HC Deb 20 July 1847 vol 94 cc630-4

The Bishopric of Manchester Bill was reported. On the question that it be read a Third Time,


said, he wished to bring under the notice of the noble Lord one of the provisions of this Bill, with a view to its material alteration. The second clause as it now stood, provided that the future bishops of a majority of the existing sees, should in rotation be excluded from seats in the House of Lords. From this enactment, inferences had been drawn of a nature which would imply the ultimate diminution or extinction of the seats of bishops in the House of Peers. This was certainly not its intention, and he trusted would never be its effect. But if he rightly understood some words which fell from the noble Lord yesterday, he (Lord J. Russell) was in some doubt whether it would not be better to exclude permanently the new bishops from the House of Peers, than to adopt this principle of rotation. This was certainly his opinion. He would consent, though not without reluctance, that the new bishops should not sit in the House of Peers. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester had indeed said that a bishop who was not a Spiritual Peer was an imperfect bishop. The right hon. Gentleman must have meant this politically, for with respect to all purely ecclesiastical purposes, all the ends of the Church, strictly so called, a bishop was as perfect who did not, as one who did, exercise legislatorial functions in the State. But he thought the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bute, and of the hon. and learned the Recorder of London, were conclusive in the point that the existing sees, hallowed by a prescription much more ancient than that House, or than any other part of the constitution—a prescription of more than ten centuries, ought not—both with reference to the prerogative of the Crown and to the constitution—ought not to be disturbed. It was dangerous to tamper so suddenly with things so sacred. He would therefore, unless the noble Lord would take the matter in his own hands, move on the third reading to-morrow, that so much of Clause 2 should be omitted as enacted that the future bishops of certain existing sees should be in rotation excluded from seats in the House of Peers.


said, he must have expressed himself very imperfectly, if he had led the hon. Gentleman to believe that there was any doubt upon his mind as to which of the two modes referred to was the better. He thought the rotation system was decidedly preferable to that of excluding one of the bishops permanently; and he had no intention of altering the clause to the contrary.


said, that he and others on that side of the House had abstained from speaking on the previous stages of this Bill, feeling that the progress of the Bill was more important than mere speaking; and, with reference to the taunts which had been thrown out as to their silence, he begged, as the practical result of their silence, to point to the Bill at its present stage. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Evesham, instead of preventing change, would, if adopted, introduce a still greater change. We had the principle of rotation already in operation in Ireland; but the principle of permanent exclusion had never been in operation either in England or Ireland. He believed that the Bill, as it came down from the House of Lords, had virtually received the assent of the bench of bishops. He should, therefore, cordially support the Bill as it stood, and resist every proposition for its alteration.


said, that considering the thin state of the House on that occasion—considering, also, the period of the Session, and the discussions which this Bill had already undergone—he was unwilling to expatiate again on the subject. The question for consideration was not what the bishops thought of it, or whether they would sanction the principle; but whether the measure, in its present shape, would advance the spiritual welfare of the Church. He had deliberated, carefully and anxiously, on this point. His individual vote was of little consequence, and he was not prepared now to resist the further progress of the Bill; but when the third reading was moved, he would very briefly state the reasons which would induce him to give his vote against it.


wished the Bill to be printed, that they might see the Amendments.


did not think it at all necessary that the Bill should be reprinted, as the Amendments were perfectly intelligible to every one; and, at this particular period, such an interruption would be exceedingly inconvenient. Those words in the preamble referring to the addition of three other bishops besides the Bishop of Manchester had been withdrawn, with the consent of the noble Lord; and there remained only a clause to create the bishopric of Manchester, the diocese of St. Asaph and Bangor remaining separate, and the Bishop of Manchester not possessing the right to a seat in the House of Lords. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press to have the Bill reprinted.


had no objection to reprinting the Bill, except on the ground that it would delay the progress of the measure another day; and he could not allow the third reading to be postponed.


had refrained from expressing his opinion on the measure in Committee, in order to avoid every delay to its progress; and he only rose now to beg the House to be particularly careful that in an arrangement of this kind they did not arrogate to themselves a jurisdiction which they did not possess. It was essentially necessary that before this Bill were allowed to pass into law, the authority of the Crown for entertaining the measure should be distinctly stated in that House by one of Her Majesty's Ministers. It was extremely important that this point should not be lost sight of. The ancient forms of the House deserved always to be respected; they gave stability to institutions which every one valued; and the noble Lord would perhaps say, when he would take the opportunity of intimating Her Majesty's consent.


had informed the Speaker, that he should be prepared to convey the consent of the Crown to enter- taining this Bill, and he had understood from the right hon. Gentleman that that consent might he stated at any stage of the measure.


agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, that the fact of the bishops having given their consent to this Bill was of no importance at all. There had been such things as Bills sent down from the Upper House proposing that no more Peers should be created; and this measure could not come to them with any recommendation, because the parties principally concerned had offered their sanction to the principle involved. He did not see the necessity of such a Bill at this time, even if it were not objectionable at anytime. There existed a statute as yet unrepealed, enabling bishops to call suffragans to their assistance in discharging onerous spiritual duties; and if they acted on that law, they relieved themselves at once from all the difficulties suggested by a Bill of this kind. The position of the bishops was already anomalous enough; and if they deprived members of the episcopate of the right to sit in the House of Lords, they took away a prerogative of the Crown in a matter of paramount consideration, and opened up the spiritual constitution to the invasion of most dangerous abuses. He wished things to remain as they were, and he therefore protested against this Bill.


inferred, from the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, that he feared if one bishop were lost to the House of Lords, and the new principle thus admitted, a great many others would follow. Now he held the contrary opinion, and he believed if all the bishops were removed from the House of Lords, it would be for the advantage of the Legislature, the country generally, the cause of the Church, and the cause of religion. He was glad that the new doctrine had been admitted; it was the redeeming quality in the Bill, that it was based on so sound and excellent a principle. He was as sincere a friend of the Church as any hon. Gentleman; and he believed conscientiously that the bishops themselves would be eventually benefited by being restricted from political strife, and confined to the sacred duties of their proper office. They would thus be relieved from an invidious position, and enabled to serve society much more effectually than at present. And he trusted the noble Lord would now be content with the creation of this one bishopric: to propose the erection at any other time of new bishoprics would give great offence to the country; and if he had funds from Church property which he did not know how to dispose of, lot him leave the bishops as they were, and endeavour to ameliorate the wretched and half-pauperized condition of the working clergymen. There were thousands of clergymen possessing incomes not exceeding 100l. a year who were expected to maintain the rank and station of gentlemen; and it was in the highest degree discreditable to Parliament that, having funds available to the increasing of Church efficiency, they did not at once devote them to such persons.

Bill to be read a third time and printed.