then rose to bring on his Motion for the repeal of the Act commonly called Home Tooke's Act, prohibiting clergymen from sitting in the House of Commons, provided they are not engaged in the cure of souls. If he were asked, he said, why he wished to restore this privilege to the clergy, his answer was, that it was from no partiality to them, from no personal wish to see them in the House of Commons, but because he was averse from every principle of exclusion, and because he objected to all restrictions, unless some paramount reason could be shewn for maintaining them. Had this exclusion existed with respect to physicians or lawyers, he should have been just as anxious for its abrogation. It was the natural right of every man to be returned to Parliament—it was the natural right of electors to enjoy their suffrages without restraint. The case which led to the enactment which he wished to have repealed, was that of Horne Tooke, who was returned to Parliament in 1801. That distinguished philologist had recommended Lord Camelford (who had had a quarrel with the Minister of the day) to return his black servant as the representative of Old Sarum; but as, on reflection, his Lordship was not willing to go to this extreme, Horne Tooke told him that the next best thing for the country, and the next worst thing for the Minister, would be to return him, and thus he came into Parliament. Lord Temple objected to the return—the matter was referred to a Committee, before whom it was urged that the duties of a Senator would necessarily interfere with the duties of a clergyman, and the reasoning prevailed against the opinions of Mr. Fox, Lord Thurlow, and the most enlightened 760 Statesmen of the day. Who were averse from so great an infringement on the liberty of the subject as that of excluding any class of men from Parliament. The result was the Act 41 George 3rd, c. 63. He did not intend by his Bill to provide that clergymen who had sacred duties to discharge should have the right to sit and vote in the House of Commons, but merely that such a privilege should be given first to any individual who having hastily taken holy orders conscientiously recanted; or secondly, to such as enjoyed no benefices, and had, therefore, no occupation. All he contended for was, that the doors of the House should be open to all who had nothing else to do, and he had no objection to the introduction of a clause declaring that the acquisition of a benefice should vacate the seat. All interests but those of the clergy were represented in the House of Commons, and it seemed to him an act only of justice to admit them. The chief ground on which he relied was, that no reason could be urged to the contrary, and in all questions of the kind the advocates of exclusion were bound to establish their case: the burthen of proof was upon those who maintained the fitness of the existing law. He moved, that "Leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal so much of the Statute 41 George 3rd, c. 63, as prevents persons in holy orders, not holding benefices with the cure of souls, from being elected to and serving in Parliament."
was not aware, until he entered the House, that such a subject was to come before it. The case of Horne Tooke was certainly in point, since he was a man who had early entered the Church, and had for many years conscientiously forborne from the discharge of any of the duties of his sacred character. He could not see why such a man should not be allowed to sit in the House of Commons, although it would be unwise to admit any clergymen in the possession of livings, and who were bound to watch over the morality and religion of their parishioners. If the Bill had gone to that length he should have resisted it; but, according to the explanation of the hon. Member, he saw no reason for refusing to allow it to be introduced.
§ Lord Althorp
said, there would be a great difficulty in distinguishing between such clergymen as conscientiously recanted, and such as repented of having taken 761 holy orders for other reasons. The hon. Member had alleged no practical grievance, which resulted from the present state of the law, and although he was a Reformer, he was a Reformer only when it was proved that evils really existed. He, therefore, recommended the hon. Member to withdraw his Motion.
§ Mr. Bernal
regretted that the hon. Member had not taken up this subject with his usual good sense and discretion. He apprehended that his intention was, to give every clergyman a right to sit in Parliament, who had not a right to sit in convocation; but did the hon. Member think it right, or even decent, that persons in holy orders, perhaps in their reverend habits, should be tempted to expose themselves on a hustings, and to partake of all the contamination of a contested election. Surely, such a situation was unbefitting the sacred character of the gown. The effect of the Bill would be, that young aspiring reverends would struggle for seats in the House of Commons, as the means of obtaining provision in the Church from the minister. Allusion had been made to the case of Horne Tooke, and to his conscientious scruples, but an instance of the kind might not occur again for centuries.
§ Mr. Plumptre
objected to the Motion. The number of beneficed clergymen who wished to give up their profession was so small, that it was not worth while to frame a Bill on their account; and as for the unbeneficed clergymen, he objected to the Bill on their account, for the only effect would be, that if they were once to get a hold of the minister, the latter would be clamoured out of benefices, whether he approved of the parties or no.
did not think that a clergyman would suffer anything derogatory to his character by having to undergo the ordeal of a contested election. At the same time, as he perceived that the sense of the House was against his Motion, he would not press it.
§ Motion withdrawn.