HL Deb 31 March 1835 vol 27 cc457-62
The Marquess of Westminster

rose to present the Petition with which he had been intrusted by the Mary-la-bonne Vestry. The noble Marquess said, that the noble Baron near him had wished this petition to be delayed in order that he might be present when it was brought under their Lordships' consideration.—The signatures to this petition were most respectable; and the petition was agreed to by a large majority of the vestry at which it was discussed. He believed that the noble Baron near him was almost the only dissentient. It was a petition asking for Church reform, from those Ministers who now suddenly appeared as Reformers, and claimed as much credit for being so as belonged to those who had been Reformers all their lives, and who had made many sacrifices for the principle of Reform. The petitioners were friends of the Church, as their Lordships would perceive, from the very respectful and temperate manner in which the petition was worded. The petitioners asked for Church reform, and said that the stability of the Church would be much improved if that reform was conceded, at the same time that general satisfaction would be occasioned by it throughout the country. This moderate language showed the peti- tioners to be friends of the Church. The petitioners then objected to pluralities, and afterwards went on to ask that some means of preventing non-residence might be adopted. In his opinion, the one was very much connected with the other; so that if their Lordships put an end to pluralities, they would at the same time put an end to non-residence. The petitioners then asked that the revenues of the deans and chapters should be appropriated to the maintenance of the Churches. He remarked, that there were many instances in which estates, lying at a great distance from the Episcopal Sees to which they belonged, had been converted from leaseholds into freeholds—that much money must have been paid as the purchase of such a change, and that the sums thus obtained had not been accounted for. Was it not possible that some portion at least of this money might have been applied to the support and maintenance of the Church? The next was a most important part of the petition: it stated that the petitioners regretted that the right reverend Prelates should belong to their Lordships' House, that it would be much better for the welfare of their flocks if they were to retire to their Sees, where they could employ themselves more for the advancement of the real good of the country than when they were thus tossed about in the storms of political life. Some thought it would be better if a portion of the Bishops were to withdraw from their legislative duties—others that the whole of them might be spared. The petition then referred to the property of the Church, and asserted that it was also the property of the State, and might be dealt with as such. In his opinion the petitioners were not far wrong when they asserted this, and it seemed to him that the comparison so often drawn between Church-property and private property was not well founded.

Lord Kenyon

said, that in wishing to have the opportunity of hearing this petition presented, he did not desire to enter at large into the subject matter of it; what he wished to state, was the manner in which the petition had been got up, and the mode in which the discussion at the vestry was conducted—a manner and mode that he thought would show that the spirit of the petitioners was not altogether so friendly to the Church as the noble Marquess had represented it. In the first place, the noble Marquess had represented this as the petition of a majority of the vestry of the most important parish of the metropolis. The vestry itself consisted of 120 persons, and 56 names were signed to this petition. Their Lordships would say how far that was a majority of the vestry. Then the noble Marquess said that the petition was in a spirit of friendship towards the Church, and that the petitioners only wanted to remedy the abuses of the Church, and thus conduce to its stability. The first person who brought forward this petition was an avowed Dissenter; he could not be said to be attached to the Church; indeed, there was some doubt whether he was much attached to religion itself, for he was an avowed Unitarian. The second was a man who had retired from holy orders, and who expressed himself in terms of positive abuse towards the Church. There was, indeed, exhibited at the vestry an indulgence in sarcasm that was actually indecent, such as no person ought to use before a mixed society. He felt it his duty to remonstrate, and to ask this person what he should think of his (Lord Kenyon's) conduct, as a man professing- liberal opinions, if he were to take the opportunity, before a mixed assembly, of imputing blame and casting ridicule on those who did not agree with him in religious opinions, and how such conduct could be justified in one who called himself a Christian Dissenter? This person, however, persevered, and the vestry thought fit to allow him to do so; when, of course, he (Lord Kenyon) retired with a feeling of disgust, which he hoped and trusted all who heard him would equally feel at such conduct. The noble Marquess said that these petitioners were friends of the Established Church; yet they maintained that the property of the Church was the property of the State, and that the State might deal with it as it pleased: and the noble Marquess himself maintained that the State might deal with it as with other property. Even on his own argument, however, if the State dealt with it as with other property, the State would not deal with it as was now desired, in the way of spoliation. He repeated, that at least four-fifths, if not nine-tenths, of the persons at this meeting, were Dissenters. They expressed themselves with little courtesy of the Church; and their Lordships would say, after what they had heard, whether this petition was to be considered the petition of the friends of the Church, and whether it could be entertained as such by their Lordships.

Lord Brougham

entirely agreed with the noble Lord who had just spoken, that it was a wrong course—it was one calculated only to give pain to those who observed it, for persons in discussing matters of this sort to throw out abuse on opinions which happened to be entertained by other persons. If the noble Lord had a little more carefully considered the doctrine, the excellent doctrine he had thus thrown out, he would have abstained from saying something which he had allowed to escape him when he stated, that a person at this meeting not only could have had very little regard for the Church, but could hardly be considered to have had much regard for religion itself [No, no!]—yes, yes! for religion itself the noble Lord said—for he was a Unitarian. It was possible that this person might not have had much regard for the Church—very possible that—but when the noble Lord pronounced ex cathedrâ—he did not know whether the noble Lord called that House a mixed assembly—but when the noble Lord pronounced ex cathedrâ in his place in that House, that a certain sect, which called itself Christian, was not much attached to religion itself, he was saying that which, if not uttered in the spirit of persecution, did in itself not much savour of toleration. He thought that they ought to be uniform in their conduct—that if they said that the Unitarians were not Christians, they said what the Unitarians denied; and persecution consisted very much in men holding their opinions as the standard of truth, and denouncing men who did not agree with them as persons who were not Christians. He was sure that the noble Lord could not have meant to do this, yet nevertheless he had done it. At all events they were bound to treat the Unitarians with fairness; to be denied to be Christians was looked on by them as a great grievance—and those who said that the Unitarians were not Christians, ought not to avail themselves of the help which the Unitarian writings, excellent writings of excellent and able men, afforded them in their contests with professed infidels, but this they did; and not only availed themselves of the writings, but of the names of the writers, for he could mention some whose names were quoted as men of weight and authority on this subject. In his mind a late right reverend Prelate bad laid down the true Christian rule on this subject, and had set a most excellent, example. Speaking of the Unitarians, a late Bishop of Llandaff had said "I differ from you most essentially, but I am far from denying that you are Christians and most respectable men; you have your opinions and I have mine." He could not hear the noble Lord use the expression he had used without stating his opinion on the subject. At the same time that he said this of the Unitarians as a body, it did not follow that the conduct of the particular Unitarian alluded to by the noble Lord was right.

The Bishop of Exeter

did not complain of any intentional want of courtesy towards the Church by the noble Marquess who had presented this petition, but there was one expression used by the noble Marquess to which he must for one moment call their Lordships' attention. The noble Marquess had drawn a distinction between private property and property of the Church, and had seemed to state that, because Church-property was not private property, it was, therefore, public properly, and might be disposed of as such. That was, if he might be permitted to say so, without the slightest disrespect to the noble Marquess, a most mischievous error. That Church-property was not private property was true, but that, therefore, it was public property, and was applicable to any purpose that the State might, think fit, was a principle which he believed would not be maintained there or elsewhere by any person who considered what, property was. It would, not have been necessary for him to make these observations if the noble and learned Lord, the late Chancellor of Ireland, who was present when this discussion began, had still continued in his place; that noble and learned lord would not have suffered him to rise to notice this inaccuracy in argument, for it was well known that that noble and learned Lord had the most sincere attachment to the Established Church, and that, feeling the sacredness of its property in the strongest manner, he had taken the opportunity on a celebrated occasion to state that feeling most powerfully. As far as he recollected, the words of the noble and learned Lord were these—"That the State may not, under any circumstances, deal with the property of the Church is a principle which I am not prepared, to maintain, for unquestion- ably circumstances of necessity may arise which may justify the State in dealing with it, but that necessity must be great, and the property of the Church must be dealt with subject to that necessity; but there is no necessity for the State dealing with the property of the Church, which would not justify the State dealing with the property of an individual. Therefore, when the property of the Church is assumed by the State, let the owners of land look to the security of their own." He should only add, that under such circumstances, he believed that the property of the noble Marquess would be found more effectual for the wants of the State than all the property of the Church put together.

The Marquess of Westminster

, in reply, denied the statement made by the noble Baron near him, as to what might be supposed to be the sentiments and character of the meeting at which the petition was carried. The petition was most respectably signed, and though some of those present might not be friends of the Church, it was clear that the greatest part of those who signed it were so; for otherwise its language would not have been so respectful and proper. If there was not a majority of the whole vestry, there was a great majority of those present, and all came who had any desire to do so.

Petition laid on the Table.