HL Deb 19 July 1833 vol 19 cc914-8
The Duke of Newcastle

wished to ask a question, and, though the most rev. Prelate to whom it applied was not in his place, some other member of the right reverend Bench might answer. It appeared, by a paragraph in the newspapers, that a letter had been addressed to the clergy of the diocess of York relative to the uniting of parishes where the population was less than 1,000, and the income was under 500l. a-year. It was said, in the paragraph, that two or three clergymen had been appointed to inquire into the subject. Now, he wished to know whether the work of Church Reform had commenced already in England as well as in Ireland?—whether that, report did or did not rest on any competent authority? Before he sat down he wished to observe, with respect to what had fallen from him on a former night, that he had not the least intention of saying any thing offensive to the right reverend Bench, when he took the liberty of advising them. He wished to spirit them up to do their duty boldly. He knew the difficult situation in which they were placed, and he was anxious to induce them to perform their duty fearlessly and conscientiously. The right reverend Prelate opposite seemed, however, to have taken his observations in dudgeon, as he denounced them with some asperity. He was sorry for it; but, he understood, that the right reverend Prelate had lately been collated to the situation of priest in the temple of expediency.

The Bishop of London

said, he was in the recollection of their Lordships, and he would ask whether, on the occasion alluded to, he had shown any thing like asperity in his reply to the noble Duke? The noble Duke had called on him and his right reverend brethren to vote on this grave question, perfectly regardless of consequences; and, all that he had said in reply was, that it was not proper for him, or for any Member of either House of Parliament, to declare, by his vote, his opinion, on any occasion, without giving the subject due consideration—without hearing arguments and duly weighing consequences. As to what the noble Duke had said with respect to his (the Bishop of London's) having been recently collated to the priesthood in the temple of expediency, he surely need not remind the noble Duke that one of the most eminent moralists of our times (he meant Dr. Paley) had admitted that expediency was a proper ground to proceed on under particular circumstances. In his opinion, Dr. Paley was mistaken to a certain degree; and he should have guarded himself, by a more explicit statement, against those misconceptions and misrepresentations to which his opinion had given rise. He was not, however, unwilling to enlist himself as the follower of that great man: and, if the noble Duke would invest him in the situation to which he referred, (although he certainly did not think he was qualified to do so), he was not unwilling to receive the investiture even at his hands. The noble Duke appeared to have risen for the express purpose of asking this question—namely, whether the Reform of the English Church had begun already? He would answer, that it had been going on for many years, but that it had been accelerated by recent events. With respect to the paragraph in the newspapers, the facts were simply these;—a few months ago a noble friend of his, and one who was strongly attached to the interests of the Established Church, moved for a return of all the livings in the dioceses of England and Wales, for the purpose of ascertaining what number of them might be united, not for the benefit of the incumbents, but for the advantage of the parishioners. Subsequently, the most reverend Prelate to whom the noble Duke had alluded issued a communication to the different deaneries in his diocess, calling on the clergy to slate what parishes might be advantageously united. The communication had reference to parishes where, with respect to population, the number was under 2,000 souls, and, with reference to value, under 500l. a-year. Now, so far from this being a measure intended in hostility to the interests of the Established Church, it proceeded from those who were the best friends of that Church; and so far from operating mischievously with respect to those interests, he believed that the most advantageous results might be expected from it.

The Earl of Winchilsea

said, he revered the character of the right reverend Bench, and feeling deeply, as he did for that character, he rose to put a question, and, he trusted, that it would be answered in the same spirit in which it was put. He wished for a contradiction, if one could be given upon authority, to a most injurious rumour which had gone abroad, to the effect that a letter on the subject of a measure then before that House had been sent by the King to the Bishops, or at least to one of their body. He begged to ask them, whether directly or indirectly, any communication had been made to the right reverend Bench on an important measure before this House. It had been, so stated, and had not been denied upon authority. Now, this was a point so deeply affecting the independence of that branch of the Legislature, that he thought he had a right to a fair and open answer. If such a letter had been sent from the Crown to the Bishops, he would say, that whoever advised it, be he whom he might, was guilty of a gross dereliction of constitutional duty, which no language he could use would be sufficiently strong to condemn.

The Bishop of London

said, in the first place, I do not consider myself, in the absence of the most reverend Prelate, to whom I presume the question of the noble Earl was more particularly addressed, competent to give an answer to that question; but, if I were competent to answer it, I should decline doing so, because I do not think the noble Earl has a right to ask it. I do not mean to say, that the noble Earl, or any other noble Lord, has not a right to put what question he pleases to the Bishops, but it is not in the present case a sort of right which implies a duty on our parts to answer it. My Lords, it might be exceedingly inconvenient to answer the question. If his Majesty, as head of the Church, is pleased at any time to communicate his sentiments to the Bishops (and I know no person who has greater right to do so), it would be inconvenient for us to be called upon in our places to repeat to the House the communication thus made. But this I will say, that I do not believe his Majesty has made any communication of such a nature as in the slightest degree to infringe upon the privileges of this House, or to warrant the burst of indignation displayed by the noble Earl. I entertain the highest respect for the sincerity, manliness, and devoted respect to the Church of that noble Earl; but repeat, that nothing has occurred to call from him such very warm expressions, or to justify mc in answering his question.

The Duke of Wellington

agreed with the right reverend Prelate, that his Majesty was at full liberty to give any advice to the Archbishop of Canterbury, respecting the clergy of the country, as he thought fit; but whether any use had been made of that advice by the Archbishop was another question. He, however, earnestly entreated their Lordships not to give credit to reports of the description which had been referred to, as it only led to jealousies which did much more harm than good.

The Earl of Winchilsea

said, the warmth which he had manifested proceeded from a very honest and good feeling. That warmth of feeling impelled him perhaps to speak in a tone that sometimes did not become him, but still he must be allowed to say, that it arose entirely from a just and conscientious feeling and conviction. In asking the question which he had proposed, his wish was to elicit a contradiction of the report already stated by him, which had gone about the country, and which, he firmly believed, had no foundation in fact. The King could, unquestionably, give advice to the Church, as the temporal head of the Church, but he was quite convinced, that he never could be induced to take any slop that was calculated to interfere with the impartial judgment of that portion of the Church who had seats in their Lordships' House.

Here the conversation ended.

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