HC Deb 03 April 1895 vol 32 cc843-73
*MR. W. HAYES FISHER (Fulham),

in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, he was very glad to have the opportunity of inviting not only Churchmen on both sides of the House, but Nonconformists also, who had on a recent occasion expressed a friendly feeling for good Church work, to assist him in passing this Bill, which was of a very moderate character, but which was required for the purpose of removing certain grievances which existed in connection with the selection of persons to fill benefices. The first part of the Bill was designed to prevent, as far as possible, unfit persons being instituted by lay persons who had the patronage; and the second part, to facilitate the removal by a bishop of those who, from one cause or another, had proved themselves incapable of discharging their high and responsible duties. It was not the Bill that was presented to the House last year. It did not deal with the transfer of the right of patronage. There were two ways of stopping the institution of improper people into livings. The first method would be by limiting the right of patrons to transfer their patronage. With that matter it was not proposed to deal. It would be dealt with by a Bill to be introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury in another place. The second method was to be found in the power of the Bishops to refuse to institute improper presentees, and with that power this Bill did deal. It was considered that these powers ought to be clearly defined, and, therefore, the Bill proposed to define accurately, and possibly to enlarge to some extent, the powers of the Bishops to refuse institution to improper presentees. The only novelty in the Bill was that it gave to the parishioners a right to lodge objections to presentees. The first two clauses defined accurately the power which Bishops had to refuse to institute the presentees of lay patrons until they were satisfied that the presentee was a fit and proper person to discharge the office. The procedure in future, if the Bill became law, would be this. The lay patron would send down the usual written instrument informing the Bishop that he had appointed, so far as he could, A. B. to the vacant living, and humbly requesting the Bishop to institute him. The Bishop would thereupon require from the presentee a statutory declaration as to all the offices and benefices he might have enjoyed or occupied since his ordination as a deacon. He would also require letters-testimonial from three beneficed clergymen, countersigned by the Bishop of the diocese in which those clergymen held livings. The Bishop would then send a written notice to the Churchwardens of the parish, informing them that he had been desired to institute A. B. to the benefice, and the Churchwardens would in the usual way give notice to the parishioners. During the month which followed any parishioner would have the right to represent in writing to the Bishop that he considered A. B. an unfit and improper person to be instituted. The Bishop would then give the presentee notice that such an objection had been made, and give him a reasonable opportunity of being heard. If the Bishop then should satisfy himself that a presentee was unfitted for the discharge of the pastoral duty of the benefice to which he had been presented "by reason of any circumstance, not being a question of doctrine or ritual," which might be adduced by any parishioner, the Bishop, if he was of opinion, after having given to such presentee a reasonable opportunity of being heard, that the institution would on such ground be injurious to the interests of the parish, might refuse to institute the presentee. This power of presentation was, he thought, a very proper power to give to parishioners, and Nonconformists, he believed, would approve it. He was completely opposed to the idea that a congregation should be able to choose their minister, and he did not believe that the laity of the Church of England desired so large a power as that. He held, however, that parishioners should at least have the right to lodge objections againt the institution of an unfit and improper person, and that when such objections were tenable the Bishop ought to refuse to admit that person to the benefice. The Bishop, if he should refuse, would have to give notice both to the patron and the presentee, and the latter, having obtained in writing from the Bishop the grounds for his refusal, would have a right of appeal to the Archbishop of the province, whose decision of the matter would be final. These provisions did not go very much further than the existing canon law. But the powers conferred by the canon law were not vigorously enforced by the Bishops, for though that law was binding proprio vigore upon the Bishops themselves, it was not equally binding upon the laity. So many objections could be raised to the present procedure that the Bishops too often shrunk nervously from refusing to institute unfit persons. His desire was to transfer the power which the Bishops had at present from the shadowy region of the canon law to the concrete region of a statutory enactment. The words "by reason of any circumstance, not being a question of doctrine or ritual," had been adopted by the promoters of the measure because the Grand Committee on Law which considered the Bill of 1894 appeared to approve a general definition of that kind. He thought it better not to define too accurately the many grounds on which a bishop might very properly refuse to institute the presentee of a lay patron. He held himself that a bishop would be justified in refusing to institute a presentee if it so happened that the church was a very big church, and that the presentee had a very small voice. If the presentee should be disqualified by some natural defect from discharging adequately the duties of the office to be entrusted to him, that would, in his opinion, constitute sufficient ground for a refusal to institute; but details of that kind were for consideration in Committe. He now came to the second part of the Bill, which gave the Bishop rather larger powers than he possessed at present for the removal from parishes of thoroughly incompetent persons. There were clauses dealing with sequestration and bankruptcy. On the bankruptcy of an incumbent, where sequestration took place within one year after institution, or where sequestration continued during a whole year, or where there were two sequestrations in two years, the Bishop was to have power to declare the benefice void. This was but a small advance, for under the Pluralities Act of 1838 (1 and 2 Vict., c. 106) power was given to bishops, where there was persistent bankruptcy and insolvency, to declare a benefice void. Certain difficulties, however, with respect to procedure, had arisen under the Pluralities Act, and the promoters of the Bill before the House wished to make it perfectly clear that when a clergyman was hopelessly insolvent, the Bishop should be able to remove him from an office which he could no longer fill with dignity. The next part of the Bill dealt with the continuing mental and bodily infirmities of clergymen. Here, again, what he asked the House to do was to extend the powers already possessed by the Bishop under the Incumbents Resignation Act of 1871. A clergyman could himself put that Act in motion by asking the Bishop to appoint a commission to inquire whether he was not permanently disabled through bodily or mental infirmity from the discharge of the duties of his office. Then, if three out of five commissioners reported that he was disabled, he was entitled to have his resignation accepted, and to have a pension of not less than one-third of his income as incumbent. In this Bill it was proposed that the Bishop should be able to put this machinery in motion as well as the incumbent, and that the provision should be applicable to all incumbents. The Bishop was to have power to issue a commission, under the Resignations Acts of 1871 and 1887, on the representation of any five parishioners that the incumbent of the parish had for three years been incompetent through bodily or mental infirmity. The commission would consist of five persons, and if four of them should find that the incumbent was incompetent, the Bishop would be empowered to accept his resignation and to appoint curates to do his work, a certain portion of the emoluments being allowed to the retiring incumbent as a pension. This could not inflict any hardship upon the clergy. If the powers of lawyers or doctors failed their practice left them, but at present, when a clergyman's powers failed his parishioners could not get rid of him. It was Hobson's choice for them. The interests of the clergy ought not to be considered in preference to the interests of the parishioners in these cases. The position of the clergy in respect of the length of their service was far better than that of officers in the Army and Navy and of Civil servants, who had to retire at the age of sixty-five on a pension, although they might be still quite competent to perform the duties of their posts. Lastly, besides dealing with insolvency and incapacity, this Bill went further—and this was the only portion of the Bill which had not passed through the Grand Committee on Law. The Bill differed, therefore, from the Bill as presented to the House, and which was passed by the Grand Committee on Law last year. This Bill dealt with gross incompetence on the part of incumbents. By Clause 4 power was given to the Bishop, by his own initiation, to require Commissioners—who were the same as those appointed under the Pluralities Act, 1885—to inquire and report as to the adequate performance of ecclesiastical duties of the benefice, as to whether the incumbent was able or willing competently to discharge the cure of souls. If the Commissioners reported in writing to the Bishop that the incumbent was unable or unwilling it would be lawful for the Bishop to inhibit the incumbent from office, and the incumbent would be in the same position as if suspended, and the Bishop would appoint a curate or curates to undertake the duties of the parish, and allot them a certain portion of the income formerly enjoyed by the incumbent inhibited. This was not a great increase on the powers which were found already in the old Pluralities Act. There the Bishop was given power in the case, mainly, of absence from the parish, to appoint Commissioners to inquire whether the ecclesiastical duties were being adequately performed, and if these duties were not adequately performed then to appoint a curate or curates to perform the duties of the benefice which had been neglected by the incumbent to whom they were originally entrusted. The definition of "ecclesiastical duties" was taken from the Pluralities Amendment Act, 1885, supported by the ex-Prime Minister, and which was introduced by the Minister of Education. It included not only the regular and due performance of Divine Service on Sundays and Holy Days, but all such duties as any clergyman holding a benefice was bound to perform or the performance of which he solemnly promised at the time of Ordination. To show that the House was willing to further enlarge the powers of the Bishops and to increase these ecclesiastical duties the House in that Act gave the Bishops in the four Welsh dioceses power to call on the presentee of a lay patron, or any incumbent before he instituted him to perform certain services in the Welsh language. Therefore, in now enlarging the powers of the Bishops, they were at all events following precedents that had been set by the House and agreed to by both Parties in the House. The Bishop after all was primarily responsible for the cure of souls from one end of his diocese to the other; and he contended that the Bishops ought to have greater powers than he possessed at present to insist that those who served under them, and to whom they delegated part of their duties, should be fit and proper persons. That it had been so by custom and law could be proved from the words the Bishops used to use in instituting a presentee: "Instituo te rectorem talis ecclesciœ cum curâ animarum; et accipe curam tuam et meam." He believed it met with the general approval of the House that the Bishop should have larger powers than he possessed at present. In the present case there would be an appeal to the Archbishop before the inhibition took place, and he would vary its terms or say that it should not take place. To some people's minds this Bill might appear to be drastic. To him it seemed to be the most moderate measure that the laity could possibly ask for. He himself would go further in invading the sacred freehold of the clergy. In these days, when all men agreed that property had its duties as well as its rights, he thought it should be especially so regarding Church property. He hoped that this Bill would meet with general acceptance in all parts of the House, and that earnest-minded Nonconformists would take the same attitude on this Bill that they took when a similar Bill came before the House in 1894, and allow it to be read a second time. Whilst they based their opposition to the Church on Disestablishment and Disendowment they surely would not wish her to be left unable to remedy the ills from which she suffered? He did not suggest that there was any general delinquency of duty on the part of the clergy, or that there were many clergymen he regarded as black sheep. He believed they were increasingly few, and that the character and conduct and standard of duty of the clergy never stood higher than it did at this end of the Nineteenth Century. Regarding the matter whether as Churchmen or Nonconformists, clergy or laity, he believed it was in the interests of religion pure and undefiled that some such measure as this should be passed. He hoped the Bill would meet with the general acceptance of the House, and be allowed to be read a second time.

*MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)

said, the Bill illustrated the fallaciousness of the statements constantly made in and out of that House in regard to the position of the Established Church.

During the recent Debate on the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, and all through the Debates on the Local Government Bill of last year, the Church of England was described simply as one of the denominations, and those who did not belong to it were asked to accord to it the same treatment that the various non-Established communities had received from the State. Within the last few days he had met with a statement which accurately defined the position now taken by so many members of the Church of England. The Church Review said:— ''It cannot be too strongly affirmed, or too often repeated, that the Church of England as a body has no more to do with Parliament than the Roman Catholics or Protestant Dissenters. We all have to come to Parliament when we want anything for ourselves as citizens or when our civil rights are threatened. But the Church needs no authority from Parliament. She only has to go to the Queen when she wants coercive jurisdiction for her canons. No more to do with Parliament than the members of the various Nonconformist communities! What Nonconformist community ever dreamed of coming to that House to ask for means to prevent the entrance of unsuitable men into the ministry, or to obtain facilities for getting rid of them when they had entered it? There was no religious community in the land, however humble, which would permit that House to exercise any authority or have any voice in such matters. The noble Lord the Member for Rochester, in the course of the Debate on the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, expressed great satisfaction at the discovery of the fact that Parliament had passed 1,400 Statutes regulatirng the affairs of the Church of England—he seemed to be as pleased with the number as a child might be with the number of its toys. But there were Churchmen older and wiser than the noble Lord, who had not been in the habit of regarding legislation for the Church with the same complacency. That estimable nobleman the late Lord Carnarvon, speaking on this subject in 1881, said— None but the most short-sighted will look to legislation as a remedy for our present difficulties. The conditions of Parliament, as now constituted, are incapable of wise and just legislation on Church questions. There is scarcely a line on this subject [Church Discipline and Ritual] in the Statute Book of recent years which would not be better out than in; and, whatever our difficulties, and even our contentions, the less we have of Parliamentary interposition the happier we shall be. Other Churchmen had agreed with the noble Lord in desiring that the Church should henceforth let Parliament severely alone. The late Mr. W. E. Forster summed up the position in 1881, in these words— The Church of England is the only great institution in the world which has to go on almost without the possibility of reform; because it can only be reformed by Parliament, and Parliament cannot effectually reform it. If an illustration were needed of the incongruity of the existing politico-ecclesiastical arrangements they had it in that day's "Orders of the Day." Thirty Bills were enumerated. One had been disposed of already, relating to steam engines and boilers. The others related to meat, drink, taxation, houses, land, and shipping. There was no incongruity in all these matters being dealt with by the House, because the House had the requisite knowledge and competency. But would any one affirm that the House was competent, late on a Wednesday afternoon, thoroughly to deal with a question so full of difficulties as that to which the Bill now before the House related? The difficulty in regard to this question would not be so great as it admittedly was if the Bill before the House embodied the views of the great mass of Churchmen. The hon. Member had represented that he expressed the views of all who were interested in Church work. He must be strangely ignorant of the mind of some sections of the Church to which he belonged when he made that statement. There was not a name of a single Low Churchman on the back of the Bill. Most of the Members belonged to the High Church party, and within the last 48 hours he had been informed that strong objections were entertained to the Bill by an important section of the Church. When he glanced at the statement of objections which had been circulated his eye fell on certain strong epithets. He found that such epithets were applied to the Bill as "iniquitous," "monstrous," "dangerous," "cruel and oppressive," "an attempt to make Parliament the tool of an aggressive faction." At first sight he thought that these epithets must have some relation to a new Disestablishment Bill, or some other measure devised by wicked Liberationists wishing to injure or to destroy the Church; but, they related to this Bill, and the objections emanated from a section of the Church of England which the hon. Gentleman professed to represent as a whole. They were, indeed, objections of one portion of the Church against the proposals of another portion of the Church, and the House was asked to adjudicate between them. He was disposed to say of this wide difference of opinion that it was a very pretty quarrel as it stood; and, personally, he should have no objection to the continuance of the discussion, provided the discussion were outside the walls of the House. The question was proper enough to be dealt with by Convocation, by Church Congresses, and Diocesan Synods; but it was not a question with which the House of Commons was competent to deal. Among the objections which had been circulated against the Bill, they were told that it completely altered the status of lay patrons and the entire clergy; it was an attempt to outlaw the English clergy and to place them at the absolute mercy of the Bishops. There were certain provisions in the Bill which ought to receive the serious attention of the Law Officers of the Crown. The Bill was denounced because of the greatly increased power it gave to the Bishops. He had observed in recent years, while members of the Church of England, as a whole, professed a very great regard for the Episcopacy in the abstract. they seemed to view it with profound distrust when they looked at it in the concrete. He did not know of any class of public functionaries who were the subject of greater abuse and greater obloquy on the part of some members of the Church of England than those who occupied the Episcopal Bench of that Church. He could not wonder at the laity of the Church expressing such strong views, when he found that an occupant of the Episcopal Bench said pretty much the same things of his brethren. The Bishop of Liverpool, in one of his well-known papers on Church Reform, said:— The power of our Bishops is at present far too autocratic; as things are now I know no one hardly except a Roman Dictator or a Russian Tsar, who is such a thoroughly irresponsible autocrat as an English Bishop. No one has such absolute official power as he has, and no one is so entirely non-accountable to anybody but himself. I believe that no mortal man is fit to have such power. It was, however, to those functionaries that the promoters of the Bill were proposing to give greatly increased power, and to do so in the teeth of the protests from members of their own Church. He was aware of the difficulty which lay at the root of the whole matter. He must admit that greater safeguards were needed in the admission of those whose who desired to assume the ministerial office in the Church, and he must also admit that there should be greater facilities for ridding the Church of ministers who had proved themselves to be unworthy to fill so high and sacred an office; but the difficulty lay in the fact that they had no other authority than that of the Episcopal Bench to attain those desirable ends. That was not the case with the non-established bodies. They were not obliged to have recourse to the courts of law, except in very rare cases, to rid themselves of obnoxious and unsuitable ministers. The hon. Member had attempted to show that the Bill also increased the power of the laity. But the power given to the Bishops was substance; to the laity it was simply shadow. They had the right to make complaints, but no power to enforce them. That fact illustrated afresh the absolute helplessness of the laity of the Church with regard to the appointment and dismissal of their ministers. He thought that this was a very small attempt to deal with a very great evil; an attempt to solve a problem which, if it were not in soluble, would never be solved by such a measure as this. It was an attempt to bolster up a system which was radically unsound; and which could not be logically defended, and, like all such attempts, it must ultimately fail. He sympathised with those godly members of the Church of England who were anxious to cleanse as well as to defend it. He desired that they should possess ample means for removing the deplorable evils of which they complained, but they would never be able to accomplish the reform which they felt to be so needful so long as their Church, as established by law, had to come to Parliament to obtain the needed changes. With regard to Church reforms, there was a passage in the "Greville Memoirs," which was worth quoting:— They [Churchmen] are in the situation of a man who has got an old house in which he can no longer live. Various architects propose this and that alteration—to build a room here and pull down one there—but at last they find that all these alterations will only serve to make the house habitable a little while longer, that the dry rot is in it, and that they had better begin, as they will be obliged to end, by pulling it down and building a new one. Happily, there was no dry rot in the Church of England, and there was no necessity for pulling down that great institution. The evil lay elsewhere. It was to be found in the machinery by which the Church was upheld by the State, and when that machinery was abandoned and the Church stood free and untrammelled, it would become a purified, because a liberated Church.


said, it was difficult to understand the motives which had led the hon. Member to address the House. He had expressed the belief that the Church of England was not a rotten institution, that it had life and vigour in it, and that the clergy had found in their duties a scope for in creasing usefulness. Why, then, did the hon. Member offer opposition to a Bill which was designed to remove admitted evils and to provide the members of the Church of England with a voluntary, spontaneous, and self-enjoying remedy? The hon. Member had spoken in tones of ridicule, and had shown that he had no desire to assist the members of the Church of England to obtain a remedy for admitted evils and for the removal of scandals which hindered the sacred work of the clergy. The hon. Member quoted from The Church Review, which he presumed took a somewhat high line in maintaining the independence of the Church, and the undesirableness of its control by Parliament. Did the hon. Member make the arguments of The Church Review his own? Did he desire that the Church of England, in the enjoyment of its present privileges, should be removed from all control by Parliament? He imagined not, and he believed that the House would recognise that the hon. Member's objections rested upon hostility to a Church Establishment. The inevitable inference to be drawn from the tone of the hon. Member's remarks was, that he would deny to the Church of England as long as it remained an Establishment the opportunity to amend itself. The hon. Gentleman said that the Nonconformists did not come to Parliament for a reform in their constitution or procedure. The reason was, because the members of Nonconformist bodies were bound by the terms of their organisation, and if any member had reason to complain of some action as being contrary to the covenant, recourse was had to the Civil Courts. The Church of England could not go beyond the powers intrusted to it by Parliament for dealing with its internal abuses. The Established Church of Scotland rested on a different footing; it had the amplest powers of dealing with its constitution of any Church in Christendom. Parliament was not prepared to place the Church of England in the same position of freedom, and, therefore, the Church was obliged to come to Parliament for power to establish any reforms. It would be monstrous and most unworthy of those who did not belong to the communion of the Church to refuse to it the means of reforming abuses. The Church had not been in a hurry to come to Parliament; and he trusted that Nonconformists would not grudge the little time which the affairs of the Church required. If the House, by its constitution, were incompetent to deal with Church questions of doctrine and ritual, it might, at least, have confidence in the opinion of the Church at large, when clearly expressed. The hon. Member for the Mansfield Division said that the Church was not unanimous on this question, and quoted a circular of objections to the Bill. The hon. Member might leave Church people to settle this question for themselves, instead of taking a malicious delight in dwelling on such differences as did exist. Objection might well be taken to the tone of some of the remarks in that circular of objections; he regretted that such a document should have emanated from members of the Church at all; and that in this day the freehold rights of the clergyman should be regarded as too sacred to touch. The House could not believe that interference with an unfit or incompetent clergyman was an unjust invasion of his right. No clergyman ought to have a cure of souls unless he were qualified for that position, and performed the duties which he had sworn to fulfil with fidelity and efficiency. It was a crying wrong that the people committed to the charge of an unfit clergyman should have no remedy. As to the rights of the presentee and patron, the second sub-section of the second clause expressly provided for a reference to him. And it could not be said that the Bishop was not the proper authority to exercise jurisdiction under the Bill. To take the lowest view of the Bishop's office, he was the superintending presbyter, charged with the duty of seeing that his co-presbyters did their duty. No more moderate measure had ever been presented to Parliament; the rights of all persons concerned were carefully guarded; and, unless the House declined altogether to give the Church power to reform abuses within itself, it could not refuse so judicious a Bill, framed to do justice to the laity, and to assist the fulfilment of those great ends for which every Church existed.


said, that it was one of "life's little ironies" that having a week ago stood before the House as an opponent of Church Establishments, he should now have to support a Bill for the Better Regulation of an Established Church. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year gave his support to a Bill of the same name, and of a rather similar character, it was not for him to withhold that support from the Second Reading of the Bill before the House. But this Bill was by no means identical with the Bill of last year. The main part of last year's measure related to the prohibition of the sale of livings, and the whole of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech was devoted to that portion of the Bill. All those provisions had disappeared from the present Bill. However, there was a certain amount of matter common to the two Bills, and the support given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to last year's measure therefore covered much of the present Bill. But not only were the provisions about the sale of livings omitted; some new clauses were included providing for the removal of clergymen, on the ground of proved inadequacy and unfitness. That was a point on which the Government reserved perfect freedom of action should the Bill ever reach the Committee stage. The hon. Member for the Mansfield Division quoted from a circular emanating from the Church Association, which was by common consent not the wisest of bodies. The authors of that circular were unnecessarily alarmed by this Bill. What was evidently in their minds was the dread that some Bishop of High Church tendencies should be able to veto the appointment of a clergyman whose views coincided more nearly with those of the Church Association. But the Bill expressly provided that questions of doctrine and ritual should not be regarded by the Bishop, but that he should only take into account unfitness of life and morals and social conduct. There was no ground for this fear on the part of the Church Association. The precedent of the Welsh Bishops was quoted and their power by recent legislation to exclude Clergymen from livings who did not speak Welsh. Such an act of exclusion by a Welsh Bishop had recently been performed in the case of a nominee of Lord Abergavenny, and the state of the law which authorised such a veto would seem to be a precedent for this Bill. There was one point in the Bill which seemed to him to be of great value. A bishop would have the power to inquire into any suspicious gap or hiatus in the ministerial life of any gentleman recommended for preferment in the Church. Recent experience had convinced him that some such provision was desirable. Not long after the present Government was formed a gentleman wrote to, and called upon him, to express a desire to be appointed to a Chancellor's living. The gentleman was of respectable appearance, and, as far as the ordinary sources of information went, of blameless antecedents. But there was a gap of some seven or eight years in his life unaccounted for, and he felt that, before he could recommend the gentleman's name to the Chancellor, he must have information as to how those years had been passed. The gentleman stated that the years had been spent in research; but he said that he was bound to add that this research had led him to a conclusion not generally entertained by clergymen. This conclusion was that concubinage was a state of life sanctioned by God in Holy Scripture; he admitted that he had lived in that state for several years with a lady whom he had subsequently married, and that he felt bound to avow the fact, because he thought that his opinion, and the practice founded on it, might be considered a bar to Church preferment. He left the gentleman to settle the matter with the Chancellor; but it was clear that the present state of the law, by which a clergyman was instituted into a benefice, without any inquiry into such a hiatus being enforceable, might lead to very undesirable results. It was with a view to guarding against the occurrence of such undesirable appointments that he, for his own part, should support the Second Reading of the Bill, reserving to himself and the Members of the Government full liberty to criticise any of its details hereafter.

*MR. CYRIL DODD (Essex, Maldon)

observed, that it was with very great pleasure he had heard the announcement made that the Government were disposed to support the Second Reading of this Bill. He was glad to be able to say he agreed, at any rate, with two of the propositions laid down by the hon. Member for the Mansfield Division. The hon. Member had told them it was a great pity they should have to come to Parliament when the Church required anything to be done in the way of altering any arrangements, and he had also told them that this was a small attempt to remedy the grievances in the Church, which were large. He agreed with the hon. Member, but he did not draw the same deduction. It seemed to him that though it was humiliating to the Church to be obliged to come to Parliament on every occasion, it was the duty of Parliament to do the best it could to remedy the difficulties the Church laboured under. He agreed they were not a fit and proper body to deal with Church matters, but they were the only body, and, therefore, it was their duty to deal with them, and to deal with them in such a way as should be consonant with the feelings of Churchmen. Coming to the Bill itself, it had been said that it gave, and certainly it did give some increased power to the Episcopal Bench. They, as Churchmen, regarded the Bishop as an overseer, who had to look over and attend to the Church, who had to preside over the remainder of the clergy. It was true that their Bishops were not chosen in the way they should like to see them chosen. They resented the nomination of their Bishops by Prime Ministers, or by the Crown on the recommendation of Prime Ministers; but they were their Bishops, and, as Churchmen, they desired to make the best of them. When one reflected upon the men who had been appointed, not-withstanding the mode of appointment, one was almost tempted to say there had been Divine guidance in the matter. When they saw how the appointments were made, it was a marvel to him that they should have men of the kind they had, and who, notwithstanding the manner of their appointment, were a credit to the Church. With the object of the Bill, the prevention of unfit persons holding benefices, all would agree; with the mode of effecting it there might be difference of opinion. He contended that the Bishop was obviously the only person in whose hands the power could be placed of dealing with beneficed clergymen who might be unfit to be instituted, or who, if beneficed, were unfit to remain in the benefices. This Bill, for the first time, gave the parishioner some sort of voice in dealing with the incumbent who, it was proposed, should be placed in the benefice in the parish in which he lived; for such parishioner would be able to represent in writing any ground of un-fitness alleged against the minister selected. At the present time the members of the Church of England had no voice whatever in the selection of the minister who was to be placed over them. It might be said that by the proposal in the Bill the parson and the patron might have their rights endangered. He did not think so. First of all, it was not at all probable that the Bishop would be capricious in the matter; and secondly, if he should be capricious or unfair, that unfairness was provided against by an appeal which was given to the Archbishop. With a view to making that appeal still more satisfactory, when they came to deal with the Bill in Committee he should move that the trial of the appeal should take place in open court. It was brought as a ground of complaint against the Church, that for any action, or for any change it was obliged to come to Parliament. He admitted the necessity and deplored it. But they did not stand alone. Churchmen were not the only body who had had to come to Parliament; he found so lately as 1870 a body called the Primitive Methodist Wesleyan Society of Ireland came to that House and procured an Act of Parliament, in the schedule of which they set forth the doctrines of their Society. Personally, his opinion coincided with that of the hon. Member for the Mansfield Division when he said that Disestablishment was the only cure for the great grievances of the Church; but, meantime, he ventured to ask the House to do what he thought they would feel to be their duty—to do the best they could for the Church of England, and read this Bill a second time.

*MR. R. W. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)

remarked, that the hon. Member had called attention to an Act of Parliament which crystallized the doctrinal standards of the Primitive Methodist community in Ireland, but there was a much wider authority of that doctrine, namely, the Methodist Conference Act of 1876, which enabled that great Nonconformist community, ranking in this country only second to the Church of England, to cut asunder its Colonial Churches, and it became necessary to schedule the deed poll which governed the doctrinal standards of the Methodist Church. They had been asked by some of the Church members supporting this Bill what Nonconformists could possibly have to do with a measure which, apparently, from their aspect, affected simply the Church of England? At the first sight that might be a reasonable question to put, although it ignored the popular doctrine that, as parishioners, Nonconformists, at present at all events, had as much right as Churchmen to take part in the management of matters concerning the doctrine and teachings of the Church of England. In a vast number of the rural parishes Nonconformists were chiefly concerned not about what went on inside the Church, but in what went on in the national schools in the villages. When they recollected that there were thousands of national schools in the villages of England, where the Church clergyman was practically supreme, they would see that Dissenters were interested in seeing that the clergyman, in a village especially, was a man of great ability, of a good life, and successful in his religious enterprises. They were, therefore, though Nonconformists, to some extent interested in the present Bill, and they were delighted when any attempt was made to secure in connection with the Church the services of an efficient and capable clergyman who could perform the important duties and requirements connected with his office. It was on that ground he spoke in favour of the Church Patronage Bill last year, and he was sorry that what he considered the far more material point of the Bill of this year would not come before them. He would remind the hon. Member for the Mansfield Division that when they had this question threshed out in the Grand Committee on Law, and had to decide whether they were going to clothe the episcopal authority in this country with greater power, the Nonconformist Members were rather surprised to see a distinct cleavage in the Committee—the Members for the Isle of Wight and West Bristol voting on one side, and the Members for Rochester and West Edinburgh on the other. They were somewhat perplexed to know on what side to vote. For his part he was not in doubt, and he voted against the concentration of authority in the hands of ecclesiastical officials. He did not believe in adding to the power of any ecclesiastics, whether they were Nonconformist or Church ecclesiastics. He would far sooner place the authority in the hands of a joint assembly of clergy and laymen. He had never heard such feeble reasons given for a Bill as had been advanced for this measure. They were told that this Bill added very little to the powers of the Bishops, and were also told that it affected the clergy only in a slight degree. He supposed the first argument was addressed to the nervous people, who were afraid of strengthening ecclesiastical authority and power, while the second was addressed to the still more numerous nervous people—the clergy of the Church, who were afraid that they might be driven out of their quiet livings and have to give an account of their services, and be tested by the practical issue of results. There was another important point. The Bill extends to Wales; and if the Established Church (Wales) Bill became an Act, the question, remained how this Bill would have any bearing on the Reformed Church of England in Wales. He hoped the Bill would go to the Standing Committee, and although it seemed a very trifling little Bill, and ought not to receive much assistance either from the lay patrons or old clergy, still it would be the duty of every Nonconformist on the Committee to try and lick it into some sort of practical shape.

*MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

expressed his gratification with the manner in which the Bill had on the whole been received. The Under Secretary of State stated that the Bill did not contain some provisions which were in the Bill last year, and, on the other hand, it contained some things which that Bill did not contain. He frankly admitted that was the case; but if he might reveal ecclesiastical secrets, which hon. Members might have already heard there was an idea that a Bill embodying some of the provisions, the absence of which had been noted, would be introduced in another place, and might come down to this House hereafter. It was thought better that the different parts of the subject should be treated separately, and that the disciplinary provisions should be considered in this measure. Two opposite terrors seemed to be aroused in connection with this measure. One terror was, that it would put too much power into the hands of the Bishops, and that by means of this power clergymen who did not hold certain theological views would be subjected to persecution. In answer to that, he need only say that whatever the differences between High and Low Churchmen might be, he never yet heard there was any difference among them on questions of morality. It would be an insult to the Evangelical party to say that any Bishop would take injurious action against a clergyman who did not happen to agree with him in theology, and would, therefore, proceed against him on some question of morality. On the other hand hon. Members opposite would like to see a lay tribunal, but Churchmen belonged to a Church which was governed by Bishops, and they trusted their Bishops. It was much more a danger that the Bishops would find themselves so much hedged round by the safeguards of this Bill, supported by a large amount of generous, and, perhaps, too indulgent public opinion, that they would hesitate long before putting those provisions in force. With regard to another matter which had been mentioned, personally he did not care whether a barrister or a magistrate were placed upon the Commission proposed to be appointed under the Bill, but it was thought that, in order to protect the interests of an incriminated clergyman who was to be tried by such a Commission, a barrister of standing, coming, perhaps, from London, and recommended by high authority, would be more likely to be unprejudiced and impartial than a magistrate who might be a neighbour of the clergyman, and possibly prejudiced by rumours he had heard about his in competence or conduct. He agreed that this was just one of the class of Bills which could best be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Law, and he might mention as a remarkable fact that the parallel Bill came out of the Grand Committee last year a stronger Bill than it went in. He wished to pay that honour to those who had not been supporters of the Bill, that they were willing so to strengthen it.

MR. J. LLOYD MORGAN (Carmarthen, W.)

protested against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Sir J. Fergusson) complaining against Nonconformits taking part in the Debate on this Bill. If there was one principle recognised in this House more than another, it was the absolute equality of Members of Parliament, as regards taking part in any Debate on any Bill which happened to come before the House.


I never intended to convey that impression.


accepted the statement of the hon. Member, but he reminded him that he referred to the action of the hon. Member for Nottingham as a "malicious interference." It had been contended that the Church was free and unfettered, but the introduction of this Bill was conclusive proof that the Church was bound to the State. She found herself unable to effect the very smallest reform without coming to the House of Commons, a secular body, in order to have it done. He had always said that the Church ought to be reformed. There were scores, if not hundreds, of reforms which, as they heard from different bodies in the Church, the Church required; and if they were to legislate to reform the Church the House of Commons would enter upon an unending task. The Church was indeed placed in an ignominious position. One section of the Church, by no means a small one, made an almost piteous appeal to him, a Nonconformist, to save the Church from the hands of hon. Members on the other side of the House, and against the iniquity of the attempt to place clergymen at the absolute mercy of their Bishops. An hon. Gentleman opposite said the Church had absolute confidence in their Bishops, but that did not represent the views of the whole Church. They said:— The centralisation of despotic power, to be wielded in secrecy in the hands of Bishops, is an expedient most dangerous to the clergy and to the welfare of the Established Church. He therefore found himself, as a Member of Parliament, appealed to by one section of Churchmen to support the Bill, and by another to oppose it. He had no objection to the Church being reformed, but in view of these conflicting elements he held that the House of Commons, constituted as it was to-day. and was ever likely to be, was not the right body to reform it.

COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, S.W., Bootle)

said, he thoroughly agreed with the remarks of the preceding speaker—that the House of Commons was not the proper place in which an important measure of this kind ought to be decided; but it was at present the only tribunal open for the ventilation of the subject, which was of extreme importance. He regretted that on a matter fundamentally affecting the welfare of the Church, he found himself entirely at issue with those with whom, on almost every social and political question, he had for years been in thorough harmony. The object of the measure was to confer upon the Bishops, or overseers, of the Church an additional and practically irresponsible power. Under this Bill, an accusation could be brought forward by an unknown person, who did not declare his identity; that accusation was heard in secret, no opportunity was offered to the accused person of knowing who his accuser was or what he was accused of; and he might be deprived of his means of living and of his status in his profession on the ipse dixit of a Church functionary, who was in no way responsible to a Court of Justice for the decision he might give. The foundation of the liberties of the people of this country was, that any accused person should be fairly, honestly, and openly tried by experienced judges; and he wished to know for what reason the clergy were to be excluded from a law which governed their fellow men, and why their privileges and liberties were to be subjected to the irresponsible authority of those who, after all, were merely human? It was supposed that a Bishop, in virtue of his high office, could do no wrong. He had the greatest regard and respect for the Bishops as a body, but they would have to be more than human to be entrusted with such drastic powers as the Bill proposed to confer upon them. If the Bishops must really wield those powers, then the House would have to consider whether some other method, than that now in vogue, of appointing them should not be adopted. The second clause provided that any parishioner might send to the Bishop a representation in writing of his objection to the institution on any ground which entitled the Bishop to refuse to institute. That was an extremely wide power. Nothing was said about the accused being furnished with a copy of the accusation, and there was no provision for the decision of the Bishop being laid before a Court of Law for the purpose of deciding its legality. This drastic power might be used as an engine of oppression by a Bishop against his brother clergyman. A power which could deprive a man of his living, of his status in the profession, of his good name before the world at large, should not be wielded in camera either by a Bishop or an Archbishop responsible to no person. And when they had, by this sort of clerical Star Chamber—for he could call it nothing else—utterly ruined and broken down the prospects of an unfortunate man who had fallen into their clutches, there was no human appeal left by which his grievance could be redressed. That was the principle which the House was asked to affirm by this Bill. It was the principle of trampling on the rights of a worthy class of Englishmen whom they all respected, and when the House came to a decision upon it, he hoped they would say that the Bishops, as at present appointed, were not to be entrusted with such powers. He moved that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.

MR. T. C. T. WARNER (Somerset, N.)

seconded the Amendment. He had no objection, he said, to the House dealing with the Church. So long as the Church was established no one could object to its regulation by the civil power. But his experience had been that the appointments and regulation of Bishops were not always quite as perfect as they might be. He had found over and over again that a Bishop holding particular views had given to a whole district clergymen whose views, while agreeing with his own, differed from those of the people in the district. Unfortunately this Bill, instead of giving more power to the parishioners as a body, only enabled a few of them—and there were one or two discontented people in every parish—to appeal to the Bishop, and the Bishop, had the decision of the case without any reference to the general body of the parishioners. If there had been some provision in the Bill enabling a majority or a large proportion of the parishioners to give their opinion, before the Bishop's decision was carried out, he should have looked upon it as a real reform. There was a provision in the Bill that testimonials should be got from three clergymen, but one knew that testimonials from clergymen were about the least reliable of all testimonials. A clergyman had so many testimonials to give that he very often gave them without careful inquiry. If the Bill gave increased power to the parishioners it would do a great deal of good, but as it merely increased the power of the Bishop's interest effecting any real reform, he believed it would only injure the Church of England.

MR. A. S. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge)

said, he had not intended to intervene in the Debate, but he thought it was necessary to say a few words in reply to his hon. Friend behind him, who as a Churchman objected to the measure. His hon. Friend's objection was, that the Bill would increase the power of the Bishops. But he absolutely denied that in principle the Bishops' power was increased by the Bill. All it did was so to improve the existing machinery that the Bishops might be able to exercise the powers, which they now had in principle in such a way as to be more beneficial to the Church. The Bill gave the Bishop greater power of refusing the institution of an unfit presentee. But the paper circulated by the Church Association distinctly stated that the Bishop might now refuse to institute an unfit presentee. All that the Bill did, therefore, was to give the Bishop a better chance of carrying out the obvious intention of the law. Again, with regard to the inhibiting of clergymen in cases where the Commissioners certified that the work of the parish was not adequately performed, a similar power was given to the Bishops so long ago as 1838; and the very tribunal to which his hon. Friend so strongly objected—the Bishop sitting in camera, or an appeal to the Archbishop—was the very tribunal enacted in that particular case. All that they were doing by the Bill was to bring the machinery up to date, and to enable the Bishop to carry out the existing law. Did his hon. Friend distrust the Bishops of the Church? Surely the natural person to carry out the exclusion of the immoral parson was the Bishop. He could not understand any Churchman having this profound distrust of the men at the head of the Church. The only question in this Bill was whether the Bishop should institute a man or not, and in doing so he was not to take into consideration any question of doctrine or ritual.


If a Bishop is biassed in one direction, he will probably appoint a man with a leaning in the same ritualistic direction.


pointed out that if the Bishop refused to institute a man, he had to state reasons in writing for refusal. If his reasons were shown to be reasons of ritual or doctrine, those objections would be unlawful, and his refusal could not stand. Turning to those who were not Churchmen, he would ask them to help Churchmen to effect this small, but very useful, reform. Surely it was a matter for Churchmen to decide whether they chose to come to Parliament or not. If they did not object to come to Parliament on such a matter as this, it was not for the Member for Mansfield or other hon. Members to tell Churchmen what they ought and what they ought not to do. He hoped that the Bill would pass its Second Reading that afternoon, and that it would be referred to a Committee, where its details might be threshed out.

MR. MACINNES (Northumberland, Hexham)

asked, in what Church did not differences exist? The fact that there were those differences was some proof of the vitality of the Church, but from the remarks made by certain hon. Members it was clear that much point would be made of the differences existing amongst Churchmen. He believed that the promoters of this Bill represented a large majority of members of the Church of England; and, just as the opinion of the majority prevailed with Nonconformists, so must the majority in the Church prevail upon the present occasion. They had no course but to come to Parliament to effect this reform, and he hoped that the Second Reading would be carried by a large majority. As to the position of the Bishops, probably he himself differed toto cœlo from the views held by many members of the extreme High Church party opposite and outside; but, without entering upon such disputed points, he thought they were all agreed that the Bishops of the Church of England, during the last 40 years, had been men upon whose decisions the whole community would with confidence look, and he believed that this view was shared by Nonconformists also.

*MR. H. J. ROBY (Lancashire, N.E., Eccles)

only desired to say a very few words. He felt no hesitation about the Introduction into Parliament of a Bill of this kind, the Church of England being at present the Church of the State, and Parliament having, therefore, a perfect right to deal with it. As to this particular Bill, he was heartily in favour of anything which could be done to insure to the National Church a better appointment of officers. He had been thinking, however, that a refusal by a Bishop to institute a person duly presented to a living by the patron might in practice be extremely prejudicial, and perhaps unjustly so, to the person himself in other walks of life. It would put an open and public slur upon a person, and this ought not, in his opinion, to be done without a proper hearing of the case and without proper security to that person. In some cases, no doubt, it might be proper not to adjudicate upon the matter in a public court, but it would, he suggested, be possible for the Bishop to sit in such cases with assessors—he meant assessors with power to vote; at least two, one a layman, the other a clergyman. Perhaps the Archdeacon or Rural Dean and the Chancellor of the Diocese might sit with the Bishop. In some such way as this a council might easily be formed in which more confidence would be felt than in the unaided judicial power of the Bishop himself. If some assistance were given to the Bishop, and if a proper opportunity were secured for the person in question to be heard, he thought that much good might come from this measure. In any event, however, he was sufficiently convinced that additional power should be given in such cases to make him vote without hesitation for the Second Reading.


desired to thank the last speaker for his contribution to the Debate. In his view every possible protection should be given in the case of an institution, and a much wider margin should be allowed to the authorities, whether to the Bishop sitting alone or with assessors as had been suggested. The Member for Eccles had said that it would ruin a man's character to refuse to institute him, but the intention, of a patron to present need never become public property. But if the presentation should become matter of common knowledge amongst the parishioners, and the parishioners should write to their Bishop stating their objections to the proposal presented, then, surely, the interests of the parish should take priority over the interests of the individual, though, of course, the interests of the latter should be safeguarded. All these matters were, however, points for a Committee to discuss.

*MR. R. L. EVERETT (Suffolk Woodbridge)

congratulated the promoters of the Bill upon the compliment they had paid to the wisdom of Oliver Cromwell in the course he took when he was called to supreme power and sought to use it for the making of England better and more religious. He did not know what was the nature of the committees of Triers he appointed, but he believed they were of local origin, and did not consist of Bishops, and he would recommend the promoters of the Bill to look up the details of Oliver Cromwell's plan in the hope that they might learn something from it in giving the people power over the pulpits of the Established Church so that they might be occupied only by God-fearing men, whose teaching was calculated to promote all that was highest and best.

The House divided:—Ayes 179; Noes 118.—(Division List No.40.)

Bill accordingly read 28.

*MR. HAYES FISHER moved that the Bill be referred to the Grand Committee on Law.


asked why the Grand Committee on Trade should not be selected?

Motion agreed to.