HC Deb 29 March 1871 vol 205 cc822-75

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he would remind the House of what passed at the end of last Session on this subject. There was a considerable discussion when he asked leave to introduce a measure with a similar principle to that which was now before them; and the reception his proposal then met with was so encouraging—the tone of hon. Members not only of those belonging to the Church of England, but also to various other religious Bodies, was so friendly to the principle of the Bill, and the expressions of the Prime Minister himself were so favourable to it, that he felt that the House would not consider he was unduly trespassing upon their time, even in this busy Session, if he asked them to consider again, somewhat more in detail, the amended Bill which he now brought before them. During the Recess the principle which he then advocated had received the assent of large masses of the thinking part of the community—namely, that the laity had a right to have a larger share in the management of the affairs of their own parish churches. His Bill had nothing to do with parties in the Church, nor did it affect any question of doctrine, or cast the least slur on the clergy of the Established Church. The character of the clergy of the Established Church was a matter of pride not only to the members of that Church, but to every Englishman who valued the honour of his country. Indeed, a Bill of this kind would not be nearly so much called for were it not for the very fact of the activity, energy, and high qualities of the clergy of the Church of England at this moment. If the clergy were inert and inactive, then there would be very little need for the interference of the laity in the way of control; it was their very activity, at a time which was fertile in ecclesiastical experiments, which, to a great extent, created the necessity of placing additional power in the hands of the laity to control, although not to check, that activity. However, he would wish it to be distinctly understood that the object of the Bill was two-fold. Its first object was to strengthen the power of the parishioners with regard to the conduct of matters in their own parish churches; its second object was to strengthen the hands of the incumbent in the parish. Was there, then, need for a measure of this kind? He would beg the House to consider for a moment the present position of an incumbent in the Church of England, and then that of the parishioners. Before the great change took place in the Poor Law the incumbent was in the constant habit of meeting all classes of his parishioners in vestry as chairman of the vestry, the vestry being then entrusted with the important duty of administering Poor Law relief. In that way, the clergyman was brought into contact with the leading lay members of his parish, and became thoroughly acquainted with the tone of mind which prevailed therein. A whole generation had passed since the change in the Poor Law, and to that change, he believed, was largely owing that want of harmonious working between the incumbent and his people, which they all so much lamented. Again, the mode in which incumbents were appointed tended to make harmonious working still more difficult. For how were they appointed? Some by the Crown, some by the Lord Chancellor, some by the Universities, some by private patrons; but in rare cases had the parishioners anything to say in the choice of their ministers. Further, it should be borne in mind that livings were frequently put up for sale. If anyone glanced at The Times of to-day he would probably see from 100 to 150 advowsons, or next presentations, to be disposed of. The question of patronage was most difficult to deal with satisfactorily; he did not mean to cast any blame on the present system, but the mode of appointment of the clergy of the Church of England was of such a character as to make it essential that if the parishioners had nothing to say to the appointment of their minister, they should have strong powers respecting the way in which he conducted the service of their parish church, and the general affairs of their parish. For it must be remembered that as soon as a minister was appointed, he entered into the enjoyment of a freehold, and no one could displace him except for the grossest misconduct—he was a fixture for life, and, practically, the parishioners had no control over him. Then, as to the position of the parishioners. How did they stand towards the incumbent? How far could they interfere in the mode of conducting public worship in their own parish church? He would read an extract from an able paper written by a former chaplain of the Bishop of London, a man of great experience, to show the exact position of parishioners with respect to matters which were left open by the law of the land. The extract was as follows:— When I was chaplain to the Bishop, the greatest difficulties were constantly occasioned not by matters of doubtful legality, but by such as were clearly within the law, and as to which the discretion rested with the clergyman alone. Such matters as the intoning of the Prayers, the chanting of the Psalms, the introduction of the offertory, the selection of hymn books, &c., would give rise to a dispute. The parishioners would come to the Bishop, and would refer him to the clause in the Preface of the Prayer Book which states that those who diversely take anything shall resort to the Bishop to resolve their doubts. In such cases, if the parishioners and the Bishop had had any concurrent power with the rector, the dispute might have been easily settled, the Bishop acting as moderator between the various parties. But it was found that no one had any rights at all except the incumbent; and his answer was invariably that he had no doubts to resolve, and therefore there was no need of his resorting to the Bishop. Quite similar is the case with regard to church ornaments, such as crosses, altar cloths, the arrangements of chancels and pews, the painting and decoration of the interior of the church. It is true that, technically speaking, these matters are supposed not to be left to the discretion of the clergyman, and that not the minutest thing can be changed in the church without a faculty from the Bishop's Court. But this is a case in which the stringency of the law overreaches itself. It is rightly felt that to go to the Bishop's Court for every little change which may be proposed is impossible; and then, where is the line to be drawn? The consequence is, that one change after another is made on the sole authority of the incumbent, and this becomes so habitual that it is only in exceptional cases, and in those where actual opposition is raised, that the Court is appealed to; thus it comes to be thought invidious to go to the Court at all, and, even where objectionable things have been done in a church, a Bishop can do nothing, because if he had the matter brought before his Court at all, he would have no option but to order things to be restored precisely to their original state. Now, was it right, was it safe for the Church or the nation, that such a state of things should continue? Surely the parishioners had a much, greater right to decide as to what they liked—within the laws of the Church—in their own parish church, to which they were attached by the dearest memories, and where often their forefathers had worshipped before them, than the incumbent, however good and zealous, who had been appointed over them by strangers, or had had the living acquired for him by the money of his relations. He would appeal to every Member of the House—and many Members, since he first raised the subject in this place some 10 months ago, had spoken to him about it—whether, in their own experience, a great amount of dissatisfaction did not prevail in many parts of the country between the clergyman and his flock—of which oftentimes the clergyman was little aware—not dissatisfaction with the character of the clergyman, but with the small changes which were introduced from time to time without the concurrence of the parishioners? Though personally, he was happy to say, he had not suffered in this way, to his own knowledge in London, Lancashire, and Staffordshire, an uncomfortable feeling prevailed in many instances between the parishioners and their clergy, and what he wished to do was to try to remove it. Again, however, he would repeat that the object of the Bill was not to coerce and interfere with the just rights of the clergy, but to increase and strengthen the co-operation of the laity with the clergy. To that principle there was a very general assent. He had received a great mass of communications on the subject from clergymen in all parts of the country, and of all varieties of ecclesiastical views, and there was hardly one of them that did not frankly and freely assent to the principle, although some of them demurred to the way in which he proposed to carry it out. The Press, whether of the High or Low Church, whether secular or ecclesiastical, bore testimony to the value of the principle. It had met with the concurrence of various Church Conferences; had been approved of by leading Bishops in their charges; and had received the sanction of Convocation. He admitted, however, that there was a great difference of opinion as to the way in which he proposed to effect the object in view. The real point at issue resolved itself into this—whether it was desirable or not to trust merely to the voluntary association of the laity with the clergy at the bidding of the clergy, or whether the time had not arrived when it was desirable to give a legal position to the laity in parishes beyond, and in extension of that which they now possessed by the law of the land? That was the real principle on which he should venture to ask the opinion of the House. Was it desirable that the powers the laity now possessed in their parishes should be expanded? Was it right or not that the law should interfere in this matter? Some people imagined that the law had very little to do with the position of incumbents in the parishes of this land. But that was a mistake. The parish itself was created by the law of the land, and if an existing parish was broken up, it was the law of the land which assigned so many thousand souls to the care of the minister of the Church of England in the new district. In that way very large rights were conferred on the new incumbent. He was able to interfere to a very great extent with the erection of new churches of the Church of England, and to curtail the ministrations of any other clergyman of the Church within the assigned district. The next point was—was it expedient or not to legislate? Now, he ventured to say that, having considered the point very seriously, he did not think that voluntary councils—councils chosen by the clergyman, or if not chosen by him, liable to be dismissed or disregarded by him, and therefore necessarily partaking very much of the opinions of those who created or could disregard them—would give satisfaction to the people or remedy the evils which at present existed. He was also of opinion that from councils thus constituted the clergyman would not get the real advantage—the real strength and help which he needed for the work of his parish. The clergyman would only be able to summon those who shared in his opinions, or already were known to take an interest in matters connected with the Church; there would be found great difficulty in getting people to attend regularly, or even to be members of these voluntary councils, for few men would consent, or continue long to belong to them; unless they had real substantive power, and without that substantive power; and the sense of responsibility which is created by it, these councils would not attract into the service of the Church those leading spirits of the parish, in the various classes of society, whose aid was particularly needed. Again, voluntary councils would be chiefly established by those clergy who had least need of them—by those clergymen of discretion, energy, and tact, who would sway the minds of their parishioners in any case; while the men who most wanted assistance in their work, or who most needed their guidance, would not be those who would be ready to summon them. Such councils he had found existed to a much larger extent than he had previously been aware of—and he rejoiced to know they were daily extending—but they had been called together by the very élite of the clergy, who took the broadest view of their position, and who were most anxious to discharge their sacred and arduous duties with the greatest benefit to their neighbours. Among other objections which might be urged against the present Bill was the fear of disturbance and of struggle at the elections; but he was not much afraid of that himself. He believed the Church had much more to fear from remaining too quiet than from taking her part in, and casting in her lot with, the popular life of this time; and considering the high character of the clergy who were generally at the head of our parishes, he had no doubt that they would have nothing to fear from even stormy meetings; and that, even from the clash of different opinions, more zeal would be called out on behalf of the Church, and what was good and wise would ultimately in most cases prevail. He would now proceed to explain those points in which the present Bill differed from the one he introduced last year. There were four important points on which the two Bills differed. In the Bill of last year, it was proposed to establish these councils in every parish in the land; but it was now proposed that they should only be established in those parishes where the parishioners desired it. There was a great difference between the position of country and town parishes, and small and large parishes; and it had, therefore, been thought better to leave the matter entirely optional to each locality. It was also now provided that at each recurring period of election—every two years—the parishioners who had the power of creating the council should also have the power of discontinuing it; for it appeared to be undesirable that a parish should bind itself to have a council for all time, if it were found that such a body in a particular case had done more harm than good. A change was also made in the 6th clause. It was provided last year that the qualification of the sidesmen, who were to be members of the council, should be a declaration that they were members of the Church of England, and proposed to attend the parish church; in the present Bill the qualification required was that the sidesman should have made a declaration that he was a communicant member of the Church of England. The constituency for electing the sidesmen was a very wide one—the same as that for electing churchwardens—being composed of people of all opinions in the parish, including, of course, Nonconformists as well as Churchmen; and it seemed to him that, with so broad a constituency, it would rightly be felt that considering the matter with which the council would have to deal were the internal affairs of the Church, there ought to be some security that all the members of the council, except the two churchwardens, to whom the provision did not necessarily apply, should be both in communion with the Church of England, and in sympathy with her work and her services. In many of the leading Nonconformist Churches—indeed, in almost all cases—the management of the higher Church affairs was, he believed, only confided to communicant members of those Bodies; and a good number, though not all, of his Nonconformist friends agreed with him that it was only fair that those who managed the internal affairs of the church, even though it was the parish church, should be in full communion with the Church of England; but the door was purposely left open, to some extent, by admitting the churchwardens to the council, who might be, and in fact not seldom were, Nonconformists—and for his part he rejoiced that it should be so. The next considerable change in the Bill was the proposal that one-fourth of the sidesmen should be nominated by the incumbent of the parish, while the remaining three-fourths were elected by the parishioners, instead of the whole as in the former Bill. It seemed well to follow the analogy of the custom—though not of the law—which prevailed as to churchwardens, and it also was important that the clergyman, who would generally be chairman, should be secure of being sufficiently supported by friends in his council, and therefore this change had been introduced. There was only one other alteration of importance in the Bill, and that had been made in the 9th clause, which defined the matters with which the council would have the power to deal. The times of service, and the allusions to the vestments of the minister, were omitted from the clause. It was felt that it was, on the whole, better that the times of service should be left to the discretion of the clergyman, and that the question of vestments had now been so far settled by law that it was no longer necessary that it should be brought at all under the notice of the councils. A second change was made at the end of the clause, by which it was proposed that the council should have power, with the consent of the incumbent, of dealing with a number of additional matters which were taken from the usage prevailing in the voluntary councils at present in existence—such as church collections, Sunday schools, choirs, the support of societies, parish missions, &c. These were the main points in which the Bill of this year differed from that of last; there were various other changes in detail, with which, though of importance in themselves, and the result of careful consideration with hon. Members of more experience than himself, he would not now trouble the House. Before sitting down he would make an appeal to hon. Members belonging to the various Nonconformist Churches of the country, and he felt sure that he might, with confidence, invoke their aid on the present occasion. The measure now in question did not narrow the position of the Nonconformists or trench upon their principles in the slightest degree; its aim was simply to enable the Church of England to discharge the great duties with which she was entrusted more efficiently and with greater satisfaction to the mass of the people; and for such objects as these he was satisfied, from the tone of the leading Nonconformist organs of opinion, that Churchmen might thoroughly rely upon the cordial co-operation of their leading men. Nonconformists knew as well as Churchmen how great was the need of the hearty work and organization of the Church, as well as of that of their own religious Bodies, if they hoped to be able to cope with the enormous difficulties which were connected with the social condition of the vast populations of our large towns. Nonconformists and Churchmen equally lamented the vice and misery that prevailed, and were alike puzzled how to deal with the evils which they all united in deploring. He felt confident, therefore, that his Nonconformist fellow-countrymen would not refuse their cordial and frank assistance to the Church in carrying out her mission. He would also appeal to the clergy of the Church of England. They had made great sacrifices for the good of the people, and were always ready to make such sacrifices, both pecuniary and personal, in a way which shamed the laymen of every denomination. He appealed to them to consider carefully and calmly the great changes which were taking place around them, and especially the great change which was taking place in the education of the people—a change which it was difficult at present fully to appreciate. Let them consider the Education Act of last Session, which affected the whole of the artizans and labourers of the kingdom; and not only that, but let them remember the Endowed Schools Act, which would largely influence the farming and trading classes of the country. The educational legislation of the last few years must, ere long, place the whole population of the country in a very different position from that which they had hitherto occupied; and he asked the clergy whether they believed it possible that that population would be content to remain members of a Church, and to work with it, if it did not allow them a much greater share in the management of their own Church affairs than they had at present. He entreated them, therefore, to weigh the matter carefully, and to give to this attempt to provide for a new state of things, without departing rashly from the ancient usages of the Church, their best and most serious consideration. It only remained for him to say that the Bill now before the House had been most carefully considered not only by himself, but by his right hon. Friend the Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple), and by other hon. Members of weight in that House; and that many suggestions from clergymen and laymen of experience had been gladly received upon the subject. He wished it, however, to be well understood that, though he was firmly convinced of the soundness and importance of the principle of the Bill, he was not so confident of his own power of dealing with this great question as to be wedded to any of the particular provisions of the measure. It was surely essential for the welfare of the people that all the institutions of the country should be in harmony with each other. The whole current of modern legislation gave larger power to the masses of the people, and a larger share in their own government; all our civil institutions were influenced thereby, and were being brought into harmony with each other. Was it desirable, was it possible, that the Church should alone remain an exception to that harmony? He now confided the Bill to the superior judgment of Parliament, and happily the question with which it dealt was not a party question, either politically or ecclesiastically. This measure would not narrow or contract the happy breadth of the Church of England, which had made her so remarkable among the Churches of the earth; but it was his aim and ambition to expand within, and engraft upon the Church those great principles of local self-government which had enabled Great Britain to be the peaceful founder of Empires abroad, and made it her proud boast, that while other nations were shattered by periodical revolutions, she alone had remained united, happy, and unmoved.

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


I cannot rise on this occasion without thanking my noble Friend for the tone and temper with which he has brought forward his proposition. I must especially compliment him on the great candour with which he has spoken of the free and elastic co-operation which already exists between the laity and the clergy of the Church. In the spirit of his speech I propose, instead of the clauses of my noble Friend's Bill, to substitute a short declaratory Resolution; for I am convinced—and I trust I shall be able to convince the House—that the objects we all have in view will be more wisely, more widely, more completely, and more practically carried out by the unfettered action of voluntary parochial councils, and by the extensive influence of diocesan synods and conferences, than by the clauses of the Bill which we are now called upon to read. These are of a nature so precise and inelastic that it will be impossible to work them with even an approximate success throughout the 15,000 parishes of the land, distinct, as they are, not merely in population—the one characteristic diversity which is recognized in the Bill—but differing in local character, differing in wealth, differing in intelligence, differing in their industrial occupations, differing in the relative proportion of Conformists and Nonconformists, differing in the ecclesiastical tendencies of clergy and laity. All these are differences in the ecclesiastical quality of our various parishes, which cannot be set out in the bald and precise language of a Bill; but which ought to be fully recognized if the various relations of minister and congregation are to be fairly and adequately adjusted not only to the needs of the Church itself, but with regard to the interests of those who are outside its pale. These are considerations which my noble Friend, in his desire to produce a neat, complete, and compact scheme on paper, has somewhat overlooked. But the question is one which invites for its solution something more than abstract theory. There are widespread and deep-seated facts of an external nature that must be dealt with, must be recognized, must be allowed for, if such a scheme is to be framed as shall be worked out satisfactorily. If, indeed, England were everything which it is not; if the Church of England were a rigid, inflexible body, under such a stern discipline as that of the Church of Rome, in which no variety of doctrine, of ceremony, or of administration is permitted, then, indeed, a stereotyped form of council would be a matter of course. If, again, the census roll of the Church of England returned a fixed and definite list of members capable of numerical appreciation, such as hon. Gentlemen opposite would not allow us to obtain—if, I say, the Church arithmetical came out either as a decided majority or as an influential minority—and in either case as a society which both externally and internally could be strongly and sharply limited, defined, and portioned off—then assuredly the Bill of my noble Friend might prove to be an admirable effort of legislation. But with the Church and the State of England interpenetrating as they do—both of them, as I trust they will long continue to be, the truly freest Church and the truly freest State in the world—the mutual relations of the Church and of Nonconformity have remained for all time undefined in theory, fluctuating in fact, and undecided by any formal enactment. Therefore we may assume that this Bill, with its few stiff provisions, is not the remedy which the Church demands. I have used the word remedy—I should have said the machinery. I am sure my noble Friend did not mean it; but there were phrases in his speech which bore hardly upon the Church. In the glowing tribute which he paid to the activity of the clergy, I fully concur; but then my noble Friend went on to say that there was a want of harmonious working. Now, I deny that in any broad or comprehensive view of the whole Church there is anything which can be fairly termed a want of harmonious working. There may be, more or less, want of harmony in this or the other parish; but it would be a most unsatisfactory state of the Church, if among her 20,000 clergymen and in her 15,000 parishes all the clergymen were found absolutely to agree, and that there were no differences among their flocks. If the case were so, the Church would be reduced to a mere caput mortuum—eviscerated of doctrine, of life, of zeal; eviscerated of everything but selfishness, and self-abased to that solitude which some people miscall peace—the last, most hopeless state of a Church which sacrifices energy, love of souls, everything earnest and spiritual, for outside uniformity. In contrast with this picture, I assert that the Church of England challenges comparison with every Church in the world as a city at unity with itself. It does so in contrast to that great Church of Western Europe, which has recently been rocked to its centre by the novel assumption of Papal infallibility. It does so if matched with the Dissenting bodies in this realm, on the Continent, or in America, which, as all men know, have often been tried with anxious conflicts within the circles of their own membership. It is in comparison with them that the Church of England may boldly assert the harmony and peace with which it does its Lord's work in the land. My noble Friend has confessed that voluntary Church councils have already been established to a greater extent than he was prepared to expect. Then what is the use of his Bill? His answer is, that he wants to start councils where the clergyman is not fully doing his duty; and then he went on to say that his Bill was of such a tentative nature that he had made provision that in parishes where councils had been tried they might again be given up. An experiment, in short, has to be tried; but, quoting the old anecdote, I ask, if it is wise in such a tentative scheme, is it wise that the Church of England should be made the corpus vile on which to try it? It is admitted that tentative councils already exist to a great extent, and under the most favourable circumstances. Is it not wiser and better to let the experiment go on where there are zeal and intelligence and sense to work it? Hereafter, when these councils have been built up in larger numbers, as they certainly will be, experience will have matured the organization best suited for them in places where they may have to be created by some external pressure. But taking the case of a clergyman who is lazy, or ignorant, or infirm—is it not probable that his parish will have become demoralized through his own defects, and that this Bill, if put in force there, instead of revealing the latent good qualities of the place will, on the contrary, bring to the surface all the evils which have silently festered beneath. The council of the clergyman who has left his parish in ignorance, or who has shown it a bad example, is likely to be uncharitable and ungodly in itself; so that with its election the old bad state of things will be succeeded by a worse one, and active mischief take the place of sloth and apathy.

As to the Bill itself, what are the provisions which we find in it? My noble Friend dwells upon the fact that this Bill contains certain principles that were not in the Bill of last year—the members of the council must now be communicants of the Church of England. I congratulate him on that change. I thank him for this great improvement on his former proposal. But I am sure he did not intend to offer what, nevertheless, sounded very like an invitation contained in his speech to the Dissenters to elect the churchwardens from themselves, in order to balance the Church sidesmen. It is no defence to urge that churchwardens may now be, and often are, Dissenters; for the churchwardenship of the present and the churchwardenship of the future, should this Bill become law, would be totally different offices. Future churchwardens would have a voice in matters which would really be of a spiritual character, which does not now belong to the men who bear that name. Read in the light of his own explanations, his plan is open to this miscarriage. But I demur to the relative number of his council. In a parish of 2,000 inhabitants, there are to be 4 councillors; in a parish of 4,000, 8; in a parish above 7,000, 12. I am sure that you will not obtain an adequate representation of a large parish of 10,000 or 20,000 inhabitants in 12 councillors, a quarter of whom are named by the incumbent. I am, in fact, more democratic than my noble Friend; and I am sure that in the large towns of the North and North Midland of England 12 would not be a full representation of the locality. Cliques would be organized, and would prevail; one clique this year, and another clique successful at the election after, with a perpetual faction fight before, during, and consequent on the contests. The stormy petrels may be found in any three parishioners; it is not said that they are to be Churchmen; it is not even said that they are to be communicant members of any Christian body; it is not said that they are not to be absolute and recognized Jews or heathens. This unrepressed and irrepressible triplet may propose that a council shall be elected in any parish of the land. Now, take any of our large seaport towns; take the East End of London, with which my noble Friend is so intimately and so creditably acquainted—places where the most loathsome forms of vice and sensuality abound, and where the only thing that contests the position with these forms of evil is hard, grinding, money-making, and where the clergyman, be he High or Low or Broad Church, is often compelled to stand up alone and fight the battle against sensuality and against greed—who is to elect the council in such a parish? The keepers of public-houses or of worse places, hucksters, petty traders, crimps, lodging-house keepers—any three of these may call a meeting, and whip up men of their own kidney, and women, too, for we have now arrived at the period of female suffrage, and then and there elect a council of persons declaring themselves communicants to resist the work of God. You may say that the clergyman names a fourth of the council; but what is a quarter against three quarters, especially if these have the churchwardens with them? The very fact of a council having been agitated for will, in the eyes of those who know nothing about the state of the case, appear to imply a slur upon the clergyman, and so tend to paralyze his every effort for reformation. The agitators may fail; but they will still claim the credit from outsiders of having made a move on the side of active religion; while the clergyman will be represented as lording it over that zealous portion of the flock who had endeavoured to bring the parish and him into harmonious working, when, in reality, he was only doing his Master's work in striving to stem the tide of vice and immorality, on the profits of which his opponents throve. I appeal to the House to look at this as a matter of common sense. It is not the best people, but the worst who are the most likely to put this machinery in motion. This is not my own unsup- ported opinion. The Bill has been discussed at more than one Church Conference during the Recess, and no one knows better than my noble Friend how valuable such discussions are. The able and energetic Bishop of Carlisle said of the Bill of last year, that it was a curb, and that the clergy did not only want a curb, but also a spur. But if this year's Bill be any more a spur than its predecessor, then I have misread it. I have also a letter from an eminent Prelate, whose name, if I were to mention it, would carry the greatest weight for wisdom and zeal in this House, in which he says, in answer to some strictures of mine—"I agree with you in your estimate of the Bill." A venerable Archdeacon of wide experience writes— I have carefully read over the Parochial Councils Bill, and I cannot regard it in any other light than that of a mischievous measure, especially to country parishes; it will breed discord and dissension among parishioners, and weaken, instead of strengthening, the hands of the clergy, for it will open the way to discontented ratepayers, or aggrieved parishioners, to organize and keep up a vexatious espionage over the clergy, and so hamper and oppose them in their work, as to destroy their interest in it, and make them do as little as possible, and that little in a perfunctory manner, lest they should offend their tyrannical masters, which the small farmers and petty tradesmen of rural parishes would in most cases prove. The rector of an important town—one of the first towns both in population and intelligence in the great county of Stafford, to which my noble Friend and myself both belong—has also written to me with the experience of a ministerial career universally respected for its earnestness and devotion. He admits that the present Bill is "an improvement on that of last year;" but he goes on to say— It is still intolerable that the 'parishioners' should have a voice in the order of the Church's worship and other matters, in which many of them can have no concern. I have a letter here from one of the most eminent members of the University which I have the honour to represent, and who is also one of the incumbents, and himself Rural Dean, of Cambridge. He says— I do not doubt that the promoters of the Parochial Councils Bill are actuated by the desire of rendering more effective our present organization; but, at the same time, I cannot but think that the form in which such desire has expressed itself is likely to be more productive of mischief than of benefit to the Church. … I deprecate, as I said before, the passing of the Parochial Councils Bill into a law; but I do not regret its introduction, because I think that the discussion upon it may be useful in promoting the formation of voluntary parochial organizations. The formation of such parochial organizations should, I think, be left to the sense of Christian duty of clergy and people, and should not be spoiled by the hasty interference of Parliament. The details of the Bill are, in my opinion, open to very grave objection; but as I hope that they will not be discussed in Committee, I refrain from making any remarks upon them. Since I came into the House, and too late to present it at the Table, I have received a Petition against this Bill from the clergy of a considerable rural deanery in Derbyshire, headed by one of the most distinguished of our colonial Bishops—Dr. Hobhouse—which points out the dangers of the plan, and its inadequacy for any good result. The quotations which I have given justify me in opposing my noble Friend. He supposes that in every parish where a council may be wanted, there plenty of the elements suitable to form a working council by uncontrolled election will be forthcoming. But I am for a more free constitution than my noble Friend. In many parishes—especially the smaller ones in the country—I would not elect; I would summon all those whom the clergy might consider qualified to form a council, or even a general meeting of all parishioners who pleased to attend—in fact, I would give vitality to the old-fashioned vestry meeting. I contend that parishes, and especially our rural parishes, are not large enough for the machinery of an election. Instead of making every little town and parish go through the formality of an election, I would call together the men who love the Church, the men who love God, the men who love parish work, and who would do that work with heart and good-will. The Bishop of Ely, who is so much respected for learning, talent, and wisdom by men of all parties, spoke of the former Bill in his address to his Conference held at Ely, in the course of last July, in the following terms:— Lord Sandon's Bill would produce a small council which might severely tyrannize over the clergy. Instead of what I have called the paternal government of the Bishops, it would be the government of tenant-farmers and small tradesmen. My own feeling is not to legislate at random—in the dark; but that tentative efforts should be made in various parishes of clergy and laity gathered together. Let us see how such experiments work. Friendly co-operation is what is wanted, not tyrannical government. Thus a double advantage will be secured—the hands of the clergy will be strengthened, and, at the same time, imprudence will be checked. I cannot think that a small number of persons, mechanically elected by vestry, who may be persons hostile to the Church, is a proper council. We want the most prudent and the most earnest of the laity, to act with the clergyman. Just as those who do not work ought not to eat, so, I think, that those who will not work ought not to govern. Those who gather round the clergyman to work with him should be those to govern with him. The Bishop of Carlisle, whose great ability has been matured by the successive discharge, with great success, of the duties of parish priest and of dean of an important cathedral, in treating of my noble Friend's Bill at his Conference in January last, also dwells upon the short-comings of the Bill of 1870— By a newspaper of to-day he saw that in Manchester two or three parishes had established parish councils. But these councils, which met simply on agreement between the clergyman and the parishioners—these councils, which the clergyman called together for the purpose of consulting with them for the general benefit of the parish—these were altogether different things from a council which would take the initiative, which had legal powers, and which, if constituted as proposed in that Bill, would be a very much more important power in the parish than the clergyman himself. In fact, there could be no doubt that the general tendency of the Bill was to transfer—to a great extent, at least—the responsibility which now rests on the clergy of the Church, to the parochial councils. A spirited debate ensued upon the subject at the gathering, and I imagine that some main alterations in the present Bill—its permissive character, and the recognition of communion as the qualification for membership—were made in consequence; nevertheless, the evils pointed out in the passage which I have quoted are still to be found in it.

The main defects of my noble Friend's Bill arise from his not having faced in it the great fact which underlies the present social position of the Church of England. He has not realized the fact that in our towns the Church of England is no longer a merely parochial institution, but that while the parish still exists for many important ends, our worship is widely shaping itself in the congregational form. This is a development which we must recognize, or we shall be sure to go wrong in our legislation as well as in our informal arrangements. We know that there are in the Church differences of taste—or of no taste; we know there are extravagances in one direction—yes, and we know also there are extravagances in more than one other direction; we know there are differences of taste in oratory; differences of taste in art; differences of taste in music; and different cravings of Christian souls for varying teachings, according to their many wants. All these must have ample room to develop themselves, if the Church is to do its full work in a busy land. We know that there are extravagances of the High, the Low, and of the Broad Church. It is often urged that such extravagances are forced upon indignant congregations by priggish or tyrannical clergymen. Such may be sometimes the case; but very frequently they are forced upon the clergyman by a zealous and determined congregation, which often drives him to procedures to which his own more educated taste would object. The question here arises—is the permission of these extravagances wise, useful, and helpful to the worship of those persons who certainly find that they warm and sustain their personal devotions; or are they rather evil by the example they set to others, and the aversion which they excite among those who prefer a different system? That is a question which it is not easy to answer in any way, and totally impossible to answer in general terms; but it is one which every day forces itself more and more to the front. It is, in fact, one of the most delicate and difficult problems of human nature. I should rather call it an infinite series of such problems, for each case must be met upon its own circumstances. Still, as we have a National Church, it may be right to attempt an answer. Such an answer will never be given by the cramped machinery which would be created under this Bill. After all, the broad fact remains that the Church of England is accepting congregational liberties, and that a generous system of give and take is growing up among her clergy, who are learning the unwisdom of checking the resort of earnest worshippers to the places where they may best indulge their oratorical, their ritual, or their musical predilections, and feed upon the teachings most suited to their spiritual needs. At the same time, the parish stands with its Church open to that other great class who prefer to accept, without questioning, that which has been provided for them by the constituted organization. It would be a calamity if all our churches were to be similarly regulated by a series of uniform councils, not elected by the men who enjoyed their services and who took the trouble to attend them, but chosen by people who did not go to these churches, but who took the trouble to go to other churches, where they would probably find other councils elected by men who would pay them off by reciprocally spoiling their enjoyment.

As to the country and town parishes, compared with each other, this Bill inflexibly regulates the number of the sidesmen by ratio of population—for instance, a place of not more than 2,000 is entitled to the minimum, number of four. But 2,000 people in the country are very different from 2,000 in a town; their thoughts are different; their times are different; their fashions are different; the distance or proximity of the houses, the variety of occupations vitally alter the condition of public opinion. Yet the same machinery is proposed for both. My noble Friend must not be angry with me, nor think I treat this subject with levity, when I say that his Bill has been forecast by Dean Swift, when he stated that the tailors in Laputa were under strict statutory obligations to cut everybody's coat by mathematical diagram, so as to ensure uniformity of shape and identity of dimension. Everyone who knows my noble Friend knows his deep devotion to the Church of England. Every word which he has said in moving his Bill proves his good feeling towards her; but that very feeling makes him too nervous and anxious about the subject which both he and I have in view. It makes him impatient of the result, and unwilling to trust to the operation of forces which neither he nor I can control. The last objection I have is one which underlies the whole Bill. It breaks up the Church of England into a number of small parochial councils, and leaves it there. It fabricates a number of spindles, and forgets the engines which are to work them as one machine. It would let loose a flood of discussion in areas not large enough for the higher art of deliberation. We want a field broader than the mere parish—we want these petty assemblies to be topped by councils which should be archidiaconal, or, better still, diocesan. Such assemblies—commonly termed conferences—combining the clergy and the laity in joint deliberation, are growing up every day in different parts of England. I have had, during this speech, to refer to two of them which took my noble Friend's Bill in hand. The speech of the Bishop of Ely, from which I have already quoted, was delivered at a diocesan Conference at Ely. I referred to another, held in the cathedral city of Carlisle. Each diocese knows its own wants and its own difficulties; it knows how to meet in these larger assemblies; it also knows how to organize its own parochial councils, much better than we can pretend to do. Do leave the matter in the hands of the diocesan and archidiaconal conferences—those large centres of thought and intelligence—into which the Church is naturally divided, and do not try to thrust upon the Church this series of little disjointed parish juntas. Do not chill the growing zeal of our time by calling out men whose aim will be to perpetuate unspiritual sloth and narrow uniformity. Above all things, avoid creating any inelastic system, and binding it down upon the Church, which is beginning to warm to the new life, by Act of Parliament. These are the considerations on which I hope my noble Friend will be satisfied with the discussion which he has raised—that he will be satisfied with the attention which is now given to the subject in dioceses and archdeaconries, and in many parishes; and that he will allow you, Sir, to put from the Chair, instead of his Bill, the Resolution which I now place in your hands.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is inexpedient to hamper the free development of co-operation between the clergy and the laity according to the local circumstances of different parishes by uniform and unelastic legislative provisions,"—(Mr. Beresford Hope,) —instead thereof.

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


thanked the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University for his courtesy in abstaining from meeting the Bill by a direct negative; but the character attributed to the Bill in his Resolution was quite undeserved. The Bill was the reverse of uniform and inelastic; it enacted no perpetual regulations, but created an instrumentality whereby the decisions of majorities might determine various open questions now left to the sole discretion of the incumbent. The Bill would assist the free development of co-operation, and bring the clergy and laity into a new relationship of mutual help and counsel, from which new and vital action would proceed. The hon. Member had referred, to an expression of a Bishop that the Bill would prove a curb, and not a spur. In his (Mr. Cowper-Temple's) opinion it was both. It would act as a curb in places where the clergyman disregarded the feelings and opinions of the parishioners; and as a spur when he was timid, and loth to undertake on his own responsibility the improvements desired by earnest and zealous men in his parish. The spontaneous growth of numerous parochial councils proved their adaptation to the wants of the day, but also exhibited their deficiencies. They could not arise where most wanted, and when disagreement existed between the rector and his parishioners. The best men were not attracted by a post which conferred no power or responsibility beyond that of giving advice, which no one was bound to follow; and the people took no interest in the selection and proceedings of a body which was not representative in any real sense. The Bill would remedy a grave defect in the organization of the Church. The details of public worship not prescribed by law, and which affected the congregation as much, and even more than the minister, were decided by the sole will of the latter. If the rector desired to consult the wishes of the parishioners, he had no opportunity of explaining his views and ascertaining their opinions. Many were unwilling to volunteer objections beforehand, who had no scruple in proclaiming their displeasure after the change had been made. The opponents, having no constitutional mode of action, were driven to hostile and irregular forms of remonstrance, leading to painful strife and scandals. But no remonstrance could avail when the incumbent stood on his legal rights, and repudiated the claims of the people to have a voice in matters in which the law had not entitled them to speak. The Bill, if passed, would prevent the evils arising from isolation and misunderstanding; it would promote joint action and co-operation between the clergyman and the parishioners, and many jealousies on the part of the latter might be dispelled when the opportunity for explanation was afforded. Before the Reformation the control of the Bishop could be invoked by the parishioners when they differed in such matters with the rector; now no such effective power was lodged in the Episcopal Office, and the check could only be entrusted to the representatives of the parish. The laity might be safely entrusted with a larger share in the government of the Church. Authorized channels for lay action had been demanded by persons of various opinions, and of all parties who had given attention to the question of how the Church might be made more efficient and better adapted to the wants and spirit of the present day. From the earliest times there had been a representation of the laity in the person of the churchwardens, and the ancient principle of lay representation ought to be applied through extended powers to Church matters that concerned the laity. The mode of electing the sidesmen would follow that of electing churchwardens. Lay representation sprang up spontaneously in every branch of the English Church not trammeled by ancient usages or by legislation. When the Church was planted in the United States or the Colonies, lay councils for the parish, the diocese, and the whole Church were established to act in conjunction with the clergymen; and the Church in Ireland, when it had to form its own constitution, naturally adopted the same principle. He could not doubt, too, that should the day arrive when, as predicted and desired by many, the Church of England should be dissociated from its alliance with the State, the benefits of corporate life arising from parochial councils would be felt. As politicians, the Members of that House could not hesitate to grant these powers to the Church, for they would only be giving to the Church that form of self-government and popular representation which was of such inestimable advantage in the political constitution of the country. Though strife and conflict of opinions might arise in these parochial councils, discussion was the only way to arrive at the truth, and to ascertain the wish of the majority. As Churchmen, they should trust their congregations with more freedom and larger discretion, and must run some risk of disadvantage from the meetings of these councils, in order to secure a fuller co-operation and union amongst the different orders of the Church than at present existed; by these means they might do something to adapt the outward organization of the Church to the wants and feelings that now prevailed, and might hope that the Church would make up for her shortcomings in the past, and become more useful to the people, and more conducive to the great and important ends for which she was established.


said, that he agreed in much that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper-Temple), but he thought that his statement that some such arrangement as that the Bill now proposed would probably be effected under a disestablished Church of England, was not likely to recommend the measure to hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House. In the course of last summer he was appointed the Chairman of a Committee formed in his diocese to inquire into the status of churchwardens and the desirability of defining more clearly their position in the Church; and from the evidence that was adduced before them, and after careful consideration, the Committee came to the opinion that it was desirable to extend through them the lay co-operation, but not to the extent recommended by this Bill. After considering the position of churchwardens from the earliest times, and the difference that now existed in that respect in town and country parishes, it was decided that churchwardens, if properly elected, and with proper duties to discharge, were really the best and most efficient representatives of the laity in their different parishes, and that it was not necessary to create a large assembly to regulate these affairs. He differed from the opinion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. B. Hope) that the number of the council, as proposed by the Bill, would be too small, but he felt rather that they would be too large, and that great difficulty would be experienced in many parishes in obtaining the requisite qualified number of sidesmen in whom confidence could be placed. His objection to the Bill was founded more on the change that had taken place in it since last year than in any other respect. They had now what he believed to be anything but wholesome in Church matters—permissive legislation suggested. He would urge the noble Lord, under the circumstances, to be content with the discussion that was likely to take place on the Bill, and not press it to a Division. He thought he would do well to trust to the feeling that at present existed in the country in favour of a large amount of lay co-operation in the affairs of the Church; leaving it to those who were working in that direction to take the initiative. He thought that, in that way, the question would be more maturely considered in the country, and, perhaps, the passage of a Bill next Session greatly facilitated. He should, however, prefer the Bill being sent to a Select Committee.


said, as a Churchman who yielded to no one on the opposite side of the House in respect for the Church, and in desire for her stability, he approved the scope of this Bill, and believed it would tend very much to promote harmony between the clergy and the laity in a parish; but he thought, nevertheless, its effect would be marred by one single word in the 14th line of the 2nd page—the word "communicant." The introduction of that word would, he thought, tend to the revival of those distinctions and tests which it had been the work of the last 40 years to get rid of. He could not understand how any good could be effected by setting up a new shibboleth. He felt this was something like degrading the rite of the Lord's Supper into a distinction and qualification, and putting a power into the hands of the incumbent which he could not see he had any right to possess. An incumbent with exalted views of the priestly office might declare that the rite of the Lord's Supper consisted in that which he held the Articles of our religion denied to be the case, and might so administer the rite as to repel many from the Lord's Table. Another incumbent might take a low and degrading view of the rite and equally repel others. If, therefore, it was necessary for members of the council to declare themselves "communicant members" of the congregation, the clergyman having otherwise the power to object to their election, the Bill would rather throw the apple of discord into a parish than promote harmonious action between the clergy and the laity. He should, at the proper time, move the omission of the word, which he believed to be wholly unnecessary; but, if the word should be retained, he would then oppose the passage of the Bill in every possible way.


said, he was very sorry to hear what had been just said. For a long time voluntary councils had been growing in use more and more, and they had worked well, because the gentlemen who were upon them had been bonâ fide members of the Church of England, who wished to do all they could for her benefit. The word "communicant" had been introduced simply to ensure that the members of the council should be bonâ fide members of the Church, who had her interests at heart. From time immemorial, churchwardens had been looked upon as lay representatives of the Church, particularly in council with the clergyman, and the principle of the Bill was to re-affirm lay representation in the Church, and to enact that a legal status should be given to laymen working in connection with the clergyman. He hoped that the House would have no difficulty in affirming this principle, and he would ask his noble Friend (Viscount Sandon) to be content with the affirmation of the principle, and to proceed no further with the Bill this Session. He thought that such a delay was desirable, in order that the laity throughout the country should have an opportunity of expressing their opinion upon the matter. He was by no means certain that a council framed under this Bill would work in many parishes. He had had much to do with associations in which the clergy and laity worked together; but he doubted whether the clergy would be so willing to discuss matters with the laity when that body would be in the position of a legislative council that could act against the opinion of the clergyman. What was wanted was not so much a legislative as a consultative council. If the Bill were not now pressed beyond the second reading, and time were allowed for the country to consider it, the result would probably be that, next year, they might be able to frame a Bill that would really work well. In great towns it had been a great difficulty in the way of the Church of England that she had no position into which she could put laymen who wanted to do something. There was abroad an eagerness to be doing something for good. In the Nonconformist Bodies this element was made very great use of, and this, probably, was the reason why, in populous places, the Nonconformists had so largely increased in numbers. He believed that having a parochial council would do a great deal of good to the Church; but in country districts they would have difficulty in getting people to go to a council, and it would, in many cases, be in parishes where councils were least wanted that they would be brought into existence to thwart the clergyman or put some restraint upon him. He did not think that, at present, the House was prepared to give powers to parochial councils to make any alteration in the services or ministration of the Church; and, certainly, if any such alteration, was made against the wish of the clergyman, it would tend to create the greatest amount of discord and ill-feeling.


said, he desired to say only a very few words. He would not refer to the details of the Bill, which had been commented on by several hon. Members—he would confine himself entirely to the principle, with one single exception. He desired to express his full concurrence in what he considered to be the principle of the Bill—namely, the recognition by law of the right of the lay members of the Church to take part in the management, in common with the incumbent, of the ecclesiastical affairs of the parish, including the mode of conducting the services and ministrations of the Church—of course within the limits prescribed by law. He agreed with the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. B. Hope), that it was most undesirable to attempt to impose, in all cases, strict uniformity. If they did, it would be impossible to enforce it, looking to the differing circumstances of different parishes; and, if it were not impossible, such an attempt would be very inexpedient. But within the limits allowed by law, he thought it most desirable that a discretion should be left to members of the Established Church selected freely from the great body of parishioners and acting in concert with the incumbent, and that such discretion should not be exercised by the incumbent alone, who had, he feared, frequently exorcised it against the feelings, wishes, and convictions of the great body of the parishioners. This, he believed, would tend very much to prevent those differences which existed in not a few parishes, and which, he feared, had alienated the minds of many parishioners from the ministrations of the Church. The details of the Bill would necessarily require a good deal of modification; and he hoped the noble Lord would adopt the suggestion of the hon. Baronet below him (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) that the best course would be that it should be referred to a Select Committee. With reference to what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. D. Dalrymple), who objected to the words in the declaration to be taken by each member of these councils that he is a "communicant member of the Church of England," he was quite sure the noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) had no intention of reviving anything like the old test of taking the Communion as a qualification for office; the only object he aimed at—and it appeared to be a reasonable one—was that the persons elected to take part in these councils should be bonâ fide members of the Church of England; and he had no doubt his noble Friend would assent to any proposal that attained that object in a manner free from objection. Before sitting down, he must declare his entire concurrence in the opinion expressed by his noble Friend towards the close of his speech in moving the second reading, that it was most desirable and important, in the interest of the Established Church, to bring it into harmony with the other institutions of the country. By creating these councils with a legal status entitling them to take part with the incumbent in the management of the ecclesiastical affairs of the parish, they would bring the clergy and laity into more direct and active co-operation, and thus materially strengthen their action, producing harmony between the constitution and government of the Church and the other institutions of the country. He regarded this Bill as a valuable step in this direction.


tendered his thanks to the noble Lord, on account of the great judgment which he had shown in the general scope of this Bill and in his manner of introducing it. Fault had been found because it was a Permissive Bill; he could not but think that the noble Lord had exercised a wise discretion in making the acceptance of this Bill optional in the first instance. The Bill would impose a rigid rule, for it was, in truth, as elastic as possible in most respects, and especially in this, so that each parish might judge for itself whether it would exercise the powers which the Bill contained. He believed that this was a proper mode of testing the opinions of the country, parish by parish. He regretted the opposition that the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) offered to this Bill. One objection which the hon. Member raised was, that the Bill was not to be general, directly enacting its provisions for every parish, with immediate operation. He (Mr. Newdegate) had tried that system for 10 successive Sessions. He had introduced a Bill, entitled the Church Rate Commutation Bill, which would have commuted the average of church rate into a charge upon property. But that Bill contained provisions similar in their object, although somewhat different in their form from those which the present Bill contained, the object being to revive the representation of the laity of each parish in the vestry—an object now admitted to be necessary. But the Bill was opposed by the same section of the clergy who oppose this Bill; and, notwithstanding the support given to it by the present Prime Minister, it was rejected. By the abolition of compulsory church rates the clergy obtained an enormous power as compared with that of the laity who lost by the change, and to replace this loss to the laity he thought that some such measure as this was necessary. So long as the church rate was compulsory the ratepayers attended the vestry to regulate the expenditure of it; but when many of them ceased to contribute through a feeling of delicacy, there grew up a reluctance to interfere in its application of funds contributed by a portion only of the parishioners. The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge seemed to undervalue the parochial system; but the House might depend upon this, that if ever the Church of England ceased to be a parochial Church it would be disestablished. The strongest argument for the disestablishment of the Irish Church was that in many parishes there were not sufficient communicants. The Church would have no right to continue established if she became merely congregational; that was if she ceased to be the Church of the parish or of all the parishioners, whether they accepted her ministrations or not. He would warn Churchmen against listening to such arguments as those of the hon. Member for Cambridge. It was absurd to suppose that we could have an Established Church in this country if it were not parochial. Parochial organization was essential to the Constitutional freedom of this country; Churchmen would not consent to be governed in Church and other matters, from a few diocesan or archidiaconal centres, such as the Member for the University of Cambridge contemplated. The parochial system was essential to the constitution of this country. If the House broke up the parochial system, or allowed it to elapse, they would disorganize the people.


said, he desired to pay his humble tribute of admiration to the tone and spirit of the speech with which the noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) had introduced this question to the notice of the House. He especially thanked the noble Lord for the manner in which he had alluded to the Nonconformists of the country; and he thought he might, on behalf of the Nonconformists, cordially respond to at least one part of his appeal, and assure him that, as long as the principles held sacred by the Nonconformists were not compromised, they were most willing and anxious that the Church of England should be placed in the best possible position for discharging her spiritual duties. There was work enough for all religious Bodies in coping with the ignorance, vice, and practical heathenism which still unhappily dishonoured this professedly Christian country. It might appear unseemly that a Nonconformist should wish to take part in the discussion of a matter relating to the internal economy of the Church of England; but it was one of the conditions, and some might think one of the inconveniences, of connection between Church and State that it obliged every member of the State to be a member of the Church, and that not only gave the right, but imposed it as a duty on Nonconformists to watch even a measure of this description and see that they were not deprived of their rights by a side wind. Therefore, it was that he rose to object to that sub-section of Clause 6 which said— No person shall be elected a sidesman under this Act unless he shall have signed and delivered to the incumbent and each of the churchwardens of the parish, at least five days before the day of election, a declaration under his hand that he is a communicant member of the Church of England. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had just said that, theoretically, the Church of England was the Church of all the parishioners; but by this sub-section the rights of Dissenters as parishioners were wholly ignored and left out of account. Of course, if power were given to them to sit in the council, the instances would be very rare in which a Dissenter would desire to become a member of it; but still Dissenters were bound to protect their legal position. To the main provisions of the Bill he had no objection, believing, as he did, that the giving of larger powers to the laity in the government of the Church would place it more nearly in harmony with that form of government which was nearest to the primitive and apostolic model—namely, the congregational form. He had long been surprised that many of the best supporters of the Church, both in money and effort, were content with so little share in the management of matters in which they and their families were vitally interested. Whether this was to be done by legislation the members of the Church of England in that House must decide; but he hoped the day was not far distant when the Church of England would throw off her fetters, would exercise that liberty which belonged to every other ecclesiastical Body in this country, and would not be exposed to the humiliation of seeking legislation at the hands of a House of Commons composed of persons of all religions and of no religion at all, and asking such a body to provide a legislative means of enabling her to fulfil her functions as a spiritual and Christian institution.


said, it was with very great regret that he found himself, on a question of Church government and of Church discipline, differing from the noble Lord who had introduced the measure. He concurred with every speaker who had preceded him that the noble Lord had spoken in such a way as not to give rise to any feeling of animosity; but he could not but consider that the time had not arrived when they could come to a conclusion on this measure, which had neither been sufficiently considered by the country, nor especially by the lay members of the Church of England. The Bill proposed to carry lay co-operation much further than it was now carried by the appointment of churchwardens; for the duty of these officers was confined to such matters as ordering the affairs of the Church with respect to ornaments, providing the surplice, and so on; and Lord Stowell had laid it down that they were not to interfere with the ministrations, which were the province of the clergyman, subject to the supervision of the ordinary. Sidesmen were practically the same as churchwardens. Lay organization was proceeding rapidly already, and the clergy were associating themselves with laymen who were anxious to assist in parochial work; but he feared that if the interference of laity, without intelligence, and without zeal, and without genuine co-operation, were permitted, so far from its being a benefit to the clergy, it would tend to thwart their efforts. One hon. Member who had preceded him had said that in many parishes it would never come into operation; but he could assure him that in many parishes it would come into operation simply with the view of thwarting the efforts of the clergyman, and of permitting the vulgar and ignorant to stop the efforts of the enlightened, and the labours of the Church at large. Did they suppose that the revivals—and he spoke of no excesses—which had taken place during late years in the dignity and decorum with which the services were conducted would have taken place if there had been a power in the laity, by the side of the clergyman, to interfere with them? Did they suppose that if a clergyman had gone to a parish conducted on the old system—psalms sung to a violin, or brought to an end in the middle of a sentence—and wished to put a stop to such an indecorous state of things—did they think that no body of his parishioners would have impeded or obstructed his efforts at improvement? He feared that a council would only end in stereotyping a state of things to which they had become wedded by long use. He also objected to the mode of election altogether, and he did not think the time had come when elections could be prudently or safely made in the manner proposed by the Bill. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil had told the House that the Nonconformists were members of the Church of England. The hon. Member must excuse him if he differed from him on that point. Indeed, the Nonconformists had come to that House and applied for special legislation on the ground that they were not members of the Church of England; and in the time of William III. they applied on that ground for power to appoint deputies, when they were made churchwardens, in order that they might not take oaths which violated their consciences. Seeing, then, that they could not exercise all the duties of a churchwarden, it was not a fit thing that a Dissenter should fill that office. It was not to be supposed that the Church of England was unwilling that they should return and take part in the offices of the Church; but while they removed themselves from the Church, they were certainly not to be considered members of it. It was not to be forgotten that they had asked the House for leave to celebrate their own rites in burying grounds, on the ground that they were not members of the Church of England, but dissenting communities. It could be no grievance to them, therefore, if they were not allowed to take part in the election of persons who were to form the council of the Church. Neither ought the clergymen to be hampered by this opposition. In reply to those who alleged that the clergy took less interest than formerly in the affairs of their parishes, he asserted that in proportion to the decline of the secular influence had been the increase of their spiritual influence, and that this was the explanation of the revivals within the Church and of the cordial co-operation of the clergy with the laity. The House would find, also, that it would be only legislating in a way that would kindle feelings of animosity if the council were to be elected in the manner proposed. It was no doubt in the power of Nonconformist Members of the House, and of Scotch and Irish Members, to legislate in the internal affairs and management of the Church of England. It was no doubt in their power, as they were here in the House; but surely the time had come when the Church, without interfering with anybody's liberty, should have some liberty of her own. He did not wish to stop any Member of the House from interfering with the temporalities of the Church; but when it came to purely internal matters these might be left to the Church herself. He objected also to Parliament enacting that the Church should do something in a way different from that in which she now did it under the law; for the Bill gave power to the sidesmen to stop anything within the law, not that which was beyond it—and in that respect its provisions were entirely novel. He ventured to say there was springing up in the country means by which a Bill like this could be fairly tested. The Bill had been put into the hands of Members only last Friday morning, and it differed in many respects from that of last Session. There had been no time for the Bill to circulate among the parishes, or to obtain the views of the clergy upon it. Even now, diocesan synods and ruridecanal chapters were meeting constantly and discussing all Church questions, and the laity was found to have a voice quite as influential as the clergy. And that was not confined merely to the synodical meetings, as there was a very strong desire on the part of the clergy to ascertain the views of the laity, and that principle was growing into practice throughout England every day. If he objected to this Bill being referred to a Select Committee now, it was because he felt that a plan would be matured in the Church itself which would by-and-by more effectually carry out its object. As to the details of the Bill, these formed practically the principles of the Bill, and these principles were the principle of election and the principle of appeal. What was the principle of appeal? It was to the Ordinary—to the Bishop, and the clergyman—who could now do anything within the law, would, under the Bill, be bound by the caprice of the Bishop, irrespective of the law. [An hon. MEMBER: By the discretion.] Discretion was caprice—not that he accused the Bishops of being capricious; but if a man had power to decide without reference to law, he decided according to his own mind or feeling. Let things be settled by the law, and by the law only. There was one remarkable thing in this Bill which had struck him more than anything, and it was that a clergyman had no appeal. Suppose a congregation were singing the so-called Psalms of David, and the clergyman wanted to sing something else, if the council decided against him he was to have no right of appeal to the Bishop. This would prolong the state of things under which a clerk, on Assize Sunday, struck by the apparent appropriateness of the first lines, selected the Psalm beginning Speak, O, ye judges of the land, If just your sentence be; without seeing that there followed the lines— And shall not earth to Heaven appeal From your unjust decree? Another remarkable thing was, that in the council proposed to be given to the clergyman he was to have only one member, and the laity were to have three, which seemed a very strong measure, not called for by the occasion. It was trebling the lay element, and giving it a power which was supreme in parish action. This would work with great severity in some cases against the clergymen, and against the parish itself. But he was quite sure such a quorum as was proposed would not in most cases be got out of the members, and in that case everything would come to a standstill—for the Bill was most explicit that no change was to be made without the consent of the council. Again, there was nothing in the Bill to distinguish between the different parts of the church. Every church had its chancel, and many churches private chapels. Was it proposed to give to everyone who thought stained-glass windows idolatrous the right to use every power his position gave him, to pull down a stained window in the chancel or private chapels? All these things were serious questions, and it was necessary to consider what it was they were about to do. Public opinion had gained force now as it had never done before. With newspapers everywhere, if a clergyman did anything which was contrary to just and public opinion, he was at once brought before the public, and there was sufficient control over him in that way, and by the law. By this Bill they would be taking away not only from the clergyman, but in some degree from the Bishop also, the power which they already had. Reverting to the remark of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil that Nonconformists were members of the Church of England, he asked if it was reasonable that parishioners, who were not worshippers in the congregation, even though they belonged to the Church of England, and who disapproved of the services of another church, should be elected to the council of that church, and interfere with its services? Was it reasonable, whether such people were connected with the Church of England or not? He thought not. He thought the time had not come for this legislation, though he also believed that there was at present growing up in this country a strong feeling that the laity had not sufficient power in the Church of England. There were those who thought that even in the Convocation of the Provinces the laity should be represented. All he said with respect to that was that Convocaton had asked, upon more than one occasion, for permission to reform herself. This House would always have control over any attempt the Church made to reform herself; and it was a little hard upon Convocation to speak of it as had been done, both in the House and out of the House, as a mere debating society, and to dwell on the necessity of reform without giving it the power to make any change. That there was a desire throughout the country for more lay co-operation in the Church, he was prepared to admit; but they should not go into precipitate legislation. But that desire to give the laity more power than they had at present was, in a mode, very different from what was done by this Bill. He did not think the Bill would be brought into shape by means of a Select Committee; but if the House decided on giving more power to laymen than they at present possessed, he trusted time would be given for disseminating the Bill throughout the country, and he, for one, believed that the Church of England had not anything to lose by free and ample discussion.


said, that, as a Dissenter himself and a Churchman through his "better half," he was brought into contact with both Churchmen and Dissenters. He was bound to admit that the clergy were doing a good work at the present time; but it appeared to him that the laity were not as actively co-operating in the work as they ought to do, and he could not help thinking that if the laity were called upon to take a more prominent part in the affaire of the Church they could not, for very shame, allow things to remain in their present condition. In the interests of the Church and of religion he would oppose any strengthening of the hands of the Church in the matter of endowments and privileges; but he thought they were all bound, as members of the Church universal, to give every assistance they could to the Church of England as a religious Body. In former days persecution was a stimulus to the zeal of Dissenters, and now, considering the mass of misery, crime, and irreligion around us, it would be well to substitute for that stimulus competition in good works. As members of the Church Universal Dissenters had a vital interest in everything which would enable the Church of England to do its work more efficiently.


said, the first thing which struck him on looking at this Bill was that it tends to transfer to individual parties the power of legislating for the Church of England within their limits. It should not be forgotten that the Church of England was under the control of the State, and he could not perceive that the parochial councils proposed to be established by the Bill could have anything to do except to trespass upon those liberties which the nation had granted to the clergy. Such a power would be placed in hands wholly unfit to exercise it, for, as a rule, the laity were not so liberal and unprejudiced as to allow a clergyman to deviate a single inch from the old routine; consequently, a clergyman might be seriously annoyed, and deprived of such freedom as he might fairly claim by these parochial councils, which would sit in judgment on his acts. He was quite sure it would be impossible for this Bill to stand if the word "communicant" remained in it.


said, that the word referred to had nothing whatever to do with the elective body.


But those who were elected must be communicants. He was convinced that the time would soon come when the Established Church must have a real representative assembly of its own, in which the laity belonging to it should have their just influence; but that end, in his opinion, could not be obtained by this measure. He believed it would be a good thing to sweep away Convocation, which, after all, was little more than a debating society, and which had displayed an amount of bigotry unequalled in this country in modern time; and which was totally unfitted to rule over the Church, because it did not contain any representation of the laity. It would be, he thought, the better to do away with it altogether, and to substitute for it a real representative Church assembly in which the laity should have their due influence, but which should have no legislative power without the express sanction of Parliament.


said, his noble Friend the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) might fairly congratulate himself that, with the exception of those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University and of the hon. Member for East Surrey, all the speeches hitherto delivered had been favourable to his Bill. Other hon. Members seemed to him to have directed their arguments against the details rather than the principle of the measure. For his own part, while he cordially gave his support in favour of the principle, he was unwilling to bind himself to all its details, which he considered to be fairly open to discussion, either in a Committee of the Whole House or in a Select Committee. He supported that principle for reasons similar to those so well expressed by his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford. He had a conviction that the laity had not sufficient power in the government of the Church of England; and that feeling was largely shared in by the laity themselves. Speaking of the Church of England as an institution necessary to the well-being and happiness of the State, he thought, in order to fulfil that character, it was of the utmost importance that the laity should have a larger share in its management. Such a system would tend to give them a deeper sense of their responsibility, and would teach them to recognize the difficulties with which the clergy had to contend, to respect them, and sympathize with them in all their works. An objection had been urged to the Bill because it was said it imposed a "hard-and-fast line." Now, he gave the measure his best support because it did nothing of the kind. As he understood the principle of the Bill, it left the various ceremonial observances and particulars connected with the services of the Church to the discretion of the council, who would afford its assistance to the clergy whenever the latter thought it necessary to consult it. It seemed to him advantageous to the Church that there should be some differences and variety in those respects. He should deprecate every attempt to lay down a hard-and-fast line, believing that nothing would more tend to alienate earnest clergymen from their congregations, and to lessen the interest of the laity themselves. He could not, however, disguise from himself that there were many able and devoted clergymen strongly opposed to the Bill, and this feeling ought certainly to be recognized, and therefore it appeared to him that ample time should be given for the consideration of all its details. He hoped that his noble Friend would consent to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, where both sides of the question might be urged, and if it should be found upon due deliberation that any of its details were impracticable, or unwise, or such as were likely to work with harshness or to ignore the rights of the clergy, then, of course, they could be modified in such a way as to make them as satisfactory as possible to all parties. It was impossible to shut one's eyes to the fact that the rights of the clergy, if strained to their utmost limits, constituted a danger to the Church, and that those rights would be much better secured and rendered more permanent if such a system as proposed were established, whereby the co-operation of the clergy and laity in the government and management of the Church was recognized by law. Even without that sanction parochial councils had proved of great benefit during the last few years. There were cases unfortunately where clergymen claimed to do absolutely what they pleased, without the slightest reference or respect for the feelings of the laity. Now, it appeared to him that the present measure was absolutely necessary to meet such cases and to reconcile the views of the clergy and laity with the object of promoting the general interests of both. He thought, therefore, that it was desirable that the House should concede the principle involved in this Bill; but he would not support it if he thought it would interfere with the rights of the clergy, or cast any reflections upon them whilst they were discharging the sacred duties of their office.


said, that though a Nonconformist, following the definition given by a high authority that a Churchman was an Englishman in his ecclesiastical capacity, he ventured to claim the right of offering some observations upon the question before them. The Church was the possessor of national property. Now, every institution which was sustained by national property was subject to the interest of the whole, and of every part of the community, and must submit to the control of Parliament, and to the interference of the representatives of the various denominations sitting in the House of Commons. This led to only one conclusion—that the Episcopal Church must receive from Parliament the entire management of its own affairs. Nothing had struck him more than the antagonism of opinion which existed on this matter. It was urged that in dealing with this question it was necessary to keep in view the principle of homogeneity. But how, he asked, was it possible to secure homogeneity in councils which would include such a variety of opinion? Though not a Churchman, he entertained not the slightest feeling of antagonism towards the Episcopal Church. It was only in its peculiar relations to the State he was disposed to find fault with it, and if that objection were removed, it would be a matter to him of the slightest regret if every individual in the country were to enter within the limits of the Episcopal Body. He would ask the noble Lord. (Viscount Sandon) whether he really thought he should gain the object he had in view by limiting the qualification to those councils to the communicants of the Church? If so, he could tell him that he would find himself egregiously disappointed. The noble Lord would not, indeed, find anything captious or unworthy in the conduct of the Nonconformists; but the fact was that the majority of people in many parishes in this country were neither Nonconformists nor earnest Episcopalians. Consequently, he feared lest, under the provisions of the Bill, the councils should not be elected by earnest religious men, and lest the clergyman might be compelled to work with a body altogether inimical to religion. Then, indeed, would we regret the day that the House of Commons had allowed itself to be influenced by the persuasive speech, of the noble Lord in giving its assent to this measure.


said, he had to remind hon. Members that the proposed councils would have nothing to do with the property of the Church, nor would they have power to interfere except in respect to matters connected with the mode of conducting the services of the Church. Many practices, distasteful to the congregations, had been introduced in churches, because those who were interested in the decent performance of the services had no means, except annual violent altercations in vestry elections, of from time to time assembling and consulting together on the subject. It was upon that point that the assistance of parochial councils, in which clergy and laity could meet in quiet and orderly discussion of matters of order, was needed. The support so generally given to the Bill by the Nonconformists was, no doubt, owing to the fact that it tended to popularize the services of the Church, and to carry out their own principle of congregationalism, which, as had been remarked, was the original principle of the Church; and he wished the Church to be able to realize that element of strength in the conduct of its own services. Amongst all the speeches that had been made on the subject he had not heard the principle of this measure contested. Even his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford, though he warmly criticized its details, admitted its principle. All he alleged was the inopportuneness of bringing it forward at the present time. But surely the subject was ripe for legislation now—if not, when did his right hon. Friend think the time would arrive? The Bill had been for two years before the House. [Mr. G. HARDY: No!] Well, some modifications had been introduced; but it passed a second reading a year ago; this was at least the second year of its discussion; and the time had surely arrived for dealing with the question. Parochial councils had been successfully tried on the voluntary principle in various parts of the country, and therefore the House had a good means of judging of the probable working of the measure. It could not be doubted that there was a necessity for more co-operation between the clergy and laity in respect to questions relating merely to the Church services. The very existence of Nonconformity proved that there had been a want of unanimity between the clergy and the laity. Schism and separation were bred in the great interests of a common religion by these minor disputes, having no regular means of settlement. If that evil were to be cured it could only be by authorizing and allowing the people to have such a voice in the management of the affairs of the Church as would bring the ministry more into harmony with the feelings of the laity. The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope) approved the principle of the Bill, but would prefer to see voluntary councils carry it out all over the kingdom. But the sole distinction between voluntary councils, and those provided for by the Bill, was that the latter would be initiated by the people and the former by the clergy. A voluntary council invited by the clergyman would only endorse his views, or those they had agreed to support, whereas a regularly constituted council would represent all views, and give force to that which really predominated. No valid objection, he maintained, had been urged against the principle of the Bill, and points of detail could, of course, be considered by a Select Committee. He trusted, therefore, the noble Lord would take the sense of the House on the second reading, and afterwards propose to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.


was of opinion that more harm might be done to the Church of England by precipitate legislation of this kind than by further delay. They were all satisfied with the manner in which his noble Friend introduced this Bill, and of the purity of his intentions; they were also agreed on the point that if the laity could be given a larger share of the government of the Church it would be most desirable. But before any measure of this kind were passed he should like to be satisfied that both the clergy and laity had thoroughly considered all its provisions, and that it avoided the difficulty of doing something which might afterwards turn out to be opposed to their wishes. He would suggest that the Bill be read a second time, upon the distinct understanding that by so doing the House was only pledged to the principle that a greater share of the government of the Church should be given to the laity. The advocates of this Bill spoke of it as intended to assist the clergy, and the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Adderley) had said that the experiment of these councils had already been tried. This was an entire mistake—the experiment which had been tried was that of voluntary councils, which only existed with the goodwill of the clergyman, and as assisting councils to him. But the moment you gave a legal status and power to such councils, they became not assisting but controlling councils, and the clergyman would, in fact, become the servant of the council, and his position in the parish be entirely changed. Now, it behoved them to take care that the powers they proposed to vest in the councils were not of such a character as would justify the latter, not only in assisting the clergymen, but also in dictating the course they should take in the administration of the services of the Church. The discontent which arose in parishes in consequence of the adoption of change by the clergyman subsided in the course of time; it generally proceeded from some small changes introduced very often by the order of the Bishop, and objected to chiefly from that dislike of change which was so common in Englishmen. But if every such change was to be accepted or rejected by the vote of a council he feared that every evil would be magnified. There were some objections to the clauses of the Bill, and particularly to the 6th clause, which required the person elected to make a declaration that he was a communicant of the Church of England. Such a provision would be opposed to the tendency of modern legislation, which was to remove qualifications of that kind. Moreover, his noble Friend attached great value to the broad nature of the contemplated constituency, which was to embrace all ratepayers. This was quite right, if the council were to have the powers given in the Bill to deal with matter "affecting the general interests of the parish," but in that case it was equally right that no such restriction as that proposed should be placed upon the persons to be elected. The 13th clause directed that appeals should be made to the Bishop within 21 days, and that the appeal should also be decided within 21 days. He thought it would be impossible to impose such a restriction upon a Court of Appeal. It had been said that the Bill had been before the House two years, but, as a matter of fact, it was only introduced for the first, time on the 28th of June last year; and although it had been brought in during the early part of the present Session, it had not been printed more than five or six days. More time ought to be given for the consideration of a Bill which proposed to make such vital changes in the Church of England. He did not admit that parishioners required to be given by law more opportunities of meeting, and he believed that the great majority of clergymen were anxious to consult the feelings of their parishioners. Much had been done within the last 30 years by voluntary exertion; and there had been a gradual improvement in the relations between clergymen and parishioners. The former were awakening to the exigencies of their position, and knew that if the Church was not supported by public opinion, it must cease to exist as an establishment. It might be true that in former times there had been much neglect, and clergymen were rarely to be found meeting together, unless, indeed, in the hunting field or at the cover-side. Happily, however, all this had changed. The Diocesan meetings already alluded to had been of the greatest service, and although there might here and there be instances of extravagant conduct, the great body of the clergy zealously laboured to do their duty. He believed that public opinion was the best controlling power, and he should be sorry to see the position of the clergy in any way degraded. He should not be disposed to vote for the second reading of the Bill, unless upon the understanding, suggested by the hon. Member for South-west Lancashire, that there should be no attempt to proceed further with legislation this Session, and that time should be given to ascertain the views of the clergy and of Churchmen generally upon the Bill.


joined in the appeal made by the Under Secretary for the Colonies, and would entreat the noble Lord (Viscount. Sandon) to be satisfied with the full discussion his measure had received. He agreed with his right hon. Colleague (Mr. G. Hardy), that the time was not ripe for legislation. Only nine months had elapsed since the first introduction of the Bill, and in that period the noble Lord had been induced to make considerable alterations in it. Could it be said that the House was agreed upon the details or the principle of the Bill? Indeed, he should like to ask the noble Lord, what was the principle of the measure? The principle was usually stated in the Preamble; but in this case there was no recital or Preamble at all. Under these circumstances was the House prepared to go to a Select Commitee? This was legislation affecting the Church; and, therefore, he might fairly ask what was the public opinion of the Church, and whether there were any petitions on the Table of the House, from which that opinion might be gathered? The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge had received one Petition against the Bill, and he (Mr. Mowbray) had presented another; but there had been no time for the clergy or laity to express their opinions on the matter. It appeared that the constituency which should elect the council was to include every parishioner, whether attending the Church or not; but was it to be supposed that members of the Church would consent to have its ministrations directed by those who did not believe in the truths it taught? Great confusion of ideas existed, apparently, as to the test which was proposed to be applied, for some hon. Members protested against a revival of the old Test Acts. In questions involving the exercise of political power, there was a strong objection to tests applied by a particular denomination; but it would be only acting in accordance with the commonest principle of justice to require that those only who took part in the services of the Church should direct its ministrations. They could not legislate until they knew what was thought in the country on this matter; and a Select Committee could only obtain that information by communication with the Church. He trusted, therefore, the noble Lord would not act with precipitation on this momentous question.


I do not intend on this occasion to deliver any opinion on the part of the Government respecting the present Bill. I feel strongly—and I think that is the sentiment of my Colleagues—that no advantage is gained by premature interposition of Administrations in ecclesiastical questions. By premature interposition I mean this—it is not expedient that they should interfere at all until they see, or think they see, that their interference will materially conduce to bring about an early and complete settlement. Their interposition at an earlier stage is apt to communicate the character and colour of party to that which it is eminently desirable to keep from, and separate from such association. Next to that, I feel it is our duty to avoid inflaming any of these questions by the mode in which we discuss them. I hold that not only upon the general ground that heat should not be needlessly imparted into controversy, but it is almost an axiom of Parliamentary conduct in modern times that when an ecclesiastical question proper—not a secular question with an ecclesiastical aspect—or a religious question touching the Established Church, comes to be greatly inflamed by passion, the settlement of it becomes entirely hopeless. I think the House has acted upon that principle in the manner in which this question has been discussed. The expression of opinion that has proceeded from all quarters of the House, irrespective of party connection, has been such as to give a good omen that, if the question is one that admits of effectual legislation, no obstacle will arise to that legislation from the state of mind in which we approach the subject. I had not the pleasure of hearing the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) to-day, for I have been elsewhere; but I can well believe, from my recollection of the manner in which he introduced the question last year, that he has well deserved the eulogies which have been passed upon his motives, and upon the zeal and ability with which he addressed himself to the subject. It is very much on account of the tone which has characterized the consideration of the measure up to this time that I should feel indisposed to vote against the second reading of the Bill. We all think the noble Lord has every claim upon our forbearance and our assistance which his zeal and his many qualifications can give him. We also are prepared, I think unanimously, to admit that it is desirable that a greater active influence should be possessed by the laity of the Church of England. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) has gone one step further, and said that it is, in his opinion, desirable that greater influence should be secured by legal enactment. There it is, I think, that we come to the point of difficulty in the case. I own to being unable, up to the present time, to make up my mind as to whether we ought to prefer that sort of progress which we may undoubtedly observe in the country in connection with the voluntary system, so far as lay co-operation is concerned, or whether we ought to attempt to legislate upon the matter. I think that the balance must be decided between these two modes of proceeding by what we find to be practicable in the way of shaping the provisions of the Bill. It is admitted that we cannot take the provisions of this Bill as they now stand, as exhibiting the conditions of a satisfactory measure. The criticisms upon them which we have heard have been delivered in no uncandid spirit; as to details, they have remained, to a considerable extent, without answer, or without sufficient answer. And it must be observed that it is idle to push beyond a certain point your approval of the principle of a Bill on account of your reserved objection to details; because it can only be decided in each case for itself how far the details enter into the principle and are inseparable from it. Now, upon that question I do not think we have, as yet, received sufficient light. Let us look at some of the objections taken to important provisions of the Bill. I shall not dwell upon the objections which have been taken to the clause respecting appeals, because it appears to me totally impossible that that clause can stand as it is now framed in the Bill. If I remember it rightly, 21 days are given to the incumbent to appeal to the Bishop; and, strange to say, the judgment of the Bishop must also be delivered in 21 days. It does not require us to reason upon such a provision as that to see that it must be greatly altered; but that would be no very difficult matter. There is, however, I think, much difficulty in determining the question with regard to the composition of the constituency which is to elect the council. My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire (Sir Charles Adderley) says that, objections having been taken from both sides, we may assume that the Bill is a juste milieu; and in that way he satisfies himself with regard to this very important portion of the provisions of the Bill. But what does my right hon. Friend himself say? In discussing the condition that the persons elected shall be communicants, he says the meaning of that provision is, that they shall be really an assembly of Churchmen, because only Churchmen are concerned in that which they are to do. But if only Churchmen are concerned in that which they are to do, why are they to be elected by persons who are not Churchmen? It is impossible to fail to observe that there is a very wide discrepancy between the character of the elected body and the character of the electing body. I must own, for one, that it would be with great reluctance that I should again see the word communicants introduced into an Act of Parliament. It would be in the nature of a backward step. I doubt very much whether it is necessary for the object which the Bill has in view, and unless it were so necessary I should not like again to see it become the subject of legislation. But, as I have said, I have great doubts in respect to the necessity. First of all, I have doubts in point of general principle. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. G. Hardy) has referred to the case—the only case, I believe—in which parishioners in this country can be said to act as an ecclesiastical constituency—namely, in the election of an incumbent in those parishes where that right is in the parishioners. In those cases—and they are very few—the parishioners, irrespective of religious distinction, act as the constituency; and it is impossible to describe in too strong language the unfitness which the constituency upon every occasion exhibits. The term "scandalous" is the only term which can with propriety be applied to the manner in which these elections are conducted. That certainly does constitute a reason for considering very seriously indeed before we proceed to give another distinctly and purely ecclesiastical function to that very body. Now, I must observe that there are a great number of cases in towns in this country where the Church has only recently become the church of the parish. It was erected in the first instance as the church of the district, and modern legislation has converted those districts into parishes; but the churches, to all intents and purposes, were voluntary and congregational churches—in many cases with no public endowment whatever. Therefore they are exempt entirely from the reach of that rule which my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. H. Richard) laid down in his able speech. I am not prepared to deny the principle. I admit that it is impossible, in regard to national property, to exclude Parliamentary control; but I ask you to look upon this as a local case. It may be desirable—I will not say it is not—to increase by law the power of the laity of the Church of England; but it does not follow that therefore in all parishes, entirely irrespective of their circumstances, it is desirable to increase the power of the laity in that particular parish. And why? Because in the class of parishes to which I now refer there is no laity whatever. There never has been a custom to vote a church rate, and in many of these cases churchwardens have never been elected, or if they exist they are nominally churchwardens; and there is no tie except that of a religious community between that congregation and the national Establishment of the country. The residents of the parish, not being members of the congregation, are just as foreign to the affairs of the Church as they are to the concerns of any church situated 500 miles away from them. Therefore it would not be a rational or expedient method of proceeding to give a purely arbitrary and fictitious legal character—a sort of corporate existence—to those persons, in order that they may take part in the direction of a church about which they care not one rush. All these matters are indications of the difficulty which attaches to this subject. The hon. Member for Merthyr, commenting upon the first proviso of the 6th clause, observed that there was a total neglect of the claims of Nonconformists. My hon. Friend observed a certain amount of reserve, and did not fully develop his idea as to the method in which he would recognize the claims of Nonconformists—and he acted, I think, with very considerable judgment. In putting forward his abstract objection he made a somewhat good point, for it is perfectly true that the noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) begins by recognizing the claims not only of Nonconformists, but of persons who may be totally disassociated from religious observances of every kind; but when he comes to the elected body he declines to recognize any except those who are members of the Church of England under the strictest test which it has ever been attempted to apply. Still, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr himself, who approves of the Bill, would find a certain amount of difficulty if he were to endeavour to frame such a Bill consistently with his own principles, and devise provisions for regulating the composition of an elected body which was to manage the services of the Church of England in all their details, and which, at the same time, was to give what would be considered a full and handsome recognition of the claims of Nonconformists. These are very difficult matters; and of such difficulties the question is full. I cannot myself say that I think the case is one of primary necessity. At the same time I admit that there is quite enough of expediency in good legislative provisions for the increase of the legal power and influence of the laity of the Church of England to make it worth our while to search and probe the question to the very bottom, in order that we may not leave it unless upon proof that we cannot make way. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Staffordshire (Sir Charles Adderley) spoke strongly of discord in the affairs of the Church of England in different parishes. I admit that there has been a sensible, although an inconsiderable, number of cases in which the feelings of the laity with regard to the conduct of the Church services has been lightly interfered with; and that is a great public evil. I am disposed to go further, and say—though it may seem paradoxical to say that there can be a vested interest in abuses—that the laity have a quasi- vested interest in the services of the Church, and that improvements ought not to be forced down their throats. But this Bill carries us entirely off the ground of merely defensive provisions to prevent precipitate and insufficiently considered changes. On the other hand, it is fair to admit that, apart from controversies about excess—which may have been produced by one side or the other, or both—those of us who can carry back recollection to 30 or 40 years ago, have lived to see a marvellous change in the conduct of services of the Church of England. I do not scruple to say that, when I was a boy, in the bulk of the parish churches of England, so far as my experience goes, the service was carried on with a coldness, deadness, and irreverence which would hardly have been tolerated by any other body of Christians upon earth; and I am sorry to say that what we call the laity of the Church of England were for the most part but too well contented with that state of things. It is not by their action that the Church of England has been delivered from that condition, but on the whole by the zeal, devotion, and perseverance of the clergy; and it was a matter of course that in the development of that zeal, devotion, and perseverance, many errors, and some grievous errors, should be committed. I think the clergy are perfectly aware that they ought to conciliate the parishioners, and to obtain their co-operation. They have every motive for doing so. Take the position of a clergyman merely with reference to his schools. How is it possible for him to support them without the aid of his parishioners? But I hope there are many higher and better motives than the desire of obtaining pecuniary gain. I do not think, on the one hand, that our case is desperate if for a time we have to trust to the further development of the voluntary system, and the various modes and forms of lay co-operation which we see now in action. On the other hand, I agree that if we can devise a good legal system it ought to be done. With regard to the practical course which is to be adopted, it has been suggested by the hon. Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Cross) that the noble Lord might take the second reading of the Bill and prosecute it no further. I should be perfectly prepared to concur in that course, and I am not at all sure that it would not be the best course that could be taken. It has also been recommended by the right hon. Member for Morpeth, and the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. But if we concur in the second reading, with a view of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, another important question will arise. What is the Select Committee to do? Is it merely to consider the clauses of the Bill? That is a course which may be pursued with perfect propriety when a question has become matured, and Parliament is in possession of all the information bearing upon it. But when a question has not reached the degree of maturity, and when the public mind has been very little stirred upon it—and the great merit of the noble Lord in this matter is that he is a pioneer and forerunner and stirrer up of the public mind—it is not expedient that the Select Committee should confine itself merely to clauses. It should by examination of witnesses endeavour to place itself in fuller possession than any of us, except the noble Lord, can say we now are, of the real mind of the country on the subject. I think that if this Bill is read a second time, and referred to a Select Committee, that Committee ought not to be debarred from inquiry; and I am glad to see that is likewise the view of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mowbray) who suggested a reference to a Committee. I need not say that if that is done, we should, when the Bill returned from the Committee, again meet to discuss it, I hope, in the same spirit which has been displayed to-day, and with minds perfectly free and unprejudiced. We should then be at liberty as much as we are now to form a deliberate judgment upon the question which lies at the root of the whole matter—whether, upon the whole, it is better for us to attempt to face the hazards for the sake of gaining the advantages of a legislative system, or whether it is wiser, at least for the present, to rest contented with the continually growing and improving state of opinion on this subject in the Church, and the disposition of that opinion to manifest itself in various forms of lay co-operation, which, being perfectly voluntary and free, hold out the best possible promise of curing any errors or deficiencies in the methods adopted, and of preserving unbroken the confidence which exists amongst members of the Church.


said, considering the lateness of the hour, and the length of the debate, he would not trouble hon. Members by replying to the various criticisms on the Bill, but would proceed at once, after the many appeals which had been made to him on both sides of the House, to state the course he proposed to take upon this question. In the first place, he had to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House, and belonging to various religious Bodies, for the considerate spirit in which they had approached the subject. He was much gratified by the friendly reception which had been accorded to the measure, and was sure that the long debate upon it would be productive of the best results. While heartily thanking the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government for the way in which he had received the Bill, he must observe that he thought he could not fairly be considered to have shown undue haste in getting a discussion upon the question, for it had been largely considered at most of the clerical meetings during the Recess—at the Church Congress, at Convocation, and other gatherings; and had also been ably and fully discussed not only by the ecclesiastical Press, but also by almost all the leading journals of the day. He assured the House, however, that he was most unwilling to urge hon. Members to express a definite opinion upon the subject, which had not yet, he was willing to confess, been before the country for a full year, and which was both a grave and a difficult one. He gladly, therefore, accepted the proposition of the Prime Minister that the Bill be now read a second time, with the understanding that all it committed the House to was the admission of the legal right of the laity to a share in the government of the affairs relating to the Church in their respective parishes. He believed the adoption of that course would be most accordant with the wishes of hon. Members; would be most advantageous to the cause; and would fully answer the present purpose, by showing the country that the House was earnest in the matter. With regard to the question of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, it would be but a waste of the time of the House to go into the subject in Committee at this moment, as they had agreed that there should not be legislation upon it this Session. It would be much better before doing so to allow it to be further discussed both by the clergy and the laity throughout the country; and he was confident that further examination of the Bill would show the country that it had been framed with care and consideration, and that many of the apprehended difficulties had been met and provided for. After the very favourable expression of opinion in this House as to the main principle of the Bill, and the acknowledgment of its value and of the need of some such action, even on the part of those who did not agree with the measure, he hoped, should circumstances allow, to be able to re-open the subject in the next Session. He was, however, extremely anxious not to push the matter too rapidly; and if it should appear to the country—as he believed, after full discussion and consideration, would be the case—that some legislation was needed, it was his earnest desire that legislation should take place with the hearty assent not only of the laity, but also of the great body of the clergy, to whom was due from the nation a very great debt of gratitude.


hoped, after what had fallen from the noble Viscount, the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope) would not deem it necessary to press his Amendment, but to allow the Bill to be read a second time. He believed that, on reflection, the author of the Bill would find it desirable entirely to re-cast the measure, as at present it imposed upon the members of the Established Church a degradation to which no religious Body had ever been subjected.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment on the understanding that, by the second reading of the Bill to-day, the House was committing itself only to the general principle of the measure.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for this day six months.