HC Deb 02 August 1853 vol 129 cc1207-14

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he would now move that this Bill be read a Second Time on Monday, with the object of giving the House an opportunity of seeing several clauses which had been prepared by his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, who had paid great attention to the subject, and which, it was thought, would effect in an unobjectionable manner all that was necessary for the purpose of the Bill. These would be laid before the House either to-morrow or the next day. He believed that no Member of the Government meant to propose the second reading of the Bill, but it was in the hands of au hon. Gentleman opposite.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read a Second Time upon Monday next."


said, he objected to the postponement of the consideration of the Bill. He had such a strong feeling against the measure that he should oppose it at every stage. The hon. and learned Solicitor General himself had assured him that the Bill in its present form was most objectionable, and that nothing but a new Bill would meet the circumstances of the case. He was very much surprised to find a Government which, at the commencement of the Session, had assured the House that they would not sanction anything like an interference with the freedom of the Colonial Legislatures, helping on such a Bill as this; and he appealed to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe), and to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Southwark (Sir W. Molesworth), to say whether it would be acceptable to the Colonies. He should at once move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.


seconded the Amendment. He considered that the House had already wasted sufficient time this Session on questions of religious controversy affecting this country, without entering into colonial disputes. He believed that there was not a single Colony which would consent to accept a Church Establishment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "Monday next," in order to add the words "tins day Three Months."


would support the Amendment, but upon grounds entirely distinct from those advanced by the last speaker. He considered that this was not a period of the Session at which the House could enter upon the discussion of a measure affecting interests so large and important.


said, the objects of the Amendments winch it was the intention of the Government to introduce into the Bill were—first, to preserve the most perfect equality among all religious sects and denominations in the Colonies; and, secondly, to leave to the Colonies the free and uncontrolled management of all their affairs, both ecclesiastical and civil. He hoped, therefore, that hon. Gentlemen would be content to postpone their opposition to the Bill until the Amendments were upon the table.


said, he wished to know who was the real father of this Bill? There seemed to be no one who would own himself its parent, although the hon. and learned Solicitor General might, perhaps, be regarded as its putative father. According to the statement of that hon. and learned Gentleman, however, he intended to propose amendments which would completely change the character of the Bill. Now he (Mr. V. Smith) would ask the House whether, upon the 8th of August, they would be prepared to enter upon the consideration of an entirely new mea, sure? and he would also ask if the hon. and learned Solicitor General wished to bring forward any Bill on this subject, why he did not introduce it on his own responsibility, or postpone the introduction of a measure until next Session? He (Mr. V. Smith) regarded this Bill as an interference with self-government in the Colonies, and it had been so denounced in the public prints by Sir James Stephen, whose opinion on the matter was well entitled to consideration. He (Mr. V. Smith) thought the table of the House ought not to be loaded with new Bills, night after night, at this advanced period of the Session.


said, that, undoubtedly, if the House chose to reject this Bill at once, it was perfectly competent to them to do so; but he did not think the House could maintain that they would not, even at this period of the Session, enter upon the consideration of new Bills, when they were night after nigh sending up Bills to the other House of Parliament. Only that night they hat sent up three Bills to the other House from whom he hoped those measures would receive due attention. The right hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith seemed to consider that it was too late in the Session to attempt to legislate on this subject; but he (Lord John Russell) must own it appeared to him that there were matters of great moment with reference to the position of the Church in the Colonies which ought to be the subjects of legislation either at the end of this Session or at the beginning of the next Session of Parliament. He thought they ought to place the Church of England in the Colonies in the same position as any other religious sect. In Canada, for instance there were Wesleyans, Baptists, and Presbyterians, who possessed certain right and privileges; and was it unfair that the Church of England should enjoy privilege of a similar nature? Did his right hon. Friend mean to say that, if the Church of England was not established in the Colonies—and he (Lord J. Russell) would not vote for such establishment—that Church should be deprived of rights enjoyed by denominations based upon the voluntary system? If that was the right hon. Gentleman's view, he (Lord J. Russell) differed from him entirely. He considered that if the various religious communities were allowed to be upon a footing of equality in the Colonies—none of them being established—it was only just the Church of England should have the same privileges, as other religious bodies; and that if Acts of Parliament existed which deprived the Church of England of such privileges, those Acts ought to be so modified as to give that Church the same liberty as other religious communities. He thought that a measure which would effect that object by two or three clauses, might very easily be passed in the course of the next week. He did not think it was fair that, because a very able letter from Sir James Stephen had appeared in the newspapers against this measure, the House should at once condemn the Bill, and refuse to hear anything further on the subject.


said, that no one seemed to know who had charge of this Bill. They did not even know who had put it down for a second reading. [Lord J. RUSSELL: I don't know.] It seemed plain that the Government would not have anything to do with the Bill in its present shape; and he (Mr. Henley) would ask, therefore, whether there was any prospect of legislating satisfactorily and effectively on the subject during this Session?


said, he thought that a clamour was raised against this Bill by some hon. Gentlemen who were desirous of creating a prejudice against the measure out of doors by misrepresenting its character. The question had been asked in a manner which he considered was not very respectful to such a body as the bishops of the Church of England, for whom he believed that House generally entertained respect, with whom this measure had originated. He thought it was perfectly well known that the Bill was the result of the mature and deliberate consultation of the bishops of the Church of England in this country, and of several of the Colonial bishops, who met to consider by what means they might best accomplish the objects desired by the members of the Church of England in the Colonies, without out endeavouring to introduce the principle of a Church Establishment into those Colonies, or interfering with the rights of other denominations of Christians. The Bill was certainly not open to those terms of contumely and reproach which had been used respecting it; nor was it open to the charge of seeking to obtain any special privileges for the Church of England in the Colonies. It was intended merely to place that Church in communion with the Church in the mother country, without interfering in any way with the religious freedom of other sects in the Colonies. That might be effected by various methods; but all of those who desired that the Church of England in the Colonies should remain in close communion with the Mother Church in this country would agree with him that, whatever changes ought to take place, they should not vitiate the essential principles of that communion. It was the common object of the Colonial Church and of themselves to maintain that religious identity between the Church in the Colonies and the Church at home, and he did not see how their spontaneous action, consistently with the principles of Colonial legislation, could be in any way adjusted without some measure of the Imperial Parliament. The difficulty arose from the fact that the Colonial Churches were in law considered offshoots of the Church of England, and that they ought, therefore, to be bound by the same regulations as the Mother Church. So far as the present Bill was concerned, he had never seen it until it had passed through the House of Lords; but he would assert that there was no foundation whatever for the belief that it was desired by a side wind to obtain for the Church in the Colonies all the powers and privileges of the Church at home.


said, being responsible, not, indeed, for the provisions or terms of the Bill before the House, but for having drawn the attention of Parliament to this very important subject, and it being also his opinion that this measure had not been fairly attacked in the discussion that evening, he thought it right to say a few words before the question was put. He thought it was not at all difficult to explain in general terms the form which this Bill had assumed. He believed that the positive character of the provisions of the Bill, which were objected to as tending to create an Established Church in the Colonies, was really a fault in the Bill which Lad arisen mainly from the desire on the part of the promoters to avoid that class of objections which was made against his previous propositions on this subject. In a former Session of Parliament he brought in a Bill for the purpose of liberating the Chinch in the Colonies from the real or supposed disabling effects of Imperial Statutes, and so far to place it in the position of dissenting bodies in the Colonies; and he then added to that declaration of the law or repeal of the disabling Statutes some further clauses containing certain restraints. The objections taken to that Bill by hon. Gentlemen opposite were, that in consequence of its leaving so much power in the hands of the bishops, clergy, and laity in the Colonies, the stability of the Church would be affected, several colonial Churches would be created, and, possibly, a separate Church might be created in each colonial diocese. It had been asked who was the author of the present Bill? The Bill had been agreed to by the whole bench of bishops, and it had been introduced into the other House by the Archbishop of Canterbury. When the latter was absent, the Bill had been in the hands of the Archbishop of York. Looking at the character of its provisions, he did not doubt that all the provisions which had been introduced by the right rev. Prelates, who might, perhaps, not be such colonial philosophers as they were in that House, but who were all earnestly desirous of maintaining the connexion between the Church at home and the Church in the Colonies, had been introduced for the purpose of establishing the principle which his Bill had attempted to give. The issue had been raised by him on former occasions in that House, and would be raised again upon it—"In what manner do you propose to proceed with regard to the Church in the Colonies?" Were they, or were they not, bound to maintain for the Episcopal Church in the Colonies the same regulations and the same status as the Church possessed in the mother country? The substantial question to be answered was, whether it was fair or not that the members of the Episcopal Church in the Colonies should be separated from the Mother Church, and, if that were so, whether they should be allowed to fall back upon what might be popularly termed the natural liberty enjoyed by the members of other religious communities? That was the real question at issue. But when the House came to decide upon that issue, they certainly would not adopt so unjust a course as to strip the Colonial Church of all its rights and possessions, and continue at the same time all its disabilities and restraints. The latter were not altogether imaginary. An effort had been made by a colonial Prelate, who was respected and esteemed by all who had the honour of his acquaintance, and whom he had the privilege to call his friend—he alluded to the Bishop of New Zealand, by whom the attempt was made to draw up regulations for the conduct of religous matters within his diocese. When that bishop arrived in his diocese he found himself in contact with great multitudes of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Colony, who had been christianised by the labours of missionaries, and for whose benefit it was absolutely necessary that some regulations should be framed. He held meetings on the subject, and after considerable discussion and deliberation regulations were drawn up and sent to this country, which on their arrival were submitted to the legal authorities, who at once declared them to be illegal and invalid. Such a state of things ought not to be allowed to exist. That was the question of principle, and although the present Bill was not the Bill he wished to see, he must say that its present character was, in a great measure, to be attributed to the nature of the opposition which was offered to his Bill. He considered that his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) had taken a reasonable course in proposing that the Bill should be read a second time on Monday next, when the Hosts, would have an ample opportunity of discussing it on its merits. It dealt with a question which could not be settled by detailed and complex legislation on particulars, and which might, he believed be very easily contained in half a page. He should have been very glad if the House had agreed to adopt such a principle as he had described; but he must admit that the House had manifested a disinclination to-night to enter upon such an important question at so late a period of the Session. It being so, he would not simply express a hope, but a firm belief, that the House would give a fair reception and a full consideration to some such measure at a future time for the purpose of giving the Church fair play in the Colonies upon the footing of an established body. Admitting that it was quite impossible to settle matters of detail at this advanced period, and as the House had manifested an unwilling- ness to enter on the subject at present, he was obliged to say, on behalf of himself and of the Government, that he would not put the House to any trouble by dividing on the second reading of the Bill, but would consent to let the subject stand over till the next Session of Parliament.


said, he objected to the House proceeding with the measure at this time of the year, while he fully recognised the necessity of some legislation on the subject in respect to the Colonies, the union of whose Church with the Mother Church of this country he was most desirous to preserve.

Question, "That the words Monday next' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for three months.

The House adjourned at half after Two o'clock.