HC Deb 24 February 1854 vol 130 cc1320-2

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to relieve the colonial clergy from certain disabilities, said, he should confine himself at that late hour to a very brief statement of the object of the measure, of the way in which it was proposed to attain it, and of the reasons which made it necessary that some such measure should be passed. There was at present a great deal of doubt as to the legality of the colonial clergy meeting together for the purpose of agreeing, either among themselves or in conjunction with the lay members of the Church, upon any regulations or arrangements which might be necessary for the conduct of their ecclesiastical affairs. Hon. Members who were present at the discussion of the questions that took place in the preceding Parliament would remember that disability arose—or was supposed, and he thought justly, to arise—out of a Statute passed in the reign of King Henry VIII., and which prohibited the clergy from meeting together for the purpose of making any order, canon, or constitution, without being summoned for that purpose by the King. That Statute had become part of the supremacy of the Crown, and as the supremacy was held to extend over the whole country as well as to any foreign possession, there was very good reason, he thought, for the apprehension that the colonial clergy—carrying with them, as they did, the obligation of obedience to that Statute—would be acting in violation of the law if they attempted any meeting, either by themselves or jointly with the laity, for the purpose of making any ecclesiastical regulation or arrangement. The effect of this disability was to press very hardly on the clergy, and to place the Church of England in the Colonies in a position very far inferior to the freedom possessed by religious bodies of every other denomination. It became abundantly necessary, therefore, that some step should be taken, not for making any Church establishment in the Colonies, but for giving to the Church of England there the same freedom which was enjoyed by other communions. It was unfair to place the clergy in a position of inferiority to other religious bodies in countries where they had not the same tribunals to appeal to which were available to their brethren in this country; and it was necessary that the disability should be removed, because in the present state of things it was impossible to have the mutual relations between the clergy and their bishops defined and carried out. The result was, that the bishop exercised despotic power; and he might deprive a clergyman of his licence, and, with his licence, of the stipend which he received from the Colonial Legislature—taking away from him his whole ecclesiastical and clerical status, and, in fact, depriving him altogether of his privileges, without his having any opportunity of appeal. The bishops were reluctant to exercise this power; the clergy felt themselves oppressed by the existence of a power which was not regulated by a legal check; and it had been very generally felt, on a variety of occasions, that some legislation on this particular subject was necessary. The difficulty in legislating appeared to be to confine the Bill to the mere object of removing the disability, without proceeding by implication to do what he believed would be very generally deprecated, giving the clergy and laity the power, when assembled, to make laws; or imparting to any regulations on which they might agree the force of an Imperial enactment. In the Bill which he had prepared he had endeavoured to collect what he believed to be the prevailing sentiment on both sides of the House; for he had found, on both sides, a concurrent expression of opinion that it was absolutely necessary that there should be legislative interference, but that it should be expressly confined to conferring upon the Church a liberty correspondent with that enjoyed by other religious sects. To that purpose it was strictly limited; and, therefore, while it took away from the clergy, while in the Colonies and doing spiritual duty there, the disability to meet, either by themselves or with their lay brethren, for the purpose of dealing with their ecclesiastical affairs, it was careful to provide that no authority should be conferred, or derived by implication from the Statute which could give to any regulations made at any of these meetings any binding force, unless, indeed, they were confirmed by an Act of the Colonial Legislature. These were the general features of the Bill, which he hoped would meet with the assent of both sides of the House.


said, that he would not oppose the introduction of the Bill, but he must reserve to himself the right of judging of the measure when the Bill was printed. He was afraid that it might be open to the objection that it did little else than relieve the clergy in the Colonies from the supremacy of the Crown.


said, that the measure would not abolish the supremacy of the Crown, but would merely place the Church of England in the Colonies in the same position as other religious bodies. It was a melancholy thing that this boon should have come so late, but he thanked the Government for having taken up a question with which all previous Governments had been unable or unwilling to grapple.


said, that there was no more reason to fear that by this measure the clergy would be relieved from the supremacy of the Crown than from their obedience to the laws of England.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Solicitor General, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Peel.

Bill read 1°.

The House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock till Monday next.