HL Deb 16 July 1858 vol 151 cc1551-61

In moving for the documents set forth in my notice, it is not my intention to enter at all into the general question as to the expediency of allowing free action to Convocation. I propose to confine myself strictly to the unfortunate difference which exists in this respect between the northern and southern Provinces, and the cause of that difference. It is, however, necessary for a clear understanding upon the subject, and in my own excuse for bringing it forward, that I should state shortly what has before occurred. Ten years ago the meetings of the Convocation of Canterbury were of the most formal and barren character. At York no attendance had been given for more than a century. In 1851 I called the attention of this House to the advantages which would arise from allowing more extended action to these bodies, by moving for papers, which led to a long debate, in the course of which the present Archbishop of Canterbury expressed himself unfavourable to any change in the existing practice. When the Convocation met in the following year, after the usual forms had been gone through, it was proposed in the Upper House to address the Crown for licence to proceed to other matters. The opinion of Sir John Dodson was given that no business could be under- taken without express permission, which was disputed by some of the Bishops, and the Archbishop stopped the further discussion by prorogation. The opinions of Dr. Phillimore, the present Lord Chancellor, and Sir William Page Wood were then taken by those interested in obtaining further freedom; and they all concurred in holding that the limitations in the Act of Henry VIII. only referred to making new Canons. The Archbishop gave way under the sanction of their authority, and in the succeeding and every subsequent year the Convocation of Canterbury has treated of matters of high importance to the Church, and those prejudices against their deliberations which were at first strong and widely felt, have gradually decreased; and it may now be confidently asserted that churchmen generally are well satisfied of the advantages which must arise from the clergy being thus allowed to meet in lawful assembly. At York, as I before stated, Convocation had not met for a very long period, even to address the Crown. In 1847, Archbishop Harcourt wished to allow his clergy at least the same liberty as was enjoyed in the southern Province, and had agreed that the Convocation should meet on the 12th of November, and adopt an Address to the Crown, which had been approved by his Grace and the other Bishops. He, however, died on the 5th November, before the meeting, and the President elected by the Dean and Chapter, during the vacancy of the see, was unwilling to sanction any departure from the former precedents, and prorogued the Convocation to the 12th of May without agreeing to the Address. The present Archbishop was appointed shortly after that prorogation. On the 12th of May there was no attendance given, and from that time the practice of former years was resumed. In 1852 several Proctors attended with petitions, and finding the doors closed, inquired of the Archbishop, by letter, when they might perform their duty, and his Grace desired that the petitions might be sent to himself. In that year I brought this matter before the House, and contended that the clergy were entitled to similar privileges in both Provinces, being summoned under similar writs. The Most Reverend Prelate then stated that he had only acted in accordance with precedent, but promised that my suggestions should receive his best consideration. Since that time the doors have been open—the members have assemmbled—petitions have been received, but the Archbishop's Commissioners have been instructed not to allow any discussion, and to take written papers only, which are not even allowed to be read, and the Convocation is immediately prorogued. In regard to the term of prorogation his Grace (who professes such extreme reverence for precedent) has introduced a new practice. The custom had always been in both Provinces to prorogue to an early day—and for some time the Archbishop did so—but when he found that the clergy attended, he prorogued beyond the probable term of the Session of Parliament, in order that the Queen's Writ for prorogation might arrive before the time appointed for the assembling. This was first done when Convocation met on 15th December, 1854, when it was prorogued to 31st August, 1855, a period of more than eight months. The Queen, I believe, cannot prorogue Parliament for more than eighty days, and as the Sessions of the two bodies correspond, such prorogations must be of doubtful legality. At all events, his Grace can quote no precedent for them. I now proceed to draw your Lordships' attention to the inconvenience which has arisen from this inaction in the Northern Province, and the disagreeable position in which its clergy are placed by it. In 1855 the Convocation of Canterbury agreed to an Address to the Crown, asking for licence to consider modifications in the constitution of the Lower House, and desired the Archbishop of Canterbury to communicate the same to the Archbishop of York, as they desired the concurrence of the Convocation of that Province. This was never submitted to the Convocation of York, and I believe no notice has been taken of it to this day. In 1856 I presented a petition from members of the Convocation of York, signed by five Archdeacons, four Cathedral Proctors, and by one or both the Proctors of every Archdeaconry in the Province—constituting, I believe, the largest representation of that Convocation which has concurred in any Act since the Reformation. The petition stated, that the Convocation of York was of equal antiquity with that of Canterbury; that the latter had lately met and deliberated, but that all opportunity of participating in such deliberations had been denied to the former; that a Bill relating to the discipline of the clergy was before Parliament, and the petitioners prayed that before that Bill was proceeded with, the House should take steps to have it sub- mitted to the Convocations of both Provinces. The Archbishop was then unfortunately ill, and was unable to attend when the petition was presented, and no explanation of his views and intentions on the subject was then given to the House or to the public. His Grace, however, pursued his former course, and turned a deaf ear to the expressed wishes of the members of his Convocation. In 1857, in the Convocation of Canterbury, a Committee was appointed to consider the best mode of sustaining and extending the missionary efforts of the Church at home and abroad; and the President was requested to communicate this to the Archbishop of York, in order that the co-operation of his Province might be secured. No communication was made to the Convocation of York on the subject, and yet this was a question touching it more nearly than that of Canterbury, inasmuch as the greater number of the large manufacturing towns, to the spiritual destitution of which the inquiries of the Committee were to be particularly directed, are to be found in the northern Province. In his charge to his clergy in this year the Archbishop of York referred to the subject, and expressly stated as the reason for his course that the Convocation of York had become a mere form which he had no authority to alter, and that he could not sanction discussions of at least doubtful legality, which were permitted in Canterbury; that he resolved to adhere to what he believed to be the plain law of the matter, and his duty to the Crown. On this charge the opinions of the present Attorney General and Mr. Stephens were taken, and were clearly in favour of the lawfulness of the Archbishop's allowing the same liberty as is used in Canterbury, and that disuse in no way affected the power or privileges of the Convocation of York. This was communicated to the Archbishop, and a correspondence ensued with his Grace and his legal advisers. I must now express my deep regret that his Grace has not thought fit to attend here to-day, and I must state what has passed between myself and him, in order that I may not be charged with any want of courtesy towards him in bringing this matter forward in his absence. In March last he voluntarily told me, knowing the interest I took in the subject, that he hoped that the dispute about Convocation was likely to come to a settlement, which gave me sincere pleasure. Of course I abstained from bringing the question before the House under such circumstances, and I shortly after was informed of the correspondence before mentioned. In the beginning of June a letter from the Archbishop's legal advisers was shown to me, in which they stated that, having fully considered the documents placed in their hands, they "do not deny that the Northern Convocation may have power, with the consent of the Archbishop, to proceed to action." I immediately wrote to his Grace, noticing the change which the opinion thus given by his own legal advisers made in the position of affairs, as it was now clear that his own sanction alone was required to enable the York Convocation to receive and attend to the communications made to them by Canterbury, which up to that time, under the impression that he was bound by long practice not to, allow them to proceed to business, had hardly met with a courteous reception, and asking whether that sanction would be given on the next occasion. I added that, if he gave me that assurance, I should accept it as a most satisfactory settlement: if not, that I must make the present Motion. In his reply, the Archbishop informed me that for more than a year, "The Committee of Convocation" were about to move for a mandamus against him, which he did not object to, and was looking to this result when he spoke to me in March, and was waiting for it. He added that his circuit of confirmations would not end till July 10, and possibly not so soon. In reply on the 7th of June, I remarked that when the Committee of Convocation first proposed to proceed by mandamus, it was understood that he considered himself bound by precedent to prevent the Convocation of York from proceeding to any business. I added, "Your own advisers now tell you that you can give the desired permission, if you like, and you have allowed that fact to be communicated to the Committee. This materially alters the position of both parties. The moving for a mandamus might be considered, before this announcement, only as a means of obtaining a legal opinion on a point on which you differed in regard to your own powers from those applying for it. Now that you have acknowledged that you have the power, it will appear to be a movement to compel you to do that which it must be presumed you dislike; a state of things which it is surely desirable to avoid. I can scarcely believe that now you are assured that you can legally permit the Convocation of your province to receive and deliberate upon the communications made to them by the Convocation of Canterbury, you can propose to resist the wishes of both bodies; and I should be sorry that your acquiescence in their wishes should lose the grace of appearing to be your own spontaneous act, consequent on the opinion you have lately received, by any notice of Motion in Parliament on my part." In reply, he informed me that a circular had lately been issued by the Committee, proposing another mode of bringing matters to an issue. I immediately endeavoured to find out what this was, and was told that an Address to the Queen was thought of. I wrote to the Archbishop on the 22nd of June, telling him that I concluded this to be the movement he alluded to, and that, as the answer to any such petition must be delayed till Convocation met next year, the waiting for it would lead to the abandonment of all notice in Parliament this Session, to which I could not consent, unless he had resolved to sanction the meeting of Convocation. I mentioned this day (16th July) as the one I proposed to give notice of my Motion for, if it would suit his convenience. I added, "I most anxiously hope, however, that you will render any such proceeding unnecessary, by announcing that it is your intention to permit Convocation to proceed to business. The recently announced opinion of your solicitor enables you to do this without being in danger of taking an illegal step, and I cannot imagine that you can intend, without good reason, to conduct your province in a different manner in this respect to that of Canterbury. If you still resolve to do so, you will be no doubt glad to state in the House your views upon the subject, and it is certainly important that the public and the Church should know them, and that there should be some opportunity given for an expression of opinion upon them. If any other day, within a reasonable time, would suit you better, pray say so, and I will endeavour to arrange accordingly." His Grace replied, that he begged to be understood as not pledging himself to any alteration of his proceedings, and that with respect to the Motion, I might decide on the time judged most fit. I wrote on the 27th of June that I had fixed the 16th of July, as proposed in my former letter, as he had not said that it would be inconvenient to him. I have not heard from him since, and I am sure that your Lordships will admit that it is not from want of proper notice or courtesy on my part that he is not in attendance on the present occasion. I hope that in the statement which I submit I have not made use of any expression of which he could complain. I have endeavoured to bring the question before your Lordships in the fairest manner, and to abstain from saying anything which might excite unpleasant feelings. I am unwilling, in the absence of the most rev. Prelate, to say more than is necessary to make the subject intelligible to your Lordships, or to detain the House this evening, when all are naturally impatient to proceed to the consideration of the Government of India Bill. All, however, must admit the importance of the question before them, and that the clergy of the northern Provinces have just cause to complain that they are, by the arbitrary act of their Archbishop, prevented from enjoying the same privileges as their brethren in the south. Unity in action is always to be desired, and the advantages which may reasonably be expected from the deliberations of the clergy lawfully assembled in Convocation must be seriously marred by those of a large portion of the kingdom being excluded from all participation in them. All other religious bodies in this country meet and discuss matters connected with their interests, and I trust that the Archbishop of York will not continue to place his clergy in a position which must be disagreeable to themselves and injurious to the Church at large.

Moved,— That there be laid before this House, Copies of so much of the Acts of Convocation in the Province of Canterbury, at the Sessions of the 29th June, 1855, and 6th February, 1857, as relates to any communication to be made to the Convocation of York or the President of the same; together with the replies to such communications, or tither of them: Also, Copy of the Queen's Writ to the Archbishop of York, directing the assembling of the Convocation of that Province on the 10th December last.


said, he was commissioned by the Archbishop of York to express his regret at not being able to be present to-day, being called away from town by important diocesan business. He (the Bishop of Ripon) thought the terms of the noble Lord's Motion were somewhat calculated to mislead, as they seemed to imply a communication between the Convocations of the two Provinces which in fact had not taken place. The first date referred to in the Motion was June, 1855. In that month an Address was carried in the Upper House of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury, praying the Crown for licence to consider certain proprosed modifications in the constitution of the Lower House; and in that Address was a paragraph, praying that a similar licence might be granted to the Convocation of the Province of York, and that the Convocation of Canterbury might have leave to communicate with the Province of York on the subject. That paragraph was, however, struck out in the Lower House, on the ground that it seemed to interfere unduly with the prerogatives of the Convocation of York; but a Resolution was passed at the same time, praying the President of the Convocation of Canterbury, if the amended Address should be agreed to, to communicate it to his Grace the President of the Convocation of the northern Province. That Resolution was carried in the Lower House, and the Address was taken to the Upper House; but there was no record to show that the Upper House accepted the Resolution, or made any communication in consequence to the Lower House or to the Convocation of York. As to June, 1855, therefore, it was absolutely incorrect to say that any communication took place between the Convocation of Canterbury and the Convocation of York. In the meeting of the Convocation of Canterbury, in February, 1857, a Committee of the Upper House was appointed to inquire into the best mode of extending the missionary efforts of the Church at home and abroad, and the Lower House was directed to appoint a Committee to co-operate. It was then that the Bishop of St. David's moved that his Grace the President be requested to communicate with his Grace the Archbishop of York upon the subject, so that time members of Convocation in the northern Province might be brought into deliberation with those Committees. Objections were expressed by the Bishops of Gloucester, London, and Oxford; and the Bishop of St. David's withdrew that Motion, and moved that his Grace the President should inform his Grace the Archbishop of York of the appointment of these Committees, and request him to take such measures as might seem fit to him to secure the assistance in their deliberations of the Bishops of the northern Province. That was agreed to, but it was not a communication from the Convocation of Can- terbury to the Convocation of York; it, was simply a communication from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Archbishop of York in his private capacity, and therefore he was at a loss to know what acts of Convocation could be produced in compliance with the Motion of the noble Lord. With regard to the production of the writ there could be no objection whatever. At the same time he did not see with what design it was moved for, except to raise the whole question how far the Archbishop of York was justified in the course which lie had pursued. It was well known that from the time the power of granting subsidies was taken away the Convocation of York had never met for the transaction of general business, and only very rarely for the transaction of specific business, specifically mentioned in the Royal licence. They met in 1562 to adopt the Thirty-nine Articles, and again in 1571. They met in 1604 for the adoption of the Canons, in 1640 for their settlement, and in 1661, when the Liturgy was revised; but those cases afforded no precedent for the revival of the action of Convocation in the northern Province, such as was now proposed. He believed he was correct in stating that, while the Archbishop of York was perfectly open to receive any suggestions with regard to this important subject, he did not feel obliged, under present circumstances, either by law or by precedent, to take steps for the revival of the action of Convocation. He believed that there were few advantages to be secured by allowing the Convocation of York to meet for the despatch of business which might not be equally secured by the action of the Convocation of Canterbury; and, speaking for himself, and for a large number who were interested in this question, he would simply say that while they would watch with great interest and anxiety the deliberations of the Houses of Convocation of the Province of Canterbury, and while they would cordially hail any practical result from their deliberations, they saw nothing in existing circumstances to render necessary the revival of the action of Convocation in the Province of York.


Whatever technical objection may be taken to the wording of the Motion, on account of the proceedings alluded to not being Acts of Convocation, it is clear from what has fallen from the rev. Prelate that the Convocation of Canterbury, on both the occasions referred to, did desire the co-operation of the Convocation of York, and that if it did not directly address that body, it only arose from a feeling of delicacy towards the Archbishop. It is clear also that this co-operation is prevented by the act of the Archbishop, who admits that he can legally permit it, if he pleases, and the question is whether it is expedient or seemly that such difference should exist in the conduct of the Archbishops of the two Provinces, in regard to Convocation.


said, the discussions in Convocation were reported in a somewhat irregular manner, and in consequence a wrong impression prevailed as to what had passed. No Resolution had been adopted by the Convocation of Canterbury expressive of a desire on their part to enter into communication with the Convocation of York. Such a Resolution had been proposed in 1857, but it had been withdrawn, as the Bishops generally of the Province of Canterbury had felt that it would be highly indecorous that they should appear, even by implication, to pass the slightest blame on the Archbishop of York.


explained that the Resolution had been withdrawn because the Prelates present considered its adoption would cast a direct personal slur on the Archbishop of York; but it was considered the same result might be arrived at by other means. There was the strongest feeling in favour of the two Convocations consulting together, as they had done in all the great crises of the English Church. The greatest advantages had been derived from the action of the Convocation of Canterbury, and great credit was due to the Archbishop of the Province, who had not allowed his own opinions to prevent him from sanctioning what was so generally desired. There might, perhaps, be reasons which would make what was desirable for the southern province, dangerous in the north; it was not for him to say. The Archbishop might distrust those who would form it.


, as a member of the Convocation, could corroborate every word that had fallen from his right rev. Brother the Bishop of Ripon. The Archbishop felt no distrust in his suffragans; but he felt it to be most undesirable to call up another body which might come into collision with the Convocation of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of York had, he thought, acted wisely in following the practice of the northern province for the last 200 years, and in leaving the Convocation of Canterbury to take its own course. He believed that if Convocation were sanctioned generally, all that had taken place would be more child's play compared with that which would follow. The canvassing at elections would then be the rule, and party spirit, of which there was already too much in the Church, would be increased. For himself he must demur to the assertion that the country generally would be pleased to see the revival of Convocation. The great body of the working clergy had no confidence whatever in Convocation. The majority of its members were dignitaries of the Church who were not elected by the body of the clergy, and as to curates they had no voice whatever in the election.


could not assent to the proposition that the clergy had no confidence in Convocation. He did not see why the Church of England should be the only religious body in the country that had not the power of meeting and discussing its own affairs. It was the opinion of that distinguished Prelate the Archbishop of Dublin, expressed in that House, that if Convocation had been permitted to meet for discussion many of those questions that now agitated and disturbed the Church might have been avoided.


As the right rev. Prelate assures me that there are no Acts of Convocation of the nature I have moved for, and that there could be no return to my Motion, I shall not press it. It would be useless to ask for that which I am told does not exist.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.