HL Deb 15 May 1879 vol 246 cc381-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the cathedral bodies of this country were divided into two classes—those of the old foundation, which consisted of the cathedrals exist- ing previous to the time of Henry VIII., and those of the new, about 12 in number, which were, in fact, monastic bodies transformed into Deans and Chapters. There were important differences between the old and the new foundations; but, so far as the present Bill was concerned, the principal difference between the two classes was that while the old foundations possessed the power of altering and amending their statutes with the consent of the Visitor, the new foundations had no such power. Henry VIII. did, indeed, give statutes to the new cathedrals; but they were not under the Great Seal and no legal authority. Several attempts were made to put the statutes upon a proper footing; but it was not, from various causes, until the time of Queen Anne that an Act was passed to legalize them, and she died before she had exercised the power of re-modelling the statutes granted to her by that Act. The statutes of the cathedrals had become antiquated; officers were appointed who had no duties to perform; the statutes contemplated a Communion table which did not exist, regulations were made which could not possibly be carried out, and many things had become absurd by simple lapse of time. Again, there was a very strong objection to these antiquated statutes, on the ground that conscientious people did not like to swear to observe statutes which they knew they could not keep; and great difficulty was experienced when disputes arose between Bishops and Deans and Chapters, or in other cases. He himself had plenty of power in his own cathedral; but in some cases the Bishop of the diocese had very little power. The Bishop of Ely, for example, was actually not able to preach on any day in the year in his own cathedral except by permission of the Dean and Chapter. There had grown up in connection with the cathedrals a body of honorary canons, who received no emoluments; of this he did not complain, as there was no funds out of which emoluments could be granted to them; but if these canons could be placed on something like the same footing as the prebendaries of the old foundations it would raise the value and status of the office. Things could not be set right except by an Act of Parliament. His Bill gave the power of revision to the Sovereign, not for the life of Her Majesty, but for the lives of Her Majesty and Her Successors, and it then provided the machinery of revision. The initiation of the matter was given to the Dean and Chapter, if they thought fit to make use of the machinery of the Bill. It was then proposed in the Bill that when the Dean and Chapter had drawn up a draft scheme of revision it should be laid before the Bishop. When the Dean and Chapter and the Bishop had determined how the statutes were to be revised, the scheme upon which they had agreed was to be submitted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and, if approved by them, laid before the Queen, when it would become law in the manner in which schemes of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in new districts and the like now did. He might be asked why, when he was a Dean himself, he had not tried to do something in this manner? That he had done, for he had procured the introduction of a clause into a Bill of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners when he was himself Dean, with the approval of the then Prime Minister (Earl Russell); but there was a change of Government at the time, and it being thought that the moment was inconvenient for bringing forward the matter, at the request of the late Lord Derby the clause was dropped. Again, it might be said that this matter did not concern him as a Bishop; but, in reply, he said it did, because, by reason of the non-revision of the statutes, difficulties had arisen in connection with his own cathedral, and, as Visitor, he had been called on to deal with them. A Royal Commission ad hoc had been suggested as an alternative plan to the one provided in his Bill. He had no objection to such a Commission, but it would entail a considerable expense, and he did not know how far it would be viewed with favour by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was not wedded to the details of his own plan. On the contrary, he had, from the first, expressed his wish to see the Bill subjected to examination by a Select Committee of their Lordships' House if it were read a second time. It had been said, as an objection to what he proposed, that it would be dangerous to place the duty of revision in the hands of the Dean and Chapter; but he asked their Lordships to bear in mind that he only proposed to give to the Deans and Chapters of the new foundations the same power as was now vested in the Deans and Chapters of the old foundations, and that those bodies had not abused their powers. He accepted the resolutions passed with reference to his plan by the Lower Houses of the Convocations of the Provinces of Canterbury and York as virtually votes in favour of the second reading of the Bill. It was true that at a meeting of Deans of the new foundations, held on April 4, a resolution was adopted declaring that to his Bill there were serious objections, both in principle and detail, and that it was desirable to offer to the measure the unanimons opposition of those assembled. He had, however, received letters from Deans and Canons who were not present at that meeting, stating that they did not sympathize in its views, and even some of those who were present at it had written to him to say that if he submitted to some modifications everybody would be with him. The Dean of Bristol had opposed the Bill in a pamphlet, and asked why, if the Bishop of Carlisle's object was to confer on Her Majesty and Her Successors the powers which the Act passed in the reign of Queen Anne only conferred on that Sovereign for her life, he had not proposed that in a Bill of a few words? His reply was that a power given to the Sovereign would never be acted on unless machinery for carrying it out was provided by the Act. The person who objected to such legislative machinery being provided was like a person who would say, "Let us have steam; but I object to machinery."

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Bishop of Carlisle.)


, whilst fully sympathizing with the intentions of his right rev. Brother, was of opinion that the Bill would not effect the object in view. That object, moreover, was too limited in its scope, and was hardly well worthy of being made the subject of legislation. The Bill would apply to only a small number of cathedrals. His right rev. Brother had told the House that the Deans and Chapters of the older cathedrals had already the power of altering their statutes. If they had, they had scarcely ever used it, nor did he see any probability of their doing so. The statutes of the old cathedrals were ancient and very unsuited to the present time, quite as unsuited as were the statutes of the new foundations. Why there should be legislation for the statutes of the new-foundations, while those of the old were left untouched, was what he did not exactly see. The fact that the old foundations had not used their power in respect of revision, if such power was possessed by them, showed that there was something in the cathedral bodies which made them very averse from change; and, therefore, the passing of this Bill would be simply leaving matters where they were. They wore too conservative in their instincts, and individual influence was too great in so small and select a body to hope for much spontaneous action in the direction of reform. That considerable changes were necessary and desirable he did not deny; but they would not, he thought, be brought about by the cathedral bodies themselves unless a distinct suggestion were made in that direction by the Government. Again, statutes had very little influence in the government of the cathedrals. They were governed, not by statutes, but by customs, which had all the force of law in the minds of those who administered their affairs. He was of opinion that there was a necessity for change in this matter; but that change was not likely to originate in the cathedral bodies—it must be suggested by others. It was a fatal blot in this Bill that it placed the initiative in the hands of the body which required to be reformed. The Act of Anne wont on the principle of reformation from without. It must be borne in mind, too, that some of the most marked difficulties that had arisen were in connection, not with now, but with old foundations. A difficulty so important had arisen in connection with the cathedral at York that a noble Lord had given Notice of his intention to bring it under the notice of their Lordship's House. A few years ago, it had been found necessary to introduce a special Act of Parliament to alter the relations between the body corporate of the minor canons and the body corporate of the greater canons in the cathedral of St. Paul's. The difficulties that existed before the passing of the Act had thus been removed; but there were a great many other cathedrals in which similar difficulties were continually cropping up. The Bill before their Lordships did not notice several most important questions which should be dealt with in any legislation worthy of the name. The questions to which he referred related to the payments of the singing men, the position of the almsmen, the cathedral libraries, and the minor canons. He held that most of the evils dealt with by his right rev. Brother were imaginary. He was strongly in favour of altering the old Roman Catholic statutes; but any new legislation that was introduced should not confine itself to such alteration. A Commission had, some years ago, reported at great length on the subject before their Lordships, and some of their recommendations had been embodied in legislation, but not all. It might be the opinion of Her Majesty's Ministers that the time had not arrived to ask Parliament to appoint a Commission with legislative powers, as had been done in the case of the Universities; but as 25 years had elapsed since the appointment of the last Royal Commission in connection with cathedrals, and as great changes had taken place in that period in public opinion, it might not be undesirable to refer the matter to another Royal Commission, who could take it up where it was left by their predecessors. Some such course he believed ought to be taken, and he had no doubt that it would be, if not now, at some future time. He was, for his part, anxious that no time should be lost, as it was dangerous to put off such changes as he contemplated for an indefinite period. There could be no doubt that the cathedrals were much better understood at the present time than in the year 1841, the last occasion on which there had been legislation on the subjects under the consideration of their Lordships. The cathedrals were now, in most respects, doing their work admirably; but they were hampered by difficulties which had already been pointed out. One of these, to which lie had already alluded, was, in his opinion, almost inherent in the present constitution of cathedral bodies. he referred to the power of obstruction which existed in these bodies. he thought it would be unwise to take steps which would produce no real results, and earnestly hoped that the Government might see their way to call attention, through a Royal Commission or otherwise, to all the difficulties which his right rev. Brother had brought before their Lordships, and to endeavour to apply some remedies, not merely in the case of the few cathedrals which he had enumerated, but in that of the whole body of cathedrals. These institutions were engaged in work which was being more and more appreciated, and the cathedrals were frequented by classes of persons who would not have thought of entering them 40 years ago. What was now wanted was that every member of these cathedral bodies, being adequately remunerated for his services, should have facilities given him for the discharge of his duties, and that the cathedrals themselves should be gradually raised in the estimation of the community to that high place which they were entitled to hold.


said, the Bill had been objected to on the ground that it dealt only with the cathedrals of the new foundation; but that objection did not appear to him to be a very strong one, as the cathedrals of the new foundation differed as much from those of the old as Ireland did from Scotland. The argument that the Bill was imperfect because it did not deal with the cathedrals of the old foundation, was very similar to that of certain gentlemen who objected to a Bill about tenant right in Ireland because it did not deal with the Law of Hypothec in Scotland. The Bill only sought to give to the new foundations the powers now possessed by the old; powers which the Chapter of Hereford had exercised as regarded their College of Vicars' Choral. He trusted their Lordships would read the Bill of the right rev. Prelate a second time, on the understanding that it should be referred to a Select Committee of their Lordships' House.


I think, my Lords, we are all agreed that some change is necessary in the capitular bodies of cathedrals. So far as the Bill of the right rev. Prelate is concerned, I think its object is one that ought to be encouraged. But then, my Lords, it does not meet many cases which appear to me to require to be considered and dealt with. So far as my own experience is concerned, I have had, in my official position, much correspondence respecting what I regarded as a great anomaly in one of our principal cathedral bodies. But that is a cathedral of the old foundation; and, therefore, the Bill of the right rev. Prelate would not at all offer any remedy in that case, which is, I think, one that requires attention. It is necessary, when we are considering this question, that we should not embark on one of those long investigations which sometimes absorb years, and end in proposing results quite disproportionate to the original necessity which justified any movement in the question. I should be myself favourable to the idea thrown out by the most rev. Prelate that we ought to meet the difficulties which we have to encounter rather by previous inquiry than by immediate legislation. But, in that case, if a Royal Commission were appointed to carry out the investigation, I should be glad that arrangements should be made to procure Reports from time to time from the Royal Commissioners—that they should report with respect to each cathedral, for example, and state what they might recommend should be done in each case. In that way, my Lords, I think we might come to some discreet and judicious limitation of the investigation. As I have said, I am favourable to the suggestion of the most rev. Prelate. I think that something ought to be done. There are anomalies which ought to be removed after due investigation, and I believe that the most prudent course to adopt would be the appointment of a Royal Commission. So far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, that, my Lords, is their opinion, and they are prepared to act upon it.


said, that after the favourable statement just made by the noble Earl he was ready to withdraw the Bill.

Motion and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.