HL Deb 18 April 1872 vol 210 cc1460-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, claimed the indulgence of their Lordships if he went somewhat into detail, for he believed the Bill to be one of very great importance to his diocese and to the country at large. He should not detain the House by dwelling on the principle of the Bill, because that had been admitted by their Lordships' House so long ago as 1854, when a Church Building Act Amendment Bill was brought forward by Lord Harrowby. The principle so admitted in 1854 was more fully acted on in 1860, when the Act was passed, of which the measure he now proposed was an amendment; but the application of the Bill was limited to the metropolis. That principle was that where, owing to a change of circumstances, churches were no longer necessary in the parishes in which they stood, and spiritual destitution existed in other localities, there might justifiably be a removal of such churches and an application of the endowments for the benefit of the districts which required them. Of course, removals of churches ought only to be made for sufficient reasons, and after careful consideration; but there could be no doubt that in many cases such a step was desirable, and it was this conviction which had induced Parliament to pass the Act. He sympathized very much with those who did not like to see a church removed from their midst. There were old and sacred associations connected with them—associations which in some instances had extended throughout centuries—and those churches especially which covered the ashes of the dead ought not to be disturbed without very grave reasons. It was urged by Lord Powis, when arguing against the measure of 1854, that the population of the City of London had decreased only 1,000 since 1801; but he (the Bishop of London) was at a loss to know where the noble Lord had found authority for that statement. At all events, it was certain that there had been a very marked decrease of the population of the City since 1851. The Census Returns showed that in 1851 the population was 129,171; in the 10 years between 1851 and 1861 it had decreased to 113,387; and in the decennial period between 1861 and 1871 it had further decreased to 74,731—a decrease of 37,000, or about one-third, in the last 10 years. It was now proposed to carry certain great railways further into the City, which would necessitate the throwing down of a large number of houses; so that in ten years more the population of the City would be still further decreased. Meanwhile there were no fewer than 66 churches for the 74,000 of population—some of them spacious and handsome buildings, capable of accommodating very large congregations. Undoubtedly, certain of these churches were in districts which still contained considerable populations, and large congregations assembled in them; but in some cases the congregations were very small indeed. He remembered attending some 30 years ago to do duty in one of the City churches for an incumbent, who was suffering from illness. He found himself in a commodious church, admirably fitted with everything required for a large congregation; but he was rather surprised at the attendance. The number of persons present at Divine service was 17; but the clerk told him that the congregation that day was larger than usual, because, the Sunday being a wet one, the parishioners had not been able to go out of town. Clearly if 66 churches were enough in 1851 when the population was 130,000, they must be too many now when the population had dwindled down to 74,000. He had heard it said that if the Census of the City had been taken on any other night than Sunday night the return of population would have been larger. That might be; but it was on Sunday principally that church accommodation was required. It was true that some clergymen succeeded, much to their credit, in securing large congregations, and their churches were crowded; but it would be found that the parishioners of adjoining or distant parishes had come to such churches, and so swelled the number of worshippers, and in certain cases special services in the City drew large numbers of worshippers; but that was because of the rarity of the occasion; and it might be presumed that they collected into a focus the persons who would otherwise have been scattered among other churches. He knew that it had been objected that non-resident incumbents were the cause of the paucity in the number who attended some of the City churches. Well, he always regretted it when the incumbent was nonresident—he regarded it as an evil and a scandal; but to attribute the scantiness of the congregation to that circumstance was to confound cause with effect; the fact being rather that when a clergyman found that his clerical duties could be conscientiously discharged in two or three days in the week out of the seven, he made that a justification for residing in the suburbs, and it naturally made him more ready to listen to the opinion of his medical adviser when he told him that it would be better for the health of his wife and children that they should live out of town. But one chief reason why he was so anxious that this Bill, or something like it, should pass, was, that by forming larger parishes, which would bring with them their responsibilities, the evil of non-resident incumbents might be got rid of altogether, or considerably mitigated. A large population would require a resident incumbent. He believed that the superfluity of churches in the City proper was beyond denial; but if one started from the City, and walked northwards or eastwards, he must feel how great was the want of them beyond the City boundaries. In Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Hackney, there were thousands on thousands of persons suffering from the deficiency of church accommodation and pastoral care. The same might be said of Whitechapel, St. George's-in-the-East, the Docks, of Bow, and of Plaistow; and on the south side of the river, of Lambeth, Southwark, and as far as Woolwich. It would be difficult to say too much of the liberality of churchmen during the last 10 years. As Bishop of the metropolitan diocese, he felt deeply grateful for it. A great deal had been done in the building of churches and in providing additional schools, and in otherwise relieving the spiritual destitution of the metropolis, during the period when Bishop Blomfield presided over the diocese. But he believed that in the last 10 years a greater number of churches had been built than in any other similar period since that immediately after the Great Fire. Still the population kept in advance of the means of grace, and both churches and schools were required to overtake and keep pace with its immense and rapid growth. His predecessor in the diocese, the most rev. Primate, when proposing what was known as the Bishop of London's Fund, calculated that additional churches and schools were required for about 1,000,000 of persons, and asked for £1,000,000 sterling. Not half of this sum had been received by means of the machinery of the Bishop of London's Fund; but, as a matter of fact, rather more than £1,000,000 had been expended in the building and enlarging of churches, mission houses, and schools since the movement was started. Accommodation in churches and schools had been provided for about 500,000. It followed that there was still another 500,000 to be provided for. It was calculated that for every 6,000 persons a church was necessary. According to this calculation, it followed that at the present time there was need of 83 or 84 churches; and every year five more would be required to meet the increase of the population. Now, liberal as Churchmen had shown themselves to be during the last 10 years, it could scarcely be expected that the funds necessary to do what was requisite could be raised by means of voluntary subscriptions. Ten or 12 years ago an Act was passed authorizing the removal of such City churches as were no longer required, and transferring the endowments to churches in new districts, and it had been hoped that the measure would have had a satisfactory result. Well, what had been the result? How many churches had been built under the provisions of the Act? Only one, and that one was not yet consecrated. Two churches had been removed, and there was some prospect of four others being similarly dealt with. The Act had proved a failure, not from any want of energy on the part of the Commissioners, for they had bestowed a large amount of labour in carrying its intentions into effect; and during the very first year after the passing of the Act the Bishop of London issued no less than 26 commissions to inquire into the condition of various churches, and in three cases only had the intentions of the Act been carried out. Since then other commissions had been working, and two or three were now making the inquiries on which to found their reports. If all that could be shown after an experience of the Act of 1860, extending over 12 years, was the building of one church and the partial endowment of two district churches, which had not yet been carried out, it could hardly be maintained by any of their Lordships who had taken a part in passing the Act that it did not require amendment. It was not difficult to point out the causes of the failure of the Act of 1860. The main cause was that the consent of every one having an interest in a church was necessary to be obtained before the church or benefice could be brought under the operation of the Act. Every one of them had a veto. He quite agreed that no interest should be touched without compensation; but he could not think that every one who might happen to have an interest, however slight, should also have a veto. In a large number of cases consent had been withheld by vestries. Again, owing to the formalities required by the Act, there was necessarily great delay in giving effect to its working provisions. And there was not only great delay, but also considerable expense arising from a long and tedious process. It was hardly necessary to say that when a veto was possessed by every one who had an interest, the compensation demanded was sometimes most extravagant. Many objections had been taken to the Bill now before their Lordships, and he was free to admit that it would require considerable amendment in Committee. He intended himself to propose Amendments, one of which would be a provision that no incumbent should be deprived of his benefice without his own consent. A principal provision in the Bill was one for the appointment of a Commission, to exist for seven years. This Commission was to deal with all questions which might come under the Act, to prepare schemes, to hear and determine all claims for compensation, and to make due and equitable compensation to those who were entitled to it. The Bill further contemplated the appointment of a paid Chairman of the Commission, and of a clerk, who was to be paid. The Bill proposed that the Commissioners should be nominated by the Bishops of London, Winchester, and Rochester, by the Corporation of the City of London, and by the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's. Objection had been made to the mode in which the Commission was to be nominated, andt his question could be considered in Committee. He believed that the appointment of a paid Chairman and clerk would be an economical provision in the long run. The Bill further gave power to owners of vested interests to petition Her Majesty to withhold her consent to schemes; which were only to be operative when approved by Her Majesty. The Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's had presented, through him, a Petition on the subject of the Bill. He was most anxious to deal liberally with them, for they had acted in a most liberal and self-denying spirit. There was some difficulty about their patronage; but he trusted that was a matter which could be arranged during the progress of the Bill. He confessed that he felt a very deep interest in this Bill, and he thought all friends of the Church ought to feel interested in the object which it was intended to accomplish—for it was not the friends of the Church only who were alive to the present state of the City churches. If an appeal was made for funds to relieve the spiritual destitution, those who put it forward were met with the argument—"Why do you ask for money while there are in the City of London large endowments and spacious churches in parishes where there is no longer a population?" This might be said by those who were sincerely devoted to the Church and wished for no change; but, on the other hand, there were persons who employed the state of the churches in the City of London as an argument for the disestablishment of the Established Church itself, and who asked why some other use should not be made of the endowments of churches now useless for their proper object. He was told there was an influential committee representing persons who wished to have the endowments attached to superfluous churches applied to other purposes than that of relieving spiritual destitution in the metropolis, and to apply them to what was called redemption of the tithe—that was, the putting the tithe into the pockets of the tithe payers. And thus, unless the proceeds of superfluous City benefices could be secured by some measure as this for spiritual purposes, they might probably form the first example and precedent of the secularization of Church property in England. Thanking their Lordships for the indulgence with which they had heard him, he earnestly hoped they would give the Bill a second reading.

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


said, this Bill was causing a good deal of anxiety in the City of London: and a number of parishes had petitioned their Lordships' House praying that the Bill might not be allowed to pass into law, and stating strong objections in support of their prayer. If the right rev. Prelate would pardon him for saying so, he thought he was a little inaccurate in stating that in 1860 Parliament assented to the principle of the present measure. The Act of 1860 was only one to enable churches to be removed and benefices united with the consent of the parishioners; but under the Bill now before their Lordships new schemes, having the first named object, were to be framed by-Commissioners, and by them carried out without the consent of the parishioners. The Bill gave to the Commissioners to be appointed under it the largest possible powers, the parishioners having no voice in the matter. The Bill, therefore, as it stood was not so much an amendment of the Act of 1860 as a substitute for it. He might take the opportunity of explaining how the Act of 1860 was carried out. The Bishop of the diocese prepared a scheme involving, it might be, the removal of the church as well as the union of the benefice with another. The scheme so prepared was then presented to the vestry, and if the vestry did not approve of it it was not carried out. In that way the parishioners, whose feelings and interests were immediately concerned, had a voice in the matter, and might exercise a wholesome check and control over the proceedings of the Commissioners. But under the measure now before their Lordships the most extraordinary and arbitrary powers were to be put in the hands of the Commissioners. He would give an instance of what it proposed to do. He had presented a Petition with respect to it from the parish of St. Mary, the church of which was situated at the junction of King William Street and Lombard Street, where the services were very well attended. The petitioners complained that that was one of the churches with which the Commissioners would be likely to deal at an early period. It was proposed to them that they should consent to the removal of their church and its union with some other benefice, and to the former proposal they objected. All parishioners had naturally certain associations connected with their parish church which they did not wish to see ignored, and that was a feeling which probably would not be at all shared by the Commissioners. Under the Act of 1860 any scheme for the removal of a church must be submitted to the vestry, and if they did not approve it the scheme could not be carried into effect, so that they had complete control over measures deeply interesting to their respective parishes. But under the Bill now pro- posed the Commissioners were to be invested, as he had said, with arbitrary powers, and a chairman, secretary, or clerk were to be appointed, who were to be paid out of the funds of the different parishes. In fact, the Commissioners would be enabled to do as they pleased, without it being open to the parishioners to prevent their action. Now, he thought the least that could be done was to give the parishioners a fair chance of objecting to the appropriation of their funds. If the Act of 1860 had failed in its purpose, that was no reason why there should be substituted a Bill with so many objections to it, which certainly was the case in regard to the present measure. He was unwilling to offer opposition to the right rev. Prelate, provided he could see that the interests of the parishioners were properly protected in a measure of this kind, and with that view he ventured to suggest that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, hoping it would there receive such amendments as would enable their Lordships to pass a satisfactory measure on the subject.


intimated his readiness to agree to the proposal, as his only object was that the measure should be made as satisfactory as possible to all parties.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.

And, on Monday, April 22, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

L. Abp. York. L. Brodrick.
D. Marlborough. L. Foxford.
M. Salisbury. L. Monteagle of Brandon.
E. Harrowby.
L. Bp. London. L. Chelmsford.
L. Bp. Winchester.
All petitions presented referred to the Committee; and leave given to the petitioners praying to be heard by counsel against the Bill to be heard as desired.