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Church Discipline Bill

Volume 50: debated on Wednesday 14 August 1839

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Lord J. Russell moved the Order of the Day for a committee on the Church Discipline Bill. It was undoubtedly, he said, the wish of her Majesty's Government to have passed some legislative measure on this subject during the present Session. But as the bill had undergone very extensive alterations since its first introduction into the other House of Parliament, and as it was desirable that the matter should be fully and deliberately considered, he did not think it would be possible to proceed further with it at present. He should be glad, however, that the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, would state what amendments he thought it necessary, or intended to move, in the event of the House going into committee on the bill.

When this bill was before the House a few days since, he distinctly stated that he would give no opinion on its merits either for or against. It had been, indeed, brought early into the other House of Parliament, but in the committee of that House its provisions had been materially altered: and, since that alteration, there had been no time to circulate the bill in the country. A great majority of those whose social condition would be essentially affected by the measure, were, accordingly, wholly ignorant of its provisions as it had been sent down from the other House, and it would, therefore, be most unjust to the great body of the clergy to press the bill forward this Session. He should not, however, be tempted to enter into any premature discussion. All that he asked was, that sufficient time should be given to the parties whose interests would be affected by this bill to make themselves properly acquainted with its provisions, the same as would be given to others—to soap-boilers, for instance, or any other class of the community. He merely wished that the clergy should receive the same protection and the same opportunity of obtaining information, as would be given to other parties whose interests might be affected by the provisions of any particular bill. He thought it most objectionable to submit the offences of the clergy in all cases to a lay tribunal, and to the judgment of persons not only not in communion with the Church, but perhaps directly opposed to its doctrines and government. That was dealing out a measure of injustice to the clergy, from which all other classes of the community were exempt. He did not wish to screen the clergy from investigation into their conduct. He only wished that the tribunal by which their offences were to be judged, should be bound to them by some known common sympathy, and not be composed of persons holding convictions opposed to the Church. It would be more in accordance with the principles of corrcet ecclesiastical discipline that in offences—not in crime—because, in regard to crime, the clergy, were, of course, subject to the same tribunals as the laity—but, in what might be called offences simply and purely ecclesiastical, it would be much more correct and just that the correction of them should be confided to ecclesiastical persons, and to the bishop above all.

Committee on the bill put off for that day three months.