HL Deb 28 June 1836 vol 34 cc998-1000
The Lord Chancellor

said, that in moving the second reading of the Church Discipline Bill, although it was a measure of great importance, yet he did not think it necessary to occupy much of their Lordships' time. It was impossible to address himself to an inquiry as to what had been the law on this subject, without being struck with the very exemplary conduct of the great proportion of that distinguished body which constituted the Clergy of the Church of England. When their Lordships reflected on the great inadequacy of the means of exercising discipline over that large body of men, they could not but feel how very few were the instances in which that defect of the law had become apparent, Undoubtedly there might be some instances in which parties had escaped punishment for offences in consequence of that defect of the law. Still, if their Lordships were to investigate the subject, he believed that very few instances would be found in which it had become necessary to apply the law for the punishment of offences among that body. But in proportion as that body were exemplar)', they were themselves entitled to have the law brought into that state which would secure them from having among them any individual who should require punishment. It was no less due to them than to the country at large, that the law should be made effective for this purpose. For many years the only mode which had existed for enforcing discipline among the clergy, had been by the very feeble, expensive, and unsatisfactory proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Courts. That circumstance alone made it expedient to adopt some alteration in the law; but this had become still more necessary, inasmuch as their Lordships had read, a second time, a Bill for the purpose of consolidating the Ecclesiastical Courts, and for taking a way from the Diocesan Courts that jurisdiction which they had hitherto possessed, for enforcing Church discipline. The question, then, was, what tribunal should have jurisdiction by which discipline might be effectually enforced against individual members of the Church? There were two ways in which that object might be attained. They might vest it altogether in the hands of the Bishop, and in former times that authority was exercised by him; or they might establish another tribunal which should give the parties accused that security which was possessed by other members of the State, of being tried by those who were their equals in rank and profession, and who were, therefore, interested in the due administration of justice towards the accused. He was satisfied that their Lordships would feel, and he hoped that the right rev. Bench would also feel, that it was not expedient to repose the power altogether in the hands of the Bishops; because, however well it might be exercised, it was not congenial with the other establishments of the country to vest such power and influence in the hands of an individual. For these reasons it had been considered that the most effectual way to enforce the due discipline of the Church, and at the same time to secure the accused against any improper judgment being pronounced against him, would be to appoint, under the superintendence of the Bishop, a tribunal, consisting of a certain number of their own body—namely, nine clergymen, and providing that no sentence should be passed, unless with the concurrence of six out of the nine. He thought this would be an effectual tribunal for the redressing of offences, and one also to which the clergy could look up with confidence. The rest of the Bill was for the purpose of carrying that object into effect, and if their Lordships should approve of the principle of the Bill, which was to establish a tribunal in each diocese, such as he had described, the details might be considered in Committee. It was further proposed to give a power of appeal to the Archbishop of the province. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

said, that it would not be necessary for him to detain the House at any length after the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack, who had explained the nature of the measure to their Lordships with so much clearness and ability. He rose merely for the purpose of expressing a hope that noble Lords would give their most considerate attention to the Bill. This was a subject on which legislation was peculiarly required, because the clamour about the offences of the clergy generally had arisen from particular cases of clergymen escaping punishment; it was required, for the sake of the Church, and for the interests of religion, which were always prejudicially affected when there was any clamour upon subjects of that kind. The present Bill had been under consideration for some years, and was founded upon the recommendation of the Commissioners of Ecclesiastical Law—a Commission, which consisted of two Justices, all the Judges of the Ecclesiastical Courts, several Bishops, and other persons well versed in Ecclesiastical Law. Many different Bills had been proposed in successive years; and had been abandoned one after the other, on account of the difficulties with which the subject was surrounded. This Bill had been drawn up with great care; and the greatest attention had been bestowed upon it by persons whose extensive knowledge and talents could not be doubted. It, however, must be allowed that the measure was not perfect; there were many imperfections in it. Whether they could be remedied was a matter of some doubt, for the subject was one of great difficulty; but he trusted that both the spiritual and lay Lords would give their attention to the clauses, and assist in making it as perfect as possible—and, for his own part, he could assure their Lordships he should feel extremely obliged to any noble Lords, learned in the law, who might give such assistance—for the Bill was one of great importance to the country. With the advantages of such aid, he sincerely hoped that they might be enabled to impart to the measure the power to increase the efficiency of the Church, and keep up the character of its ministers.

Bill read a second time.