HC Deb 09 July 1862 vol 168 cc90-8

Order for Third Reading read.

MR. E. P. BOUVERIE moved that this Bill be read a third time.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


said, the measure was most objectionable. It was not likely to pass, but that House ought not to trust to the other House of Parliament to do that which it was its own duty to perform. The principle set up by the measure was that the House of Commons ought to exercise a power never assumed by the Pope of Rome in the haughtiest days of the Church—namely, to release from their vows priests who had, with the utmost solemnity and deliberation, devoted themselves to the service of the Church. A candidate for holy orders was, after a probationary trial, ordained a deacon, and it was not until after some years and a further examination that he was ordained a priest. He was then solemnly set apart for the service of the Church by the imposition of hands. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. E. P. Bouverie) who was the author of the Bill sought to do away with all the vows which the priest then made. The practice of the Bill was as objectionable as its principle. A person who had been the clergyman of a parish might set himself up in the same parish to preach heresy and schism, or, if he chose to throw off the ecclesiastical character altogether, he might appear among his former flock as a layman and engage in any lay occupations. The Bill was, he thought, most mischievous in its character, and he would therefore move as an Amendment that it be read a second time that day three months.

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


begged to second the Amendment.


said, that he hoped the House, having passed the Bill through its previous stages, would not refuse its assent to the last. The Bill only relieved those who dissented from the doctrines of the Church of England. These were a very small number of the Church, and therefore the Bill went but a very little way. He should have been glad had it gone further. There were those who, having taken orders, found themselves unfitted for clerical duties, either those of preaching or visiting the poor; it would be better for the Church, as well as for such persons, if they were permitted to lay down their orders and betake themselves to some other profession in which they could be useful. There were those who felt from the life led they were unfitted for the Church—these, too, ought to be allowed to subside into the laity. Again, there was the case of persons, as younger sons, who took holy orders as a means of living—such persons might succeed by death of an elder brother or otherwise to competence, and might very naturally desire to turn their abilities into some other useful channel than the Church; and if so, they ought to be allowed to do so. It might be said that they might become magistrates, but many thought that the duties of a magistrate were incompatible with those of a clergyman, and one Lord Lieutenant objected to appoint clergymen as magistrates. But there were other positions of usefulness which persons of the description referred to might fill with advantage to themselves and the country. There was one clause which he thought open to objection; it was that which provided that the Bishop should pronounce sentence against them. It was very likely that persons who so desired to throw off holy orders would not much care about any sentence which the Bishop could pronounce, but he objected to this power being placed in the hands of the Bishop. He also objected to the prohibition the Bill imposed upon persons so denuded of holy orders sitting in that House, considering that they should, on being restored to the laity, be free to all the rights and privileges of laymen.


said, that he regretted that an opposition to the Bill should be manifested at that stage. The hon. Baronet (Sir Lawrence Palk) was not present at the second reading, and it was rather hard that he should wait until the last moment, and then the night before the third reading, attempt to steal a march upon the Bill by giving notice of a Motion for its rejection. He therefore considered he had some little right to complain of the course taken by the hon. Baronet. Unless some measure of the kind were passed, the clergy of the Church of England would remain the only people in the kingdom who were deprived of all liberty of conscience. Would any one deny that there were clergymen of the Church of England whose religious convictions had changed since their ordination, and who were no longer conscientious members of the Church? The fact that there were such clergymen was as open as the day, and upon this fact he took his stand. What was such a man to do? He had formed religious opinions irreconcilable with his subscription to the Articles, and he could no longer profess an adherence to the standard and doctrines of the Church. Was he to go on preaching that which he believed to be false? Was he to teach heresy from the pulpits of the Church? Let the House remember the recent case of Mr. Heath. He was at the University with that gentleman, and might safely declare him to be a man of remarkable learning and ability. Mr. Heath had formed certain opinions, and he taught them from the pulpit of the Established Church. He was proceeded against in the Bishop's court for heresy, his doctrines were adjudged to be heretical, and he was deprived of his living. What was a man in such a position to do, and what means of existence were left him? The law debarred him from entering any profession whatever, and forbade him to engage in any lay occupation. In other words, the law condemned him to penury for the honest utterance of his religious opinions. What did this amount to? That no clergyman of the Church of England, if he had formed opinions inconsistent with those of the Church, could avow them unless he had independent means. That was not a sound principle, so far as the Church was concerned, and among its collateral evils was the argument which it put into the mouths of the opponents of the Church as to the honesty and sincerity of the clergy of the Establishment. If clergymen were told that they would be punished for any avowal of opinions differing from the standards and doctrines of the Church, an imputation would always rest upon the sincerity of those who adhered to the doctrines of the Church. It was most important to the interest of the Church itself that those who had ceased to be conscientious members of her body should have an opportunity of escaping from the obligations of their ordination vows. Instead of this, a clergyman who had changed his views might be cast into prison, like Mr. Shove, for disobeying the monition of the Ecclesiastical Court. If, however, he happened to become a Roman Catholic, and to assume the priesthood of that Church, he was exempt from all penalties under a special Act of Parliament. Parliament, having thus absolved clergymen who became Roman Catholic priests from all temporal penalties, was bound to extend the same liberty to those who might wish to become Protestant Nonconformist ministers. This was not a mere theoretical question, or sentimental grievance. There were numbers of persons who had retired from the ministry, and who were prevented from obtaining a livelihood in another profession. He had presented a petition from a young man of ability who had resigned a valuable living in Liverpool; and when he sought to go to the Bar, was at once met by the Benchers with a refusal, because he had himself stated to them that he was an ordained clergyman of the Church of England. He had also received a letter from a gentleman who said that he had entered the Church, had obtained a curacy and began reading subjects immediately connected with his profession; that he formed opinions which he honestly believed inconsistent with those which the ministry required, that he had therefore ceased to perform any clerical duties, and that he wished to go to the Bar, but that he was prevented in consequence of the present state of the law. Would it be contended that that was a proper restriction to impose upon a person who was no longer able conscientiously to discharge the duties of a minister of the Church of England? Now, let the House observe what might happen and was not unlikely to happen. The law was not always enforced, but it might be enforced at any time. There was a case which must be familiar to hon. Gentlemen. A few years ago Mr. Baptist Noel seceded from the ministry of the Church of England in consequence of his religious convictions, and he had since then been performing the duties of a Dissenting clergyman. Now, Mr. Baptist Noel might be proceeded against at any time and thrown into prison, and, let the House remark, not at the instigation of the Bishop only—for he believed no Bishop would be so unwise as to attempt to stop Mr. Baptist Noel's mouth in preaching the Gospel and spreading morality and religion. Anybody, however, might bring him into the ecclesiastical court, "promote the office of the Bishop," as it was called—using the Bishop's name whether he liked it or not—and Mr. Baptist Noel might be thrown into prison unless he was willing to resign his ministry and forego officiating as a Dissenting clergyman, which he certainly would not. Were the House and the country prepared for such a course as that? Did any one believe that it would be for the benefit of the Church of England, that this should be done or, if it were done, that the law would be allowed to remain in its present state for six months longer? If any person thought so he was incapable of forming an idea of what public opinion outside the walls of Parliament was. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Devonshire (Sir Lawrence Palk) could not have read the Bill. [Sir LAWRENCE PALK said that he could assure the right hon. Gentleman he had read it.] Well, then, he was sorry for it, because in that case the hon. Baronet was quite incapable of understanding the Bill. For what did the Bill propose to do? Only this—to exempt from temporal penalties persons who had declared their inability to discharge conscientiously the duties of clergymen of the Church of England. It did not touch the question of their orders. It merely said that the temporal authority of the State should no longer be had recourse to for the purpose of enforcing obligations which they could not conscientiously discharge. Would the hon. Baronet affirm the contrary opinion? Would he say that temporal penalties ought to be inflicted? Would he say that the gentlemen who had petitioned that House for relief were to be precluded from engaging in any occupation whatever? What was the result of the present state of the law? It was that those who had means might repudiate the Church, and those who had no means must remain in the Church, leading a life of hypocrisy, and teaching doctrines which they did not believe to be true, or else they must be thrown on the world with all access to useful occupation closed against them. He submitted with confidence to the House that no one in his senses would wish to maintain the existing state of the law. It was a sense of the reality of the grievance which compelled his hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir W. Heathcote) to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. Well, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, it was there modified in various ways, various safeguards were introduced to insure that the declaration of dissent should be made with due deliberation, circumspection, and forethought; and now the hon. Baronet stepped in and called upon the House to reject it, because he said that the Bill was mischievous, and that it had no chance in another place. How did the hon. Baronet know that it had no chance in another place? He (Mr. Bouverie) might set his opinion against that of the hon. Baronet and say that it had a very good chance. He had the public authority of one of the most distinguished bishops of the Church upon the subject. The words to which he alluded had been quoted by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) upon the second reading, and he would quote them now for the information of the House. When he introduced a similar Bill in 1849 the prelate to whom he referred wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury as follows:— I rejoice to be able to say that your Grace, as well as myself, is entirely disposed to favour and support any well-considered measure (as the Bill now before the House of Commons must be expected to be) for relieving any clergyman who, after he has been admitted to holy orders in the Church, should conceive conscientious scruples against a continuance in its communion. So far, indeed, from wishing to chain to the service of the altar any whose conscience bids them renounce that service, the true Churchman would urge them rather quietly to withdraw than to persist in the performance of offices which they can no longer perform without peril to their own souls, and a serious offence to the souls of others. Those words came from no less an authority than the Bishop of Exeter; and if there was any one prelate more than another who would have strenuously opposed any violent measures for the disruption of the Church of England, it was he. Therefore he thought he was fairly entitled to assure the House that there was no such certainty as the hon. Member supposed that the Bill, if passed by that House, would be rejected in another place. He submitted to the House that the case for the Bill was unanswerable in argument; that it provided a remedy for a real grievance, a remedy which had been well considered by a Select Committee, composed of some of the most eminent Members of the House, who would not adopt any measure injurious to the Church of England, and he therefore entreated the House not to reject the Bill.


said, that there were two ideas underlying the opposition to the Bill. One was that a man could control, govern, and altogether bind his opinions. Well, supposing that at twenty-two years of age a man subscribed to the Thirty-nine Articles—and they contained some very curious opinions—and if he found at twenty-seven, upon further inquiry, that his notions at twenty-two were incorrect, then the opponents of the Bill would say to him, "You shall not tell the world that you have lived and learned. What you believed at twenty-two you shall believe at seventy, if you live so long." The next idea underlying the opposition to the Bill was a very curious one, and it was this—that there was something in the hands of a Bishop which, when he laid them on the priest's head went through him, and gave him some peculiar quality, and rendered him a different man ever after. To state these ideas was quite sufficient to refute them. Such notions could not be entertained for a moment. He was not alluding to the Roman Catholic Church; he was merely expressing Protestant ideas in Protestant language. Well, was there anything in the hands of the Bishop which so affected a man that he was not after the age of twenty-one or twenty-two to change his opinions, and was not to be allowed to open his mouth except in defence of the Thirty-nine Articles? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) was right in what he said about the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Lawrence Palk) that he could not have read the Bill, or, if he had, that he could not understand it. It merely said that the man who seceded from the Church should not be followed by the penalties of the law. Now, he wanted to know, was there in that House any person so intolerant as to wish to chain a man to his post for ever because at the age of twenty-two he had subscribed to the Thirty-nine Articles? Such an attempt could only bring down unspeakable ridicule on the heads of those who made it; and as the world went on, such childish and absurd notions would not be allowed to prevail.


said, that when the Bill was read a second time, it was admitted that considerable hardship was suffered under the present state of the law by men who had been compelled by their conscientious convictions to declare their dissent from the doctrines of the Church of England. The real state of the case had been distinctly put by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie). Those persons were liable at present to proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Court; and though many years had elapsed since any such proceedings had been taken, the law remained unchanged, and he thought that persons should not be liable to such a danger. Besides, clergymen who seceded were debarred from having recourse to other professions for the maintenance of themselves and their families. The only questions raised upon the second reading were the extent to which the relief should go, and the mode in which that relief should be administered. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had shown great good sense in abiding by the decisions of the Select Committee, although they had overruled some of his own opinions. The objection that persons guilty of gross immorality and desiring to lead vicious lives might make use of the Bill to forward their objects had been effectually removed by the restrictions which the Select Committee had imposed upon the operation of the Bill. Under all the circumstances, he thought the House would act most injudiciously, and that they would do a great injustice to those who sought relief, if they were to reject the Bill now upon the third reading. The question of the indelibility of holy orders had been carefully eliminated from the Bill. He therefore hoped that the House would confirm the decision to which it had come upon the second reading.


said, that he felt it his duty to oppose the Bill. Its practical working would be that some clergymen would leave the Church for insignificant differences of opinion, whilst others, of more conscientious feeling, but holding equally diverse views, would feel compelled to remain.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 88; Noes 98: Majority 10.

Words added.

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

Third Reading put off for three months.