§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
*THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long by what I have to say about this very simple Bill. The matter is not new to your Lordships, and the provisions of the Bill are so obvious as not to call for very much explanation. The Bill has two quite simple and innocent purposes. It has been stated outside that this Bill is an instance of ecclesiastical assumption and arrogance, and an attempt to give new powers to the clergy as contrasted with the laity. The answer to that is perfectly obvious—read the Bill. It does not attempt to do anything of the kind. It gives no powers of practical action which Convocation does not now possess. What it does do is to give Convocation power to remove two obstacles which stand in the way of its doing its own internal work effectively. As regards the demand for the Bill, I may state that all circles of Churchmen who have made their voice heard on any of these matters have been, as far as I know, almost unanimous on the subject. The Houses of Laymen, bodies carefully chosen of representative laymen, as well as Diocesan Conferences lay and clerical, have with practical unanimity asked for it, and there is, as far as I know, no difference of opinion on the subject among men who take an interest in these matters.
The Bill in its present form has already passed through this House. Four years ago it was introduced by my predecessor, Archbishop Temple, and the then Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, in advocating its Second Reading, said it might require further consideration at a later stage. It was accordingly considered most carefully, and was discussed clause by clause in Standing Committee, as may be seen by the verbal Amendment it received, and it subsequently passed through all its stages in your Lordships' House without difficulty. Convocation, whether we admire it or not, is an ancient factor 720 in English constitutional life. It has grown in usefulness during the last few years, partly for the reason that it has systematically devoted itself to the particular work which is its own special province, but its constitution is a little cumbrous and unsuited to present circumstances. In the first place, the Southern Convocation, the Convocation of Canterbury, is less representative than we would like it to be of the parochial clergy. We desire that there should be fewer ex officiomembers and more elected members; indeed, that as it is nominally a representative body it should be a little more thoroughly representative than it is at present. The Northern Convocation, perhaps, requires very little reform in this respect, but the Southern Convocation, still working on its ancient constitution, seems to require a good deal. At the present moment some lawyers are of opinion that there is uncertainty and possibly some technical legal difficulty about the Convocations sitting together to discuss matters in common. When the original system for the constitution of the Church of England, with its Convocations in York and in London, took shape, it was a matter of many days journey to pass from York to London, or from London to York. We now take a shorter number of hours than we then took days for the journey, and it is exceedingly desirable that occasionally these bodies should be able to sit officially together in order to discuss matters of clerical or ecclesiastical importance. That is practically all that the Bill sets itself to do. Let me make it perfectly clear that it does not claim for Convocation any power of action which Convocation does not possess now; no single power of any kind that it has not got today; and even for the process of the reforms I have mentioned in its own internal organisation the Bill ensures the most absolute recognition of the Royal supremacy in the matter. All that we ask in this Bill is that the House should declare that in case any doubt arises on the subject there should be power for the Convocations—with the Royal Assent to start with, and the Royal Assent to end with, and with all the steps carefully guarded—to take such, measures as are necessary to make its own internal organisation more workable. There are those in England. 721 who try to hamper the National Church in any reform of its system, because they dislike everything which promotes its efficiency. But that is not the kind of opposition which we have learned to look for in your Lordships' House. I can hardly suppose, therefore, that in this place anyone will take exception to a measure so moderate in its scope and so urgently demanded by those outside who have to deal with ecclesiastical affairs, and I would again remind the House that the Bill exactly as it now stands has already been agreed to by your Lordships.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)
§ EARL SPENCER
I waited before rising to see whether the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack would say anything on this Bill. I am afraid I cannot agree with the description of the Bill which was given by the most rev. Primate, though it may be the fact that the Bill is a very simple one brought in for a perfectly innocent purpose. It is quite true that the Bill passed through your Lordships' House some years ago, but there was hardly any debate upon it. There was. I believe, a slight alteration made in the Bill after it was introduced, but I think we may take it that this Bill and the other one are identical.
*THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
It was merely a verbal alteration, and was made in the House itself.
§ EARL SPENCER
I quite agree; it did not alter the Bill in any sense. The Prime Minister of the day, Lord Salisbury, spoke on the Second Reading, stating that he thought it a harmless measure, and that, if there were any objections to it, it could be amended in Committee. It is quite true that that Bill eventually passed your Lordships' House. I have examined the Bill now before us, and I maintain that it is a very serious constitutional innovation. Under this Bill a Convocation which is strictly clerical may impose the law on the laity of the Church.
§ EARL SPENCER
Well, that is an interpretation which has been put upon it by a legal friend of mine.
§ EARL SPENCER
It enables you to declare a new constitution, and the election of members to Convocation is to be regulated by Convocation itself. That imposes a new law on Convocation which indirectly affects the laity.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (The Earl of HALSBURY)
It is clear that the canons of Convocation would not bind the laity.
§ EARL SPENCER
But they have an important bearing on matters connected with the Church, and they, therefore, indirectly affect the laity. Another very serious matter is the proposal that if the King in Council approves a resolution of Convocation, then it should be as binding as an Act of Parliament. A material change in the law might thus be made without Parliament being consulted. There are a great many people in this country who hold strongly that if there is to be a material at alteration in the constitution of Convocation, that alteration should have the sanction and be directed by Parliament and not by Convocation itself. This is not such a very simple matter as the most rev. Primate thinks. It has been asserted that on occasions when the two Convocations have met together they have discussed very important matters, and on one occasion they came to the conclusion that there should be a complete reform of the law regulating ecclesiastical matters. There was one resolution passed, with only one dissentient, in which the opinion was expressed that the present tribunal which settles all the higher points of ecclesiastical law—namely, the Privy Council with Bishops added—should be altered, and that a Court should be constituted consisting of the Bishops of the land in which the lay element was very feebly represented. I cannot help thinking that this Bill looks like a step in the direction of making very serious changes in the law and giving Convocation greater power as against the laity 723 I feel strongly upon this matter, and I could not allow the Second Reading of the Bill to go through without raising this protest; and I am not at all sure that I shall not feel it necessary to divide against it.
§ LORD COLERIDGE
My Lords, it seems to me that there are grave objections to this Bill. It is not a very slight Bill, as the most rev. Primate described it. It is necessary to pass this Bill because otherwise Convocation cannot, owing to the statute of Henry VIII., alter its constitution; and, therefore, this Bill permits Convocation to do what is now contrary to the statute and custom law of the country. It may not be in this particular instance that any very large development of fresh powers is intended; but the principle is here and it is a priniciple which is capable of very formidable extension. We have had, of late years, too much legislation by Rules, Regulations, Orders in Council, and the like, and there is nothing, if this Bill becomes law, to stand between the passing of a new constitution which Convocation may frame for itself without any examination on the part of Parliament, nothing except the dissent of the Minister of the day. If the Minister of the day chooses to give his assent to the scheme, or to the power which is exercised under this Bill, then it becomes law without any investigation by, or authority of, Parliament. It may be that it is not a very important matter whether the Convocations of York and Canterbury meet together or not. Nothing very large would turn upon that. No one would desire to prevent the Convocations meeting together as, and when, they please, but the objection that I take to this Bill is that it introduces an absolutely new principle which is capable of far wider application. The most rev. Primate said the laity were not affected. That is partly true, but it is not wholly true. Let me give the most rev. Primate an instance. Convocation may, according to this Bill, reorganise itself, and in its newly reorganised state it can do things that certainly affect the laity. It can, for instance, dictate to the clergy at what hours they shall marry the laity.
§ LORD COLERIDGE
The most rev. Primate may be accurate, but I do not think so. They could alter, so far as the clergy were concerned, the hours at which they could perform the matrimonial rite. At any rate, in whatever form the sit, their actions must have a bearing upon the laity. It may be that in many cases they may have very little bearing, but I can conceive cases in which they would have a great bearing; and therefore, we have in this Bill an attempt to enable Convocation to override the statute law of the country and reconstitute itself in a manner which has hitherto been impossible and which may vitally affect the laity. As I strongly object to the principle of the Bill, I hope the noble Earl will persist in his intention to divide against it.
§ LORD HENEAGE
My Lords, if I had the fears entertained by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition I should certainly be inclined to vote with him against the Bill, but it appears to me that the objections to the measure have been greatly exaggerated. I do not think it will have any of the fearful effects which the noble Earl appears to imagine. The Bill, so far as it goes, is in my humble opinion a good Bill. I am no great admirer of Convocation as it is, and if this Bill does anything it certainly will improve it. In the first place, it will give a better representation to the parochial clergy, which is very much to be desired; and, in the second place, Convocations will be allowed to meet together. I think it would be a good thing if, instead of talking miles apart, they were to meet together and discuss things in a practical way. The only direction in which the statute law can for one single moment be said to be over-ridden is that they may obtain leave by Order in Council that the two Convocations should meet together, and that is such a good thing that I shall support the Bill.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
My Lords, I can assure the most rev. Primate that I am not one of those who desire in 725 the slightest degree to hamper the action of the Church. I believe our Church as a State Church is a great blessing to this country, and anything I can do to strengthen it in its action for good I am only too willing to do. I am sorry, therefore, to have to criticise, the Bill the Second Reading of which has been moved today by the most rev. Primate. I have the utmost confidence in his broad view in respect of Church matters, and I am sure the interests of the Church and of the people are safe in his hands; but I have one or two objections to this Bill. I think the noble and learned Lord opposite, Lord Coleridge, rather overstated the effect of the Bill. I do not think for one moment that any canon passed by Convocation under the Bill could alter anything approaching the doctrine of the Church. I understand that the Bill is confined simply to giving power to Convocation itself to effect alterations in its constitution and in the mode of election of its members, but, even with that moderate reading of the Bill, I take exception to it on broad principle. I believe there was no result of the Reformation so great as that which placed the Church in this country under the control of Parliament; and anything that is done to weaken the power of Parliament in controlling the Church will, in my opinion, be injurious to the Church itself, and lessen the support of the people of this country. We should not cast doubt upon the power of Parliament in any way, or lessen the power of Parliament in dealing with the Church.
May I venture to suggest to the most rev. Primate that, if there is this evil existing in the constitution of Convocation, the representatives of Convocation should come to Parliament and ask for a remedy to be made. There would, I am sure, be no hostility. I believe there would be no attempt to hamper the passing of such a Bill, but, on the other hand, there would be a strong desire to enable full reform to be carried out where necessary. In such a case Parliament would be on its honour to do its duty, and would not refuse to grant the reform needed. I read this Bill in this way, that if it were passed and Convocation, ever so foolishly went wild in its views of 726 sacerdotalism and carried a measure which the country as a whole thought a great evil, the power of Parliament to remedy that would have been taken away. Whilst this is a very small measure as it is now drawn up, it raises the question which shall be supreme, the Church within itself or Parliament outside the Church.
Convocation cannot act independently. There is, of course, the check of the King in Council; but what does that mean? It means simply the Minister of the day. At any rate, it is putting individual responsibility in place of the responsibility of Parliament, and I confess, without endeavouring to make too much of this Bill, I cannot help feeling that the importance of the measure has been much under-rated. There is this practical question, What course are your Lordships to take? I could not myself give support to this Bill, but I would deprecate any division on the Second Reading. I would, therefore, suggest to the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition, sharing with him the view he entertains, whether it would not be more fair, no notice having been given to the most rev. Primate that a division would be taken, that the Bill should be read a second time, and the further criticism reserved till another stage.
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
My Lords, this is a Bill which does involve an important principle, and I should like to ask the most rev. Primate for a further explanation of the phraseology of Clause 2, which is by no means clear. It may be that in each case the two Convocations would have to apply to the Crown for permission to meet together, but it seems to me that they might once for all ask leave to meet together whenever they pleased, and that that power, once granted, might be a continuing power to Convocations to combine whenever they liked. Is that intended?
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
Con vocations are little more than ecclesiastical debating societies, and this Bill would give them power only to make canons as to their mode of election and representation. It would not give them any power to mike general canons. But so long as you have an Established Church in England it is essential for the continuance of that Church that the power of the Crown and of Parliament should be effective. If you turn this ecclesiastical assembly into a body in which the democratic and ecclesiastical and sacerdotal elements are brought into greater contrast and possible conflict, the strain between the Church and the State is in danger of being very much accentuated. As I understand it, the idea is to have a synod of the National Church, a meeting of the whole Church, and not in provinces. If you do get leave from time to time to meet in what may be called by ecclesiastical organisations a synod of the Church, and if that synod does pass violent and extreme resolutions, we shall be told that they represent the living voice of the spiritual Church and must be taken as guidance to the faithful although they have not the force of canons, and ecclesiastical intimidation will be brought to bear against recalcitrant clergy. I have all along been an advocate of the separation of Church from State, and anything which accentuates the strain will to my mind quicken that result; but so long as we have an Established Church it is important that the absolute supremacy of the Crown, that is, of Parliament, should be maintained.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ALBANS
My Lords, I acknowledge the very conciliatory language used in connection with this Bill by my noble and learned friend Lord James of Hereford. I noticed with pleasure one statement he made, that if hereafter it should be necessary to appeal to Parliament for specific powers to reform Convocation, that application would be considered in no hostile spirit. I hope it will not be necessary to appeal for such specific powers. If I am rightly advised, it is 728 questionable whether it is not possible for the Sovereign himself to give these powers to Convocation without the necessity of our coming to Parliament at all for the purpose. But it seems to me that the most rev. Primate, by the course which he has adopted, has desired to take Parliament completely into his confidence in this work of reforming the constitution of Convocation, and not to have recourse simply to the powers of the Throne alone.
Your Lordships may have been impressed with the arguments from the other side of the House that this is a Bill for considerably increasing the powers of the clergy. On the contrary, it is a Bill which has been earnestly desired by the laity, and it is more from the point of view of the laity than that of the clergy that I desire to ask Your Lordships to support it today. It has been impossible in this House hitherto to refer to what the laity have already done by way of representation, but every effort has been made to bring the Houses of Laymen of the provinces of Canterbury and York into connection with the Convocations, so that the clergy and representatives of the laity may debate what is good for the Church. In the course of these discussions it has become clear that the Houses of Laymen are not yet adequately representative of the laity, and at the present moment a scheme is being carried through those Houses for the purpose of making them thoroughly representative. But the laymen turn to us, the clergy, and say, "If we are permitted to make our House more thoroughly representative of the laity, we ask you to see that your House of Convocation is made more thoroughly representative of the clergy." This is a reasonable demand. It is surely for the advantage of Parliament and the country that there should be a thoroughly representative body by which the mind of the Church can be authoritatively ascertained on any question. So far as the laity is concerned, no Parliamentary power is required. It is possible for the Houses of Laymen to be reformed in such a manner as I trust will make them thoroughly representative of the laity of the Church of England without Parliamentary power, but it is not apparently possible for 729 the Lower Houses of Convocation to be reformed without some kind of statutory recognition. It may be possible, but it is a legal point, and it is on the assumption that perhaps it is necessary to obtain some Parliamentary recognition that the most rev. Primate has introduced this Bill. If it is the case, therefore, that it is the laity who are really pressing for this reform, and not merely the clergy, then I venture to say it would not be a graceful act towards the laity to deny to them what they in such large numbers are asking.
I myself, before I became a Bishop, was a Proctor of Convocation; I represented about 400 incumbents. When I became Bishop of Newcastle I found there were only 175 incumbents in that diocese, but they had four representatives, whilst I was the sole representative of 400 incumbents in the South. This is only a specimen of the anomalies which exist at the present time, and I venture to think it is not for the advantage of the Church that the anomalies should be allowed to continue. It is for the Church's advantage that there should be thoroughly efficient representation. This Bill confers no new powers whatever on Convocation. It is simply a Bill for the recognition of the right to reform Convocation and to permit the two Convocations to sit and confer together. I do not find one line in the Bill which confers fresh powers. The noble and learned Lord opposite spoke of the possibility of the clergy in Convocation altering the hours of marriage. The noble Lord must surely have forgotten that a special statute was needed to extend the legal hours of marriage from 12 to 3 and this is hardly consistent with the noble and learned Lord's contention that Convocation can fix the hours for marriage. The hours of marriage have been fixed by Parliament, and it seems to me that the view taken by the noble and learned Lord is altogether exaggerated. While there are points in the Bill which may require attention in Committee, I cannot but hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, surely the appeal of the right rev. Primate is the best possible proof that 730 further powers are being asked for in this Bill, because if there were no further powers asked for there would be no necessity for the passing of the Bill. I think the right rev. Prelate abundantly proved that Convocation required fresh I powers in order to enable them to do certain things. Convocation apparently desires to pass for itself a sort of Redistribution Bill in order that there may be better representation upon it. I think this is a very natural and a very desirable object; but the point we wish to make on this side of the House is that this is not a thing which should be given to Convocation to do. It would be an abrogation of the powers of Parliament. Parliament should itself exercise the powers demanded, and should take into its own hands the regulations and rules under which this redistribution should be made. It is not a question whether the powers are desirable or not. Most of us would agree that they are desirable; but we think they are powers which should be reserved to Parliament and should not be handed over to Convocation. I understand that the most rev. Primate did not expect a division to be taken, but on a Bill of this character I do not think notice of intention to divide the House should be expected. I do not think we should be doing anything unreasonable or unfair if we divide, and as we on this side of the House do feel somewhat strongly with regard to the Bill we shall be obliged to take a division upon it.
§ *LORD STANMORE
My Lords, I should like to know whether my noble friend who has just sat down is aware of the fact that the existing constitution of Convocation is in no way due to Parliament. I speak under correction in the presence of so many noble and learned Lords, but I speak with absolute confidence when I say that I believe no single enactment can be found in the Statute book by which Parliament attempts to regulate the constitutional powers or action of Convocation. The two bodies are, and always have been, entirely separate and independent. But my object in rising was to appeal to the House to regard the question primarily from the practical point of view, although, of course, theoretical considerations cannot be altogether omitted. We have here an 731 admitted practical defect which this measure seeks to remedy. That evil is that the dignified clergy are over represented in Convocation—that the beneficed clergy are inadequately represented—and that the unbeneficed clergy are not represented at all. That is a practical evil. How do you propose to remedy it?
Admitting the evil and the desirability of remedying it, what is the way in which that can be done? My noble friends Lord Tweedmouth and Lord James of Hereford have both appealed to Parliament to do it; but surely Parliament as at present constituted is one of the last bodies to which you would submit the details of a scheme for the reform of the constitution of Convocation. Is it to be debated in Parliament whether, curates are to have so many members or none, or in what proportions the dignified and beneficed clergy are to be represented? Is it to be supposed that, hard as it is to find time or its own work, Parliament would consent to frame a Clerical Constituencies Re-distribution Bill? I think everyone will admit that Convocation itself is better fitted to reform its own mode of election and representation than Parliament would be. Moreover, there is this objection to resort to on Act of Parliament, that it would be on the part of Convocation a surrender which you cannot expect from Convocation, and which Convocation ought not to make—a surrender of its claim to be a body entirely independent of Parliament. It is for that reason that this Act is formed in a declaratory manner. There are doubts whether Convocation has already the power to reform itself, but many able lawyers are of opinion that it has that power and might legally exercise it, and it is only ad majorem cautchamto make matters quite safe that it is thought desirable to bring in this Bill. I appeal to the House to look at the matter from the practical point of view rather than enter into theoretical considerations as to what might, in practically inconceivable circumstances, possibly result from it. If we are to have a division, do not allow it to be taken with a House such as that I see before me. Let the division be taken when there is a fair attendance, and when the decision may be 732 really representative of the views of the House.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I think it is desirable that I should call the attention of the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition to the fact that in the present condition of the House, if there was a division and the Bill was rejected, I should, under the rules, have to declare that the question was not decided, and it would be adjourned until the next meeting of the House. No notice that the Bill was going to be opposed has been given. I do not say that that was absolutely necessary; but I am sure that if the most rev. Primate had supposed that there was to be a division he would have been supported by more than one right rev. Prelate. A division taken in the present condition of the House would be rather in the nature of a snap division. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition will allow the Bill to be read a second time.
§ EARL SPENCER
I cannot agree to the second Reading, but I am prepared to consent to the adjournment of the debate.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If the noble Earl prefers that course, well and good; but I think it would be discourteous to insist on a division now.
§ EARL SPENCER
I may say that I have no wish to do anything that is unusual or unfair, but I think I had a perfect right to move the rejection of the Bill. I did not consider myself bound to give notice to the most rev. Primate that I was going to oppose the Bill, but I shall be prepared, as I have said, to consent to the adjournment of the debate.
§ Amendment moved—
§ "That the debate stand adjourned."— (The Earl of feversham.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to and further debate adjourned sine die.