§ The EARL of SHAFTESBURY
wished to put a question to the noble Earl opposite on a subject of great interest. He alluded to the sittings and to the proceedings of Convocation. Many petitions had been, or would be, presented on the subject. He wished to know what were the intentions of the Government with respect to Convocation? It now stood adjourned to the 16th of February; he wished to know whether it would then be allowed to assemble again and proceed to business? He also wished to know whether, during that interval, the Committee appointed by the Lower House of Convocation would be permitted to sit?
§ The EARL of DERBY
As far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned there is no intention of making any deviation from the customary and ordinary course that for many years has been pursued with respect to Convocation; nor do I understand that there has been any deviation from the ordinary practice, although undoubtedly the meeting of Convocation in the course 278 of the present year has been accompanied with considerable excitement, and has led to long discussion; but the proceedings of Convocation have gone this year no further than they have gone in all the preceding years—that is, they moved and voted an Address to the Crown at the commencement of the Session. It is true that the discussion upon that Address to the Crown —previous to which it would not have been decorous or proper that any power over Convocation should be exercised—lasted for a period of three days; but though it lasted for three days, this is not the first occasion on which there has been a discussion, or on which an Amendment has been moved in Convocation. In the year 1847 the discussion lasted through the whole of one day, and an Amendment was moved, praying the Crown to revive the active powers of Convocation. The power of proroguing Convocation, undoubtedly in the last resort, rests with the Crown; but I believe there has been no instance in which that power has been exercised by the Crown, at least for many years, the power being usually exercised by his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, cither acting (for that is a doubtful point) upon his own authority, or with the advice of the other bishops, consensu fratrum. On the present occasion I understand that the usual and ordinary course has been adopted, and that the noble Earl is mistaken in speaking of the adjournment of Convocation, for I am informed that the usual course has been pursued, not of adjourning, but of proroguing Convocation in the usual form. The Address having been voted to the Crown, the Convocation has been prorogued by the Archbishop to a period not far from being coincident with the time of the meeting of both Houses of Parliament after the recess. There is nothing unusual in the prorogation of Convocation to a distant day for the purpose of receiving the answer of the Crown to its Address—it is not usual to receive an immediate answer— there is always a prorogation for the purpose of receiving the answer. I have not had the opportunity, since my noble Friend gave notice of asking the question, of communicating with his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury; but I have no reason to suppose that when Convocation meets again he will depart from the practice that has hitherto universally prevailed, nor do I apprehend that he will do more than lay before Convocation the answer to the Address, and then in the usual form prorogue 279 the sitting of Convocation. I will not anticipate that the Archbishop will depart from the usual course, or that the intervention of the Crown will be in any respect necessary; but this I have no hesitation in saying, that the Ministers of the Crown have no intention to advise Her Majesty to depart from the ordinary course, or that they are prepared to sanction the revival of the active powers of Convocation, One word as to the committee to which my noble Friend has referred. Officially, I know nothing of the committee. I know, officcially, no more than this—that Convocation is prorogued, and that it has appointed a committee to investigate certain matters which had come before it. It is a question of law on which it is not fit that I should pronounce an opinion; but I confess I don't understand myself how a body that is itself prorogued can give any official powers to any other body during its prorogation. I would venture to give an opinion on the point with great diffidence; but if I did, my opinion of the committee is, that the powers of that committee are null and void, and that, on the other hand, there is no power on the part of the Crown, as they have no official cognisance of the committee, to prevent a number of gentlemen meeting together as a private body to consider what will be for the advantage of the Church. That is a question of a legal nature, on which I don't think I ought to pronounce an opinion. It will be seen that from the body of gentlemen meeting, no official communication has been made to the Crown; and, therefore, I do not see how any interference can be made on the part of the Crown to interrupt their sittings.