HL Deb 27 April 1874 vol 218 cc1146-50

rose to inquire of the most reverend Primate. Whether, in view of the Meeting of Convocation to-day, further time will be given for the consideration of the Public Worship Regulation Bill, which stood appointed for second reading on Thursday next. Convocation would sit for several days, and it was a matter of the most vital importance that they should have a fair opportunity of considering this measure. The Bill was one which would not only affect the status and position of a large number of the clergy of the Established Church, but even went so far as to expose them to penalties. This was not the time for entering into the provisions of the Bill, but they were of very great importance, and those who would be affected by them ought to have an opportunity of giving them a full and deliberate consideration. He believed there was a very generally received opinion out-of-doors that the provisions of the Bill had been recommended by the Ritual Commission, and therefore in answer to his request for further time before the Motion for the second reading, it might be urged that the clergy had already had the gist of the measure before them; but he ventured to remind the most rev. Prelate that some of the modifications in the existing law provided by the Bill went far beyond the recommendations in the Report of the Ritual Commissioners. Those recommendations had reference to incense, lights, and vestments; but the Bill of the most rev. Prelate entered into legislation respecting various matters allowed or forbidden by the Book of Common Prayer, and provided various serious forms and penalties on refractory clergy, amounting pro tanto to sequestration. He was sure the most rev. Prelate had no desire that there should not be an ample consideration of the measure by the clergy, and he hoped, therefore, he would accede to his request for further time before the Bill was brought on.


said, he could assure their Lordships that the noble Duke did him nothing but justice when he gave him credit for being unwilling that there should be any undue haste in pressing on the Bill. On the first reading, one of his right rev. Brethren expressed an opinion that the day originally proposed for the second reading would not give sufficient time, and in consequence of that representation he and his right rev. Brethren agreed to postpone the second reading for two days. He should be very sorry if the clergy had not an opportunity of informing themselves on the provisions of the Bill and expressing an opinion for or against it. The Convocation of the Province of Canterbury would meet not to-day but to-morrow, and would continue its sittings daily till Saturday, which was the usual process. It was his full intention to request that the Members of the Lower House of Convocation should consider, during Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, any matters in the Bill on which they might wish, in a legitimate manner, to express their feeling to their Lordships' House. It had been found that on Fridays the meetings of Convocation were not very well attended, and that to continue the consideration of the Bill till that day would not practically be of any use. Besides, three days seemed to be a sufficient time to enable the clergy to deliberate upon the measure and take such steps with reference to it as they might think right. His remarks had reference to the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury; but their Lordships were no doubt aware that when "Convocation" was spoken of the expression meant something more. No formal act could be done by "Convocation" which had not been considered both by the Convocation of Canterbury and by the Convocation of York; and if there were any difference between the Convocations of the two Provinces there must be further deliberation, and therefore further delay. If the noble Duke wished—but he was sure he did not—that this Bill should be brought fully before "Convocation," a delay of a year must occur. Moreover, as the noble Duke was aware, "Convocation" had no right to pass any formal and binding canon on any subject without a licence from the Crown. He did not think it likely that such a licence would be issued in this case. "Letters of Business" might also be issued authorizing the Convocations of Canterbury and York to go into a formal consideration of the matter. But he apprehended that what the noble Duke referred to was an informal consideration by a representation more or less perfect of the clergy of one of the two Provinces. It was most desirable that there should be such a consideration. He must, however, remind their Lordships that before now the question itself had been considered somewhat carefully in the Convocation of Canterbury, and there was lying on its Table the Report of a Committee to which the question had been referred. In addition to that Report, the Lower House of the Convocation had passed certain Resolutions on the subject. One of these Resolutions referred to the mode in which laws such as those proposed in the Bill should be made, and recommended that they should be made by canon and not by statute. That recommendation would not, however, be applicable to the case in hand, because what had to be dealt with were statutes which no Canon of Convocation would deal with. He and his right rev. Brethren felt obliged most unwillingly to adhere to Thursday for the second reading. They believed they had given sufficient time for the consideration of the question throughout the country, and as circumstances over which they had no control had thrown back the business of the Session, they could not accede to the postponement asked for by the noble Duke.


said, he would move the adjournment of the House. The most rev. Prelate said that Convocation could not discuss the Bill; but what was asked for was not a formal expression of the opinion of Convocation—what was asked for was an expression of opinion on the part of the clergy throughout the country on a matter which most seriously concerned them. By the Bill the clergy would be bound hand and foot at the feet of the right rev. Bench. It would be in the power of the Bishops to restrain them from the performance of all their offices and to confiscate their incomes. If a railway company proposed to deal in such a manner with the property of a private landowner, would any one advocate that the Bill should pass without those landowners having time to consider the effect of the measure on their interest and to make a representation to the House? The fact that the clergy were a body scattered all over the country and therefore at a great disadvantage as to the power of meeting and consulting together, afforded an additional reason why, in the words used by a right rev. Prelate on the occasion of the introduction of the Bill, there should he no "indecent haste."

Moved. "That this House do now adjourn."—(The Marquess of Bath.)


said, he thought nothing could be more inconvenient or more undesirable than that there should be a lengthened discussion on the mere question whether a particular day should be fixed for a second reading. He could not help thinking that his noble Friend who had just spoken made use of stronger language than he could have intended when he alluded to the possibility of the most rev. Prelate proceeding with "indecent liaste." No one could suppose the most rev. Prelate desired to use undue, much less indecent, haste; but he desired to put before the most rev. Prelate one or two considerations the Bill was one of very great importance, not only to a large number of the clergy, but to the laity of the Church of England. It dealt with matters which stirred the feelings of large masses of the people to the lowest depths. Now, though those who had heard the very able speech made by the most rev. Prelate when introducing the Bill, and who had since had an opportunity of examining the measure itself might have a very clear conception of its provisions and be prepared to discuss it, he ventured to suggest that there were very many without those walls who might not be in the same position, and he thought it would be undesirable to proceed to the second reading till the country at large should have had an opportunity of considering and expressing its feelings. Whatever view their Lordships might take of the Bill, he was convinced that unless the merits of a Bill of this kind were thoroughly understood by the country it would be impossible to make its provisions acceptable. He presumed that nothing could be further from any one's mind than that Convocation should deal with the Bill in a legislative character—it was regarded only as a medium for the expression of the opinion of a great number of the clergy. He ventured to express a hope that the most rev. Prelate would see reason to postpone the second reading for a few days.


said, that at the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, he would consent to postpone the second reading for a few days. He hoped, however, that it would be only for a few clays. He trusted that the policy to be adopted in respect to the Bill was not one of inaction and delay. The Bill was one on which it was right that Parliament should pronounce a distinct opinion.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Then the Second Reading of the Bill was put off to Monday, the 11th of May next.