HC Deb 27 April 1881 vol 260 cc1297-306

(Mr. Albert Grey, Mr. Edward Howard, Mr. Stuart-Wortley, Mr. Marriott, Mr. Pulley.)


Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he was conscious of the grave responsibility which he incurred by venturing to introduce to the consideration of the House important reforms affecting the parochial organization of the Church. He was, however, encouraged in his undertaking by the recollection that 10 years ago a Bill, in which the same principles were involved, was introduced into the House and warmly supported. At the outset of his observations, he wished to declare that the Bill was brought forward, not in any spirit of hostility to the clergy, but simply for the purpose of removing an acknowledged grievance; and he hoped to be able to convince his opponents before sitting down that the passing of the Bill would, while it might diminish the autocracy of the clergy, greatly increase their power of doing good. He knew of no class of which the members, by their unremitting labours among the poor, and their exemplary lives of un- complaining self-denial, had earned so large a claim to the gratitude of the country. He believed that the Bill would strengthen the hands of the clergy and increase their influence. It was not conceived in the interests of any particular sect or party within the Church, and no sectarian purpose was intended. All that he desired and proposed to do by the Bill was to make it impossible for a clergyman to thrust upon an unwilling parish arbitrary changes in the Church Ritual, introduced at his own sole will. Whatever might be the religious tendencies of a parish, he desired them to be developed to the fullest extent within the limits of the law; but he wished to prevent the clergyman from introducing changes to which his parishioners objected. As he had said, there was no spirit of hostility to the clergy or any party in the Church. It was true that a vast number of the clergy exercised their powers wisely; but it was a fact that the parishioners, acting in conjunction with the Bishop, were quite unable to control a clergyman in regard to such changes; and it had been pointed out so far back as 12 years ago, by a distinguished clergyman of large experience— That in the exercise of his office the beneficed clergyman has an almost unlimited freedom, and that this freedom is not curtailed in matters which affect the rights of others … that he may, in controverted matters, by his own sole will, change every feature of the church fabric and church services. That statement was still as true as ever it was. That state of things was, of course, and naturally, made use of by the Society for the Liberation of the Church from State control. That Society put it forward as a great evil that the laymen of the Church had no control over its own public worship. It was very difficult to give an answer to statements of that character. No doubt, such a condition of things materially weakened the National Church. In such a system there could hardly be a continuity in the method of conducting the services of the Church. As things were they had practically a clerical autocracy, for the clergy exercised an irresponsible power in the management of their churches. He did not think that, however good the person might be who exercised that autocratic power, a system could command popular sympathy and support which recognized autocracy as a basis. It could not be advantageous to the Church that that autocracy should remain unlimited, for it involved a clear loss of lay co-operation and action. There was no means of checking and limiting that autocracy except by an extension of the principle of local self-government. He wished to make the Church more of a popular institution, to bring it in harmony with the feelings and needs of a large section of the community, which it scarcely now affected at all. The tendency now was to make a few active and the great majority apathetic. He would refer to a statement made at Manchester a few years ago by Mr. John Morley, that— The fact of their being in the parish a person officially charged, so to speak, with the duty of taking an interest in the humbler people, makes the gentry far less inclined than they otherwise would be to share their duty. It would have the aid, or they are apt to see that it would, of interfering with the rector's province. In this way, I believe the advantage of having one man in every parish officially charged with the performance of good works is now counterbalanced by the check which it puts upon the active friendliness of the laymen of the parish. That evil he and his Friends sought to remedy by the Bill, which proposed to give the laity a share in the management of Church affairs in their respective parishes, thereby bringing the Church into closer contact and relation with the life of the people than it was at present. At a Church Congress at Sheffield in 1878 the principle of the Bill was fully admitted, and when once a principle was thus acknowledged it became the duty of the House to devise the means by which effect could be given to it. On the one hand, an end would be put to the autocracy of the clergy; and, on the other, the clergyman would have more time to devote to his purely spiritual duties. The justice of the principle for which he was contending had been admitted in that House 10 years ago; and four years later it was expressly recognized by the Prime Minister in one of a series of Resolutions that were brought forward in the debates on the Public Worship Regulation Bill. In 1878, also, at the Church Congress at Sheffield, to which he had referred, a large majority of speakers, lay and clerical, declared themselves in favour of parochial councils, and of such councils being legalized and not merely voluntary. He would next proceed to deal briefly with the manner in which the objects of the Bill were to be carried out. He thought he should command the support of the noble Viscount the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) for his measure, although it differed in some respects from that which had been introduced by the noble Viscount. But the end aimed at was the same. The Bill proposed that whenever a majority of parishioners, in full vestry assembled, and assembled with due notice, to consider as to the application of this Act in the particular parish, and decided in favour of the adoption of the Act, that then at the next Easter Vestry a Board should be elected by the parishioners proportionate to the number of the population of the parish, of which Board the churchwardens should be ex officio members, and the incumbent should be the State-appointed chairman. The number of the Board would be in proportion to the population, the rights of minorities being guarded by providing that when there were four members, no parishioner should vote for more than three; where there were six, the vote should be limited to four; and where there were 12, the voting limitation should be nine. It was a Permissive Bill; but he had no doubt that in a few years Church Boards would be very prevalent throughout the country. The Bill further proposed that Church Boards should have power, from time to time, to make changes relating to ecclesiastical affairs relating to the parish, with regard to the method of conducting the Service and in regard to ornaments and decorations; but they would not be empowered to do anything contrary to the spirit of the law or the plain directions of the Prayer Book, and such changes would not be carried into effect, unless the incumbent, in conjunction with the Bishop, should agree that they were desirable. In the event of any difference between the incumbent and the Board, the Bishop's decision should be final, and where an incumbent refused to comply with the decision of the Bishop, after due monition and warning, his living might be sequestrated, and if he obstinately refused to obey he would be finally deprived of his benefice. It was proposed also that, when such Boards were established, no proceedings should be taken under the Public Worship Regulation Act. He would now mention the chief points of differ- ence between the present Bill and that of the noble Viscount the Member for Liverpool. The object of the Bill, as he had said, was to grant to the parishioners some check on the autocracy of clergymen, and it required no test of Church membership, such as being a communicant, from members of the Board. It would even be possible for Nonconformists to be members. Another difference was as to the method of enforcing compliance with the orders of the Bishop. He did not propose in the Bill that the Bishop should have power to decide questions of law; but, by taking away certain duties from the clergyman, it would give him more time for the peformance of those duties which were peculiarly his own. It did not in any way interfere with the spiritual independence of the clergyman. The Bill proposed that all the members should be elected by the parishioners, whereas the noble Viscount's Bill made three-fourths elective by the parishioners and one-fourth by the clergyman. He know objection would be taken to the admission of Nonconformists; but he (Mr. A. Grey) was not afraid of any evil arising from their presence on these Boards, for he thought that such admission would broaden the foundations of the Church and make it more truly national. In fact, he would rather welcome them than desire their absence from the Board, being assured that they would co-operate heartily with the objects of the Bill. His only fear was that the co-operation of the Nonconformists in the affairs of the Church would be taken by them to be a sanction of the principle of an Established Church. He hoped the principle of the Bill would be rightly understood, which was that the laity should be admitted to a legal share in the management of the ecclesiastical affairs of their own parishes. The Church had a great work to do in contending with the vice and misery and crime of our large populations, and the wider the co-operation in such work the better would it be for the Church and for the nation. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.


in seconding the Motion, said, if the Bill should pass its second reading there were Amendments that he should like to see introduced, extending one principle which it contained, and limiting another. The principle which he would like to see extended was the one contained in the 3rd clause, and which partially repealed the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874. For his part, he should be glad to see that Act repealed altogether, for it had only worked unmitigated evil. He had not the honour of a seat in the House when that Act was passed; but he recollected following the debates in the public papers, and when he considered that the Bill was opposed in an eloquent speech by the Prime Minister, and by the then Secretary of State for War (the present Viscount Cranbrook), and by such representative Members as the hon. Members for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), and others, of such different views, he was astonished that it ever became law. Now that they had had the Act working for seven years, they could say with confidence that every argument used in support of it had been falsified, and every prediction had been fulfilled against it. It was said that the Act would put down Ritualism. Well, he wondered whether Ritualism was nearer being put down now than it was in 1874. Speaking to Members of that House and members of various denominations, he would not ask whether Ritualism was right or wrong, but whether that Bill was the right way to put it down? The only result was this—that serious pain had been inflicted upon a number of clergymen, and that a number of lawyers had been enriched. Two societies had subscribed large sums, and £15,000 had been thrown away in prosecutions, and £3,000 or £5,000 in defence. It seemed to him that the money would have been much better spent in building churches and chapels than in such litigation. The Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874 was also passed with an idea of producing uniformity. That had been the aim of the Church of England by Canons, Articles, Creeds, and Acts of Parliament. They had tried to produce uniformity of belief and practice among the members, and he could only say of the history of the Church during the past two centuries that these efforts had turned out gigantic failures. The Act of 1874 was in the same spirit. It proposed to secure, with an iron hand, uniformity of practice in the Church of England. At the present time, notwithstanding all the safeguards that there were, and the Act of 1874, almost every doctrine, including the tenets of the Church of Rome, was now taught in the Church of England. In some churches the clergymen taught and practised entirely what doctrine they liked. He thought, however, that the more comprehensive the Church was, and the less she tried to shackle the belief of her members, the better it was for them and the nation for which she was established. But there were cases in which this might be a grievance. He had no wish to interfere with the worship that took place in the churches of the large towns. There was, so to speak, a free trade in religious worship in the large towns. A person in London, or any of the large towns, might go to a High, a Low, or a Broad Church, and he did not see why those who exercised a choice or a preference should be interfered with. He thought most churches and chapels did more good than harm, whatever doctrines they taught; and because he did not agree with what was being taught in them that was no reason why he should be opposed to them, seeing that other people believed in the doctrines taught within their walls. But with regard to the parish churches in the rural districts of England, there was in each parish generally only one church, and there had been many cases where the Services had been altered by the appointment of a new clergyman, according to his views of practice and doctrine. Now, the question was—Was there any remedy for that state of things? By the 5th clause of the Resolutions introduced by the present Premier in 1874 it was affirmed that it was desirable that members of the Church should receive ample protection against the sole will of the clergyman. He was in favour of that principle. And the second point of it was that there should be co-operation. Almost every clergyman and Bishop would say that he desired lay co-operation. At the Church Congresses the laity were well received by the Bishops and the clergy; but what was the use of that unless the power of the laity was recognized? It was all very well to have Church Congresses to discuss ecclesiastical matters; but the laity had no power to make or prevent any change in the religious Services in their churches. Members of the Church of England were unique in this respect. The Nonconformists had, as a body, an advantage over there. In America the Church was governed by a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies in which the laity had extensive powers. Therefore, he cordially supported the Bill as far as it went in that direction. But he thought it ought to have a limit by modifying the 10th clause, which was to the effect that Church Boards should, from time to time, have power to make any regulation not contrary to Church doctrine. If the Bill were passed as it was, there were cases in which it would produce very great hardship. There should not be a power given to the Church Board to settle whether or not a certain practice should be carried out, whether the clergyman liked it or not. They should not have the power to say to a clergyman that he should put candles on the altar, or turn this way or that; but the matter was quite different when a clergyman came to a church, and found the practice one way and attempted to alter it to another way. He thought the power of the Board should be confined to a veto, so that it might have the power of saying what should not be done by the clergyman. The present Bill differed from the Bill brought in by the noble Viscount the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon), who proposed that electors of the Church Boards should be communicants. That brought them to a very grave question, which he did not wish to see raised, and that was the question of Establishment or Disestablishment in this country. One theory for a State Church was that the people of this country should have a voice in her management; and every Englishman had a voice in her management by his being represented in that House. He thought that the laity should have a very considerable power on the Church Boards, and he would go so far as to support the Bill with such an Amendment as that would involve. With the limitation he had stated, he was prepared to second the Motion for the second reading of the Bill.

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


in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, it could not be amended in any sense that would not be fatal to its principle. He considered it so drastic, and of so violent and aggressive a character as to be worse than the disease which it was proposed to cure. Besides, he thought that the time had passed when, perhaps, such a measure might have been necessary. The disease was in no want of the present remedy. It had got over that stage. It made a distinct attempt to buy off the opposition of the Ritualists by repealing the Public Worship Regulation Act; but that could not compensate for the ignominy of the position in which it would place the Church of England. To the principle of lay control over the Church, no one, he supposed, would altogether demur; but the proposed measure would effect a revolution unparalleled by anything that had taken place in our history since the days of the Commonwealth. It would establish the congregational system with a difference, for there was no condition that the lay control should be confined to those who agreed with the doctrines taught by the Church. He asked whether it was fair to intrust what the Church of England held most dear to those outside of her body—to a Board composed of all sorts of people, whose simple qualification was the very mundane one of having paid the Queen's Taxes? It went even further, for it placed the control of the affairs of the Church of England under the control, in many parishes, of Nonconformist ratepayers. Nonconformists, however excellent they might be, were not, he contended, the best judges of the business of the Church. But this Bill would not stop short at the intervention of orthodox Nonconformists; it would admit every shade of unbelief; and there was nothing, he maintained, in the provisions of the Bill which would prevent a man holding the opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh from being elected a member of the Church Board of Northampton, if the present measure became law; and thus they would have an Atheist controlling, or helping to control, the religious matters of his district. He was sure the members of other religious but Nonconformist Bodies would not like the members of rival bodies to pry into their affairs, or to be elected on their committee of management; and he was convinced that the orthodox English Nonconformist would care but little for the honour which it was proposed under the present measure to confer upon him. He would sooner see the Establishment perish and the theory of a national religion disappear than that such intolerable evils as those which the proposed measure would introduce should be brought into her midst.

And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the o'clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.