that it was better the Bill should be sent at an early day to a Select Committee, where a full opportunity would be given of completing and amending the measure in the points to which he had referred, and also with regard to the saving clauses and the nature and extent of the legal enactments which would be affected. There was one other point well deserving of consideration, and that was as to the means by which the incumbent and churchwardens or other persons might be incorporated as trustees to receive and apply funds given for repairing the church. There was no provision as yet in the Bill for that purpose; and there existed practically no mode by which funds not voted, but intended to be applied to repairs of the church, could be applied, except at the trouble of appointing separate trustees. He held that it must be a necessary complement of the Bill to establish some corporation, such as the incumbent and churchwardens, for the purpose of applying such grants. Believing that it would tend rather to facilitate than delay or obstruct a fair and reasonable settlement of this question to allow the measure to pass its present stage and to refer it to a Select Committee, he was not disposed to oppose the Motion for the second reading. The measure 1118 could be fully and satisfactorily discussed upon its return from the Select Committee, or upon the third reading. There was one thing which ought to be carefully guarded, and that was the maintenance of the Church of England as the Church of the many and not of the few. In any measure which established the voluntary system care should be taken to keep the control of the Church and the maintenance of its fabrics in the hands of the great body of the parishoners; so that the affairs of the Church might not be regulated by a few wealthy persons—by an autocracy sitting in close committee, where no one could vote except those who agreed to pay; but that the Church should still continue the Church of the parish in which all, even many who now objected to a rate or even to the precise form of worship that was carried on, might yet feel an interest, and take pride in supporting it and maintaining the fabric. It appeared to him that under this Bill, unless some material modifications were made in its provisions, there would be great danger that the Church would become the Church of the rich and not of the poor. Believing that the day when that occurred would be an evil day for the Church of England, and that any misfortune which happened to it, anything which should make it the Church of a sect rather than of the nation, would be a great source of ill not only to the Church but to the Empire, he wished to see the Bill modified in some important points. In announcing the views of Her Majesty's Government when declining to object to the second reading of the Bill with the intention of referring it to a Select Committee, he distinctly reserved the right of opposing it if he should think fit on the Report, and also on the third reading.
THE BISHOP OF LONDON
said, he rose at this early period of the debate, because their Lordships might be anxious to know the sentiments of the right rev. Bench on the measure before the House. He had another reason for rising—because he had been intrusted with a very important petition on the subject of one clause of the Bill, which he would explain in a few words hereafter. He had certainly no intention of opposing the second reading of the Bill. He was a member of a Select Committee of their Lordships' House eight years ago, which carefully went into the whole question of church rates and examined a great number of witnesses. On that Committee there were men who were 1119 likely to be able to form a correct, judgment on the matter—the noble Earl the late head of Her Majesty's Government (the Earl of Derby) was one, the late Archbishop of Canterbury was another, and the noble Duke the President of the Council (the Duke of Marlborough), who had taken great interest in such matters, and had himself been the author of legislation regulating the condition of the Established Church. The result of the deliberations of that Select Committee was the recommendation of a system, which he believed in its essential features was embodied in the Bill of the noble Earl (Earl Russell). He very much regretted that the Report of the Select Committee to which he referred was not embodied by the noble Duke in some legislative measure at the time when it was presented to the House; for he thought the question might just as easily have been settled eight years ago as now. Since that time he had never been deceived by the apparent majorities in the other House of Parliament, which had led some people to suppose that the happy days were returning when church rates might be forced on unwilling parishes. He hoped, however, the noble Earl (Earl Russell) would forgive him if he ventured to say that it was not unlikely that some greater difficulty than might otherwise have been anticipated would be found in inducing the clergy of the Church of England to see the expediency of this measure at the present moment. They who represented the clergy more or less in that House were bound to consider their feelings on all such questions, and not their feelings only, but the feelings of the vast body who were attached to the principles of the Church of England. Now, he could not conceal from himself that the occurrences of the last six weeks had made the clergy somewhat jealous of anything which in any way affected the Established Church, and when they heard from the noble Duke who had last addressed their Lordships (the Duke of Buckingham) that this Bill dealt with the yearly amount of £300,000 of property now devoted to Church purposes, it would require, he thought, a very full statement of the merits and great calmness of discussion to restore confidence to the clergy of this country and to persuade them that there was not more in this Bill than the noble Earl stated. The noble Earl naturally took for granted that the Bill would be accepted at once, and especially 1120 on the ground, which he considered a strong one, of the names which appeared on the back of the Bill as its authors in the other House of Parliament. Now, it might be doubted whether this would recommend it to the clergy of the Church now in the same way in which it would have done some six weeks ago. He might also question whether there was not a double paternity in this Bill. They had heard from a great authority, of danger threatening the Church and State from a coalition. He expressed no opinion as to the reality of the existence of such a coalition; but they could not be blind to the fact that there were certain members of the Church of England—visionary theorists they might be called—who were in favour rather of a so-called free than of an Established Church. Those few visionaries if left to themselves would not have any great influence in the Established Church; but they were united in their view with a very compact body of opponents from without, and this Bill, in the general principle of which he acquiesced, had certainly the misfortune to have in it a clause which he thought had its origin in the Liberation Society. Now, with regard to that clause — the 2nd clause of this Bill — if their Lordships would take the trouble to read it they would fine it rather difficult to comprehend its meaning. He happened to know a little about it, but only a little. The petition, however, which he held in his hand would explain it. The petition complained of the 2nd clause, which dealt with local Acts—a very serious matter to include in a general Bill—Acts which nobody had seen, which nobody had taken the trouble to read, which nobody knew except the vestries connected with them; and if they were suddenly to pass this measure, and say that all local Acts respecting church rates were from this time forward repealed, it certainly would be desirable to inform themselves; as to what were the meaning and contents of those local Acts. It did, therefore, appear to him that the wise course to take with reference to a matter so complicated as this must be that suggested by the noble Duke of referring the Bill to a Select Committee. He thought the clergy of the country would be better satisfied if the matter were thus dealt with calmly and patiently, after full and due examination by their Lordships; for his opinion was, that, at this moment, there was a very uneasy feeling in the minds of 1121 the clergy on this and similar matters. Many persons supposed that because there had been no utterance on the part of the clergy nothing was felt: but deep feelings were dumb; and their Lordships might be persuaded of this—that there was at this moment a very anxious feeling on the part of the clergy of the Church of England with regard to this question and to measures which might be in contemplation, and which might affect the very existence of the Establishment to which they belonged. He should deceive their Lordships if he led them for a moment to suppose that this feeling would not be very dangerous unless proper measures were taken to meet the natural desire of the clergy that matters which so concerned their interests should be very carefully and dispassionately considered. It had been the glory of the Church of England, during the time he had been one of its ministers, to have nothing to do with party politics. They had 20,000 educated men, clergymen of the Established Church, each of them the centre of a great sphere of influence, and yet these persons had hitherto, as a rule, abstained from mixing themselves up in matters of party politics; but if the suspicion were once to enter their minds that there was any danger of that great institution to which they belonged being tampered with for any party purpose, he could not doubt they would soon see a great change on the part of the clergy in this matter. The heads of the Church would have great difficulty in restraining those who at present, he was thankful to say, used their pulpits and influence for the sacred purposes alone to which they ought to be devoted, if any rash step were taken that might endanger the institution which they rightly believed to have been, for many hundred years, the nurse of ecclesiastical and liberal learning, the defence against Papal aggression and the revival of mediæval tyranny, and the real educator of the people of this country. The clergy looked with great anxiety and considerable jealousy on any measures which might in any way whatsoever tend to alter the position of the Church of which they were the ministers. Hence, therefore, the duty of the right rev. Bench to be able to satisfy the clergy at such a time that this Hill—to which he gave his general assent—contained nothing inimical to the interests of the Established Church. The 2nd clause of this Bill—to which he had already alluded — dealt with property se- 1122 cured by local Acts of Parliament. The petition which he held in his hand, which was signed by the Rector of St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, stated that the late Bishop of London, when rector of that parish, had procured a Private Act to be passed, by which church rates were totally abolished in that parish, the rector taking on himself and his successors the payment for the maintenance of the church and its services out of the tithes of the parish. But this Bill, by the 2nd clause, would sweep away all such private Acts. He held in his hand another petition to the same effect from St. Paul's, Covent Garden. He therefore thought that great care required to be taken so that the property of the Church might not be confiscated under the name of the abolition of compulsory church rates. Having made these statements for the purpose of shewing the difficulties which would have to be considered in legislating on this subject, he repeated that he desired to support the general principle of the Bill. He believed that they had already lost all that they could lose of church rates. There were country parishes in which church rates were regularly paid; but still he was afraid that disaffection was even there gradually creeping in. ["No!"] He trusted it was not so; but in the towns church rates were not as a rule collected; and, upon the whole, he could not help thinking that as regarded the town parishes the Church would gain more than she would lose under this measure. He did not think it was unimportant to surrender even that nominal right, but it was a matter of expediency; and it seemed to him that, if there were even the shadow of a grievance in this case, it were better to have done with it and to accept the compromise which was now proposed. He had spoken of the Church as an Establishment, and it was as an Establishment that it was dealt with by this Bill; but it was not as an Establishment only that its members were attached to that great institution. They believed that the Establishment conferred great blessings upon the country; but they also believed that they had the happiness of having in their Establishment a real, true, and pure branch of the Apostolic Church of Christ, purged of its errors at the Reformation; that it had been enabled to perform spiritual functions for the good of the people; and that, if disestablished, it would continue still to perform them, but that in its present connec- 1123 tion with the State it held a position such as no other Church in the world held for encouraging and guiding the feelings of the people, and at the same time giving full scope to that spirit of free inquiry which was the characteristic of this age.
THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
said, that after the declaration made on the part of the Government that it was not their intention to oppose the second reading of the Bill, it would be vain for anyone to suppose that that Motion could be defeated, and he did not himself intend, therefore, to offer any opposition to the proposal. But he rose for the purpose of satisfying his own conscience, by stating the reasons why he could not accept the principle of the Bill. He saw no essential difference between the present Bill and all former Bills for total abolition of church rates. It appeared to him, also, that the measure involved a great many difficulties and complications, through which he could not see his way, and which he believed would simply end in the adoption of the voluntary principle. Government, by majorities, was one of the great principles of our Constitution, and he could not see why it should be abrogated in the case of church rates. Many of the town parishes had rejected the rate; but it was still levied in the vast majority of the country parishes; and he did not see why those parishes should be deprived of the right which they had enjoyed for centuries — of making rates for maintaining the fabric of their churches. This Bill would give to landlords that which had never been theirs, and it would take away from the poor the privilege which they had for centuries enjoyed—of having the repairs and the services of the Church defrayed by the landowners. In behalf of the clergy, as well as the poor, he deprecated the adoption of such a measure. Their Lordships were well aware of the great sacrifices which the clergy had made for the promotion of education. They were overburdened already; and he feared that, if the ancient means for maintaining the fabric of the church were withdrawn, the burden of maintaining that fabric would fall upon the clergy. So many public men had given utterance to contradictory opinions on this question, that he thought the time for quoting Hansard was gone by; but the arguments formerly used in that House and elsewhere in favour of the maintenance of church rates still prevailed with him; and he could not see 1124 why, in such a case as this, they should yield to agitation that which they had declined to concede to reason and to argument. It appeared to him that the principle of religious equality laid at the bottom of the question. But let them consider the consequences of adopting the principle of religious equality. It would lead to the disestablishment of the Church, and to a severance of the connection between the Church and the State. For these reasons he entertained a strong objection to the principle of the Bill. It might be slightly amended in Committee; but as he did not anticipate that any material remedy could be applied to the evils he anticipated from the measure, he had thought it his duty to express his disapproval of its principle, although he would not move that it be read a second time upon that day six months.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I will not upon this occasion trespass at any length on the time of your Lordships but, with the opinions which I have long entertained upon this subject, I feel it is impossible for me to remain absolutely silent throughout this discussion. I cannot help expressing the very great regret which I feel that the House of Commons should, apparently from sheer weariness upon this subject, have acquiesced in this Bill; but I confess that the large majorities by which the Bill has been passed in the other House is a ground—a sufficient ground, although the only one—to justify the Government in not opposing the present Motion. Another ground put forward in defence of the measure is, that it is a compromise by which a question which has been long agitated, and which has provoked much animosity in many parts of the country, will be at last finally settled; and then it is further said that it is a compromise proposed by one who has always proved himself to be a staunch and firm supporter of the Church Establishment. Now, with regard to the latter of these two arguments, I must confess, as was confessed by the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of London), that a short time ago I should have attached more importance to it than I do at present. I must say that I do not derive any satisfaction, or any inducement, to vote in favour of the Bill from the character of its author — or of its supposed author — in consequence of the line of conduct which he has recently adopted upon Church questions. It is said the Bill is a compromise; 1125 but I say it is no compromise, but is an absolute and entire surrender on the part of the Established Church of the whole principle that has hitherto guided our legislation in reference to that Church. Let me just remind your Lordships of the position which the Church of England occupies towards the State. It will not be denied that there exists an obligation—a legal obligation—on the part of each parish to maintain the fabric and to defray the expense of the services of the Church. This is a right—a legal right—but a right which the Courts of Law will not enforce, because it can be enforced in the Ecclesiastical Courts. Churchwardens thus found that the law imposed upon them the duty of maintaining the fabric and the services; of the Church, and they sought the judgment of the Courts for the purpose of learning whether they could impose a rate—even although a minority only of the parishioners voted in its favour. The case was brought before the Courts of Law, and ultimately it was decided by your Lordships' House against the churchwardens; and, from that period to the present, there has been no means of levying a rate unless it has received the support of the majority of the parishioners. But we are told that a voluntary rate may be levied under this Bill. That, however, can only mean a rate which any one who pleases may refuse to pay; and, while they claim all the benefits of churchmanship, may, at the same time, refuse to contribute anything towards the maintenance of the church fabric. You impose rates for a variety of objects—for public libraries, for museums, even for baths and wash-houses; and no one can decline to pay his proportion of those rates because he does not visit the museum, or because he does not study in a public library, or because he does not choose to make use of a bath or of a wash-house. The majority of the parishioners in all these cases has a right to make a rate, and the minority is bound to accept that decision. And why, I would like to know, should the Church of England be placed in a worse position than such institutions as museums, or public libraries, or baths and wash-houses? Why, if no such plea is allowed in those cases, should any dissentient person be allowed to withdraw himself from his share of a burden which has been imposed for a great Imperial purpose. A voluntary rate! What does a voluntary rate mean? It is said that in many places 1126 there is no difficulty in raising a voluntary rate; and that by that means churches are supported in several of our most populous towns, in which church rates have been long done away. But how are they supported? They are supported mainly through that least desirable—to say the least of it—system of letting out pews. The consequence of that system is, that that which was intended for the benefit of all, and more especially of the poor, is limited to the rich, who can afford to pay their contributions; and the church fabric is maintained, but maintained only for those who individually bear the burden. My noble Friend the noble Duke (the Duke of Marlborough) who assented—I believe most unwillingly—to the Motion for the second reading of this Bill, said that there are many new districts in which no church rate is levied, and in which the churches are nevertheless kept in repair. But in the formation of a new district the first step taken after the endowment is to provide a repair fund for the maintenance of the fabric; and that is a permanent fund, not liable to be dealt with according to the caprice of any individual. For my own part, I cannot help seeing that the argument on which the Bill rests is the argument of expediency, and the argument of a false expediency, in violation of a true principle. It is one of the steps—and a large one—by which the Legislature of this country is, I am afraid, rapidly advancing in the direction of placing the Established Church on a level with all other religious sects and denominations in the State. That is the object which is avowed—not by noble Lords opposite—not by those Members of your Lordships' House who support the second reading of this Bill—but by those persons behind the scenes who are working for the overthrow of all ecclesiastical Establishments, and for the universal adoption of the voluntary principle. Whatever alteration you may make in the Bill in Committee, you cannot, I believe, get rid of this its fundamental vice—that it is an abandonment, without any compensation, of the great principle that the Church of England is the Established Church of the country. That is a principle which this country has always regarded as a vital one for its existence and its Constitution. I do not go so far as the noble Earl opposite (Earl Russell) went a few years ago, when he said, "If you do away with church rates you do away with the Church, 1127 and if yon do away with the Church you do away with the Throne;" but I say that by the adoption of this measure you will be unwittingly forwarding the objects of those who are opposed to all Establishments and all endowments for religious purposes, and you will be taking a large step towards what I consider a serious evil—namely, the equalization of all sects in this country, and the abolition of any distinction between the Established Church and all other denominations of Christians. At the same time I think that, considering the large majority who supported the Bill in the House of Commons, Her Majesty's Government are justified in assenting to the Motion for its second reading; and, for my part, I am not disposed to interfere with the apparent unanimity which seems to exist in this House in favour of the Motion; but I must so far enter my protest against the measure as to express my belief that no alterations that can be made in the Bill in Committee will do away with the serious objections to its details, and that even if they did the vice of its principle would remain, and would continue to be of a vital and fundamental character.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
said, that his noble Friend who had just addressed the House had admitted that his objection to the Bill was fundamental and unalterable. That, no doubt, was a position which their Lordships had to decide upon, and to determine whether they were to adopt the principle of "No Surrender" or would accept a compromise; and they would have to consider what interest the Church of England had in maintaining the existing state of things, or how far they would be benefited by the compromise. For his own part, he must frankly say that he differed in some respects from some of his noble Friends in estimating somewhat lower than they did the interest which the Church of England had in maintaining things in their present position. He saw that in many parishes throughout the country church rates were absolutely abolished; while in many others they were collected only after a process of vexatious litigation. He saw further that the amount realized was not very large, and that the existing state of the law often brought clergymen into collision with their parishioners upon that most odious of all questions, the question of money. Besides, after the decision in the Braintree case, the principle that the sustentation of the 1128 fabric of the church was a direct liability which might legally be enforced on a parish had clearly broken down. Under those circumstances, however cloudy the horizon might appear to be, believing that the Church of England had a greater work before her even than she had yet achieved, he was desirous to set her free as far as possible for the performance of that work, and he was willing to sacrifice what he looked upon as a comparatively small advantage to secure that great gain. For several years a succession of Bills had been brought before Parliament on the subject of church rates. Those Bills might be reduced to two classes—the one providing for the total and absolute abolition of the rate, the other, under the semblance of compromise, seeking, in reality, to maintain the existing state of things. Now, at the eleventh hour of the controversy, however, a measure of a different character was submitted to the notice of Parliament, which—although he should have been glad to see it different from what it was in many of its details—he must say he regarded as being drawn up in a tolerant and fair spirit of compromise. It differed, he thought, notwithstanding what had fallen from his noble Friend who had last spoken, in two or three important respects from a measure of total abolition. In the first place it had in its favour the great recommendation that it retained the churchwardens and vestry, and, indeed, the whole of the existing machinery—although, of course, in some parishes in which the levying of church rates was successfully opposed, that machinery with the charge itself would altogether disappear. There was one provision of the Bill which he deemed of the greatest value—namely, that those only who paid the rate should vote, and that those only who contributed to it should have a voice in its appropriation. He could not understand how the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) could object to what was really the compensating and remedial clause for much to which he should otherwise object. It was, in fact, the essence of the compromise. Apart from these advantages possessed by the Bill their Lordships ought to consider whether there was any likelihood of more favourable terms. After the explanation that had been given of the proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee he could not but regard it as an intention to shelve or destroy it; and the question for those who desired to retain as much as 1129 possible of the existing systems and to abandon as little as possible of the rights and interests of the Church was whether, by rejecting the Bill or by referring it to a Select Committee, which was tantamount to its rejection, they were likely to obtain a more satisfactory settlement. Now, neither the Government nor a single Member of the House had ventured to express a belief that better terms might be expected—and indeed it was obvious they were not. It was, therefore, now in the power of the House and the Government, by accepting the second reading of the Bill and referring it in the usual course to a Committee of the Whole House, to close this long standing controversy without any great sacrifice of the dignity, the honour, or even the material interests of the Church. If, on the other hand, they rejected the Bill by sending it to a Select Committee, they might perhaps prolong the controversy—protracting it, perhaps, till next Session, but he ventured to think not much later—they would have before them an alternative which they had more than once pledged themselves to reject—namely, absolute and entire abolition.
THE ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
said, he did not regard the proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee as an attempt to throw it out or shelve it, and he might say he did not intend to give any vote which would embarrass or impede the progress of the Bill. It could not be expected that he should feel any enthusiastic approval of the measure; but he believed the time had come when it was necessary that the irritation and ill-feeling attending this controversy should be done away with. He should therefore vote in favour of the second reading, and should do nothing to impede the further progress of the measure. All compromises must consist of two parts; but while the first part of the Bill conceded for ever the right of compelling payment of church rates, he could not, after a most microscopic examination, find that the second portion offered any compensation. The measure altogether overlooked the state of things existing in the large towns; where church rates were already compensated by public subscriptions, the necessary expenses of the Church were raised without any application to a vestry at all. But the Bill proposed a kind of vestry, which in the first instance would consist, as it ought to do, of every ratepayer, but which would dwindle away by the exclusion of those who could not and 1130 those who would not pay into a sort of select committee, partly official, the status of which it would be impossible to ascertain. That body would levy, with an appearance of authority, a rate which they would have no power to enforce. It was surely much better to leave alone the cases in which public subscriptions had been substituted than to attempt to set up this miserable sham of a vestry; an attempt which he very much deprecated was made in the 6th clause to mix up the voluntary contribution or subscription system with the rating system. Why should voluntary contributions go through a vestry at all? The advantage of a vestry and of the rating system that at present existed was that an estimate was framed and such a rate levied as upon a known assessment would raise the requisite amount; the calculation of ways and means being accurately adjusted to the estimated expense. But he had received a letter from an archdeacon in the Northern province informing him that at a meeting of clergy and churchwardens, convened to consider a former Bill proposing a voluntary rate, a very intelligent farmer stated that in three years the farmers would universally cease payment; only one gentleman present dissenting from that opinion. Now, he would not say that such would be the case universally; but it was the impression of intelligent men as to a particular district. He could not conceive the use of agreeing to a rate of 1d. or 2d. in the pound, if the number of those who paid gradually diminished, and if in three years nobody at all would pay. Nor would the other advantage of a vestry, that the whole parish controlled the expenditure, be secured. It was already gone under the subscription system; and under this Bill every one who neglected to pay would be ousted from the vestry. What, then, would become of the vestry? It would have no power of compulsion, and therefore could not make a rate; it would be no popular assembly of the whole ratepayers, and would therefore not be a vestry. A former Bill proposed that anybody who did not pay should not have the right of being assigned a seat in church. Now, so far from regarding such restrictions as a compensation, he looked upon them as the greatest possible evil which could befall a national Church. Much had been said in another place of the compound-householder, and of a large class of the population who did not pay a rate, however small, for the simple reason 1131 that they could not. Now to shut out such a class from the vestry because, forsooth, they had not paid a church rate might have a semblance of fairness, but just as he should object to taking away their right to come and worship, so he objected to putting them under this other disability. It had hitherto been the glory of the Church of England, though with great shortcomings, that it had endeavoured to seek out the poor of Christ's flock, and to show that the Church of a parish belonged as much to the poor as to the rich. Woe to the Church if that glory should ever be taken away; but there lurked in some of the clauses of the Bill a principle which if applied would gradually turn the poor man's Church into the Church of the rich, and the consequences which had been deprecated would then too surely follow. The position of the Church of England would be taken away, because she would have ceased to be the Church of the nation, taking care of God's poor in every part of the nation, and would have become the Church of a clique or sect — a result which the clergy would deeply deplore.
§ LORD COLCHESTER,
who requested their Lordships' indulgence as a young Member of the House, said, he did not think it desirable that a question like this should be brought forward in the last year of the existence of an expiring Parliament; nor if the occasion had been suitable did he think the measure before the House a satisfactory compromise, or that it was framed on a satisfactory basis. Many wars had been undertaken by this country which were against the feelings of a minority of the people, and many other things were paid for out of public taxes to which many persons might be entirely opposed. It was not sufficient, therefore, to say that there were many in the country who were conscientiously opposed to the payment of church rates. It might be desirable that there should be some compromise, and that persons who conscientiously dissented from the Church should not be called upon to pay; but that was very different from what was proposed in the measure now before the House, which left payment entirely to individual caprice. They had heard much as to the cry of "No Surrender," and something also of the wisdom of yielding in time. But he would remind their Lordships that though, in the history of wars, they had often read of a general who surrendered a fortress that it might not fall in ruins, they had never 1132 heard of any who had allowed his walls to be dismantled in order that from those dismantled walls he might fire an unlimited quantity of blank cartridge. Then it was said that the new constituencies would be composed of those classes which were most under the influence of the Liberation Society. But he begged to remind those who raised this panic-stricken cry that where church rates existed they were imposed by the majority of the parishioners; whereas now an attempt was made to control the course of action of those who only used their liberty to maintain the rates. Why were they to suppose that in a national Parliament there would not be a stronger feeling in behalf of the national Church? The noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) had told them that they could not hope to get better terms than were offered by this measure; but several noble Lords had shown that they could not have much worse. He trusted they would not attempt to settle this question now without giving the new Parliament an opportunity of expressing their views upon it, and that the House would not deceive themselves and the country by agreeing to an absolute surrender under the veil of what he considered a one-sided and valueless compromise.
said, he concurred in the second reading with the purpose of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, very much for the reasons which had been stated by the noble Duke who spoke on behalf of Her Majesty's Government (the Duke of Marlborough)—that it was not expedient that the measure should be rejected without, at least, undergoing a very careful consideration. But he could not help declaring with respect to the general policy of the measure that the abolition of church rates would be contrary both to expediency and to justice. In his opinion, the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) had greatly over-estimated the importance of the movement. That noble Earl said that church rates were already gone in a great number of parishes, and that it was only in certain places they could be maintained. Now, in a wealthy town there would be no difficulty in obtaining the money required for the maintenance of the fabrics of the church; but in the rural districts the case was very different. To his surprise, his noble Friend who had recommended to their Lordships the adoption of the Bill (Earl Russell) had employed an argument which would tell against the simple abolition of the rates, because he 1133 said that, practically, in the great majority of country parishes the system of church rates at this moment worked quite success-fully—the rates were levied, people took a pride in supporting the fabric of their church, and no man would run counter to the feeling of his fellow-parishioners by resisting the payment of the rate. But what would happen under this Bill? They were told that, where there was a general consent, things would go on just as before. It would be no such thing. It was a very different thing to say that, where the majority of the parish was in favour of the rate it might be levied, and to leave the law in such a state that one individual — perhaps some publican who was angry with the clergyman of the parish for discouraging tippling—by refusing to pay his share, might dispose other people also not to pay theirs; and thus the whole system would be practically broken down. He thought that those clauses which had been inserted in the Bill as compensating clauses were an absurdity and an aggravation of the wrong which the Bill itself committed. The tendency of those clauses was to take the control of the parish churches out of the hands of the body of the parishioners and put it into the hauls of a few wealthy persons. The operation of this Bill, if it passed, would in a few years place the parish churches under the control of a party having extreme opinions on one side or another. If the Bill were to be passed at all, it would be much improved, he thought, by striking out those clauses altogether. He approved sending the Bill to a Select Committee. The Bill was not recommended by his noble Friend (Earl Russell) as a compromise, but as a measure which simply gave up the whole point of dispute, and as effecting a practical settlement of the question. He (Earl Grey) thought the right compromise to have been made on this subject was, taking the state of things as they found it, to endeavour to preserve what was admittedly useful and good, to enable the majority of the parishioners to apply a certain sum of money for Church purposes out of the general rate levied for relief of the poor. He should himself submit Amendments to that effect. He was quite aware that the adoption of such Amendments would lead to the rejection of the Bill in "another place;" but it was perfectly consistent with Parliamentary usage and practice that a new Bill embodying the principle for which he con- 1134 tended should be introduced; and it was most fit that their Lordships should distinctly bring before the other House the propriety of making some alteration of this kind, because they would be maintaining what he thought the right of the poor man to have his church kept up for him. He looked upon the Bill in its present shape as a measure simply for robbing the poor for the benefit of the rich. It was said to be unjust to Dissenters to compel them to pay church rates, because they derived no benefit from the Church. But that argument rested upon a total misconception of the principle on which church rates proceeded. We did not ourselves pay church rates simply because we derived advantage from the services of the Church, but because, from the earliest times, the obligation was binding on the owners and occupiers of property to maintain the church for the benefit of their poorer neighbours in each parish. The poor had a right to have the church kept up for them at the expense of those who held property in the parish. Of that right this Bill would deprive them; and he, for one, could not be a party to an arrangement of that kind. He acquiesced, however, in the second reading, in the hope of engrafting upon it in Committee the principle to which he had referred.
THE BISHOP OF OXFORD
said, he desired to state in a very few words why he acqueisced as the noble Earl, who had just sat down, acquiesced, in the second reading of this Bill—in one word, he acquiesced on the ground stated by the noble Earl late at the head of Her Majesty's Government. He believed church rates to be just and to be a proper provision for the poor members of the Church of England; he regarded them as a charge on property, either inherited or obtained by purchase. Whether, therefore, that property was held by members of the Church of England or not it was no injustice whatever that that property should pay church rates. He had always held that doctrine, and he saw no reason whatever to doubt the justice of the principle. But the question now came to them under wholly different circumstances. It came with what they could not mistake to be the decision in "another place" of the representatives of the people of this country that they would not continue the system of church rates. He, for one, could not justify such a decision for a moment. On the contrary, he believed that it was a great misfortune to 1135 this country if the mind of the people under any circumstances had drifted into the position that it would be for the benefit of the religion of the poor if church rates ceased to be a charge upon property. But it seemed to him, when it was once thoroughly ascertained to be the mind of the people of this country that the change should take place, and when their Lordships had exhausted the power of sending back this question to the other House to be tested again and again, so as to ascertain that it was really the mind of the people, that the time had gone by for that House to continue its refusal. He went further and said that he could not refuse his assent to the second reading of this measure, however much be objected to it. Then the question arose, was this Bill any better than a simple abandonment of the principle of church rates? He believed it to be a great deal better. It seemed to him that the Bill promised to relieve them from the evils of a mere voluntary arrangement. The great advantage of the Bill was that it said that those who in future took the common management of Church affairs in each parish should pay a fair share of the common expense—that they must either pay that or give up their places amongst the maintainers of the Church. By that provision they got rid of the temptation under which sefishness would act of the single mean man pulling down the common subscriptions of all around him. Another great advantage was that the Bill kept alive the parochial machinery of the country for collecting and managing the Church funds. It had been said that this would throw our parochial system into a few hands; but it must be remembered that even now the vestry had nothing to do with church rates. The management of our churches was not by law in the hands of the vestry, but in those of the Ordinary. The power of the vestry only extended to a refusal to pay in advance for anything they disapproved of. This Bill did not destroy the parochial vestry, but it confined the administration of the funds to those who gave those funds. The question to be decided was whether their Lordships would wait to see church rates abolished altogether, or whether they would accept some such provision as was offered in the present Bill? There were two provisions which he should wish to see introduced into the Bill. One was a provision to constitute the churchwardens and clergyman of each parish a corporation 1136 for receiving gifts for the maintenance of the fabric of the church. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners would not act so well for that purpose; for many persons who would be willing to give £100 for the maintenance of their parish church would not be ready to give their money unless they knew that it was invested in the hands of trustees connected with the parish, and whom they knew; the other was a prevision, just and equitable, and he might almost say essential, before the principle of the Bill was carried out—namely, to give to the owners, and even life-owners of property the power of charging their estates with a sum equal to that which those estates now paid towards the maintenance of the fabric of the church, the Mortmain Act and other rights of property notwithstanding. He thought that, with these additions, the present measure would be anything but a real surrender; and if the parochial clergy were to take the matter kindly in hand and explain that the intention of the Legislature was not to do away with church rates, but to provide another mode of obtaining them, he believed that in a great many of our towns where the church rates were now lost they might be recovered under the action of this Bill. He was prepared to agree to the second reading of the Bill, with a distinct understanding that, as proposed by the Government, it should then he referred to a Select Committee, not to defeat the Bill, but to perfect it.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, if it were necessary at that stage of the measure to decide absolutely whether this Bill should be accepted as it stood or rejected, he owned that he should have great difficulty in giving his assent to it. In coming to that decision, he should not be at all appalled by the alternative proposed that evening—namely, that if the Bill were not accepted there was no other choice but the unconditional abolition of church rates; because, speaking for himself, he owned that if the choice were presented to him, to concur in this measure as it stood or to submit to unconditional abolition, much as he would deplore such a result, he should be willing to accept the latter alternative rather than assent to the clauses of the Bill as he understood them. But it appeared to him that there were good reasons why their Lordships should take the course suggested by the Government of referring the Bill to a Select Committee 1137 after passing its present stage. One of those reasons, no doubt, was founded upon the degree of assent which the Bill received in the other House of Parliament, not merely from one side or one party, but from Members on both sides of the House. Another reason was, that this was not the first Bill on the subject introduced into the House of Commons; but that, in previous years, measures had been offered by Members on different sides of the House which more or less proceeded in the direction of the enactments proposed by the present Bill. Another reason why he desired to see the Bill referred to a Select Committee was the very great difficulty he laboured under of understanding the effect and operation of the clauses as they were now worded. He regretted that the noble Earl who had moved the second reading (Earl Russell) had offered no explanation of what appeared to be the grave difficulties of the measure as it stood. He would not delay their Lordships by referring to that which was so well treated of by the right rev. Prelate who spoke first (the Bishop of London)—he meant the 2nd clause. It was a clause thirty lines in length, without breathing space from beginning to end, and before one had read it half through the mind was lost in utter bewilderment as to what possibly could be meant by it. They could only deal safely with local Acts of Parliament which provided for the exigencies of particular places by excepting those Acts altogether from the operation of the general measure, or by taking them up one by one, and making the alterations they intended. The cases that had been mentioned might easily be multiplied, and their Lordships might depend that every one of those Acts had been passed by way of bargain and arrangement; and if, by a general measure, Parliament opened up the arrangements that had been made, it could not fail to inflict grievous and gross injustice upon places which those local Acts at present regulated. He quite agreed with the noble Earl on the cross Benches (Earl Grey) that their Lordships could make no greater mistake than to suppose that, because at the present time, when a church rate once made was leviable under the law of the land, in the great majority of country parishes church rates were levied and paid, that therefore when the compulsion was taken away the rates would continue to be paid as they were at present. It stood to reason that it made all the differ- 1138 ence in the world, when a rate had been made and the parishioners knew that payment could be compelled, whether the power to enforce payment were continued or taken away. But, passing from that, he wanted to know the meaning of the 5th section. As far as he could understand it, he did not believe it would have any operation at all. If he read correctly, the 5th clause did propose to act upon the old and well-known machinery and conditions, but gave new statutory authority to whom the voluntary rate was to be payable, and to whom was it to be paid? Power was given to the parishioners in vestry assembled to agree upon a voluntary rate. The necessary consequence was that there must be unanimity—a single dissentient voice would destroy the whole operation of the clause. The most he could say for the clause was that he believed it never could work. He apprehended the noble Earl would say that his understanding was that there was to be a majority and a minority; and if the majority carried the rate, their decision would operate upon those who concurred with that majority. But if that were the meaning, the clause was nothing but a device to take the fabric of the church and the management of the parish out of the hands of the parishioners. In that case the noble Earl on the cross Benches was perfectly right, and they might depend upon it that in the course of a very few years, under the operation of this clause, coupled with the 8th, a few monied men in the parish would remain masters of the situation, and would have the whole control of the church and everything connected with it. The right rev. Prelate who spoke last (the Bishop of Oxford) had said theoretically, with perfect accuracy, that the control was in the hands of the Ordinary; but they all knew how very different the state of things was practically. The control of the church rested with the incumbent and with those who had got the funds which were to be laid out upon the church. What might occur in any parish was that a few men with long purses, extremely anxious to carry out their own views, either æsthetical or ecclesiastical, would continually and vigilantly subscribe and pay the rates, and if the incumbent concurred with them they would become masters of the church, with such a margin of power as would enable them practically to operate upon it in any way they might think fit. Thus a small monied hierarchy would become 1139 masters of the church of the parish, and would render what should be a glory and a blessing to the whole parish an object of antagonism and dislike. The 6th clause offered facilities for proceedings at law for the recovery of the voluntary contributions; but he must say that nothing could be more fatal to the principle of voluntaryism than by bolstering it up with such a provision. The right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford) considered that one advantage of the Bill was that it would keep the ordinary and recognized machinery of the parish in operation. But was that so? What happened under the 7th clause? The proper persons to undertake the ordinary management of the parish church would be the churchwardens; but if the churchwarden happened to be, as he frequently might be, a non-contributor to the rate, the contributors were to appoint a treasurer of their own, and the churchwarden was to be out of office for the purpose of receiving and applying the funds. How, then, were they to be applied? What right would the treasurer of these voluntary contributions have to approach the parish church, and oust the churchwarden in the application of the money to the fabric? They would have churchwardens deprived of their jurisdiction to receive and apply the funds, and a treasurer without the power of approaching the parish church to spend the money upon it; and he wanted to know what, under these circumstances, was to become of the money? By the 8th clause it was provided that no one was to vote who had not paid the previous rate. How was it to be determined on the first occasion who was entitled to vote? But suppose they got over the difficulty on the first occasion, and a rate was made by the select body entitled to vote, it appeared that the next year the same persons, and those only, would be entitled. Suppose a new contributor wanted to come in he could not do so; because he would not have qualified himself by payment of the rate of the previous year. Thus the body of contributors would be limited to the first contributors, and might dwindle away. He did not say that clauses could not be devised which would go far to render a Bill of this kind more palateable; but certainly their Lordships ought to see that the clause presented for their consideration was such as would have a tangible and clear operation. He quite concurred with the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford), that 1140 a most excellent provision, whether this Bill passed or not, would be to constitute a sort of special corporation—whether it were the incumbent of the parish and the churchwardens, or some other persons—to be the recipients of voluntary contributions for the maintenance of the fabric of the church. But the other proposition of the right reverend Prelate would be attended with very great danger. The proposition was that the owner of land should be authorized to charge his land with a rent-charge to the amount of the church rate, notwithstanding the Mortmain Acts. What would be the consequence of that? When land was so charged matters would go on smoothly enough so long as the owner was a member of the Church of England; but if it came into the hands of a Nonconformist, the rent-charge to him would be the old church rate to him, and he would complain as much as ever. He trusted their Lordships would allow the second reading to pass, that the Bill might go to a Select Committee—not with the view of shelving it, but to see whether the arrangements it proposed could not be presented to their Lordships in a more acceptable form, and their Lordships could say on the third reading whether the Bill as amended ought or ought not to receive their assent.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
said, that at any rate this discussion showed that their Lordships were about to read a second time a Bill from which they entirely dissented. From the beginning to the end of the debate there had not been expressed the slightest approval of the Bill. It would go to a Select Committee, and it would come out a Bill for introducing the voluntary principle in regard to the support of the church buildings. It was the thin end of the wedge, which was now about to be driven home hard, with the view of rendering the Church of England by degrees dependent on the voluntary system, by freeing it from the State. It would thus become as much a voluntary Church, and quite as sectarian, as the Wesleyan or any other body, for whom he had a very great respect, though he did not wish to see his Church placed upon the same level. For himself, he could not vote for the second reading of the Bill. Looking at the character of the times, he did not think it was a safe policy that their Lordships should, without making the slightest effort, yield in a case in which any oppression of the people was not in- 1141 volved in the slightest degree. If a foreigner happened to be present at the Bar of the House during the present discussion, he would naturally imagine that the churches of England were in a state of ruin, whereas, the fact was that they were never in better condition; so that, in that respect, there was nothing to complain of under the existing law. It should be remembered that in the parishes where the church rates were still maintained they must be enforced by the will of the majority of the parish. But if voluntaryism, pure and simple, were established, in how many parishes did their Lordships suppose they would be enforced? He would remind their Lordships that there were many parishes where there were no rich people to be found. He would take the case of the fens of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, and would ask what prospect there was in those districts of maintaining the churches without rates? In many cases the Dissenters—he spoke of the religious and not of the political Dissenters—were parties to the church rate. He felt bound to offer his opposition to the destruction of the present system.
THE BISHOP OF CARLISLE
said, he had addressed letters to several clergymen asking them to give him their opinion as to the facility with which church rates were collected in the rural districts, and as to the probable results of the establishment of the voluntary system; and the unanimous answer had been that the charge was easily levied; but that if the voluntary system were resorted to the rates would probably dwindle away, and the consequence would be that in those districts the maintenance of the churches would be altogether thrown on the clergy and a few rich persons. He felt it to be impossible for him, after the discussion which had taken place, to resist the second reading of the Bill; but he should reserve to himself the right of opposing any of the provisions to which he might object at a future stage.
THE MARQUESS OF BATH
said, that although a nominal power of enforcing the payment of church rates existed, they had practically been abolished in all the town parishes, and that in those country parishes in which their collection was contested, ground was from year to year gained by those by whom they were opposed. It was, under these circumstances, not very difficult to foresee that the compulsory payment of church rates would 1142 before very long cease. Now, the Bill before the House was neither so very good nor so very bad as some persons seemed to imagine; and he thought it would be better that it should be dealt with by the Whole House than that it should be sent to a Select Committee, by whom alterations so considerable might be made in it as materially to endanger its prospects. The measure was a sort of compromise, and if it were materially altered there would be a danger of its not passing; and then they would have to face the danger of total abolition. They would never again meet the House of Commons under circumstances so favourable as the present; and he would ask their Lordships whether it would be wise to risk the losing all that the present Bill would save to the Church by adopting the foolish policy of "No Surrender?" He had known a Bill rejected one year, and the next year a Bill far more important in its consequences had been passed. Much, therefore, as he disliked this measure, he did not think any-better terms could be secured for the Church; and he hoped noble Lords on that side of the House would not be induced by the Government, because some of the clauses were not altogether satisfactory, to run the risk of losing all the compensating clauses.
§ EARL RUSSELL,
in reply, said, he was gratified to find that the reception of the Bill had been such that, with very few exceptions, their Lordships did not intend to oppose the second reading. Another circumstance which, he confessed, had given him great pleasure, and on which he must congratulate the House, was the presence in his place of the noble Earl lately the First Lord of the Treasury, who had spoken with such vigour as to indicate that he had greatly recovered his health. He had been somewhat surprised, however, at the position the noble Earl had taken; for he believed that some years ago Mr. Walpole, on behalf of a Government headed by the noble Earl, introduced into the other House a Bill for the abolition of compulsory church rates. He had also been surprised to hear the noble Earl compare the question of church rates to a rate for a museum or public library. In the latter case when a decision was arrived at the minority can have no difficulty in submitting to the majority; but a church rate was connected with considerations of religion and conscience, which led men to resist what, were it merely a money ques- 1143 tion, they would submit to. It was strange that after more than thirty years' discussion of this question the noble Earl should have used such an argument. But the real question which he (Earl Russell) desired the friends of the Church to consider was that this controversy had produced and was still producing ill-will and litigation, and that it was not for the interest of the Church that such agitation should continue. He believed the objectors to church rates might be divided into two classes. The first class was composed of moderate men, who really felt it a hardship and a grievance that, while supporting their own places of worship, they should be compelled to contribute to other religious edifices, which they never entered, and against the doctrines preached in which they protested. They were anxious to get rid of that grievance, and were, at the same time, willing to agree to clauses sanctioning voluntary rates. The other class were men who wished to keep this question alive for the purposes of agitation; and who thought this the best question on which they could oppose the Established Church, and they would consequently be delighted if their Lordships rejected the Bill, either by strangling it in a Select Committee or by openly refusing the second reading. He thought all judicious friends of the Church should be delighted to get rid of a question in which it can be more effectually held up to odium than any other. He thought it most unfortunate that the repair of churches was thrown centuries ago on a rate to be raised by the decision of the parishioners. In Scotland there was a different arrangement; for when a kirk or manse required enlargement or repair the heritors were summoned and contributed their share to make up the required sum. In this country the decision by a majority has given rise to great disputes and ill-will, and it appeared to him to be for the interests of the Church that it should be got rid of as soon as possible. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had complained that he (Earl Russell) had not explained the clauses of the Bill. It was not his Bill, however; he had not framed it, and he should not undertake to expound its clauses. This he knew, however, that his right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone had taken very good legal advice; and he also knew from repeated instances that when one lawyer had framed a plea or proposition, there was always 1144 some other lawyer who could pick holes in it and show that it was utterly useless. He had no doubt, therefore, that if, in a Select Committee or otherwise, the noble and learned Lord inserted clauses, the objectors to church rates, on the clauses being sent down to the other House, would pick holes in them quite as plausibly as the noble and learned Lord had done with regard to the Bill as it stood. Objection had been taken to the expression that the parishioners should "agree"—as if a unanimous decision were thereby required for a voluntary rate; but it would be easy to clear away such a difficulty by inserting "a majority of" before "the parishioners." He had been pleased to hear the speech of the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford), and agreed with him as to the advantages of a voluntary rate as compared with a subscription; for if the parishioners decided on a rate of so much in the pound, persons would be called upon for their just proportion, and would feel morally bound to pay it; whereas, if no particular sum was asked each man might subscribe as little as he pleased. A rate; would produce contributions in a much fairer proportion than would otherwise be the case. The Bill contained three important principles. The first was the abolition of compulsory payments, which, of course, was the essence of the Bill; and if it were modified, or struck out, the measure would virtually be at an end. The second principle was that all payments which, though made under the name of church rates, were, in fact, payments to the incumbent by way of commuted tithe should be continued. If it were thought necessary to recite the Acts in question, he should have no objection; for gentlemen who received their income in this manner, were as much entitled to it as other clergymen were to a rent-charge for commuted tithe. The third principle was provision for a voluntary rate, and the machinery was a question of detail. It was possible that the Bill could be better considered by a Select Committee; but he should be very reluctant to agree to that course, for if clauses were introduced in the Bill by a Select Committee in secret, and after a discussion unknown to the public, those who represented the objectors to church rates in the other House would certainly find some hidden meaning in those clauses, which they would not do had they been openly debated. Without, therefore, giving any definite opinion on the question, 1145 he was disposed to prefer the considerations of the Bill by a Committee of the Whole House. He would, however, think over the point as carefully as he could, and would inform the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Malmesbury) what course he would take on the Motion being made to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. He would fix the Committee for Thursday next, before which day he would inform the noble Earl of his decision.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
said, he had been much disappointed at the noble Earl not having made the Bill intelligible to the House. The noble Earl had said that it was not his Bill, and it had apparently come into the House without father or mother. Nobody was present to explain it, and it was still consequently, as at five o'clock, when their Lordships met, unintelligible to both sides of the House. The noble Earl had said that he had taken the Bill upon trust from Mr. Gladstone, that Mr. Gladstone had trusted to a lawyer to draw it up, and that it was a case of one lawyer picking holes in the work of another. He certainly thought the noble Earl should have been prepared to make the Bill perfectly intelligible; whereas it was no disrespect to him to say that he did not himself understand the 2nd clause. For his own part he had asked several lawyers and others, but nobody could understand it. A large deputation from Marylebone, moreover, had waited upon him to ask what it meant, they being in the greatest consternation, because, if the meaning were such as they apprehended, it abolished local Acts, in which case five of their clergymen would at once lose a considerable part of their incomes. The important question before their Lordships was whether the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee or not. Again he must ask the noble Earl, in all courtesy, to make up his mind as to that point. They had had some conversation on the subject before, and he found the noble Earl then not unwilling to allow the Bill to be sent to a Select Committee—in fact, if he had not misunderstood the noble Earl, he said he was willing; but the next day, after consultation with his friends, he revoked that consent, and said he thought it better to have the discussion upon the clauses take place in Committee of the Whole House. He could assure the noble Earl that Her Majesty's Government had no intention whatever of shelving the Bill; but to attempt to alter the Bill in 1146 Committee of the Whole House would produce nothing short of a perfect Babel of conversation. A Committee could be chosen to amend the Bill upstairs, and it would then re-appear before their Lordships in an improved condition. He must press the noble Earl to give an answer on this subject as soon as possible, because it was his intention, on the Motion for going into Committee, to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. The noble Earl wished to go into Committee on Thursday next. That was quite as short an interval as custom would sanction. But he hoped that by to-morrow evening the noble Earl would consult with his friends and be able to state finally his intentions.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Nine o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter before Five o'clock.