HC Deb 15 February 1839 vol 45 cc494-9
Lord J. Russell

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to carry into effect with certain modifications the Fourth Report of the Commissioners of Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues. The Bill was nearly the same as that introduced by him last year, which had been dropped only in consequence of the pressure of public business. He should therefore best perform his duty by merely moving to bring in the Bill, and he should be ready to enter into its provisions upon moving the second reading.

Sir R. Inglis

did not mean to divide the House on the introduction of the Bill, but he objected to bringing in a Bill for the distribution of the ecclesiastical property of the Church of England at this hour of the night (ten o'clock) as if it were a mere turnpike Bill, when it was in reality a Bill to alter the Constitution of England. He could hardly have believed it possible that his noble Friend would have proposed such a Bill in a manner so comparatively easy. Of the general principle of the Bill he had had so many opportunities of stating his opinion, that he would not now occupy the attention of the House. It was one of serious importance, and calculated to produce the greatest mischief to the Church. He justified himself in not dividing the House, solely on the reason that the House was not prepared for it, and that during the last Session the House had assented to receiving the Bill.

Viscount Duncannon

had heard with great satisfaction what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, and could not help hoping that the most determined opposition would be given to the Bill. He agreed in thinking that its introduction at this late hour of the night was not in accordance with the extreme importance of the Bill and the interests involved in it. It might be well intended, by its promoters, but he was fully alive to its consequences, and believed it to be not only dangerous to the Church Establishment, but to the dearest of the community as Englishmen and as Christians. He hoped the right hon. Baronet who occupied the proudest station to which an English Gentleman could aspire—the representation of one of our Universities—would adhere to his resolution of opposing the Bill in every stage. The right hon. Baronet would find in him a humble but most energetic follower, and he hoped the division would be such as to afford to the country a striking example that there did yet exist a strong attachment to that Established Church, by whose blessed influence this country had arrived at a pinnacle of unrivalled greatness.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

never felt more surprised in his life than that that hon. Gentlemen should complain of a measure like this, which had already been entertained by Parliament, and that a measure proceeding from the highest authorities of the Church of England should be dealt with in this way. The Bill came recommended by the dignitaries of the Church—it was recommended by the reports of a Commission of which the highest ecclesiastics were members; and he did think that it would have been dealt with a little more gently.—It was material for the House and the public to bear this in mind, when they judged of the manner in which measures were dealt with by hon. Gentlemen opposite.—The hon. Member for the University of Oxford had acted with perfect consistency; but when he and the noble Lord attacked this Bill as a measure of spoliation, subverting or leading to the utter destruction of the Church of England, and when this attack was pointed, not against the Government only, but against the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and three of the Rev. Prelates of the Church, the inference which he wished the House and the public to draw, was, that hard words were not always arguments, and that they did not carry weight or justification with them. The misfortune was, that it was impossible to approach any of these subjects without the risk of exciting exaggeration. This Bill professed to abolish a certain number of Church sinecures—and to apply the income of those Church sinecures to make a more adequate provision for the religious instruction of the community. Let it not be said that this Bill was calculated to destroy the Church of England. It was intended to apply what could be spared of its revenues to the immediate objects of religious instruction. He could scarely reconcile the conduct of hon. Gentlemen opposite, with their professed intention to increase the efficiency of the Church.

Sir Thomas Acland

believed, that a very valuable end was intended to be arrived at by this Commission. He could not for a moment suffer himself to believe they could have any other end than that of improving the Church to which they belonged—of rendering that institution more effective—preserving its efficiency, and not impairing it. He acknowledged that he looked to the Bill with great anxiety. When authorities were quoted on the subject, be must take the liberty to remind the House that though the Members of the Church belonging to that commission had given their sanction to the measure, those Prelates had not met the approbation of the great body of the Clergy. On the contrary, they had met the disapprobation of almost every one of those bodies whose interests were concerned—almost every Chapter and Dean in the country had made strong complaints against it. There were strong objections to the measure and the authorities were divided, but even if they were all arranged on the one side, he apprehended that when the report of the Committee assumed the shape of a Bill, each Member of this House should act for himself, and judge for himself, and therefore the measure ought to be as much considered as if it came on the simple recommendation of her Majesty's Government. This was a bill of detail, and it could not be fairly examined without giving an opportunity to the House, and to those who were affected by it, of considering the measure in all its bearings.

Mr. Hume

said, the Gentlemen opposite appeared to him to take a most extraordinary course, and it only showed the noble Lord, that if he gave the minimum of reform, he would get the maximum of abuse. If the noble Lord were to propose extensive and efficient reforms, he might, then, perhaps, give hon. Gentlemen opposite just grounds for complaint. The necessity of having an efficient Church was so frequently admitted, that he was surprised that any measure of the sort should be quarrelled with. If the bill to be introduced this Session were to be similar to that introduced last Session, it would go to put an end to a certain number of sinecures. The public money, which was granted with a view to promote religious instruction, was scandalously wasted. The object of the present bill, he believed, was not to take away that money. He wished it was—he would take the money away and apply it to other purposes. But when the Government proposed to apply the money in a proper mode, hon. Gentlemen opposite came down and stated they would object to that, because forsooth it was interfering with the Establishment! Why, it was the duty of Parliament to dispose of the public funds to the greatest possible advantage. On a former occasion he had objected to the bill introduced by the noble Lord, because he did not go far enough, and he told the noble Lord, that he might as well be abused for going the whole way as for only going half way. Half measures of that kind did the Government no good. The hon. Baronet who had last addressed the House had said, this was a bill of details. He contended it was a bill of principle; and the principle was, to put down sinecures and secure efficient service. He could only conclude, that money, money, money, was the object sought by the Church, and not religious instruction; and the reason why the measure was opposed was, because those funds were to be taken from the idle, the lazy, and the useless, as all sinecurists were. Those who wished to promote the best interests of the Church ought not to oppose the measure for putting an end to that which was declared by the heads of the Church to be a scandal and a disgrace to it. If hon. Gentlemen desired that which they pretended, the welfare of the institution, they ought not to come forward and protest against the abolition of sinecures.

Lord J. Russell

said, that, with respect to what had fallen from the hon. Member for North Devonshire, he had no doubt, that the hon. Member was very sincere in the opinions which he bad expressed upon the measures proposed to be carried into effect by this bill. On a future occasion he should certainly be prepared to meet the objections of the hon. Member. He should show, that the measure had solely in view to increase the efficiency of the Established Church. With respect to the allusion made by the hon. Member to the chapters of the cathedrals, he would only observe, that the members of those bodies were naturally, and by the inevitable prejudices of their situation, led to consider the chapter to which they belonged as one of the most invaluable parts of the ecclesiastical institution. As he had said, the extension of religious instruction was the object of this bill; and it was proposed to effect it by means of the establishment of additional churches, and the appointment of additional ministers to serve in those churches. But on these points he should have to address the House more in detail on a future occasion, when he would maintain, that whatever ends the chapters of cathedrals might have been intended to fulfil as originally instituted, there was no source from which they could look to find means for materially increasing the efficiency of the Established Church except those chapters; nor were there any other means which had received the assent of the Church commission. There were, no doubt, some points in the bill to which the members of the Church commission did not assent in full. These points it would be his duty to point out, when he laid the details of the measure before the House. He would only then observe, that these points which had not the full assent of the Church commissioners were of minor importance. But with respect to the most important points of the bill, he had the satisfaction of thinking, that if he incurred the reproof of the hon. Member for Oxford University, be incurred it in common with the highly eminent Prelate, the Primate of England, who was so deservedly respected for his conduct in the high place which he filled.

Leave given.