HC Deb 26 April 1836 vol 33 cc311-20
Mr. Rippon,

in bringing forward his motion for the exclusion of the Bishops from the House of Lords, said, it may be in the remembrance of some hon. Gentlemen, that, two years since, I brought forward a measure somewhat similar to that which I am now about to offer to the notice of the House. It was received by Lord Althorp, the then Ministerial leader, with contempt and unconcern. "If," said that noble Lord, "I thought that any besides the mover and seconder of this motion were likely to concur in it, I would state the grounds on which I oppose it." The division determined the value of the noble Lord's pretensions to prescience, for although 128 voted against the proposition, no less than fifty-eight recorded their opinions in its favour. This discreet secrecy of the noble Lord having thus deprived me of all opportunity for enlightenment, I am compelled once again to reiterate my arguments; the subject advances in public interest; its former reception did not check, but, on the contrary, forwarded its growth; a spirit of religious reformation is at the present moment stirring in society, which cannot be eluded, nor safely resisted. I entreat hon. Gentlemen to banish from their minds those impediments to improvement—a veneration for antiquity, and a reverence for established practices. I bid them consider, whether the practice of which I complain is really beneficial to the cause of religion, or profitable to the great mass of society. I ask them to review with impartiality, and decide with boldness in the cause of truth. I wish not to assume any counterfeit solemnity, but it is my desire to discuss this question without asperity of language, and without giving needless offence to the feelings or prejudices of any man. It is not my intention to weary the House by detailing the origin and progress of our ecclesiastical system. I am no votary of antiquity. I will not cite the changes of Constantine, nor the edicts of Justinian—I will not describe the usurpations of secular power by the Clergy in this country prior to that time when the Crown was substituted for the tiara—nor will I notice the events of a later period in our history, when the Sovereign and the subject were arrayed against each other in religious strife, when the cry of "No Bishop, no King!" was raised. Suffice for us to bear in mind, that Charles perished on the scaffold, James became an exile from his country, and the House of Stuart was banished for ever from the Throne. My purpose is, to consider the numerous, onerous, and increasing duties which attach to the office of Bishop, with a view to show that these, if properly discharged, afford ample occupation for his time and regard. Under the new arrangement, as proposed in the first Report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, 10,400 benefices will be in charge of the twenty-six diocesans—in Lincoln, 780; in Exeter, 635; in York, 595; in Ely 554; and supposing that the whole number were equally allotted, it would give 400 benefices to the superintendence of each Bishop. The second Report of the Commissioners calls for "a further increase of churches and clergymen, to make adequate provision for the religious instruction of a rapidly increased and increasing population." Thus if every benefice had, which it ought to have, and I hope may soon have, a resident pastor, each Bishop would be an Overseer of 400 ministers, and if the alleged wants of the Church were provided for, even of an augmented number. And here I would call the particular attention of the House to a most important, but as I fear, a most neglected object of ecclesiastical policy—the maintaining of a pastoral connexion between the Bishop and his Clergy. Be assured, the highest qualities of moral and religious excellence may fail in producing good results, if the overseer be far exalted in bearing and condition above those who are intrusted to his guidance. It is the duty of a Bishop frequently to visit his Clergy, and ever keep up with them a friendly communication. He should receive them without reserve, and approach them without ostentation. He should examine the interests of the Church in the various parishes, seeing with his own eyes, and hearing with his own ears, not trusting to the reports of partial officials; and if from time to time he were to occupy the parish pulpits, his preaching would give life and energy to the system. He should pay attention to those establishments for early intellectual culture—the village schools—making the qualifications and conduct of the masters objects of examination and inquiry in his parochial visitations. He should diligently scrutinise and carefully ascertain the fitness of those who apply for ordination, not merely by guaging the quantity of Latin and Greek that may be stored in their understandings, but by testing the natural bent, the individual bias towards seriousness of thought and habit, which alone offer hopes of usefulness in the work of the ministry, which alone discover fitness for admission into the holy office of priesthood. It is his duty to administer the rite of confirmation to thousands of children. He has also to discharge a momentous trust, to the proper exercise of which attaches a deep responsibility—the disposal of the ecclesiastical preferment belonging to his see; for it appears by the Report, that 1,248 benefices are now under the patronage of the Bishops. He is bound to bestow it with regard to the spiritual wants of the community, not with consideration to the requests of importunate friends, or desirous connexions; it is his duty to seek out and advance the worthy and meritorious, who will exhort with diligence, who will encourage by example, who will be faithful and laborious in the cause of religious truth. These are the duties; but I wish not to weary with details. I hope that I have fairly and sufficiently set forth the matters for episcopal superintendence and ministration; and now I would ask, whether these spiritual cares are not sufficient, and more than sufficient to occupy the time of a Bishop, however active in his exertions, however eager in his solicitude? and if so, let me further inquire, whether it be reasonable to super add to this over-burdened spiritual shepherd a weighty and responsible office in the State—whether you can discover any congruity between a Christian overseer and a political agent? The ends for which the Christian Church was founded are spiritual, and wholly relate to the next world; her ministers must dedicate themselves, with vigorous and unremitting diligence, to the maintenance of religion, and to the instruction of mankind in the principles of true piety. The divulgement of precepts, and the establishment of internal forms, can never communicate the spirit of religion, unless the lives and conduct of its professed teachers be in accordance with the spirit of the gospel. Are prelatic pomp, the throne, the palace, and the lordly title, in conformity with the purity of Protestantism and the simplicity of Christianity? Are they not rather a remnant of papal corruption—a vicious practice of that Church whose doctrines you reject, but whose splendours you covetously retain? Is an attachment to such vanities becoming in those who ought to be patterns of humility, benevolence, and heavenly-mindedness; and may it not create a notion, that while teaching the duty of others, they are not altogether mindful of their own, and thus induce the people to receive their doctrines with suspicion, if not to reject them altogether with contempt? Weigh well these dangers to spiritual advancement, before you reject as wild and visionary the proposition which I make. I am, and always have been, a member of the Church Establishment. I am free, I trust, from sectarian prejudice, but until I am informed as to the evils and dangers which would result from this change, I must preserve an honest and conscientious opinion of its necessity and its benefit. And now I will consider the only plea that I have ever heard put forth in justification of the practice of Bishops sitting in Parliament—that they may represent the interests, and defend the rights of the Church. The Church, as a spiritual community, has no concern with secular government. The Establishment has property which is duly represented, and its ministers enjoy the same privilege as other citizens in voting for the election of Members to this House, and as far as I have seen they exercise their power with an eagerness and zeal that cannot be surpassed. But if the Bishops were really meant to be the representatives of the Church, then undoubtedly they should be elected by the clergy, whereas they are appointed nominally by the Crown, virtually by the Minister of the day, and always with regard to their political opinions. In the House of Lords they form a body insignificant in number; they have no veto in ecclesiastical questions—and it is clear, therefore, that unless the laity in the two Houses are favourable to the Establishment, it cannot be upheld even by the combined energies of thirty Bishops sitting in an assembly of near 400 Members. But the practice is not merely useless, it is positively injurious—serious evils result from their meddling in political affairs—their votes have often secured the most active popular hate, not only to themselves, but towards their office. Why subject them to the suspicion of political servility, thus diminishing the effect of their spiritual influence? Why not confine their care to the superintendence of the hundreds of pastors, and hundreds of parishes committed to their charge, and the numerous duties attaching to their ecclesiastical office? In the name of religion I ask this change. I cannot believe that the Bishops are pervaded with a spirit so purely worldly, as to desire a continuance of the present system, thus fostering the accursed principles of covetous-ness, ambition, and pride—thus clinging to worldly pomp and political intrigue—thus cherishing the desire for pre-eminence, and the love of filthy lucre. I wish to regard them in their proper character—as heralds of heavenly truth, gifted by God, and elected by the Church—faithfully attendant on the duties of parochial superintendence, contemning the chair of pontifical pride, despising the emptiness of spiritual dignity, and shunning the temptations of secular high office and employment. Make not a high religious office the qualification for a political office; think of the benefits that will result to the Church by securing the continuous inspection of a vigilant hierarchy, and remember that such can only be maintained by limiting the regard of the Bishops to their spiritual stewardship, thus enabling them to devote themselves with singleness of heart to the holy and peaceful duties of their sacred calling. I move this resolution, "That the attendance of the Bishops in Parliament is prejudicial to the cause of religion."

Mr. Gillon

seconded the motion, and said, that when his hon. Friend had brought forward his motion in 1834, he had had the honour of seconding it. He did so on two grounds, both political and religious. He placed the political grounds first, because he should advert to them but slightly on the present occasion as they were not, indeed, included within the scope of the present motion. He had, however, supported that motion on political grounds, as a means of effecting a partial Reform in one branch of the Legislature, of bringing the two Houses of Parliament more into unison one with another. He had considered, that as the dignitaries of the Church had always been on the side opposed to the people, as they had ever lent their ready aid to any imposition which was to affect their comforts, or any gagging Bill which was to diminish their liberties, a more simple way was thus afforded of reforming the House of Lords by substracting from, rather than by the somewhat clumsy and inconvenient expedient of adding to their numbers. Subsequent events had somewhat tended to change his opinions, and did the question now before the House rest on no grounds but those of political expediency, he should hesitate somewhat as to the vote he should give. The other branch of the Legislature had since that period proved itself so utterly at variance with the public mind, hereditary legislation had been proved to be so vicious in practice as well as absurd in principle, that he confessed he despaired of the efficacy of any partial reforms; and he was inclined rather to leave matters as they were, to leave the House as it was, with all its imperfections on its head, until the necessity of a more stringent and sweeping reform should have been more fully established. He was mistaken if on that very night that right hon. House, by refusing to one portion of the empire that justice which had been extorted from them in regard to England and to Scotland, did not give a practical illustration of the truth of his present remarks. His hon. Friend had since, however, taken up a principle to which he could not deny his assent. He would refer to history, and ask whether the experience of all times had proved that the progress of pure religion had been in proportion to the wealth and dignity of the priesthood, or if it had not rather been in the inverse ratio? In the early ages of Christianity had the teachers of that mild and tolerant creed been of the great of the land, the magistrates, and the legislators of the day? or had they not been humble individuals, without pomp and without state, subject to much persecution, and recording, by the sacrifice of their lives, their devotion to the holy cause which they maintained? And it was only when these doctrines were spread, when they were adopted by the great ones of the earth, that those corruptions crept in which had debased the purity of the Christian Church, and degraded the minds of men under low and grovelling superstition, and deluged the world with blood, profanely shed under the sacred name of religion. And it would be found at the present day, that the more you separated the teacher of the Word from the pomp and vanities of this world, not only the more would be his leisure to attend to the duties of his more holy calling, but the more would be the influence he would possess in leading and directing the minds of his flock. He conceived the duties of a Legislator and divine altogether incompatible. He could not forget what the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Cambridge, had told them on a former occasion, that so important were the duties of the Bishops that he proposed to add to their number; and he would ask with a reverend divine, a distinguished member of the Established Church, what connexion of a useful kind there is between a stormy debate in the House of Lords with the peaceful tenor of life and manners which became an eccle- siastic? He earnestly desired to see the ministers of all persuasions efficient for the promotion of the great ends of their calling. Why remove the heads of the Church of England from their peaceful walk of life, and from duties so important, to the frivolities of a Court and the dissipation of a capital, which must disgust men of their holy bearing; or to the turmoils of political life, which must be so foreign to their wishes and desires? Was the cure of souls so light a matter, that to that they would add the labours of legislation? Was the pride and pomp of Court parade adapted to the pursuits or wishes of the disciple of a meek and lowly Master, whose kingdom was not of this world? Wag the political arena, with its strife and its rancour and its jarring of passions, a fit place for the presence of a messenger of peace? He would remove the dignitaries of the Church from these frivolities, from the worldly parades, and the scenes of strife, which, if they corrupt not their minds, place them at least within the reach of suspicion; and he would limit their exertions to the proper sphere of their usefulness, where, by devoting themselves to the all-important duties of their office, they might, in the increased progress of the religion which they taught, and in the respect and veneration which must attend them, reap the rich reward of their conscientious labours.

Mr. Trevor

was extremely sorry to occupy the time of hon. Members, but he thought he should ill discharge his duty if he did not stand forward to make one or two observations upon the motion. Knowing as he did the avowed opinions of the hon. mover, he was not surprised at the course he had taken. [Question.] He assured hon. Gentlemen, that he was not to be put down, or driven from the discharge of what he believed a duty. He trusted that the House would treat the motion in such a manner as to mark its sense of, and even its indignation at, such a proposition, and this might preclude its early re-introduction. So far from being of opinion that the attendance and votes of the Bishops were derogatory to the interests of religion, he thought it of the utmost importance. Even at present the Church was inadequately represented in the House of Lords, and if the Bishops were excluded its interests would be neglected altogether. So long as he had a seat in that House, so long would he enter his protest against such a motion as that now in the hands of the Speaker; and, in addition, he would enter his protest against the observations of the hon. seconder respecting the conduct of the other branch of the Legislature. He hoped the House would reject the proposition by a most decided negative. He apologised for having occupied so much time, especially as his observations seemed most of all unpalatable to his own side of the House. No power on earth should induce him to shrink from doing his duty as an independent Member of Parliament

Mr. Lawson

begged to congratulate the House on the alteration of the terms of the motion of the hon. Member for Gateshead. That he had been obliged to withdraw the insulting proposition, of "relieving the Bishops from their attendance in Parliament," and to substitute this more modified one, argued an improved state of religious feeling in this House and the country. Without offering any further observations, he should best record his own opinions, and test the sincerity of the hon. Member's attachment to the Church, by requesting him to add to his Resolution these words, "And that it is the opinion of this House, that on any new appointment of Bishops, their residence in their dioceses be strictly provided for; and that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London alone shall attend in the House of Lords, as Representatives of the Church, holding the proxies of the other Bishops on motions connected with ecclesiastical affairs, thereby upholding the connexion of Church and State, removing any just cause of dissatisfaction, and ensuring the efficiency of the Ecclesiastical Establishment." If this addition were made, he would support the motion; if not, he should oppose it.

Lord John Russell

said, that he only rose for the purpose of assuring the hon. Gentleman who made the motion, that it was not through any want of respect to him, or the reasons which he advanced in support of it, that he should decline entering into any general discussion on that occasion. His opinion was, tat it would lead to no practical end. Neither the House nor the country were disposed to entertain a proposition of the kind. He could assure the hon. Gentleman, that if he were to enter upon the discussion of this subject at all, he could not do otherwise than use arguments relating to the Constitution of this country, the state of its religion and the functions of the Bishops; a course which, in the present disposition of the House, he was persuaded he should do very ill to adopt. Therefore he should only assure the hon. Gentleman, that he gave him credit for the conviction, that the object of the motion would be for the benefit of religion; but, on the other hand, he was anxious that the hon. Gentleman should not suppose that he did not believe that there were grave and sufficient reasons for his voting against the motion.

Mr. Charles Lushington

said, that though he might not himself have the fortitude to resist the wishes of the majority of the House, he could not but condemn the course adopted by the noble Lord of—again quashing a question so important to the interests of the Established Church, and so essential to the maintenance and purity of religion.

Mr. Rippon

stated that all he would say was, that if the noble Lord or any other hon. Gentleman thought he was to be put down in this sort of way he was very much mistaken, for he could assure them that if he had the honour of a seat in the House during the next Session, he should again submit his motion.

The House divided—Ayes 53; Noes 180; Majority 127.

List of the AYES.
Bewes, T. Marjoribanks, S.
Bish, T. Marsland, H.
Bowes, John Mullins, F. W.
Bridgeman, H. Nagle, Sir R.
Brotherton, J. O'Connell, D.
Buckingham, J. S. O'Connell, J.
Chalmers, P. O'Connell, M. J.
Chapman, M. L. Oliphant, L.
Codrington, Admiral Oswald, J.
Collier, J. Parrott, J.
Duncombe, T. Pattison, J.
Elphinstone, H. Pease, J.
Evans, G. Philips, M.
Ewart, W. Potter, R.
Fergus, J. Pryme, G.
Ferguson, Sir R. Roebuck, J. A.
Gisborne, T. Talbot, J.
Grote, G. Thompson, Colonel
Gully, J. Thornely, T.
Harvey, D. W. Villiers, C. P.
Hastie, A. Wakley, T.
Hindley, C. Wallace, R.
Horsman, E. Warburton, H.
Hume, J. Wemyss, Captain
Humphery, John Williams, Sir J.
Leader, J. T. TELLERS.
Lushington, C. Rippon, C.
Mangles, J. Gillon, W. D.
List of the NOES.
Alsager, Captain Arbuthnot, hon. H.
Angerstein, J. Ashley, Lord
Barclay, D. Halse, J.
Barclay, C. Hanmer, Sir J.
Baring, F. T. Harcourt, G. G.
Baring, F. Hardinge, Sir H.
Baring, H. B. Hardy, J.
Baring, W. B. Harland, W. C.
Baring, T. Hay, Sir J.
Barnard, E. G. Hayes, Sir E. S.
Barneby, J. Heathcote, G. J.
Bell, M. Hogg, J. W.
Bentinck, Lord W. Hope, J.
Beresford, Sir J. Hotham, Lord
Bethell, R. Howard, P. H.
Blackburne, I. Howick, Lord
Bonham, R. F. Hoy, J. B.
Brownrigg, S. Hurst, R. H.
Bruce, C. L. C. Ingham, R.
Brudenell, Lord Inglis, Sir R. H.
Burrell, Sir C. Johnstone, Sir J.
Calcraft, J. H. Johnstone, J. J. H.
Campbell, Sir H. Jones, T.
Canning, rt. hn. Sir S. Irton, S.
Cartwright, W. R. King, E. B.
Chaplin, Colonel Knightly, Sir C.
Charlton, E. L. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Chichester, J. P. B. Lambton, H.
Churchill, Lord C. Law, hon. C. E.
Clerk, Sir G. Lawson, A.
Codrington, C. W. Lees, J. F.
Cole, Lord Viscount Lefevre, C. S.
Compton, H. C. Lemon, Sir C.
Conolly, E. M. Lennox, Lord G.
Cowper, Hon. W. F. Lennox, Lord A.
Damer, G. L. D. Lincoln, Earl of
Darlington, Earl of Loch, J.
Denison, W. J. Lucas, E.
Dick, Q. Lushington, hon. S. R.
Donkin, Sir R. Lygon, hon. Colonel
Duffield, T. Mackinnon, W. A.
Dugdale, W. S. Maclean, D.
Dundas, J. D. Mahon, Lord
Egerton, W. T. Maunsell, T. P.
Egerton, Sir P. Meynell, Captain
Elley, Sir J. Miles, W.
Estcourt, T. Miles, P. J.
Estcourt, T. Mordaunt, Sir J.
Fancourt, Major Mosley, Sir O.
Fazakerley, J. N. Mostyn, hon. E.
Fielden, W. North, F.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. O'Brien, W. S.
Finch, G. Owen, H. O.
Fleming, J. Packe, C. W.
Forbes, W. Parker, M.
Fremantle, Sir T. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Geary, Sir W. Peel, rt. hon. W. Y.
Gladstone, T. Pemberton, T.
Gladstone, W. E. Phillips, G. R.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Pinney, W.
Goulburn, Sergeant Pollen, Sir J. W.
Graham, Sir J. Poulter, J. S.
Greene, T. Poyntz, W. S.
Gresley, Sir R. Price, Sir R.
Grey, Sir G. Pringle, A.
Grimston, Lord Pusey, P.
Grimston, hon. E. H. Reid, Sir J. R.
Hale, R. B. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Halford, H. Richards, J.
Ridley, Sir M. Trevor, hon. A.
Robarts, A. W. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Robinson, G. R. Turner, W.
Ross, C. Tynte, C. K.
Rushbrooke, Colonel Vere, Sir C. B.
Russell, Lord J. Vesey, hon. T.
Ryle, J. Vivian, J. E.
Sanderson, R. Vyvyan, Sir R.
Sanford, E. A. Wall, C. B.
Scott, Sir E. D. Welby, G. E.
Scott, J. W. Weyland, Major
Shaw, right hon. F. Wilbraham, hon. B.
Sheppard, T. Williams, R.
Sinclair, Sir G. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Somerset, Lord E. Wrottesley, Sir J.
Somerset, Lord G. Wynn, right hon. C. W.
Stewart, Sir M. S. Young, G. F.
Stormont, Lord Young, J.
Sturt, H. C. Young, Sir W.
Surrey, Earl of
Talbot, C. R. M. TELLERS.
Talfourd, Sergeant Maule, hon. F.
Thomas, Colonel Colborne, R.