§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (6.22.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN, St. George's, Hanover Square)
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I may remind the House that a few days ago I announced the intention of the Government to withdraw the whole of the measure with the exception of the first four clauses, which are not contentious, and which provide that when clergymen are found guilty of any crime they shall lose their livings. This will remedy the existing state of things, under which clergymen convicted of the most serious offences are not compelled to vacate their benefices. I scarcely think there will be any objection on the part of anyone in the House to those clauses, but I will not press the matter further at this period of the Session, if there is likely to be any great opposition. I do not think that hon. Members belonging to other Churches will stand in the way of those who belong to the Church of England securing immunity from a scandal which must hurt the feelings of all. If the House will now read the Bill a second time I propose in Committee to make the alterations I have referred to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Goschen.)
§ MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
I hope the Second Reading will 695 not be pressed at such a late period of S the Session, in face of the pledge of the I First Lord of the Treasury that no further contentious Bills should be introduced.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The hon. Member will allow me to remind him that my right hon. Friend specially exempted this Bill.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
The Bill was specially mentioned, but I am referring to another occasion when the First Lord of the Treasury indicated the Bills to be pushed forward to a successful issue, when this Bill was not included among the number. The Bill will be less objectionable in its modified form than as introduced, but we must persist in our opposition; our objection to the principle of the Bill remains. The first four clauses are not necessary, as there is a very easy method of getting rid of immoral clergymen by bringing in disestablishment. I find that the word "clergymen" in the first clause does not include the Archbishops or the Bishops, and therefore the Government do not propose to deal out the same measure to the higher officers of the Church as to the lower. Beyond this, there are offences which are not provided for in the Bill. The first four clauses, indeed, contain much that is contentious, and therefore I move the adjournment of the Debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "'That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ (6.29.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)
The criticisms of the hon. Member are really not directed against the Second Reading, they are such as may be raised in Committee. There will be no objection to insert words to include other serious offences if the hon. Member desires to make the addition. That certain misdemeanours are not specified is not a real objection against the Bill, and I see no reason for adjourning the Debate, especially having regard to the general feeling in favour of the measure.
§ *MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
I think it will be remembered that in mentioning this Bill the First Lord of the Treasury gave us to under stand it would not be taken in the ab- 696 sence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. He said the right hon. Gentleman took great interest in it, and the Bill was not to be proceeded with during the present Session unless he were present. But apart from that, I do not think that a Bill of this scope should be proceeded with piecemeal, or at this period of the Session.
§ *(6.31.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I think it due to the right hon. Gentleman to state what my impression is as to the arrangement come to in reference to this Bill. My recollection does not tally with that of the hon. Member for Rugby. I understood the Government to say that they would not deal with any contentious business this Session except this Bill. This measure has been excepted all the way through. The First Lord of the Treasury pointed out to us that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian took a strong and deep interest in the Bill, and on that ground it was accepted; therefore, I have regarded it all" the way through as one of the Bills which the Government were at liberty to deal with as they thought proper. The compromise the Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed seems to me a fair one. The portion of the Bill to which exception was taken was the constitution of the new Ecclesiastical Court and its complicated method of procedure. Great difference of opinion must arise as to that; but I cannot think that there can be any difference of opinion as to the necessity of depriving a responsible public official of his position if he is convicted of a heinous and grievous offence. There is no doubt—as the legal Members of the House know—that there are certain grave offences of which a clergyman may be convicted of without being thereby deprived of his living. That is a state of law which should not exist. When a man has committed such offences he should cease to occupy the responsible public position he holds. I hope we shall not embark on any debateable and controversial matter on this Bill as affecting the Establishment question or any other question. This appears to be a bonâ fide attempt on the part of the Government 697 to put an end to that which everyone must feel to be a very serious state of affairs. I am sure I am, in my humble way, acting in entire accord with, and carrying out the views of, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in supporting the Government in endeavouring to carry the measure in the restricted shape in which it is now proposed; and I hope the hon. Member will not persist in his Motion for adjourning the Debate, but will defer to the Committee stage any objections he may have to the Bill and bring them up in the form of Amendments.
§ (6.37.) MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I was present when the First Lord of the Treasury made his statement, and the impression left on my mind is that he said the Government would not proceed with contentious business. He especially mentioned this Bill, but he mentioned it in the sense that it was not a contentious Bill, because it had the support of the Leader of the Opposition. I did not understand that he in any way abandoned the offer he made not to proceed with contentious business. I do not express an opinion as to the merits of the Bill one way or the other; but I must say it appears to me, from what has taken place to-day, that it is a contentious Bill. ["No, no!"] That remonstrance proves it, and, therefore, to proceed with the Bill now would be to violate the understanding entered into with the First Lord of the Treasury. As the Bill deals with ecclesiastical matters, in which I take an interest, I shall feel bound to support the Motion for the adjournment of the Debate.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I would ask to be allowed to say a word to remove the impression that the First Lord of the Treasury gave a pledge not to proceed with this Bill. I am certain that the impression on the mind of the Leader of the House and on that of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian was that they were entitled to proceed with the Bill. I have had an opportunity of seeing my right hon. Friend since he spoke on this subject, and he confirms me in this. Both he and the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian were under the impression that the Bill would go forward, notwithstanding that they saw that in certain 698 quarters of the House there was opposition to it. From beginning to end this measure has been exempted from the arrangements made by my right hon. Friend.
§ *(6.39.) MR. H. J. WILSON (York, W.R., Holmfirth)
The hon. Member for Glamorganshire just now made a remark about Disestablishment, and it was received with disapprobation from the other side. But there are many others of us in this House who agree with him. No one in the position of a clergyman should be allowed to remain in possession of his benefice if he commits a grave offence, but we should not be called on to deal with such cases in this House. We do not do so in the case of clergymen of any other denomination than the Established Church. The proper way to deal with those mattters is to put the Church of England in the same position as other denominations.
§ *MR. H. J. WILSON
As to the pledge of the Leader of the House, I do not pretend to have any clear recollection, but as there seems to be a strong difference of opinion on the matter, I would appeal to the Government whether it is fair to press the Bill forward at this period of the Session.
§ *MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S.E., Eccles)
As to the understanding arrived at, my memory is clear that while the Leader of the House was dealing with the general principle of not taking contentious business, he put this Bill out of the category as one on which he wished to hear the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian before proceeding further. From that time to this I have thought the Government justified in going on with the Bill if they thought fit to do so. I shall vote against the Motion for Adjournment. It seems to me that to demand the Disestablishment of the Church in order to make a man vacate his living for immorality, is going a long way round.
§ MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
My recollection is that the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor 699 of the Exchequer distinctly pledged themselves that contentious business should not be taken, and that when the First Lord of the Treasury mentioned this Bill he mentioned it was non-contentious, because, as he said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian was in favour of it. [Cries of "Divide!"] I object entirely to contentious business being taken, and I am in favour of adjourning the matter, because I object to the way in which it is proposed to deal with it. I object to leaving out Archbishops and Bishops. ["Order!"] As a Churchman, I should prefer to deal with this matter by way of disestablishment.
§ MR. NEVILLE (Liverpool, Exchange)
In my view, to postpone dealing with a crying scandal until we can deal with Disestablishment would be an injustice, and therefore I shall support the Bill.
§ MR. T. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
It is not at all our desire to leave a crying scandal in the Church, but I have to complain that these ecclesiastical questions always crop up at the end of the Session. Many Members interested have left the House, fully believing that the Government would not proceed with this Bill. This is decidedly a contentious Bill; even the clauses the Government propose to retain are full of anomalies, and are highly contentious. I certainly shall feel obliged to discuss the Bill during its progress through the House; and I hope my hon. Friend will press his Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ (6.42.) The House divided:—Ayes 27; Noes 82.—(Div. List, No. 3.99)
§ Original Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
(6.52.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE&c.) (Carnarvon,
I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day three months, on the ground that many Members who are interested in the Bill have left the House under the impression that it was not to be taken.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)700
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
I rise to order. The hon. Member has spoken on this Question.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
He spoke before making his Motion—on the Question that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ (6.55.) MR. S. T. EVANS
Appeals have been made from various quarters of the House to the Government not to proceed with this Bill. I am sorry there is any misunderstanding as to the pledges that were given by the First Lord of the Treasury. The opponents of the Bill who recollect the pledge given intend to resist its progress at every stage, and it is therefore impossible for the Government to carry it. It is said by some Members on the Liberal side that those who oppose the Bill desire to perpetuate the scandals in the Church until it is disestablished. I fear those Gentlemen are Churchmen first and Liberals afterwards.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
I am not sorry that those hon. Members have made the speeches to which we have listened, because I think it a good thing that their constituents should know that there are some people who call themselves Liberals, who are not yet prepared to go in for a measure of Disestablishment and Disendowment. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members may think there are Members of that kind in the House now, but I can assure those who cheer that before long we shall have very few persons of that kind on these Benches. I say the Church of England has no right to take up the time of the nation in order that some of its members may be turned out. If we are to legislate on such a subject, I object to legislating piecemeal. It is 701 said that the first four clauses are those the Government propose to proceed with, but those are a very small part of the Bill, and do not include the definition which is necessary to explain what is meant by "clergymen." That clause, in defining clergymen, excludes Archbishops and Bishops. Well, we ought not to read the Bill a second time until we have a satisfactory explanation for the exclusion of the high officials of the Church. There may be an Act of Parliament depriving Bishops and Archbishops of their functions in the event of misdemeanour, but if there is, I am not aware of it, and I shall oppose the Bill until we have a statement from the Government that they are willing to extend the provisions of the measure to all the high officers of the Church. I say that if a clergyman of the Church of England is guilty of a criminal offence, whatever its nature, the same result ought to follow, and there ought to be no graduation of the offences committed. According to this Bill, if a clergyman be convicted of an outrage or felony certain consequences are to ensue. Immediately he is convicted of a felony he vacates his office, but I would point out that the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanour is by no means clear, and, in many cases, is not justifiable. A man found guilty of perjury has committed a serious offence, but that is not a felony, and a clergyman so convicted might be allowed to continue to minister to the people. The Courts of Summary Jurisdiction have had their powers increased year after year. Take the case of a clergyman convicted of a grievous assault on his wife. That is sufficient for an order of separation, but although he might be thus separated from his wife, the clergyman so convicted might still continue his ministrations under this Bill. I think I have said enough to show that the 1st sub-section of Clause A is not sufficient. But there is a further provision in case of a clergyman receiving a free pardon from the Crown. The use of the prerogative of the Crown in this matter is a question of great importance, and I fail to see how a clergyman whose conviction has forfeited his position as a minister of the Church of England, ought, by reason of a free 702 pardon obtained by setting the necessary machinery in motion be once more open to preferment. The 3rd Section of the Bill deals with ecclesiastical offences, a certificate of conviction being proof to the Ecclesiastical Court of the commission of the act for which the clergyman has been convicted; but if the Justices at Petty Sessions are to have cognizance of such offences their decision is to override that of the Ecclesiastical Court. Are hon. Gentlemen opposite prepared to accept this? Without going further into the details of the Bill, I repeat that we on these Benches do offer a strenuous objection to the House being asked to deal with questions of this kind at all, and especially at this period of the Session. The questions here involved are questions which ought to be dealt with within the pale of the Church itself, and I put it to the House what sort of a Ministry must it be that in the great and important establishment of the Church of England is unable to deal with these matters. What a lurid light it throws on the way in which the Church looks on some of its members! There is no Member of this House who can put his finger on a single case of a Nonconformist clergyman being convicted of a crime, where the Nonconformist Body have not been able to get rid of him. If the Government wish to press forward this Bill they may, by their superior numbers, be able to carry it, but I warn them that as long as we are compelled to remain here they will not meet with any facilities from these Benches in regard to the present measure, and that, therefore, they ought to re member that "discretion is the better part of valour."
§ *(7.10.) MR. TALBOT (Oxford University)
I will not follow the hon. Gentleman opposite in the minute criticisms he has passed on this Bill, for which I do not consider this the proper opportunity, but I wish to offer a word of protest against the attitude taken by him and other hon. Members below the Gangway. They profess that they do not desire to interfere with the action of the Church in regard to these matters, but their action belies their professions, because by their action they are doing what they can to fasten on the Estab- 703 lished Church of this country a scandal which the members of the Church desire to remove. The fact is that when the authorities of the Church show a desire to remove abuses they are met by a non possumus from hon. Members opposite—repudiated, I am glad to see, by right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench—because of their ulterior desire to disestablish the Church. Anything more cruel I can hardly imagine, and I am afraid I am right in saying that it would be difficult to imagine anything more contrary to the cause of public morality and decency.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I think it the duty of hon. Members on this side of the House to repudiate the accusation that because we desire this question to be discussed on its merits, we are, therefore, accessory to immorality. From the vote already taken we see that a considerable section of the House has a strong conscientious objection to the passage of this Bill, and I put it to the Government whether it is fair that a measure of this kind should be introduced not only at the end of the Session, but at the end of a long sitting, and at an hour when, we were told, the House would be adjourned? Many hon. Members have taken on good faith the promise that the House was not to sit after half-past six o'clock today, and have gone away. It is now getting on for half-past seven, and I put it to Her Majesty's Government whether it is treating us fairly to press this Bill any further to-night? I say that if these four clauses are to be passed they should be passed at a time when they can be considered exhaustively and upon their merits, and I fail to see why we are to be placed to-day under the shadow of the Leader of the Opposition, who, under the circumstances of which the House is well aware, ought not to have been brought into this discussion. The Government must see that there really is a serious opposition to this Bill, and they ought to show sufficient courtesy to let us know that we shall either have the necessary time to consider it or that it will be withdrawn.
§ (7.20.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I quite agree with the statement of the last speaker, that this Bill is outside the letter of the compact with the Leader of the House, who specially reserved it for future consideration. Still, it is within the spirit of the compact come to on the 15th June, which was that no contentious business should be taken after that date. But now the Government cannot fail to see that this is contentious business, and, therefore, does not strictly come within the spirit of the compact. We have already this week had two late sittings, each of thorn extending to close upon 3 o'clock in the morning; and although we were led to understand that we were only to sit until half-past 6 o'clock to-day, it is now getting on for half-past seven. We are also perfectly certain to have some more late sittings, and, therefore, I think the Government might well spare us a few hours on a Wednesday evening, especially under the circumstances I have indicated.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
It is hardly correct to state that I said the other day we should not sit beyond half-past six o'clock to-day; but I admit that I gave an impression that we would not ask the House to sit much after seven or half-past seven. I may add that, having watched this Debate, I do not see much hope of being able to conclude it this evening in the time we have at our disposal, although I protest against the imputation that we are not acting entirely within both the letter and the spirit of our statement. Therefore, if the Motion for the adjournment of the Debate is pressed, I shall not resist it.
§ Motion made, and Question "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.