§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. LOCKE KING
said, that the Bill was a much more moderate measure than that which he introduced last year, and, as it had been framed with the view of avoiding the objections which were urged against the latter Bill, he hoped that it would receive the assent of the House. Perhaps it would be as well to state what was the present state of the law, and what alterations he proposed to make. So far as the public were concerned, nothing could be more unsatisfactory than the present state of the law as to religious worship. The rule of religious liberty and toleration prevailed in almost every case throughout these countries, but there was one glaring exception in the case of clergymen of the Church of England, who enjoyed very little religious toleration indeed. No clergyman of the Church of England could enter any other parish for the purpose of publicly exercising his sacred calling without the assent of the incumbent, without offending against the law. No one could deny the good that 1341 had been effected by the special services in the cathedrals throughout the country, and in the theatres in the Metropolis and Other places; yet the clergyman who had taken part in the latter class of services had broken the law in those cases in which the assent of the incumbent had not been first obtained. If, then, the good done were admitted, and the illegality of the Act acknowledged, surely it was only reasonable to ask the House to alter the law upon the subject. Some doubts were entertained as to the law upon the subject, but the highest authorities, among them Sir John Nicholl, Dr. Lushington, Dr. Phillimore, and other learned persons had expressed a decided opinion that, in ecclesiastical law, a clergyman could not preach at any of the meetings which he had described without leave of the incumbent of the parish. They might remember how, last year, the vicar of a parish in the Strand had for a long time prevented service being performed in Exeter Hall, but he had been obliged to give way to the expression of public opinion. Now, would it not be far better to take away from the incumbent the power of refusing a clergyman to perform Divine service in unconsecrated places, when such services were not opposed to the wishes of the Bishop. Much evil resulted from the existing state of things. In many instances in the rural districts services would be performed in parts of the parish distant from the church but for the refusal of the incumbent to sanction them; and, in other cases, disreputable clergymen—of whom, however, he was happy to say that there were but a small number in the Church—were able to defy their parishioners, and drive them either to Nonconformist places of worship or to distant churches. In one parish it had been thought desirable to erect a new church, and, in the meantime, a gentleman purchased a chapel for the performance of Divine service, and invited the co-operation of the incumbent, who refused to give it. The Bishop was then memorialized, but replied that, although he was in favour of the proposal of the parishioners, he had no power whatever to give any authority whatever to any clergyman to preach or perform Divine service there unless the incumbent signified his consent to him in writing. He felt sure that, if such a restriction were removed, it would be an advantage to the Church. It was an exclusiveness which did no good; and they had, he regretted to say, seen in other 1342 matters a want of exclusiveness which had led to the introduction of many forms which he deplored, and which, certainly, were not for the advantage of religion. All that he asked the House to do, was to re-establish the law as it existed from the Reformation to the reign of Charles II., and empower any clergyman licensed by a Bishop to preach and pray in any parish within the diocese of that Bishop. He did not ask them to give him power to administer the sacrament, but only to preach and pray. There had recently been a great deal of difficulty in ascertaining the views of the Government upon those Wednesday questions, and sometimes Ministers had spoken one way and voted the other; but as this measure had been framed in accordance with the views of the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, as they were expressed last year, he hoped he might count upon both the speech and the vote of that right hon. Gentleman. A large meeting had been held the night before on the subject of the prohibition of the use of the Bible in a foreign country, but in the instance before them, although the possession of the Bible was not denied to a clergyman, the practical use of it was. Believing that the measure was a Church of England measure, and would prove of advantage not only to the Church, but also to the cause of religion itself, he begged to move that it be read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,—"That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
said, he could not but deeply regret that another should have been added to the list of Wednesdays which, during the present Session, had been occupied very little to the promotion of useful legislation, to the consideration of Bills involving questions of religious controversy, and he regretted that they were not put down for discussion on Tuesday nights, when the House might enjoy the assistance of the law officers of the Crown. He should base his opposition to the Bill upon general, rather than upon legal grounds. He understood the real object of the measure was to enable the Archbishop throughout his province, and the Bishop in his diocese, to grant a license to any clergyman of the Established Church to perform Divine service in any parish without the consent of the incumbent. Such a provision might be very suitable for a Church arranged upon the Congregational principle; but the House must 1343 remember that the English Church was founded upon an entirely different principle—that of episcopacy and subordination of ranks. He was surprised that the Bill contained no provision to release clergymen from the obligations which they deliberately and voluntarily incurred upon their ordination. Its effect would be to place in each parish a rival and competitor with the incumbent. What must be the inevitable result? The clergyman who was thus brought into the parish would start in direct opposition to the clergyman whose supposed laches or neglect, or whose opinions had caused the new man to be invited. What could be more productive of contention and discord in a parish? The hon. Gentleman spoke of cases where the erection of new churches had been prevented by the obstinacy of the incumbent. He (Mr. Estcourt) never heard of such a case, nor of any incumbent refusing assistance where the clergyman it was proposed to introduce held opinions which he approved. Moreover, the law already gave facilities for subdividing parishes and establishing district churches; this Bill did nothing of the kind. In many parishes there were persons who thought the simplicity of the Gospel was overlaid by music, singing, vestments, and what they called High Church extravagances. If the Bill passed, there was scarcely a parish in the kingdom where some persons would not think it necessary to call it into operation. The Bill seemed to invest an Archbishop with something like the power of a Pope, as it allowed his licence to override the decision of the Bishop of a diocese. He did not see how uniformity of doctrine could be maintained after passing the measure, or how a Bishop could take cognizance of any heterodox doctrine. Clergymen would he allowed to preach in competition with each other; this was not the mode in which the Church of England had hitherto been governed; order and discipline held a place only inferior to purity of doctrine. If the object of the Bill was to place a limit to extravagances, it might be better attained by arming the Bishops with greater powers. But, if this was proposed, it was always alleged that the Bishops had too much power already. He believed the effect of the Bill would be to excite a conflict similar in kind to that which prevailed in England between the regular and secular priests in the thirteenth century. That dispute lasted for more than 100 years. He hoped the House would not accept a measure so meagre and un- 1344 guarded, and that dealt with the question in so summary a manner. The result of the Bill would be that whatever doctrine was preached by the ordinary incumbent of a parish, the clergyman who came in under a licence would set up an opposite doctrine. It would unsettle the minds of Churchmen throughout the country, and he believed the real object of the measure could be attained by other means. He concluded by moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he believed his hon. Friend who moved the second reading of the Bill had stated the law quite correctly, that at present no clergyman could perform divine service in any parish without the consent both of the incumbent and of the Bishop, and, as he understood, the object of the Bill was to alter the law only in respect of the consent of the incumbent. If the mover of the Bill would consent to alter the provision as to the licence of the Archbishop, and retain the existing regulation as to the licence of the Bishop, he was prepared to support the second reading. The language of the Bill was not quite clear as to the licence, whether it was to be general or special; and he thought it ought to specify the place or building in which Divine service was to be celebrated. There was certainly an objection to giving to the Archbishop and the Bishop concurrent powers, that might produce a conflict between them; one might refuse the licence that the other might afterwards grant; this would produce a conflict. As to the particular parishes, and the buildings in which service was to be celebrated, the power of granting a licence ought to be given exclusively to the Bishop. If these points were made clear, he would assent to the Bill. It was stated that this permission to preach would be inconsistent with the parochial system; hut it would in no degree trench on the rights of the incumbent. He would have the exclusive right of performing Divine service in the parish church. He understood—but the words were not clear—that a church or consecrated building would not come within the effect of this Bill. The words were that the clergymen "might perform Divine service before any persons assembled in any 1345 place in his or their occupation." It was clear that the Bill did not provide any endowment, and that the clergyman would not have the power of administering the sacraments or of performing the ceremony of marriage. The right hon. Gentleman opposite anticipated that, if the Bill passed, applications to open places of worship would come from almost every parish in England. But, if there existed this strong tendency to open places of worship without endowments, why were applications to do so now of such rare occurrence? His belief was that if the Bill passed it would have a very limited operation. Certain parishes might he found to avail themselves of it, but if the Bill were passed with the safeguards he had described, requiring the consent of the Bishop in all cases, he believed its operation would be exceedingly limited. He did not share the apprehension that the effect of the measure would be to raise discord and strife. As to rivalry between different clergymen, what happened now where district churches were built? There endowments were forthcoming, churches were raised, and clergymen were introduced holding different opinions from the incumbent; high Church forms might prevail in the mother church of the parish, and low Church doctrines might be preached in the district church. As to the conflicts that existed centuries ago between the regular and secular clergy they were totally different in character from any disputes that could occur at the present time. In the Church of England there were no clergymen like the regular orders of the Church of Rome, subjected to separate rules. All the clergy of the Church of England were seculars, subject to the control of the Bishops and the jurisdiction of the same Ecclesiastical Courts. They had no peculiar interests, created, as in the Church of Rome, by the distinction between seculars and regulars. He did not think the dangers apprehended from the Bill were likely to be realized. If his hon. Friend, in Committee, would agree to the Amendments he had suggested, removing all doubts as to the jurisdiction of the Bishops, he was prepared to support the second reading.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he had hoped that when the penitential season of Lent had passed away and the brighter sun of Easter was shining the House would have escaped one of what were generally known as "Lewis's Litanies;" but the speech they had just heard had 1346 dissipated the agreeable illusion, They had again heard one of those speeches from the right hon. Gentleman from which it was difficult to extract any advice or guidance as to the course they should adopt. The Bill consisted only of one clause; the right hon. Gentleman objected to one half of it, and supported the other half because he thought it would have no practical effect. Were those sufficient reasons for assenting to a Bill that would subvert the existing parochial system of the country? It not only subverted the rights of incumbents, but those of the bishops. The right hon. Gentleman agreed to subvert the rights of the incumbents, if the mover of the Bill would consent not to destroy those of the bishops. But why was he more tender of the rights of the bishops than of those of the incumbents? The bishops were powerful, had seats in the other House of Parliament, and were very well able to take care of themselves. The unfortunate incumbents of parishes had no protection but the law of the land, and of that protection this Bill would deprive them. The right hon. Gentleman said the incumbents would still have exclusive possession of the parish church; but what would be the effect of the Bill on the parish schools? What would these intruded clergymen do on six days of the week? Would they sit with their hands folded and their tongues tied? They were introduced into the parish for some purpose; would they do nothing and say nothing except on Sundays? They might not take possession of the parish church on Sundays, but they would take possession of many houses during the week, and commence an irritating system of supporting hostile societies and canvassing for hostile charities. This system the Church had guarded against, and they were now asked to run the risk of these inconveniences—for what? The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the effect of the measure would he nil, and he (Lord John Manners) thought it inexpedient to change useful laws, which had existed from time immemorial, when it was admitted that no perceptible advantage would he gained. But it was argued that this Bill was based on the same principle which had induced the Legislature to sanction the erection and endowment of district churches; but there was no analogy between the Bill and the facilities given by law for the erection of district churches. Those churches were almost always totally separated from the parish church, and wherever that had not been 1347 done they had been a source of confusion. The analogy not only failed, but was really a strong argument against the provisions of the Bill. The Bill was called insignificant and moderate; but, moderate as it was, an intimation had been made that further legislation would be attempted in the same direction. It was admitted that, as far as Dissenters were concerned, they had perfect freedom of action. The Bill was said to be proposed with a view to free from unnecessary restrictions clergymen of the Established Church, who ought, it was urged, to have the same religious freedom as Nonconformists. But what was called the glaring exception existing in the case of clergymen resulted from the simple fact that the Church of England was the national church, and not merely a tolerated sect. That principle was at the bottom of all these Wednesday discussions. The object of the hon. Gentleman and of those who acted with him was to reduce the Church of England to the same position as the Nonconformist sects, while their opponents wished to maintain the Church in its present established position. That was the issue really at stake again to-day. Whatever might be the temporary and partial inconvenience which might result from the existing law, it behoved them cheerfully to assent to it, on account of the inestimable benefits which the Church of England in its established character had conferred and was conferring on the people of this country. The Hon. Gentleman (Mr. L. King) had spoken strongly against excess of ritual and costume, and seemed to hold out this Bill as a cure for that evil; but the Episcopal Church of Scotland was in about the same position as the Bill proposed to reduce our own Church to. Well, a few months ago at Aberdeen, a clergyman, who indulged in "excess of ritual and costume," was reprimanded by the Bishop, and the consequence was that he resigned, and a successor was appointed; but immediately afterwards the clergyman who had resigned set up a chapel in which the same "excess of ritual and costume" was continued. And that would, probably, be the result in England if the Bill passed. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had supported the second reading, although he admitted that one-half the Bill was so mischievous that it must be withdrawn, and that the other half would probably be inoperative. For his own part, he believed the measure would be a great stab and blow at the 1348 vitality of the parochial system. That system had, on the whole, worked greatly for the public good, and he hoped the House would not lightly or rashly pass any measure the obvious effect of which would be to subvert it.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, he agreed with his noble Friend (Lord John Manners) that the parochial system had been a blessing to this country, and he hoped the House would never consent to any proposition which would endanger it. But, unlike the noble Lord below him (Lord John Manners), he did not believe that the Bill would be at all dangerous to the Church. On the contrary, he believed it would be a great benefit to the Establishment. There were, doubtless, objections to it, and they had been clearly set forth by his right hon. Friend (if he might be permitted so to call him) the Secretary of State for the Home Department, but they could be removed in Committee. He did not believe that the Bill would introduce the rivalry which had been predicted between different clergymen officiating in the same parish. He did not see the slightest danger of it. But there were many parishes where a large proportion of the inhabitants lived at so great a distance from the parish church that they could not get to it, and where, if they could, the church was not large enough to hold them. It might be urged that in such cases district churches would be the proper remedy; but the inhabitants might not have the means of erecting them. The sole object of the Bill was to grant to a clergyman of the Church of England, who might be willing to instruct the members of his Church in her doctrines, and to preach to them the blessed truths of the Gospel, the same opportunity of doing so which was possessed by every Nonconformist in the land. It was a great blot on our Church system that an ordained minister of the Church should be debarred from meeting his fellow religionists, praying with them, and preaching to them the great doctrines on which the salvation of us all depended. If the hon. Mover of the Bill will consent to the alterations shadowed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, the Bill will be freed from all objections, and prove a great source of strength to the parochial system. With this view he should vote for its going into Committee. If the Bill should pass with these alterations it would give to well-disposed congregations who had not now an opportunity of meeting in their parish 1349 churches power to meet elsewhere to join in prayer together and listen to the preaching of the doctrines of the Church of the country, which at present they were not able to do.
§ MR. BASS
said, he would not have intruded himself in the debate if it had not appeared to him that the provisions of the Bill had been greatly misunderstood by the noble Lord. The scope and design of the Bill was notan attack upon the high-Church clergy any more than upon the low-Church clergy. The great object of the measure was to give to every class of Churchmen the means of attending divine worship, and its chief operation would be in cases where at present there were no clergymen at all. That happened to be his case. In the parish in which he resided there was a very excellent clergyman, but the church was so distant from his house and from a numerous population round about that they were in fact deprived of Divine worship on Sundays. If the Bill became law he should take no steps in opposition to the incumbent of the parish, but he believed the hardships which existed there, and in a great many localities, would be avoided. He should be sorry to take any step which would diminish the just influence of the Established Church; and, in his opinion, this Bill would extend that influence.
§ MR. G. HARDY
said, the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) had stated that he lived so far from his parish church as to be unable to attend it; and that he supported the Bill with a view of getting the prayers and preaching of the Church nearer home. At present the hon. Member and the other inhabitants might, if they acted in harmony with the clergyman, obtain the services of a curate to officiate in any room devoted to the purpose. This might be done under Lord Shaftesbury's Act, and in such a case, therefore, there was no necessity for for any change in the law. His hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) had stated that the Bill would place the Church in the same favourable position as the Nonconformists occupied. He (Mr. Hurdy) was astonished at such a statement, coming as it did from a Gentleman who was one of the warmest friends of the Established Church. The hon. Member had stated that he wished to enable a clergyman of the Church of England to go into places other than the parish church and preach what he might consider to be the doctrines of the Gospel. [Mr. 1350 SPOONER: With the licence of the Bishop.] But the clergy had taken their licences under a certain system of discipline, and by this they ought to abide. According to the Bill any clergyman licensed by the archbishop for any cure or duty within the province would be entitled to go as a roving preacher into every diocese and every parish throughout the whole province without the consent of the incumbent. The Home Secretary declared that he did not mean to sanction any such proposal, and said he should vote for a Bill totally different from that now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman desired that there should be a special licence from the Bishop for the parish in which this preaching was to take place. But that was not the proposal in the Bill. On the score of religious liberty he objected to entrust the archbishops with this power of licensing roving clergymen—a power which, as had been observed, would make them little short of Popes. He objected, also, to a system which was growing up in that House, of supporting the second reading of a Bill, not because it was approved of, but because it might be made deserving of approbation in Committee. It would be too much to expect that measures should be so brought in that they might be adopted literally; but, at any rate, it should not be left to the House to draw them again for hon. Members who introduced them. There ought always to be a solid foundation on which the House could build a satisfactory superstructure. This was not the case here, and he objected to vote for the second reading of a Bill which had confessedly to undergo such alterations. The fact was that its supporters wished to allow those who differed from the clergyman of the parish to set up a rival conventicle there. If what was to be done was to be done with the consent of the incumbent the Bill was not wanted for that could be done now. The Bill would he operative only when the incumbent would not give his consent. Yet it was said that the Bill was to produce peace and harmony in the Church! In fact, the Bill was to enable a man in a state of unchristian animosity with his clergyman to set up a rival chapel. Doubtless there were grievances in parishes according to the notion of individual parishioners; but he said that those feeling themselves aggrieved ought to submit to what they regarded as grievances, for the sake of the good which the Church undoubtedly produced. Some of the very 1351 gravest of those grievances had arisen from a lecturer being appointed in a parish by an authority adverse to the incumbent. It was a most unseemly spectacle at St. George's-in-the-East, that a clergyman should in the afternoon attack the doctrines which had been preached from the same pulpit in the morning. But scenes somewhat similar would inevitably be enacted under the Bill. Dissensions would be inevitable. And what would be the result? The incumbent was to have the marriages and funerals, and so on; but after a time, if the Bill passed, another hon. Gentleman would be sure to come to the House and say how unjust it was that marriages and all the rights and ordinances of the Church should not be permitted as well as prayer and preaching. And then that parochial system would be upset entirely which was only partially upset by the Bill. Some of the arguments in favour of the Bill might have been used with some fairness twenty years ago; but since that time, by means of the facilities which had been granted for the erection of district churches, and for the celebration of Divine service under Lord Shaftesbury's Act, the grievances had been removed or very nearly so. As one of the exceptions, he regarded it as a monstrous grievance that the Bishop of London should be put to enormous expense in taking measures against a clergyman of his diocese whose conduct had been most objectionable, and some means should be found of providing for expenses of that kind, without trenching on the private purse of a Bishop. It was said that there was great difficulty with regard to procuring legal proof; but that was the case outside as well as inside the Church. The present Bill seemed to go far beyond any grievance now existing in the Church. It was a Bill which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had stated, could not be passed in its present shape, or even on its own foundation. There would be no superintendence whatever of the clergy who would obtain licenses under this Bill, and no means of knowing what sort of doctrine they preached or what sort of services they celebrated. They would be shrouded in secresy, and even if they should preach or do anything contrary to the doctrine or discipline of the Church of England he did not believe there was any law which would enable the Bishop to punish them. The Bill would, moreover, be setting up one clergyman against another in a parish, introduce schism and dissensions into the Church, 1352 and instead of strengthening the Church as was asserted, would weaken it and lower its position.
§ MR. BUXTON
said, he wished to deny that there was any intention on the part of the supporters of the Bill to weaken the Church of England. Its effect would be quite the contrary, for whereas persons who objected to attending the parish church from any difference with the clergyman or any other cause, were now driven to a Dissenting chapel, under the Bill they would be able to have the service of the Church of England performed in the parish by some other minister of that Church. He knew of several instances where the want of such a measure had driven people away from the Church. In one parish, the squire being offended by the extravagant preaching of the clergyman, and not wishing that his children, particularly his daughters, should remain under his ministry, built a chapel and made an attempt to get the service read in it by a clergyman of the Church of England. That was found impossible, and the consequence was that he was obliged to get a Dissenting minister. He knew also of another parish, with more than 10,000 inhabitants, where the clergyman, one of the old school, did absolutely nothing for his parishioners. Some benevolent people in the parish wished to provide him with a curate, but he refused, and the consequence was that while some eight or ten people went to the parish church the rest of the inhabitants went to the Dissenting chapel. The Bill might have the effect of modifying the parochial system, but would not destroy it. The parish clergyman would still be the spiritual head of the parish, but he would not continue to have the monopoly of religious teaching. Was the parish, he would ask, made for the people, or was it made for the priest? The question was very much like one of free trade and protection. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, as of old, looked merely to the interest of the dispensers of religious teaching, while the supporters of the Bill had regard equally to the interests of the persons who were to receive it.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the House would do well to remember the warning given by an able man. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) had told them that the Church stood in no danger from attacks from without; but that her chief difficulties arose from the differences of opinion which existed among her members, and he (Mr. Newdegate) feared that 1353 this Bill was but an illustration of the truth of that opinion. He objected to the Bill because it was calculated to give substance to excess of both extremes of opinion in the Church. It was calculated to foster in the Church a tendency on the one hand towards Rome, and on the other towards Calvinistic doctrines. The Church of Rome began in purity, but after a time lapsed into error. That Church had had an organized system which continued for ages. Then came an irregularity when the different so-called regular orders were sent forth to preach such doctrines as their leaders might direct. These regular orders gradually superseded the parochial or secular clergy, and violated public opinion, until the consummation was seen in the Reformation. The Dominicans under the title of the "Fré res Precheurs" first commenced this system, and were succeeded by the Jesuits, who not only preached, but brought in a system of practical tyranny which completely superseded their antagonists, the Dominicans and the parish priests. What had been the result? Gradually the Jesuits obtained complete control over the clergy, and at last, in the Council of Trent, they overbore the Bishops also, and grasped the whole ecclesiastical system. At last they domineered over the whole body of the Church of Rome with such tyranny, that they had fallen successively in almost every nation of Europe. The Bill before the House proposed to establish in the Church of England a regular order of priests who would supersede the pariah priest—the clergyman of the parish—although there were instances in which the parochial clergy had disregarded the wishes and feelings of their parishioners, who would tell him that the incumbent of a parish was not more amenable to public opinion than a stranger thrust into the parish, as the advocate, probably of extreme opinions, preaching not openly, but to a select, and, it might be, a secret congregation? The principle of the Bill was vicious in the extreme. The hon. Member for East Surrey would give the Archbishop and Bishops the power to send these clergymen anywhere. It had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department that these clergymen would be liable to he cited before the Ecclesiastical Courts. The hon. Member who last spoke had referred to the difficulty of obtaining evidence. These clergymen would not preach before the parish, but might disseminate very opposite opi- 1354 nions to those of the Church of England in some secret congregation which might be selected for them. No ecclesiastical trial could now originate without the consent of the Bishop; and how could proceedings be taken against an offending clergyman of this description, if the Bishop refused an ecclesiastical inquiry into the conduct of his nominee? The Bill would invest the Bishop with large powers in the appointment of these clergymen, powers alien to the rights of the parochial clergy and the laity. He had the power of refusing a hearing in the case of complaint. It would be unwise to leave to the Bishop such an unlimited discretion, both of appointment, and of refusal to hear complaints against these his nominees. That was altogether to disregard the action of human frailty and to invest the Bishops with a power which had been justly compared to that exercised by the Papacy. As a Protestant and a member of the Church of England, he protested against such an invasion of the rights both of the clergy and of the laity of the Church of England; he protested against attempting anything of the kind contemplated by the Bill until they had reformed the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, so that there should be an opportunity of obtaining a hearing before a duly appointed Court, as a matter of right, if any one felt aggrieved, which there was not now. If ever there was a system devised to create schism in the worst shape it was in the Bill before the House. He (Mr. Newdegate) should certainly, as he did last year, vote against the Bill. He admitted that there were evils in the present system, and he rejoiced at that opinion in that House evidently towards some jurisdiction being established to meet them. He claimed, on the part of the laity and of the parochial clergy of the Church of England, a right of being heard; and he prayed the House not to aggravate the evils under which the Church of England suffered until they had accomplished a revision of the ecclesiastical jurisprudence of the country.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he wished to explain the nature of the Bill, as he held himself responsible for having drawn it. The Bill was intended to effect a very simple purpose—to emancipate the laity of the Church of England from the irresponsible despotism of some 14,000 parochial clergymen, who were at liberty to do as they pleased, and who could not be controlled, and who exercised their private 1355 judgment in a manner seriously affecting the interests of the inhabitants of their parishes. That was the simple purpose of the Bill, and yet Gentlemen on the other side of the House had charged the friends of the Bill with trying to set up a Pope in England. The Bill in reality conferred a liberty, and, in effect, provided that one class of persons should not tyrannise over another. The supporters of the Bill had been told that they were investing the archbishops and bishops with a power to control the clergymen of the Established Church; but hon. Members who made that charge did not appear to be aware that the Bill in effect was already the law of the land. So far from his being responsible for the language it contained, that language was taken from one of the most extraordinary Acts that was ever passed—the Act of Uniformity of Charles II.—and the powers proposed to be conferred on the archbishop, which were considered to be so monstrous, were exactly the same as those contained in that Act. The language of that Act had been used because the friends of the Bill did not desire to make the smallest change in the constitution of the Church of England. The archbishop had now the power to grant licences for his provinces. That system was the life and soul of our Church government, and that which distinguished it from the Dissenting forms. The Bill left matters very nearly as they were, and introduced but a very simple change. It merely did away with the necessity of obtaining the assent of the incumbents of parishes, who had no particular responsibility. The condition of the Church of England at this moment was infinitely worse than that of the Church of Rome, and the object of the Bill was to give as much freedem to the English clergy as was enjoyed by the clergy of the Church of Rome. The original Statute of Edward VI, while enforcing the service of the Church of England, contained a proviso that nothing in it should prevent any person in any place whatever saying psalms or certain services. The parochial system only referred to the cure of souls, and there had always been a distinction between that and the saying of psalms and preaching of sermons. It was on account of the negligence of the parochial clergy that Dissent had spread to its present extent. Dissent had sprung less from any differences of opinion than from a dereliction of duty on the part of the parochial clergy. There were exceptions among 1356 them, of course, but it was because as a body they had not discharged their functions that the people had been driven into the arms of Dissent, and if there had been such a remedy as this Bill proposed to give there would not have been half the number of Dissenters there were at the present moment.
§ SIR WILLIAM HEATHCOTE
said, that he should not have thought it necessary to intrude upon the House had not the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Ayrton) been so singularly instructive as to the real position of the question on which they were to vote, as to call for some remark. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State (Sir George Lewis) after condemning the Bill in its present form, had intimated his intention of voting for it on the assumption that the faults which he pointed out, were undesigned deviations from the real intention of its framers; and that the Amendment which he required would carry that intention into effect. But the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), himself one of the framers of the Bill, defended every one of the points to which the right hon. Gentleman had objected, and disclaimed having ever contemplated one of the modifications which he had assumed to be applied. The ground on which alone the right hon. Gentleman had intended to vote for the Bill was then cut from under his feet, and he was bound to oppose it, even on his own view of the case. But he (Sir William Heathcote) would not consent to the second reading of the Bill, even if all the suggested Amendments were promised; because, in his opinion, the time of the House ought not to be occupied with setting to rights Bills which were so badly drawn as not to express what they meant, which was the most favourable account which the right hon. Gentleman could give of this Bill; and also, because, he thought that all the Amendments suggested would fail to remove its mischievous tendency. The right hon. Gentleman had said that its effect would be very small; but this was to be observed, namely, that its whole operation, whether small or great, consisted in opposition to the parochial clergyman. Whatever could be done under the provisions of this Bill, without the consent of the incumbent, could be done now with his consent; and it was clear, therefore, that no legislation could be necessary, except for the purpose of setting up a rival to him, 1357 and destroying peace in every parish in which such an Act came into operation.
§ MR. HORSFALL
said, he thought his hon. Friend had rather misrepresented what had been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. He thought there was no force in what had fallen from his hon. Friend the noble Lord, the Member for North Leicestershire. He had spoken of the rights of the clergy; but had the laity no rights? He would ask the noble Lord why the laity of the Church of England were to be the only class to be debarred from worshipping God according to their own consciences. He denied that the Bill would affect the parochial system. Since that system was established villages had grown into towns, and, therefore, additional accommodation was needed; that accommodation the Bill would provide, and he hoped the House would not hesitate to send the Bill to a Committee.
MR. LOCKE KING
said, he should have no objection to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, if it was necessary; but he would remind the House that Bishops and Archbishops had now full power to recall licences which they had themselves granted.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: —Ayes 145; Noes 191: Majority 46.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.