HC Deb 17 February 1879 vol 243 cc1303-4

asked Mr. Attorney General, If his attention has been called to the prospectus of the newly-formed "Clergy Co-operative Association (Limited)," which provides for the carrying on by the clergy of various trades, including grocery, tobacco, wines, spirits, hosiery, tailoring, church furniture, &c., and if the Law Officers of the Crown are of opinion that such trading for profit on the part of the clergy is legal?


Sir, my attention has been called to the prospectus of the newly-formed "Clergy Co-operative Association (Limited)," and I have made inquiries with a view to ascertain the constitution of the association and the object it is designed to accomplish. I find that the association is, in fact, a company with limited liability, established under the Joint-Stock Companies' Act, and in this company there are, or are intended to be, a large number of shareholders, some clergymen and others laymen. The objects which the association is designed to carry out are, I am informed, to procure a supply of necessary commodities, such as tobacco, church furniture, and the other articles referred to in the Question, of good quality, and at a fair and reasonable price; to establish a refreshment room; and generally to provide temporal comforts for the members of the society. Now, Sir, such being the constitution of the association and the objects intended to be carried out by it, I cannot regard it as in any way a combination organized for the purpose of effecting any unlawful purpose, or any lawful purpose by unlawful means. It is, therefore, not illegal by the Common Law. There remains, however, the question whether these reverend and very reverend gentlemen who are or may be members of the association will render themselves liable to punishment by the Ecclesiastical Courts for the offence of illegally trading. This is a question upon which I do not feel myself very competent to give an opinion; but my belief is that the gentlemen to whom I have referred will place themselves in a position of safety if they do not act as directors or managers of the business, or personally officiate in the store. On this point, however, I would ask leave to refer the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leominster to an Act of 1838—viz., 1 & 2 Vict., c. 106, ss. 29 and 31.