§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE BISHOP OF PETERBOROUGH (Dr. MAGEE)
, in moving that the Bill be read the second time, said, that he spoke with some anxiety, as the Bill had been a good deal misapprehended and unintentionally misrepresented in a manner which might rouse some prejudice against it in their Lordships' minds. His anxiety was not diminished by the thought that he had so able an opponent. But the Bill was not by any means the rash, revolutionary, and confiscatory measure which it was by many supposed to be. He hoped to show, on the contrary, that it was really a very moderate measure of reform, although it was extensive as regarded the area to which it applied. It was not, in fact, a measure enacting any new law, or making illegal what was legal before. It only enforced old principles, and sought to bring existing practice into conformity with existing law. From its very moderation he feared it might lack some interest in their Lordships' eyes, at least in comparison with some more ambitious reforms of which lately so much had been heard. It was not a Bill for turning the Church of England inside out or upside down. He could not ask their Lordships to join with him in the exciting pastime of abolishing the old historic Church of England and substituting for it a modern and brand-new State Establishment for the teaching of morality without distinctive religious doctrine—a sort of common denominator for all the religious fractions of the country. There was not the excitement of any great novelty about it. It was not 924 one of the Reform Bills of the Church which the Bishops were supposed to be bringing now in a panic to the House in consequence of the recent attack upon the Church of England. It was not a new measure of reform; it had been advocated for many years and urged by more than one Bishop. It had been read a second time in the House of Commons, when it obtained the support of a leading Member of the present Government; and, above all, it embodied and gave effect to the Resolutions of a large and representative Committee of their Lordships' House which sat as long as 28 years ago to report to the House upon the spiritual destitution of England. The Bill divided itself into two parts. The one would affect old parish churches, the other would affect newer churches created under special Acts of Parliament since 1818. The old parish churches were those built before that date. The object of the Bill was to re-enact and re-declare, not in any way to alter, the old law of the Church—namely, that parish churches should be free for the common use of all parishioners. That had been the common law of the Church and the land from time immemorial. Numerous judicial decisions had been given upon it. Their Lordships' Committee expressly gave the same view of the law in these very remarkable words—It is a return to the normal state of things when it remains unaffected by special privileges. The body of every parish church belongs, of common right, to all the parishioners, and is a right which cannot lawfully be defeated by the permanent appropriation to particular persons.That was the principle of the Bill. It was a natural and necessary corollary of the principle of a Parochial and National Church. Much had been said as to the meaning of a National Church, and strange interpretations were given of it. Their Lordships would agree with him that, whatever privilege or status or emoluments might be implied by the term, the idea of a National Church involved an obligation and duty of all its ministers to all the nation. Every minister of the Church was bound to render his services gratuitously in the church and out of it. The Church's endowments were a great and sacred trust, held upon the condition that in each parish there should be a clergyman rendering gratuitous services to the people. If a clergyman 925 refused such services he was liable to serious ecclesiastical penalties. He was forbidden to charge for them by the canons. No charge could even be made for burial, as by a curious legal fiction burial fees were paid for the disturbance of the soil, which was the rector's freehold, and even these fees could not be recovered. Free ministration was the principle of a Parochial and National Church; and it was the clergyman's duty to press his services even on those who did not desire them. It was strange that those who were anxious for free education in the present day should be anxious to stamp out the only form of free religion which existed in this country. There was another theory which might be called the congregational or commercial one, according to which religion was a luxury which could only be had for the paying. According to the congregational theory, persons of similar religious views might join together and form a religious society or club, which would hire the services of its minister, who, without disrespect, might be described as its spiritual servant. The appointment and dismissal of the minister on that theory rested entirely with the congregation. He would not enter into the comparative merits of the national and congregational theories. He was once himself the minister of a proprietary chapel in which he sold sermons at so much each Sunday, and in that capacity he spent some happy and, he trusted, not unuseful years. But the congregational theory had one great defect. It could not evangelize the masses; it could not reach the poor. When a neighbourhood became poorer the pew-rented chapel had to seek another locality. A Free Church was the natural result of the great principle of a National Church — free religion for those who could not afford to provide it for themselves, and free religion to be pressed upon those who did not desire it. Therefore, he maintained that the principle of the National Church was that the Church should be free, and as the Church of England claimed and desired to be national her churches should be free to all. If that were so, how was it that all parish churches had not been free to the parishioners? He thought he was correct in saying that until the Reformation no such thing as a fixed and permanent pew was ever known in a 926 parish church. But after the Reformation permanent property in pews was introduced into the Church. It was a remarkable coincidence that the appropriation of pews by patent came into the Church just about the date of the Reformation, which was the date of the great impoverishment of the Church. The most successful liberator on a large scale in English history, who devoted Church property largely to secular uses, and who swept away many of the endowments of the Church—he meant Henry VIII.—was the Sovereign under whom permanent property in pews was invented. It came in the shape of a faculty from the Bishop's Court or by prescription implying and presuming a faculty. With all deference to the noble Lord who opposed the Bill, he must say that he had never been able to see the use of a faculty pew. The pew was frequently attached by faculty to a house, but the house was not in the habit of going to church. The tenant of the house might go to church or he might not. He might be a Churchman, a Dissenter, or an infidel; or he might be a bachelor or married and have a largo family. But in any case he had the use of a pew with seats for perhaps eight or nine persons, and he occupied so many square feet of the parish church which belonged to all the parishioners. But whether the tenant required few or many sittings he represented the house, which was the sacred thing in English law. As soon as a person succeeded in appropriating a pew he put in a hassock and a prayer book, and after that it was sacred for ever to him. These were idols of British pewdom, the symbols and forms by which seisin and livery of a part of the parish church were taken for ever. And then a man dared anyone to come into his pew, to sit on his cushion, to kneel on his hassock, for was it not all his property? Very early in his clerical life he was curate in a parish church where there were largo old-fashioned pews, owned by different persons. After service one Sunday the holder of one of those pews came to him in a state of great irritation and rage because of the intrusion of a single stranger into his pew, which was a large one, with seats for eight or nine persons, of which he was the sole occupant. "Sir," he said, "I would not dare to disturb Divine service to pull 927 him out of my pew, but I took the slight liberty of sitting upon his hat. "The appropriation of pews had made them so much a kind of property that they were bought and sold, and even included in marriage settlements. The most important alterations and renovations in churches had been stopped by the faculty pew-owners, some of whom he knew possessed as many as 11 pews in a single church. One of these owners was positively resident as far as 50 miles from the church, and was in receipt of a comfortable sum from the pew. A clergyman told him that when he first went to his living he found 180 sittings in the parish church appropriated by the family of his predecessor, who claimed legal rights in them. The important matter was that so much of the area of a parish church was appropriated by individuals, whereas a parish church was for the accommodation of all the parishioners. A parish church might be used by different classes of persons in the parish at different times; but for that purpose the pew-owner must give up possession, and that he would not do—he would not allow anyone to sit on his cushion, to kneel on his hassock, or to read in his book. A clergyman in his diocese recently held a very successful church mission to which people thronged in large numbers; but owing to the resistance of the pew-owners, the church could not be freely used for evening services. There was a deep significance in this, for it was significant of the alienation of the poor from their parish church. The poor man could not afford to take out a faculty, nor could he afford to rent a pew by the year in his parish church. The poor man was thus practically excluded from his parish church; for it was one of the most honourable traits of our English poor that they were not noisy and self-asserting. There was a kind of shy pride about them which did them honour, and which he should be sorry to see changed. The poor man in this country did not elbow nor cringe; but if he found no place left for him but some narrow benches down the middle of the church, or some other uncomfortable seat or corner, he accepted the position even although he would only catch but a sentence or two of an eloquent sermon on the text—"To the poor the Gospel is preached." But he did not 928 like it, and the effect was that the poor were silently and quietly alienated from their parish church. They did not make much disturbance and they did not write to the papers; and the reason was that they soon lost the desire for the religion which was so persistently denied them. So the poor man turned his back upon his parish church, and when his clergymen invite him to stand up in defence of his parish church, the only answer he gave was that it was not his. The poor man said—"My parish church! It is not mine, it is yours, it is the churchwardens', it is the manufacturers', it is the well-to-do men's church." The expression was very often heard—"The parish church is for gentlefolks, not for the likes of us." How was a clergyman to fulfil the mission of his Divine Master to go into the highways and the bye-ways and bid the people to the feast, "for all things are now ready," when he knew that two things were not ready—one was a place, and another was a welcome? In our great cities when the poor took their weary walk on Sunday through the long lines of closed shops, they found only two kinds of places open to them—places of worship and public-houses; and he grieved to think that in too many cases they got a warmer, a freer welcome at the latter than the former. He asked whether the poor were to be admitted freely to their parish churches? He held that no churchwarden had any right to appropriate a seat and keep it permanently for any particular person so as to exclude the poor parishioners. It was all very well to say that the churchwardens were acting on behalf of the parishioners. The word parishioners, like the word "people," was a noun of multitude. "The people" did not always mean the whole people, or even the majority of the people. They often consisted of a noisy minority who pushed themselves to the front. So in this instance the parishioners did not mean the whole of the parishioners, but merely parishioners who enjoyed seats in the church by virtue of their property in pews. The churchwardens were elected not by the parish as a whole, but by the ratepayers only, and they had no right to appropriate to the rich what belonged to all. Supposing that it were the case of the village green instead of the village church, would the 929 majority of the parishioners have a right to cut the green up, and to appropriate the plots to form gardens for the rich? Depend upon it that in such a case the parishioners would be noisy and outspoken enough; and the reason that they were not noisy and outspoken in the matter of the appropriation of seats in their village church was because they had been schooled into indifference and silence in the matter. It was objected that if the pew rents in old parish churches were touched, the income, already small enough, of the clergyman would be diminished. He should be the last person in the world to do anything which would diminish the income of the clergy; but his reply to that argument was that, in the first place, the pew rents often contributed to the income, not of the clergyman, but to that of the rich pew-owner. There were often some 200 or 300 seats in a parish church that were let to those who said that they were good Churchmen enough, but that they would not give a single 1d. towards the support of the clergyman unless he gave them in perpetuity in return a portion of the property which belonged to other people. In his opinion, such individuals might well be asked to pay £1 a-year towards the support of their clergymen without seeking to appropriate to themselves what was, in fact, the property of others, and to which they had not the slightest legal or moral right. Having demolished that objection, he was confronted with the cushion and hassock argument. He knew of nothing that created such bitterness, and revealed so much of the worst passions and infirmities in our nature, as the contests for seats in church, unless it were, perhaps, those for seats in Parliament, when certainly human nature reached its lowest level of degradation. But what did the cushion and hassock argument amount to? It was not a very formidable difficulty. They disposed of it almost every day of their lives in that locomotive age. When they travelled in a railway carriage they pressed the cushion that had been pressed a few moments before by somebody else, and would be occupied after they left by another person; and he did not think the fact that the cushion had been pressed by some working man before, say, an Earl or a Bishop, in the least interfered with its 930 purity, or its sanctity, or its fitness, and he could not see why it should do so in the Church. He did not think that the hassock of the rich man would be very much hurt if, when he went on the Sunday to kneel on it, it retained the print of the poor man's knee. In their Lordships' House each individual Peer did not retain his own peculiar cushion; they used all the cushions in common; and they were even content to sit upon cushions that had shortly before been occupied by noble Lords opposite. Then, as regarded the Bible and hymn-book question, it did appear to him to be within the resources of modern civilization to provide a small box, furnished with a lock and key, beneath the seat, in which the rich man could lock up his books. The fact was that he was almost ashamed to argue so ludicrous a point as that before their Lordships on the small question of cushion and hassock; and there was something grotesque in the idea of the garrison of pewdom sallying out to the rescue of pews with the cry of "hassocks to the rescue." He would now pass to the question of the right of the churchwarden to assign seats in the parish church to particular parishioners, and upon this matter he confessed that he was not in harmony with the more advanced Church reformers. He had no desire to deprive the churchwarden of the right he legally possessed to assign seats to the parishioners. He held that that was necessary, not in the interests of the rich, but in the interests of the poor. Rank and wealth could very well take care of themselves; but if they left the Church entirely unappropriated, the result would be that wealth and rank, and more especially local wealth and rank, would appropriate pews to themselves, and the poor would practically be confined to remote corners as before. He thought that the parishioners had their rights in the parish church; and it was all very well to say that if they wanted seats the parishioners should come early, because in that case the non-parishioners might come earlier still. He did not, therefore, propose to deprive the churchwarden of the power which he now had to assign seats to the parishioners; and, therefore, he suggested that the churchwardens should be allowed to assign seats temporarily from time to time, but not to permanently appropriate any particular seats 931 to any particular persons. Upon this point the measure would exactly give effect to the recommendations of the Committee of their Lordships' House, who expressed their earnest hope that some plan might be devised by which, in every church in the land, the rich and the poor might meet together on an equality, and that all permanent appropriation of pews might be abolished. If their Lordships, therefore, thought that this measure was intended to initiate a free scramble for seats they would be mistaken. It was intended to place the churchwarden in the church in somewhat the same position as that occupied by a policeman at a crowded point in the streets, so that he could prevent a scramble for place in which the strongest might win, and might assign them from time to time among the parishioners in such a way as to keep them free for all. The sooner all parish churches were made free to the extent he had mentioned the better it would be. If churchwardens had the power to say—"A, you sit here; and B, you sit there," after a brawl, he ventured to think it was better that they should have it before the brawl commenced. But with that limitation only he would put an end to all right in a pew which hindered the restoration of churches, terribly limited the area of churches, and which excluded and alienated the poor from the parish churches. He had a few words more to say upon the subject of the new district churches. Practically speaking, modern church extension began in the year 1818, by an Act of 58 Geo. III., which was remarkable, among other reasons, for this—that it was almost the only occasion on which the State really endowed the Church. It was an Act devised to carry out what was commonly known as the Million Grant, which was a national grant of £1,000,000 for the building of new churches. It laid down the principle that some portion of the sittings of every church created under it should be for free sittings. That was perfectly just and right. It should be remembered that when they created a new district parish they cut off a portion of the area of the old parish and constituted it a new parish, and they cut off the parishioners of the new district from all their rights in the old parish. They lost their right to a free sitting there; and was it not reasonable 932 and just that when they did that, without the parishioners having even a voice in the matter, they should give them some right to a free sitting in the new parish, otherwise they would be excluded from all such rights whatever. He maintained, then, that that Act of George III. laid down a perfectly sound and just principle when it said that some portion of the sittings in every new district church should be free. That principle was adhered to in all the innumerable Church Building Acts that had since been passed. He dared not attempt to take their Lordships through the history of these Acts. He dared not say how many of these Acts there were, and the attempt to master them was calculated to reduce the unfortunate student to the verge of lunacy. He was told that the only person in England who ever understood the Church Building Acts was now deceased, and he could well conceive that the man had been hurried to a premature grave by his efforts to understand those legal conundrums. He himself had studied them so far as to be able to assure their Lordships that there was not one of those Acts which did not affirm the principle that some portion more or less of the sittings of the new district churches should be allowed to be free. By the first of those Acts, however, only one-fifth of the sittings were bound to be free, and those free sittings might be in any out-of-the-way part of the church, and must be ticketed and labelled as free seats, and no one could sit in them without being thus a ticketed and labelled pauper. Afterwards an Act, known as the New Parishes Act, was introduced by the late lamented Duke of Marlborough and passed in 1856 through Parliament which showed a great advance in the true principles of church extension. It enabled pew rents to be imposed if no endowment was provided from any other source; but it said first that one-half of the sittings should be free, and next that the free sittings should be equally advantageously placed with the rented and reserved sittings. That was a reasonable compromise, and he was very thankful to say that the Commissioners had very lately passed a resolution that in all future sanctioning of scales of pew rents they would require that only half of the seats should be pew rented, and that the other half should be 933 free and equally advantageously placed with those that were rented and reserved. If that law had been observed since 1856 there would have been little occasion to trouble their Lorships as he was doing that evening; but it had not been observed. Many churches had been built since that Act was passed in total and complete defiance and disregard of its provisions, and without any limit being assigned to pew renting. Was it, therefore, a very revolutionary thing to ask in regard to those parish churches that the law which the Legislature had enacted should simply be carried out? If Parliament had been wrong in passing that Act, and had not been sufficiently conservative of the rights of the wealthy, let them go back on their steps and say that only one-fifth of the sittings should be free, and that the free sittings should be ticketed and labelled. But if they were not to go back—and he did not think they would dream of doing so—then it was only reasonable and just that those churches which had been created by the Legislature should be regulated according to the direction of the law. On the other hand, he frankly admitted that many incumbents had been appointed to district churches in which pew rents were illegally taken in perfect good faith; and, believing that they were perfectly legal and secure, they complained that his Bill would deprive them of those pew rents. In the first place, his Bill would deprive no one of anything to which they were legally entitled; but he did not want to take advantage of any lapse or mistake on the part of any incumbent or churchwarden, or to promote any confiscation of clerical incomes. Therefore he thought it was only reasonable that those who had, in perfect good faith, accepted that position, should have a remedy, and be entitled to go to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and obtain such a scale of pew rents as might and ought to have been obtained at the time when the church was built. The Bill would, therefore, practically be, in the main, prospective and not retrospective in its action, and would not, as had been alleged, reduce any of the clergy to beggary. They were told that it was very desirable that respectability, rank, and wealth should have a place in the parish churches; he did not deny that. He held that respectability, rank, 934 and wealth had spiritual interests to be looked after as much as the poor had; but then he thought that respectability, rank, and wealth should not have possession of the parish church to the exclusion of the poor. Then it was said that the spiritual wants of the poor should be provided for by the building of cheap churches and chapels in poor localities, which people said were suitable churches for the poor. Now, he hated the very words—"Churches suitable for the poor." It was in the very poorest neighbourhood that one should desire to have the most beautiful church they could build. When they looked at the dull monotony of their daily life, with so little that was beautiful in it, surely it was desirable that the one place in the parish to which they might have free resort and access—the house of their common Father—should be a place that would bring some of the beauty and grace, and something of the sense of human brotherhood, into the weary and saddened lives of the poor. He held that it was not well, even in the interests of the rich, to have cheap churches for the poor. It was not a wise, not a safe thing that wealth and rank and respectability should have one place of worship on Sunday, and that the poor should have another. One of the sorest and saddest evils of 19th century life was the ever-widening chasm which separated class from class and rank from, rank; and those who cared for the State trembled to see the ever-widening gulf in the forum, into which they might yet see more than one of their most precious things cast before it was closed. He did not say that that separation of classes was only caused by the separation on Sundays of which he was speaking; but he said that it was enhanced and increased by it. They could not over-estimate the healing and uniting influence of a common sanctuary for rich and poor, in which they would feel, in the highest sense of it, their religious equality, and that there was at least one place on this side of the grave where rich and poor might meet together. Therefore, that was not a small matter; for though his measure might be a moderate one in itself, he asked that those divisions between rich and poor on Sundays might not be made too wide and too deep. Wealth and respectability had been too much in the habit of putting the poor aside on 935 Sundays. They did not see those who were not regular church-goers — who were not in the state of respectable and orderly citizens, but who had souls to be saved—in the parish churches on Sunday with the wealthy, the respectable, and the well-to-do. Where did they see those outcasts from our churches? They were to be seen in our squares and streets on the Monday; they were seen in Trafalgar Square and St. James's Street a few weeks ago, and the respectability which shrank from and shuddered at the presence of poverty on the Sunday might be brought into unpleasant contact with it on the week day. Those things, no doubt, were the result of many causes, and they would do well to study them. It was certainly a grievous loss to the country when the healing and uniting influences of religion were taken away from a large section of the people on one day of the week, and when the community was broken up into classes, one far apart from the other. He was asking for this reform in no extravagant spirit. He was ready to meet all reasonable objections and alarms. He desired to see all the abominations of the square pews and the rent charges swept out of their old parish churches, and the provision of the Legislature with regard to new district churches fairly carried out and complied with. He entreated their Lordships not to reject this Bill on the Motion of the noble Lord opposite. He had no doubt there were legal defects in the Bill, and he should hope that the noble Lord who opposed the measure would lend his great ability to the amending of it in Committee. But their Lordships should not show themselves to be less regardful of the interests of the poor than the other House of Parliament, which had read this Bill a second time. He asked the assistance of their Lordships in the endeavours of the clergy to make the Church of England what she was becoming more and more, and what she in theory desired to be in fact—the Church of the people and the Church of the poor. The right rev. Prelate moved the second reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Bishop of Peterborough.)
§ LORD GRIMTHORPE
, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second 936 time that day six months, said, that if it was necessary for him to apologize for intervening in an ecclesiastical dispute there were two reasons why he did so. The first was he believed he was the only layman in their Lordships' House who held an ecclesiastical office except the Dean of Arches, who was not present. The second reason was that in that character he had been written to by no small number of clergy asking him to interfere as he was now doing, because they looked on the Bill with great alarm. The right rev. Prelate said that the alarm was unreasonable; but he held that it was not at all unreasonable. Another reason which justified his interference was to be found in the fact that there were only three Prelates at present on the Episcopal Bench. It certainly was unlucky that this measure should have been brought forward in a week when most of the Bishops were necessarily absent for their ordinations. He was unaware of the general opinion of the Bishops with regard to the Bill; but he was acquainted with the opinions of some of them, and they were as strongly opposed to the measure as the clergymen who had written to him. Another reason why he thought it right to interpose was because he did not think that any Ecclesiastical Judge, however small, ought to sit still when a Bill was being pressed through their Lordships' House containing a wrong declaration of the law. The Preamble was wrong in laying it down as the law that "every parish church was for the free use in common of all parishioners." He knew that the Free and Open Church Association had long been making this declaration as to the present state of the law; but they had been wrong all the time. They had never ventured to litigate the question in order to establish that proposition. If they had honestly believed their own statement of the law they would have endeavoured to assert it in a Court of Law. The fact was that this paragraph of the Preamble was a quotation of part of a sentence in a judgment by a celebrated Ecclesiastical Judge, omitting the other part—"but the distribution of the seats is in the churchwardens, subject to the control of the Ordinary,"—which obviously altered the meaning entirely. The word "free" was never used in that sense in any Ecclesiastical Act, but merely as opposed to "rented." On this one 937 point, which was the foundation of the Bill, the statement in the Preamble was clearly wrong; and, according to the practice in Committees, if a Preamble was not proved there was an end of the Bill. So it ought to be in this case. The second paragraph of the Preamble was equally wrong. It said that "the rights of the parishioners according to law," which he had shown were not their legal rights, had—For many years been infringed in many parishes and places by the appropriation of seats and pews to certain of the parishioners to the exclusion of others, and especially of the poorer classes.As the rights had not existed in the form in which they were stated in the first paragraph, they could not have been infringed in the form alleged in the second paragraph. These two paragraphs constituting the Preamble and giving the reason for the introduction of the Bill were both wrong in their declarations as to the law and the breach of the law; and that was a simple matter of fact or of law which no one having any legal knowledge on the subject would for a moment dispute. With a Preamble so utterly wrong there ought to be an end of the Bill. The first operative clause—the 3rd—declared that the law for the future was to be that which it was wrongly asserted to be in the Preamble; it said that every parish church was declared to be for the free use in common of all parishioners; but if the Preamble were altered this operative clause would not accord with it when it was altered. The object of the clause was to re-assert a law which did not exist. The law was that the parish church should be free for such use as the churchwardens, under the control of the Bishop and his Chancellor, chose to decide upon. It was further provided that a faculty should net be granted or confirmed to appropriate a seat or pew; but existing titles by faculty or prescription were saved. No faculty had been granted for many years.
§ LORD GRIMTHORPE
said, perhaps that occurred in the diocese of Peterborough, when the Chancellor was not a lawyer. Speaking for himself, if anybody asked him for a faculty he would refuse to grant it, except for very special reasons, as for an exchange for the bene- 938 fit of the parish, the only case in which he had ever been asked to grant one. He had never known a disputed faculty title maintained; but titles by prescription were more serious things. They had often arisen by private persons building a part of a church themselves; and, in some cases, they had repaired it from time immemorial. A pew could be attached by faculty to a house—that was, to the persons occupying it, and provided they did occupy the pew; or it might be assigned to a man and his family, but only so long as they lived in the parish. The 5th and the 7th clauses, by saving all existing rights, and those conferred by special Acts, would leave all the high pews of which such complaint had been made as obstructing restorations, which practically they hardly could do, as every restored church indicated. Such a Bill ought to come before the House with more authority than that of even the eminent Bishop who introduced it; but it was really the Bill of the Free and Open Church Association; it was altogether wrong; and, for the object which was ostensibly aimed at, it would be a mistake to pass it. He would not follow the right rev. Prelate in his sentimental language about the poor, or into the great cushion and hassock question, which, in fact, he had given up by admitting that he was in favour of churchwardens assigning seats, only not "permanently," as he now proposed to alter the Bill. But he had some suspicion of Ecclesiastical Bills, as it had been his business to see to their administration. The blunders in those Bills were beyond conception. Judges often remarked upon the blunders in Acts of Parliament; but there were more blunders in Ecclesiastical Acts than in any others. The Public Worship Regulation Act was a striking case in point; the Dilapidations Act was another. At first clergymen were delighted with it; but he had warned many of them that they would find it anything but a boon. It had, in fact, turned out to be an Act for the benefit of surveyors and architects, and of nobody else. Questions of dilapidations were much more rapidly and cheaply settled by the friendly meeting of two surveyors representing the two parties than by the machinery of that Act. He was not disposed, to use the language of the right rev. Prelate, to turn the 939 church inside out in 13,000 out of 15,000 parishes in the country. He therefore moved that the Bill be read that day six months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months.")—(The Lord Grimthorpe.)
said, that the noble and learned Lord who had just spoken had not proved that the statement of the existing law in the Bill was not correct. The noble and learned Lord asked what was the good of passing the Bill when it preserved all existing faculties and prescriptive rights? The object was to prevent those rights from arising in the future. The noble and learned Lord said that no new rights of the kind were created; but immediately went on to say that he had himself given fresh rights of the same nature. The noble and learned Lord had also denied that pews were attached to certain houses; but he remembered in visiting the church where Charlotte Bronte was buried that brass plates were put up in the pews stating that they were attached to such and such a farm. He believed that it was the law of the land that the body of the church should be the property of the people in common. For ages the church had continued without the pew system, a proof of what was the Common Law, and they now wanted an enactment to put an end to exclusive rights in the House of God. Everyone would admit that, certainly in parish churches which were endowed, they had no right to seat the rich to the exclusion of the poor. The Bill would do something towards providing a remedy, by making the church more open, and they might have more clergymen and a repetition of services for men, for women, and for boys. He agreed with the right rev. Prelate that where, in ignorance of the law, pew rents were paid, time should be given for the introduction of the new state of things, and the pew rents should not be too suddenly abolished. Then it was said—"If you have free and open churches, what would you do to keep the churches in the hands of the parishioners?" There was, no doubt, some difficulty in watering places, and in London and other large towns. There was no doubt that in those cases the parochial system had 940 to a large extent broken down. But free churches did not prevent parishioners from attending, and the pew system certainly did not preserve the parochial character of churches. It was perfectly impossible to support the system of pew rents without making the Church sectarian. Nonconformists were seeing the evil, and were saying that it was perfectly impossible to call themselves a Christian Church unless they were doing missionary work. As a National Church the Church of England would have no position whatever if it ceased to be a missionary Church; and he defied any Church to do missionary work if it were hampered by pew rents. Whenever a mission was made in one of our large towns it was found impossible to reach the masses of the people unless all the churches were, for the time being, free and open. The testimony of working men showed that the system of pew rents in the Church, although a portion of the Church was kept for the people, had done more than anything else to alienate the people from the Church of their fathers. From the very first the Church of England had moved very much with the movements of the nation, and he believed it was so moving now. The Church of the Reformation was essentially a middle-class Church, and it was from the middle class that this system of pewdom took its rise. He rejoiced in the extension of the franchise, and had always accepted it from the time when it was proposed by their great Leader. He was certain it was in God's good providence that the Church of England should be again what she called herself in very truth, the Church of the People; but if she were to become so the system of pewdom must be swept away. Although the present Bill did not go very far, yet if their Lordships, by assenting to the second reading, approved the principle of the measure, they would show the people that they in that House and the Church of this nation really wished to see in the House of God all class distinctions removed, and the churches opened for private and public prayer and praise throughout the length and breadth of the land.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Earl GRANVILLE)
The longer we live in this world the more convinced we must be that it is 941 better to hear both sides before coming to a decision. I listened with great attention to the right rev. Prelate who introduced this Bill in a speech of great Parliamentary power. The right rev. Prelate stated what the law was, and explained the objects of the Bill and the machinery by which he hoped to effect his object. When he sat down I was firmly convinced of the desirability of giving a second reading to the Bill. But then got up the noble and learned Lord, who dealt stop by step with the whole machinery, and he appeared to me to entirely destroy the assumption that the law was rightly defined in the speech and in the Bill of the right rev. Prelate; and the noble and learned Lord further showed that, however desirable, or not the object might be, the Bill would entirely fail to effect it. I reserved myself for the argument of the noble Earl who has just addressed the House, and who has much knowledge of the subject. I expected that he would give some answer to the noble and learned Lord as to the Bill itself. Not a bit of it. So far from doing this, he went into an interesting description of the whole question, as to which your Lordships are agreed, of the great evil of the pew-rent system, and the greater evils which follow therefrom in excluding the poor from their proper place of worship. So far from replying to the criticisms, the noble Earl expressed regret that the Bill did not go far enough. Unless there is some authoritative answer to the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, I think the right rev. Prelate must feel that, without abandoning the purpose which he has in view, it will be better to withdraw the present Bill, and re-introduce one which will not be open to the cricitisms which have been made.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
said, he regretted to hear the remarks of the noble Earl (Earl Granville). He should be forgiven by the right rev. Prelate and by his noble and learned Friend for saying that in his opinion things were very much overstated in both their speeches. His impression of the actual state of things in the parish churches was not such as had been stated by the right rev. Prelate. He thought that the Church was the Church of the people already, and that they did not want any Act of Parliament to make it so. He did not observe any such ex- 942 clusion of the poor from their parish churches as the enemies of the Church, taking up and echoing the language of the right rev. Prelate, might possibly suppose. Still, he agreed with the right rev. Prelate that some evils existed, and he wished it were possible to sweep away many of the rights which had been referred to. But, taking the thing at its worst, he did not think it was a correct statement of the actual state of the case in the Church of England to say that the poor were driven from our parish churches. From whatever source the statement came he must express his regret to hear it and his inability to adopt it.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
said, he was thankful that he had not the rhetorical power of the right rev. Prelate, who spoke so eloquently that he produced impressions which he did not mean to convey. Those who had heard him might go away under the impression that he was describing a general state of things.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
said, he was glad now to learn that the right rev. Prelate did not moan that statement to be a description of the general state of things. The present Bill did not go very far; but he thought that, when it had received such Amendments as the right rev. Prelate had expressed his readiness to make, its moral and legal effects would be good as far as it went. During the last 50 years this movement against the pew system had been going on, and in that period he believed that scarcely a church had been restored, scarcely a church built; but they had made more and more inroads upon that system. An immense deal had been done in that way; and one of his reasons, if no other, for supporting the Bill was that it would put a stamp upon the principle that, as far as they could, they ought to prevent anything for the future going on which should tend by any possibility to exclude the poor from their just rights in our churches. The right rev. Prelate had spoken of an ever-widening and increasing chasm between the Church and the poor. He denied the fact, and asserted, 943 on the contrary, that it was ever diminishing, and likely still more to diminish; and there was nothing of more importance to the welfare of the country than that it should diminish. Nothing stirred up in his mind a greater feeling of indignation than when prominent persons went about the country using language which would seem to be intended, or, at all events, had a tendency to create or increase that alienation. He believed it to be entirely contrary to the fact; he believed that there never was a time when classes superior in rank, position, and wealth were more desirous of being upon those terms on which they ought to be with those who, in respect of the accidents and worldly advantages of life, though not as fellow-men or fellow-Christians, were beneath them. Among the benefits which would result from the late extension of the franchise, one of the greatest might be that it would give an additional stimulus to that union, co-operation, and friendly feeling of class towards class which ought to exist, and the destruction of which would be productive of so much harm to our country. With regard to the Preamble of the Bill, he could not agree with the noble and learned Lord that it misrepresented the law, or that there was any real difference as to the law between the noble and learned Lord and the right rev. Prelate. Both had stated the law in the words of the same authority, Sir John Nicholl; and there was no inconsistency between the existence of a right to the free use of the parish church by all parishioners in common, and a regulative power in the churchwardens as to the way in which that right was to be enjoyed. It was impossible for all the parishioners to sit at the same time in the same seat; and any contention for seats in the church would be disorderly. As to the statement that the rights of parishioners had been sometimes in practice infringed, he did not think it was without foundation. The practice of assigning pews for money payments, which could not legally be required, was certainly an abuse; and the extent to which, in some churches, the difference between the principle of temporary assignment of seats, and that of the permanent appropriation of pews and other large spaces of church room, had been lost sight of, was an abuse also. This was an exclusion of the common right 944 of the parishioners, rather than a reasonable provision for the manner of enjoying that right; and it was, no doubt, the only real foundation of many of those claims to pews by prescription, which the noble and learned Lord had admitted to create difficulties, of which the solution by a British jury was not always satisfactory. It was one of the objects of this Bill to check those abuses, and so far as that was its object he was in favour of it. Upon the whole, he thought the reasons in favour of a Second Reading of the Bill preponderated.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HERSCHELL)
said, that he agreed with a great deal that had fallen from his noble and learned Friend. He was not, however, so well able to dissociate the recitals of the Bill and its declaratory parts from the arguments of those who had been the means of introducing it. The Bill declared that all parishioners had a free right to their parish churches, but that for many years their rights had been infringed. That would seem to declare that the churchwardens were wrong in making any appropriation of sittings; and, though he believed it was not the object of the right rev. Prelate to enact that, yet it was the object of those who advocated the Bill. They had sent him a long legal argument with the view of persuading him that for the last few centuries churchwardens had been acting illegally when, with or without claim, they assigned a pew to a particular individual. He trusted that that would not be the view of the law to which their Lordships were prepared to give their moral sanction and great support. If they were to pass the Bill in its present form, considering the views of those who advocated it, they would be giving their moral weight to a statement they disapproved. Although he sympathized thoroughly with what the right rev. Prelate had said about the poor having as much right to the Church as the rich, yet he could not help doubting whether the advocates of the Free and Open Church system were proposing what would make the poor love the Church better or come to it more. He was strongly impressed with the idea that the more that system was adopted the more it would tend to keep the poor out of the parish churches. He very much doubted whether in many parish churches in towns it would not 945 be better for the churchwardens to assign free seats to the poor of the parish who desired a seat in the church than to leave all the seats to be occupied by the rich who came from other parishes to any church where the preacher was popular. It was not his opinion that the poor were driven from the Church by the churchwardens assigning the seats; and he had great objection, unless something good was to be attained, to declaring that people had been acting illegally. The law always sought to find a legal origin for what it found going on for many years without the interference of the Courts. If it were necessary to alter the law, instead of declaring that churchwardens had been acting illegally, it would be bettor to enact that in future no churchwarden should assign any seat in a church. As a rule, it was the declaratory part of an Act which he objected to, as he did not think it ever did much good; but in the present case it would be especially mischievous, as it would be contended that it carried out the view of the Free and Open Church advocates. For his own part, he was perfectly prepared to assist in carrying a measure which would put an end to the permanent legal right of any individual to a particular part of a church; because he regarded such a right as altogether obsolete in the present day. On the other hand, he had no desire that there should be an unseemly scramble for seats in a church; and therefore he should be willing that the churchwardens should be at liberty to assign seats from time to time to the different parishioners. In view of the objections that had been raised to some parts of this measure, he thought that it would be better, on the whole, to introduce an amended Bill; but, at the same time, if the right rev. Prelate was willing that the Preamble should be altogether withdrawn, and that several of the clauses should be amended in Committee, he had no objection to the Bill being read a second time upon that understanding. He could assure the right rev. Prelate that he made these observations from no want of sympathy with the object he had in view, there being no great difference between them; but because he was afraid that if the House were to pass this measure in its present form both he and the right rev. Prelate would be committed to that which they did not mean.
THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
said, that he felt much sympathy with the objects of the Bill, because his own experience had convinced him that there were wrongs existing which the promoters of this measure sought to put an end to. With the permission of the House he would state the facts of an extreme case, bearing on this question, with which he was familiar. A short time ago a large parish church was restored, and during the progress of the restoration a large body of the labourers living in the parish were rejoicing in the prospect of having a free parish church when the alterations were completed. All the ratepayers, however, of the parish were small farmers; and after a short time the clergyman went to his Bishop and informed him that the churchwardens, with the approbation of the small farmers, had assigned almost the whole of the seats to the farmers themselves, and that he could not prevail upon them to allow the poor to have oven seats which were vacant after the service had commenced. The Bishop remonstrated against this proceeding without success, and the consequence was that the poor could no more worship in that church than they could before its restoration. What existed in that parish in a very disgraceful form prevailed, in a lesser degree, in many other places. That these wrongs existed in a large number of cases was proved by the reception this Bill had met with throughout the country. He had, however, an objection to the measure in its present form which would prevent him from voting with his whole heart even for its Second Reading, and one which had not yet been clearly mentioned. There were in our large towns a great number of churches which had been built without endowments, and which were mainly supported out of the pew rents. The money received for pew rents went, not only to pay the clergyman, but to repair the fabric, to meet the expenses of additional ministers, and the maintenance of the beautiful services which were very dear to those who frequented those churches. The Bill as it stood, therefore, while intended to do away with wrongs which no doubt existed, would inflict other wrongs upon, and quite enfeeble, many very useful churches. He therefore suggested that the measure should be read a second time, with the 947 object of its being referred to a Select Committee, so that full information on the subject might be obtained.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBROOK
said, that the course which had been suggested by the most rev. Prelate would be the most convenient for them all. He quite agreed with the noble and learned Earl (the Earl of Selborne) that in most of their parish churches the evils that had been complained of did not exist; and he believed that the assignment of seats by churchwardens among the poor and the rich would be better than a scramble for them. He objected to persons who came late into church, and who found other persons in their places, turning them out; that was a disgraceful proceeding, and the churchwardens should have power to prevent it.
THE BISHOP OF PETERBOROUGH
said, that he fully acquiesced in the suggestion that had been made that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.
§ On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? resolved in the affirmative.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.