HL Deb 16 April 1872 vol 210 cc1305-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that its object was to enable members of the Church of England to do in respect of free seats that which they could not do at present, but which Roman Catholics and Dissenters had power to do. The grievance which the Bill was intended to remedy was a real and a serious one, and it would be best explained by one or two instances. In 1870 the church of St. Augustine, Queensgate, was founded with the express object of having all its seats free and open, and was built on the site where a temporary iron church had previously stood. Mr. Shaw Stewart presented the site, at a cost of £3,000, on that express condition; and an endowment of £3,300 was raised by subscription. But as the Committee was informed by the secretary to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners that no words could be inserted in the conveyance stipulating that the church seats should always be free, and as it was found impossible to frame any instructions that could be legal and binding, the founders of the church had to be satisfied with the hope that the intention that the seats should be free would be respected. In another case, the church of All Saints, Thames Bank, Pimlico, was founded with the same intentions. The land was granted by a noble Lord, a Member of their Lordships' House; and again it was found impossible to insert in the trust any legally binding provision that the seats should always be free. The difficulty arose from certain clauses of the Church Buildings Acts, and the result was that instead of giving freeholds for churches, the owners of land who desired that the seats should be free were only able to give leaseholds; for there was no other method of securing that the seats should remain free and unappropriated, for the use of the people. No blame was attributable to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, because they were bound to follow the provisions of the Church Buildings Acts, and as they were made the Church Building Commissioners under those Acts it was impossible for them to act otherwise than they did. But it did appear to him to be a great grievance that while Roman Catholics and Nonconformists were free to build churches in accordance and with the spirit of the time, on the condition that the seats should be free, members of the Church of England who wished to do the same, and to secure that the edifices should be open to the whole population, were unable to do so. The object of the Bill was to enable grantors or vendors of the site for any now church, or the promoters of the erection or endowment of any such church, to declare that the seats shall be free and unappropriated; and to declare that any stipulation or condition to that effect shall be no impediment to the acceptance by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of any church site, nor to the consecration of any church. The first three clauses carried out that principle. The fourth clause was one that might fairly be discussed in Committee. It provided that it shall not be lawful to let or appropriate any church seat which has been free and unappropriated for the space of three years after the passing of this Act, or for any three consecutive years; any provisions of the Church Buildings Act, or of any other Acts or customs notwithstanding. He trusted that their Lordships would read the Bill the second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl Nelson.)


said, that the Bill was undoubtedly aimed at a real grievance, and it seemed well calculated to effect its object. He was glad to give it his support, while reserving his right to consider certain details of the measure, especially the 4th clause, in Committee.


said, he was sorry to differ from the noble Earl and the most rev. Primate, but he was afraid that the Bill—framed undoubtedly with the best intentions—would be conducive to more complication and inconvenience than was anticipated. For instance, the 2nd clause would enable not only the grantor, but also the vendor of a site for a church, to stipulate that the seats in it should always be unappropriated. Now, it might be right that, such a power should be given to the grantor of the site, but surely not to the mere vendor of one. In large towns it was well known that sites were scarce, that they generally fetched their full value, and that often there was but one site to be had. Surely it would be unreasonable that the vendor of a site under such circumstances should be able to impose conditions as to the regulation of the seats in the church for all time to come. Again, the clause proposed that the same right should also be conferred upon the committee of the subscribers to the fund for the purchase of the site or the erection and endowment of any church; but it should be remembered that the committee generally consisted of a few active gentlemen, who made it their business to collect funds from all parts of the kingdom; and that they could not be held to represent or even to be acquainted with the opinions of the vast majority of the subscribers on the subject of free seats. In the last clause it was, indeed, provided that nothing in the Bill should prevent the Bishop or other ordinary or churchwarden from regulating the temporary occupation of church seats, and it would be generally admitted that if there was to be not only no appropriation, but also no allotment of seats, a very great obstacle would be raised to poor people attending church. There was nothing such persons more objected to than being mixed up in church with the classes above them, whose dress was better than their own. Again, he believed that persons liked to see what they paid for, and on that principle the payment of a small sum for their sittings had the effect of inducing persons to attend church who might otherwise not do so. Under the existing law the Ecclesiastical Commissioners could, with the approbation of the Bishop, set aside one half of the seats as free, and from this provision great good had resulted. The offertories would be full with a popular preacher; if the preacher were a man of ordinary abilities the offertories would be of small value. Those were points which ought to weigh with their Lordships; and he hoped they would not hastily accede to the objects of the Bill. If his noble Friend pressed his Motion for the second reading he must divide against him.


supported the Bill. It was, to his mind, a reasonable demand, and he hoped that it would be acceded to. The Bill was permissive in its character, and it would, with perhaps some alterations, work advantageously to the Church. No doubt one or two of the propositions in the Bill needed revision; but he trusted that their Lordships would allow the Bill to be read a second time, and reserve any objections which they might entertain for consideration in the Committee.


concurred with his noble Friend (the Duke of Marlborough). The Bill purported to be permissive, but it was in effect compulsory. In his opinion no class was more interested in this question than the labouring population of the rural districts, and the poor generally of those districts, who when asked for a reason why they did not go to church, answered that they had no seats or places where to sit, and they were anxious that they should have a certain part of the seats appropriated to their use. He could not think that this Bill would be regarded by them as any great boon. He knew not whether the Ecclesiastical Commissioners approved of the Bill, as it was alleged they did. Looking at the Bill as it was now presented to their Lordships, he would, if his noble Friend (Earl Nelson) went to a division, certainly vote with him against the second reading.


said, that by the provisions of this Bill the churchwardens would not have the power which they at present possessed of appropriating the church seats. The defects of the Bill might be got rid of in Committee; but as at present advised he concurred in the objection of the two noble Dukes,


said, there were difficulties in the Bill; but he nevertheless thought their Lordships might consent to the second reading, seeing that the measure might be so amended in Committee as to remove all objections. As to the appropriation of seats, where no such appropriation existed as in their Lordships' House, it might be observed that noble Lords spontaneously moved to the same seats; and so in churches that Sunday after Sunday, although there was no attempt to direct people to take their seats in the church, it was seen by the well recognized faces that the people took their customary seats.


said, he did not think the Bill was well drawn; but after the expression of general approval from the right rev. Bench, he put it to his noble Friend (the Duke of Marlborough) whether he would persevere in his opposition to the second reading. It would be open to him to move such Amendments in Committee as would remove his objections.


supported the second reading of the Bill, and observed that it would be perfectly open to those who occupied the free seats to subscribe to the usual offertory.


also supported the second reading, and stated that in his own church he had thrown the side aisle open to the poor, and found the seats invariably well filled.


also supported the second reading.


said, that he would not, after the appeal which had been made to him, oppose the second reading of the Bill, reserving to himself the right of amending it in Committee.

On Question? agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday, the 25th instant.