HC Deb 25 May 1870 vol 201 cc1365-84

Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill he now read a second time, said that, as the grievances which it was proposed by the measure to remove were urgent in their character, a private Member might, perhaps, be excused in dealing with a subject the management of which it was impossible that the Government, with their press of work, could undertake. In 1862 his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) had, though not successfully, introduced a Bill, which was to allow a clergyman to relinquish his calling if he professed to dissent from the tenets of the Established Church. He (Mr. Hibbert) thought, however, that a man's actions, and not his motives, ought to be examined, and therefore the present measure permitted a clergyman to relinquish his calling without assigning any reason. Several gentlemen who felt themselves aggrieved by the present state of the law had, at the commencement of the Session, presented a Memorial to the First Minister of the Crown, in which they set forth the mischief that must accrue to the Church and to religion, in insisting upon retaining men in the ministry who, from conscientious or other motives, were no longer willing or able to perform the duties of their position. They urged that the result of the system was shown in the growing disinclination on the part of the younger members of the Universities to take upon themselves Orders which were held to be irrevocable. The 76th canon, passed in 1603, which still remained in force, provided— That no man being admitted a deacon or priest shall from thenceforth voluntarily relinquish the same nor afterwards use himself in the course of his life as a layman upon pain of excommunication. The result of that canon was to render a seceding clergyman liable to ecclesiastical penalties at the hands of his Bishop. That was so ruled by the late Lord Denman in the case of Mr. Shore, whose licence to preach was withdrawn by the late Bishop of Exeter, and who afterwards performed the services of the Church of England in a building not belonging to it. He (Mr. Hibbert) would not enter into the question of the indelibility of Holy Orders. The Bill did not deal with Holy Orders at all; but he might observe that, in the year 1603, when the 76th canon was framed, the Church of England did not hold the doctrine of the indelibility of Holy Orders. To the clause in the Bill permitting the return to the ministry, with the consent of the Archbishop or Bishop, of clergymen who had availed themselves of this Bill, he understood some objection might be urged. On that point he had personally no very strong feeling; but the clause was introduced to meet the wishes expressed by some members of the Church. A clergyman becoming a layman ought, in his opinion, to be placed in no worse position than any other layman, and he would be so placed if he could not again take orders as a layman could. This, too, was the opinion expressed in the Report of the Committee of Convocation, appointed to consider the provisions of the Bill formerly introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock. The Committee reported— No legislation should finally shut the door against a return to the exercise of the ministry. In moments of depression and disappointment clergymen may be tempted to forego their vows for some worldly considerations. In these cases, as in several others, the locus penitentiœ should still be left. The experience of the last two years fully justifies this recommendation; for two, at least, of those who had left the ministry, and who were petitioners for the Clergy Relief Bill, have since returned to their former position in the Church. The next disability to which he would refer was that imposed by the statute known as Horne Tooke's Act, which declared that no person who had been ordained to the office of priest or deacon in the Church of England should be capable of being elected to serve in Parliament. Considering the time at which that Act was passed—namely, the beginning of the present century, and considering that since that period most of the religious grievances which then existed had been got rid of, he thought the House would come to the conclusion that it was no longer necessary to retain such an enactment with respect to clergymen who had no cure of souls, and who were not beneficed. It was a note-worthy circumstance that that Act did not pass without strong opposition from the Liberal party in the House of Commons. Horne Tooke very concisely stated the reason for the introduction of the measure when he said— Deacons and priests have sat in Parliament for more than a century; but at last one got in who opposed the Ministers of the day, and Parliament determined there should be no more deacons or priests admitted among them. It was also condemned by men of great weight in the House of Lords. Lord Chancellor Thurlow, in opposing the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, said— It seemed very hard that a person once ordained, who from conscientious motives ceased to exercise any clerical function, should be told that he must not enter any other profession because his priestly character was indelible. But why should this indelible character disqualify a priest to sit in the one House more than in the other? The right reverend Bench opposite were very short-sighted if they supported the Bill, for it would speedily lead to the revival of the Act for their expulsion from Parliament. That prophecy had not been fulfilled. At all events, not yet. There were Bishops in the other House. But, what was a still stronger argument, if a clergyman became a Peer he took his seat in the House of Lords; and he (Mr. Hibbert) was unable to see any difference between the functions of the one House and the other which should justify the exclusion of clergymen in the position he had referred to from the House of Commons. Again, it was the right of every Englishman to choose the man whom he might think likely to be the best representative; and if the electors chose to elect a clergyman they must take whatever disadvantages might result from the choice. But he was ready to admit that, as long as there was a connection between Church and State, there would be a difficulty in beneficed clergymen taking their seats in that House. A gentleman, who was himself in Holy Orders, and who, if this Bill passed, would probably take advantage of its provisions—he meant Professor Rogers—in an article on Horne Took, said— The State in this country has carried, far beyond any assumption which the most despotic arrogance has ventured on, the annexation of an inalienable status to the members of a particular profession. It has affirmed, by this law, more than any Pope has ever asserted—the perpetual alienation of a civil right from a whole social order. The English law has deprived monastic vows of all validity, yet it has made an act of religion more absolute in its effects on the civil status of a man than any monastic obligation of the severest Roman rule. There was, besides the 41st of Geo. III., the Municipal Corporations Act also, which excluded clergymen from becoming aldermen or town councillors, though it did so in different words. By the 28th section of the 5th and 6th of Will. IV., cap. 76, persons in Holy Orders, or Dissenting ministers having charge of a congregation, were excluded from municipal offices; but a Dissenting minister who had no charge of a congregation was allowed to undertake municipal duties. But why should a person in that position have greater advantages than a clergyman of the Church of England who had no cure of souls? Then there was another grievance with respect to persons who had been clergymen, but were called to the Bar. Since the Bill of 1862, any clergyman on relinquishing his calling, and signing a paper that he would not in future take any office in the Church, was admitted by the Inns of Court to the Bar. That was a great advantage; but what had been the consequence? Owing to the Act of 1801 a clergyman who had been admitted to the Bar, no matter how able or successful in his profession, could not sit in that House. That, he held, was an additional reason why the House should pass this Bill. There was another point of view which he wished to bring before the notice of hon. Members. When they considered the early age at which gentlemen were admitted into the Church—that a young man could become a deacon at 23 and a priest at 24—and that there were no less than 20,000 clergymen in the country, it was to be expected that some, after a time, either finding themselves unfitted for the calling, or conscientiously dissenting from the formularies of the Church, or from change of circumstances—having, for instance, inherited family property—would desire to become, as it were, laymen. With respect to those who might have entered the Church at an early age, and then found themselves unfit, would it not be better both, for the Church and the nation that they should be allowed to go? And in the case of a change of opinion, the argument was much stronger. There were two such cases to which he could refer—namely, those of Mr. Clark, of Trinity, who was so well known as Public Orator, and Mr. Sedley Taylor. Mr. Clark, in a letter to his Bishop, said— Slowly and reluctantly, but with irresistible force, and, as I feel, irrevocably, have I been driven to conclusiens incompatible with the declarations which I made at my ordination. Under these circumstances, I beg to signify my desire to relinquish the position of a clergyman, and to resume that of a layman. Whatever law may prevent me from doing this, I protest against it as iniquitous and immoral. Mr. Sedley Taylor also, in 1869, wrote to his Bishop— I was ordained deacon in 1862. A course of inquiry since undertaken has led me to form convictions very seriously at variance with the formularies which bind the consciences of the clergy. This being so, I relinquish, as far as in me lies, the ministry of the Church, though aware that I cannot free myself from certain disabilities attaching to the clerical office, notwithstanding the resignation of all its attendant advantages. I wish to draw attention to the anomalous and unjust state of the law affecting those who see fit to resign office in the Establishment. The Bill proposed that a clergyman who desired to relinquish his calling might, on giving notice to his Bishop and executing a deed in Chancery, be relieved after six months from his disabilities, and also lose the privileges to which, as a clergyman, he might be entitled; and become, in fact, a layman. The principle of the Bill had been in operation in America in the Episcopal Church for 55 years, and he had not heard of any serious objections having been pressed against it during that long period. Upon the grounds which he had stated, he now asked the House to read the Bill a second time, believing that the effect would be to do away with a great grievance and to strengthen the Church of England—that it would be a blessing not only to those who were allowed to go, but to those who remained. He begged to move that the Bill be now read a second time.


in seconding the Motion, said, he hoped that as his name appeared on the back of the Bill the House would allow him to say a few words in its support. His hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert) had so thoroughly explained the state of the law on this question and the object of the Bill, that he need add but little to what had already been said. He was aware that Bills of this description, which proposed to deal with the grievances of a limited class of persons, were always open to the suspicion that they were the result of special agitation; but he could assure the House that, so far as he was concerned, no such influence had been exercised in this instance. The only persons at present prevented by law from ever holding a seat in that House, were persons convicted of felony, Scotch Peers, and persons who had taken orders in the Anglican Church or the Church of Rome. He did not propose to say one word on behalf of felons, or in regard to Scotch Peers, though he considered the position of the latter a very anomalous one. But he wished to know on what principle a legal barrier should be raised against the admission to that House of clergymen whom the constituencies thought fit to elect. He acknowledged that it would be very objectionable to admit to the House clergymen who continued to hold their livings, and if hon. Members looked back to the debate on Horne Tooke's Act they would find the law in question supported upon that footing. For instance, Mr. Addington said that when one-third of the livings were in the hands of the Crown it would be a very dangerous thing to admit clergymen into that House. But that objection would not apply to the Bill of his hon. Friend, because it cut off altogether clergymen who held benefices from coming into the House of Commons. If hon. Gentlemen opposite should take up the ground that where a person had deliberately adopted the office of teacher of religion he thereby irrevocably set himself apart from the laity, it would follow that they ought to extend the doctrine to Nonconformist ministers, or else maintain that there was something in Episcopal ordination which distinguished those who received it from all others. That was High Church doctrine, but it was not likely to obtain much favour in the House. Were not Mr. Samuel Martin, Mr. Newman Hall, and Mr. Spurgeon held in as much respect as clergymen of the Established Church? But, at all events, they were not held in less esteem because they were eligible for election to the House of Commons, and, therefore, it could not be supposed that the Bill, which did not interfere in any way with Anglican Orders, would have the effect of lessening the esteem in which the Anglican clergy were held. It might be said that the liberty given by the Bill would lead to unfit persons entering the Church; but it should be remembered that, on the other hand, there was a probability that many persons who would be useful to the Church were kept out of it by the present state of the law. As the measure went in a liberal direction, and tended to do away with a separate ecclesiastical caste, he wished to give it his support.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Hibbert.)


said, that when the Bill was first introduced he had taken occasion to indicate not so much certain objections to the measure, as certain safeguards that ought to be thrown around it. He had also pointed out that a Bill which affected the national Church in some important particulars ought to have the serious attention of the Government directed to it, that they might, on their responsibility, see that the measure was properly adjusted to meet the requirements of the case, and not to go beyond them. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department would probably state the intentions of the Government with regard to the Bill, and it was with a view to suggest what points it might be necessary to consider in Committee that he (Mr. Walpole) had now risen. The two points which he wished more particularly to have considered were these—In the first place, with regard to the early part of the Bill, it was extremely undesirable that persons who took Holy Orders should do so lightly, unadvisedly, or as an experimental matter. Their minds ought to be well made up, and they should not undertake the office with the idea that they might easily get rid of it. Secondly—and this applied to the end of the Bill—when a person had once entered into Holy Orders, and had served the Church in that sacred character, there might be reasons which no doubt might induce him to take up some other calling; but, if he did so, he ought not to be chopping and changing about. He did not wish to see the services of ministers of religion acquire more or less of a professional character, and that they should be allowed to change about from one occupation to another, according to the profits or advantages of the experiments they might make. The hon. Gentleman himself (Mr. Hibbert) did not intend to deal with the question of the indelibility of Holy Orders, and therefore there was no need to enter on that subject. There was, however, an important matter to be considered in connection with the first portion of the Bill. The reasons for the measure were contained in a Memorial which had been presented to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. Some of those reasons were strong; others not so strong as it was desired they should appear to be. The last of the reasons assigned by the memorialists was, that the present state of the law with regard to the clergy of the Established Church was one of the causes why there were fewer candidates for admission to Holy Orders. He would like, in passing, to correct that notion, which was gaining ground in the minds of several people. On comparing the Ordinations for the last three years with those of 1852, it would be found that this diminution was not going on. In 1852 the total number of persons admitted to Holy Orders was 541; in 1867 it was 590; in 1868, 599; and in 1869, 597. He had merely given these figures, from carefully prepared Returns, for the purpose of clearing the way. He would now advert to two other reasons. The first referred to the pamphlet of Mr. Clark, which went to show that it was unadvisable to retain in Holy Orders persons who had conscientiously changed their views. On that point he would say, that such persons ought to be dealt with in the most just, charitable, and liberal manner. Therefore, instead of holding them to the duties of their profession, he thought they had better be exempted from compulsion, or any attempt at compulsion. With regard to the reason that persons going into Holy Orders at an early age might not be able to grapple with all the difficulties which might afterwards occur to their minds, his answer was that they had better not enter the profession until they had given the matter a better examination. Any inducement offered to persons to go into such a profession, with a knowledge that they could afterwards release themselves from it, ought to be altogether avoided. There was much truth in the observation made by Tertullian in the 2nd century, long before Councils were heard of—but which was as true now as it was then—that it was felt by Christians to be the greatest reproach to persons exercising the priestly office in other religions that they were one thing to-day and another thing tomorrow. He had no doubt that his hon. Friend's (Mr. Hibbert's) complaint was well founded—that disabilities had been imposed on the clergy contrary to that which was formerly the law of the Church and the law of the land. The return of Horne Tooke to that House had occasioned the passing of the statute 41st Geo. III., previous to which there was nothing whatever to prevent an unbeneficed clergyman from taking part in the business of the House of Commons, any more than clerical Peers from taking part in the business of the House of Lords. He did not object to remove that disability, but it was very unadvisable that a beneficed clergyman should come into that House—because he was bound to give all his time, and his whole life, to the duties of his profession. With regard to municipal disabilities, he could see no reason why an unbeneficed clergyman should not be a member of a civil corporation. He believed, however, that a simple repeal of the Act of Geo. III., guarded, at the same time, by certain limits and restrictions, would be a better course than the passing of a measure which might give clergymen encouragement to go into some other calling. These were the reasons which induced him to say that the Government ought to watch this Bill with considerable care.


said, he thought the Bill involved a principle which it was most undesirable should be tolerated in the legislation of this country. As things at present stood, there were too many facilities afforded to young men to enter the Church; and this Bill, by enabling clergymen to escape from the bonds of the Church, should they find them too onerous, would hold out a greater inducement than ever to young men to make the Church their profession. He could not believe that the House had any right to release from their vows those who had deliberately and of their own accord taken the most solemn oaths, and bound themselves by the most solemn obligations, to devote themselves to the service of God. A more objectionable measure had never been introduced into the House of Commons. The 9th clause required particular attention.


admitted that there was a case calling for legislation, and so he would not oppose this stage of the Bill; but he did not think it, as it stood, a complete, broad, and fair measure of relief. While the Bill paid infinite regard to the case of those clergymen who, from conscientious scruples, did not wish to continue to be clergymen, it overlooked the case of those who, from family circumstances, had, since they took Holy Orders, been placed in a social position, carrying with it duties and responsibilities of citizenship which they felt themselves to be under the most sacred moral obligations to fulfil. He referred to a class of men who were the heads of families, the stewards and dispensers of a large property, but who would feel a great and. natural repugnance to forego their position as clergymen capable of performing voluntary pastoral duties. While continuing to be clergymen they were fit to be leaders of men, legislators, and municipal officers. No doubt the Bill was intended, by its framers, to avoid the question of the indelibility of Orders; but if it did so, it was by a cumbrous process. Individually, he believed in that indelibility; but he spoke both for those who did and who did not, when he claimed that Parliament ought not to embarrass itself with the controversy. He preferred that, without attempting to deal with Holy Orders, they should simply give relief from civil disabilities, extending that relief freely and impartially to all clergymen charged with the cure of souls, either as incumbents or curates. For those that were, he should continue the existing disabilities. They would accordingly only affect "Ministrations," and leave "Orders" unaffected. The "squire-parsons" were a class of great weight and often of great usefulness in their neighbourhoods, and might combine with all the best characteristics of a country gentleman the best characteristics also of a priest, giving their help to their brother-clergymen freely and without price when such help was sorely needed. That was a worthy class of men, and he wished to see them relieved. He need hardly say that he wished the relief to be impartially extended to priests of the Church of Rome, under similar conditions. If, however, it were extended to all, the ultimate effect of legislation might be to give them a Bench of Bishops in that House as well as in the other, and the constituencies of the sister country might be found returning the chief pastors of the respective dioceses. On one point he must differ from his right hon. Colleague. He did not object, under proper reservations, to the clause of the Bill which allowed clergymen to resume their sacred functions after having for a time discontinued to exercise them. If a clergyman in his youth, from a temporary pique, or from a fit of despondency, or from want of sufficient study, conceived that he could not discharge his duties as a minister, and if after years of patient thought his scruples were removed, his doubts cleared up, and, perhaps, his moral nature strengthened and his religious convictions deepened, it would be a most unfortunate thing that he should be condemned for life to an unnatural position of inutility, and left perpetually out in the cold. The cases of two distinguished clergymen had been brought under his notice, who had both left the ministry of the Church of England, one of them from doubts in the Romanizing, and the other from doubts in the contrary direction. Both these gentlemen, on more mature thought, had been satisfied, and were now again doing good work as clergymen of the Church of England; and yet both of them—supposing them to have taken advantage of this Act, had it existed—ought, according to his right hon. Colleague, to have found the portal of return barred against them. A provision of some kind which would enable such men to return to the ministry of the Church ought not, he thought, to be omitted from the Bill if it was to be passed; and he trusted his right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) would not press his opposition to that part of the measure.


said, he agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Beresford Hope) that it was desirable to keep open a door by which clergymen who, from conscientious scruples or other reasons, had left the active ministry of the Church, might return to the discharge of their sacred functions with advantage to themselves and to their flocks. One of the very gentlemen at whose instance he himself brought in a Bill on that subject eight years ago, and who had then severed his communion with the Church, had since returned to the ministry in a populous town, where his labours met with great acceptance and success. On another point, however, he entirely differed from the last speaker. A most valuable part of the patronage of the Church was in the gift of the Crown; and were they to have clergymen without cure of souls coming into that House, some of them being men of great weight and eloquence, aspiring to the highest position in the Church and to the favour of a Minister, and then accepting benefices, perhaps bishoprics, and going back into the Church because they had distinguished themselves in the arena of that House? The scheme of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last was, therefore, open to insuperable objections. He (Mr. Bouverie) was specially situated with respect to this question, because he believed that he was himself the only Member of Parliament in the present generation who had ever been opposed by a clerical candidate. At the last Election he had as a competitor a clergyman of the Church of Scotland, who, equally with the clergy of the Church of England, was excluded by law from a seat in that House. That gentleman possessed great powers of speech and indomitable industry; he showed a great deal of ability in the course of the contest; he made very large promises of what he would do for the benefit of the community and the world at large if elected; and he persuaded something like 1,000 of the constituency to vote for him. He (Mr. Bouverie) saw no reason why such a man, if able to satisfy a constituency that he was fit to represent them, and if willing to abandon his sacred profession, should not sit in that House. Practically, as was well known, they had now in that Assembly Gentlemen who were still or had been ministers of Nonconformist Churches. He did not understand why a minister of the Established Church of Scotland—a body, after all, including only about one-third of the Scottish people—should be excluded from that House, whereas a minister of the Free Church, of the United Presbyterians, or any of the other Dissenting Churches, was unrestrained by law from entering it. There were two or three ministers of the Free Church, men of conspicuous eloquence, who, if they abandoned the clerical profession, would be no doubt also of considerable statesmanship, even in that House—for example, Dr. Candlish and Dr. Guthrie. Then, as to Roman Catholic priests, they were by name excluded from seats in that House; but if clergymen of the Church of England were relieved from those disabilities, and there was to be perfect religious equality between different sects, it would be very difficult to maintain the exclusion of Roman Catholic priests, however undesirable it might be thought that they should sit there. That was a question of the right of the constituencies to elect those men. In 1849 he attempted, at the instigation of Mr. Shore—then shut up in gaol by the late Bishop of Exeter, becaused he disobeyed the Bishop and ministered in a Dissenting chapel, contrary to the injunction of his Diocesan—to relieve clergymen from their disabilities; but his Bill failed. In 1862 he renewed the same attempt with the same result. His measure was differently constructed from the present one, which he was bound to say was superior to his. There were two classes of clergymen who wished to abandon their profession—namely, those who had changed their opinions, and those who had changed their mind. His own Bill simply related to the former class, whom he required to profess solemnly that they dissented from the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, and then they were to have been relieved from those civil disabilities. Undoubtedly that was open to the very strong objection, that those who had changed their mind but not their opinions had a great inducement held out to them to say they had changed their opinions, although they had not done so. It was a sort of temptation or bribe offered to a man to make him say he had become a Dissenter, in order to be released from the obligations of the ministry. His hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert) had gone on a better line of legislation, by proposing to relieve not only those who had changed their opinions, but also thosewho had changed their mind and purpose. Who would say the opinions honestly professed on matters of any importance, and still more on matters of the very highest importance, by a clergyman of 24 years of age would be precisely the same—if he thought at all on those things—when he reached 40 or 50? It was a cruel hardship to tell a young man aspiring to enter the sacred profession that he must subscribe a vast number of theological and dogmatic tenets, and teach them to all who came under his ministrations, and to insist that, even after years of experience and study, if he saw reason to believe that he had formed a hasty judgment and then changed his opinions, there should be no escape for him, no other occupation for him to pursue—that he should be a galley slave, chained to the bench, and liable to all the pangs of conscience that must assail an honest man who doubted the truth of the doctrines he had to teach. In conclusion, he thought his hon. Friend deserved the thanks of the House and the public for raising that question again, and affording those persons an opportunity of escaping from a service which they could no longer conscientiously perform; and he agreed that it would be greatly to the advantage of the Church that this change should be made, because the want of it tended to cast upon the body of the clergy the stigma of insincerity.


observed that there was one point, which had been suggested during the debate, that touched the principle upon which the present law regulating the constitution of their House proceeded. Clergymen were supposed to be obedient to the orders of their superiors, and that what they had promised in this respect would regulate their consciences. He (Mr. Newdegate) did not attach any importance to the Roman Catholic interpretation to Holy Orders—he did not hold them to be a sacrament. Still, in the Church of England, entrance into the clerical profession was accompanied by oaths and vows, deliberately taken, and for which the candidates were prepared by education, binding them to obey their superiors. In the Roman Church Clerical Orders were held to be indelible, and the obligations entailed by these Orders were far more stringent; they were being vastly enlarged by the present action of the Papacy. He knew that hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that they could afford to disregard the action of Rome in this matter; but they must know that it was a power which was increasing over the majority of the House. ["No, no!"] He put it to hon. Members, whether an approximation was not being made every day towards placing the Church of Rome upon a par with the Church of England? Now, how had this been brought about? At the very time when the Church of Rome was proclaiming intentions most adverse to Liberal views, when those intentions were protested against by every Roman Catholic Government, hon. Members opposite were, step by step, giving further means of influence to this body. If they admitted the clergy of the Church of England to the House, it would be asked that they should admit the clergy of the Church of Rome also, and were they prepared to do that? He contended that the limitation existing was necessary according to the constitution of the House. He (Mr. Newdegate) admitted that the constituencies should be free to elect whomsoever they chose to become Members of that House, with one limitation, which was essential to the freedom of the House itself, and that limitation consisted in the qualification that no one should sit as a Member of that House, who was not free to act according to the unfettered dictates of his own judgment and conscience in that House. Every Member who entered the House was bound to guide himself according to the best of his individual judgment; but if the judgment of a man were surrendered to another then he was not fit to be a Member of the House. Step by step the House was being persuaded to disregard the restrictions which, at the time of the Revolution of 1688 and subsequently, were found necessary to guard the freedom of the country against the despotism of Rome. This restriction against the admission of clergymen, either of the Church of England or of the Church of Rome to that House, was one of the measures adopted to prevent a recurrence of the attempt made by James II. to establish a despotic form of government in this country, to which attempt he, being a Roman Catholic, had been impelled by his clerical advisers, who belonged to the Church of Rome. Hon. Members treated history like an old almanack, and assumed that our ancestors were not persons of common sense. If restrictions were necessary in the time of James II. why were they unnecessary now, when the Papacy was imposing on priests wider obligations, to such an extent that every Roman Catholic Government objected? He asked the House to condescend to consider the political opinions of the rest of the world. In France there had been a strong desire manifested for constitutional government, but it had been refused, because they were not fit for constitutional government. And why? Chiefly from the difficulty interposed by the action of the Roman Catholic priesthood. He was told that in France they were on the eve of a reformation in their Church; but at present constitutional government was prevented by the action of the Papacy through the clergy. In that objection was the foundation of the law that they were asked to abrogate. He entreated the House not to treat the circumstances that were occurring abroad, and the opinions of Europe, with the contempt that they had hitherto manifested; for they would afford counsel, guidance, and warning for them, when they proposed to change the fundamental organization which had been found necessary for the maintenance of free institutions.


explained that he had not meant to say that the Bill before the House would admit the Roman Catholic clergy to that House.


said, that this Bill dealt with a very important subject, and, according to his humble judgment, in rather a strange way. He was one of those who had been accustomed to think that the ministers and officers of the Church to which he belonged had—under forms perhaps the most serious that man could go through—taken upon themselves sacred obligations from which they had no power to free themselves. Now, in what position did the Bill propose to place a clergyman of the Church of England? Assuming that a clergyman had no prosecution pending against him, at the end of six months he might free himself, according to this Bill, from the obligations which he had taken upon himself. At the end of another six months, if it so suited him, and it also suited any Bishop or Archbishop, he might resume his office. Would this be a decent state of things? Let him assume the case of a clergyman who wished to have six months' hunting. He would give six months' notice under this, and at the expiration of that period he would be at liberty to put on a red coat, and to do everything that people who wore red coats usually did. And when the hunting season was over he might revoke and secure a position for himself during the season in London by again changing his coat and becoming a popular preacher. This was the state of things that the hon. Member—the Junior Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) would agree to perpetrate, and why? Because he knew that a deeper matter lay beneath, and in this circuitous way he hoped to secure the indelibility of Orders. Could anything be worse for the position of the clergyman than that he should be allowed to put off his sacred office for one six months and resume it the following six months, and so on alternately? In what estimation were clergymen in such a position likely to be held by their congregations? This Bill would, perhaps, satisfy the wishes of a few persons who were anxious to be relieved of the disabilities under which they qt present laboured; but another matter of considerable weight was this—that if they admitted one set of men who had taken Orders to the House, they must admit all. The Bill would allow persons who had received Episcopal ordination to release themselves at their own pleasure from the bonds of the Church; and such persons might then set up an independent Church, and at the same time retain all the authority of their Orders. He could not think that a desirable state of things. Every man should have a right to withdraw from any community with which he could no longer conscientiously agree; but he should not have the right to carry with him the power and privileges which attended upon Episcopal ordination, and then to turn those advantages to account in attempting to overthrow the Church from which he derived them, and from which he had withdrawn. He thought the Bill bad in every respect, and if no one else went into the Lobby against it, he should do so.


said that, with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman who had spoken last, and the hon. Baronet the Member for East Devon (Sir Law- rence Palk), there had been on the part of the House a general recognition of the justice of the principles upon which this Bill was founded. It had been felt by everybody, except those hon. Members, that to hold a clergyman of the Church of England bound by all the disabilities of a vocation after he had changed it, or to give him strong motives to remain in it after he desired to change it, was neither politic nor advantageous to the Church. The hon. Member for Cambridge University had suggested an alternative plan to that proposed in the Bill on the ground that vows solemnly taken should not be lightly changed, and that it was of the last importance that the duties of a clergyman should not be taken up at one time and abandoned and resumed at pleasure. It appeared to him, however, that the plan of the hon. Member would be far more productive of the evil to which he had referred than the plan proposed by the Bill now under discussion. What he understood the hon. Member to propose as an alternative plan was that the clergyman should be relieved from the disabilities which had been imposed upon him by the 76th canon, which prevented him from applying himself to any secular employment, and from those imposed upon him by Horne Tooke's Act and by the Metropolitan Corporations Act. If such a plan were adopted, what would prevent any clergyman from giving up his curacy and taking to secular employment for a time, and again returning to the cure of souls? So long as the clergyman retained his Orders, there could be no difficulty in the way of his resuming his cure. Under these circumstances, it appeared to him that the plan of the hon. Member facilitated the abandonment of the sacred calling for a time and its resumption at the will and pleasure of the individual. The great recommendation of the Bill was that under it this step could not be taken without a very solemn form being gone through, or without the lapse of considerable time. It was provided in the Bill that the clergy man should only be permitted to resume his sacred office by a solemn act, and even then not at his own will and pleasure, but after the question had been fully considered by his Archbishop, to whom the Bill gave a discretionary power to restore the clergyman if he should think fit. As at present advised, therefore, he thought that the plan proposed by the Bill was better than that of the hon. Member opposite. It had also been suggested that the Bill was not wide enough—that it should be extended not only to clergymen, but also to those Bishops who had not seats in the House of Lords, and to Roman Catholic priests. He saw no objection to the Bill being extended so as to include Colonial Bishops. The question, however, with respect to Roman Catholic priests was a very different one. The principle of the Bill was that no clergyman who had entered Holy Orders could put aside his sacred office without making a solemn declaration. Assuming the plan of the hon. Member opposite adopted and applied to the priests of the Roman Catholic Church, he presumed that there would be nothing to prevent them from entering Parliament in the same manner as any clergyman of the Church of England might do under it. This Bill, however, was founded upon a different principle; and it appeared to him that great discretion had been shown on the part of those who had drawn the Bill by omitting from it all mention of the Roman Catholic priests, leaving the question to be considered separately by the Roman Catholics themselves. It seemed to him that Roman Catholic Members should consult with the heads of their Church as to whether they should propose a scheme by which their priests should be admitted to the House. On the whole, therefore, he was prepared, on the part of the Government, to give his support to the second reading of the Bill; but, at the same time, he must observe that there were many points connected with the subject which required careful consideration, and therefore he trusted that the hon. Member who had charge of the measure would give the House ample time for considering the Bill before any future stage was taken.


said, that in his county (Herefordshire) there were twelve clergymen holding large properties, and seven of them voted for him. He believed that none of those seven wished for any alteration in the law. He should vote against the Bill.


said, he was anxious that the statement of the Secretary of State for the Home De- partment that there was almost no opposition to the Bill in that House should not go forth to the country uncontradicted. For his own part, he was strongly opposed to the measure, and he knew that there were many hon. Members who equally objected to it. The majority of the clergy of the division of Lancashire that he had the honour to represent (South-west) also objected to the proposed change. It was quite clear that the Government themselves had not made up their minds with respect to the Bill, or else they would have given forth a more certain sound upon the subject than that which had been conveyed by the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He should vote against the second reading of the Bill; and if it were carried he should move, on a future occasion, that it be referred to a Select Committee.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 56: Majority 81.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 14th June.