HL Deb 29 June 1922 vol 51 cc153-6

My Lords, at this late hour I shall certainly not take long in putting the question which stands in my name, and is as follows:—

To ask whether the Lord Chancellor is aware that the Rev. H. H. Leeper, whom he presented to the living of Fincham St. Martin with St. Michael, Downham Market, in the diocese of Ely, habitually broke the law of the Church as declared by the Courts having jurisdiction in causes ecclesiastical, having been reported to the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline, 1904–1906, for the use of illegal lights, vestments, incense, hiding the manual acts, wafers, and ceremonial mixing of the chalice; for additions to the Communion Service such as the Confiteor, Lavabo and Last Gospel; for the practice of elevation of the Sacrament and genuflection; for exhibiting notices of "confessions" and prayers for the dead, and for the practice of reservation of the Sacrement.

I think it was in 1899 that a Resolution was passed in another place deploring the spirit of lawlessness shown in the Church, and expressing the hope that Ministers of the Crown would not recommend any clergyman for ecclesiastical preferment unless they were satisfied that he would loyally obey the bishops and Prayer Book and the law as declared by the Courts which have jurisdiction in matters ecclesiastial.

I do not think anyone would deny that the acts referred to have been decided to be illegal, and if it is true, as I am informed, that Mr. Leeper has been guilty repeatedly of these acts in the church in which he has conducted divine service, I cannot believe that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack can have been aware of it when he made the appointment. We hear repeatedly at conferences and synods of the difficulty of getting people to go to church and the effect which that is having on the country. I do not wonder. The kind of things referred to in this Question are entirely repugnant to the majority of Englishmen, and if such men are appointed to benefices in this country the only result must be that we shall drive out more men, and the Church, instead of gaining ground, will lose ground year by year. I feel confident that the noble and learned Viscount was not informed of these acts at the time he made the appointment, or he would not have made it.


My Lords, this is the first occasion on which, in nearly four years of my exercising most anxious and extensive patronage, any noble Lord has found it necessary to busy himself in interrogation upon it. Lord Gisborough, in drawing up this Question, at which I will ask noble Lords who have the Paper to look, speaks of Mr. Leeper as having been reported to the Royal Commission. Anybody reading that could only conclude that some official accusation had been made against him, and that after investigation he had been found guilty of it.

The fact is—the ludicrous fact, in relation to the insinuation made—that in the course of the inquiries of the Royal Commission a certain gentleman from Tooting who appears to hive been in the employment of the Church Association, a body engaged in stirring up charges and bitterness against clergymen of a particular school of thought, having put himself to the trouble and expense (which I believe, was provided elsewhere) of making a journey from Devonport to Tooting, or from Tooting to Devonport, observed a course of proceedings in Mr. Leeper's church, and made certain accusations against him to the Royal Commission. It would be tedious and frivolous, eighteen years after the visit of this Tooting pilgrim in the employment of the Church Association, to recount to your Lordships that which he said he found, but which nobody else believed to be true. This is the Report of the Commission. Does the noble Lord, eighteen years afterwards, think it worthy of a Parliamentary question?

It is enough to say that some of his charges were admitted and justified—justified in every detail—and some were denied. There was no adverse finding against Mr. Leeper as the result of this gentleman's precious report, which we have resurrected eighteen years after. Mr. Leeper continued for many years to hold his benefice at Devonport without incurring the displeasure or the censure of either the then Bishop of Exeter, who was very stern in these matters, or his successor, and until Mr. Leeper's recent preferment by myself to another benefice in another diocese Mr. Leeper has enjoyed the confidence of his fellow clergymen to such an extent that he has been elected by them to act as their proctor in Convocation.

These facts, however, have not deterred the Church Association, which I think must have instructed the noble Lord in the matter—I may tell him that they have offered the same material to more than one noble Lord in this House, who has declined to use it—from continuing from time to time to reiterate their attacks upon Mr. Leeper. Mr. Leeper has been in Priest's Orders for thirty-seven years. He has held the benefice of St. Stephen's, Devonport, for twenty years. He was recommended to me by, amongst other people, the Archdeacon of Plymouth, in whose archdeaconry his benefice is situated, as a man of marked ability and devotion—I am quoting from the recommendation—strong, vigorous and eloquent. Those who know Devonport, and the particular part of Devonport in which Mr. Leeper's benefice was situated, will realise that twenty years' devoted work in such a place will wear out the energies, and may even crush the spirit, of any clergyman, and such work is the best equipment for, and fully merits, transfer to less arduous labours.

I have before me also the letters testimonial which are furnished when a beneficed clergyman is appointed to other preferment. They are signed by the vicars of three neighbouring parishes and countersigned by the present bishop. The vicars state that while Mr. Leeper held his benefice he has lived piously, soberly and honestly, and they state that they believe him to be a person worthy to be admitted to the benefice to which I have had the honour and pleasure of appointing him. I am amazed that my noble friend should see fit, eighteen years after these accusations have been made against Mr. Leeper and after this long period in which blamelessly and with great self-sacrifice he has continued to work in the slums of Devonport, now to come forward with this tittle tattle based upon the accusation of his Tooting friend.


I do not think the noble and learned Viscount has any right to make such statements. They are unfounded. I have no acquaintance of any kind in Tooting.


If the noble Lord had known a gentleman from Tooting, and could have founded upon him as a person of unimpeachable reliability, he might have had some excuse for dragging this old story out. But he does not know who the witness of the Church Association is, and it is, therefore, the more amazing that he should think it worth his while to bring such a case before your Lordships' House. In the interests of the Church itself, and in the interests of true religion, this vendetta against Mr. Leeper should long ago have ceased. I will be no party to it. Such patronage as I control will be distributed without regard to the interests of any particular party. And I recommend the noble Lord to dissociate himself from these unworthy attacks upon people who, differing perhaps from himself in their theological conceptions and in their ceremonial practices, still strive worthily to serve the Master whom they acknowledge.

House adjourned at five minutes before eight o'clock until Monday next, a quarter past four o'clock.