HC Deb 30 May 1872 vol 211 cc888-97

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Preamble postponed.

Clauses 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 5 (Separation of services).


moved, in page 3, line 30, after "used," to insert "with or." He thought it was desirable that shorter services should be used in the way provided in the Bill; but he regretted there was no provision for shorter services being used in country parishes, where there were seldom more than two services, as well as in towns, on Sundays.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 (Preaching a sermon without previous service).


moved in line 39, after "preached," to insert "anything in the Act of Uniformity to the contrary notwithstanding," with the view of making the meaning of the clause more clear, as he conceived that as the clause now stood the penalties imposed by the Act of Uniformity might be incurred under it.


said, he was advised that the clause was sufficiently clear as it was now expressed, and the introduction of the words would throw doubts on other parts of the Bill.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.



said, there was an important proposal in that Preamble which was almost without precedent in any Act that Parliament had ever passed. It was proposed really to make the clergy of the Church of England in their Convocation the absolute masters of Parliament, as far as the recital in an Act could do so. The Ritual Commissioners made their Report, and Her Majesty, acting, no doubt, on the advice of her responsible Ministers, gave her letters of licence for Convocation to consider that Report. Convocation accordingly considered it; and the House was now asked to assent to the recital that it was expedient, with a view to carry into effect, not the Report of the Commission issued by Her Majesty to inquire into the ritual and rubrics of the Church of England; but the Reports of the Convocation of the Provinces of Canterbury and York, to make certain provisions. There were only two quasi-precedents for such a course. The first was in the time of Henry VIII., when the assent of Convocation was recited in the Act of Parliament which enacted the divorce of that Monarch from Anne of Cleves. After the Reformation there were several alterations made in the Prayer Book by Act of Parliament, twice in the reign of Edward VI., and once in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; and in those Acts no reference was made to the proceedings of Convocation in the matter. In the Act of Uniformity, passed in the reign of Charles II., it was true there was a reference to the proceedings of Convocation, with respect to the Book of Common Prayer, as then submitted by the Crown and amended by them under Royal licence. But that was a most extraordinary time and occasion, being then just after the Restoration. There was then a Parliament of a most peculiar character, ready to carry into effect all the extreme views of the extreme High Church party of that period; and that was a precedent which the House would not like to follow. Moreover, the proceedings on that occasion in the time of Charles II. were of the most formal nature. The Book of Common Prayer was submitted to Convocation; they deliberated and reported upon it to the Crown, and the Crown sent a Message with that identical Book of Common Prayer to the House of Lords, and requested them to proceed upon that Book;—besides the reference to Convocation in the Act of Uniformity was not at all equivalent to that contained in the Preamble of the present Bill, which said it was expedient to carry into effect the Report of Convocation. Therefore, the precedent even in that time did not go the full length of this proposal. The House had no evidence whatever of any Report of Convocation. What did they know about the proceedings of Convocation? Did they read them or trouble themselves at all about them? Did they believe that they expressed the feelings of the great body of the laity? In many matters the opinions of the clergy in Convocation by no means expressed or represented the opinions of the laity. Technically, Convocation did not represent the Church. Nobody who knew anything about the law or the history of those matters could contend that they were the representative body of the Church of England. They merely represented the clergy. And now, for the first time, in the middle of the 19th century, they were asked to found their legislation on an important matter affecting the interests of that vast body belonging to the Church who were not of the clergy. That was really a revival of the ancient pretension of the clergy. It was one of the proposals of Convocation just before the Reformation and the Act of Submission, which subjected the clergy to the supremacy and authority of the Crown by their consent, that no measure should be passed affecting the clergy or the Church of England without the consent of Convocation. Henry VIII. in those days entirely disregarded that demand of the clergy; and it was reserved for the present time and the present Government to ask Parliament to assent to that proposal. He hoped the House of Commons would not assent to it. All who were interested in the welfare and the improvement of the Church ought to be very slow in giving their assent to it as Churchmen, for he was assured by those who were able—which he did not pretend to be—to judge of the spirit and temper of Convocation, and particularly of the Convocation of Canterbury, that if they could once establish that principle that no measure was to be passed by Parliament without the consent of Convocation to it, nothing would ever be done by the latter body for the improvement of the Liturgy, the services, and other matters affecting the Church. The only mode of affecting such improvements hitherto had been by Parliament altogether disregarding Convocation and their wishes; and they then took care when they saw they were met by determination to make their desires concur with those of the Legislature. Five or six years ago Parliament passed an important measure respecting the subscription of the clergy to the Articles and Liturgy of the Church, and there then was no recital or condition like that contained in the present Bill. He entreated the House not to create now, for the first time, a precedent of a most mischievous and dangerous character.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 25, to leave out from the words "And whereas," to the words "Her Majesty," in line 29, both inclusive.—(Mr. Bouverie.)

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


desired to express his regret that his right hon. Friend, instead of treating this as a dry matter of business, should have indulged so much in the language of exaggeration, for if they wished to make any progress in these difficult matters it could only be done by putting the severest curb upon the language they employed, and keeping literally and strictly within the facts in the assertions they made. His right hon. Friend had stated that before the Reformation there was a demand that no Bill should be passed relating to the Church without the assent of Convocation—[Mr. BOUVERIE: Of the clergy]—of the clergy assembled in Convocation, and his right hon. Friend asserted that that was the claim made in the present Bill. Now there was no such claim, nor was there any approach to it; and if his right hon. Friend had adverted to the second paragraph in the Preamble he should have admitted that it was a question whether the language of the Bill was exactly in conformity with precedent. But his right hon. Friend objected to the precedent, and said that the Act of Uniformity was due to the High Church party of a particular period, and that it was a proposal to make the clergy masters of legislation. Now, where was there any declaration that the assent of the clergy was necessary to the assent of Parliament? The recital in the Preamble was not the mere recital of the act of Convocation, but of the declaration of the Royal Commission. He presumed that his right hon. Friend adhered to the whole of his Amendment. The recital in the Preamble was a recital of what had taken place—a recital in strict analogy to the recital in the paragraph relating to the Royal Commission, and to which his right hon. Friend had made no objection, and the effect of his right hon. Friend's objection was that the House could not legislate except on the Report of a Royal Commission. Now he (Mr. Gladstone) was not content to admit any such assertions. He held that Parliament was competent to legislate without the assent of a Royal Commission, or the assent of Convocation. But what it was competent for Parliament to do was one thing, and what was a convenient method of procedure was another. The recital, too, to which his right hon. Friend objected was strictly conformable to the precedent established by the Act of Uniformity, and though, as his right hon. Friend said, the Act of Uniformity was only one precedent, that Act formed the basis of our procedure in this direction from 1661 to the present date. What it was now proposed to do was to follow exactly the precedent established by that Act. And why did he ask it? His right hon. Friend ought to know the exact position of the Government with regard to Bills of this kind. They were not measures of the Government in the same sense as Bills usually framed and designed by the Government. It was not desirable that the Government should mix itself in ecclesiastical matters more than necessity required. The course taken had been this:—When a serious want had been felt an attempt had been made, on the responsibility certainly of the Government of the day, to appoint a Commission, and to make that Commission, as much as possible, representative of the Church—and of course when he said the Church he meant the laity as well as the clergy—and, if the Report of the Commission was satisfactory, to make it the basis of ulterior proceedings. The first case of the kind in our time occurred under Lord Palmerston, and reference was made to Convocation to ascertain what the opinion of the clergy was with respect to the alterations proposed, which at that time affected the declaration which they were called upon to make. He did not suppose that Lord Palmerston or the Government of the day in any way intended to imply that Parliament was under any obligation to make that reference, but simply that, with a view to the preservation of harmony between the different orders of the State, it was convenient to adopt that course. He was certainly one of those who approved that method of proceeding; and in the same way it had now been thought fit to refer this question to Convocation to ascertain their opinion upon it. Was that an unjust or an unfair course to adopt with regard to the daily services of the Church? Who were the congregation at the daily services of the Church? They consisted chiefly of the clergy and their families. ["Oh!"] It should be remembered that those who attended these daily services were generally a few units in a parish, and it was not unreasonable that they should endeavour to learn the opinions of those who undertook these daily services voluntarily, at the cost of considerable labour, and partly with a view to their own edification. The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords by the Archbishop of Canterbury as the head of the clerical body of this country, and it had received not only the unanimous assent of that body, but the unanimous assent in its present form of the House of Lords. And now, having in the first instance been founded upon the Report of a Royal Commission constituted under the advice of the responsible Ministers of the Crown, and made as representative in its character as possible, as having not only received the willing assent of the clergy but the unanimous support of the House of Lords, both of its lay and spiritual Members, his right hon. Friend asked the House to refuse to follow the precedent established in the great statute—the Act of Uniformity—which had regulated our public worship down to the present day. He trusted that the House would not adopt the course proposed by his right hon. Friend, and thus add another to the already sufficiently numerous subjects beset with difficulty and disturbance which demanded the consideration of the House.


said, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had failed to notice the real practical Parliamentary objection which had been started by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), and had fixed upon that paragraph of the Preamble which referred to the Report of the Commissioners, and not to that which referred to the Reports of Convocation. Who, he should like to know, in that House had any acquaintance with the Reports of Convocation on which hon. Members were asked to legislate? As a matter of Order, therefore, he wished to ask the Prime Minister to inform the House whether he was aware of any precedent in which the House of Commons had been called to make Reports the basis of legislation of the contents of which it was in perfect ignorance?


said, he had carefully endeavoured to separate the two paragraphs of the Preamble which his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) had embraced in one and the same Motion, and he (Mr. Gladstone) had confined his speech entirely to the first paragraph.


said, the foundation of the proceeding referred to in Charles the Second's time was a formal Message to the Lords from the Sovereign stating what had been done by the Convocation, at the desire of the Crown, and laying before Parliament with the Book of Common Prayer, as revised by Convocation, a recital of that which the Crown had done. That, therefore, was a precedent which could not be quoted in favour of the present mode of proceeding. After what had fallen from his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, he hoped he would, at all events, assent to the strik- ing out of the words to which he objected in the second part of the Preamble.


wished to know, what knowledge the House could be supposed to have of the fact that Convocation had made the Report in question?


replied the House had the authority of the First Minister of the Crown, who stated on the part of Her Majesty that such a Report had been made. [Mr. GLADSTONE: And that of the Archbishop.] Speaking, he might add, with respect to the question of submitting to the Convocations of York and Canterbury matters connected with the Church of England, he could quite understand that many gentlemen connected with that Church would wish that it was more fully represented by Convocation. They should, however, bear in mind that Convocation as it stood was the only representative body of the Church and the clergy which we had at present. He should like to ask the members of other religious persuasions whether they would wish that that House should rise up in opposition to what had been done by the representative bodies of those persuasions? Such men ought, he thought, to look with some delicacy on the position which was occupied in that respect by the Church of England. Convocation had acted for her from time immemorial, and was her only representative body. The House of Commons, too, now occupied a very different position with respect to the Church of England than did the House of Commons in the time of Charles II.; for now it had Members from Ireland and Scotland, the one country having no Established Church, and the other having a Church which, in many respects, was of a different character from the Church of England. And would the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), he should like to know, wish the House of Commons to legislate on the services and doctrines of the Church in the first instance without consulting those who were her representatives? Her Majesty had been advised to issue letters of business to the two Convocations of Canterbury and York, and it would be a dangerous proceeding to strike out of the Bill the recital of the fact that Her Majesty had consulted Convocation and obtained the assent of the clergy to the changes recommended by the Ritual Commissioners. He quite admitted the supremacy of Parliament; but there were many ways in which he hoped it would never deem it right to exercise that supremacy, with which in the present instance there had not been the slightest desire to interfere. He entreated the House therefore, not for the sake of a mere suspicion that there was any interference attempted with its dignity, to set aside what many conscientious persons looked upon as a most important part of the Bill.


remarked that the Convocation of the Southern Province consisted of 149 members, of whom 107 were nominees of the Crown or of the Bishops, while only 42 members represented the parochial clergy, so that Convocation could hardly be taken as a fair representation of the clergy, and far less of the laity. But, as the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had agreed to strike out the latter part of the Preamble stating that it was expedient to carry into effect the Report of Convocation, he thought the House could not refuse to accept the statements of fact contained in the earlier paragraphs.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock had taken a sound constitutional view of the matter, and that the course proposed by the Prime Minister would make Convocation master of the situation. He thought the whole of the second portion of the Preamble should be omitted.


admitted that in drawing the Bill the precedent of the Act of Uniformity had been exceeded, and said he was therefore ready to strike out the latter paragraph of the Preamble.


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock pressed his Amendment to a division, he should vote for it. The late doings in Convocation did not give him such confidence in that body as would induce him to consent to the introduction for the first time of Convocation into an Act of Parliament.


remarked that the House of Commons was the only real lay representative of the Church of England, but it would not do any good for the Church until it got rid of the Act of Uniformity.


said, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government ignored the fact that there were in the House Nonconforming Members of the Church of England, who had as much right to speak on questions affecting the Church of England as any Member of the House. He simply wished to say, however, that there seemed to be a general disposition on the part of some Members of the Government and of the House to bring this country under the sway of sacerdotalism, and he must protest against such a course. He could see no reason for introducing these words into the Preamble, unless it was intended to give greater importance to the clergy of the Church of England.

Question put.

The Committee divided:— Ayes 141; Noes 97: Majority 44.

A further Amendment made.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.