HC Deb 26 July 1856 vol 143 cc1481-8

said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the recent announcement, by Her Majesty's Government, of their intention to discontinue an allowance heretofore made to the Bishops of the Episcopal Communion in Scotland, and to the legal disabilities, not applicable to the ministers of any other religious denomination in this country, to which the said Bishops and their clergy were subjected in common with the Episcopal Clergy of the United States of America; and to move for copies or extracts of any correspondence relating to the subject. At that period of the Session he would not enter into any detailed discussion upon the subject, but he was desirous briefly to make known to the House a very extra ordinary state of facts, which, in his opinion, obviously called for the intervention of the Legislature. The case of the Scotch Episcopal Church was rather a peculiar one. It was a relic, if he might so call it, of what was once a National Establishment, which practised and adhered to the reformed religion. On account of its political connection with the fortunes of the Stuarts, it was, during the last century, subjected to the operation of prospective laws, more severe and more effective than any other laws of a similar character which were at that time in operation. The peculiarity of those laws was, that they did not touch the laity of the communion, but struck at once at its organised body of officers, and were directed positively and absolutely against their officiating to anything which could be called a congregation. Their doing so was prohibited under penalties, beginning with fine and imprisonment, and ending with transportation. Towards the close of the last century, and shortly before the beginning of the revolutionary war, when there was no longer danger from the Stuarts, Mr. Pitt introduced into Parliament a measure for the repeal of those laws. Lord Thurlow, who was then Lord Chancellor, had never heard of Scottish Bishops; he apparently regarded them as specimens of a bygone race which had been disinterred from beneath the soil, and was very apprehensive of the consequences of reviving this antiquated species, and calling it back to the world of animated life. He therefore procured the insertion in this Act of Parliament of a clause which provided that, although these persons might exercise their offices according to their consciences in Scotland, under no circumstances should they be allowed to officiate in England. Now this legislation was of the most absurd character, because Ireland was not included, and might, if there had been any disposition to occupy it, have been overrun with Scottish Bishops and clergy. Since that time the Sovereigns of the House of Hanover had felt that these Bishops of the Episcopal Communion in Scotland, representing something of an historical religion, and being freed from all imputation of disloyalty, were entitled to certain marks of Royal consideration. These had been bestowed upon them at various times and by various Sovereigns, particularly by George IV., who, when he visited Scotland, about the year 1822 gave them a substantial mark of his favour in the shape of a small Treasury grant, the amount of which was at first £1,200 every two years, but which was afterwards converted into an annual grant of £600. His (Mr. Gladstone's) hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Wilson) recently stated that it had been determined to withdraw that grant which had never been placed upon the Estimates, but had for something like thirty years been paid out of the Vote for Civil Contingencies, as a part of which it had annually been brought under discussion, and to which opposition had been raised by some hon. Members on the ground that it was of the nature of a State preference of a particular denomination. Now, he did not pretend to say that it would be expedient to give a permanent character to this grant. His only complaint was, that it ought not to have been suddenly withdrawn, but ought, according to the precedent set by Lord Derby when Secretary of State under Lord Grey's Administration, in the case of the North American provinces, to have been continued for the lives of the persons who had received it. Their incomes were exceedingly narrow, and the House ought not to disappoint individual expectations reasonably entertained, or to depart from its ordinary liberal rules in the case of any particular class. He therefore did not preclude himself from raising, on some future occasion, the question, whether it would not be consistent with the rules and practice of that House to continue this small allowance for the lives of those persons who had been in the actual receipt of it. That, however, was a minor question. To the withdrawal of the grant in principle he made no objection; indeed, at the time that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he stated, in reply to an application that measures might be taken to make this grant permanent, that he could give no encouragement to any such proposal. What he now, however, wanted to bring under the consideration of the Government and of the House was the extraordinary burden of disability under which the Bishops and clergy of the Scottish Episcopal Communion now laboured. There were at this moment on our Statute Book proscriptive laws against the holding of cures of souls or benefices in England against two limited bodies of men only. It might be expected that the subjects of these prohibitions were Mormonites or professors of some hideous and unheard-of form of religion; but such was not the case. They were, on the contrary, the members of the two religious communions with which on questions of doctrine and discipline the Church of England stood in the most immediate relation of agreement. They were the Protestant Episcopal Communities of Scotland, and of the United States, which sprung from the loins of the Church of England respectively in the 17th and 18th centuries. The ministers of any other religion might, by fulfilling the proper legal conditions, qualify themselves for the ministry of the Church of England. Any Member of the House of Commons might qualify himself, be ordained, and become a minister of that Church. Any Roman Catholic priest was, by his orders, qualified to present himself for ordination. Any priest of the Greek or Eastern church, any priest, minister, or layman of any Christian denomination whatever, any Mahomedan, any Hindoo, any Kafir, any Hottentot, upon complying with certain rules, might be presented to a benefice in the Church of England; but the unfortunate minister of the Episcopal Communion in Scotland and of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America could not, as the law now stood, by any possibility, hold a cure of souls or a benefice in that Church. To make the matter still more ridiculous, this disability was founded on no spiritual incompetency, because the competency of those persons had been fully recognised by a recent Act of Parliament, which allowed the ministers of those two communities to administer in England, with the licence of a Bishop, all the most sacred offices of the Church. They might preach, baptize, offer prayers, celebrate the Eucharist, and, if Bishops, confirm and ordain, and do all other things which were within the episcopal functions; yet we committed the absurdity of saying that, in no case should they hold a cure of souls. Now, that was a state of the law which he maintained required alteration, and the moment at which the last mark of temporal consideration for those persons had been withdrawn was, he considered, a most appropriate time for making such an alteration. He hoped, therefore, that his right hon Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom he saw in his place, would yield to the fairness of the claim, and would admit that this was a most invidious proscription, and one to which an end ought to be put. He was quite ready to admit that it might not be wise simply to repeal those laws without making some provision to prevent improper persons resorting to Scotland or America for ordination with a view to holding benefices in England. The agreement of those communities with the Church of England was a reason why Parliament should take security against the abuse of any facilities for ordination which might exist in those countries. He did not imagine that there would be any such facilities, because he believed that with regard to ordination the Scottish Bishops were quite as strict as the English ones—indeed stricter, he apprehended, than some of the more lenient of the latter Prelates. Still he considered that there was a fair ground for making special rules, such as that according to which a clergyman ordained by a Bishop of the Colonial Church could not hold a benefice in England without the consent of the Bishop of the diocese, and also of the Archbishop of the province. The existing prohibition was monstrous, and quite at variance with the spirit of modern legislation; and he was, therefore, sanguine that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the other Members of the Government would take a view of it similar to his own, and would speedily introduce into Parliament a Bill for its abrogation.


said, that he was by no means favourable to Parliamentary grants for religious purposes, deeming the principle both vicious and unconstitutional, but at the same time he was unwilling that an act of injustice should be done to any party, and he thought it rather hard that the Episcopal Communion in Scotland should be singled out for more severe treatment than was awarded to any other class of religionists. The Scottish recipients of this small bounty were fairly entitled to expect that, as it had been granted to them for thirty consecutive years, it would be continued for their lifetime. They were gentlemen of exemplary piety, between whom and the Apostles there was at least one point of resemblance—poverty. The legislative disabilities under which they laboured were a disgrace to modern civilisation, and a reproach to the statute book.


said, he thought that the improvements suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) should emanate from the Church and not from the Legislature.


said, he hoped the Government would consider the matter, for the present state of the law was disgraceful, He trusted that the working clergy would be looked to as well as the Bishops.


said, he was not aware of the existence of the disqualifications to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford had referred, nor could be conceive what rational argument could be urged in their favour. [Mr. GLADSTONE: They were introduced by Lord Thurlow in a Bill passed in 1792.] It scarcely needed the logical and forensic diction of the right hon. Gentleman to display the absurdity and illiberality of such regulations. However, as they existed by virtue of an Act of Parliament, it would need the interference of the Legislature to remove them, and it would not be competent for the Church to do so by its own action. There was no difference between the religious tenets of the Episcopal Communion in Scotland and those of the Established Church in this country. Each subscribed to the Thirty-nine Articles, and though there might be some distinction in their liturgies, there was none in their doctrinal opinions. Whatever the opinion of Lord Thurlow, who was no great theologian, might have been on this question, it was very certain that these disqualifications, affecting one of two classes of religionists which were precisely identical in faith, were entirely irrational. The present seemed a gracious moment to revoke them, when the Government had found itself compelled by a sense of public duty to take away the small grant heretofore enjoyed by the Episcopal Communion in Scotland. It was with great reluctance that the Government had done so; but there were reasons which, in their view, rendered it imperative to take the step. The grant had been usually made once in two years. Previous to the surrender by the Crown of the hereditary revenues, which took place on the accession of William IV., the charge was defrayed from that source of income, but it had since that period been defrayed from the Vote for Civil Contingencies, there being now no fund at the disposal of the Crown to meet charges of that description. The first grant appeared to have been made in 1813, by a Treasury Minute, dated the 28th of December in that year, upon a representation from the Protestant Bishops in Scotland of the inadequacy of the incomes of many of the Episcopal clergy, which had been reduced in some cases to £20 a year. The grant was again made in 1815, but did not appear to have been paid regularly until 1828. From that date £1,200 had been paid once in two years. The hereditary revenue having been surrendered to the public, the grant must now be provided for from public funds. The annual sums of £2,000 for the poor clergy of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, and of £1,100 for the officers of the General Assembly managing the affairs of that Church, were payable from the Consolidated Fund under the Act of 2 & 3 Will. 4, c. 116, passed for the purpose of giving effect to the recommendations of the Committee on Civil Government Charges in 1831. The charge for the Episcopal clergy was not included in the items mentioned in the Report of the Committee, but no doubt it would have been provided for in like manner had it been adverted to at the time as likely to become a permanent charge. The sum was divided in proportions of £100 to each of the six Bishops, and the remainder among the inferior clergy according to the discretion of the trustees, subject to the limit of £80 as the maximum of the emolument of each. It having been represented that the funds at the disposal of the Government for Civil Contingencies could not with propriety be applied to such purposes as the grant contemplated, the Government had to decide whether they would place it on the annual Votes or discontinue it altogether. Looking at all the circumstances of the case, and having particular regard to the fact that the Episcopal Church in Scotland was upon the whole a wealthy communion, its resources being considerable, and its numbers not greater than those of a large London parish; and remembering, also, that in Scotland they were Nonconformists, the Government came to the conclusion that it would not be advisable to place the grant on the annual Votes, and that the latter al- ternative—that of abolishing it altogether—was the only one that could be adopted. The Government had arrived at that determination with considerable reluctance, but they had not felt justified in taking any other course.


said, he approved the conduct of the Government in withdrawing the grant; but he would submit that the legal disqualifications to which its former recipients were liable ougt also to be removed.

Motion agreed to.