HL Deb 03 July 1865 vol 180 cc1026-33

, in moving the following Resolution— That, in the opinion of this House, the Evils arising from the compulsory and almost indiscriminate Use of the Burial Service of the Church of England, demand the early attention of the Legislature, said, that he rose to propose the Motion of which he had given notice under a strong sense of the disadvantages under which he laboured. He knew he should be told—indeed, he had been told already— that at this late period of the Session he ought not to bring forward a question of so much importance, and he was well aware how fatally that argument told against an unofficial, uninfluential Member of their Lordships' House. At the same time he would observe that although, no doubt, they had arrived nearly at the termination of the Session, yet they had not arrived at a period of the year when a fair attendance of Peers, both spiritual and lay, could not reasonably be expected; and, as they were not permitted to interfere in elections, and had no elections of their own to encounter, he did not think that their Lordships would permit that objection to stand in his way should he succeed in making out the case of urgency which the terms of the Resolution implied. Moreover, let it he remembered by their Lordships, that he was not proposing a Bill which would have to go through various stages, nor a new subject of which the House might be supposed not to understand all the bearings, but one which had come under discussion in their Lordships' House both this year and last year and the year before last, and, what was still more to the purpose, one in regard to which their Lordships had pronounced a decision favourable to the views which he was putting forth; and he said so for this reason, that when he made a Motion two years ago for a Commission to suggest a remedy for the evils which arose from the indiscriminate and compulsory use of the Burial Service, fifteen noble Lords took part in the debate. Of those thirteen, including both the Primates and three other Spiritual Peers, declared their opinion that he had made out his case, and that the time was come when a remedy for the evils which he detailed ought to be sought for and discovered; and of the remaining two, one objected, not to the subject-matter of the Motion, but to the propriety of this House discussing the subject; while the other, a noble and learned Lord, simply addressed himself to a point of law. Although two years had since elapsed, the House would not have forgotten either the cases—those painful scenes—with which the right rev. Prelate who presided over the diocese of Llandaff illustrated his own argument and his (Lord Ebury's) by the painful case he had instanced, nor the emphatic declarations of the most rev. the Primate of all England, that he had often been consulted on the subject, and that he had always said there were circumstances under which he should be prepared to face all the penalties of the law sooner than comply with its requirements as to reading the service. He (Lord Ebury) did not press his Motion, because he was most earnestly appealed to by the most rev. Prelate, and by nearly all who spoke, to give a little more time, that a remedy might be devised by the Prelates of our Church, whose attention it was about to occupy; and he well remembered the words used by his own right rev. Diocesan. Especially appealing to him, he said he might be sure, from the speeches made by the occupants of the right rev. Bench, that the subject would not be allowed to drop. Not to trouble the House with too many details, their Lordships knew the sequel. Nothing had been done to effect the settlement of this question. Two years had passed away, and from the return given to a question which he asked the most rev. Prelate a few days ago, there appeared to be no reasonable expectation of any proposition coming—as they all had fondly hoped it would come—from the right rev. Bench. And so this state of things, which had been pronounced by some 4,000 clergymen to impose a heavy burden upon the consciences of clergymen, and a grievous scandal to many Christian people, seemed likely to remain so to the end of time. He hoped the occupants of the right rev. Bench would not suppose for a moment that he meant to impute to them that they acquiesced in this state of affairs. Very far from it, nothing, he knew, would give them greater pleasure than to bring forward an effective remedy; but, in truth, they were in a dilemma, out of which he invited their Lordships to assist them. The most rev. Prelate had told the House fairly what that dilemma was. The majority of their clergy were opposed to the only practical remedy—namely, an alteration in the wording of the service. Now, let them study this subject by the light of a speech made not very long ago by one of the most sagacious Prelates now on the Bench, and see whether there might not he a means of overcoming the difficulty. The Bishop of London said — The clergy necessarily from, their profession, were averse to change, and he was thankful for it; and even those changes which were good might not receive from them that amount of favour on their first proposal which, after alterations made by their superiors, they were willing to accord to them. It was doubtful whether, with regard to some very salutary reforms which had taken place in the Church, such as those relating to pluralities and non-residence, if the decision had rested with the whole body of the clergy, that properly conservative spirit which animated them would not have led them to say that the safer course was to let things remain as they were. He thought it would be wise, on the part of the Government, to take the question into their own hands, giving due weight—but not too much weight—to the opinions of the clergy. Again, the right rev. Prelate said— Such a state of things ought not to be allowed to continue, and judging by the mode in which the other intricate questions of clerical subscription had been dealt with, and the way in which, when the Commission had commenced its sittings, one difficulty after another had in that case disappeared, there was good reason to hope that, if this question were dealt with in a similar mode, the difficulties which now beset it would likewise disappear. Here, then, was the first step towards the solution of this question—that their Lordships should pass this Resolution. No one could deny the truth of it; no Government would venture to disregard it. The Government would advise Her Majesty to issue a Commission, as she did in the case of clerical subscription, and they would not have long to wait before this question would be finally and satisfactorily disposed of. Their Lordships could easily imagine that, crying as were the evils arising from this state of things twelve years ago, when this clerical memorial was presented at Lambeth, they had become even more aggravated since. Instances without number of painful scenes which had occurred at funerals in consequence of nothing having been done in the meantime, such as those described by the right rev. Prelate on a former occasion, had been made known to him, one of which he had mentioned to the House; but he would forbear to cite more than one, and that one of very recent date, with which probably many of their Lordships were familiar. He meant that of Colyton, in Devonshire. The incumbent of Colyton, it appeared, was a man, as he understood, of irreproachable character, entertaining rather extreme High Church views, and consequently zealous for the law. Therefore he did as the law directed: thirteen times he was required to read the Athanasian Creed—thirteen times every year, with the assistance of his congregation, he consigned three parts at least of the human race—past, present, and future—to everlasting perdition, including, of course, the Unitarians, against whom he believed this creed to have been specially directed. Their Lordships, then, would judge of this clergyman's feelings when, walking out of his church after reading this creed—on Whitsunday or on Trinity Sunday—his sexton informed him that one of his parishioners, a Unitarian, had died, and was to be buried in a day or two. Mr. Gueritz had just pronounced that this man would perish everlastingly, and he was now required to say of the same man, and before the same congreation, that he committed the body of his dear brother to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life and happiness in the world to come. Was ever an unhappy clergyman put into such a position? How long it took Mr. Gueritz to decide I am unable to say, hut I have no doubt that, feeling he was acting up to the advice of his metropolitan, and that he would in 60 doing have the approbation of every honest man, he determined to brave the penalties of the law sooner than pronounce these words over an Unitarian; and so he did brave the penalties of the law, and the law fell upon him. He did not, because he could not, defend himself, and so he was cited before the proper tribunal, admonished, and condemned to pay the costs of the suit. All comment upon such a state of things was simply superfluous. He appealed to their Lordships whether he had not made out a case of urgency; he felt confident what their response would be. How many more clergymen would their Lordships require to have fined before it would please them to move in the matter? The Rubrics owed their validity to their being statute law, and this state of things was caused by the Legislature; by legislation alone could it be healed. Their Lordships could not divest themselves of their responsibilities. He, therefore, invited them to pass this Resolution. The right rev. Bench appeared to be powerless in the matter; it was necessary the Government should take it up, and, if they passed this Resolution, no Government would venture to disregard it.

Moved to Resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, the Evils arising from the compulsory and almost indiscriminate Use of the Burial Service of the Church of England demand the early Attention of the Legislature.—(The Lord Ebury.)


said, he fully appreciated the wish which the noble Lord had expressed to place the question which he had brought forward in his hands. So far as related to his Motion, however, he must say that he did not think it was desirable to bring a matter so important forward at so late a period of the Session, when so many of their Lordships, and the great majority of the Episcopal Bench, were necessarily absent from town attending to other duties. It was not at that moment necessary to enter into an elaborate discussion of the question, because it would require more consideration than it was likely to receive at this period of the Session, and could not be settled in the manner proposed by his noble Friend. He ventured to say that the injury of the case was not such as his noble Friend had represented. No conscience would be relieved, no difficulty would be got over by the adoption of this Motion, and, therefore, he invited their Lordships not to adopt a Resolution which, as far as any effect was concerned, would be entirely nugatory.


said, it was perfectly impossible for those of their Lordships who recollected what had passed in that House on previous occasions on the subject of the Burial Service not to acknowledge that there was a grievance. It was undoubtedly an anomalous state of things that clergymen were induced to disregard the law from conscientious motives, and were sanctioned in so doing by those who had authority over them, and that no attempt should be made to amend it. At the same time, when a noble Lord called upon Her Majesty's Government to come to the assistance of the Episcopal Bench, all he had to say was that Her Majesty's Government were ready to assist in any manner they could. They were only anxious that the right rev. Bench would be able to suggest some mode of dealing with the evil complained of. The Government were quite prepared to issue a Commission upon the subject, but he understood that the right rev. Prelates would not be satisfied with such Commission unless another question connected with the Rubrics of the Church were referred to it. With regard to the present Motion, he must say he thought it undesirable in the last week of the Session that their Lordships should be called upon to pass a Resolution condemning an evil, and stating that it ought to be remedied, but which did not suggest a remedy. He therefore hoped his noble Friend would withdraw his Motion.


said, the only remark he wished to make was in relation to what had passed on a former occasion. It appeared likely that a Commission was to be issued to consider certain Rubrics of the Church, and he thought in such a case it would be desirable that this matter should fall under the consideration of that Commission. He thought that his noble Friend would be acting properly by withdrawing his Motion, on the understanding that when some matters connected with the Rubrics of the Church were submitted to the consideration of a Commission this subject would not be ignored.


thought that the noble Lord (Lord Ebury) had made out sufficient reason for his Motion, for according to the acknowledgment of the right rev. Bench the present state of the law was such as to occasion considerable inconvenience. Was it fitting that they should maintain a law which conscientious men either broke, and thereby made themselves liable to penalties, or induced them to do that which was directly contrary to their consciences? When they remembered how long it was since his noble Friend first brought this subject under the attention of Parliament—when they remembered what little hope was held out of any remedy being applied to an acknowledged evil, unless that House pressed for the introduction of some measure, it appeared to him that there was hardly the faintest hope that any remedy would be applied. It appeared to him that the time had come when something might be done on the subject, and that the Resolution of his noble Friend was one of the most moderate character that could be brought forward. Therefore he could not recommend him to accept the advice that had been given to him to withdraw his Motion. He did not think there was anything in the objection as to the time it was introduced.


said, that upon a previous occasion he had withdrawn a Resolution which he proposed because he received an assurance from the right rev. Bench that they would take up the question. The right rev. Prelate who presided over the diocese of London especially said, that he might be sure that the subject would not be allowed to drop. The subject had, however, been allowed entirely to drop. He could not take the responsibility of the existing state of things. His Motion had the concurrence of the most rev. Prelate who presided over the Northern Province of the kingdom. Unless he received an assurance that a Commission would be issued, he must certainly divide their Lordships upon it.

On Question? Their Lordships divided: —Contents 20; Not-Contents 43: Majority 23:— Resolved in the Negative.

Westminster, M. Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Harris, L,
Chichester, E. Leigh, L.
Cowper, E. Methuen, L.
Grey, E. [Teller.] Mostyn, L.
Minto, E. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bess-borough.)
Torrington, V. Sandys, L.
Seaton, L.
Churchill, L. Somerhill, L. (M. Clan-ricarde.)
Congleton, L.
Ebury, L. [Teller.] Wentworth, L.
Foley, L.
Canterbury, Archp. Ely, Bp.
Gloucester and Bristol, Bp.
Westbury, L. (L. Chancellor.) Peterborough, Bp.
Cleveland, D. Aveland, L.
Somerset, D. Boston, L.
Bandon, E. Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)
Derby, E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)
Graham, E. (D. Montrose.) Clandeboye, L. (L. Dufferin and Claneboye.)
Granville, E.
Hardwicke, E. Colchester, L.
Home, E. Colville of Culross, L.
Lucan, E. Denman, L.
Malmesbury, E. Egerton, L.
Mayo, E. Hatherton, L.
Nelson, E. Heytesbury, L.
Powis, E. Raglan, L.
Romney, E. Rollo, L.
Shrewsbury, E. Saltersford, L.(E. Courtown.)
Wilton, E.
Sherborne, L.
De Vesci, V. Silchester, L. (E. Longford.) [Teller.]
Gort, V.
Hawarden, V. Sondes, L.
Melville, V. [Teller.] Wenlock, L.