HL Deb 16 May 1882 vol 269 cc806-15

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he would briefly state why it now became his duty to bring such a Bill before their Lordships. The continued imprisonment of a clergyman, whose incarceration had, last Session, been under consideration in that House, had seemed to him so important a matter that he had again, within the last few weeks, thought it his duty to call together the Bishops of both Provinces in order to request their advice. They were assisted by his most rev. Brother (the Archbishop of York), to whose Province the clergyman in question belonged, and who advised them to confine their attention to the one point which pressed at the time, and not to attempt at present to legislate upon the wider questions of ecclesiastical jurisdiction with which the case was involved. That advice had been followed in the Bill, the measure dealing only with the case of the Rev. Mr. Green, and, of course, with any other cases that might arise of a similar character. If it was reckoned a hardship that a clergyman of unble- mished personal character had been confined to a common prison for several months last year, it had become a much more serious matter when that imprisonment had been continued for nine months longer, and when there seemed to be a prospect of its being continued indefinitely. It would not be supposed that he was urging that any person, however conscientious his motive, was entitled to set the law at defiance; and the unfortunate fact that the rev. gentleman in question chose to set himself above the law was much deplored by the Bishops. It was true that the imprisonment was not, in the present case, a punishment for an ecclesiastical offence; it was for resisting legal authority; but even the offence of resisting legal authority, at the prompting of a wrong-headed and ill-informed conscience, might be visited by too severe a penalty; and it had appeared to the Bishops that, whether imprisonment be or be not a proper mode of visiting such contumacy, the clergyman in question had had more than enough of it, and none of them wished to see his imprisonment continued. It was admitted that there was no ground for any complaint against Mr. Green in respect of his discharge of the ordinary duties of a clergyman, and that his contumacy arose entirely from so-called conscientious conviction. That, however, was no good reason for disobedience to the law. In the case of Thorogood, who was imprisoned for refusing to pay church rates, a Bill was carried which had the effect of terminating imprisonment for that offence. This case was not exactly parallel; but, still, the Bishops thought themselves called upon to consider whether it was not possible, consistently with a due regard to the maintenance of the law in future, to take some steps whereby such imprisonment should be put an end to. Unfortunately, this was not the first case of imprisonment for contumacy. Some years ago a clergyman named Tooth was imprisoned for a not dissimilar offence; and he, like Mr. Green, pleaded conscientious conviction; but in the case of Mr. Tooth the prosecutors felt themselves at liberty to make a representation on his behalf to the Judge, and he was accordingly discharged. In the case of Mr. Green the prosecutors considered, for whatever reason, that they could not request the Judge to reconsi- der the question. It was therefore suggested by the Archbishop of York that someone else besides the prosecutors should be entitled to bring the matter before the Judge. It had been suggested by some authorities that, even under the present law, there existed on the part of the Bishop of the diocese a power to intervene; but, to say the least, the existence of such a power was very doubtful, and they were, therefore, advised to bring in a Bill to enable the Archbishop of the Province, as a person who was responsible for the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline, to apply to the Judge to review the circumstances of the case, and consider whether the imprisoned offender should be released. As a Royal Commission was at present sitting to consider the intricate questions which clustered around the administration of the law in these Courts, it was thought it would be improper to propose any change which would appear like dictation to that Commission; and, therefore, the Bishops confined themselves to the small point to which this Bill referred. They considered that imprisonment for contumacy in matters ecclesiastical was never contemplated when Parliament passed the Public Worship Regulation Act. The penalty then provided was deprivation after three years; and he would undertake to say that none of their Lordships had any idea at that time that the passing of the Act would ever result in the incarceration of a clergyman. There had been a resuscitation, on the part of the prosecutors, of a particular clause of a section in an Act of George III.; and it was only called into operation because of the obstinacy of those who refused to obey the order of the Court. Considering what was the intention of those who proposed and of those who supported the Public Worship Regulation Act, it was much to be deplored that consequences such as those which had fallen on these clergymen should have resulted even indirectly from it. The promoters of the present Bill had adopted the suggestion that it should only enact a course of procedure for the next two, or perhaps three, years. Their hope was that by that time the whole of this complicated subject would have been thoroughly considered by the Commission which was now sitting, and that some legislation would have followed on the recommendations of that Commis- sion. He thought he had now explained to their Lordships the simple nature of the Bill. It had the concurrence of the Bishops of both Provinces; it was introduced, as far as a Bill could be introduced in that House, by the Heads of the two Provinces; and he trusted their Lordships would not see in the adoption of it any violation of such rules as were consistent with the good government of the Church. The most rev. Prelate concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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


, in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that he was opposed to this measure. The most rev. Prelate had told their Lordships that imprisonment was not contemplated by those who passed the Act of 1874; but the fact was it was not contemplated that clergymen would set their faces against the law, or, if that had been so, those who passed that Act would not have given clergymen three years' time in which to change the practices which they adopted. The most rev. Prelate had said that no ill had accrued from the release of Mr. Tooth; but he seemed to forget that the new practices in the Church of England had largely extended, and in more than 1,000 churches there were, on the anniversary of Mr. Green's imprisonment, prayers for him as a martyr.


Hear, hear!


The noble Earl belonged to a Society the Chairman of which stated, when the practices complained of were introduced, that as soon as the law was ascertained they would abide by it. When, however, after a long and costly litigation, the law had been ascertained, they treated it with the most utter contempt. Mr. Green was in the same position which any other person, whether lay or clerical, would occupy if he treated the process of a Court of Law with contempt. If imprisonment were to cease for this offence, what punishment was to be resorted to? How were the decrees of the Courts to be carried out? Were clergymen to do just what they liked, each according to his conscience, without any regard to the law? That doctrine, he contended, was most unsound. There was no Irish proprietor at the present moment who, in his conscience, did not believe that he had been treated with the grossest injustice. If Irish proprietors acted according to their conscience, they would not submit to the law; but they were obliged to do so. Mr. Green had a very easy way of getting out of prison. If he would give up the emoluments which he obtained on the conditions on which every clergyman held his position, he might do what he liked according to his conscience. In his opinion, Mr. Green was a wrong-headed man; and, without any wish to detain him in prison, he thought that, while he refused to obey the law, he ought to suffer the penalty. The Bishop of the diocese did not permit the proceedings to be taken against Mr. Green until he had been contumacious for some years, and had refused to regulate his Church Services according to the law of the land. That was the course Mr. Green would continue to pursue if he were let out of prison. Should this gentleman be released in order that he might carry on his illegal practices? He did not think the Church of England was a Congregational Church; and, therefore, they could not have Services in each church according to the wishes of the congregation. It had been stated by the Bishop of Manchester, in a speech delivered in Convocation, that formerly Mr. Green had a congregation of parishioners who were driven away by his teaching, and that now he had another congregation of an entirely different kind, who were not parishioners. One objection he had to the present Bill was that it left the matter in the hands of the Archbishop and Judges, and ignored the parishioners altogether. He hoped that no mawkish feeling would be allowed to interfere with what was proper in this matter, and that their Lordships would say that clergymen should not be more free than laymen to disobey the law. As to Mr. Green's alleged martyrdom, he was informed that his room was luxuriously furnished and his food supplied from the best hotel in Lancaster, while the prison was situated in a most healthy position, with a lovely view, and his friends had free access to visit him. In conclusion, the noble Lord moved that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.

Amendment moved to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the motion ("this day six months").—(The Lord Oranmore and Browne.)


said, he did not know what Lancaster Gaol had to do with the subject. But there was a strong prejudice against the imprisonment of a clergyman, both among the clergy themselves and a good many of the laity, more especially in a case like Mr. Green's. He was not there to defend Mr. Green, and whenever he had had occasion to speak of him he had not praised him. But he and his brother Bishops had been trying to devise means by which to extricate an obstinate clergyman from an unfortunate position. They had looked to the Government. The Government had taken the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, and were advised that the clemency of the Crown could not be exercised in the case. The Bishops did not in the least desire to interfere with the course of justice, though they would be glad to see the clergyman in question released. It was well known that the sentence of deprivation would soon come into force, and people comforted themselves with the notion that when that period arrived Mr. Green would be set at liberty. But that was not the case; and it would still be necessary to devise a means for his release. The sentence did not work itself out in that way. He quite admitted that the power they asked for in the Bill was exceptional; but the case was exceptional of a clergyman seeking a kind of spiritual martyrdom; and he hoped their Lordships would assent to the measure as one that was calculated to meet the difficulty which had arisen.


said, he thoroughly sympathized with the most rev. Prelate in that particular case. While, however, he recognized that the difficulty which had arisen called for some action on the part of the Legislature, he did not see why, instead of bringing forward a Bill of this exceptional nature, the right rev. Prelates had not rather sought for a remedy in the clauses of the more general measure which last year received the general assent of their Lordships' House, and which apparently only the state of Business prevented passing through the other House. By that measure it was provided that any person committed for contempt should be discharged from custody at the end of six months, subject to the penalty of perpetual deprivation in the event of his remaining contumacious after his release. By the enactment of the provisions of that Bill the difficulty would be got rid of, without exposing the right rev. Prelates to the odium which might attach to the exercise of the power now sought to be conferred upon them—a sort of dispensing power enabling them to measure out such punishment as they might think fit.


said, he agreed with what had fallen from his noble and learned Friend with respect to the noble Earl's (Earl Beauchamp's) Bill of last year; but he did not think he was inconsistent in supporting the present Bill. All that it would do was, when an imprisonment had been for some time continued, to give the Archbishop of the Province, as well as the promoter of the suit, a right to apply to the proper Court; and it would be for the Judge of that Court then to release the prisoner, or not, as he might think right, after hearing whatever the promoter might desire to say to the contrary. This was not a very great power to give to the Archbishop. He would remind their Lordships that as this measure was to be of a very temporary character, being limited to a duration of three years, it would, in substance, only apply to a single case which was not likely to occur again. He thought, too, that if the Bill were to pass exactly the same result would follow as would have been produced if the Bill of last year had been it force. Mr. Green had been inhibited under the Act, which was miscalled the Public Worship Regulation Act, from performing the offices of the Church in the Diocese of Manchester, and perhaps also in the Province of York. Three years after the date of the inhibition he would ipso facto be deprived. The inhibition was on the 16th of August, 1879, and the three years would expire on the 16th of August, 1882. If, therefore, the Bill became law, the interval between its passing and the 16th of August, if there was any interval at all, would be a very short one. There was only one other case to which the Bill, if it became law, might possibly apply, if proceedings for the imprisonment of the offending clergy- men were taken in it, which had not yet been, and probably never would be, done. That case had been recently before their Lordships' House, on certain technical objections to the validity of the proceedings, which, if they were to prevail, would put an end to the inhibition which had been issued in it; but, if they did not prevail, and if the inhibition were still disobeyed, the time for deprivation, fixed by the Act of 1874, would, in that case also, soon run out. He looked upon the present Bill as being the same in principle as the Bill of last year, and he thought their Lordships would do wisely to pass it, since it came to them recommended by the right rev. Bench, which would be certain to give satisfaction to a great number of the clergy. They all felt that the punishment of imprisonment for these offences ought not to be too long extended, because it certainly resulted in considerable scandal to the Church, which it was most desirable they should put an end to, and therefore he advised their Lordships not to be too critical upon the Bill, but to accept it; or, at all events, to give it a second reading. He would not undertake to say which did the most harm, the disobedience of contumacious clergymen, or their imprisonment; but the effect of both together was certainly most disadvantageous to the interests of religion and the Church.


said, he thought it was a sufficient scandal in itself that under the existing law it should be possible for a clergyman, for doing that which was not in itself a criminal offence, but had only become so incidentally from falling within the definition of contempt of Court, should be exposed to a punishment that might, in its extent, be worse than was inflicted even for the most serious and abominable offence. He felt so strongly the scandal this case had caused, and the injury it was doing to the Church, that he would be prepared to accept a very inferior remedy, if it were the only remedy possible, rather than that the evil should go on. The point of the present discussion seemed to be as to whether the Bill or the measure of last year furnished the better machinery for attaining the end which all agreed was in the highest degree desirable. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack seemed to argue that there was no probability of this Bill being applied to anybody except Mr. Green, and to suggest that their Lordships had better not be too critical, but pass the measure. That was not quite a safe way of arguing with respect to a measure which was entirely novel in its principle. It was true that this was a temporary Bill, which expired in 1885; but, like other temporary Bills, it might be renewed from time to time as occasion arose, so as, practically, to become permanent. The evil of allowing this plan—of allowing the Archbishop to decide whether the imprisonment was to be permanent or not—was twofold. It was objectionable with respect to procedure, and also with respect to substance. With regard to procedure, the matter would be attended with greater prejudice in "another place," where Bishops were not so popular as they were in their Lordships' House; and the fact of this plan being recommended from the Episcopal Bench, and placing a power entirely new in the hands of the Archbishops, although it might be a recommendation to their Lordships, might, in the other House, be a very strong argument against the Bill; and, although it might not be rejected, there would be a long discussion, which would be as fatal to it as a division. But there was a still more serious objection in regard to substance. The most rev. Prelate on whom it was proposed, in the first instance, to confer the power was known and could be thoroughly trusted; but their Lordships were bound to contemplate the possibility of this power being exercised by some Archbishop whose qualities for its exercise might not be quite so apparent, and who, perhaps, might not think it necessary to take any steps for releasing clergymen imprisoned for such offences at all.


remarked that there were always the prosecutors.


said, their Lordships knew what prosecutors were. The position of the Archbishop under the Bill was that if he refused to assent to the release of the clergyman he would, in fact, become his gaoler. The effect would be to bring into an invidious position the highest dignitary in the Church. It appeared to him that the proposal in the Bill of last year was preferable to the present one, for by that Bill, when the imprisonment had lasted for six months, the clergyman was free. He did not think that any case had been made out for introducing a principle, the like of which had not been applied, he believed, to the English Church since the days of Archbishop Laud. Although he would much rather that this Bill should pass than none at all, because the scandal referred to ought to be put an end to, still he thought that legislation on this subject should be such as would be more in harmony with the general law than were the principles of the present measure.


said, that the reason for making this Bill a temporary one was because a Royal Commission was inquiring into the subject; and, doubtless, they would propose that considerable changes should be made in the general law relating to the question.

On question that ("now") stand part of the motion, resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.