HL Deb 26 July 1877 vol 235 cc1846-51

presented a Petition, very numerously signed by the Clergy and Laity of the Church of England, praying for the repeal of the Public Worship Regulation Act. He had postponed till next Session his Motion on the subject of the Act, but he had thought it right to give notice of the presentation of this Petition, which was one got up by the Church of England Working Men's Society, which was a Society for securing freedom of worship and the preservation of our rights and liberties on the basis of the Book of Common Prayer and the usages of the Primitive Church: and he had been particularly requested to state that the Society had no connection with certain circulars which had been sent to Members of Parliament by another Association, and which had been brought in "another place" under notice as a breach of Privilege; and he was further requested to state that the members of this Society did not go in for the disestablishment of the Church, or proceed in any way against those from whom they differed. The Petition was signed by 47,294 persons, not more than 1,000 of whom were clergymen of the Church of England: the rest were lay members of the Church, and most of them, he understood, were communicants. It must be, he thought, highly gratifying to find such an interest taken in the Church by those whom former neglect on the part of the Church had been supposed to have alienated from her communion. He moved that the Petition do lie on the Table.


said, it would hardly be respectful, in the case of a Petition of this magnitude and importance, if he did not say a few words. He had himself been requested to present this Petition; but he had replied that he thought it would be more suitable to place it in the hands of some Member of their Lordships' House who sympathized with its prayer more than he was likely to do. He thought the noble Earl was quite right in putting off to another year the Motion of which he had given Notice; because he could not help thinking that if there should be any discussion of the Act at the present time it was quite possible that alterations might be advocated of a somewhat different character from those which the noble Earl and those who had signed the Petition desired; and it would be an inopportune time to make any relaxation of that very kindly discipline which was exercised under the supervision of the Bishops of the Church of England. They might probably find that the current of public feeling was now in favour of a more stringent rather than of a relaxed discipline;—but he did not for a moment mean to imply an opinion of his own that the Church discipline should be made more stringent than it was; neither did he mean to depreciate altogether the value of the Petition. The fact that some 50,000 persons had presented such a Petition was in itself an important fact. He used the word "persons" in its Parliamentary sense. It showed that some people, at all events, were very much dissatisfied. The noble Earl had stated that the Petition had been "got up" by a Working Men's Association. He (the Archbishop of Canterbury) would, not say that the Petition had been "got up" in a literal sense; but to his mind it did not seem that the phrase used by the noble Earl was the most felicitous he could have chosen. On examining the Petition he found that there was a curious family affinity among the first names upon the list. William Collins, Jane Collins, Elizabeth Collins, Arthur Collins, and Alice Collins; also Emma Wood-yard, Bridget Woodyard, Sarah Wood-yard, Rosalind Woodyard, and William Woodyard. Nothing was, of course said, respecting the age of those who signed the Petition, nor could it be told definitely from the document that they had all arrived at mature age. Looking at the handwriting it seemed as though some of them must be of very tender years. This had certainly put a suspicion into his mind that whole families, including Sunday-school children, had been induced to sign the Petition. Moreover, it was not right to say that the Petition had been got up by working men, because many of the signatures were those of women and girls. But he admitted in that respect it was neither better nor worse than the majority of Petitions presented to Parliament, and of course it was proper that it should receive due consideration. He could not help thinking that those who signed the Petition were not very well instructed in respect of the subject dealt with by their Petition. They seemed to think very great mischief had been done by the Public Worship Act. Was that really the case? There were some 13,000 parishes in the Church of England, and about 20,000 clergymen. That being so the Act could not have pressed very heavily, inasmuch as only four cases had been raised since it came into operation, one of which failed in consequence of a technical objection. Besides these, two other prosecutions had, he believed, been threatened, but they had been settled by the judicious intervention of the Bishops. It was not therefore very easy to understand how the working of the Act could have caused alarm in the minds of the working men of England. He believed it was not the Act itself to which the Petitioners objected, but the law of the Church which the Act was designed to enforce. The ecclesiastical atmosphere at the present moment was charged with Petitions and declarations, but many of them resolved themselves into this—that the persons who signed thorn were very much dissatisfied with anyone who wished to prevent them doing what they liked. Such a position was, of course, very difficult to meet. It was not, he repeated, the mode in which the law was administered, but the law itself which was objected to. He had no intention to speak disrespectfully of those who had signed the Petition, but he would say in all seriousness to the noble Earl, and those who acted with him, that if during the next few months they would use their best efforts to allay unnecessary excitement on this subject, and to do away with idle fears that had no foundation except in the imagination, much good would result. Nothing more was required than that the law should be obeyed. Nobody could possibly suffer under the Public Worship Act unless he had broken the law or was determined to break it. This was certainly not the time when either the law of the land or of the Church should be treated lightly. Even the most venerable of institutions might be thrown out of gear by the wilfulness of one or two persons. Before this matter was again brought forward he hoped it would be well and carefully considered. Above all things, those who wished well to the Church ought to do all in their power to secure an adherence to the principles adopted at the Reformation, and they should avoid exciting people's minds on questions which were, at all events, very doubtful, and making them suppose that by getting rid of present arrangements, they could obtain a better, purer, and more useful Church than that which, thank God! had existed among them in its Reformed character for 300 years.


pointed out that he had refrained from calling attention to the working of the Act—and he had done so because of the absence of most of the members of the Episcopal Bench. He must not be taken as accepting the statements of the most rev. Primate, and he believed the Petition to be a perfectly bonâ fide one.


held that the Petition had a very suspicious origin. As far as he could judge, it savoured much of having emanated from the Society of the Holy Cross and the members of the St. Albans Mission.


disclaimed this statement as far as the St. Albans Mission was concerned. He would remind the noble Earl that no proceedings under the Act had been taken against any person connected with the St. Albans Mission House; and with regard to the observations of the most rev. Primate, his belief was that he was more anxious to force his own interpretation of the law upon the Church than to accept that which the Church generally believed to be the law. When the most rev. Primate talked of the necessity of allaying the excitement which now existed, he should bear in mind that it had been mainly caused by the strong party bias which he himself had shown in Church controversies.


said, that the noble Marquess had observed, with reference to the noble Lord's statement, that the Petition had partly been got up at the St. Albans Mission House, that no proceedings had been taken against the clergy of St. Albans under the Public Worship Regulation Act, But he would re- mind the House that proceedings had been taken against Mr. Mackonochie under a former Act, and there was no other church in London or England in which what had been so happily called "the Mass in masquerade," had been celebrated in such state as at St. Albans. It was the practices in this and other churches that had led the right rev. Prelates to promote the passing of the Public Worship Regulation Act. He agreed it would be better there should be no long discussion of the subject, and he hoped that all would adhere to the Prayer Book as suggested by the Petition. But as the Petitioners also referred to "primitive usage," he asked whether they could say what was intended by that? Did they mean the Apostolic Age, or the first twelve centuries? He thought the appeal to "primitive usage" could not have emanated from working men, but must have been suggested to them.


rose to deny that the turmoil which had arisen in the Church was due to the action of the most rev. Primate. The Public Worship Regulation Act had not been drawn up by him, and it seemed to be forgotten that the Act dealt with offenders much more leniently than did the old law. The Act no longer treated offenders as criminals. The object of the Act was to remove questions of controversy out of the hands of personal prejudice and place them in the hands of an unbiased Judge. Therefore, it was wrong to assume that the state of affairs they deplored had been produced by the private opinions of the most rev. Primate. The real fact was that those who were the real promoters of the Petition were always charging those who wished to preserve the old laws of the Church with party spirit. Did anyone suppose that these 47,000 persons represented the opinion of the country? Could they suppose that the House of Commons would change its mind and suddenly repeal an Act that they had passed almost unanimously? If it were to be repealed something else would have to be put in its place, and that something might be much more stringent. The best thing to be done was to leave the Act alone for the present.


rejoiced that such a Petition had been presented. There was a great movement going on with regard to disestablishment; and al- though the Church of England, as a part of the Church of Christ, would hold its own whatever might happen, he was glad of such a proof that the heart of the people was still faithful to that Church. Persons might sign this Petition, and still be sincere members of the Church of England.

Motion agreed to; Petition ordered to lie on the Table.