HL Deb 21 June 1867 vol 188 cc243-4

Copy of the Commission of Inquiry laid before the House (pursuant to Address of Thursday last); and to be printed (No. 171).


proceeded to say that on the previous day he had inquired whether a most rev. Prelate (the Archbishop of York) had declined to serve on the Commission to inquire into Ritualistic Practices, and was referred by the noble Earl opposite to the most rev. Prelate him self, who was not then in his place. Seeing him on the Episcopal Bench he begged to repeat the question.


The reason I declined to take any part of the inquiry was, as I have twice explained to the Government, that, after fully considering the matter, I could not but object to the composition of the Commission; but, in saying that, I fear I must trouble your Lordships with a few words of explanation. When I received the proposed list of Commissioners I found myself utterly unable to understand the principle upon which it was framed. There were two modes upon which I conceived a momentous inquiry of this description might be conducted. One of those methods consisted in the appointment of a small Commission of learned and impartial persons likely to command the confidence of the country, who would sit in a capacity somewhat like that of a Court of Law, come to a conclusion upon the evidence given before them, and then give the country advice upon the subject for the future. The Commission, as I read it, certainly did not answer that description, because it seemed to me that it was largely formed of persons who were committed by interest to a view upon the subject. There were gentlemen of very high character and great name who had been placed upon the Commission apparently because they had written or had built churches in connection with this very subject. Therefore, that view of the case I thought the Commission did not satisfy. The other method of inquiring into the subject which presented itself to me was that of forming a kind of small Parliament in which every set of opinions would be fairly represented. I am obliged to say that, tried from that point of view, the Commission appeared to me to fail also. For example, I found the name of one gentleman which could not have been put upon the Commission for any other reason than that he had written ably in defence of what is called ultra-Ritualism. But, then, why was there no name selected out of those who had written ably on the other side, like Mr. Benjamin Shaw? My Lords, I had another reason for declining. There are now pending two causes in Courts of Law, in which all points connected with Ritualism are raised, and there is every probability that these cases will ultimately be brought before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and I shall be bound to serve on the Committee. Several of the counsel engaged in those causes are upon the Commission, but not all. In the St. Alban's case, the leading counsel for the defendant is on the Commission; I do not find the name of the leading counsel for the plaintiff. It seemed to me impossible that a person who was a member of the Privy Council, and anxious properly to fill the office of Judge, could go first into an assembly, such as the proposed Commission would form, and hear the matter discussed by counsel, and then go perfectly unprejudiced into the Chamber of the Privy Council to hear and decide on a case having reference to the very subject on which he may just have been taking part in a warm discussion. After considering the matter, therefore, with most deep and painful anxiety for three days, I came to the conclusion that I had better abstain from serving on such a Commission. I hope that in making these remarks I have said nothing to offend any person. I have found too much difficulty in deciding on my own course, not to feel tolerant towards those who have come to another conclusion. While objecting to the composition of the Commission as a whole for the purposes which it is intended to serve, I cannot help thinking that some of the best and highest names in the country are upon it. I have conversed with many persons upon the subject recently, but nothing I have heard has induced me to change my opinion.


I think it right to point out that this Commission does not meet to decide upon legal questions at all; it does not meet to decide whether such or such vestments are allowed, but whether it is expedient to recommend that legislation should follow their deliberations.