HL Deb 26 November 1919 vol 37 cc385-409

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Charnwood.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Persons in holy orders not to be disqualified as members of the House of Commons.

1.That on and after the passing of this Act, no person shall be disqualified or liable to any penalty for sitting or voting in the House of Commons by reason of having been ordained to the office of priest or deacon, or being a minister of the Church of Scotland, and the House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act, 1801, is hereby repealed.

LORD PARMOOR had given notice, on the Motion to go into Committee, to move "That the House do resolve itself into Committee this day three months."

The noble and learned Lord said: I move to omit Clause 1 from the Bill and I think it more convenient that I should do this than to have proceeded with my Motion on the Paper, which would have prevented the House from going into Committee on the Bill if that Motion had been carried. I should like to say one or two words on how the matter appears to me to stand as regards the proposal in Clause 1, which is that no person should be disqualified or liable to any penalty for sitting or voting in the House of Commons by reason of having been ordained to the office of priest or deacon, or of being a minister of the Church of Scotland. There is one other form of disqualification somewhat similar in character which is not touched in the Bill, probably for reasons well ascertained by the promoters—that is to say, the Roman Catholic clergy are disentitled from sitting in the House of Commons under the Catholic Emancipation Act, so that if this Bill were passed in its present form the result would be that they would be in a unique position, whereas at the present time they occupy the same position as a person ordained to the office of priest or deacon, or as a minister in the Church of Scotland.

As is pointed out in Clause 1, this disqualification was introduced in the Statute of 1801. It was found to have existed before in the inquiries in connection with the Horne Tooke case, but it was put into statutory form and was made a statutory disability in the year 1801. The reason of the statutory disability being imposed is that by the act of ordination English priests and deacons are set apart for a holy office and by reason of the duties of that holy office their position is inconsistent with membership of the House of Commons. I think the words in the clause are well drawn, because they propose that the disqualification by reason of ordination should be taken away.

As an Anglican layman I object exceedingly to this proposal. Every Anglican layman who has spoken to me holds the same opinion. I do not know where the initiative comes from for this Bill, but I am sure it does not come in any sense from Anglican laymen as a whole. Just let us consider how the matter stands. First, there is the question of the Ordination Service, and any one who reads that Service and appreciates it must see that the clergy so ordained are set apart in a special and separate manner to perform the holy office to which they are ordained and dedicated, and I do not think there ever was a time more than at the present moment when the duty and special character of a priest in holy orders ought to be recognised. Not only ought it to be recognised, but the duties which he has undertaken and his obedience to his ordination promises make it wholly impossible that he could perform at the same time his duties in the House of Commons. They are two perfectly inconsistent positions, just in the same way as it is quite inconsistent—although of course the reasons are different—that an officer on active service should also be a member of the House of Commons.

Now, what are the duties of an ordinary ordained priest or deacon which make his duties inconsistent with those in the House of Commons? In the first place, he has the obligation of residence within the area of his cure. In the second place, he has the obligation of daily service within the area of his cure. And thirdly, and outside special duties of this kind, he has the general obligation to provide for the religious teaching and the religious life of those among whom he dwells and in reference to whom he has been appointed their beneficed clergyman. What reason is there why this Bill should be promulgated at the present time? By an Act of 1870 if any one wishes to get rid of his ordination duties he is able to do so, and, having done so, he can become a member of the House of Commons. Advantage of the Act of 1870 has been taken by various clergymen who afterwards became members of the House of Commons. I have nothing to say upon that point, but what I do say and say in the strongest terms is this that a man, so long as he is dedicated by ordination to the duties of a priest or deacon of the Anglican Church, is in such a position that he cannot perform the duty of a member of the House of Commons, and those duties are absolutely inconsistent with the holy office to which he has dedicated his life.

Surely a Bill of this kind, if there is any strength behind it, ought to be initiated in the House of Commons. It is a question of allowing membership in the House of Commons to a man who at the present time is not capable of becoming a Member. Surely that is a matter which from every point of view ought to be discussed in the first instance in the House of Commons itself. I submit it is not for your Lordships in a matter of this kind to take the initiative, and that, to my mind, is a very strong reason against a Bill of this kind in reference to which the Government on the Second Reading said they took a neutral attitude and which after all—although I speak with all respect of the noble Lord who introduced it—is simply the Bill of a private Member. It is on these grounds that I ask your Lordships to reject Clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 2 deals with a different matter, to which I do not wish to refer at the present moment. It is Clause 1 which deals with membership of the House of Commons, and I urgently hope, in accordance with the views which I think were stated by the most rev. Primate on the Second Reading—and he is here again to-day—that Clause 1 will not be passed.

There is one other argument which I have heard, to which perhaps I ought to direct the attention of the House. It is said that there are a certain number of the clergy who have no benefices, and that the clergy who have no benefices and no special duties might be allowed to become members of the House of Commons. I think that argument is an unsound argument, because, of course, they are none the less ordained clergymen. But apart from an argument of that kind I think it is a great mistake to upset a general principle if the general principle is right in order that in a few cases—probably cases that one might almost number on one's fingers—advantage might be taken of the liberty which is here offered. Also there is the general argument, what is called the democratic argument. I think that is completely answered by the fact that it is not only in the case of men holding this privileged office but also in the case of men holding other offices inconsistent with House of Commons duties that this disability applies. I will not detain your Lordships further, because after all the matter is not one for a long discussion, but I move the omission of the first clause of the Bill.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 1.—(Lord Parmoor.)


I had not the opportunity of being present on the Second Reading of this Bill, and I should like to avail myself of this chance of expressing my very hearty concurrence with all that has fallen from the noble and learned Lord; and, if I may say so, I am glad that his arguments were of the character that they were, and that he did not turn to arguments often used outside this House. It is frequently said that the clergy are adequately represented in Parliament through the presence of the Bishops in the House of Lords, but I for myself could never feel that this was quite an answer to any suggestion that they should enter the House of Commons. A good deal has happened since first the Bishops belonged to the House of Lords and since the days when they took a much more prominent place in the House than is now the case. These are days in which disabilities of all kinds are being removed and when the general feeling is against making exceptions to the disfavour of any body in the community. Nor can I feel that the argument that the clergy are represented in Convocation covers the matter; because, although they have Houses of their own, those Houses are so indirectly connected with anything of the character of making laws for the country that I really think this argument has very little at all to do with the matter.

The noble and learned Lord has based his appeal to your Lordships on the character of the clergyman's work, and I think that he has made out a very strong case on those lines. The clergyman has as his first duty the cure of the souls of his parishioners, and I cannot see how he can combine the due fulfilment of that divine commission with regular attendance in another place. It is clear that any constituency that elects a Member to sit in the other House must expect that the Member will be constantly there and ready to take his part in debates and in voting; and I do not think that a clergyman's life admits of his duly discharging his primary duty to his parishioners and his duty to his constituents. I see a considerable difference between the first clause and the second clause of this Bill because the latter does not take a man far away from his home or far away from his parochial obligations; he can discharge them without any detriment to his parish due to long travelling or to other causes. But the first clause certainly means that a clergyman must make his primary duty the fulfilment of his obligations to his constituents.

Speaking as a country Bishop, I would say that I cannot conceive how, if this clause stood, it would be possible for any clergyman, except those actually living in the Metropolis, to discharge his duty to his constituents. We country Bishops find it a difficult thing to attend debates in your Lordships' House, and I can assert that a clergyman on whom much more active demands would be made would experience at least the difficulty we possess, and in an extended form as well. Nor am I sure that it is the duty of a minister of the Church at this time to take a detailed part in many of the matters that come forward in the other House. It is for us if we can to influence, public opinion and to promote sound principles and views; but I very much question whether it would be desirable, even if the clergy could leave their parishes, that they should constantly be in the Division Lobby dealing with public affairs that do not come primarily within their purview. I myself, as much as any one, would be against any disability placed upon the clergy which marked any kind of stigma upon them, but I do not think that what the noble and learned Lord has said involves any stigma at all. What I would say, is that a clergyman's work is inherently, I will not say, a disqualification but an insurmountable and a most honourable barrier to his taking his seat in the other House as the representative of a constituency.


As a private member I would ask leave to say a word upon this subject, particularly as I have not the good fortune to find myself in agreement with my noble and learned friend who moved this Amendment. I gather, however, that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill is disinclined to carry this issue to a Division, and I shall certainly not be more forward in pursuing his own Bill than is the noble Lord himself; but I ask leave very briefly to say a word upon this subject, and in doing so I shall follow the order of the arguments addressed to your Lordships by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor. He pointed out with perfect truth that this disability came into existence under the terms of 41 Geo. III, cap. 63, in consequence of the Horne Tooke controversy, and he also pointed out that under the terms of the Act of 10 Geo. IV, cap. 7, the disability was extended to Roman Catholic priests. I entirely agree with him, of course, that if it were thought proper to remove this disability from the clergymen of the Church of England it would be impossible to maintain it in respect of clergymen of the Roman Catholic faith; but his observation has no higher argumentative value (if I may say so) than this—that it would be necessary to make the change a complete one.

I confine myself to the main argument, and here I listened with sympathy to a great deal of what was said by the right rev. Prelate who preceded me. I agree with him that this argument cannot be founded upon any disability which ought not to be put upon clergymen, but the argument seems to me to go a little further than in his judgment it did go. Under the existing law you do put a disability upon clergymen. They now are the only profession which is precluded by the law from becoming Members of the House of Commons, and to say that this is not a far-reaching and grave disability is, of course, absurd. It is. The only question is whether considerations of great power can be urged which render that preclusion and the imposition of that disability defensible. I am unable to satisfy myself that any such reasons exist.

I listened attentively to the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, and it seemed to me that his principal argument was this—that under the terms of the ordination clergymen of the Church of England are set apart for the duties of a holy office. The noble and learned Lord is a far greater authority than I am as to how in the letter and spirit those vows are to be construed, but I certainly should have thought as a layman that it was right so to construe them that no active theatre of the world's affairs should be excluded for all time as the scene of the spiritual activities to which, and to which alone in the broadest sense, the clergyman dedicates himself. And I should suppose—though here again I am not exactly informed—that Nonconformist clergymen are also set aside by some form of spiritual dedication, with the exact terms of which I am not familiar but which I should be prepared to believe would correspond, in essence at least, with the vows taken on ordination by members of the Church of England.

Surely what is important is that a field of useful spiritual activity should be embraced by those who render themselves liable to these solemn duties. The argument is, of course, wholly distinct and must always be distinguished from that which followed the observation of the noble and learned Lord. He said the two functions—that is to say, the charge of a parish or a curacy, as the case may be, and the Parliamentary duty—are irreconcilable. Of course they are, if you find the case of a man who is doing parochial work in the north of Northumberland and who at the same time is returned to the House of Commons. You certainly have at once the case of a man who has embraced two duties and cannot possibly respond adequately to both. But it would be equally true to say that if you took the case of a small lawyer in Scotland who was entirely dependent upon his practice in an insignificant market town. It would be equally impossible for him, unless the substitution of £400 a year were a complete recompense for the change, to undertake duties here.

But the answer is two-fold. In the first place, men who are placed in that position do not undertake a duality of function to which, by their circumstances, they are unequal, and in the second place, the discrimination of constituencies will not select men who are quite obviously placed in such a position that they cannot adequately discharge their Parliamentary duties. And I should certainly expect that constituencies would be very exacting in such matters. The noble and learned Lord, I think, scarcely selected a very happy analogy when he said that it had long been recognised that officers on active service could not become members of the House of Commons. The noble and learned Lord, I am sure, is aware (if I may take first the case of officers not on active service) that it was long the practice I believe until August, 1914, for officers serving in the Army to obtain for long and even indefinite periods, what was known as "Parliamentary leave," and I knew a case of one distinguished general who was elected a member of the House of Commons when actually serving in France. I believe there are others. The analogy, at any rate, was not particularly happy.

Then my noble and learned friend addressed another argument to your Lordships. He said that, under the Act of 1870, a clergyman might lay aside his Orders and thereby become eligible for membership of the House of Commons. I look upon this as a most incomplete reassurance. Why should a clergyman who has reached the age perhaps of fifty or sixty, who has rendered a long life of useful spiritual service in the Church of England, who has laid aside his duties, because he has discharged them so long as he thinks his health or other reasons incline him to discharge them, and whose means enable him to aspire to a seat in the House of Commons—why should such a man lay on one side the honourable, the revered badge of his vocation through so many years in order to enter the House of Commons? Why should he not go into the House of Commons bearing upon him the honourable insignia of the sacred career, of which he has perhaps been an ornament? I think the mere fact that you are driven to say to a clergyman, "If you have any charge at the moment you shall not become a member of the House of Commons, except at the price of giving up that which has been the uniform of your great Master," is to address to him a message so harsh that that consideration alone would have inclined me to support the original proposal of the Bill had my noble friend in charge of the Bill been inclined to carry it to a Division.

The noble and learned Lord said it was a question primarily for the House of Commons. I agree that primarily any questions which relate to membership of another House would more conveniently and normally be introduced in that House, but the House of Commons, which at the present moment is very much occupied, can hardly resent an indication of the view of your Lordships on such a point. Still less could they resent it very plausibly at the moment when they have been so very good as to convey to us their view that we should immediately admit women to your Lordships' House. There should be reciprocity in all these matters, and we should show that we are not behind the House of Commons in willingness to consider their interests.

The last observation that I have to make is that I thought a great part of the argument laid before your Lordships by the right rev. Prelate who preceded me was perhaps a little difficult to reconcile with the opportunity which enabled him to make those observations at all. The right rev. Prelate said it might not be altogether desirable that clergymen should be found in the Division lobbies of the House of Commons in many of the controversies which are decided there. I am quite unable to see how we could defend the valued presence of the right rev. Prelate and his colleagues in this House, if we were to allow the slightest play to such a contention as that. As I have said I shall not, of course, challenge this matter if the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill does not do so. If he does, I shall support him.

I was, in any event, unwilling to give a silent vote on the subject, because I hold the strongest possible objection to any class in the community being excluded from possible membership of the other House. I hold that objection, if it be possible, even more strongly in the case of this particular class, because I think it contains thousands of men who are suffering to-day cruelly, who, in receipt of inadequate incomes, are compelled to maintain a show of respectability and ceremony for which their means—the starvation pittance which they receive— cruelly disable them; and I am not so inattentive to what is going on in the world not to observe this very clearly—that those classes are more likely to receive attention for the grievances under which they labour which are able to state those grievances themselves through members of their own profession in Parliament, and not to rely always and hopelessly on vicarious representation.


My Lords, the difficulty we are in to-day is that we do not quite know whether we are fighting a real battle or are engaged in a merely academic disputation. Words dropped from the noble Lord in charge of the Bill on the previous occasion from which it is to be gathered that he would be willing to limit his Bill entirely to the unbeneficed clergy. We have no indications on that point to-day, and what we are considering is whether Clause I as it stands should form part of the Bill. I do not know whether it has ever occurred to any of your Lordships—among others I speak with the greatest respect of the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken—to ask why it is that, for no less than 118 years, there has been a steady continuance of apparent acquiescence in the settlement which was arrived at in 1801. Not only that. When you come to Catholic Emancipation in 1829 you did not, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, include the disability against Roman Catholic priests. You preserved, in their case, the pre-existing disability in order that they should not enjoy an advantage against their Anglican and Scottish brethren in religion.

What is the explanation of that? Nobody knows better than the noble and learned Lord that there is a thing called status. Status includes rights, liabilities—everything that goes to make the attributes of citizenship. A disability forms an element in status. Some disabilities there are which, little as it may seem, are an advantage, which are really in the nature of a privilege, which go to enhance the dignity of the position, preserving it from unjust suspicion and constituting in its favour a defence against all sorts of possible envious suppositions.

The noble and learned Lord asked whether there was any other profession which we similarly disable from sitting in the Legislature. Is the entire Civil Service not a profession? And, if distinctions are to be drawn, is there not at least this one element in common, that our desire in disabling the Civil Service arises, as it does in the case of the clergy, not because we do not want them to sit there but because we do not want to see them on election platforms and having moral and material mud thrown at them on account of their opinions. It may be said that the present disability does not prevent the clergy engaging in political adventures. That may be so, and gladly would we see them doing so less. But is there any man who can say that they gain in prestige or influence by these sometimes ill-advised excursions?

I alluded just now to the case of the Roman Catholic priest. I dare say some of your Lordships were surprised to find that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill had omitted their case from the relief he proposed to give. I can only form the supposition either that he had formed originally some intention to include them and that they had asked him not to do so, or that he approached them and found they were more anxious that the disability should continue, to the advantage of their clergy, rather than it should be taken away to their expected disadvantage. The noble and learned Lord could not be expected to escape from the temptation of pointing at the position and status of the right rev. Prelate who has spoken against the Bill. Bishops do sit in the House of Lords. I do not know how long they will continue to do so, but at least they do not get here by the process of election, and in the course of getting elected probably making themselves unfavourably considered, and an objectionable personality, to at least half the inhabitants of the diocese in which their functions lie. That is a profound distinction greatly to the advantage of this House.

Let me say that in opposing the unrestricted application of Clause 1 I do so with the most profound respect and sympathy for the class which it affects. If there is going to be a distinction drawn between beneficed and unbeneficed clergy let me remind your Lordships of an argument not forgotten in 1801. You may say that the beneficed clergyman will not get elected, and that he will have damaged his influence by an unsuccessful election. Suppose him unbeneficed. Why should he not come to the House of Commons? At least he has no parishioners with whom his influence may be damaged. But he may want to get parishioners; and do not forget that Ministers enjoy the disposal of the patronage of the Crown, and he may want by indirect means to get that patronage and preferment which he is at present without. The noble Lord on the Second Reading quoted a past Poet Laureate. He said, "You do not want to spiritualise the parson by dehumanising him," and we ought not to make the clergyman less than a man. I do not want to make a clergyman less than a man, or less than human; I want to make him something better than a politician.


The noble Lord asks for an explanation why I have omitted Roman Catholic clergy from this Bill. The explanation is extremely simple. It arose from my ignorance. I was wholly unaware, I am ashamed to say, that Roman Catholic clergy were under any statutory disqualification as candidates for Parliament; otherwise I should certainly have included them in the scope of the Bill.

In the Second Reading debate a question arose about the position of beneficed clergymen should the Bill be passed. I admitted that the Bill did require amendment to meet the case of the beneficed clergy. I confess I am rather disappointed with the Amendment which has been brought forward. It is far wider in scope than that, and attempts to maintain the principle that the holding of Holy Orders should ipso facto be a disqualification for sitting in the House of Commons. I addressed your Lordships at some length on a previous occasion and expressed my views on that subject. I am not going to repeat them now.

I have listened with great respect to the observations of the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of Norwich, and the noble and learned Lord opposite. I cannot at all understand why they should suggest that there is anything in the Ordination vows of a clergyman which should disqualify him, while he remains in Holy Orders, from any of the honourable activities of citizenship. Still less can I understand a noble Lord, who has passed the whole of his life in political career, suggesting that there is something necessarily base or second rate about the career of politicians. However, the case is fully before you and I am afraid it will be my duty to put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division. I hope the feeling will prevail that, in this respect, as in others, we ought to cease to treat the clergy as a class apart and as something less than men.


I do not know whether your Lordships will allow me to say a word or two on this subject. I do not take quite the same view as some of my noble friends on this particular issue. I feel very strongly the point which has been put in respect of the beneficed clergy. I share the noble Lord's feelings that if a man had got a cure of souls he cannot also profitably sit in the House of Commons, not because he is unfit to do so but because he would not be able to take care of his cure of souls. For that reason I should have some difficulty in voting for the noble Lord, because he makes no distinction, as the Bill stands, between the beneficed clergyman and the other; but upon the broad issue of the disability of a clergyman to sit in Parliament I think it would be only candid of me to say that. I do not quite take the view which has been expressed by some of my noble friends.

There is nobody in this House for whom I have greater respect than Lord Stuart of Wortley. Yet I think that some of his arguments were not really ones which, upon consideration, he himself would like to persist in. I cannot honestly say that I think that there is anything derogatory in being a Member of Parliament. Can it really be said that there is something lowering in being a Member of the House of Commons? Can it be said that the process of getting into the House of Commons necessarily degrades a man? Can it be said that in standing for the House of Commons we necessarily quarrel with half the inhabitants of the constituency for whose suffrages we ask? Why, my Lords, I am perfectly certain that that never happened to my noble friend Lord Stuart of Wortley, and that when he became a Member of the House of Commons he was equally popular with both sides of politics in his constituency. They did not agree with him, some of them, politically, but they all had profound respect for him. I admit, of course, that there are in the House of Commons—I speak with great respect—gentlemen who do not occupy such a position as my noble friend did in the City of Sheffield, but I am perfectly certain of this, that no man ought to feel under the necessity of doing what he ought not to do in order to get into the House of Commons.

If that be true of a layman, why should it not be true of a clergyman? I am afraid that that class of argument belongs to the order of mind of men who think that there are some things which are discreditable in a clergyman which would not be discreditable in a layman. I do not say that any right rev. Prelate advanced such an argument, but it seems to me that that sort of argument lies behind what has been said, and I cannot subscribe to it. I do think there is very great importance nowadays in convincing the public that the clergy are not a caste apart. I should have thought that that was one of the great lessons we learn from all that was told us by chaplains at the Front. When they came back from the Front some of them said that the difficulty was to get men to believe that the clergy looked at things from the same point of view as those they talked to—I do not mean to say that they looked at evils from the same point of view as evil men would do, but that they had a temper of mind with which the ordinary man could not sympathise, or that they could not sympathise with the temper of mind of the ordinary man.

All this fencing aside of the clergyman, as being unfit to take part in the ordinary work of the world except in so far as that interferes with his own work, seems to me to be a mistake. May I say that even in the attitude of those who criticise Clause 1 of the Bill there is a very great inconsistency. They do not criticise Clause 2 of the Bill. Perhaps Lord Parmoor does, but a great many critics do not. It seems that a clergyman may properly and profitably take part in municipal business. Does my noble friend disagree?


I will tell you what I think when we get to Clause 2.


I support Clause 2, but object to Clause 1.


I am much obliged to the most rev. Primate for his explanation. Is there any very great difference between the two so far as this particular side of the question to which I am addressing myself is concerned? Is there anything likely to be degrading to a clergyman in mixing in high politics? Why is it not at least as degrading to mix in local politics? What is the difference? My noble friend Lord Stuart of Wortley spoke of mud thrown at men who were standing. Is there no mud in municipal elections? And who are to be preserved from mud nowadays? Why! even women are not preserved from having mud thrown at them at contested elections. I feel that those arguments do not really have a solid foundation. If the noble Lord opposite would engage to remove the beneficed clergy from Clause 1 of the Bill I for one should have no objection.


It is my intention to take steps to do so.


I am very pleased to hear the remarks of the noble Marquess, for I share very intensely the view which he has expressed. Of course if those who are very closely connected with the Church consider that it is not a wise thing that this Bill should be passed, I bow to that decision, but at the same time I am very pleased to hear from so distinguished a statesman as the noble Marquess that there is another side to the question. Owing to the circumstances of my life I have had a great deal to do with the clergy, and my whole feeling is that the real trouble is that they are not sufficiently cognisant of the way in which business is carried on in the secular world—that there are a great many things which clergymen would be far better for if they passed through the House of Commons or through some secular profession, by which they were brought more closely in contact with human nature. I believe that one of the great troubles is that they do consider themselves as a special sort of porcelain which is easily broken and cracked. I want to get rid of that feeling altogether. I am sure that many of them feel themselves that they could get on much better if they had the experience which most men have had in the world, and I believe that their ministrations would not suffer in the smallest degree.


I had no intention to-night when I came down to the House of taking part in this debate, because on the Second Reading I dealt with this subject I am afraid at rather wearisome length, and I had the good fortune of having among my hearers the noble Lord who sits on the Woolsack. I should like to say one or two words on some of the points that have been raised.

In the first place in regard to what the noble Marquess opposite stated, I said then and I repeat now that I have in the course of a somewhat prolonged public life in Church matters taken the most active part I could in urging the breaking down of that distinction which he desires to see broken down, and I am certain that the noble Marquess will give me credit for having tried in every way to see the clergy take their full part in the responsibilities of our social life in all its departments. Nothing is more mischievous or disadvantageous to the usefulness of the clergy or the influence that they are likely to exercise than to set them apart, and to make the kind of chasm or distinction which is so rightly deprecated. I have always taken that line, and take it now; but I believe that the value of the work that the clergy are able to do in these matters is due to the fact that they do stand outside what is called the ordinary work of political partisanship. They are able to bear their part best by not being subjected to the Party Whip or to any alliance of a partisan character, as are very many of those whose action in public matters is supposed to be more or less dictated by the partisan allegiance which they owe. Therefore I do not in the least differ from the noble Marquess on that point. But I believe we should not help forward what he desires by asking that the clergy should ally themselves with political parties and take a political part on the one side or the other at each Parliamentary election. I believe we should do harm in that direction and not good. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who spoke to-night as a private member, reminded us that he had referred to the Act of 1801 (the Horne Tooke Act) as having for the first time, I think he said—


No, I did not say so.


I thought the noble and learned Lord implied, or at least used words which seemed to imply, and which might have been misunderstood as meaning that it was then only that the clergy were not eligible for the House of Commons. But if any one will look back at the debates in 1801—I referred to them a few weeks ago in my speech—he will see how unusually full they are and how much they tell. We see that the highest authorities refer both in this House and in the other House to the fact that it probably was the law already that the clergy could not sit. And the clergy did not sit. Horne Tooke was an exceptional person, and ought never to have been originally elected. I think that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack at that time took that line, and suggested that it was desirable to pass the Act then proposed, not because it was in fact a new thing, but in order to clear away what seem to have been a doubt upon the matter. Therefore it would be a great mistake to suppose that something happened in 1801 which for the first time said that men who had hitherto been eligible to sit in the House of Commons had become ineligible. It had become clear in the course of centuries that the clergy could not sit, and it was an exceptional thing that Horne Tooke had been elected. That Act was passed only to make the law perfectly clear. That statement seems to me to correspond with what I believe to be the real facts of the case.

The noble and learned Lord to-night, and others who have spoken, referred to the vows taken when a man is ordained for the Church. There is nothing inconsistent between those vows and the work of a Member of Parliament. It is perfectly true that the clergy make promises of a very solemn kind. The duties of a politician also are of a very solemn kind. The duties to be performed in the House of Commons are very solemn duties. If any one will take the pains to read straight through our Ordination Service as it appears in our Prayer Book he will find that in page after page it is laid down what is enjoined upon a man taking the solemn vow, what it is that in the larger sense he accepts in the way of responsibility, and the way in which his life is to be devoted, and he will find it extremely hard to reconcile what is there contained with the duty of daily sittings and daily membership of the House of Commons. Such a duty I say at once is nothing but a most honourable duty, and one most highly to be commended, and a duty to which one desires to give the highest possible respect. Instead of regarding it as derogatory I should take exactly the opposite line; and say it has so many responsibilities and so many large and varied trusts that I feel it would be very unfair to put the discharge of them upon a man who has also undertaken in the larger sense of the word to enter upon a ministry the duties of which are prescribed in so much detail and with which such large directions in the Prayer Book.

Allusions were made to-night, I think by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, to the position of Bishops in this House. I tried on a former occasion to point out that there are several differences between them and members of the House of Commons. One marked difference is that Bishops do not sit in this House as members of one or another Party in the State. I should find it very difficult myself, and most of your Lordships perhaps still more so, to define on what side of politics you would assign the right rev. Prelates who now occupy a seat upon these Benches. In the next place they do not arrive there by the process which I think would be so disadvantageous to the usefulness of clergy if they were subjected to it. In the third place, however great is the responsibility of a seat in this House it is not supposed to carry—at all events, it does not in practice carry—the same obligation of necessary attendance on all occasions as belongs ordinarily to membership of the House of Commons, and in some respects the fact that a man occupies a seat in your Lordships' House does not involve that absorption in the duties of the Legislature which presumably belongs, or is supposed to belong, to a man who occupies a seat in the House of Commons. I should be prepared on this and on other grounds to make the strongest possible difference between a man standing as a candidate for the House of Commons, and doing his part in that House, and the position which from time immemorial, as the oldest part of this House, Bishops have taken in forming part of this House and of the Legislature.

One other point I should like to deal with, though perhaps it would come more properly on the second clause. It has been said that if it is undesirable that a man should sit in the House of Commons why is it not undesirable that he should sit upon municipal bodies. I should like to say that the facts are entirely different. It is true that a great deal of mud may be thrown in parochial and county council elections, but is it not the experience of your Lordships that there are many men taking part in those bodies who are not political partisans in any sense at all? It is certain that there are many men who are serving not as politicians but as men who are interested in the social well-being of their neighbours, and are trying to bear their part in a borough or district council not as politicians but as men who are thinking about the common welfare. That seems to me to make the greatest possible differences. I know instances myself where men at this moment would be quite invaluable upon local bodies who are kept off them by the law though they have both the skill and the time to attend to the duties of such bodies.

Having touched upon these points now—I dwelt upon them more fully upon the previous occasion—I want to rest my real argument in supporting the omission of this clause upon the fact that this is not really desired in the country, for if it had been we should have heard a great deal more about it. What outside support has been given, and what outside arguments have been heard? What bodies of a representative character within the Church have been making their voice heard in the direction of asking us to make this change? I say "to make this change" advisedly, for if the law did not exclude the clergy from sitting in the House of Commons I certainly should not think of moving to alter it. I do not feel so heatedly upon the subject as that, but there is all the difference in the world between acquiescing in something which has come down to you from the past and taking a strong overt act which is going to be interpreted widely as a demonstration of special opinion to bring about a change unless there be behind you a great public demand.

The noble Marquess opposite has had a great deal to do with ecclesiastical or semi-ecclesiastical assemblies of all kinds, local and central. Can his memory recall a single case when any clerical assembly, or any assembly partly clerical and partly lay, has given a vote on this subject, asking that this change should be made, except in the small organisations of a few men who have been banded together for the particular purpose of bringing about this special movement—and that, so far as I am aware, only within the last year or two, and with so little pressure by them upon even persons like myself, who are usually the recipients of a good many communications, though I have received literally only one postcard on this subject. Is it desirable that we should make a change which is far-reaching in its character, which is contrary to our whole traditions, which has very strong feelings against it on the part of many unless we were backed by a great desire on the part of those outside that the change should be made? Had there been such a desire I do not think I should stand here to oppose it—I do not feel hotly upon it to that extent; but I do feel that I am not desirous of taking part in bringing about such a change unless I am backed by a public opinion which is at present totally lacking in the Church of England at large.


My Lords, I come from a part of the country where, as your Lordships are aware, the disability against which this Bill is aimed will be entirely removed in four months' time. By an Act of Parliament which comes into force on March 31 next all disabilities which prevent the clergy from sitting in Parliament will be absolutely removed in Wales, and I have not heard a single word against that provision, though there is a great deal said about the rest of the Act.

I venture to think that there is a great deal to be said in favour of removing these disabilities. I cannot help thinking that it would be a good thing both for the House of Commons and for the clergy. Anything that tends to remove the barrier that sometimes separates the clerical from the lay mind is good. Everything that brings them together, and widens and broadens the horizon over which we look, and the subjects in which we are interested, to the extent not only of municipal subjects but of world-wide subjects, is good for the country and good for the Church. I should deplore it if clergymen generally rushed forward to get seats in Parliament, but there are exceptional cases in which it is highly desirable that the clergy should be elected. There are men who do not hold benefices, or who hold very small benefices, and who have not got other work, and who could provide for the duties if they were necessarily away.

It seems to me that there are a considerable number of clergy in the country whose occupations at present are not such as will prevent them from discharging Parliamentary duties. I think it is a very great pity that such men as those—men of great intellectual ability and wide outlook, men of great thought and study—should be excluded from Parliament, and I believe that bringing a number of them into the House of Commons would have a salutary effect. It would help to raise the tone of that House, and at the same time the fact of their being there would, I think, help to remove the barrier which too often exists between the clerical mind and the lay mind, and would help to broaden and increase the usefulness of the clergy.


I should like to say a few words in answer to objections which have been raised to the Amendment. So far as the Lord Chancellor is concerned, I think he will probably remember that Horne Tooke's plea was that he had ceased to be an ordained member of the Church of England. As far as I am aware, at any rate from the time that Convocation sat apart from laymen, there is no instance in our history of an ordained clergyman sitting in the House of Commons. There may, of course, be some unique case, but I am sure the general statement is true.

Then I should like to say a word or two in reference to what was said by the noble Marquess. No one wants—at any rate I do not want—to, what he calls, separate the ordinary spiritual and lay persons. I have often enough argued to the contrary. But my view is this, and I want to bring the debate back to the ground on which I originally moved my Amendment. I entirely agree with what the most rev. Primate has said, that if any one reads through the Ordination Service, and believes it, it is hardly possible for him to come to any other conclusion than that the duties there undertaken are, in themselves, inconsistent with service in the House of Commons. That does not mean that service in the House of Commons is not perfectly honourable. It means that, as between those services and the services undertaken in the Ordination Service, there is a necessary and essential inconsistency.

I should be the very last person to suggest that my opposition was founded on any attack upon the position of a politician or a member of the House of Commons. You might just as well say, as Lord Stuart of Wortley said, that you were throwing mud at the Civil Service because, owing to the inconsistency of his duties with membership of the House of Commons, a Civil Servant cannot become a member of that House. On the contrary, it is to the honour of both sides, because no one individual can possibly honourably perform his duties in those two inconsistent positions at the same moment.


May I ask the noble and learned Lord a question for greater clearness? Does the consideration which he is now pressing upon your. Lordships apply to the case of a clergyman without a benefice?


What I have said about ordination up to this point applies equally to the beneficed or unbeneficed clergyman. I am going to draw a distinction, as far as there is a distinction between the two, in a moment. But my objection attaches both to the beneficed and the unbeneficed clergyman. I think the Lord Chancellor spoke of there being thousands of persons who under the present disability were debarred from entering the House of Commons.


Did I say that?


Thousands, I think. I am bound to say my experience is more amongst laymen, as I have the honour to be Chairman of the Canterbury House of Laymen, and my religious views are more in accordance with the views of laymen than of clergy. That does not mean an inconsistency between the two, but one has naturally been brought to look upon this question from that standpoint. I am satisfied with what the most rev. Primate said from the clergy standpoint. I have never heard any laymen advocating this policy, though, of course, there may be some who do. I have come across a very large number of Anglican laymen indeed, and, so far as the clergy are concerned, I should like to corroborate what the most rev. Primate has said. The first time I ever heard of any claim of this sort on behalf of the clergy, as a matter of fact, was last night, when two members of the small organisation to which his Grace referred approached me on the topic, asking me in effect not to oppose what this small society desired. But apart from that I have, not heard a word advanced in favour of the policy of this Bill or of a desire to alter the existing conditions.

I appreciate, of course, that there is a difference between the beneficed and the unbeneficed clergy and in that respect I am afraid I profoundly differ from the Lord Bishop of Llandaff, who classed them both in the same category, because he said his argument applied to beneficed clergymen who might happen to have a small benefice. Not only in that case have you the ordination vow, but you have the actual every-day duties. You have the duty of residence, you have the duty of daily service—which ought to be carried out and is carried out, I am glad to say, in an increasing number of cases—you have the duty connected with those two of the cure of souls; you have the duty of the administration of the Sacrament; you have what I call a great duty, the looking after not only of the general religious life of the village or district and administering to the sick, but being ready to perform such duties as marriage, baptism, burial, and confirmation. I cannot imagine a clergyman with such duties to fulfil seeking to come to the House of Commons in London. It is not that I want in any way to disparage the politician's life, but the two positions are absolutely inconsistent. I will

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3:

Short title.

3. This Act may be cited as the house of Commons and Municipal Corporations (Qualification of Clergymen) Act, 1919.

not go over again the matters on which I spoke before; I merely wanted to make it clear that my objection is based on the inconsistency of the duties of the two offices, and on that ground I shall press my Amendment to a Division.


If this Amendment should be rejected I would certainly upon the Report stage bring up words which I think would deal with the ease of the beneficed clergy, because I fully recognise that there is an objection in that case. I have read the ordination service to which my noble friend has referred, and I am rather surprised that in this debate we have not had any indication of what specific thing it is which the ordination service requires a priest to do which a Member of the House of Commons could not cheerfully, and, perhaps beneficially to himself, undertake.

On Question, whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill.

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 28; Not-contents, 31.

Birkenhead, L.(L. Chancellor.) Sandhurst, V.(L. Chamberlain.) Chaworth, L.(E. Meath.) [Teller.]
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)
Lincolnshire, M. Denman, L.
Salisbury, M. Peel, V. Emmott, L.
Erskine, L.
Bradford, E. Bangor, L. Bp. Hylton, L.
Caithness, E. Llandaff, L. Bp. Ranksborough, L.
Chesterfield, E. Rathereedan, L.
Dartmouth, E. Anslow, L. St. Audries, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Ashton of Hyde, L. Somerleyton, L
Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.) Askwith, L. Strachie, L.
Charnwood, L.[Teller.]
Canterbury, L. Abp. Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.) Lamington, L.
Avebury, L. Lawrence, L.
Craven, E. Balfour, L. Parmoor, L. [Teller.]
Eldon,E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.) Roundway, L.
Mayo, E. Clwyd, L. Shandon, L.
Reading, E. Cottesloe, L. Stanmore, L.
Selborne, E. Desborough, L. Stuart of Wortley, L. [Teller.]
Knollys, V. Desart, L. (E. Desart.) Sumner, L.
Greville, L. Sydenham, L.
Norwich, L. Bp. Islington, L. Wittenham, L.
Ripon, L. Bp. Killanin, L, Wyfold, L.

LORD CHARNWOOD moved to omit the words "House of Commons and" from the short title.

Amendment moved— lines 16 and 17 omit ("House of Commons and").—(Lord Charnwood.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.


An Act to remove the disqualification of Clerks in Holy Orders and other Ministers of Religion as members of the House of Commons and as Municipal Councillors.


The words "as Members of the House of Commons and" must be omitted to make the Title in accord with the Bill.

Amendment moved— Omit ("as Members of the House of Commons and").—(Lord parmoor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

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