§ Mr. Hawes
said, that he thought it his duty to bring under discussion in that House a petition which he had had the honour to present a few weeks ago from a poor tradesman, who was confined in gaol under the authority, or, he should rather say, in consequence of the exercise of the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts. In bringing a motion of this sort before the House, involving, as perhaps it would involve, the mention of the names of individuals of some station in the country, he wished while he did not in the slightest degree shrink from stating the facts, and expressing his opinions on those facts, to state those facts accurately, and to express his feelings and opinions without committing any personal offence. If he were correctly informed, if the facts stated in the petition were true, a more flagrant case of oppression had scarcely ever been brought before the notice of the House of Commons; and although it might be difficult to deal with individual cases, or to offer compensation or reparation for the wrong or injury, that might have been sustained, at least the discussion would have this effect, that it would direct the eyes of the public to the course of proceedings of those Ecclesiastical Courts, and if it did not ultimately remove them, it would in all probability materially temper and influence the exercise of their power. In the first place, then, he would state the 523 facts of the petition; he would then draw the attention of the House to a similar case of oppression arising out of a suit instituted by the same individual, and he should then call the attention of the House very briefly to the report of the commissioners on Ecclesiastical Courts, with a view to justify his motion. The petitioner in this case was a man in a very humble station in life; and on that account, having neither name, nor family, nor fortune to back him against oppression, had only to look to the sympathy of that House, and he therefore trusted, that the Members who were present would feel it their duty to support his present motion. The petitioner, whose name was David Jones, was at this moment a prisoner in Carmarthen gaol; he was a weaver, and was of a persuasion that was exceedingly obnoxious and offensive to persons entertaining what were called orthodox opinions; he was a poor man and an Unitarian. He resided for many years at Llanon, in the county of Carmarthen, and in 1837 was elected Churchwarden. Conjointly with him a man of considerable wealth and consequence was also elected, and he wished to impress upon the House the difference with which these two persons were treated. In the same year in which the petitioner was elected, Mr. Rhys Goring Thomas was appointed vicar's Churchwarden, by the vicar, the rev. Ebenezer Morris. Mr. Thomas never attended Church, he never discharged any duty of Churchwarden, and yet he was never cited into the Ecclesiastical Courts to account for his neglect of duty. The petitioner, after his appointment as Churchwarden, called a vestry. That vestry was called to make a Church-rate. About twenty-five persons attended the meeting; a question of adjournment was moved and successfully carried, so that this individual endeavoured to do his duty; he endeavoured to get a Church-rate; he failed by the decision of the parishioners in vestry assembled, and he now asked the House to attend to the steps taken by the Minister of peace and charity against this poor man. The first thing done by this clergyman, who, if he was not a Minister of peace, was a Minister of the Church of England, and a pluralist, was to send to the petitioner on the 25th of May a written notice to provide bread and wine for the sacrament, to which the petitioner on the 11th of June 524 replied, that he had no funds out of which to procure them, and that he was too poor to provide them at his own cost. Upon this, the petitioner was cited into the Ecclesiastical Courts, and proceedings were commenced against him, to which proceedings he would presently allude. The result was, that the petitioner was condemned for contumacy, and by a process issued by the Court of Queen's Bench, the petitioner was arrested for the debt and costs, and was incarcerated in the gaol at Carmarthen, where at that hour he remained. In order to show to the House the nature of the proceedings, that had been taken against the petitioner he had thought it right to ask for the best legal authority he could obtain, and he was fortunate enough to obtain the opinion of two most eminent civilians; and he hoped, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir S. Lushington) was present, for he was sure his hon. and learned Friend would bear his testimony, that there were not two more eminent men in their part of the profession than Dr. Addams and Dr. Haggard. He had obtained the opinions of those eminent men, and he would first read the opinion of Dr. Addams, upon the articles that had been exhibited against the petitioner in the Consistorial Court. The following was the answer of Dr. Addams:—The only answer required to these articles is a negative issue on the part of the defendant. The promovent is then put on proof of the articles, and must make such proof of them as he best can. The articles themselves are absurd, and their admission should have been opposed on the part of the defendant. As it now stands, all that the defendant can do is to cross-examine promovent's witnesses, if he thinks fit; and when their examinations are concluded, should it be necessary, to file a defensive plea. If the defendant can prove by cross-examining the witnesses of the prodmovent the necessary facts to his defence (especially that he, the defendant, called a vestry, which vestry refused a rate), it may be unnecessary for him to plead, otherwise he must file at the proper time a defensive plea. I think the promovent's case untenable, and his proceeding unwarrantable on the face of it; and unless the cause is mismanaged on the behalf of the defendant, the final issue must, I think, be the dismissal of the defendant with his full costs.The case did proceed, and the court did not come to the result which was an-anticipated by Dr. Addams; and here he 525 begged to say that he should have a few words to address to them respecting the competency and disinterestedness of the judges of those courts; but he would now proceed to read the opinion of Dr. Haggard, which was as follows:—I am of opinion that the articles are not proved; and that the defendant, upon the evidence sent herewith, is entitled to his dismissal. It would have been as well to have established that the defendant is in a humble condition of life, and that the incumbent's warden had not qualified; hut these circumstances appear to me not sufficient to induce me to advise his proctor to plead, and I recommend him to decline pleading, and to submit that the case is not proved, and that the defendant should be dismissed with his costs. The proceeding is but little calculated to assist the question of diocesan jurisdiction, and will, in my opinion, on an appeal, make but a very sorry appearance. Should, however, the defendant be sentenced against, it would, I think, be proper to consider whether he should not appeal; but I trust that the case will be dismissed.With all these circumstances, that there should be a tribunal possessing these powers, that the law should be intrusted to such hands, and that a court should proceed to incarcerate a man and keep him in prison for months, appeared to him to be the most flagrant case he had ever heard. He must say, seeing that the abolition of the jurisdiction of these courts had been long before the House in a report made by commissioners, of whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman, (Sir N. Lushington), was one, that it reflected no credit upon a reformed Government that they should have allowed the question to remain still unsettled. If this were a solitary case he might, perhaps be scarcely justified in doing more than placing the petition upon the Table of the House and calling the public attention to it; but this was not the only instance in which the rev. Gentleman in question, meek and charitable no doubt, had distinguished himself in a similar manner. A respectable farmer, a person farming to the amount of two hundred acres of land, had also been treated in a similar manner by the same prosecutor. This rev. Gentleman, Mr. Morris, was also vicar of Llanelly, where it was the custom to elect one churchwarden, who was called the vicar's churchwarden. Mr. James, a dissenter of the Independent persuasion, was elected to the office of churchwarden by the parish. In this case it was understood that Mr. James 526 was not to act differently from his predecessors; whereas, in fact, he did do more than many who preceded him in that office, and rendered some useful services to the parish. In the meantime, in 1837, the general election took place. Mr. James fancying he had a right to vote as he pleased, gave his support to Sir J. Williams. The vicar, however, happened to be a warm partisan of the Tory candidate, and gave his strenuous opposition to Sir J. Williams. After a year of his office had expired, Mr. James was cited before the Ecclesiastical Court of St. David, by the rev. E. Morris, Mr. James being a dissenter, and known to be such when elected to his office; he was cited for absenting himself for several Sundays from church. He was cited; the case proceeded, and eventually he was condemned and cast in costs, and, as he did not choose to pay them, he was committed to gaol. [An hon. Member: Is that circumstance mentioned in the petition.] There was no petition in this case, but he thought he was entitled to speak of an individual case of oppression without a petition, and from his own personal knowledge he could vouch for the correctness of the facts he mentioned. The judge of the court before which Mr. James was cited was the rev. James Orchard Williams, a rural dean and surrogate, and also the editor of the Tory Carmarthen journal. So that in this case here was the prosecutor, a clergyman and a Tory partisan, and the judge who condemned him also a clergyman and a Tory partisan. In the year 1812 Lord Folkestone presented a petition to this House, complaining of a case of oppression very similar to the present, the circumstances of which were these:—Two women of whom the petitioner was one, fell out and abused each other in the street. In consequence of some expressions made use of by the petitioner her opponent instituted a suit against her in the Ecclesiastical Court, and at the end of a year she was sentenced to perform penance. Having failed in this, she was ultimately excommunicated. A process was afterwards issued out of the Court of King's Bench, under which she was arrested, and for two years she continued a prisoner in the gaol at Bristol. The petitioner was a pauper, and her father, who was also a pauper, supported her in prison, being assisted therein by several charitable individuals. Now, he 527 always thought that the union between the Church and the State was prejudicial to the Church, and he must say, that he thought such proceedings as those he had detailed would be most likely to strengthen that opinion in the minds of others, who did not at present entertain this view so strongly as he did. He was aware that this House could not come forward to liberate a man who was imprisoned for a debt; all they could do now was to send forth such an expression of opinion upon the subject as should put an end to such proceedings as these for the future. The prayer of the petitioner was only this—that "his sufferings might not be inflicted upon others, and that an end should be put to this odious jurisdiction," In 1830 a commission was appointed to inquire on this subject, and the recommendation of that commission was as nearly as possible the same as the resolution which he (Mr. Hawes) was now about to move. He wished it to be observed also that this report had the sanction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and several other eminent authorities, including his right hon. and learned Friend below him (Sir S. Lushington). One single recommendation of this commission had only been adopted, namely, that of transferring the jurisdiction of the delegates to the Privy Council. When he looked to the number and variety of the ecclesiastical courts, he thought that the House would see the propriety of taking the subject into its consideration with the least possible delay. Besides the ordinary ecclesiastical courts, including the provincial courts of Canterbury and York, there were peculiar courts of various descriptions in most dioceses, and in some they were very numerous—Royal, Archiepiscopal, Episcopal, Deaconal, Sub-Deaconal, Prebendal, Rectorial and Vicarial. These peculiar jurisdictions in England and Wales amounted in number to 300. It appeared further from the report that in some cases these jurisdictions extended over large tracts of country, embracing many towns and parishes. In others several places might be comprehended, lying at a great distance apart from each other. Again, some included only one or two parishes. The jurisdiction exercised in these different courts was not defined by any general law. It was often extremely difficult to ascertain over what description a causes the jurisdiction of any particular 528 court operated, and much inconvenience resulted from this uncertainty. In the majority of the peculiar courts, and perhaps in all there neither were, nor could be, efficient and experienced judges, officers, advocates, or practitioners, the emoluments being too small, and the number of cases too few, to ensure those requisites for the due administration of justice. The consequence was, that no confidence was reposed in these tribunals; and delay arose, and expense was incurred in applying for letters of request, and in resorting to other means of escaping the jurisdiction. In some cases, too, the grievance was enhanced by the multiplication of appeals. In 1812, when the case he had referred to was brought before the House, the opinions which were then pronounced with respect to these Courts, were supported by Sir S. Romilly and many other eminent authorities; and Sir W. Scott (Lord Stowell) brought in a bill, which passed the House of Commons, for the purpose of putting the inferior Ecclesiastical Courts under the higher provincial Courts. He considered this subject was one of the greatest importance. When they saw clergymen acting everywhere as political partisans, and also acting as judges, and invested with the means of perpetually examining into matters of conscience of individuals, and persecuting them for their religious opinions—when they saw the Church prostituted to such miserable and contemptible objects, if there was one thing more than another, that could bring discredit and weakness upon that Establishment, it was, that a state of things such as he had described should be allowed to continue. The House of Commons had come forward the other night to pass a vote in approval of the conduct of Ministers in vindicating and protecting the principles of religious liberty in Ireland; he could only now hope, that the same protection would be extended over the rights of conscience of the people of England also. He trusted, that the House, by its vote this evening, would give an earnest of its willingness, when a gross case of oppression was brought before it, not to be backward in affording all the redress in its power. He should conclude by moving a resolution, "that, in conformity with the recommendation of the Commissioners on Ecclesiastical Courts in England and Wales, this House is of opinion, that the jurisdic- 529 tion of the inferior Ecclesiastical Courts should be abolished without delay."
rose to say, that he could not assent to the motion. He would admit, that the case made out was one of great hardship; but he hardly thought it a sufficient reason for abolishing courts that might have other functions and powers which were exercised beneficially. He was adverse to every case being brought up to the metropolis, inconvenient and expensive as it might be to the parties concerned; and although there might be some points on which most hon. Members would say these courts ought to be abolished, yet he thought, that instead of that being done, it might be better to modify them, and would therefore suggest an amendment to that effect.
§ Mr. W. O. Stanley
observed, that he considered this a case of oppression, and that the poor man had here suffered for the neglect of the rich. If any part of the statements which had been made by the hon. Member for Lambeth were questioned, he had the proofs of their correctness in his possession. He would put it to those who had regard for the Church to say, whether that power should not be abolished which was tyrannically exercised. He hoped the House would use its utmost endeavours to purge the Church from abuse.
§ Mr. John Jones
said, that he was a personal friend of the clergyman, Mr. 'Ebenezer Morris, and of the other gentlemen who had acted as the judges on this occasion, but he knew nothing of Mr. James, who had been mentioned, and he had therefore some right to complain, though if he had been aware that such a case would have been brought forward he had no doubt he should have been able to give a satisfactory answer to it. With respect to the resolution, he was of opinion that it went too far, and that it was based on a very weak foundation. The courts in question might require some alteration, but that he would leave to the Ministers of the Crown. The petitioner, Mr. Jones, had gone further than the hon. Member for Lambeth, for he had called on the House to abolish all inferior ecclesiastical courts; and this, he supposed, was, because Mr. Jones was in prison; but the hon. Member had not expressed such a wish, acting no doubt out of respect to the constituents of his borough. Now, if these courts were abolished, where, he 530 would ask, were persons to go to prove wills and obtain letters of administration? Were they all to come to London? In a volume to which he would then refer, and which was called The Welch Levites tossed in a Blanket, he found, that in 1691 the Welch clergy had been made the subject of attack, and that it was said, that bishops' courts, fiddles, and gingerbread were an abomination, and ought to be put down. The petitioner prayed the House to grant him such relief in the premises as they should think meet, and he conceived this to be, that the House should pay the money and take him out of gaol. It had been stated and admitted, that Mr. Jones was a Dissenter, but by a statute of William the 3rd. Dissenters were exempt from the office of churchwarden if they thought fit to claim it.—[Sir S. Lushington: Or by substitution.]—Yes; or by substitution. In this case, however, Mr. Jones did not claim the exemption, but took the oath of office as churchwarden at Carmarthen. The gravamen of the charge appeared to be, that another churchwarden had been named with him, who had not been called on to do any duty whatever. Mr. Rhys Goring Thomas was the patron of the living held by Mr. Ebenezer Morris, and having gone down to reside in the parish, had been nominated as the clergyman's churchwarden. Immediately upon this, circumstances of an important nature had called him up to London, and had kept him here during the whole of last year, and indeed up to the present time: Mr. Jones was perfectly aware of that, but had never complained of it; and was, perhaps, rather glad of it, as it enabled him to act without the interference of another churchwarden. That statement would, he thought do away with all idea of any blame attaching to Mr. Morris. With regard to election matters, would the House believe, that this man (Mr. Jones) had been called on to provide the sacramental bread and wine before William the 4th was even taken ill? Mr. Morris was an excellent clergyman, passing rich, with about 200l. per annum; he held the largest parish in Carmarthen, preached four sermons every Sunday, two in Welch and two in English, and gave up all he received from this parish to a worthy curate, who had been nominated by the bishop. He held two parishes adjoining to this, and Mr. Thomas had therefore given him this living. Mr. 531 David Jones was appointed churchwarden, and a rumour was spread, that he had not prepared the sacramental bread and wine that had been considered requisite. By the 20th canon of the Church, churchwardens were required to provide against the time of the communion, with the advice of the minister, good sacramental bread and wine, and if it were said, that these canons were not a part of the law of the land, he would say in answer thereto, that by a statute of Elizabeth, and another of Charles the 2d., they had been made such. Jones was at the time well aware, that the arrears of church rate then due, and which he could have collected if he pleased, were more than sufficient to provide for the sacramental bread and wine, but he neglected to collect them, and neglected also to provide the requisite bread and wine. Mr. Morris, finding that the churchwarden neglected this, and unwilling that any interruption should be made of the sacred service, provided the bread and wine himself, but sent a letter to David Jones noticing his neglect, and requesting that a similar omission might not occur. No notice having been taken of this communication, a written notice was sent requiring him to attend at a vestry He did not attend, but it could be proved, that on the same day he came to an alehouse near the Church, and there he used such obscene, profane, and blasphemous language, applying to the sacred elements, as he would not pollute the ears of the House or his own lips by repeating. Mr. Morris then did what he considered his duty—he cited him to appear in the Ecclesiastical Court, and at the same time it was intimated to him, that if he did appear and promised to behave better, no further proceedings would be taken, and he should not have any costs to pay. He did not comply with this advice, but went on to fight the battle out in every way he could, and he was cast. He was then called on to pay costs, and for non-payment he was sent to prison. The hon. Member for Lambeth had said this poor man was incarcerated for not paying costs, amounting to about 80l. Now, perhaps, the falsehood of one of the petitioner's statements might shake the faith of the hon. Member in the others. So far from the costs being 80l., the feet was, that they were under 30l. And for refusing to pay these, which he had voluntarily 532 and unnecessarily incurred, he now called on the House for redress—that was, of course, that he should be discharged from the consequences of his contempt. See what a precedent would be established, if the House should go as far out of its way as to comply with the prayer of the petitioner. The Table would be covered with applications from persons in all parts of the kingdom, who were detained for contempts of court. It was urged by the hon. Member for Lambeth, that a clergyman, the rev. Mr. D. A. Williams, was the judge of the court in which the case was tried, and that he was also the editor of the Carmarthen Tory journal. Now, it was true, that a clergyman was the judge, but he was assisted by a legal assessor: but it was utterly untrue that Mr. D. A. Williams was the editor of the Carmarthen or any other journal. The facts of the case then were simply as he had detailed them to the House—that this Mr. David Jones had taken on himself the office of church-warden when he might, if he claimed it, have been excused or allowed to serve by deputy; that he voluntarily took the oath faithfully to discharge its duties; that he willfully neglected those duties; that he was cited in court, and refused to appear; and that at length he went on and put the rev. Mr. Morris to very considerable expense and then, when called upon to pay the costs, he said he would go to prison rather than pay them. Could any one who heard those statements—and he could prove them all at the Bar of that House or elsewhere, if necessary—doubt that this man Jones was a willing martyr on this occasion; that his object was, that notoriety which might probably be followed up by a public subscription among the Dissenters, and perhaps by a public dinner? He had felt it necessary to make this statement as an act of justice to his respected friends Mr. Morris and Mr. Thomas, who were, as all who had the pleasure of knowing them could testify, men of high and as pure character as were to be found in the country.
§ Mr. W. Ellis
said, that there were many excellent and most conscientious men amongst the Dissenters, who would prefer going to prison to paying anything towards Church-rates, and that great allowance should be made for their conscientious scruples. The House should bear in mind the valuable services rendered to the country by Dissenters, by the excellent 533 instruction which they gave to a large portion of the people when that duty was neglected by those who should have attended to it. Any one who recollected what was the state of religious instruction in the country about thirty years ago must be aware of the good done by the Dissenters since then. The cases cited that evening were not the only ones which could be metioned of persons preferring to go to prison rather than pay Church-rates. There were several he knew amongst his constituents who were disposed to take the former alternative.
§ Viscount Dungannon
said, that there could be no stronger proof of the justice of that old adage, "audi alteram partem," than had been afforded by the present discussion. Here was a case put forth by the hon. Member (Mr. Hawes) as one of gross oppression of a poor man by a clergyman of the Established Church in Carmarthen, but when the other side was presented to the House, the outrageous part of it changed sides, and it was shown, that the conduct of the petitioner, David Jones, was such, that the punishment which he of his own accord endured was not beyond his demerits. Occasion was taken from this case to allude to the clergy of the Established Church as political partisans. He denied the charge as applicable to that body, but it might have been applicable to the Dissenting clergy, or to the Roman Catholic priesthoood. In the present case, he would contend that the rev. Mr. Morris had done no more than his duty. David Jones, it was evident from the facts of the case as detailed by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, was the sole aggressor in the affair; that his object in this willing martyrdom was evidently the love of notoriety. He would have remained unnoticed and unknown if some hon. Members, who were glad to avail themselves of every opportunity of saying something against the Established Church, had not brought his case before the House and the public. As to the case of Mr. James, his hon. Friend, the Member for Carmarthen, had not adverted to it, because he had received no notice that any mention would have been made of it. If he had had such notice, it was probable that he would have been able to give as satisfactory an answer to it as he had to that of Mr. Morris—the rich pluralist, as he had been described, with a living of 200l., in a pariah in which he had to preach four 534 times every Sunday—twice in English and twice in Welsh. Then great stress had been laid on the distinction made between the poor church-warden, who it was said, tried to discharge the duties of his office, and the rich one, who neglected them altogether; but the fact turned out that the rich churchwarden (Mr. Thomas) was prevented by domestic affairs from attending in the parish during his year of office; and yet this was the foundation for the charge of the persecution of the poor man. He repeated that there was no persecution in the case. Jones undertook the office voluntarily. He took a solemn oath to discharge its duties faithfully; but from Jones's subsequent conduct, it was his belief, that he took that oath with the premeditated intention of violating it. What other inference could Abe drawn from the obscene and blasphemous language which he used at the alehouse when speaking of the sacramental elements? Was it fair in the hon. Member for Lambeth to bring forward charges such as those he had stated without inquiry? or would the lion. Member say that he had made inquiry into them before bringing them under the consideration of the House? Did he make any inquiry of Mr. Morris before he preferred such charges against him? No man, he contended, had a right to make a public charge of such a nature against another until he had satisfied himself by strict inquiry that the allegations were founded on something better than merely probable evidence. What would be said by some hon. Members opposite if charges were brought forward here against a Roman Catholic clergyman? Would it not be said that it would be unjust to bring them without previous inquiry as to their probable foundation? He would say the same for the clergy of the Established Church. He did not say that hon. Members opposite intended to bring charges which they believed to be unfounded, but he would say, that there existed a disposition to catch at anything which would bear against the clergy of the Established Church. The clergy, however, would rise triumphant over such attacks. The clergy of the Established Church derived their influence from the respect which followed the conscientious discharge of their duties, and he had yet to learn that any of them had ever exercised that influence in an unjustifiable manner. He must say that even 535 if the case brought forward against Mr. Ebenezer Morris had been ten times worse than it was, it would have been most unjust on that account to designate the clergy generally as political partisans. But it was evident that he had been attacked without sufficient reason, and never was the old adage of "audi alteram partem" more necessary to be borne in mind than on the present occasion.
§ Sir S. Lushington
said that, as he had been appealed to from the other side of the House, he felt bound to offer a few obervations on the subject under discussion. In doing so, however, it was his intention to deal with both parties to the question with somewhat less of virulence and heat, and more of temper and moderation, than characterised the speech of the noble Lord who had just spoken. And he could not help thinking that anything but concord was the result most likely to be produced by the mode of arguing the question adopted by the noble Lord, condemnatory as it was of the conduct of the entire body of the Dissenters. Before, however, he proceeded to the case at issue he felt it to be his duty to set forth as briefly as possible what had been done by the ecclesiastical commissioners in the matter relative to the Courts in question. The ecclesiastical commission, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury was at the head, had after mature consideration come to the resolution that the whole of the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts which had any thing in it of a criminal nature, as in contradistinction to its civil jurisdiction, should be utterly and entirely abolished; that was, that the power of adjudicating on such issues as that which gave rise to the case before the House should be altogether taken away from these Courts, inferior and superior as they were without exception. If that resolution had been carried into effect the House would have escaped the case before it, as it was one of those comprised in the class of cases comprehended in that objectionable jurisdiction. In addition to this, another cause of their abolition existed in their number and the diversity of the practice which obtained in them. There were upwards of 360 of them in all, and each had generally a distinct system of administering the ecclesiastical law. It was, therefore, recommended that they should be abolished, and the jurisdiction left remaining to the Ecclesiastical Courts 536 vested in the Prerogative Court at Canterbury. On that occasion the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge had disagreed with him as to the propriety of adopting that resolution, on the ground that to carry it into effect it would cost the country too much; but he differed from the hon. and learned Member altogether on that point, as he did not believe it would cost the country sixpence, while he was decidedly of opinion that it would greatly benefit the public. On the report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners being made in 1832 nothing was done in the case, because the House was then occupied with the consideration of the Reform Bill. In 1834, however, a Bill founded on the report was introduced to the House, but, receiving a strong opposition from several influential quarters, it did not pass in consequence. In 1835 Sir Robert Peel again introduced a Bill to the House, almost the same as the preceding, with the exception of some slight modifications; but it fell through in consequence of his relinquishment of the Government shortly after. It was introduced again by the succeeding Administration, but it did not pass. So it remained for another year. In 1837, however, the Lord Chancellor introduced a measure of the same nature into the House of Lords, and a select committee sat on it for upwards of ten weeks. The result of the labours of this committee was a report which the House of Lords adopted. That report stated the objections of the House to the bill, and required certain alterations to be made in it before it could be permitted to pass. He (Sir S. Lushington) should not pronounce any opinion upon the nature of these alterations at the present, but simply state that such was the fact. Since then, nothing had been done in regard to the question, but he (Sir S. Lushington) had it on the authority of her Majesty's Ministers that a bill on the subject would be shortly introduced into that House. It might be asked, why it had not been done before? The reason, as he had been informed, was, that a Bill called the Clergy Discipline Bill had been passed last year in that House, and thrown out in the House of Lords; that it was considered essential to the proper working of the other measure that this Bill should first become law; that that Bill would be again introduced to the House very shortly; and that when it should have so passed 537 into a law, the Bill for the regulation of Ecclesiastical Courts, as modified by the House of Lords, would then be introduced to the House of Commons by the Government. So much for the report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the measures founded on it. He would next proceed to the facts of the case under discussion. He would take the case of David Jones, and the facts connected with it, without reference to one side or the other, but solely on their own merits. It appeared that this person was chosen to serve the office of churchwarden; and there was no doubt that, according to the statute quoted by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, he had the right to excuse himself on the ground of being a Dissenter, and a power to serve by Deputy. But, then, that remedy might also be ineffective for him, as a deputy, in most cases could not be obtained without the payment of a considerable sum of money. That David Jones took the churchwarden's oath, he (Sir S. Lushington) did not mean to question, neither did he intend to deny that he was unquestionably bound to adhere to it; but he certainly could not admit the allegation of the noble Lord on the other side of the House, that it had been taken by him with a full knowledge of the duties attached to the office, or with the manifest intention of violating it. He declined to provide the sacramental elements; and the prosecution complained of then took place. That it was his duty to provide them, there could be no doubt, if he had funds for the purpose, neither could there be any doubt that it was his duty to call a vestry for the purpose of providing them, and to collect outstanding arrears of rate also to that effect. But still he considered the prosecution was wrong, because it was most injudicious, as between a clergyman of the Church of England and a Dissenter. The hon. Member for Carmarthen had made out a strong case for the rev. Mr. Morris, and, as a consequence, against David Jones; but he had seen the whole of the papers connected with the original suit, which had been laid before Dr. Addams and Sir Herbert Jenner, purporting to contain the entire proceedings in question; and he was not at all of opinion that they sustained the case made out by the hon. Member. There was a very great difference between what was stated by that hon. Gentleman and what was stated in the pro- 538 ceedings taken into the superior Ecclesiastical Court. In fact, they were two different cases, and without coincidence. But laying that fact aside, and meeting the case on the hon. Member's own showing, Mr. Morris was not, in his opinion, justified in instituting the prosecution, simply because David Jones had gone to a public-house near the church, and made use of bad language in reference to the sacramental elements. That was, properly, no part in the proceedings. When, however, he (Sir S. Lushington) saw a man incarcerated who should not be so—and when he saw the administration of justice in the court which condemned him to it so imperfect—the practitioners in it being so ignorant as not to know that an appeal lay from its decision—he felt heartily desirous of removing that blotch altogether from the judicial system of the country. The hon. Member for Leicester had spoken of a man committed to Chelmsford gaol for five years by the Ecclesiastical Court in London. It was he who sentenced that man; he regretted it, but he could not help it. He put it off as long as possible, but he had to do his duty at last. He regretted it; but his answer to all attacks on him for it was, "Amend the law." He was not on the bench to make laws, but to administer them. "Amend the law," he would say—give the jurisdiction of the inferior courts to the superior—and, above all, abolish the power of personal arrest, replacing it, if necessary, with a power of levying a distress upon the goods and chattels of the party. He would ask the House to reform the law for three reasons—first, for the sake of justice; secondly, for the sake of their own character; and, lastly, for the sake of that which every well-regulated Government should have nearest and dearest to their hearts—the appeasement of the bitterness of that religious dissension, which day after day disgraced and debased the discussions of Parliament. It was a practice most injurious to the welfare of the Established Church which had grown up of late, the system of setting up a bar to all improvement in its constitution, and thus laying it bare to the obloquy of the public.
§ Sir C. Burrell
denied, that the clergy of the Established Church stood in the way of improvement, for, on the contrary, they had ever manifested a spirit of the greatest liberality in regard to mea- 539 sures likely to promote the welfare and prosperity of the people. In regard to the manner in which they discharged their duties, he was bound in justice to say, that there was no class of men who exhibited a more anxious desire to perform their duties honestly and diligently than the clergymen of the Church of England.
would vote for the motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, but in following that course he did not mean to impute any blame or censure to Mr. Morris. The hon. Gentleman (the Member for Lambeth) had stated two facts, which in his opinion, entitled the rev. Gentleman to whom the motion had reference to the respect of every one. The rev. gentleman was a pluralist in point of fact, but he was no pluralist in practice. He gave the whole emoluments of one of the livings which he held to the person who performed the duties, and he resided on the other, and preached regularly to his congregation four times a-day on Sunday. Such conduct was highly praiseworthy, and certainly entitled the rev. Gentleman to respect. There was one part of the statement of the hon. Member for Lambeth which he wished he could have forgotten. The hon. Gentleman had said, that Mr. David Jones had talked of the objects of reverence in the Established Church in irreligious and revolting terms. Now, Mr. Jones was not punished for that, but he ought to have been; for he could imagine nothing more unbecoming than for any individual to speak irreverently on such subjects. It was a bad habit, and he was sorry to say, was becoming every day more common. Such conduct was disgraceful, disgusting, and abominable, and could not be too severely punished. The noble Lord opposite had made strong imputations against the Roman Catholics; yet the noble Lord had stood forward as the advocate of toleration. He had, however, set so bad an example, that no one would be tempted to follow him. The noble Lord boasted of having the confidence of the clergy of Durham, and condemned the conduct of those who brought charges against absent individuals who might find no person to defend them. But had the noble Lord acted upon that principle himself? No, for the noble Lord had imputed premeditated perjury to an absent individual. Here as charity—here was Christianity? The noble Lord had admitted he knew 540 nothing of the facts; that he had never heard before even the name of the individual against whom he had made so grave and serious a charge—
had a right to be heard without interruption, and he begged that the meek and modest representative of the clergy of Durham would allow him to proceed. In regard to the motion before the House, he was of opinion that the course which had been pursued in Scotland relative to minor ecclesiastical courts ought to be adopted here. Was there any Gentleman who could vindicate the jurisdiction exercised by those courts, where the costs were enormous, where appeals would be ruinous, and where the judges had no practice to qualify them for the performance of their duties? Practice was disregarded by the judges of those courts, and yet every one was aware that practice was absolutely necessary to qualify a judge for the proper discharge of his important functions. The officers of those courts, too, were interested in the number of causes which were brought for trial, and they were also interested in increasing the amount of costs. Let the House consider that Mr. Jones, as it had been stated by the highest authority, was in gaol upon an illegal decision. He had been imprisoned against all law and all justice, and he would ask whether a stronger case could by possibility be made out for the abolition of those courts than that which had been laid before the House by the hon. Member for Lambeth? Such proceedings as had taken place in the case of Mr. Jones tended to injure religion, and it was necessary for the safety of the subject that those minor courts should be abolished.
§ Mr. Darby
thought, if the House were to divide upon the motion of the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Lambeth, and if the hon. Gentleman were to carry with him a majority, that a grievous imputation would be cast upon the characters of Mr. Morris and Mr. James, and he was therefore, unwilling that the House should pursue a course so fraught with injustice. But there was another circumstance which was deserving of the consideration of the Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite had stated the cause of the delay which had taken 541 place in introducing some measure relative to the minor ecclesiastical courts, and he had also contended that reform was necessary. If, therefore, the House were to affirm the resolution of the hon. Member for Lambeth, then they would impute blame to the Government, and the vote would, in fact, be a vote of censure directed against those who had delayed to bring in a substantive motion founded upon the recommendations of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Such would be the dilemma in which the House would be placed if the motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite were pressed to a division. For himself, he thought it would be highly improper to decide, on a motion of this kind, what parts of the courts to which it had reference ought to be abolished. He would not, therefore, give his support to the vote which was asked for, and he must protest against the system of making charges against absent individuals upon ex parte statements, when those individuals had no opportunity of defending themselves, and when it was only by chance that the charges could he contradicted. The hon. Member concluded by moving the previous question.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
would explain, in a few words, why the resolution of the hon. Member for Lambeth did not, in his opinion, imply any censure upon the Government, or cast any reflection upon the rev. gentleman to whom allusion had so often been made. He felt great reluctance, at all times, in being called upon to decide, by a resolution of the House, on any matter affecting the private character or conduct of individuals, or in regard to any judicial proceeding, and he thought, unless the case was extreme, that it was better for that House never to adopt such a proceeding. In the present instance, however, although the hon. Member for Lambeth had introduced the name of Mr. Morris into the statement which he had made, yet the resolution before the House had no reference to the case of that individual. The House was not called upon to pass any judgment upon the conduct of that individual, and for himself he should decline giving any opinion on the transactions which had been brought under their consideration. He would assume, on the statement of the hon. Member for Carmarthen, that Mr. Morris was the best of all clergymen, and that there was no ground whatever for any imputation upon his 542 conduct. But, allowing all that, did it follow, that the rev. gentleman was a good judge also? And what was the result of the proceedings in the case before the House? They had come to a sentence which the highest legal authority in the House had pronounced to be illegal, and upon which an individual had actually been imprisoned. Surely such a fact was a strong argument for the condemnation of the system. The allusion which the hon. Member for Lambeth had made to the Rev. Mr. Morris had been complained of, but if the hon. Member had not called attention to that case, his right hon. and learned Friend (Sir S. Lushington) would not have been prepared to make the statement which he had laid before the House. But the motion itself had no reference to Mr. Morris, and the resolution which they were called upon to affirm was only in confirmation of the resolution of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, that the inferior ecclesiastical courts ought to be abolished. When it was stated, that there were upwards of 300 of those courts, and when the proceedings of those courts had been shown in debate to be injurious, he should on those grounds alone have been prepared to advocate reform; but when, in addition to that, they had the authority of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in their favour, he could have no hesitation in affirming the resolution which had been moved. The hon. Gentleman opposite had said, that it was unfair to bring charges against absent individuals. That was an excellent maxim, and he would recommend hon. Gentlemen opposite to act upon it. They had not, however, followed the maxim lately, for there were hundreds of cases in the recent debates on Ireland in which such charges had been made. He had now to offer a few words upon the resolution. In his opinion it was simply nothing more than an affirmation of the resolution of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The delay which had taken place in carrying that resolution had been fully explained by his right hon. and learned Friend, and it was therefore unnecessary for him to offer any defence on the part of the Government. However, after the statement which had been made by his right hon. Friend as to the proceedings which were necessary to carry into effect the views of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, he trusted the hon. Member for Lambeth would consent to omit the two last words of his motion—namely, "without delay." He asked for that omission, not on account of the 543 Government, but merely with a view to the convenience of the House. It would be useless to retain those words unless the hon. Member was prepared to bring in a bill at once. No one agreed more heartily than he did in the opinion, and he was led to the conclusion, by all the information that he had obtained on this subject, that the whole question of ecclesiastical jurisdiction stood in need of a thorough reform. There were two great motives for this reform; one was an amendment of the whole of the ecclesiastical judicature, and the other the taking away of the causes of dissension between Churchmen and Dissenters, which were productive not merely of scandal to the Church, but of inconvenience and prejudice to Dissenters. He was convinced, that the duties both of clergymen of the establishment and Dissenting ministers would be better discharged if they were left to pursue their respective avocations in peace, and if the causes of the present heartburnings and contentions between them were removed. On these grounds, on church grounds, as well as more general grounds, he should give his hearty concurrence to the motion of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. G. Knight
expressed a hope that his hon. Friend would not press his motion to a division. He hoped everybody would give him credit for having at all times protested against the indulgence of any feeling of asperity on the subject of religion in that House. But if, according to the wish of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they were to entertain any hope of different sects living in peace together, those sweeping charges which were too often made by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House should not be repeated. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had attacked the clergy of Durham, speaking ironically of their meekness and modesty—
§ Mr. G. Knight
Well, at all events, it was too much the practice to attack the clergy, and he thought those sweeping charges which had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Lambeth against the clergy of the Church were little calculated to promote peace. It certainly appeared to him that the hon. Member for Lambeth had at least indulged in strong insinuations against the ministers 544 of the Church of England, and he should only repeat that it could not be expected that feelings of resentment would not be excited on one side of the House, if such charges and hostile feelings were not abstained from on the other.
§ Lord Grenville Somerset
was anxious to express the feelings he entertained on this subject, in consequence of the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the right hon. and learned Gentleman at the head of the ecclesiastical courts of this country. There was one point in which he fully concurred with the Chancellor of the Exchequer—he agreed with him in wishing to see a complete change in the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the country: and he was led to adopt that desire by the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had made a declaration of his opinion upon an ex parte statement; upon a statement which had been submitted to the counsel engaged by one of the parties only interested in this matter, he never having seen the statement on the other side. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had seen the proceedings submitted for the opinion of Dr. Addams, and on that statement had expressed a decided opinion against the proceedings of the court in Wales. His authority, not only from his own personal character, but also from his judicial station, must be of great importance. He had expressed a decided and unqualified opinion against the conduct of the inferior court, and had thrown out charges of ignorance of the common principles of law against the judges of that court, without having heard any vindication of its proceedings, except what he had heard in that House. Was it right that a gentleman in his judicial station should in such unmeasured language condemn the conduct of the court in Wales? As an independent Member of Parliament, he had a right to express his astonishment that a learned judge should think himself justified in denouncing the conduct of an inferior court unless called upon in his judicial character to decide upon the question. There was another point referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman which had rather astonished him, namely, the case of the individual whom he (the learned judge) had sent to prison in the county of Essex, and which he said was for the non-payment of the paltry sum of 5s. The charge against that individual was not the non- 545 payment of 5s.; the charge was, that he refused to comply with the orders of the Court, and set the law at defiance. Whether the amount concerned were 5s. or 5,000l. the principle was the same; and was the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his high station to tell us, that this was the case of a paltry sum of 5s.? It was the majesty of the law, and not the amount of the money that was to be regarded. With respect to the attack made on the conduct of Mr. Morris, he could not help thinking, that it was a very fortunate thing, for that gentleman, that it had been made, because the result had been, that his excellent character as a clergyman had been proclaimed in that House; whereas if the hon. Member for Lambeth had not brought forward the accusation, although the character of the rev. gentleman would have been known in his own parish, it might never have been made known to the whole world as it now would be. As to the motion proposed by his hon. and learned Friend—that of the previous question—what if it were adopted, would be its effect? Why, exactly the same as that proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed to leave out the words "without delay." All that the previous question meant to say was—that the House did not wish to enter into a discussion at this particular moment. Was not the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite one of the Commissioners? Why did he not propose some measure founded upon his own report? If this resolution were a condemnation of anybody, it was a condemnation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as representing her Majesty's Government, and of the right hon and learned Gentleman, one of the Commissioners; and either one or the other of whom ought to have propounded this measure of reform to the House.
§ Sir S. Lushington,
in explanation, denied, that he had declared any opinion on the conduct of the inferior Ecclesiastical Court upon a mere ex parte statement. His opinion was formed after seeing the whole of the proceedings themselves, which no explanation could by possibility alter. Upon the face of the proceedings themselves, there appeared to have been throughout them the greatest possible irregularity. He could not, therefore, have given any other opinion than he bad done consistently with good faith. The 546 noble Lord had also said, that he had represented the offence of the man whom it had been his judicial duty to commit to prison, to be a trivial matter, because the real value involved in the suit was only 5s. It was true he did state what the amount of the demand was, but he never represented, that the matter was, therefore, of a trivial nature; on the contrary he stated, that he regarded it as a question of principle.
§ Mr. Easthope
said, that he had presented several petitions that day on the subject under discussion, from the borough which he had the honour to represent, and he understood, that during his temporary absence from the House, his constituents had fallen under the very severe displeasure of the hon and learned Member for Carmarthen—[Mr. Jones had not said anything about the hon. Member for Leicester's constituents.] He was very glad to find, that his constituents were absolved from the hon. and learned Member's anger. Most certainly he did not complain of any discourtesy in any language that had fallen from him; but he understood, that in his temporary absence the hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that he (Mr. Easthope) had acquiesced in a petition containing unqualified terms of censure of an individual, which petition he had not read. I believe said (Mr. Easthope) the hon. and learned Member was understood to say, that I had not examined it.
§ Mr. Easthope
Very good. I shall be glad to take the hon. and learned Gentleman upon his own statement. I understand him now to state, that I adopted the very strong and unqualified abuse which he alleges is used against certain parties in this petition. Why, there is no abuse of any party; and I do think, after having read all the words of the petition in my place, that it is matter of some complaint against the hon. and learned Gentleman, who sets himself up as a censor of others, that he should be so mistaken as to the ground of the complaint he has made. There is no complaint contained in the petition, except a complaint against the judgments of the Ecclesiastical Courts. The petitioners state, that David Jones and Mr. Thoro- 547 good have been confined in gaol by order of the Ecclesiastical Court. I will state the contents of the petition fairly. The impatience of the hon. and learned Gentleman certainly betrays great sensitiveness. The complaint of my constituents is, that under the judgment of the Ecclesiastical Courts, these two men are confined in gaol by virtue of a law, which they consider to be disgraceful to the spirit of the age, and worthy only of the darkest periods of Ecclesiastical tyranny, and which they deem to be an insult to the great body of the Dissenters of this country, and a flagrant outrage upon their liberties. The petitioners then entreat the House "to take measures for the immediate and unconditional release of these persecuted men." To take measures—how? By repealing those laws which they consider to be a disgrace to the age, and in which, with all deference to the opinion of the hon. and learned Member, I again repeat my full and hearty concurrence. I think these laws both a misfortune and a disgrace. With all respect for the religion of the country—and I yield not to that hon. and learned Member in respect for and attachment to the religion of my country—I do submit that there is nothing less calculated to promote true religion—nothing more adverse to the spirit of real piety—nothing more at war with every thing that the Christian religion teaches, or more antagonist to that principle of charity, which in its whole scope and tendency, it seeks to cherish, than those obnoxious laws. I envy not the feelings of that man who can look with approbation at the laws under which these individuals have been imprisoned. He may claim for himself the reputation of being the champion of religion; but I wish not to be a party to, or a friend of, such a religion. It is not the religion of Jesus Christ. It is not the religion which the Church, the pure Church of Christ teaches, and which good Christians, whether Churchmen or Dissenters, seek to promote. I wish, indeed, to stand opposed to the hon. and learned Gentleman, if this be his interpretation of religion—this the spirit of attachment to it he wishes to inculcate. I could not help feeling, after the extreme sensitiveness displayed by the hon. and learned Member, that I should have failed in my duty to my constituents if I had not vindicated them from any imputation of assailing, improperly, the 548 feelings of others, or any want of Christian spirit in their own proceedings.
§ Mr. Jones
said, that the absence of the hon. Gentleman during the time he (Mr. Jones) spoke was very unfortunate, because if the hon. Gentleman had been present, he would have known that no reflection had been made by him as the champion of religion. He did not presume to stand up in that House as the champion of religion. What he stated was, that he did not know whether the ecclesiastical courts wanted amendment or not: his principal object, however, in rising, was to vindicate Mr. Morris, and to set the House right as to a matter of fact. His eye was bad, and not having the pleasure of knowing the hon. Member for Leicester, he asked whether that hon. Member were in the House, and it was said that he was. So far, therefore, from having done any act against him in his absence, he spoke in the belief that the hon. Gentleman was present. A friend of his being personally concerned in this matter, the House would, perhaps, permit him to observe, that what had fallen from the hon. Member for Lambeth had been previously inserted in a newspapar, and Mr. Ebenezer Morris, having been called upon to reply to the charge, did negative every accusation made against him, and the Court of Queen's Bench had granted a rule nisi for a criminal information against that paper.
Mr. T. D. Ackland
objected to the House proceeding upon particular cases of grievance to the adoption of general principles to enforce the discipline of the Church. The real cause of these discussions was, that there were two parties in this country, the one of whom was desirous of maintaining the connection of the Church with the state as it now existed, while the other was conscientiously desirous of severing that connexion. He thought it most objectionable to attempt to alter the Church, as by law established, upon a mere isolated case. He, for one, should endeavour to avoid entering into a discussion of abstract questions so introduced. If, however, he should, at any time, be led into such discussions, he trusted he should abstain from all acrimonious feelings and bitterness of speech. He would submit to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and to those who held his opinions, whether it would not be much better, if they were determined to bring forward this great question, affecting as it did the vital prin- 549 ciples of the ecclesiastical constitution of the Church, to bring it forward as a substantive motion.
§ Mr. Hawes
replied, and said, that he had a precedent for the course he had pursued on this occasion. In a question which greatly affected the church, precisely the same course was adopted by Sir William Scott, who, in the first instance, brought forward individual cases, and afterwards' founded a general measure upon them. The reason he had not mentioned, in his notice, the case of Mr. James, as well as that of Mr. Jones, was, that all the Welch papers were full of the statement of that particular case, which made it unnecessary for him to give hon Gentlemen any specific notice of it. With regard to the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to omit the two last words, he was most willing that the motion, so altered, should be adopted.
§ Previous question withdrawn, and original motion, as amended, agreed to.