HL Deb 15 June 1871 vol 207 cc48-53

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the object of the measure was to extend to all cathedral cities the Act of 1860, which enabled contiguous parishes to be united. In his own cathedral city there were many parishes so small that the work of the Church could hardly be carried on in them with becoming dignity, and some of the churches were so hemmed in and ill-ventilated and lighted, that worship could not be fitly carried on in them. The work of the clergyman could not be carried on in a becoming and efficient manner, because the income was so small. In many of them it was impossible to get persons to undertake parochial offices. The church- wardens of two parishes in Exeter—one containing 200 inhabitants, and the other 300—had called upon him and represented to him the desirability of uniting these two parishes; and that it was desirable that one of the churches should be closed. They said that they had incurred personal liability for the repair of the fabric, and that the result of a voluntary rate had only produced the sum of 10s. He believed that great benefit would result if the union of small benefices could be facilitated. The provisions of the existing Act respecting London were not precisely suited to other cathedral cities, and the consents required were very numerous; but he doubted whether Parliament would dispense with these safeguards, while the expense attending the removal of bodies might be regarded as a chock on ill-considered action. Seeing, therefore, no immediate prospect of better machinery, he should be sorry to lose the present opportunity, when consents might be obtained which a few years hence might be impracticable, and he believed that the inconvenient arrangement of parishes of which he complained was almost confined to cathedral cities.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Bishop of Exeter.)


said, he objected to both the form and substance of the Bill. His objection to the form was that it referred to another Act—which would be very inconvenient for those who would have to work out its provisions. He objected also to the substance of the Bill, as it would create pluralities without limitation as to the population of the parishes united; and it would facilitate the pulling down churches for the purpose of selling the sites. It was true that the existing Act exempted London from such a limitation; but this was au exceptional case, for a London parish might have a weekday population of 25,000, and one of only 300 or 400 on Sundays. The clauses were agreed to after much discussion at the instance of the most rev. Prelate who then presided over the See of London. The parishes mentioned by the right rev. Prelate might be united with others provided the aggregate population did not exceed 1,500—a limitation which was imposed on the ground that such a population was as large as a clergyman could attend to single-handed. It was undesirable to pull down churches and sell the sites, for a small parish did not necessarily imply a small congregation. He would move that the Bill, which he thought had been drawn by an astute conveyancer, in order that it might slip through without notice, be read a second time this day six months.

An Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this day six months.")—(The Earl of Powis.)


approved the object of the Bill, but he would ask his right rev. Brother as to the wisdom of attaching it to the Act of 1860, which had been as unworkable as the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Powis) could wish. During the ten years of its operation there had been 31 commissions to consider the advisability of the union of benefices in London, 30 of them being in the first two or three years after its passing. Eight of these schemes were approved and 23 disapproved; but of those eight only one had been carried out, the church being in course of erection: one was likely to be carried out, and three or four others might come to maturity. The reason was that the Act gave not only a voice to every party interested, but it gave them an absolute veto, and anyone could either refuse his consent or make it conditional on extravagant terms. The result was that persons imposed terms which it was impossible to accept. In other analogous cases there was some mode of adjudicating on objections, but here there was none, and, though the parishioners generally might have no objection, it was not easy to procure their attendance in any number; while it might be the interest of the vestry clerk to keep things as they were. In some of the city parishes, they being already old unions, two or three, or even more patrons had to be consulted, each having an absolute veto. He had been informed of a case which had been hung up, because a patron who had a fourth turn refused his assent unless he received patronage in exchange, or considerable compensation—although one of those gentlemen who called themselves "clerical agents" slated that the value of a fourth turn to presentation was inappreciable. The proceeds of sales of sites, moreover, were much smaller than they should be. The recent Census had shown a large decrease in the City parishes, and in many the Sunday population was vanishing. Indeed, he was informed that in one the number of people who slept in it on the night of the Census was under a dozen. The unworkableness of the existing Act had become such a scandal that its amendment must speedily be undertaken, and he could hardly recommend any extension of it in its present shape.


said, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, but he entirely agreed with the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of London) in his statement regarding the great difficulty that was experienced in working the original Act. The removal of bodies made the union of City parishes very expensive, and the sites had not, as was expected, realized a sufficient sum to build and properly endow churches in populous suburbs. It was desirable that an improved and general measure should be passed.


objected to the form of the Bill as clumsy, and not calculated to meet the necessities of the case. Those difficulties would have to be faced sooner or later by a Bill of an effectual and comprehensive character. In some cities, where churches were crowded together without populations attached to them, it was impossible, now that church rates were abolished, to keep them in repair.


said, the power of uniting small benefices was very desirable, and the present Bill simply extended an existing Act to all cathedral cities. York much required such a power. A meeting held there shortly after his acceptance of the sec, and attended by all the leading Churchmen, unanimously condemned as a great evil the existence of 26 small benefices, some without endowments or congregations, He had appointed a clergyman, in one case, to two contiguous bonefifes—a plan which had been in operation two or three years without the slightest complaint from the parishioners that the duties were less efficiently performed. Two congregations thus assembled in each church alternately; but there was no reason why they should not have a single church, and the sites of the churches pulled down would often be serviceable for schools. He admitted that the Bill would be but slightly ope- rative, but as far as it went he felt bound to support it.


said, he opposed the Bill for the very reason given in the last observation of the most rev. Prelate—that it would be but slightly operative. The unworkableness of the existing Act was a reason for not extending it. He objected to such a mode of dealing with the question. He did not agree with the noble Earl (the Earl of Powis) that the Bill had been drawn by an astute conveyaneer, for the recital spoke of "the Session of Parliament which sat" in such and such a year. It would be unintelligible without reference to the Act of 1860, and he could not see why cathedral cities required legislation more than other large towns. Under these circumstances he trusted that the right rev. Prelate would leave the subject to be dealt with next Session on a larger and more comprehensive scale.


was understood to say that he thought that the Bill could be easily amended in Committee in a way to remove the objections urged against it.


said, he had not heard a single argument advanced in favour of the Bill; and even those who supported it qualified their approval by so many modifications that it would be hardly wise to accept their advice and pass a Bill which was so ill-drawn that it would be a crying disgrace to them.


said, he thought the right rev. Prelate was justified in introducing a Bill which proposed simply to extend the same power to cathedral cities which had already been given with respect to the Metropolis, on the principle that it was always desirable to secure uniformity of procedure. Although the procedure fit for London might not be fit for other smaller towns, the right rev. Prelate thought it would be better to adopt the clauses of the Act dealing with London rather than encumber the Statute Book with exceptional legislation, in the same way as it had been deemed expedient in the case of railways and public companies to make one law applicable to all. No one connected with a cathedral city could doubt the want of some measure of this description. Since he had had the honour of holding his present office he had been informed of several of those small bene- fices having lapsed to the Crown in consequence of the impossibility of finding persons to accept them. The present measure, however, was capable of great improvement.


remarked that if Parliament intended to occupy itself with subjects of this kind it might be desirable to have a Churchyard Desecration Clauses Act; but, in the meantime, he pointed out that while in London, where land was very valuable, it would be well to incur expenditure wider the Act of 1860, in ordinary cathedral towns, where land as a rule was not valuable, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners would provoke a great deal of ill-feeling by desecrating the ground and hurting the feelings of the relatives of those inferred there, without in the end being able to recoup themselves for the outlay.

On Question? Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a this day six month.