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Church Building Acts Amendment Bill

Volume 117: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1851

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Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [23rd June], "That the Bill be now read a Second Time:" Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

said, the Bill was founded on the report of a Commission laid before Parliament last year on the subdivision of parishes. That Commission was appointed by the Crown, on the Motion of the noble Lord the late Member for Bath. The Bill made provision for the endowment of these subdivisions of parishes in certain cases. An objection had been raised, that one of the clauses of the Bill would enable the Commissioners to impose pew rents upon seats which had hitherto been occupied by the poor gratis, and certainly it would appear that such a power would operate unjustly. That objection, however, might be more appropriately discussed at a future stage of the measure. There were other provisions, which could only be considered in Committee. Those provisions were to subdivide parishes, securing a spiritual superintendent with better means of subsistence than at present. He should state before they went into Committee the course he proposed to take with regard to the clause to which objection had been made, and he did not ask the House, therefore, in assenting to the second reading of the Bill, to sanction that clause.

said, there would be no difficulty in having additional churches built by private munificence if they could be built without being endowed. But the Bishop of London said, unless they were endowed he would not consecrate them. There was a great cry for Church extension on the part of some parties, but they would not allow of Church extension unless they had the patronage. Twenty-five years ago they could have had twenty additional churches built in the metropolis by Mr. John Smith and others, provided they could have had the appointment of the clergy; but as that was not allowed them, the churches were not built. And now what did they propose by this Bill? They proposed to take away half of the free sittings that had been appropriated for the last fifty years, so that in fact this Bill was a robbery of the poor in order to give the Bishops the power of nominating clergymen with increased salaries. Then the next clause was quite as objectionable. It was to give power to the Commissioners to charge rents for pews which had been held by faculty. This mode of adding to the wants of the Church, in utter disregard of the feeling of the public, he warned them, would ere long tell fearfully against it. He should move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend (Sir Gr. Grey) that the object of this Bill as stated by him was a good one, namely, to subdivide large parishes; but this Bill went far beyond that, and was not in accordance with the original intentions of the Commissioners. This was not the first time that a Bill of this kind had been proposed. One was proposed last year, and this was the same with some little alteration. That Bill gave power to the Commissioners to levy a church rate over the whole district, so that every person would come under this church rate at the very time that church rates were very obnoxious to the public at large. As an instance, take the parish of St. Pancras. It was proposed to build twenty additional churches; and if that Bill had been passed, there would be a church rate in every one of those twenty districts. The Bill was nothing more nor less than a Bill of the Bishop of London's, for the purpose of creating patronage, and taxing the people to support the Church. Such were the powers of the original Bill. In consequence of the remonstrances that were made, the noble Lord at the head of the Government said he could not consent to such propositions. What was their proposition now? Why, to enable the Bishops and others to put a tax upon seats which were now free. That was one of the objects of the Bill; but there were some other curious propositions in it. Suppose a new church were built, and there was a popular clergyman to it, they actually proposed to take the pew rents of that church to support another church where there might a negligent minister who could not get a congregation. Then there was another proposition to validate marriages performed in certain churches, so that here was a Bill brought in to facilitate the building of churches which were to legalise illegal marriages. He could corroborate the statement of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume), that the Bishops would not consecrate churches built by individuals, unless the founders also endowed them, and handed over the patronage to the Bishop. Among a large spiritually destitute population with which he was connected, he proposed to build a new church; but he was told by the Bishop of Llandaff that he (Sir B. Hall) might spend any money he chose in building it, but he (the Bishop) would not consecrate it unless he endowed it. That he would not consent to do. The consequence was, he declined to build the church, and in that very place there are now six dissenting chapels and no church. Suppose the church had been built, all the sittings would have been free except about a dozen pews; and if this Bill passed, the Bishop could come in and charge rents for half those seats. It was quite preposterous that the right hon. Baronet should seek to press this Bill to a second reading, when it had only come from another place five days, and had only been printed for the use of the House three days. A remarkable report had emanated from the Bishop of London and certain other dignitaries; and one of their propositions was a most monstrous one. It was, that the whole of the Crown livings should be disposed of for the purpose of creating a fund for the building of churches. Why did not these Bishops propose to sell their own? He believed that under the present Lord Chancellor nothing could be more admirable than the different appointments that had been made by him to livings. The late Dr. Arnold had said it was not the doctrine but the discipline of the Church that required reformation. Before giving these extraordinary powers to the Bishops, something ought to be done in this respect. There had been other reports of Commissioners which had not been acted on so rapidly as this. Last year there had been a report of the Ecclesiastical Revenue Commissioners, recom- mending that Church lessees should have some advantages; a Bill had been brought into the other House, and had been most strongly opposed. It was now hung up in a Select Committee with little chance of reaching that House in the present Session, while the present Bill was urged forward with unseemly haste. There were a great many matters in the Bill which ought not to pass into law; he should therefore divide against the second reading.

thought the hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall), and the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had taken an erroneous view of this Bill. It might be a question whether it ought to be retrospective; but he considered it might be a very useful measure, and he should therefore support the second reading.

said, it was strange that the second reading of this Bill should he urged on at a time when it was impossible it could be fully considered. It touched on so many popular interests, including those of the Dissenters, that it was an absolute matter of justice that there should be an opportunity for considering it out of doors. It contained a great many clauses, and referred to eighteen Acts of Parliament. Three of the clauses all went in the same direction, to authorise the allotment of free seats in pews, and the imposition of pew rents in all churches built since 1800. It was, in fact, a measure of taxation, and of the most improper and inexpedient kind; for it taxed the people for going to church, who were at present not subject to that payment. This taxation would operate most oppressively on the poor; ancient parishes were exempted. Thus, the burden would be more heavy on the recently-formed parishes. If the clergy wore made to depend on the pew rents, this would be to introduce the worst feature of Dissenting voluntaryism, which rendered their ministers dependent on the caprices or changes of opinion of their hearers. This was done, while the report stated that the Church property was capable of realising 500,000l. per annum by pew rents. Was it fit, with such ample funds, that a new taxation should be imposed? In the present condition of the Church, it might be asked whether such a measure was most fitly proposed. It would be asked what was the particular species of faith and worship which funds were demanded to support, while such scenes were enacted in the Church as had occurred no later than last Sunday, when the incum- bent of a large parish, at the close of a discourse by a popular preacher, had got up and stated that he did not agree with what had been advanced by his rev. brother. On these grounds he should oppose the second reading of the Bill.

agreed in the opinion of the hon. Member who had preceded him, that the Bill had been brought forward a little too rapidly for proper discussion. He would, however, give his support to the second reading of the Bill. The hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall) said this Bill was brought forward only to increase the patronage of the Bishop of London. Was it to be borne, when efforts were made to increase the stipends of ministers which were not enough to support single, leaving out of consideration married life, that one of the greatest of our bishops should be charged with desiring to increase his patronage? Why, the whole amount of patronage of these churches did not exceed that stipend which the hon. Baronet gave to his butler or valet. The incomes would not exceed 150l. a year; and when the hon. Baronet said he was ready to build a church, he (Sir R. H. Inglis) gave him the fullest credit for it; but was it enough to build the four walls, and then leave the ministration of the church to be provided for by the voluntary system? for he agreed with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. W. J. Fox), that the worst system that could he adopted for the Church of England was the voluntary system, and he deprecated the introduction of it in any form. It must be recollected that one-third of the seats in these churches would be free, and that very strong restrictions would be laid on the pew rents. He had already referred to the Bishop of London as one of the great bishops of the present period. The Bishop of London had done more than any other bishop for the service of the Church during the last two centuries, he was not bound to support every doctrine the Bishop of London maintained; hut he was bound, in truth, to state that the Bishop of London had consecrated more churches—he believed the number was upwards of 200—than any previous bishop in the same period. He hardly knew whether he was justified in noticing other expressions which had relation to the Bishop of London with respect to the mode in which that right rev. Prelate exercised his patronage. He would not answer for all the appointments made by the Bishop of London; hut this he could answer for, that no man could be more anxious to exercise his episcopal patronage with a more earnest desire to act according to the dictates of his conscience than the Bishop of London; and, though it might be a question whether the patronage had always been exercised in the way he himself should have exercised it, still he must say that the Bishop of London could not be charged with having exercised his patronage from any sordid and worldly feeling, but from a desire to do what he believed would best promote the glory of God. The question being whether the Bill be road a second time on that day six months, which meant to reject the Bill altogether, was one he could not give his assent to; but thinking that the Bill might he considerably improved in Committee, he should give the Motion for the second reading his cordial support.

said, the Bill was proposed to remedy certain inconveniences, and it was ardently desired by the working clergy, who believed that it would give them the independence they had sought, and which was so necessary to the discharge of their spiritual duties. The Bill removed many obstacles in the way of endowing churches; and, so far from increasing the patronage of the bishops, it would have an opposite effect. He thought the objections of the hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall) wore directed rather to the Bill of last year than the present one. No prelate had ever subscribed so largely out of his own funds for Church purposes, in proportion to his income, as the Bishop of London had done.

said, the House had not had sufficient time to examine the Bill; therefore, in voting for the second reading, he must reserve himself on certain points, including the pew rents and the fees. In reference to patronage, Clause 11 was certainly both retrospective and prospective; this was a provision so monstrous that he could not hold himself responsible to support it. Many churches recently built had been endowed on the faith of certain parties having the preferment; and this ought not to be interfered with. Clause 20 gave power to sell advowsons, and this was also objectionable. The next clause did away with local Acts, except in Manchester. The Bill touched a great many things besides its avowed object. He could not, however, say there was not any good in it, and he would vote for the second reading with the reservations he had stated.

said, the report on which the Bill was founded was presented two years ago, and a measure had been introduced last Session that the opinion of the country might be obtained. To that Bill serious objections were raised, chiefly on the part of the Dissenters, and, in consequence, various alterations were made in it, but it did not pass. Now the objections of the hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall) were directed to that Bill, and not to the one now before the House, and he therefore did not consider it necessary to go into those objections. He considered that ample time had been given to consider the Bill, so far as to take the second reading, and it might be more fully considered in Committee. He thought the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) had put a wrong construction on the 11th Clause. The objection that the Bill merely sought to get public money, and increase the Church patronage, was wholly unfounded. Its leading object was to convert districts into independent parishes, and render the incumbents of those districts independent of the rector of the parish, who, under the existing arrangement, received the fees paid at the district churches. This he knew to have been the case in the district of St. Peter, Pimlico. As to patronage, the only effect of the Bill would be to take it away from the bishops and incumbents, and vest it in those who were disposed to promote the erection and endowment of churches. The Bill had not been prepared by the Government, but by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; the Government had conducted it through the other House, and generally approved of its provisions. The Bill did not contemplate the raising of money from the public. All that it aimed at was to make the services of the Church more available, by rendering the ministers of district churches independent. With respect to that clause which proposed to give to the Commissioners the power to impose fees for the use of seats heretofore allotted to the exclusive use of the poor, he entirely disapproved of it, and it should have his strenuous opposition in Committee.

supported the Amendment. The Bill had been hurried in a most premature manner, and he was sure that if more time had been allowed, the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary would have received numerous representations from all parts of the country in opposition to it. He should wish the right hon. Baronet to explain the meaning of the 30th Clause, with respect to the validity of marriages, and to inform the House how such a clause, embracing a most important and altogether distinct subject, came to be included in this Bill.

said, that he had had quite sufficient time to make up his mind that this was a most objectionable Bill, and one which ought not to receive the sanction of that House. He agreed that the Church was lamentably deficient all over the kingdom; but he had never heard it argued, even by those who peculiarly called themselves the friends of the Church, that, whatever the wants of the Church might he, she did not possess within herself ample revenues for her purposes. He believed that the principle of raising any funds at all from pew rents was generally admitted to be objectionable; but to pass over the rich, and to come upon the very poorest frequenters of the Church for increased pew rents, was most unjustifiable. He objected also to the retrospective action of the measure.

would suggest, as it was then four o'clock, that the House should at once proceed to a division, otherwise he should move that the debate be adjourned.

was not prepared to vote upon the principle of the Bill; but if the division were to be at once taken, he should vote against the second reading, on the ground of want of time to examine the measure. He thought the more desirable course would be to adjourn the debate.

Debate adjourned till Friday.