HL Deb 04 June 1888 vol 326 cc1002-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that he had that day presented a Petition from the Rochester Diocesan Conference, representing both the laity and the clergy, requesting that their Lordships would, with one consentient voice, pass the Bill into law. He also had with him a communication from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who were, perhaps, the Body most competent to form an opinion upon the subject, in which they said that they approved generally of the proposed legislation, and were prepared to assist in promoting it. The first clause to which he would draw attention was that which repealed the section of the Bishopric of St. Albans Act, which required that the residence of the Bishop of Rochester should be situated in the county of Surrey, without stipulating that it should be situated in the diocese of Rochester. If the Bill which he had brought forward were passed the men of Kent could, in future, have the episcopal residence within their own county. Perhaps it might be expedient to introduce into the Bill another clause to add certain towns within the diocese of Rochester to the towns named in the Suffragan Act of Henry VIII. as towns entitled to Suffragan Bishops. A Bill giving that power, entitled the Suffragan Amendment Act, had already been read a second time; but as it was possible that it might not reach the end of its journey, it would be better to make doubly sure by inserting a clause in this Bill. The Bishopric of St. Albans Act, passed by Lord Beaconsfield's Government in 1875, created one new diocese, and very considerably altered the boundaries of two others, East and Mid Surrey being added to Rochester, which then had a population of 1,300,000. In 1881 the population had risen to 1,500,000; now it was 1,800,000; and probably at the next Census it would be 2,000,000. The centres in which the populations were increasing most rapidly were Battersea, Plumstead, Hatcham, Lewisham, East Dulwich, Walworth, and Bermondsey. There could be no doubt that the diocese required additional episcopal supervision, not merely on account of the increase of the population, but also on account of the great development of activity on the part of the clergy, which made greater demands upon the time and strength of the Bishop. The question was how the necessity for increased supervision could best be met. It could be met in one way, which would obviously require careful and mature consideration, and that was by the subdivision of the diocese. No doubt, there were circumstances which pointed to an ultimate sub-division of the diocese, but it would be premature to discuss them at present. The feeling of Churchmen in favour of sub-division was so strong that the movement could not be much longer resisted. This Bill met the difficulty in as convenient, reasonable, and suitable a manner as possible; and it would for a time gently retard the sub-division of the diocese. In several dioceses the expedient of Suffragan Bishops had been tried. His Brother of London had two Suffragans; the most rev. Primate had one; and it seemed to him that in this case a Suffragan Bishop would best meet their needs; but there were difficulties as to the maintenance of the Bishop. On this head suggestions had been made which he need not discuss; but the pivot and motive force of the Bill was that a commodious and well-situated residence, with grounds of by no means inconvenient extent, precisely the sort of house in which a dignified clergyman of moderate means might be able to reside in, had been placed at his disposal for the use of a Suffragan Bishop by a very eminent London publisher. It was necessary, before it could be accepted for this purpose, that legislative power should be given to receive it; the Bill, therefore, contained a clause to enable the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to receive this house in trust. Another clause empowered the Commissioners to receive money not only for the repairs of the house, but also to create a fund for the maintenance of the Suffragan Bishop. If the public were willing to make contributions to such a fund, it would be a pity that there should be no one empowered to receive them. Care was taken to prevent the creation of a vested interest and to secure to the occupant of the house the interest of the fund for his maintenance only so long as he acted as Bishop Suffragan under the Bishop's seal. If this Bill passed into law he might have the assistance of a Suffragan before the winter began. He wished to impress upon their Lordships that the Bill would in no way prejudice the formation of a new diocese; it would rather help it. He would not anticipate what the future diocese for South London might be. Possibly it might consist of the whole Metropolitan area South of the Thames, and he would defy any one man to work that diocese properly without a Suffragan.

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


said, that he protested against the passing of the unfortunate and ill-considered Act of 1875, and he now protested against the operation of that Act. The Act had brought about every mischief which he had foretold, and the very introduction of the Bill now before their Lordships was a condemnation of the Act. He wished to express the unanimous conviction of all with whom he had been brought into contact in the county of Surrey. It was that the right rev. Prelate who had moved the second reading of the Bill had filled the See of Rochester and had carried forward the work of the Church in that diocese with ability, energy, and unwearied perseverance. But it was utterly impossible for any single Bishop to effectually superintend a diocese with so vast a population. He was not quite sure that the Bill did not go a little further than the right rev. Prelate thought it would. The first part, which repealed certain portions of the Act of 1875, he found no fault with; but he was under the impression that some of the clauses which followed would create difficulties which it would be hard to escape front when some larger measure came before their Lordships. It was obvious that a larger measure would be introduced in the future when they considered the very large population in the diocese near the Metropolis. Until they knew what would be the actual working of a Bill which the Government had introduced in "another place," and how far Surrey would be dealt with, it would be difficult to legislate in regard to these matters. If their Lordships gave a second reading to the Bill, it should be upon the distinct understanding that the clauses should, if necessary, be so modified in Committee as to leave them a free hand to legislate in the future with respect to the ecclesiastical wants of the vast and growing population which surrounded the Metropolis.


The Government have no objection to this Bill being read a second time. Whatever alterations it may be desirable to make in it may be made in Committee. No one, I think, can doubt the wants of this great diocese, or that some provision is necessary to meet them. I would only ask my noble Friend behind me (Viscount Midleton) not to be misled by the fallacy of great and comprehensive measures. The day of great and comprehensive measures is rapidly passing away, and the chances of carrying them are decreasing. The noble Viscount says that during the period between the year 1874 and 1880 it would have been easy to pass any measure for the benefit of the Church. I see some of my friends who were in the House of Commons at that time, and they will bear witness whether the passing of measures through that House was even then a matter of such extreme facility. That was, I think, the time when the glorious institution of All-night Sittings commenced. The difficulty of passing measures has since increased and is increasing more and more; and for practical legislation I believe that a number of small Bills, however imperfect from a technical point of view they may seem to be, are a surer way of making useful improvements than the achievement of that great chimera of the Parliamentary imagination, great and comprehensive measures.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 12th instant.