§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I very much regret to find, in making, by the direction of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, the present Motion, asking your Lordships to agree to a Bill which has for its object the relief of all denominations of Christians—members of the Church of England as well as the various Dissenting bodies—from the possible operation of certain existing penal Statutes, that I have to encounter the opposition of a noble Friend (the Earl of Shaftesbury), by whom a Bill on the same subject, but of a more extended character, was introduced to your Lordships, and was by your Lordships referred to a Select Committee. I regret still more that my noble Friend who had charge of that measure, upon your Lordships deciding to send it before a Select Committee, not only declined to take any part in concert with me in the nomination of the Members of the Committee, but even refused to attend its deliberations or to assist it with his advice, or even by a statement of the case which he was anxious to recommend to its attention; for I can assure my noble Friend that, if he had presented himself before the Committee, and brought forward any instance of real or substantial grievance, he would have met with no indisposition to listen with every attention to his observations or his arguments; on the contrary, he would have found evinced by every Member of the Committee an earnest desire to remove by legislation everything that can be proved to be a real grievance, so far as is consistent with the principles which have hitherto guided Parliament in dealing with questions of this character. The invariable policy of this country, ever since the principle of religious toleration has been in force in it, has been that the public worship of Almighty God should be 491 duly and solemnly conducted in buildings set apart for that special purpose, either (as in the cases of the Churches of England and Rome) by consecration or dedication, or (as in some exceptional cases, even in the Established Church also, and in almost every instance among the Dissenters) by licensing and registration. This practice is, I believe, in accordance with the views and wishes of all right-thinking and serious minded members of the community, whatever may be the particular religious denomination to which they belong. That it is the feeling and desire of the Protestant Dissenters in general, I may venture to infer from the fact that there is now upon your Lordships' table a Bill introduced and carried through the House of Commons on the part of those very denominations, not with the object of abolishing, but of amending and enforcing the law requiring places of worship to be licensed and registered. The Protestant Dissenters, therefore, may be presumed to desire, not the repeal of this law, but that the mode of registering and the manner in which licences are granted should be regulated. In the year 1852 an Act was passed transferring the supervision of this registration from the Episcopal Board, which formerly discharged this duty, to the Registrar General's office. Now, it is in consequence of that Act that a new measure has been deemed necessary in the present year; but it has so happened that the necessity for this new measure has led to a practical demonstration on the part of the Dissenters, that they do not require that places of worship shall not be registered and licensed. The two principal Statutes which regulate places of public worship in this country are the 1st Will. and Mary, requiring the licensing and registration of Dissenting places of worship, and the 52nd of Geo. III., which consolidated and amended various previous Acts, and enacted that any person assembling in his private dwelling for public worship a body of more than twenty persons, exclusive of the members of his own family and household, shall be subject to a penalty. A Bill was brought into the House of Commons in the course of the present Session to repeal certain provisions of the 52nd Geo. III. It passed almost—in fact, I believe entirely—sub silentio through the other House; but, after the third reading, an addition was made in the Bill by an Amendment, and which was never printed for the information of the other House, and 492 which was inserted after twelve o'clock at night. This Amendment introduced another and a totally different branch of the subject into the measure, and entirely did away with the law requiring any building set apart for purposes of public worship to be registered and licensed. That struck me as being rather a singular proceeding, and formed one reason among others why I thought the Bill of my noble Friend should be referred to a Select Committee. The Committee, under these circumstances, were of opinion that one ground upon which that Bill should not be persevered with, but that another Bill with similar objects should be substituted for it, was that by adopting that course the House of Commons might have an opportunity of deliberately reviewing the measure, which in point of fact the Members of that Assembly had never seen or known anything about during its progress through that House. For, I must say, that this practice of introducing by a kind of afterthought such extensive changes of the law, when a Bill has been read a third time, and after twelve o'clock at night too, is a most mischievous mode of legislating, and one which I trust your Lordships will decidedly discountenance. My Lords, the Committee to whom the Bill was referred were most earnestly desirous of meeting any true and substantial grievance; and, in consequence of the absence—the unfortunate absence I will say—of my noble Friend from its deliberations, they had to consider as best they could the cases of grievance, real or possible, to which he had referred in the statement which he had made in this House. It will be recollected that the first case to which my noble Friend alluded was that of clergymen of the Established Church, and he even stated that the clergy of the diocess of a right rev. Prelate opposite were in the weekly and daily habit of violating the existing law, by carrying on their ministrations in private houses and in other places than churches. Now, I think it would be very difficult for my noble Friend to prove that the practical operation of the law is such that its penal consequences could be made to affect clergymen of the Church of England ministering in their own parishes; but, to remove the possibility of any doubt on that subject, the Bill which I hold in my hand distinctly provides that the existing Statutes shall not be construed to apply to the case of any acts of religious worship, whether conducted by the incum- 493 bent or by the licensed curate of the parish, or by any clerk in holy orders acting on behalf of such incumbent or licensed curate. The next case of supposed grievance stated by my noble Friend was that of various religious and charitable societies, which in holding their occasional meetings, commenced and concluded their proceedings with prayer or other solemn acts. I do not believe that such a case would come within the penal clause of the existing Act of Parliament; but, at any rate this Bill distinctly provides that persons engaged in such proceeding shall not be subject to any penalty whatever. The third class of cases referred to by my noble Friend present considerable difficulties—that of the celebration of Divine worship in any place whatever, not being licensed or registered as a place of worship, and, of course, not consecrated, where there is an attendance of more than twenty persons, exclusive of the family or household belonging to such place. No doubt there is considerable difficulty in dealing with this case. It is by no means easy, I frankly confess, to draw an accurate definition between what is public and what is private worship. The law as it at present stands does not interfere with private worship; the private devotions of every family are left entirely untouched; but the question is, where are we to draw the line between public and private worship? I confess that I do not consider the definition drawn by the law, as it at present stands, to be one of the most fortunate character. I think it is rather arbitrary to say that the presence of more than twenty persons, exclusive of the family and household, shall constitute an act of public worship, and shall draw down the penalties of the Act; and, speaking for myself, I should be glad to see some other definition introduced into the Bill, having regard more to the fact of the act of worship being celebrated in a private house than to the number of persons engaged in it. My noble Friend, as I understand, opposes this Bill on the ground that it does not go far enough in this direction. He cannot deny that it does, to a certain extent, relax the present law; but the principle which he desires to lay down is this—that public worship of all descriptions (with the exception of the sacrament of baptism and the rite of marriage), so far as the law of England is concerned, may be solemnised by any person, in any place, at any time, and under any circumstances, without let or hindrance on the part of the law. 494 Now, my Lords, the Dissenting congregations may have within themselves a power of dealing with members of their own denominations who shall conduct their religious worship in a form not in accordance with the rules of their body; but the Church of England has no such power; and what my noble Friend proposes, therefore, is this, that while the Church of England is bound down by strict rules and regulations, and is prevented from enforcing her own discipline on her own members, the law shall not protect that discipline; but the members of her communion shall be empowered to usurp the authority and ministration of the clergy, and to carry on their ministrations in defiance of the parochial clergy. This may be right with regard to the voluntary bodies; but it is absolutely destructive to the parochial system of the whole constitution of the Church of England. In many large towns, and in the extensive rural districts, the clergyman of the parish is physically unable to discharge all the important duties which devolve upon him, and in numberless cases he would—and, indeed, often does—gladly avail himself of the assistance of pious laymen. I do not desire to interfere with such a practice. What I desire by this Bill is not to prevent this, but, on the contrary, for the first time to give a legal status and a legislative sanction to such assistance. At present it is doubtful whether any layman is capable of assisting the clergyman of the parish, even though with his consent and by his authority, in visiting the sick and holding meetings for the purpose of religious worship; but this Bill provides that for the future no penalty shall attach to any layman performing these duties with the concurrence of the clergyman of the parish in which he labours. It may be said that this clause might be nullified by the idleness or apathy of the clergyman of the parish, who may refuse assistance of this description; but, with a view of meeting this difficulty, there is a provision in the Bill that if any layman who is disposed so to employ himself can obtain the consent of the Bishop of the diocess he shall be at liberty to engage in those good works without subjecting himself to a penalty. I do not say that it will not be an unfortunate circumstance that there should be such a difference of opinion between the clergyman of the parish and the bishop, and that there should be in the same parish a conflicting authority, as it were, between the layman 495 sanctioned by the bishop and the clergyman who has refused his assistance; but this is a less evil than the existing state of things, in which neither the bishop nor the clergyman has power by law to avail himself of the assistance of laymen. I have now stated the manner in which this Bill proposes to give relief in the three cases brought forward by my noble Friend; but there remains yet another class of cases with which there is great difficulty in dealing, but with which my noble Friend would deal in a very summary manner, inasmuch as he would repeal all restrictions, and leave every man to do that which seems best in his own eyes. There is an evil against which it is the duty of the House to make provision, or, at least, to continue the provision which at present exists. We cannot conceal from ourselves the unfortunate dissensions which at present prevail upon certain topics in the Church of England; but, if there is any course which is more certain than another to aggravate those dissensions, and to introduce into this country all the evils which have resulted in Scotland from the institution there of a Free Church in opposition to the Establishment—the evils I mean of animosity where there ought to be agreement, and jealousy where there ought to be mutual support—it would be if the Legislature were to give to any member of the Church of England the authority and sanction of Parliament in establishing a congregation and performing Divine worship without applying for a licence, and while still professing to be a member of the Church of England—in any place, according to his own views, and in direct opposition to and defiance of the clergyman of the parish. It may be said, however, that it would be hard to prevent any one from holding a meeting for religious worship for the convenience of his poorer brethren who might not be able to attend church; and, to provide for that case, I certainly should have no objection to consent to a clause by which such meetings might be allowed, provided that they were held in a dwelling-house and did not take the form of public worship, and provided also that the person officiating was not a clergyman of the Church of England. If such a clause should be framed, then by the Bill I propose all possible cases of grievance under the existing law would be removed. The Committee thought that my noble Friend, in sweeping away all these restrictions, went too far, and that he thereby intro- 496 duced and sanctioned dangerous principles; but, at the same time, being anxious to meet the views of my noble Friend, the Committee directed the present Bill to be prepared, which, I believe, will do away with all substantial cases of grievance, and which, being sent down to the House of Commons, might meet with a fuller consideration than had been given to the other Bill. I am not without hopes that my noble Friend, on further reflection, will feel that by the adoption of the measure I now propose his object would be attained, and I, therefore, move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
My Lords, the first complaint made by the noble Earl was, that I refused to serve on the Committee appointed to consider this question. The reason why I declined to serve on that Committee was this:—After the speech made by the noble Earl in moving that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee—in which speech he completely overthrew the principles of the measure, and, as I thought, expressed sentiments which, if carried to their full extent, must issue in the revival of the Conventicle Act—I felt it was hopeless for me to serve on the Committee, knowing that I had no party to follow me in this matter. I therefore declined even to look at the names of the members of the Committee, because I believed, if I had, I should be obliged to make comments on some of them which might seem, perhaps, somewhat invidious. Under these circumstances I declined to attend the Committee, knowing, if I did, I should only have to share in the responsibility of the decision of the Committee, which I felt would be adverse to my measure. The noble Earl has again revived the charge which I answered during the last debate, that my object in what I proposed is to throw confusion into the Church of England, and to enable the laity to supersede the clergy; by stating that the rites of marriage, baptism, and burial were by my Bill alone excepted from celebration by the laity, he left the House to infer that I wished to put into the hands of the laity the power of administering the Lord's Supper. Now, what did my Bill effect any more than the repeal of the 52 Geo. III., which declared that not more than twenty persons should be allowed to attend religious worship in private houses, over and above the members of the family? 497 When that Act should he repealed the laity would remain in the same condition as before with respect to the ministration of religious rites, and the clergy would also remain precisely in the same state in respect to ecclesiastical discipline and to the authority of the bishops. It was not until I had gone far into this question that I was aware of the great depth of feeling prevailing throughout the country on this question, or of the great extent to which the existing law was used for the purpose of intimidation. Obsolete it was, to a great extent; but where? In great towns, and among the powerful and those who by their station could resist any attack attempted to be made on them. But it was not obsolete in respect to the poor cottage, or to the laity in poor parishes, or to poor clergymen, who felt that they might in many cases be brought to a stop, under the existing law, in the performance of their duties. After the discussion which has taken place, I feel that it will be quite impossible for the law in future to remain obsolete, even in those large districts where before it was in abeyance. I feel that, if the Bill of the noble Earl be passed, the law must be enforced; and, whether either the old law or this proposed new law should be brought into operation, a most decided restriction of what is the present practice would be introduced. Now, I think that there must be something very decided in the present proposition, otherwise we should not have such a marked movement on the part of the episcopal bench on the subject, or have the leader of the Conservative party come down here and lay on the table a Bill, and do everything in his power to sustain the demands of those who wish to retain the present restrictions in all their vigour. This question has sunk deep into the heart of the country, and the minds of the people are made up on it. Whether the House accept my Bill now or reject it, I feel that eventually its passing is as sure as the rising and setting of the sun, and my only hope and prayer is that the Bill may be passed without further agitation. All the various arguments connected with the subject have already been so fully laid before your Lordships that it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. The principle of my measure is very simple, namely, that every man has a perfect right to worship God when and how he pleases within his own house, and to call his friends and neighbours together to join in the worship and in hear- 498 ing the Word of God read. That is not only every man's right, but his positive duty, unless it can be shown that the public safety or public morality will be endangered, and then the statute law may step in and check that great Christian privilege. But the noble Earl has not ventured to show that either of those results would follow from the passing of my Bill. The utmost he has ventured to say was, that he thought the parochial system might be endangered; but I will endeavour to show that it will be greatly benefited by my Bill. In conformity with my principles, the Bill which passed the House of Commons gave ample relief both to Dissenters and to Churchmen. The noble Earl, in moving that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, told the House that no time would thereby be lost, as the Bill had passed the House of Commons, and it would not therefore be necessary that it should repass there through its different stages again. But that Bill is now virtually thrown out by the casting vote of the noble Earl, who has substituted for it another Bill which is now under consideration. The new Bill is, without exception, a most objectionable measure. In the first place, I object to it on the ground that, under the guise of being an amendment of the law, it is, in fact, an entirely new ecclesiastical discipline Bill. I do not mean to say that I should object to the introduction of an ecclesiastical discipline Bill, but I object to the introduction of such a measure under the guise of revising the statute law, and when it gives greatly increased power to the bishops of the Church of England. The first clause of the Bill enacts—The said Acts or any of them shall not hereafter be taken to prohibit or to impose any penalty in respect of any meeting for religious worship within any parish or ecclesiastical district in England or Wales where the religious worship shall be conducted by the incumbent or licensed curate of such parish or ecclesiastical district, or by any other clerk in holy orders acting on the behalf of such incumbent or licensed curate, and not under prohibition from the bishop of the diocess; or by any reader, visitor, or other lay person within his own private house, or elsewhere within such parish, who shall act with the sanction and authority of such incumbent or licensed curate, or of the bishop of the diocess.Why should licensed curates be named? By far the greater number of the curates to whom the measure would apply are not licensed. [The Bishop of OXFORD dissented.] He believed that the reverse of what the right rev. Prelate intimated was 499 the fact. But, even if it be not so, why are the curates without licence ignored? Is it not the fact that the Bishop has far greater authority over the licensed curate than over one that has no licence?
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
The right rev. Prelate says, it is the reverse of what I have stated. I asked him if an incumbent could dismiss a licensed curate; and the answer was "No." I asked then, can a bishop dismiss a licensed curate? and the answer was, "Yes."
THE BISHOP OF LONDON
I may state, that an incumbent can dismiss a licensed curate, subject to an appeal to the bishop; and that the bishop can dismiss a licensed curate, subject to an appeal to the archbishop, but that he has entire control of the unlicensed curate.
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
My object was to show that greater power is retained over the unlicensed than over the licensed curate. But be that as it may, let me proceed to observe, that this Bill goes on to settle a moot point between incumbents and the bishops. In many instances incumbents invite friends of their own to preach in their pulpits, and occasionally this right is disputed by the bishops; but here power is positively given to the bishops to prohibit the exercise of that right, a power which they do not at present possess. Now, let us see what are the powers exercised by this Bill over the laity. It is provided that the Act shall not apply to "any readers, visitors, or other lay person within his own private house or elsewhere, within such parish, who shall act with the sanction and authority of such incumbent, or licensed curate, or the bishop of the diocess." Here the laity are to demand the right of worship in their own private dwellings, and the question is now limited entirely to the subject of private worship, because it will be found, on examination of the Acts, that any layman may register any place for worship at the quarter sessions without declaring that he is a Dissenter. If he register according to the Registration Act of 1852, he must declare that he is a Protestant Dissenter, and the denomina- 500 tion to which he belongs; but if he register at the quarter sessions, it is enough if he state that the place is to be used for Protestant worship. The whole question, therefore, is one of having worship in our private dwellings; but look at the restrictions under which this is placed by the Bill before us. The layman is to go as a suppliant either to the incumbent, the licensed curate, or the bishop of the diocess, and they have power to refuse the application. Then, if the application is granted, they have power to revoke it, and they may also impose conditions on the applicant. They may insist, for instance, on the use of certain prayers, and a particular description of service. I must say I have never known such an attempt as this to bring the whole body of the laity under the control of the clergy. The people of England are warmly attached to the Church, but they will not submit to this—that no man shall be allowed to have worship in his own house, with his friends and neighbours, unless he can get the consent of the incumbent or the bishop, or the licensed curate, and submit to such conditions as they may impose. Now, all this is for the purpose of maintaining the parochial system. I believe the rigidity of such rules as these has done more, and will do more, to drive hundreds from the Church, and to keep thousands from coming into the Church, than almost any regulation you can impose. The parochial system is, no doubt, a beautiful thing in theory, and is of great value in small rural districts; but in the large towns it is a mere shadow and a name. I will undertake to say that, even in London, where there is a most active and devoted parochial clergy, there are in many districts thousands of people who never saw their parish clergyman in their lives, and who hardly know the name of the parish in which they reside. In such circumstances it would be true wisdom to avail your selves of the zeal and piety of the laity, male and female, and to encourage them to go into the lanes and alleys of our large towns to compel the people to come to the Gospel feast. There is a great deal of superabundant zeal and activity that requires employment; and if it is not brought within the pale of the Church it will work vigorously out of it. John Wesley never wished to leave the Church, and, even now, Wesleyans hardly like to be called Dissenters. If, however, you adhere stiffly to rules which prevent such per- 501 sons from labouring in the cause of religion within the Church, they must inevitably fall into the ranks of Dissent. Then, what does this Bill do to relieve the great body of Nonconformists? It does nothing whatever—nay, it absolutely ignores them. The Dissenters, no doubt, desired exceedingly that their recognised places of worship should be registered, not merely to perform there the rites of baptism and marriage, but because they think it a matter of propriety that they should be so. Neither should we of the Church of England object to our places of worship being recognised, but we and the Dissenters agree together on this point—that we shall have our private dwelling-houses free for worship, and that we will not go to any party whatever for permission, be he priest or prelate. Will you send down a Bill like this to the other House? Your Lordships must be aware that there are in the House of Commons numerous Dissenters—men of high station, considerable intellect, and distinguished ability, and men also of the truest loyalty and patriotism; but, when they have sent up to us a Bill demanding relief for themselves, we are asked to send them down a Bill in which they are altogether ignored. [The Earl of DERBY hero interposed a remark.] The noble Earl says this is a Bill of which they know nothing, but I can tell him it is a Bill of which they know something now. Has not the noble President of the Council received deputations from the Wesleyans and from other bodies of Dissenters, as well as from Churchmen, stating that this measure imposes upon them improper and unjust limitations, to which they will not submit? I have in my possession a letter from the secretary of one of the committees of the Wesleyan body, in which he states that a deputation has waited upon the Lord President of the Council to explain the feelings of that community with reference to this Bill, and expresses their determination to give no rest to the country until they obtain their rights. The second clause of this Bill provides that no penalty shall be imposed in respect of the use of prayer at the opening or closing of meetings held for any religious or charitable purpose. I ask your Lordships whether, in the history of legislation, such a privilege was ever granted by statute? It is not only the great and solemn privilege, but the duty of Christians to enter upon no undertaking without imploring the blessing of God in 502 prayer; but we are now asked to incorporate in the statute law of the realm a Bill drawn by a Bishop, which permits us the privilege of opening and closing with prayer any meetings having a religious object. My Lords, I protest against this permission. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) says this clause was introduced to meet my case; but, so far from meeting my case, this provision completely kills it. I wish to know why prayer should be allowed only at the opening and closing of these meetings? Why should it not be permitted during the progress of such meetings? This clause, I must remind your Lordships, will put an end altogether to the operations of the London City Mission. That society has held, during the past year, nearly 30,000 meetings, which were of a purely devotional character, commencing with prayer and singing, continuing with prayer and reading of the Word, and closing with prayer. These meetings, therefore, will be altogether interdicted by the clause to which I have directed attention. Now, was this intended? If not, why was the clause that gave liberty for occasional meetings struck out of the Bill?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I rise to order. The noble Earl is perfectly at liberty to comment upon the Bill as it stands, but I think he is not entitled to state before your Lordships what took place in the Committee, or to comment upon those proceedings.
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
I have gained what I want. I have shown that the noble Earl and the right rev. Prelates are afraid of having the facts disclosed. The services held by the agents of the London City Mission are as completely religious services as can well be held in any church or chapel, and I must express my regret that that society, notwithstanding the good it has accomplished, has never received that countenance from the Bishop of the diocess which it might have anticipated. On the contrary, I believe the right rev. Prelate is extremely hostile to the London City Mission, and I therefore regard with much suspicion this clause, which was introduced into the Bill by the Committee of which he was a member, for it is obvious that, if the clause is brought into operation, it will extinguish altogether the efforts of the City Mission. That institution employs nearly 400 agents; its operations are conducted among the most necessitous and degraded classes of the population; and it accomplishes what 503 the clergy of the Church of England cannot effect with all their zeal and energy, in consequence of their inadequate numbers. During the last visitation of the cholera, although many City Missionaries fell victims to the discharge of their duties, they carried consolation to the hearts of hundreds; but, if this Bill passes, the meetings for prayer and reading the Scriptures, which they now hold in private dwellings, will be altogether interdicted. [The Earl of DERBY: "No, no!"] Yes; although you may open and close a meeting for religious objects with prayer, every meeting which is of a devotional character throughout is interdicted. I believe the Bishop of this diocess will admit that, but for the efforts of the agents of the London City Mission, the people of many portions of this metropolis would be in more abject ignorance than the inhabitants of the interior of Africa. That the present Bill should pass this House seems inconceivable; that it should pass the House of Commons is absolutely impossible. They sent up a Bill giving full relief to Churchmen and Dissenters. Will you return them a Bill which gives a really hateful relief to Churchmen, and absolutely ignores the very existence of the Nonconformists? You will bring on a collision between the two Houses; and, the more so, as the change will have been effected by the active hostility of the episcopal bench. I have urged this question under the full and solemn conviction that the provisions of my Bill would conduce to the diffusion of Christianity throughout our large towns and populous districts, and not a little to the real interests and extension of the Church of England. We are living in times of great excitement, much growing unbelief, a growing spirit of nonconformity, and much peril. Remember the warnings of the Registrar-General. He tells you of 5,000,000 human beings in this Christian land who are under no religious teaching or influence whatever. It is an increasing, and not a decreasing number. It is to no purpose, he tells you—and most truly—to build churches, had you even the money to do so. You need the living agents to go among the people to stir them, teach them, persuade them, evangelise them. You will never invite these millions by tightening the reins of an ecclesiastical system; for, unless our Church be enabled to act as a missionary Church, and fairly compete with all other denominations, she 504 will be lost, and that very speedily. I trust that this Bill may be rejected, and my own passed into a law; but, if it be not so, I pledge myself never to desist from the work. My noble Friend behind me laughs. I dare say I may appear perfectly ridiculous in his eyes, but I have been guided by what I conceive to be right, and I pledge myself never to desist from the work. Should my life be spared to another Session, I will reproduce the same measure, with the most ample conviction that the blessing of Almighty God will rest on the endeavour. I now beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day three months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out "now," and insert "this Day Six Months."
THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I have felt that the subject now before your Lordships involves questions of so much delicacy, as well as difficulty, that I have hitherto been unwilling to intrude upon your Lordships' attention. I am convinced that whatever measure my noble Friend should bring before your Lordships would be dictated by motives which all must admire. It seems incumbent upon me, however, to say a few words in consequence of what has fallen from the noble Earl, who appears to think that no one who has at heart the interests of true religion could be adverse to the Bill which he has introduced into the House. I can, however, state, in one sentence, the reason why I can not support that Bill. Simply, my Lords, because I have subscribed the Articles of the Church in which I hold so prominent a position, that I certainly ought not to set the example of contradicting its Articles. The 23rd Article of our Church pronounces that—It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of publick preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same.Now, if I rightly understand my noble Friend's Bill, it will give to every one the liberty of public preaching and of ministering in the congregation, with no other call than that of his own conviction; for it proceeds upon the principle that no other call is necessary to the office of a public teacher than what may arise from the call of his own conscience. My Lords, there are great differences of opinion as to what constitutes a lawful call. But among the various denominations of Christians, I hardly know of two who do not hold that 505 some authority is needful to justify public ministration, or who hold it to be enough that a man is satisfied in his own mind that he ought to be so employed. Therefore it is, my Lords, that I have found myself unable to support my noble Friend in a measure which I know he himself thinks both right and salutary. It is with regret that I do not support him. I honour the noble Earl for his zeal in the cause of religion, for the disinterestedness with which he devotes his life and talents to the benefit of his fellow-subjects; but I cannot help thinking that in the present case, his zeal for religious freedom has misled him, carried him too far, and even into some danger of being intolerant. For, to propose a measure which is inconsistent with the principles of others, and then to accuse them of obstructing religion because they cannot support that measure, is a species of persecution which I am sure, in any other case, where his feelings were unbiassed, he would be the first to condemn. My Lords, if I might venture to advise, it would be that both Bills should be withdrawn, both that of the noble Earl, and that which has been substituted for it, which I confess appears to me open to many of the objections which have been urged against it. Let the law stand as it has stood hitherto, since it is found so hard to mend it. The law has never done much harm. I have never heard of more than one conviction under it, and that took place thirty years, or more, ago. The discussion has done this good—it has led to the general acknowledgment that clergymen in their own parishes are entirely free from the operation of the law; and, as for the meetings of religious societies, I cannot believe that any one could in earnest believe that they were affected by it. The best authorities have now declared that, to avail yourself of the provisions of the Act, and certify your house for a religious service, in nowise stamps any one as a Dissenter; and, indeed, it is hard to understand how such a conclusion could be founded on an Act to regulate the religious worship of Protestants. I really think, therefore, that it would save much heartburning and promote the cause which we all unite in wishing to promote, if the measure were not persisted in, and matters were allowed to remain in the state in which they were before the introduction of this Bill.
THE BISHOP OF LONDON
said, he was 506 desirous of making a few observations in answer to what appeared to him to be a personal attack upon himself. In the heat of argument the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) had been induced to make an assertion which, upon further inquiry, he (the Bishop of London) thought he would feel disposed to retract. The noble Earl had stated that the hand of the right rev. Prelate who presided over that diocess might be detected in one of the clauses of the Bill, and the noble Earl then went on to express a belief that he (the Bishop of London) was hostile to the London City Mission. He did not know the grounds upon which the noble Earl made this assertion, or how he was prepared to substantiate it, but he felt called upon to say that it was entirely without foundation. He had certainly declined to belong to the London City Mission, because he disapproved of its constitution, and because he thought it improper for any association to send religious teachers into a parish, not only without the consent of the incumbent of the parish, but in some cases against his will. In several instances he believed that the working of the association had been favourable to Dissent and against the Established Church, and therefore he had thought himself fully justified in not belonging to it. At the same time he was not at all opposed to lay agency, and he did not care what missionaries were employed, provided only that they co-operated with the clergyman of the parish and were Churchmen. It was quite true that two or three years ago several cases occurred, in which he had thought it his duty to find fault with the London City Missionaries, because he considered that their proceedings were favourable to Dissent and opposed to the interests of the Church of England. To prove, however, that he was not opposed to lay agency, he might state that he had been one of the first to assist in the formation of the Scripture Readers Society, which employed lay agents to explain the word of God in the dwellings of the poor. By all means let them read and explain the word of God. He had always given, and should continue to give, a warm and active support to the Scripture Readers Society, for its members never conducted their operations without the consent of the incumbent of the parish, and they rendered most valuable services. The discipline of the Church of England was clear on the subject. If any member of the Church thought himself called upon 507 to exert himself and employ his talents and his time in making known the great truths of Christianity to those now ignorant of them, it was his duty to do so according to the rules and orders of the Church to which he belonged. It was the duty of every Churchman to act according to the rules of the Church, and with a due regard to its discipline, for without such regard the greatest confusion and disorder would be introduced into our parochial system. If there was in this diocess a want of adequate ministration, this was no reason why they should introduce laymen to undertake that ministration in a manner hostile to the parochial system. It formed a very good reason why they should build more churches and extend the parochial system, but no reason at all why they should allow a body of persons to exercise functions which the Church of England had committed to others, and which, if otherwise exercised, would lead to great confusion. The whole question before their Lordships was whether they would sanction public ministrations by lay members of the Church of England so long as they professed to belong to the establishment, and whether they would allow these persons to take upon themselves the offices of Church minister? No one proposed to interfere in the slightest degree with Nonconformists, or with their freedom of public worship; and if the Bill, to adopt the phrase of the noble Earl, "ignored" them, it was because those persons did not wish to be interfered with. But what the opponents of the Bill objected to was, he repeated, that lay members of the Church of England should take upon themselves the office and functions of the clergy, and should perform those sacred offices which the Church thought fit to confide to her ministers alone. They made this objection because they deprecated the evil of setting up in each parish a rival church under the sanction of the Church's name, but without her authority. Upon this point he might quote a passage from the works of a very wise and pious servant of God, the late Mr. Simeon, regarding prayer meetings presided over by a clergyman, but which applied with tenfold force to those ministrations which were not to be presided over by a clergyman, but by a layman. This gentleman stated, from his own sad experience in his particular parish, that two or three effects of them were undeniable. He said—They proved hotbeds in which superficial preachers were raised up, who, going forth on the 508 Lord's Day, intercepted those who were used to attend Mr. Newton. They produced a captious, criticising, self-wise spirit. They rendered the people indifferent to the worship of God at church, and, indeed, to any worship in which they did not themselves take a part.And then he went on to meet the objection, and said—But, nevertheless, good is done. God may do good notwithstanding; but are we to do evil that good may come? Good is done; but mischief also is done. The mischief is the direct consequence; the good by occasion at most. Such men, Mr. Cecil used to say, have but one side in their account book; they set down their gain, but not their losses; and, these being greater than their gains, they become bankrupt. They are bad Bills, endorsed sometimes by good men.Such, he submitted, was the true character of the measure which the noble Earl had the other night laid upon the table. It was a bad Bill endorsed by a good name. No person was more anxious than himself to engage lay members of the Church to co-operate with the clergy; he was quite aware that without their aid the ministers of the Church of England could not perform their duty with the success which would otherwise attend their ministration; but, let that co-operation be given on true Church principles, and in conformity with Church regulations. Why should lay members not do as much good in obeying these regulations as they could expect to do by not obeying them? It was for these reasons, and with no wish to intercept the operations of any missionary society whatever, but simply because he felt it his duty to adhere to the principles to which he had subscribed with his hand, and which he approved with his whole heart, that he was opposed to the Bill, and now seconded the Motion of the noble Earl that it should be read a second time that day three months. Before he sat down he wished to correct a misrepresentation which had been made of what had fallen on a former occasion from his right rev. Friend (the Bishop of Oxford). It had been stated in a newspaper that his right rev. Friend had declared that a meeting had been held, at which the bishops were unanimous in their determination to resist this measure. Now, the Bishop of Oxford stated no such thing; he only said that all the bishops present at a certain meeting, called for quite another purpose, were of the same opinion with respect to the Bill; and the statement in the newspaper in question, that the meeting must have been 509 one of a few selected Prelates, was altogether without foundation.
said, he felt a difficulty in agreeing with either of the parties into which their Lordships' House was divided by the measure of his noble Friend near him (the Earl of Shaftesbury) and that brought forward in competition with it. This was only another instance of what the Roman historian spoke of as "the rare felicity of the time." It was his rare felicity, belonging to neither of the parties into which their Lordships' House was divided, to think as he listed, and speak as he thought. Nor, though he acquiesced in much that had fallen from the most rev. Prelate (the Archbishop of Canterbury), could he entirely agree in the results which he would draw. Differing, then, from both parties, he wished, in a few words, to state his opinion on the question before the House. It was a mistake to suppose that those who were friendly to the Bill which came up from the Commons—the promoters of it elsewhere, and the friends of it in their Lordships' House—were satisfied with the law as it stands, and wished no further relief than that which was afforded by the Act of 1812, commonly called Lord Sidmouth's Act. They wished that relief, no doubt, because the Act of 1852, by an error, by an unaccountable oversight, exposed all assembling in chapels and meeting-houses, built since that year, to the penalties substituted for the penalties imposed by the Act of Charles II.—those imposed by the Act of 1812; for after it had abolished the existing method of registration before the bishop, archdeacon, or court of quarter sessions, it enacted that registration with the Registrar General and his deputies should have the same effect as the registration which the Act had abolished—in other words, the new modes should be null and void—and the places of worship affected by that Act amounted in number to 6,500. But then the most rev. Prelate made use of an argument which he had often heard before—that these penalties were in Acts which were obsolete. The law on this subject, he said, was a dead letter. There was nothing more dangerous than keeping upon our statute-book these dead letters, as they were called—these penalties which they hoped, and vainly hoped, would never be enforced. Dead letters, indeed! they were not dead, these venomous reptiles. They were torpid, not dead, capable of being warmed into life by the malignant passions 510 of one man, or the sordid avarice of another, or the well-meaning but misguided zeal of a third. His objections to the law, were both these Bills withdrawn, was, that it put the whole body of the Dissenters upon one footing, and the whole body of the English Church upon another. The Dissenters complained of being left on that footing; they would rather have the Old Conventicle Act, which had been repealed in 1812, than the substitute which was given them instead. The main difference between the two Acts was, that instead of the old limit of five persons, the somewhat mitigated enactment was twenty persons, assembling themselves for worship. They said that men ought to be at liberty to assemble for the worship of their Maker sincerely and piously in what numbers, in what place, and in what way they pleased, privately or publicly, provided their way of worshipping and assembling did not violate any moral duty. The Act of Charles II. proceeded upon no pious views, or religious zeal for the Church of England, but upon the supposition expressed in the preamble that these meetings were hold professedly for religious worship, but in reality for seditious and treasonable purposes. The Act of 1812, somewhat mitigating the rigour of the previous Act, permitted such meetings to be held, provided not more than twenty persons assembled. How slow—how marvelously slow—was the progress of toleration; how very much more rapid was the progress of intolerance. What Lord Bacon said of the difference between purpose and execution applied to persecution and toleration—the one had wings—the other had leaden feet. He would remind the most rev. Prelate who said these Acts were obsolete, and that there was no risk of the attempts which were made in the time of Queen Elizabeth to enforce attendance at church, originally by fines, six years afterwards by forfeiture of goods and lands; and six years later, in the 35th of Elizabeth, this offence led to imprisonment, to banishment, to abjuring the realm on compulsion, and to a capital penalty if the person returned—all merely for conscientiously refusing to attend the parish church. In the early years of the next reign it was found that the penalties were not sufficient, and that the capital penalty could not be enforced, and, therefore, a somewhat mitigated mode was adopted, and it was enacted that persons offending should be disqualified from holding office, could not perform the duty of executors, practise medi- 511 cine, or, horresco referens, practise the law. But these were now obsolete! No such thing. It was not many years since he, in that House, had to complain of one of these Acts being warmed into life by the malice of some, and the co-operative blundering of others, and the consequence was that five or six men lingered in prison for ten or eleven weeks. These men had been charged with poaching before the county magistrates. Mr. Windham used to say that a poacher was regarded by these gentlemen somewhat in the nature of a, fera naturœ. On that occasion, as they were not able to convict them of poaching, they asked the men whether they had been to church on the preceding Sunday. The men said "No." The Sunday before? "No." Or the two Sundays before that? "Oh, no." If these magistrates had been better acquainted with the law he would have asked whether they had been at the parish church—for if they had not, and had attended even a better church, they would still have been liable to the penalty. However, they brought them in liable for the Elizabeth shilling, as it was called. They fined them the shilling and costs, and in default of payment committed them to prison, where they lay for ten or eleven weeks, until their petition could be presented in their Lordships' House. Now that obnoxious Act was abolished, with a great number of others, by an Act brought in by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst), Lord Chancellor in 1846; but a penalty could still be enforced in cases where persons attended a private meeting for religious worship in number exceeding-twenty. So far all Dissenters were on a more favourable footing than Churchmen, because these latter had not those privileges. Was he one of those who thought that the right of private worship should be given to Churchmen without any restriction whatever? He thought it essential to the well-government of the Church and its continued usefulness that that Church should possess larger powers and more efficient means of enforcing discipline among its own members; but with that government and that improvement in discipline, he could conceive no sound reason whatever for Churchmen not being put on the same footing, at least, with Dissenters in this respect, and that they should be allowed to open a chapel and to worship in private houses or a public building without any restraint being imposed upon them. Again, he would say, how slow was the 512 progress of toleration. It was 100 and odd years after the Revolution before any essential mitigation was made in the penal Statutes. The first great step was not taken till 1832, when the Roman Catholics were placed on a footing with the different denominations of Dissenters; and the latest important modification was effected only nine years ago, in 1846, when the Jews were admitted to similar privileges. So much more rapid was the descent, as he must call it, into the regions below, for he would not give them a worse name—those regions where intolerance and persecution prevailed. Day and night there was access to the fiends who there reigned; sed revocare gradum—to come to the more pure and more free air of tolerance and charity was a difficulty too widely experienced; and that never was more evident than in the history of the toleration laws beginning in 1688, and leaving many of these obnoxious Acts still unrepealed.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I think I have some right to complain of the tone and the manner in which the noble Earl who followed me in this debate represented the objects of this measure. Because, although the Bill does not go the full extent which he desires (and it is not introduced on my individual responsibility, but on the responsibility of the Committee), still so far as it does go, it deals with the grievances of which the noble Earl complained; and it is not correct to speak of it as though it imposed new restrictions upon those whom it was meant to benefit, or those with whose case it did not deal. With regard to the London Missionary Society, the noble Earl says, if the Bill passes, the consequences to that society would be incredible; they must put an end to all their missionary labours and their efforts to evangelise the neglected poor. My answer to the noble Earl is, that were this Bill to pass into a law, that society and all similar bodies would find themselves on precisely the same footing as they are at the present moment, for there is no imposition of any restriction whatever which does not exist by the law of the land at the present time. I think the noble Earl entirely misrepresented the views and objects of those who have taken part in the framing of this measure. But, after the discussion which has taken place, after the speech of the noble and learned Lord, and after the speech of the most rev. Prelate, and the generally-expressed feeling of the House, that neither of these 513 measures should immediately pass into a law; but especially if this measure does not receive the sanction of the head of that Church, for whose benefit it has been introduced, I think, seeing the period of the Session at which we are arrived, as it would he hopeless to carry it through Parliament during the present Session, I shall act more wisely, both for Churchmen and Dissenters, and in accordance with the feeling of the House, if I abstain from pressing the Bill during this Session. Seeing the difficulties that are found to encompass the question on every side, it is likewise desirable that further time should be given for its consideration; and if both Houses of Parliament address themselves to the subject in an earnest, calm, and dispassionate spirit, I do not despair of the passing of a measure which, while it retains the proper discipline of the Church of England, will at the same time obviate all well-founded complaints. For these reasons I will now ask your Lordships to permit me to withdraw this Bill.
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
said, if anything which had fallen from him had given his noble Friend offence, he now made most ample apology to him. But when the noble Earl said that he had misrepresented his views, he must say, that he had no right to complain of misrepresentation in that House, because he (the Earl of Shaftesbury) had not, in the course of his whole life, both in this and the preceding debate, ever heard such misrepresentation of his views and objects with regard to this subject as he had heard on the part of the noble Earl.
THE BISHOP OF OXFORD
said, he deeply regretted the tone which the noble Earl who had just sat down had adopted. The noble Earl at the close of his speech in opposition to the Bill entirely misrepresented it from beginning to end. He was sure the noble Earl could not be a stranger to the Christian duty of not speaking on a question like this in a manner likely to excite angry feeling against those who, whether right or wrong, were trying to do their duty to the Church. The most rev. Prelate near him had pointed out to the noble Earl that the reason why the ecclesiastical bench had opposed the Bill of the noble Earl was, that they could not assent to it without violating their consciences, because it involved a violation of one of the Thirty-nine Articles. He deeply lamented the tone which the noble Earl had 514 used. The reiterated insinuations which he made all thorough his speech of base motives on the part of those who opposed his own views were most unworthy of the noble Earl. The attempts, too, which he had made to excite a jealousy of the episcopal bench in the minds of the Dissenters was as adverse as possibly could be to that spirit of the Gospel in which this Bill was so ostentatiously introduced. The grounds upon which the episcopal bench had opposed the noble Earl's Bill had nothing whatever to do with the Dissenters. Their opposition rested on this—that, while a particular mode of ministering God's word was laid down by the Articles of the Church, and while the direct spiritual action of the Church was tied down and fettered by the law, the noble Earl's Bill called on them to alter the state of the law with regard to the Church, without conferring on her power to enforce her discipline in a different way. He could not understand by what perversion of ingenuity the noble Earl had discovered anything in the Bill now before the House (the Earl of Derby's) which was to give greater power to the bishops over the clergy than they at present possessed. The licensed clergy were not at all affected by the Bill, and, as the power of the bishops over the unlicensed clergy was at present absolute, it could not receive any addition from this Bill. What the Bill really proposed to do was to enable the Church to take advantage of the zeal of her laymen, and to give a legal status and sanction to those of the laity who undertook to labour in conjunction with the clergy. When the noble Earl talked of there being thousands in the metropolis in a greater state of ignorance than the natives of the interior of Africa, and that no one but persons connected with the City Mission looked after them, he used exaggerated language, and was unjust to many a hard-working clergyman in London. He thought that the provision in the old Act which the noble Earl wished to do away with, was altogether bad, and was a wrong way of maintaining discipline in the Church. It was the misfortune of the Church established by law to be tied up in its attempts to do good, but it was not by simply repealing Acts which were the remaining rags of restriction that good was to be done—it was by giving the Church at the same time the power of doing the same thing in a legitimate manner—he meant by giving her the power to recognise the 515 services of her laymen. He wanted the Church to get the power of using the devotional feelings of many of her lay members in a proper and accredited way, assisted by the clergy. That was what he wanted, and if the noble Earl had introduced any provision into his Bill for enabling the Church to meet the altered circumstances of the times, he should gladly have supported it. If this matter should be brought forward again, he trusted it would be discussed without any insinuations or attacks on individuals who were only doing their duty to their God, their country, and their Church, for words uttered in that House were taken up by unscrupulous partisans out of it, and a right rev. Prelate had informed him of some misrepresentation having appeared in The Record, the editor of which declined to put in a contradiction. When the noble Earl became aware that this was the kind of treatment which the bishops on these benches were receiving, he ought, when he came forward in the name of a Christian Church and of a work of charity, to keep his tongue free from uncharitable imputations, which others would be too ready to adopt.
THE BISHOP OF LONDON
admitted that it was perfectly true that when the London Mission Society was first established he objected to the principle of obtruding men on parishes without the consent of the incumbents; but, having since learned that the members of that society had acquired the favourable opinion of many clergymen, he had abstained from any expression of hostility towards them.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I wish to say one word with respect to what has fallen from the right rev. Prelate who spoke last but one (the Bishop of Oxford). I cannot admit the justice of what he has stated with respect to a misrepresentation of the noble Earl opposite as to the character of the Bill. My own opinion is strongly this, that while that Bill professes to deal with the proviso intended to impose political and not religious restrictions on Dissenters, it imposes religious restrictions on Dissenters directly, and also indirectly and by a side wind restrictions on the religious liberty of the members of the Church of England. I think, too, that any person will see, on reflection, that the Bill does not in the slightest degree remove the evil of which complaint is made; while, by re-enacting a portion of the enactments of the law described by some of the right 516 rev. Prelates as useful, because it is not quite obsolete, it gives very great life and vigour to those remaining enactments. I do not wish to continue the debate on a Bill which will now be only a few moments before your Lordships, because the discussion appears to create a great deal of irritation, and has now become unnecessary on account of the withdrawal of the Bill.
§ Then the said Amendment, together with the original Motion, were, by leave of the House, withdrawn; then, the said Bill was, by leave of the House, withdrawn.