HL Deb 23 March 1840 vol 52 cc1317-22
Viscount Duncannon

laid on the table, by her Majesty's command, an act passed by the Legislature of Upper Canada relating to the subject of the Clergy Reserves.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

said, that he should have expected from her Majesty's Government some explanation of what was intended to be done with respect to that measure, and he apprehended that their Lordships would be of the same opinion when he stated to them what the contents of that bill were. Probably it might not be known that the provision for the Protestant Church establishment in Canada consisted, solely of those clergy reserves. Now, it was provided by an act passed in the year 1791 that those lands should be set apart for the maintenance of the Protestant clergy in Canada. It would be exceedingly improper in him to advert to all the proceedings which had taken place upon this subject, but he would remark, that in order to prevent any improper interference by the local Legislature with these reserved lands, it had been enacted, that any act of that body which altered the disposition of those clergy reserves should be laid for thirty days before both Houses of Parliament before it passed into a law. Now, this bill did not alter or vary, but actually repealed, the act of 1791. It gave one-quarter of the reserved lands to the Church of England, one-quarter to the Church of Scotland, and two quarters, one-half of the clergy reserves, to the Dissenters of every denomination in that country. Now, this was a bill which he considered so entirely objectionable in its principle, and so objectionable also in its details, that he had looked with anxiety for some statement from her Majesty's Government as to the views which they entertained in relation to that measure. The bill was to be laid before Parliament for thirty days, and some of those thirty days would fall into the Easter holydays, so that the pro- visions of the act of 1791 would not in effect be complied with. He did conceive, therefore, that it was rather unfair to their Lordships, who must feel an interest in a concern of so much importance as the maintenance of the church in Canada, not to allow them a longer time for the consideration of the subject. He conceived that the Government had also done wrong in another matter. Their Lordships knew that great objections were entertained to that bill in Canada, and time ought to have been given to those parties in Canada who conceived that they were aggrieved by the bill, in order to make known the reasons for their opposition. There was another point to which he wished to call the attention of their Lordships. These clergy reserves were not sufficient at present for the maintenance of the clergy—very far from it indeed; and yet these resources being inadequate for their present object, it was the intention of this bill to distribute the clergy reserves amongst all the religious denominations in that country. As he had already stated, the Church of England was to have one quarter of those reserves, the Church of Scotland another quarter, and the remaining two quarters were to be distributed amongst the various denominations of Dissenters in that country, whom it was almost impossible to enumerate. There was another peculiarity in this bill, namely, that the act of 1791, having been passed for the support of the Protestant clergy in Canada, this bill distributed half the reserved lands among the several sects of Dissenters in that country, amongst whom Roman Catholics were included. He had made these observations, because he felt that he should have failed in his duty, and because the church would have considered it a great neglect of duty, on his part if he bad lost a moment in calling the attention of their Lordships to this question. It was not a party affair. God forbid that he should approach such a subject with any party feeling whatever. It concerned the very existence of the church in Canada. This was the beginning of a principle which was now working, and bad been working for some time. Proceedings for a similar end had been in contemplation, and, whether legal or not, had partly been put into execution in another colony where the same considerations for the application of the principle did not exist— he meant in Australia, where sixteen or seventeen twenty-thirds of the population were members of the English Established Church. In that colony, also, reserves had been set apart which had since been resumed. He wished to say nothing unfair, and therefore, he would only say, that reducing the Church of England to an equality with all the sects, and depriving it of all the revenues which had been set apart for its support by Parliament in former times, was at least a sudden proceeding. He would, however, go no further into this subject. He might, perhaps, be told that he had acted unfairly in saying so much already, but he justified himself on the urgency of the case. Their Lordships had but twenty-three days at the utmost to deliberate on the subject, and he most earnestly recommended this measure to their Lordships' attention, and asked them whether by their silence they would assent to a measure which tended very nearly to the extinction of the Church of England in Canada. This bill was also highly reprehensible on another ground. When every religious party in Canada was struggling to increase its numbers, their Lordships might easily guess to what a height religious dissensions would arise under the present scheme for distributing the clergy reserves.

Viscount Duncannon

was exceedingly sorry that the most rev. Prelate had misunderstood the objects with which he had laid the bill on the table. It had been far from his intention to take the House by surprise, and raise a debate without any notice, and therefore he had intended, when the most rev. Prelate interrupted him, to move that the bill be printed, so that it might be placed in their Lordships' hands. He had no doubt when that was done that an explanation would be given of the measure.

Viscount Melbourne

did not mean to accuse the most rev. Prelate of any unfairness in making the observations which had fallen from him; but, on the other hand, he must say, that the charge of unfairness which he had made against her Majesty's Government was not one which could in justice be sustained. The Government had done that which was prescribed by the act of Parliament. The Government were directed by the act of Parliament to lay the bill on the table of the House, and if the bill were unobjected to for thirty days after it had been laid on the table, it would be competent to the Government to advise her Majesty to give that act the Royal assent. It was for noble Lords who objected to the provisions of the bill to take any measures with respect to it which they might think proper. As to what the most rev. Prelate had said about the period of time allowed for the consideration of the bill being too short, he might remark, that their Lordships were in the habit of taking a very long period for deliberation on measures coming before them, and deferring business somewhat unnecessarily; but, admitting the great importance of this subject, still he thought, that considering the knowledge they already possessed respecting it, and the discussions that had taken place upon it, thirty days was a period amply sufficient for examining the measure, and for enabling any noble Lord who had objections to it to interpose in the manner that was competent for him. He could not think, therefore, that in pursuing the course which the act of Parliament obliged them to take, her Majesty's Government had at all laid themselves open to the charge which the most rev. Prelate had thought proper to make against them.

The Bishop of London

expected, that when her Majesty's Government thought fit to lay a bill of such vast importance on the table, they would at least have given their own opinion as to the merits of the measure. If there were no other reason for forming that expectation, he had at least a reason in the announcement which had been made in another place by the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, that when the present bill was laid upon the table, he would accompany it with an intimation whether the bill was or was not to receive the sanction of her Majesty's Government. They had now heard from the noble Lord that it was the intention of Ministers to advise her Majesty to assent to the bill, and he had heard it with the greatest pain. He would not hesitate to say, that if ever an iniquitous or unconstitutional measure had been presented to that House by any Ministers, the bill now before them deserved to be called so. It was not without reason that he made that declaration; he should be in due time prepared to justify it, and he trusted that their Lordships would be prepared to interpose the shield of their protection between the Established Church of the kingdom and the heavy blow now aimed at it by this bill. The bill professed to forward the interest of religion, and it would promote dissension; it professed to consult the good of the Church, and would despoil it of all its property. It would, indeed, restore to it a fourth part of that property, but in such a manner as very considerably to diminish its value. With regard to the time allowed for its consideration, although he thought that twenty-One minutes would be sufficient to convince their Lordships of the impolicy of the bill, yet it was always necessary, when a subject of such vast importance was to be discussed, to take time for collecting and considering the details of the measure. He thought twenty-one days a very short time, considering the number of peers who were absent from the House, and the various legal and constitutional questions involved in the measure. He did not think it at all impossible that their Lordships might deem it necessary to ask for the opinion of her Majesty's judges on the bill, during the interval that would ensue before the Royal assent could be given. He confidently anticipated that a perusal of the bill would induce their Lordships to come down in strength to interpose their authority between the Government and the Established Church, and reject this bill.

Lord Holland

said, that both the most rev. Prelate and the right rev. Prelate had spoken of this bill as if it had come up to their Lordships from the House of Commons. They seemed to have overlooked the fact that it was not a bill introduced into this Parliament, but a measure that had received the sanction of the colonial legislature, including the representatives of the persons who were interested in the subject.

Lord Ellenborough

said, that considering the very great importance of this measure, and the deep interest which was felt in it by the inhabitants of Upper Canada, he confessed he did not think that her Majesty's Government could in fairness to the Legislature and people of Canada have delayed laying it on the table for a single day. At the same time it was very inconvenient that it should be laid on the table at this particular moment, not only on account of the circumstance stated by the most rev. Prelate, that there were but twenty-three clear business days for considering it, but on account of the absence of very many of the judges from town. He had no doubt that the most rev. Prelate would try to induce the House to ask the opinion of the judges, it being his conviction that the colonial legislature had exceeded the powers of what was called the Quebec Act in passing such a measure. As to that point he would not at present pronounce any opinion, but at the same time he could see that on the face of the measure there were doubts, and it would be very desirable that they should have the opinion of the judges as to the legality of this proceeding on the part of the Legislature of Upper Canada. As to the measure itself, they had heard the right rev. Prelate pronounce a very strong opinion against it. The bill having been only just laid on the table, he could not say that he was well enough acquainted with its provisions, or with the grounds on which the Legislature had proceeded in passing it, to be capable of giving a decided opinion upon it; but he knew that after long discussion a majority of the assembly, fully and freely representing the people of Upper Canada, had agreed to it as a measure of compromise for settling the most difficult and dangerous question that had ever distracted that country. That being the case, he must say, that it would not be without great difficulty and much hesitation that he should be induced to join in any address to the Crown asking her Majesty not to give her assent to this measure.

The Duke of Wellington

When did the bill pass through its stages in Canada.

Viscount Duncannon

stated, that the bill had passed the Upper Canada House of Assembly on the 15th of January 1840, and the Legislative Council on the 20th of January, 1840.