HC Deb 20 April 1871 vol 205 cc1455-63

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


expressed his objection to proceeding with the Bill at that hour of the night.


, who had given notice of his intention to move, That, in the opinion of this House, no change in the law with regard to the reading of Holy Scripture in the Church of England is desirable which withholds from the officiating clergyman the power of reading such portions of the Old and New Testament at morning and evening prayer as to him may seem most desirable, said, he thought the time had come when there ought to be a solemn protest entered by the House against this kind of legislation. Last year they had no less than 19 Bills dealing more or less with the Established Church of England. He did not know how many there were this year, for he had not counted them; but the House would remember, with apprehension, the letter which the Archbishop of Canterbury had written early in the Session to the Bishop of London, in which they were threatened with seven ecclesiastical measures: and, besides these, they had a number of private ventures, such as the Bill of the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) for turning the Church of Eng- land into a kind of congregational Body, or, as he should prefer to style it, "pouring old wine into new bottles." Now, all this legislation concerned only about one-third of the people of this country—the remaining two-thirds being contented to carry on their improvements or alterations in respect to their churches without appealing to this House. But from the anomalous position of the Church of England it appeared it could not go on without coming to Parliament. He suggested that the Tables of Lessons should be permissive. The preface to the second part of the Homilies in 1563 allowed a discretion to the officiating clergyman, and it was not until 120 years after the Reformation that the clergyman was bound by an iron hand to read fixed lessons. The liberty he asked for those clergymen was conceded to the ministers of all Dissenting sects; to the ministers of the Established Church of Scotland and the Free Kirk. The objection to his Motion was centred in this feeling—namely, that the clergy of the Established Church were not to be trusted. Surely that was a strange argument to come from their professed friends, and stranger still that there should be an objection to a clergyman making his choice out of a book every atom of which was, according to the view prevalent in that House and out of it, divinely inspired: so that whatever his choice might be, he could not read anything which was not directly from God; and yet that that same clergyman should be allowed to get into the pulpit and preach for an hour, it might be, almost any doctrine, High Church, Low Church, or Broad Church that came into his head. He might deny every miracle in the Bible, except three or four which were accidentally mentioned in the Articles. Surely, compared with this, the danger of a clergyman making a bad selection from the Bible was small. It was sometimes said that the sermon was booked to the clergyman and the services to the people; but what about the hymns? He had a pile of such books; but they contained Romish rather than Church of England doctrines. It was further said that the object of fixing these lessons was that the Bible should be read through publicly before the people; but the Bill would not effect that general rule, because the people did not regularly attend church every day; and therefore to effect that object they should have a kind of circulating Table, extending over a period of seven years. In the time of Edward VI., and for years afterwards, it was highly important that the Bible should be publicly read, because the people had not the opportunity, and could not read it elsewhere. He hoped the House would accede to his Motion which he had much pleasure in moving.


seconded the Amendment. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman that no Bill or arrangement could be satisfactory on this subject that did not give the officiating clergyman the discretion it was proposed to confer on him. The great and constant difficulty in the way of any alteration and improvement in the Church of England, arose from the fact of its being an Act of Parliament Church. The greater question which overrode all legislation respecting the Church was, whether it was desirable to maintain its connection with the State, or to give her that freedom of action that was enjoyed by other religious Bodies which was essential to the existence and usefulness of any religious Body. It was high time that this kind of legislation should be got rid of.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no change in the Law with regard to the reading of Holy Scripture in the Church of England is desirable which withholds from the officiating clergyman the power of reading such portions of the Old and New Testament at Morning and Evening Prayer as to him may seem most suitable,"—(Mr. J. D. Lewis,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he was sorry his hon. and learned Friend had moved that Amendment, because he could have raised the question in Committee without retarding the Bill in its present stage. The Bill was the result of the deliberations of those who had been intrusted with the consideration of the question, and who had come in respect to it to an unanimous conclusion. Deeply as the members of the Church were attached to the old Tables of Lessons, and hallowed as they were from their being in use from the earliest times, there was a general impression that they might be improved, and this Bill was to give effect to that feeling. He did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman represented by his Motion the wishes of the clergy or the laity on the subject, because he believed they infinitely preferred to know what particular lesson was to be read every day; and though the practice of reading through parts of the Bible once every year might be an antiquated one, it fell in very well with the habits of thousands and tens of thousands of the people. Many of them might not go to church on week days; but they regularly read the daily lessons, and on Sundays, when they attended church, the lessons supplemented that course of reading. Nothing would be more offensive to the great body of the members of the Church of England than the adoption of the Motion, and the clergy did not ask for that liberty which it was said was possessed by their Nonconformist brethren.


said, he quite agreed in what had fallen from his right hon. Friend as to the Motion being distasteful to the clergy and laity of the Church of England; but he thought they ought not to pass this Bill without its being perfectly understood that they were not afterwards to be told there was nothing more to be done to remove those difficulties which were most seriously felt by many members of the Church. He should be prepared to vote for the Motion of his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. Locke King) if he proposed it—namely— That it is not expedient to proceed further with the Bill until the contemplated alterations in the Prayer Book are matured, and until the subject can be dealt with in a comprehensive and complete manner. There were many lessons in the Prayer Book which caused annoyance in the minds of Churchmen. The Commission consisted of 28 men, many of whom were highly distinguished; they sat for three years, and after deep study they recommended the adoption of these lessons. There were a few other questions referred to them on which they pronounced no decision. One of them related to the power vested in the clergyman of refusing to read the Burial Service over persons who died unbaptized. Another question, and the most important of all, related to the use of the Athanasian Creed, There were many Churchmen who approved of the Athanasian Creed. There were others who thought it decidedly objectionable. There were many men belonging to the Church of England who looked on this Creed with feelings he would hardly venture to describe, who did not believe in that portion of it which consigned to everlasting torments those who did not believe in its teaching. The dogma was looked upon as obsolete, and it was most important that clergymen should be allowed to omit it. We ought to make the Church as comprehensive as possible, and he thought the difficulty would be met by substituting in the Rubric the word "may" for the word "shall."


doubted whether so wide a field of subject ought to be introduced in a discussion on a Bill for a limited object.


asked the hon. and learned Member for Devonport (Mr. J. D. Lewis) to withdraw his Motion, in order that the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King) might move his Amendment, which had already been alluded to. If his hon. and learned Friend had confined his Motion to allowing the clergy of the Church of England to use either the Lessons in the Lectionary, or those prescribed in the Act of Uniformity, he (Mr. Monk) would have supported him. For he thought it would be monstrous to make it a penal offence for a clergyman to use after January, 1873, the lessons now allowed by the Church of England. If the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Devonport were withdrawn, the hon. Member for East Surrey might take a Division on his Amendment, which otherwise he would not be able to do.


said, he thought it would have been more convenient if the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend had been made in Committee; but as the question had been raised and discussed he hoped it would be disposed of. With respect to the Motion itself, he really wished to call the attention of his hon. and learned Friend to the position of the Government in regard to Bills of this class, having been charged with them and responsible for them. They were not introducing measures simply concocted in their own brain, adopted to their own view, and laid before the House on their own credit and authority; and he thought the House, when they considered the general state of Public Business—that the Government were overcharged with measures of deep importance, admitted to be legitimately within the desires of the House, and also most pressing in their urgency—when they had more measures of this kind before the House than they could get through in the Session, they would see that the course they must pursue with regard to Bills of that character was of a very narrow discretion, and that they would not be justified in submitting to the House any measures unless they were simple in character, were armed with the consent of persons in authority in the Church, or expect those measures to be passed without prolonged debate. Therefore, it was impossible, on this Amendment, to go into a discussion which affected the very foundation on which the Church of England had proceeded for centuries. His hon. and learned Friend asked them to give what was not desired by the laity; for he had not said that a single layman was anxious for it. He had got one clergyman who was favourable to his Motion, and that clergyman must be a Phoenix among the body. He was only sorry so distinguished a man should have a perfect monopoly of such laudable liberality. But it should be considered that it was not so much in their own opinion that they stood as on a general concurrence—first, of the Commissioners; secondly, of the House of Lords; thirdly, of the clergy assembled together, who were certainly entitled to be heard on the matter, and in the general concurrence of the public, who saw what a great improvement it was in their power to make, and which, if they were disposed to make it, they must keep detached from those grounds which would lead to endless debate. If the several propositions of his hon. Friend, delivered in a speech of ten minutes, were to be considered, they would require ten weeks to be disposed of. He said—"Don't let us be understood that bypassing this Bill we are to be committed to the principle that we have washed our hands of the whole affair." Well, there was no such pledge implied or expressed that could fasten on him, and the Government would not consider themselves pledged to support other measures which the Commission were of opinion ought to be carried, unless there was such a concurrence of opinion in their favour as would warrant the expectation of their being carried. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would be supported on that occasion in their effort—which was a very humble one.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman had misunderstood what had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend. He (Mr. Dixon) was a layman of the Church of England, and he supported the Resolution, so that the observation of the right hon. Gentleman was not justified on that point. Liberty to the clergyman to a selection of lessons was all that was desired, and if such points were brought before the House it was right that they should arrive at a decision on the subject.


said, that many clergymen of the Church of England agreed in the opinion as much as any man of the incongruity of deciding in the House such a question as this. He could not support the Amendment. A great objection to the Bill as it now stood was that it fettered the hands of the clergy as they had never been fettered before, and it was exceedingly hard to make it penal in a clergyman if he did not exactly carry out the Table of Lessons fixed in the Bill. He should like to see the provisions of the Bill made more elastic.


said he would vote against the Amendment. He thought that the Church of England was by far the broadest Church of all. There were in that Church clergymen of many different beliefs, and the consequence was that the congregations required a lectionary, and they had a right to choose their own service, and not leave it to the discretion of the clergyman.


said, he did not know what Dissenters had to do with the lessons to be read in the Church of England. Neither could he understand why such a measure was introduced into the House of Commons. The Established Church ought to be disestablished and disendowed.


said, that the clergy of the Church of England were not the Church, and that it ought not to be left to them to decide what its services ought to be. He had heard a distinguished Nonconformist minister compare a set form of prayer to ready-made clothes, meant to fit everybody and fitting nobody; but that minister's phraseology in extempore prayer grated upon his ears and confirmed him in his preference for the ready-made clothes. To show the spirit in which the House of Commons dealt with the question in 1662, he quoted an entry from the Journal— Whether debate shall be admitted to the Amendments made by the Convocation to the Book of Common Prayer and sent down by the Lords to this House if passed in the negative. The Question being put that the Amendments made by the Convocation and sent down by the Lords might, by order of this House, have been debated, it was resolved in the affirmative. This showed that the House was content to assert its right to discuss, and then pass to the amended Book of Common Prayer as received from Convocation without discussion. In this case both Convocations had approved of what was proposed, and how could any right of any Dissenters be invalidated by their following the precedent of 1662, and sanctioning without discussion a change in the internal services of the Church? If he were in the place of hon. Members opposite, non-members of the Church, he should feel it to be his duty to withdraw from such a discussion as this and leave it to be settled by those who were really interested in it.


objected to the Amendment as a member of the Church of England, because he objected most strongly to putting any further power into the hands of the ministers of that Church which might be exercised in a very dangerous fashion—for instance, a case might occur where, if the parson had a quarrel with the squire about tithes, he might be continually reading lessons about Ananias and Sapphira—and because, though he thought it unfortunate that there should be the present connection between Church and State, still, so long as the connection did exist this House ought not to abrogate its functions in exercising a sufficient and salutory control in every building where the services of the Church of England were celebrated.


said, he thought the House of Commons, which was composed of believers and unbelievers, should not attempt to lay down rules as to how people were to worship God. The House of Commons was not the Church of England, and it ought not to fix the Scripture lessons to be read by that community on Sundays. Real religion could not be treated by Act of Parliament.


supported the Amendment, on the ground that as State funds had been appropriated for educational purposes, and as the teachers in the State-aided schools were allowed to select such portions of the Scriptures to be read as they choose, the same liberty ought also to be accorded to the ministers of the Church of England.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 195; Noes 41: Majority 154.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday 4th May.