HC Deb 01 June 1880 vol 252 cc944-55

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was to abolish the congé d'élire, and to make provision for the appointment of Archbishops and Bishops direct by Her Majesty's Letters Patent under the Great Seal. He sought, in short, to abolish a mere form which was a mockery, tending to bring religion and religious usages into ridicule. The Bill was introduced in what he considered the best and truest interests of the Church; and he maintained that the conge d'élire had been condemned by the almost unanimous voice both of the laity and the clergy of this country as a mockery, a delusion, and a snare. The Dean and Chapter were compelled, under the penalties of prœmunire, to elect the person named in the Letters Missive. It was a mockery to call that an election. In the reign of Edward VI. Bishoprics were made donative direct from the Crown. That was now the case with the Bishoprics of St. Alban's, Truro, and Liverpool. The responsibility of those appointments rested, as it ought to rest, with the Ministry of the day. They, and not the Deans and Chapters, were rightly intrusted with the important duty of selecting fit persons to fill the episcopal office. In Ireland, Bishoprics were made donative in the reign of Elizabeth, and so continued till the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. The confirmation of Bishops at Bow Church had more than once led to great scandal, when opposers were called upon to ap- pear and make their objections, and, when they did so, were declared contumacious for not appearing. In 1848 there was a discussion on this subject in the House of Lords with reference to the appointment of Bishop Hampden. Lord Chief Justice Denman said that it would be a great improvement in the law if Bishops were appointed directly by the Crown. The present mode of election was unhesitatingly condemned by two of the most respected Members of the Episcopal Bench— Bishop Thirlwail and Bishop Phillpotts. The object of this Bill was to give effect to that suggestion. The time had arrived when it was absolutely necessary that some change should be made in this matter. On a former occasion when he introduced a similar Bill, the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. J. G. Talbot) moved an Amendment to render the congé d'élire a reality, which it was not at present; but the present Secretary of State for the Home Department had pointed out in a former debate that that was to attack one of the fundamental principles of the Reformation. This Bill followed the lines of his former measures on this subject; he brought it forward in the best interests of religion and the Church, and he hoped the House would give it a second reading.

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


in the absence of the hon. and gallant Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins), who had given Notice of an Amendment, rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. The noble Lord said there was a great similarity between the arguments used by the author of the Bill and those employed by Mr. Brad-laugh on another occasion. The hon. Member for Gloucester wished to abolish the congé d'élire, and Mr. Bradlaugh wished to abolish the Parliamentary Oath, on the ground that they were mockeries. The hon. Member could hardly like to see himself in the same rank with Mr. Bradlaugh. He was extremely sceptical of statements put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite in the interest of the Church of England. He claimed the right at least to be sceptical whether hon. Members opposite, in sup- porting such a Bill, really had the interests of the Church of England at heart. This ancient form and practice connected with the appointment of Bishops by the Crown must be of some utility, or it would have been abolished before, when they had Liberal Governments with little Whig tendencies about them. The House ought not to be in a hurry to abolish these forms merely on such plausible grounds as had been urged in the plausible speech to which they had just listened. It would bo desirable that Her Majesty's Government should express their views on the subject. Perhaps it was a question like the Public Worship Act, as to the repeal of which he understood the Government had not made up their minds. Her Majesty's present Ministers boasted of having the cordial support of the clergy, and it would be interesting to know whether they were in favour of abolishing a form which the majority of the clergy wished to uphold. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

An hon. MEMBER seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Lord Randolph Churchill.)

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


said, that on this occasion, though, probably, not on any other during his Parliamentary career, he should be found voting in the same Lobby with the noble Lord, because the form attacked was a relic of the struggles of the English people to secure the appointment of Bishops who should represent the national interest as against that of the Papacy; for the Bishops who were appointed in the time of Edward VI., and the Irish Bishops who were appointed in the last century, both without going through the form of the congé d'élire, were by no means model Bishops. It was true it was a form; but forms often enshrined great historical principles. This form should be retained in view of a time to come when the English Church would be free of all relations with the State, and then that which was now an empty form might become a solid reality. He, at least, should be sorry to see it got rid of. Deference to public opinion on the part of the clergy should be one of the means of checking among them disaffection to the laws of the land; and if the discipline of the clergy were in the hands of the Bishops, as that of the Bar was in the hands of the Benchers, public opinion would be strong enough to prevent any injustice being done. He hoped some day the whole Acts by which the clergy were governed would be swept away. In his opinion, the most unlucky thing to the Church was that benefices should have been treated as freeholds. 80 long as the Bishops were simply nominated by the Crown without respect or consideration whatever for the feelings of the clergy so long would there be disaffection among the clergy. He should certainly vote against the Motion.


said, that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) had a little strayed from his province in dealing with so important a matter. The hon. Member had not told the House that he had taken the opinion of the responsible Advisers of the Crown on what he proposed to do; and yet, if there was any question on which the opinion of the responsible Ministers of the Crown should be taken, it was one which affected, as this did, the relations between Church and State. He might be mistaken; but he thought it was worthy of note that neither of the two Ministers who were specially responsible in matters of this kind — the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Homo Department — should be in his place. Nor did he believe that their absence could be construed as giving a support to the Bill. From what he recollected of the opinions of the Prime Minister, he should be very much surprised if the right hon. Gentleman were not to give a very strong opposition to the Motion. He believed the Prime Minister agreed with the hon. Member for South-wark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) that ancient forms had to him a great value, because they often enshrined great principles. If ever such a melancholy time came when the English Church would be freed, as the hon. Member for Southwark called it, from all connection with the State, then he should be glad to see such an ancient form preserved. He objected to the Bill, in the first place, because it was brought forward by a private Mem- ber without the sanction of the Ministers of the Crown.


My hon. Friend forgets that I stated my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary expressed a decided opinion in favour of this measure.


observed, that that was at a time when the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not hold his present position; but what they wanted to know was, what was the opinion of the Home Secretary? The hon. Member for Gloucester, in introducing the Bill, relied very much on the St. Albans Act, the Truro Act, and the Bishoprics Act of 1878. It was true that with respect to these new Bishoprics no congé d'élire issued, because there was no Dean and Chapter to whom to issue it; but it was remarkable that provision was made for the revival of the congé d'élire in the future, after the foundation of the Dean and Chapter, for he found in Section 6 of the Bishoprics Act these words— From and after the foundation of such Dean and Chapter a vacancy in that Bishopric shall be filled in the same manner as a vacancy in any other Bishopric in England founded in the reign of any of Her Majesty's predecessors. Therefore, the form which the hon. Member would repeal was recognized by the Act. Now, had a case been made out for so sweeping a change? He admitted that the present position was not satisfactory. That must be admitted by anyone having friendly feelings towards the Church of England. It could not be satisfactory to any friend of the Church that a form intended to be solemn should have something approaching to what might be called a mockery about it. But his way of treating such a matter was not the same as that of the hon. Member for Gloucester. The hon. Member for Gloucester, when he found what he called a "mockery," would do away with it. His idea, on the contrary, was to improve and amend it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary had once told him that his attempt to revive the true congé d'élire was opposed to one of the cardinal settlements of the Reformation. But the improvement he would suggest was in some such form as this. The Crown might issue the congé d'élire to the Dean and Chapter, and the Dean and Chapter, if they felt any objections, might state them; and he believed in nine eases out of ten such objections would be respectfully listened to by the responsible Advisers of the Crown. Even what the hon. Gentleman regarded as a mockery had a very good effect. It was useful that some of the most respected clergy might at least have the power to protest against what they regarded as an improper nomination. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the case of Dr. Hampden. It was true that the nomination in that case had not been withdrawn. Dr. Hampden became Bishop of Hereford; but no such appointment was made again. For the reasons he had given, because this Bill was brought forward without the advice of the Ministers of the Crown, because the form was at present not without its value, and might in future have a very great value, he could not assent to the Motion.


said, that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. G. Talbot) was right in pointing out that in the new Bishoprics lately created—St. Albans, Truro, and Liverpool — there was a re-assertion, and, therefore, a reaffirmation, of the principle embodied in the Protest. He need hardly remind the House of the process which was pursued on these occasions. The hon. Gentleman said that the condition of affairs was not satisfactory. In one sense he confessed it was not satisfactory, and that was that a most solemn form was made use of by the Dean and Chapter in the election of the Bishop, which, at the time they made it, he was going to say, they must know to be a farce. The question under discussion was a part of a large and important subject, and as it interfered with the Prerogative of the Crown it was hardly competent to a private Member to bring it forward. It extended further than could be thought of at that moment—it was a part of the question of Church and State—and it should be taken up by the Government if dealt with at all. He must strongly deprecate hasty legislation on the question; and he could not, therefore, support the Bill of the hon. Gentleman.


wished to thank the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department for the temperate speech which he had delivered, and which had removed this question above the heated atmosphere in which ecclesiastical questions were gene- rally discussed. Did the hon. Member who introduced this Bill expect to carry the olive-branch in his mouth to their distracted Church? The hon. Gentleman had striven throughout his career to be a liberal Churchman; for, though devoted to the Church, he was very devoted indeed to Liberal progress. He asked him what was there progressive in the obliteration of the last form of constitutional election in the appointment of the chief pastors of the Church? The Bill of the hon. Member would really make Bishops appointed much in the same way as Poor Law Inspectors. If it had been proposed to give more reality and life to the congé d'élire —to make it, with a few modifications, a real review of the Minister's choice—he would have done a far better thing. Personally, he (Mr. Beresford Hope) approved of the selection vesting in the Prime Minister. The real merit of Ministerial patronage was that it gave to a competent person a power of choosing the best man with a wide scope; but this power ought not to be. If a means were devised by which a mistaken nomination might be refused, that would be a most excellent reformation. But any such reform as that would be made for ever impossible by the Bill of his hon. Friend. Once they made Bishops the mere nominees of the Crown, and they made election for ever impossible in any sense. The existing methods had always been observed, except in the few troubled years of Edward VI. All the Sees, whether of older date, or of the times of Henry VIII., William IV., and Victoria, were now under the same regime, and even in the six new Sees the same principle was prospectively recognized, so that it would apply whenever Deans and Chapters were created for those Sees; and future Bishops of Truro and Liverpool would be elected in the usual manner. He was not an advocate of the supercession of the present safeguards; and, on these grounds, he trusted that his hon. Friend would be satisfied with the discussion of his scheme and would withdraw the Bill.


said, that the Bill before the House was not one to which the Government had given any especial attention, as they had already too much on their hands. But it involved very numerous, weighty, and delicate con- siderations. He gave credit to the hon. Member who had moved the second reading of the Bill for his motives. In the minds of many the present form of electing Bishops was thought to cause scandal, and the hon. Member desired to remove that scandal and effect a practical improvement in the Church. He was not prepared to say that no improvement could be effected in ecclesiastical law in this matter, though he had no plan to propose with reference to that great matter of the form of election of Bishops. There was great force in what had been said by his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. A. Peel), and his advice to the House deserved great consideration. This appeared a small matter; but it was a portion of a very large subject which had proved its greatness by the place it had occupied in the most critical periods of our history. There was nothing that lay nearer the root of the constitution of the Church established in this Realm than the manner in which its Bishops were appointed. He was bound, in fairness and honesty, to express the opinion that, while he gladly gave assent to what had been urged by the promoter of the Bill, it was not to be denied that the existence of a certain moral check—for it was no more than a moral check—upon the Prerogative of the Crown worked well rather than ill, apart altogether from the form in which that check was exercised. He thought this might be proved by history. There was one remarkable instance in the experience of the Established Church of Ireland which afforded an illustration of the operation of this principle. In the time, he thought, of Sir Robert Walpole, the Minister of the day wanted to appoint a certain Dr. Rundle to a Bishopric; but on account of doctrines which that gentleman held, his nomination to an English Bishopric was opposed in the Chapter to which it was proposed to send him. What did Sir Robert Walpole do? He abandoned his intention of appointing him to a Bishopric in England, and transferred him to Ireland, where there was no necessity for the congé d'élire, and where, consequently, he could exercise his choice with greater freedom than he could show on this side of the water. Another illustration might be found nearer to our own time, and it was in a case in which he was himself con- cerned. He need not scruple to mention the name of the distinguished individual immediately concerned, for he believed whatever prejudice formerly existed against that distinguished individual had been completely dissipated since he was raised to the Episcopal Bench. He spoke of Dr. Temple, the Bishop of Exeter. When he (Mr. Gladstone) thought it his duty to recommend Dr. Temple to the Crown for this appointment, and Her Majesty was pleased to give effect to the recommendation, there was considerable excitement in the country on account of the accidental association of the name of certain works of Dr. Temple with other works which, rightly or wrongly, had given rise to a great deal of alarm. On that ground there was a disposition to object very strongly to the appointment. The matter was discussed amongst the gentlemen forming the Chapter of Exeter. It was rather a large Chapter, and wholly undistinguished by any colour of party, as far as opinions in the Church were concerned, and the leading members of that Chapter advised their brethren to this effect — that if there had been good and canonical grounds of objection to the doctrines of Dr. Temple, it would have been their duty to decline to elect; but there were no such grounds, and, consequently, they would do wisely in forbearing to give way to the popular outcry, and in electing that distinguished gentleman. He was elected, duly consecrated, and no more faithful, diligent, learned, or beloved Bishop had ever filled the See. Having come in contact with that institution, he (Mr. Gladstone) was by no means prepared to say that, from partial information or error, a Minister might make an appointment to which this moral obstacle might not be set up with very beneficial effect. It would tend to secure care in the selections, and its importance could not be overstated. He could not also refrain from reflecting that election and representation were one of the oldest institutions of the Christian Church. There was no greater error than to think that the Constitution of the Church, as derived from early times, was founded on an autocracy. It was, indeed, the boast of ecclesiastical historians that it was this ecclesiastical election and representation which first suggested the idea of representative political assemblies. Whe- ther that were so or not, he knew that this principle of election was widely practised amongst Christians of all denominations. Their Nonconformist brethren, most justly and wisely, attached vital importance to it. If they took the ease of the Church of Scotland, they found that, notwithstanding the existence of Establishment, great scope was allowed, and additional scope had lately been given to this principle of election. He admitted that in the present case it had a very partial application. The old principle was election by the Church and assent by the laity. This was the sole relic of that system. If the time came and proper opportunity arose, he would rather endeavour to inquire whether they should not try to substitute for it some improved form, rather than sweep away that which was a witness of what was in itself good, and enshrined some remnants of an institution of the past. Considering how this matter was associated with one of the most high and delicate Prerogatives of the Crown—namely, the government of the Church—he thought it must be admitted that this subject was one which could hardly be touched with advantage except after full consideration by the Executive Government, and upon the responsibility of the Executive Government. He respectfully expressed the opinion that while it was an advantage that attention should have been drawn to the subject, in the hope that upon suitable opportunity some improved method of procedure might be happily suggested, yet, at the present moment, he doubted whether good would attend the prosecution of this measure, and he recommended that it should not be proceeded with.


who agreed almost entirely with everything that the Prime Minister had said, opposed the Bill, because its tendency was subversive of Church and State. There could be no doubt that in case of a conflict between a Chapter and the Crown the former must be overruled; but, nevertheless, it was important that the Church should have as potent a voice as possible in the election of her Bishops. He could conceive a Chapter facing the penalties even of a prœmunire rather than vote against their conscience for a nominee of the Crown of whom they disapproved. He had put down a Notice of Motion for rejecting the Bill; but after what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman he did not think it necessary to detain the House at any length.


said, that although the Prime Minister regarded the institution of the congé d'élire as involving a mere moral check, yet there had been wishes expressed on the other side that it might grow into a real and legal cheek. Against this last idea he distinctly objected, holding that so long as the Church of England remained established, it was necessary, as a safeguard against the dangers that might result from the wealth and position of the clergy, to have the authority of the State firmly maintained. But if this institution was to remain a germ, and never develop into a reality, then it would become nothing better than a solemn farce, for it was not the case that it gave any protection to the Church for the exclusion of a nominated Bishop, for, besides the penalties of prœmunire, resistance became useless, and, in case of refusal to elect, Letters Patent would issue as if there had been no opposition at all. Hon. Members who were so sensitive to the high tone and character of the Church should oppose a ceremonial which was only a mockery. Strong feeling had been excited lately—and he would not say unnaturally—against what was construed as the obtrusive parade of a disposition to make a farce of a solemn ceremony. But he would ask those hon. Members whether the accompaniment of this act of election with a solemn religious ceremony, while the Dean and Chapter knew they had no choice in the matter, but could only register the wishes of the Prime Minister, was not equally unreal and insincere—whether they who had shown themselves so sensitive on one point were not making themselves equally guilty of a similar desecration of a solemn ceremony on another point? He hoped the hon. Member would find support to induce him to divide, when he should certainly vote with him.


felt no embarrassment in stating the views he held as a Nonconformist. On the one hand it was asked, could the form be maintained which had been denounced by some as a mockery, and others as a delusion? and, on the other hand, it had been said some Churchmen wished to maintain the form, in the hope that at some day it might be clothed with substance and reality, that at some future time there might be an actual, a real representation of the Church in the appointment of her chief pastors. But from what had been done in the case of the Irish Church, it would seem that it was vain to hope that the Church would have a representative and independent voice so long as the present relations continued with the State. As a Nonconformist, he felt he should be meeting the views of both sides if he supported the Bill of the hon. Member to get rid of a sham, and assisted those who looked forward to the times when there should be real and actual representation of the Church. He avowed the best of all feelings towards the spiritual institutions of the Church; but he should vote for the removal of a sham and empty form, and he was satisfied that in the minds of all Nonconformists and Presbyterians the only marvel was that it should have been tolerated so long.


felt it would be his duty to take the sense of the House upon the Motion for the second reading of the Bill.

Question put.

The House divided: —Ayes 72; Noes 97: Majority 25.—(Div. List, No. 14.)

"Words added.

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

Second Reading put off for three months.