HC Deb 02 May 1837 vol 38 cc458-61
Mr. Borthwick

, in pursuance of his notice, rose to call the attention of the House to the subject of the convocation of the clergy. He requested the House simply to give to the question a calm consideration. The ecclesiastical body had been placed for nearly a hundred years in a singular position, as self regulation had been allowed to all other corporate bodies. From the length of time that had elapsed it had been all but forgotten that a convocation was recognised by the constitution of the country. He had intended to bring in a Bill to remodel the constitution of the convocation so as to make it practically useful; but if he had done so he might have appeared to give his sanction to the principle that laymen sitting in Parliament had a right to legislate on the internal affairs of the Church. The Church of England was placed in an anomalous and most unfavourable position; its concerns were managed by legislators, many of whom were inimical or indifferent to its interests. Had the convocation been sitting at the time when the Registration of Marriages Bill was introduced into Parliament, the noble Lord would not have been obliged to postpone its operation for several months, as he would have been enabled by the advice of that body to put its details in such a shape as would have admitted of its being carried into effect immediately. Hon. Gentlemen would naturally associate with the name of convocation bitter feelings and discreditable altercations. It was true, that the contentions of that body had been such as would disgrace any deliberative assembly, but this was to be ascribed to the unsettled state of the Church for a long time subsequent to the Reformation. Previous to that great event the Church of Rome had struggled to grasp a larger share of power than the genius of the constitution could grant to it, and the same spirit was visible afterwards, at various periods, down to the extinction of the convocation in 1717, sometimes taking the form of disputes between the whole body of the clergy and the Legislature, or of collisions between the higher and lower houses of convocation. The assembly of the Church of Scotland discharged all the duties of an ecclesiastical council without injuring that establishment, and he did not see that there was reason to apprehend that the same Would not be the case in the present day with a body representing the Church of England. The Church of England itself was most anxious for wholesome reform, and where could questions relating to Church reform be discussed with more likelihood of success than in convocation? In times like the present it was absolutely necessary to restore this self-regulating power to the Church. As a protection for the Established Church against Roman Catholic Members of Parliament, he would prefer the convocation to an oath, such as that now taken by them. He intended to propose that an address should be presented to the King, that he would from time to time assemble the clergy in convocation, to afford his Parliament advice and assistance in matters ecclesiastical. He did not believe that the measure would be carried into effect at once, but he felt himself called upon to call the attention of Parliament to the subject. It was his intention to ask permission to bring in a Bill on this subject, and in which he should propose, that the convocation be confined to one assembly, and that it should at the same time have full power to communicate with that House. The other objects which the Bill would embrace he would not trouble the House with at that time. He regretted that so little attention had been paid to the motion by Members on both sides of the House, particularly at a time when measures were brought forward night after night to sap the foundations and endanger the very existence of the Established Church. Was it not proposed to dissever the connexion between Church and State? The Church once overthrown, the State could not long endure. It was only of late that Members of that House had dared to stand up and pronounce democracy as the best form of Government, propose the expulsion of the Bishops from the House of Lords, and declare the Church of England to be the greatest curse that ever was inflicted upon Ireland. A more shallow notion never floated on the shallowest brains than to think a State could go on without being in connexion with some religion, To what were the ancient republics indebted for their unrivalled progress in art button the respect they entertained for the religion they professed? He believed the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) was sincerely attached to the Established Church, and desirous to uphold it. One of his ancestors had suffered death in the cause, determined to support the liberties of this country against the power of the Pope, who, while he pronounced himself servus servorum Dei, sought by all means to bring the world into subjection to the power of Rome. He would on the 20th of June, move for leave to bring in his Bill. The hon. Member concluded by moving, that an humble address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he would be graciously pleased to take steps for the introduction of such reformation into the convocation of the clergy as shall render the meetings of that reverend court practicable, and efficient for the purposes for which it was recognised by the Constitution.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

seconded the motion, and contended, that, as the clergy were not directly represented in that House, they ought in some way to be enabled to take a part in their consultations as regarded matters connected with the interests of the Church. This was the more necessary at present, when so many motions of great importance were daily brought under their consideration on the subject of Church reform. The destitution of the working clergy was often alluded to in that House. What tribunal was more fit to submit the consideration of it to than the convocation? In the case also of clergymen who might have disgraced their sacred calling, who were more fit to give judgment than an assembly of the clergy themselves?

Mr. Hume

congratulated the hon. Gentleman on his motion, and on the full attendance of Members on his side of the House. He believed, that during the greater part of the speeches of the hon. Mover and Seconder there had been one solitary Member on the Opposition benches. With respect to the motion, by all means if the convocation was still an existing institution, let it be in the exercise of its full powers. But certainly, when the hon. Member brought in his Bill he should move a clause to relieve the bishops from their, attendance in the House of Lords, as they then would have an opportunity of attending to their affairs in their own convocation, and a very large portion of the House had already voted in favour of such a proposition. He believed the great mass of the clergy would be much better pleased if it were so.

Lord John Russell

must express his dissent from the views of the hon. Member even if a convocation were to meet, its regulations and resolutions would have no effect without the sanction of Parliament. For his part, he could not see the advantage of reviving the religious disputes of the reign of Queen Anne, nor could he conceive that the hon. Member's motion was at all in concurrence with the views of the Church itself. He should not now, however, enter into any arguments on the subject. Indeed, it would be highly inexpedient that a debate on this question should proceed in the absence of the Members of the Universities, who, he had observed, had left the House since the debate had opened.

Mr. Forbes

suggested the withdrawal of the motion.

Mr. Borthwick

had no objection.

Mr. Hindley

objecting to the withdrawal of the motion,

Mr. Borthwick, said he would divide, even though he stood alone, but he thought it would be more courteous in hon. Members to allow him to withdraw the motion.

The House divided. Ayes 19; Noes 24;—Majority 5.

List of the AYES.
Balfour, T. Molesworth, Sir W.
Bodkin, J. J. Musgrave, Sir R.
Buller, C. Palmer, G.
Butler, hon. P. Rundle, J.
Crawford, W.S. Thompson, Colonel
Fector, J. M. Tulk, C. A.
Forbes, W. Wakley, T.
Hindley, C. Wood, Alderman
Hutt, W. Borthwick, P.
Lushington, C. Trevor, hon. A.
List of the NOES.
Attwood, T. Howick, Viscount
Baines, E. Marsland, H.
Barnard, E. G. O'Brien, W. S.
Bewes, T. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Bowring, Dr. Parry, Sir L. P. J.
Brotherton, J. Pease, J.
Chapman, L. Pryme, G.
Crawley, S. Russell, Lord J.
Ewart, W. Scrope, G. P.
Hawes, B. Stewart, P. M.
Heathcote, J. Warburton, H.
Ward, H. G. TELLERS.
White, S. Lushington, Dr.
Grey, Sir G.