HL Deb 16 May 1876 vol 229 cc755-63

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that last Session he introduced a Bill having a similar purpose, but its operation was confined to the diocese of Exeter alone. Objection was taken that whereas the subject was one of an extremely grave character, the measure proposed was merely local, instead of extending to the country at large; and, after a short debate, he (the Bishop of Exeter) withdrew the Bill. The Bill which had now been introduced had a wider application, and extended to certain cities and boroughs to be scheduled in the Bill. The evil it was intended to meet was this—that in many of our cities and boroughs there were a number of very small parishes with very small and inconvenient churches, and very small incomes for the clergy. These three things made it exceedingly difficult to carry out the work of the Church in those parishes. Taking the city of Exeter, for example—there were in that city, which had a population of about 12,000 souls within the walls, as many as 17 parishes. Of these, three only were of sufficient importance to supply adequate religious provision; the other 14 were very small, the churches were small and out of repair, the incomes of the clergy very insufficient, and owing to the smallness of the population it was impracticable to raise sufficient funds to carry out the ordinary parochial work. And what was true of Exeter was true also of other cities and boroughs in the Kingdom. The remedy evidently was to unite together the smaller and poorer parishes, so that the church administration might be better maintained, and the clergy better paid, with more work to do. The Bill therefore proposed to make better provision for the union of contiguous benefices within certain cities and boroughs, the names of which he proposed to specify in a Schedule. For this purpose the Bill provided that two or more contiguous parishes in these places might be united, without regard to aggregate population, or aggregate yearly value. Such unions were already provided for by statutes previously passed, but were limited to parishes where the aggregate population would not exceed 1,500 persons, and hampered with other provisions which made the union difficult to carry out. When the Bishop of the diocese was of opinion that such union was desirable in the interests of religion, he might prepare a scheme, notice of which was to be given to patrons, incumbents, and churchwardens of the parishes affected, and to certain authorities of the city or borough; and it was provided by whom and how objections might be taken to the scheme. If no objections were taken, the scheme was to be transmitted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. If objections were raised, the Bishop might abandon the scheme, or refer it to certain Commissioners. Having passed this examination, with or without alteration, it would be transmitted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who would thereon prepare a scheme and certify the same to the Queen in Council; and when approved by Her Majesty would become operative. Power was given to include part only of benefices in the proposed union, and provision was made for exchange of patronage, for the erection of new church or parsonage, for the removal of the old church, and for the sale of site; but no site of an old church was to be sold or demolished without certain consents, and it was first to be offered to the Town Council. The scheme might provide for the abolition of "dominicals," which were small legal payments on inhabited houses, very difficult to collect, and the cause of much disquiet; yet the clergyman could not abandon them without surrendering ancient rights of the church, and power was therefore given by the 21st clause for the abolition, commutation, or redemption of these ancient payments. Having explained some further details of the Bill, the right rev. Prelate said that as he was aware that the noble Marquess the Secretary for India had given Notice of an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, he presumed that he was now engaged in a hopeless task, but he nevertheless felt it his duty to move the second reading.

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


thought that every one must sympathize in the motives of the right rev. Prelate, and nobody could look around the country without seeing how much the requirements of the times pressed upon the energies of every Bishop. Therefore, it was with much regret that Her Majesty's Government had come to the determination that it was their duty to oppose this Bill. But Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that the Bill transgressed the limits of private rights and parochial rights. The Bill proposed to pull down churches and sell the sites, and to use whatever money might be obtained for certain useful purposes; and it carefully respected the rights of the Bishop and the patron. But neither the Bishop nor the patron was the person most interested in the parish church. The parishioner was the person most interested in it. What voice was given to the parishioners by the Bill in respect of a proposed destruction of their parish church and the desecration of their parish churchyard? The scheme began with and was framed by the Bishop; the patron had a veto; but the parishioners had no power whatever. True, a Commission was to be appointed to consider objections to schemes; but how was that Commission to be nominated? One Commissioner was to be nominated by the Bishop, two were to be named by ecclesiastics in the neighbourhood, one was to be named by the Mayor of the town, and one by the churchwardens and the incumbent. Even in London, where, if anywhere, there would have been some show of excuse for overlooking the rights of parishioners in the proposal for the removal of City churches, much more respect was paid to those rights than was paid to them in this Bill. The proposals of the Bill were a violation of the respect due to high and long-cherished feelings and to the most elementary rights, and was not to be compensated by any amount of money that could be obtained by carrying out the schemes. But he believed that if this Bill were passed it would not produce the money that was anticipated from it. It was a Bill for money, but it would not afford funds for the removal of the remains of parishioners from churchyards which would be sold. He believed the right rev. Prelate had been misled by the precedent of the City of London. But even there the money obtained was very much less than had been expected; and although the Metropolis was a peculiar case, the parishioners were not disregarded. In that case it was provided also that due notice should be given to the relations of persons whose remains were interred in these churches, and they were to have liberty of undertaking the pious task of removing those remains to another resting place. That had, however, been found to be an expensive privilege. But these various rights this Bill treated with scant ceremony; and as the Government regarded the rights of the parishioners as rights which the Legislature ought not to tamper with, they had no choice but to ask their Lordships to reject the Bill.

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


said, the object of the Bill was to promote the efficiency of the Church of England in certain localities; but while he agreed in the principle of the measure, he admitted that it was susceptible of improvement in its machinery. He looked upon the city of Exeter as a sample of a state of things similar to that which was known to exist in several parts of England. He thought that, with due regard to the feelings of the inhabitants, some provision might be made in reference to small and contiguous benefices, which would prove of great advantage; but, certainly, greater security must be given than this Bill afforded, that the rights of the parishioners would be respected. Believing that the Bill would effect beneficial changes, he should, if their Lordships divided, give his vote in support of the second reading, believing that whatever defects might be in the Bill might be so remedied in Committee as to render it a valuable measure.


thought that the Bill had been rather hardly dealt with by the Government; for it was one which conscientiously attempted to deal with a real evil, and he regretted it should have been smitten by so formidable a hand as that of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury). The objections urged against it by the noble Marquess were for Committee rather than such as ought to induce their Lordships to reject the Bill on the Motion for the second, reading. He remembered that the first time he had the honour of addressing their Lordships' House was on an occasion when he endeavoured to induce them to include several large towns in the Bill for the transfer of churches in London. When parishes were so small as to afford a sum insufficient for the payment of a clergyman, it could not be expected they could be worked efficiently, and it was a fact that congregations did not like attending very small churches. The noble Marquess was mistaken in thinking that the sites of the old London churches had not fetched so much as had been anticipated; they had fetched more.


I spoke of the net financial result.


The reason of that was that very great difficulty had been experienced in obtaining consents, and, consequently, the Act had been applied in only a few cases. As to the veto of the parishioners, in many instances that had been exercised, not to prevent the removal of the church, but to get as much money as possible out of the site. He trusted the Government would re-consider their decision and consent to the Bill being read a second time.


said, that in the discussion on the Law of Burial last night several Members of the Episcopal Bench urged that these were subjects which should be taken up by the Government; but if Bills of this kind, dealing with acknowledged grievances, were to be opposed by the Government in summary manner announced by the Government through the noble Marquess with reference to this Bill, that course would not afford much encou- ragement to those who looked to them in these matters. Did not the noble Marquess believe that the remedies called for could be provided by an Act of Parliament? No doubt there ought to be important checks placed on operations of this sort; but the Committee was the place to introduce and strengthen them. Therefore, he hoped the Government would pause before they divided the House in opposition to so reasonable a proposition as that contained in the Bill.


said, it was desirable their Lordships should understand how this Bill differed from any other Bill of the kind they had been asked to pass. No doubt there were, or had been, many cases in which the interests of the Church would be promoted by the union of benefices, and certain Acts of Parliament cited in the Bill provided, to a certain extent, remedies for grievances of the kind by the union of contiguous benefices. All would agree that these Acts proceeded on a wise principle, and that, if inconvenience was still felt, there ought to be further legislation. Not one of the Acts previously passed, having reference to this subject, affected the title to tangible property; whereas this Bill embodied a principle that was entirely without precedent. It dealt like a private Bill with the property of the particular parishes. It provided for the pulling down of churches, for the removal of remains from the cemeteries, and for the sale of cemeteries, entirely alienating them and making them secular property. He did not say that the course presented was not in itself a proper one; but he knew of no Bill that had ever passed through either House of Parliament that proceeded in the vague and general terms of this Bill. They always specified the places intended to be dealt with, and in view of the places so specified Parliament proceeded to legislate. On the other hand, this Bill contained no specific application. It proposed to give certain powers "to the Bishop of the diocese within which any city or borough specified in the Schedule hereto is situated," but as yet there was no Schedule; and it was not according to past legislation to assent, without some very distinct understanding, to the second reading of a Bill which dealt with actual tangible property by reference to a Schedule which was not appended to the Bill. In the absence of such a Schedule there could be no expression of public opinion in the parishes proposed to be affected, and he must respectfully protest against legislation in blank when the filling up of the blanks was of vital interest to particular localities.


explained that the Schedule intended to be appended to the Bill had been omitted by mere accident. It was intended that the Schedule should have been printed as part of the Bill; but the right rev. Prelate the author of the Bill, anxious to secure the consent of the various Prelates in whose dioceses were situated the towns which he wished to mention in the Schedule, kept it back, until the Bill was printed without it; and to his surprise the Schedule was necessarily printed in the form of an Amendment to be moved in Committee. All the towns to be dealt with had been arranged, and would have been included in the Schedule. Under these circumstances it would, perhaps, be well to adopt the suggestion that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. Any other course would be hard upon his right rev. Brother, who last year introduced a Bill confined to the diocese of Exeter, and withdrew it on the advice, which he had now acted upon, that he should introduce a Bill of more extended scope. There could be no doubt there was the necessity of some legislation, for the evils referred to were not confined to the Metropolis. The Act he (the Archbishop of Canterbury) had carried had not been adopted in as many cases as it might have been, for there was great difficulty in getting the consent of parishioners; particularly in small parishes where a predominant influence was sometimes exerted by a self-interested vestry clerk. It would be wise to refer the Bill to a Select Committee for the purpose of introducing such provisions as the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) intimated ought to be there with the view of getting the real consent of parishioners and avoiding the rock which had proved fatal in the City of London, that of requiring too many consents.


thought when the Government took measures to check the progress of legislation their Lord ships had a right to expect that they would give them some proof that they had taken pains to consider the subject. What were the facts in the present instance? The right rev. Prelate last year introduced a Bill similar to the present, but applicable only to his own diocese; and what course did the Government then take? They said it was a Bill which ought not to be confined to Exeter, but should embrace other cities, and perhaps the whole country; and now, when the operation of the Bill had been at their instance extended, the second reading was objected to. He had never heard a more feeble case against the second reading of a Bill, brought in by a responsible authority, and calculated to effect great and excellent objects. The noble Marquess had opposed it on grounds subversive of its principle. The noble Lord on the Woolsack had changed the line of attack, and said that its principle could better be carried into effect under the Union of Benefices Acts; and then, with a singular inconsistency, had assailed it because it dealt with subjects which were not within the purview of these Acts. He hoped the Bill would be read a second time. The Bill was strongly supported by the ecclesiastical Bench, and therefore ought not to be rejected on the second reading. If it were sent to a Select Committee they would probably find out what sufficient safeguards might be adopted to obviate the objections raised.


desired to explain that he had not demurred to the object of the Bill, but to the mode by which that object was to be attained. He was, however, ignorant of the great sanction under which the Bill had been introduced; but after hearing the statement of the most rev. Prelate he thought it would be desirable that the Bill should be considered in Committee.


thought that as this Bill was the same as that of last year, but on an enlarged scale, the provisions of it should have been explained by the right rev. Prelate when he introduced it. He was afraid that those persons who would be affected by the Bill would not know anything about it.


said, that the title of the Bill was as plain as it could be, and that it was unusual in that House to explain the provisions of the Bill when laying it on the Table.


considered that the people of those cities and towns which would be affected by the Bill should have had an opportunity of stating whether they approved of it or not, but the Schedule containing their names had only appeared that morning.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Then the original Motion was agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.