HC Deb 12 March 1879 vol 244 cc780-8

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, lie would not at that late hour (a quarter to 5 o'clock), for an obvious reason, occupy the attention of the House for more than a very few minutes. The object of the Bill was to amend, by ex-tending the principle of the Act of 1870, which had been as a Bill introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert). He would remind the House that, previous to the passing of the Act of 1801, which was popularly known as Home Tooke's Act, the Clergy were not debarred of the privilege of sitting as Members of the House of Commons. They had in the reign of Charles H. surrendered their right of taxing themselves in Convocation, and thereby becoming, as they did, subject to the liabilities of all other members of the community as regarded the public burdens, they were accorded the right of choosing Members of Parliament to represent them, and, with that right, of becoming Members of Parliament themselves. The latter privilege was questioned in the year 1785, when Mr. Push-worth, a clerk in Holy Orders, was returned for Newport, Isle of Wight. The objection to the return was that Mr. Push worth was a clergyman; but a Committee of the House of Commons reported that he was duly elected. So the law remained till the year 1801, when Mr. Home Tooke was elected for Old Sarum, and the validity of his return was questioned on the alleged ground that he was a clerk in Holy Orders, and that clergymen might resume the right to tax themselves in Convocation. It was well known, however, that the real objection to Mr. Home Tooke was that he was a strong adherent to the Opposition and a strong opponent of the Government of the day, and the result was the passing of an Act excluding clerks in Holy Orders from the privilege of becoming Members of Parliament. That it was a personal Act was shown from the fact, among others, that it was universally known as Home Tooke's Act. Between 1801 and 1870 nothing was done to remove the disability; but in the latter year the hon. Member for Oldham passed a measure, which to a certain degree placed the Clergy in the same position as other members of the community, provided they voluntarily relinquished their office as ministers of the Church. He did not see why the same privilege should not be extended to Clergymen, who, while they renounced all preferment in the Church, retained the right to occasionally discharge their sacred functions, and who discharged all the duties of citizenship. The Bill would, in fact, be applicable only to those who from conscientious scruples did not wish to hold their benefices, but yet were not prepared altogether to divest themselves of their sacred functions. Under the Irish Church Act, clergymen of the Disestablished Church were eligible to become Members of that House, and he trusted that the House would agree to the extension of the principle of the Act of 1870, which the Bill would sanction, and to which his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) had expressed himself favourable during the debates which were held in reference to that Act.

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


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, pointed out that the present state of things was very different from that which prevailed when the Act of 1870, to which his hon. Friend had referred, was passed, and when he himself had made the speech in question. The absolute inability of clergymen to sit as Members of Parliament was then the law; but under the Bill of the hon. Member for Oldham, which thus passed into law, a clerk in Holy Orders who, so to say, unfrocked himself, became entitled, like any layman, to seek a seat in Parliament. As it left the House of Commons, it embodied a machinery for clergymen who had availed themselves of its provisions to abandon their new civil privileges and to resume their sacred character, which was, to his great regret, struck out in the House of Lords. The very last Division of the Session was an unavailing effort of his own to re-instate it. He did not pretend to like the measure in any shape, but this recognition of the enduring character of Orders was a mitigation of its other provisions; and he was bound to thank his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham for the friendly spirit with which he accepted its being put in the Bill. In all which he himself said at the time, he concluded that this provision would in some shape or other be retained. Such, however, did not prove to be the case; and now this anomalous capricious Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) contained no such provision. The state of things had been entirely altered now that the Act of 1870 in its latter shape had become law; and the passing of the present Bill would, he believed, not only not mitigate a grievance which he found in their present circumstances, but would considerably aggravate it. As the law stood, the clergyman who desired to come into Parliament had to renounce the outward exer- cise of his clerical office; but the present Bill would extend to him that privilege, provided only he engaged to hold no preferment. But under the present Bill the occasional performance of the services of the Church would not be a disqualification to sit in Parliament. Indeed, if it passed, they could hear with great benefit the Chaplain of Mr. Speaker read prayers before the Business of the evening commenced, and hear the same reverend gentleman, he had no doubt with great pleasure and advantage, dilating upon a political subject. It would allow a clergyman on Sunday to defend his speeches by his sermon, and during the week to defend his sermon by his speeches. The reverend Member of Parliament would be absolved from the painful sobering work by the beds of the sick and wretched, which made up the round of pastoral duty to the vicar and his curate; but the enjoyments of the sacred profession would still be his. He would still be eligible to take part in musical Church service, to display his reading of the ornate Rubric, and have the pleasure of listening to his own voice in the pulpit, even in these days of depression, when no constituency would lend its ears to his charming. Let the House have a care lest it should, by passing the Bill, create a so to say, dilettante class of clergymen, always in unrest, always dreaming that their eloquence was wasted in the pulpit, but would be productive of great public advantage if heard in the House of Commons in reference to some Bill on a Wednesday or to some Motion on Friday. He believed that if the measure were passed, it would introduce a fresh source of strife into the Church; for, instead of adding to the elasticity on which so much of the good working of the Church depended, the effect would be to substitute a rigid system of repression and suspicion. As things were, nothing could be more precise than the law which compelled the clergyman who acted as a curate to do so with the Bishop's formal licence; while, on the other hand, nothing could be more liberal or sensible than the manner in which this provision was in practice relaxed. But if this Bill passed, such relaxation would become impossible, for the Bishop could not tell whether the virtual curate might not expand into an epicure statesman. It would lead to a disturbance and dislocation of things all round. He was surprised to hear the assertion that a clergyman of the Disestablished Church of Ireland was eligible for a seat in that House, any more than the Clergy of the Church of Rome, or the ministers of the Scotch Episcopalian Church, and of the Scotch Established Church, were. No such right had been claimed, and he believed no such right existed. If the disabilities were removed from one class of clergyman, as this Bill contemplated, they ought to be removed from the other. The irregular curate had no right to shoulder out the regular curate, nor either of them to slip in before their rector; while it would be against all equity to create a privilege for the Clergy of the Church of England which was refused to those of the Church of Rome. If at last they saw a Bishop's Bench in this House, it would be the legitimate result of the hon. Member for Chippenham's action. By the passing of the Bill the Clergy would be divided into political and non-political representatives of their order. That would be a very undesirable state of things, and he hoped the House would support the Amendment he now moved—namely, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


thought the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) was very hard to please. The hon. Gentleman had objected to the measure of 1870, because it would not enable a clergyman to enter the House without divesting himself of his clerical robes; and now, when a Bill was introduced which did propose to do that, he still objected. It was very little this Bill proposed to do; it was but very few persons it would ever admit to the House. If the proposal, however, was a just one, there was no reason why it should not become law. He did not look upon the measure as being at all antagonistic to the spirit of the Act of 1870, which he had the honour of in- troducing to the House. It was in his view, however, a step in advance, and he should therefore support it. It would allow a clergyman to sit in the House without having unfrocked himself and become a layman. Lay Members of the House could preach occasionally if they pleased, and he saw no reason why clergymen should not sit in the House if, during the time of their occupying the position of a Member of the House, they gave up their preferments. The presence of clergymen in the House would add much to the intelligence of the debates on county and local matters, and he saw no reason why the constituencies should be debarred from selecting their representatives from the most intelligent class of the community. To fight against the proposal of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Groldney) would be to fight against a shadow, and he hoped the Bill would be allowed to pass.


seconded the Amendment. He said, he should not have done so if it were not for the fact that the proposition was so objectionable to his mind, that he did not feel justified in giving a silent vote. He had been asked by a friend—"What have the parsons done to you, that you wish to keep them out of the House?" It was quite the other way. He had so strong a regard for the sacred character of a clergyman, that he should be extremely sorry to see him brought from the Church to take part in the proceedings of the House of Commons. The possibility of a clergyman administering the holy rites of religion to him one day, and then making his appearance on the floor of the House of Commons the next, was utterly repugnant to his feelings. It was quite enough that he should hear his clergyman in the pulpit without hearing him there. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) had referred to the possibility of a Dissenting minister sitting in the House and preaching out-of-doors as well. That might be so; but it was no justification for the present proposition, nor was he (Sir William Edmonstone) influenced by the consideration also mentioned by the hon. Member, that Clergymen in Lancashire took an active and important part in the management of the county business. He felt that they had no right to sit in that House. He hoped they would never be allowed to do so, and he should certainly do his utmost to keep them out.


believed there was only one person actively stirring in this matter, and was sorry to say this was a Friend of his. He regretted, on this account, that he felt obliged to oppose the Bill; but no consideration of friendship would induce him to fail in opposing a Bill which involved so large a principle. The Bill itself was in very few words, but its principle was a very comprehensive one. Under the Act, passed through the House of Commons by the hon. Member for Oldham, but altered by the House of Lords in 1870, it was perfectly competent for a gentleman in Holy Orders to become a Member of the House of Commons, by absolving himself from the obligation of those Orders; but the proposal of this Bill was to retain that obligation—so that, under this Bill, Members might be returned to this House fettered by Orders and their inherent obligation of obedience to the higher officers of the Church; future Members of the House might, and probably would, if this Bill were to pass, occupy seats in that House on terms different from those upon which other Members, who were free from any such obligations, sat in that House. This would be importing Clerical Orders, and the obedience they entailed, into the House of Commons. Let the House look at this question from another point of view. Reference had been made to the fact of Bishops sitting in the House of Lords. The Bishops sat in the House of Lords by virtue of their baronies, which were, in principle, equivalent to the benefices held by the priests of the Church of England. The House was, by this Bill, asked to treat the holding of benefices as a disqualification, which, as a qualification, were equivalent—though neither in rank they would confer, nor in value, yet, still, in principle, equivalent—to the qualification by which Bishops sat in the House of Lords. But the two cases were entirely different. By the constitution of the House of Lords, the fact of being in Orders was not a disqualification; whereas the House of Commons had, by repeated decisions, held that it was inconsistent with the constitution of that House, in which they had no Bishops, inconsistent with the equal freedom of those admitted to it, that any man claiming to remain under the obligation of Orders should be admitted to a seat in that House. The principle upon which Parliament with respect to that House had invariably acted was, he believed, a sound principle. Parliament had, by the Act of 1870, afforded to any clergyman, who chose to avail himself of it, the opportunity of taking his seat in the House of Commons by repudiating the obligation of his Orders; and if a man said, "I will not repudiate the obligation of his Orders," by refusing to avail himself of this provision of the Act of 1870, the person interested raised up against himself a barrier, which had always been held sufficient to exclude from a seat in the House of Commons, even before the case of Mr. Home Tooke, who was enabled to take his seat through an uncertainty in the terms of the Statute used to express the law. An Act was passed in consequence, which still declared the law. There was another point. No person, being a Noncomfor-mist minister, was thereby disqualified from sitting as a Member of the House of Commons—and very justly; because not one of the Protestant denominations held the indelibility of Orders. It was otherwise with the Church of England, and otherwise with the Church of Rome. In both cases, the vast majority of the Clergy held that their Orders were indelible—that the obligation to obedience under the Orders of their Church was life-long. If clergymen of the Church of England were to be allowed, on the terms proposed in the Bill, to sit in the House of Commons, there could be no reason why priests of the Church of Rome should not also have the same right to be elected and to sit. He thought the Clergy of the Church of England were right in holding, as the majority of them did, that they were bound to obedience during life; and if they acted consistently with the doctrines and constitution of their Church, the priests of the Church of Rome were still more stringently bound for life also. That being so, he regretted that any attempt should have been made to enforce the admission of clergymen to the House, in spite of this life-long obligation under their Orders. Prizing, as he did, the character of this House, and the freedom of its Members under the law, subject only to the obligation of loyalty to the Sovereign, but free in other re spects to exercise their judgment, and speak their minds without other restraints than those imposed by the House itself, he should heartily vote against the Bill, as being thoroughly inconsistent with the principles of the constitution of the House.


having briefly replied,


said, he deeply regretted that he could not support the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham. He could not help thinking that if clergymen wished to come into Parliament, they ought to do so by means of the Act which had already been passed. There was, so far as he could see, no sufficient reason for passing the Bill; and, on the other hand, he thought it was fraught with much of difficulty and danger. ["Divide, divide!"]


said, after what had fallen from the Home Secretary, hon. Gentlemen might rest assured he would not talk out the Bill; he would only say a few words. The Act which had enabled clergymen of the Church of England to divest themselves of Holy Orders went very far; but this Bill proposed to do what was far worse, by permitting clergymen to retain their sacred character and to engage in utterly incompatible pursuits. He looked upon the measure as one fraught with great danger to society, and one which ought not to have been sprung upon them at the end of a Morning Sitting.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 66; Noes 135: Majority 69.—(Div. List, No. 42.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Beading put off for six months.

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