HL Deb 19 March 1901 vol 91 cc388-9

asked the Lord Chancellor if his attention had been directed to a letter in the Westminster Gazette of 15th March, from a clergyman (the Rev. A. N. Vowler), stating that after he had been offered a benefice, and paid certain fees, the offer had been cancelled.


My Lords, it is perfectly true that, by reason of certain recommendations which I thought I had a right to rely on, I offered this small benefice in Devonshire to the reverend gentleman whose name has been mentioned. For reasons which, I am sure, your Lordships will appreciate, I have thought it right to make it a rule that every clergyman to whom I offered preferment should undertake to render proper canonical obedience to his Bishop. This was the only condition I proposed to this reverend gentleman. He then said he had a conscientious objection. He had already mentioned to my secretary that he hesitated to give any such pledge. I thought it right that he should have an opportunity of seeing me himself, and he then explained that his objection was founded on the declaration he had signed against simony. When that objection was made to me I confess I had not the least idea of what it meant, and I have not at this moment. I have not the faintest conception of how a promise to render canonical obedience to the diocesan can by any conceivable perversion of the imagination be regarded as having anything to do with simony. I wish that when the reverend gentleman wrote to the newspapers he had thought right to add that the fees had been returned to him, as one of the inferences to be drawn from his communication is that fees had been exacted from him and not returned. Whatever fees there are, my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is interested in, and not any officer of mine. The fees were not in one sense exacted at all, because his own cheque was sent back to him exactly as it was received. I cannot imagine how any human intellect could extract out of the declaration against simony any such conscientious objection: but it may save trouble to those who think it right to apply to me for such ecclesiastical patronage as it is my duty to distribute, if I point out that I shall always insist upon that condition every time I offer ecclesiastical preferment. It does not appear to me to have anything to do with the law of simony, and I should have doubted whether anyone of ordinary education could think so. It is enough to say that if this reverend gentleman has a conscience in one direction, I have a conscience in another, and my conscience will not allow me to confer a benefice on a person who is not prepared to obey the laws of the Church.


I should like to point out, in view of what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said, that if this amounts to simony, then every clergyman of the Church of England is guilty of simony, for no clergyman can he instituted to any benefice without making the promise referred to.

House adjourned at five minutes past Six of the clock till Thursday next, half-past Ten of the clock.