HC Deb 03 June 1872 vol 211 cc1085-92

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read the third time."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)


said, he hogged leave to move the adjournment of the debate, in order to enable the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock another opportunity of asking the House to consider his Amendment to the Preamble of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Rylands.)


said, he thought it would be inconvenient and not in accordance with the custom of the House to accede to the Motion of his hon. Friend, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock had ample opportunity of giving Notice of his Motion if he intended to bring it forward.


said, there was plenty of time to take the opinion of the House upon his Amendment—Notice of which he had given when the Bill was in Committee, but which was by an oversight omitted from the Paper—if the Motion for Adjournment was withdrawn. When that was done, he should be perfectly willing to move the re-committal of the Bill, with a view to amending the Preamble in the way he proposed.


said, in that case, with the permission of the House, he would withdraw the Motion for adjourning the debate.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


said, he would now move that the Bill be re-committed, for the purpose of striking out of the Preamble the recital that the Reports made to Her Majesty by the Commissioners had been referred to the Convocations of York and Canterbury, who had reported to Her Majesty thereon. That was the first time for 210 years that such a recital had appeared in an Act of Parliament; but it seemed to be desired by a minority of the Church to get the principle established that nothing was to be done affecting the property, the dignity, or the interests of the Church without the previous assent of Convocation. That minority was very able, very active, very noisy, and very turbulent. Against this attempt the House ought to set its face. That was not a question of Conservative or Liberal, Whig or Tory, but of the laity against the clergy—the question of the right of the great body of the English laity to legislate as they pleased on Church questions. The clergy, moreover, had not the same ground now that they once had for demanding that Convocation should have something to do with these matters, for although up to the time of Charles II. they had no votes for Members of the House of Commons, yet that was no longer the case, and they now had their fair share of representation; and as the House of Commons represented them as well as all other classes, it was the business of Parliament to legislate on these matters as well as on other matters—a business which they had hitherto executed. This, he must further say, was an attempt on the part of a section of the clergy to have a sort of veto on the decisions of Parliament on matters affecting the clergy. For instance, a very distinguished clergyman, whose fame was co-extensive with the English language, the late Mr. Keble, wrote these words— I cannot get it out of my head that it would be justice and good statesmanship to state in the Preamble of the Church Subscription Act that the change had been approved by the Convocations of both Provinces. That might be very useful to us if Parliament should take to altering the Prayer Book. That meant that the clergy would like to procure a precedent for settling these matters as they thought best, instead of as Parliament thought best. He presumed that Convocation had made a Report on the subject, but it was not known to anybody out of Convocation. If it had, however, such a Report ought to have been placed on the Table of the House, so that they might see for themselves whether it was wise or prudent to be guided in their legislation by Convocation. The passage in the Preamble which he opposed was contrary to precedent, and it would introduce a very bad practice; and he must repeat that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was changing the practice of upwards of 200 years in introducing the words to which objection had been taken into the Preamble, and which he believed had been introduced without reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but solely on the right hon. Gentleman's own authority. He thought that the less they had to say to Convocation, and the less they recognized it, the better; and he, therefore, hoped that the House would support him in re-committing the Bill.


said, he had placed a Notice on the Paper to the effect that the Bill be read a third time that day three months, in the absence of his right hon. Friend who had just spoken, because he thought the House had been treated rather sharply by the rapid manner in which the Bill had been pressed forward. He, however, should not have taken that step did he not entirely sympathize with the observations of his right hon. Friend. He, like him, was opposed to the Bill, as well as to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who on a previous occasion put the Act of Uniformity in the same category with the Bill of Eights. Every fresh enactment, he contended, such as that with which the House was now dealing, only tied the hands of the clergy still tighter than they were bound before; for the House was, he might add, asked to legislate for the small number of the clergy who held daily services, and the matter was one in which the laity had little concern, inasmuch as those daily services had not yet, he believed, taken much hold upon them; indeed, in many cases it was admitted that the congregation was confined to the clergyman's family. Convocation, too, had treated one of the recommendations of the Ritual Commission about the Athanasian Creed in a manner which, in his opinion, did not entitle them to very great respect; and, that being so, he had great pleasure in seconding the Motion of his right hon. Friend.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the words "Bill be" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "re-committed, in respect of the Preamble,"—(Mr. Bouverie,)—instead thereof.


said, he thought the hon. Member for Warring-ton (Mr. Rylands), as well as his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), put the matter at issue much higher than the nature of the case required. As the Preamble was originally drawn, it consisted of two parts. The second part contained a recognition that the House was about to alter the existing law, in pursuance of a Report made by Convocation, and so long as that constituted a portion of the Preamble, there was no doubt great force in the observations of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. As, however, it had been withdrawn from the Bill, the observations of the right hon. Gentleman no longer applied. For what was it the House was now asked by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to do? One of the most reasonable things he thought to which its sanction could be required. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock said that if the Bill were passed in its present shape Convocation would actually have a veto on the legislation of Parliament. There was, however, nothing in the Bill to justify that remark. All that was asked was, that as Parliament was the only body which could legislate at the present time, either with reference to the Established Church or with reference to any other subject, it should give the ministers of that Church, in a case most vitally affecting their obligations and the discharge of their duties, an opportunity so far of stating their opinions as to give their consent to such a proceeding as the House was asked to sanction. Could anything be more reasonable? The clergy, as the law now stood, were bound to use the services of the Church in a particular manner, and could be released from doing certain things only by the action of the Legislature. That being so, the question resolved itself into the reasonableness of the change proposed—namely, that the clergy should be enabled to shorten the services on week days and to separate the services on Sundays. If that were done with the full concurrence of the people of the country, was it not well to have the full concurrence of the clergy also, without whose willing consent legislation would not have that effect which it was desirable it should produce? Under the circumstances, he for one thought the proposal of the Government a most proper one.


said, his right hon. Friend who had just spoken had omitted to take any notice of the real practical difficulty which had been raised by the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock. A Report, it appeared, had been made by the Commissioners, and their Report had been referred to Convocation, who reported to Her Majesty. But what, he should like to know, did the House know of the Report of Convocation? Who had seen it? He, for one, was not aware that there was any such Report, and he declined, on conscientious grounds, to affirm in the Preamble of a Bill the existence of a document of which he had no personal knowledge and of which there was no record.


said, he was not at all desirous to enter again into a discussion of the subject, but after the pointed—he might say the invidious—appeal which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock, he had no choice but to reply to his observations. He would first, however, in answer to his right hon. Friend who had just sat down, remark that the statement of a responsible Minister of the Crown was, in his opinion, amply sufficient to establish the fact of the existence of the Report in question. He would, however, add that his right hon. Friend had based his opposition to the Preamble on a ground totally different from that which had been taken by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, in whose speech the fact that there was no Parliamentary record of the Report of Convocation formed an entirely secondary feature. From what his right hon. Friend who spoke last had said, he (Mr. Gladstone) had inferred that if that Report had been placed on the Table, and he saw no objection to it, he would not support the opposition which was offered to the Bill. But the opposition of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock would by no means be removed by the production of the Report, for he had based his opposition on much broader grounds, contending that it was wrong there should be any reference at all to the proceedings of Convocation. If this had been a Government Bill, the Report would have been laid upon the Table; but it had been introduced by and on the part of the Church, with the consent of the Government, although not by their agency. Having passed through the House of Lords, and the Church having no official means of passing it through the House of Commons, it became a question whether the Government should take it up. They looked at it upon its merits, which he did not think the right hon. Gentleman had done—and he must add that if the language and tone of the right hon. Gentleman were to be introduced into debates upon Church matters, it would be much better not to introduce Church matters at all. He did not think he had shown an undue disposition to meddle with Church matters—["Oh, oh!"]—unless in the case of the Irish Church. The Government had proposed no Bill touching spiritual matters in the Church and the only Bill they had introduced on the pecuniary arrangements of the Church, was the Bill with regard to the resignation of Bishops intended to meet a practical grievance and deficiency, and by no means partook of a party nature. Not only that, but they had reached a time when legislation in relation to the Church was extremely difficult, and one of the modes of retaining some degree of practicability in that kind of legislation was to forswear the introduction of angry and irritating topics; and, accordingly, the Government thought the less they meddled with Church affairs the better. This Bill had been introduced into the House of Lords upon the recommendation of a Commission, with the assent of the clergy in Convocation and the Prelates in the House of Lords, and it had passed with the special recommendation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, after receiving the unanimous assent of the House of Lords. And yet against that they were told that the Preamble was the product of the action of a party in the Church, described in language which could not be agreeable to them. He (Mr. Gladstone) never had used and never would use expressions to hurt any religious body, and he regretted that the right hon. Member had not adopted the same rule. That, however, was not a question of a party in the Church. The right hon. Gentleman said it was not the Bill of the Archbishop but the Bill of the Prime Minister, whose office was such a sine- cure that, using the Primate as his instrument, he could find opportunity to concoct a scheme involving the elements of a conspiracy against the freedom of Parliament. [Laughter.] No doubt, the intentions of his right hon. Friend were honest, but there was not a word of truth in that representation. All he knew of the Bill had been communicated to him by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Government were not responsible for its origin; but having regard to the mode in which it reached that House they had thought it right to take charge of the Bill. He must say, further, that he knew of no claim on the part of the clergy to be consulted in these matters; for instance, the Government had legislated pretty stringently upon Church property without waiting for the assent of the clergy. It was a mistake, moreover, to suppose that in framing that Bill an intermediate period between this time and the time of the Act of Uniformity had been overlooked. Since that Act there had been no Bill affecting the services of the Church or strictly affecting the relations of the clergy to those services, until the Act relating to the Subscriptions of the Clergy. Successive Governments had encouraged the clergy to give their opinion upon this sort of legislation, but the reference to Convocation in the Preamble did not bar the power of Parliament to proceed without its assent any more than a reference to a Royal Commission prevented legislation without the approval of the Commissioners. His right hon. Friend felt probably, as he (Mr. Gladstone) did, that the less they had of this ecclesiastical legislation the better; but when it could be shown that it had been that all the parties interested desired the step proposed, it would have been churlish to have refused to assist in passing this measure into law.


said, one would have supposed from the speech of the Prime Minister that his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock had objected to the enacting part of the Bill. That was not so. What his right hon. Friend objected to was, that an entirely new precedent should be established by stating in the Preamble that the sanction of Convention had been obtained.


said, he deprecated as much as anyone the introduction into the Preamble of the reference to Convocation; but he could see nothing objectionable in recording the assent of a body whose dissent they could ignore.


said, whatever the result of the Motion might be, he must hold it to be a serious precedent that the House of Commons should act in a matter of this importance without having on the Table Papers which would show that the preceedings were regular, and that the statement in the Preamble was justified.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 160; Noes 89: Majority 71.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.