HC Deb 21 May 1875 vol 224 cc719-23

, in rising to call attention to the reduction, by the Irish Church Act, in the number of Lords Spiritual sitting and voting as Lords of Parliament, and to the provisions of Section 2 of the Act for Establishing the Bishopric of Manchester—10 & 11 Vict., c. 108—said, that this section, which introduced the principle of rotation, involving the exclusion of junior Bishops from the House of Lords, excited warm discussion at the time the Act was passed. The opposition to it was led in the House of Lords by the late Earl of Derby, who felt so strongly on the subject that he recorded in the Journals of the House his protest against the clause, which was also opposed by Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Brougham, and the late Bishop of Winchester. In the House of Commons the opposition to the clause was led by Sir James Graham, and Mr. Stuart Wortley and other eminent Members also opposed the clause, and it only passed through the House by the support of hon. Members below the Gangway on the Liberal side, who were naturally opposed to any increase in the number of Lords Spiritual. For his part, he objected to the exclusion of junior Bishops from Parliament—first, on grounds of public policy, and secondly, on constitutional grounds. He objected to the exclusion on grounds of public policy for three reasons. He objected to it, first, because the Bishops were endowed with large powers, and it was of the last importance that they should be directly responsible for the exercise of their powers to public opinion. By placing the Bishops in the House of Lords they were put on the same footing as Ministers of State and other public men, and were liable to be questioned and called to account with reference to their actions out-of-doors; otherwise they would be practically irresponsible. In support of that proposition he might state that the late Bishop of "Winchester in 1847 adduced instances in which tyrannical acts on the part of Bishops had been arrested in consequence of questions being addressed to them in their places in Parliament. He thought, therefore, that the presence of the Bishops in the Upper House was a safeguard to the liberties of the clergy, and that any agitation on the part of any section of the clergy against an increase in the number of Lords Spiritual, arising out of jealousy of Episcopal authority, was extremely short-sighted. His second reason for desiring the repeal of the 2nd section of the Act was that it excluded from the House of Lords Bishops who were in the prime of life, and who were then best able to discharge their legislative functions, while at the same time it admitted Bishops who from age and infirmity might be unable to properly discharge such functions. His third objection to the 2nd section of the Act was that it would be to the advantage of the community at large that the lay and the Spiritual Peers should be brought together in the same Assembly. Nothing could be more calculated to narrow the minds of the Bishops than to shut them up with their clergy within the limits of their own dioceses. They would thus be mere "country" Bishops, destitute of all knowledge of the motives which guide mundane actions. On constitutional grounds he objected to the 2nd section of the Act for two reasons. The first was, that it limited the Prerogative of the Crown by restraining Her Majesty, her Heirs, and Successors from summoning to the Upper House the junior Bishops until vacancies occurred in the numbers of the elder Bishops. Was it desirable to fix a precise limit beyond which the Crown was not to go with regard to the creation of Spiritual Peers? By the Irish Church Act, the number of Spiritual Peers was reduced from 30 to 26. Was the number to remain for all time at 26? He further objected to the 2nd section of the Act on constitutional grounds, because it suspended a right which the holders of our ancient Sees had enjoyed from time immemorial—the right of being summoned to the Great Council of the Nation. In 1847, Lord Russell admitted, on the part of the Government of the day, that every Bishop was entitled to be served with a Writ of Summons to Parliament, unless that right was expressly taken away by Act of Parliament. He (Mr. Charley) might be reminded of the position of the Bishop of Sodor and Man; but the position of that Bishop was only in appearance an exception, the reason of his exclusion from the Imperial Parliament being that he was a Member of the Manx Legislature. The total number of Lords Spiritual having been recently reduced from 30 to 26, Parliament could with less hesitation approach the question of increasing the number. He could not see why there should be a system of rotation with regard to the Lords Spiritual and not with regard to the Temporal Peers. Before the Reformation the number of the Lords Spiritual greatly exceeded the number of the Lords Temporal. He had every confidence in Her Majesty's Government who, no doubt, were anxious to protect the union between Church and State, but he had felt it his duty to call the attention of Parliament to the subject which involved important considerations alike of public policy and constitutional law.


said, that with all respect to his hon. and learned Friend, he must say that he could not see anything either in the subject or the remarks which had been made which ought to occupy their attention beyond a very short time. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) took part in the debates of 1847, to which reference had been made, and he had felt at that time that the gain to the Church in elasticity by the creation of the Bishopric of Manchester was far more than a set-off for a slight departure from the old principle that every Bishop should be a Peer of Parliament. His hon. and learned Friend had not completed his own argument, and he (Mr. Beresford Hope) would suggest that he should carry his recommendation further, and that when the new Opera House was constructed on the Thames Embankment, it should contain a Bishops' Bench. He could not sympathize with the pathetic description which his hon. and learned Friend had given of the poor country Bishop sent down to his own diocese, and deprived of the opportunity of having his mind enlarged by a residence in London. It was well known in the case of the junior Bishops how they felt that they required to be resident for two or three years in their own diocese after their appointment, in order that they might become personally acquainted with its wants, and with the clergymen with whom they had to work. If his hon. and learned Friend had taken the trouble to consult the Bishops themselves on the subject, he felt certain that he would not have raised the question, and he was sure that the course which had been taken had strengthened, not weakened, the Church in the eyes of the country. He hoped the time of the House would not be taken up in the consideration of such a subject, and trusted that they would at once proceed to other business.


agreed very much with what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), and wished, at all events, that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Charley) had proposed some definite Resolution, instead of merely calling attention to the subject. The question was thoroughly gone into in 1847, the arguments which were now advanced had been fully considered, and what was regarded as a satisfactory settlement was then come to. As to the reduction in the number of Spiritual Peers caused by the Irish Church Act, that was a matter which ought rather to have been discussed before the Act was passed. It was never mentioned at that time, the settlement of 1847 being, no doubt, accepted as sufficient. In his opinion, Her Majesty's Government would be unwise at this time to make any alteration of the kind proposed. The arrangement to which he had referred had been found conducive to the best interests of the Church, and he did not think the alteration suggested would at all advance the cause which the hon. and learned Member for Salford had at heart.


trusted that the hon. and learned Member for Salford (Mr. Charley) would be satisfied in knowing that his opinions were not shared by other Members of the House. He thought the measure which enabled a Bishop to get acquainted with his diocese, instead of being a bad measure had tended to increase the efficiency of the Episcopal Bench. Beyond that, there was no more reason for creating more English Bishops because of the disestablishment of the Irish Church, than there would be for creating more English Peers if the Home Rulers succeeded in obtaining a Parliament of their own at College Green.

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