HC Deb 14 March 1849 vol 103 cc695-702

MR. BOUVERIE moved the Second Reading of the Clergy Relief Bill.

Order for Second Reading read. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


proposed as an Amendment, "That the Bill be read a second time this day six months." He opposed the Bill, because he conceived it would hold out a premium for insincerity by allowing individuals in holy orders to leave the Church. Without thinking that there were many persons amongst the clergy of the Church of England who would avail themselves of the privilege proposed to be conceded, on any objectionable grounds, there still might possibly be some who, caring too much about riches, would be induced to leave the Church, solely because they saw some good opportunity of holding a secular employment of profit and advantage either by death, or some changes in their own families. There might be men who actuated by such motives would come forward and say, "I will make this declaration—I am a Dissenter from the united Churches of England and Ireland." He, therefore, thought that he would be guilty of a neglect of duty, if he did not call attention to the subject, for on looking to this Bill it would be seen that a man might say he was a Dissenter now, and the next day say he was not a Dissenter. Was that, he asked, the right way to legislate on this important subject? If the Bill must go on, he should say, that many clauses must be put in it which were not in it at present. In his opinion, a gentleman ought not to be allowed to go out of the Church because of an offence committed in the Church, without being still subject to the pains and penalties of his misconduct. He thought, also, that a clause should be inserted to prevent for ever the reordination of persons seceding from the Church.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


would not detain the House for many minutes on this matter, as he had on a former occasion explained the general objects and purposes of the Bill. He would therefore confine himself to the objections urged against the measure by the hon. Member who had just sat down. The hon. Gentleman's objection to the Bill was, that it would create insincerity. But, as the law stood at present, it not only afforded a temptation to insincerity, but in many instances, made clergymen insincere on compulsion; because, although they dissented from the doctrines of the Church, they must remain in it, or subject themselves to penalties for preaching, in a building unlicensed by the bishop, what they believed to be the truth. No reasonable man could wish such a state of the law to continue, and therefore, he submitted to the House that this Bill deserved a second reading.


supported the Bill. Nothing could be more tyrannical or unjust than persecuting a man for leaving the Church, especially when he had left it from conscientious convictions. He thought such a system was a relic of oppression, and he, therefore, trusted that the Bill would be allowed to go into Committee.


said, that they had a discipline for clergymen, and how far it was desirable to release them from that discipline he did not know, nor would he assume the province of determining. He did conceive, however, that there would be a door opened to insincerity. The objection of the hon. Member for Bodmin was this, viz., that any clergyman who had violated the discipline of the Church, and laid himself open to a prosecution, had nothing more to do than to go before a magistrate and make the declaration included in the present Bill, and he was immediately released from all the vows he might have made. Considering the great importance of the subject, and the short discussion which had as yet been devoted to it, he thought it his duty to oppose the second reading, and to support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin.


had come to a very different conclusion from that formed by his hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire. The evil now complained of was, that a clergyman who had entered into holy orders, and had changed his first opinions, was either compelled by the necessities of himself and his family to exercise duties which his conscience told him he could not faithfully discharge, or to expose himself to ecclesiastical penalties for acting as his conscience dictated. These were the evils from which clergymen who subsequently were unable to hold the doctrines of the Established Church sought to be delivered. There were many instances of clergymen who had seceded from the Church, and had acted as Dissenting ministers with great advantage to the religious interests of the community, of whom no notice had been taken. But notice had been taken of the secession in a few instances to which he need not now particularly refer, and the ecclesiastical penalties had been enforced. It had been objected that, as the Bill now stood, a person who had subjected himself to penalties under the Church Discipline Act, might evade those penalties by making the declaration; but that was a question of detail, which the House might have considered and amended in Committee. To the principle of the Bill, however, he gave his most hearty assent. It had been argued, that if this principle were conceded, it might lead to the release of a clergyman from other vows besides his ordination vows; but the Bill before the House did not contain any provision of the kind. Many most conscientious clergymen had communicated to him their assent to the principle of the measure, and had expressed their regret that any person should be exposed to ecclesiastical censures on account of their dissent from the doctrines of the Established Church.


said, as the law now stood, when a minister of the Protestant Church left that body, and entered the Roman Catholic Church, he was free from penalty; but if an individual connected with the Church, yet dissenting from its doctrines, joined any dissenting body, he might be prosecuted for so acting. At the present moment, an individual was now suffering from this anomalous state of the law. He should support the second reading of the Bill, because he wished to see persons dissenting from the Church, and joining one of the various dissenting bodies in the kingdom, placed in the same position as those who might go from the Established to the Roman Catholic Church.


asked if they could carry on the Army and Navy effectually if they repealed the Mutiny Act? He thought not. He believed that the ecclesiastical authorities had, in the same way, a right to use the civil sword to enforce ecclesiastical censures. He did not, however, think that right. That, however, was not the question; but so long as that was the law, no bishop did his duty who neglected to enforce them. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down did not seem to understand the question in the least, as it applied to Roman Catholics and to Dissenters. In one case the man was in holy orders, and in the other was not. ["No, no!" and laughter.] The hon. Member might sneer as much as he pleased. He believed, doubtless, that he might, if he thought proper, change his Christianity, and become a Jew, but he could not. Let the House bear in mind that, in fact, by this Act they were about to separate the Church from the State. He did not say it was wrong to do so; but this he would say, let them know what they were about, and let them recollect that the Church was not the gainer, but the State, by the connexion that at present existed. The State was a gainer by that union; and if the bishops and clergy wished to do their duty, it was impossible for them to do so if they did not shake off—he was going to call it—the incubus of that House and the State entirely.


said, the Bill was calculated to redress a great practical evil, and he would give it his support. He thought the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down would be one of the last to deny to a clergyman of the Established Church, who might later in life entertain conscientious scruples which might prevent his any longer remaining a member of it, the right of transferring his ministrations to any denomination of Protestant Dissenters. If such a person became a member of the Church of Rome, no penalty attached to him; he was considered to do nothing irregular if he celebrated mass. He expressed no opinion whether that was right or not, but it must be considered a great practical grievance that a penalty did attach to him, if he became a minister of a dissenting congregation. Was there anything unreasonable in affording facilities for the exemption of such persons from the proceedings which might be instituted against them at any period of their lives, if they exercised their talents in giving spiritual instruction in any other denomination than the Established Church? The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, who moved the Amendment, objected to the Bill because it did not go far enough; he said it ought to enable ministers of the Church of England to become not only dissenting ministers, but even Church laymen. He (Sir G. Grey) was not aware of the existence of any ecclesiastical process which could be put in force against him, if a clergyman of the Church of England wished to retire into private life, if he had not committed any offence which would render him amenable to the ecclesiastical court. But another hon. Gentleman took quite a different view, for he said that the Bill exempted clergymen of the Church of England from ecclesiastical censure, on account of immorality. Now, he (Sir G. Grey) admitted that if a clergyman committed an immoral offence whilst a clergyman of the Church of England, he should not be exempt from the consequences of that act, for, otherwise, he might leave the Church, in order to evade them. He, therefore, thought that there should be a limited time within which proceedings might be taken after the commission of any such offence, and that no proceedings ought to be instituted against him in the ecclesiastical court for acts committed after he had left the Church of England. It would also be a serious question for consideration in Committee whether a proviso should not be introduced into that clause which provided that persons making this declaration should be exempt from all restraints, restrictions, and prohibitions, to prevent them from sitting in Parliament, in order to diminish the motives for making such a declaration.


said, it would be much to be lamented if, at this time of day, the House should refuse its assent to this measure, especially when clergymen of the Established Church could become Roman Catholics without any restraint or hindrance.


wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Attorney General) whether it was correct, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that a person leaving the Established Church and joining the Roman Catholic Church, was free from all penalty and hindrance, because if that were so, he thought both sides ought to be placed on the same footing.


said, that the question put to him was a difficult one—it was a point about which great difficulty existed both in the civil and the ecclesiastical courts. If the hon. Gentleman would permit him, he must decline, without further consideration, to answer it.


asked whether it was not competent in a clergyman whose opinions did not coincide with those of the Church, to leave it, free from all penalties, by submitting to be degraded from his office?


said it was not.


said, that he agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin in his view, and he would be prepared to vote in Committee for a clause to carry it out; but as his present Motion would have the effect of throwing out the Bill altogether, and thus bringing the House to an opinion hostile to his own views, he hoped he would not persevere. He was mistaken if he supposed that the clauses of a Bill always agreed with the title.

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question." Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday, March 21st.