Page images
PDF
EPUB

endowment was much debated, Mr. Pim's amendment was withdrawn.

Sir F. Heygate proposed to strike out of the clause the hospitals, reformatories, and other institutions which might fall under the influence or management of religious societies, and to confine the application of the surplus to infirmaries and lunatic asylums, which, he said, would entirely absorb it.

This amendment received little or no support. Mr. Gregory moved another, providing that the surplus should go in exoneration of the poor-rate, and not of the county-cess, but this also was not pressed.

The portion of the Bill which had been reserved to the last related to the appointment and powers of the Commissioners, by whom the operation of the transfer of the endowments was to be conducted.

Mr. Gladstone had previously announced the names of those whom he intended to propose, viz. Viscount Monck, Mr. Justice Lawson, of the Irish Court of Queen's Bench, and Mr. G. W. Hamilton, then one of the Secretaries to the Treasury. These nominations were favourably received by the House, and at length, on the 7th of May, the clauses of the Bill which had undergone such lengthened and anxious controversy, were declared to have passed through Committee.

On the moving of the Report some clauses were added. The only contention of any importance arose on a clause moved by Sir Roundell Palmer, providing that the annuities granted under the Act shall not be forfeited because the annuitants do not consent to alterations which may be made in the Articles of the Church.

Mr. Gladstone, though admitting that the clergy had a right to this protection if they asked it, deprecated it as likely to lead to anarchy and confusion in the Church. As the opinion of Churchmen seemed to be divided, he suggested that the point should be left to the House of Lords to settle, to which Sir Roundell Palmer agreed.

Sir Roundell Palmer next proposed to leave out of the Preamble the words declaring that no part of the funds of the Church shall hereafter be applied “ for the teaching of religion.” He urged it as a matter of sentiment.

Mr. C. Fortescue replied, that as they had made up their minds to do the thing, it was misplaced delicacy not to say it.

Sir Roundell did not persevere; but, in withdrawing his notice, he expressed a hope that the Government would take up Mr. M'Evoy's Bill for repealing the Ecclesiastical Titles Act.

The motion for the final stage of the Bill, the third reading, was made on the 31st May, exactly three months from the time of its introduction in the House of Commons. The final demonstration against it was made by Mr. Holt, who moved that the third reading be deferred for six months. He said his object was to give the Conservative party an opportunity of freeing their consciences from all responsibility for a measure their objections to which had not been decreased by the long debates and its treatment in Committee.

F

The essential objection he took to it was the disruption it would effect of the connexion between Church and State, which he valued as securing the independence of the clergy and the freedom of the laity. The voluntary system about to be introduced into Ireland had failed in all but large and rich towns, and was utterly unsuited to that country; and referring to American decisions on questions of Church property, he asserted that if Ireland had been part of the United States, the Church might have been disestablished, but she would have retained her property. After complaining that no reason and no explanation had been given of the principles on which the Bill was founded-except that its authors had the power or the will to do the thing—he went on to examine the Bill in its present shape, objecting principally to its arbitrary character, the irresponsible power given to the Commission, and its complete subserviency to the Minister of the day, its harsh treatment of the Protestants, and its violation of last year's pledges. So far from being a message of peace, it would create internal discord; and in his peroration he condemned it as a political error, a social calamity, and a national crime.

Lord Elcho seconded the amendment. He regarded the Bill as the inauguration of a policy which would inevitably lead to the separation of Church and State in the three kingdoms; and discussing in an ironical vein the motives of its introduction, he remarked that whatever might be its effect in Ireland, it had “pacified” the Liberal party, and had reconciled what two years ago was thought to be irreconcilable. But he denied emphatically that it would produce peace in Ireland, where a firm and explicit declaration of policy on the land question would have produced a ten times more tranquillizing effect. Admitting that there was no power now which could resist the Bill, he declared that it would prove an utter failure for all the purposes of justice and religious equality it was supposed to have in view. It would alienate the Protestants, and prepare the way for an attack on the Act of Settlement. He attributed the policy on which it was founded to the influence of the “voluntary” party, and he regarded it as the instrument with which the aristocratic whigs had performed the ceremony of “happy despatch.”

Mr. Cardwell held that, after all that had passed - the long debates of last year, the verdict of the elections, and the exhaustive arguments of this year-further debate must be unreal. But having formerly borne a share in the government of Ireland, he was unwilling to part with the Bill without expressing his sincere conviction that it was a great act of justice, that it would cement Ireland to Great Britain, and would strengthen the power of England among the nations of the world. It was the first step in the policy by which we had conciliated Scotland and Canada, once more alienated than Ireland, and in the end it would prove a most beneficial measure to the Church herself.

Sir F. Heygate entered his final protest against the Bill, which he predicted would never work. Mr. J. G. Talbot also expressed his opinion that this was the first step towards universal disendowment.

Mr. Adderley pronounced the Bill to be the most illogical of our time; for its premisses, and the pleas on which it was based by Mr. Gladstone, would have carried him not merely to pull down the Protestant Church, but to establish the Roman Catholic Church. Its object was to gratify a hatred of an establishment at the expense of religion. He denied that it would remove discontent in Ireland, and complained of the unnecessarily bitter hostility to the Protestant Church which animated the whole Bill.

Mr. Monsell asserted that the Bill had already allayed political disaffection, and he warmly urged the House to pass it, for there could be no peace or prosperity in Ireland until it was carried. He asked the Opposition what chance there was of reversing the verdict of the country, for the Bill had proceeded not from Catholic agitation, but from the profound conviction entertained by the Protestant people that the Established Church was an injustice.

Dr. Ball repeated his unconquerable hostility to the principle of diverting property which had been devoted to religious uses. For the first time in European legislation the Bill asserted that no property derived from public sources should be applied to religious endowments; and it would be a dangerous precedent, not only here, but in foreign countries. No State necessity had been shown for the new measure, and certainly not for one of this extreme harshness. On the contrary, he traced the inception of this policy to party exigencies. Warmly eulogizing the conduct and character of the Irish clergy, he took consolation from the fact, that if the Church fell, it would be from no fault of her own, but from the pressure of external necessity.

Mr. Butler Johnstone, speaking from the Conservative benches, welcomed the Bill as a new mode of dealing with Irish matters, which would gradually introduce tranquillity into that country.

Mr. W. Johnstone gave expression to the feelings of indignation with which the Protestants of Ulster regarded the measure, though he maintained that, even in a disestablished condition, they would be able to take very good care of themselves; and after some remarks from Mr. Miller, on the working of the voluntary system in the Free Church of Scotland,

Mr. Disraeli entered into a long retrospect of Irish history, with the object of showing that for many years past the Government of England had acted on the uniform policy towards Ireland of securing the due administration of justice, opening a free career to merit without distinction of creed, and of endeavouring to soften such anomalies as might exist without having recourse to any violent changes. The result had been a continuous improvement in the condition of the country and the people up to the commencement of the Fenian movement; and if the same policy of conciliation had been permitted to go on working its gradual changes, in another twenty years Ireland would have been much in the same condition as England and Scotland. On a right appreciation of the Fenian movement depended the justification of this Bill. Mr. Gladstone assumed that it was a national conspiracy, but this Mr. Disraeli denied, and asserted that it was a foreign conspiracy, originated and supported from abroad, and therefore did not furnish the excuse required and suggested for this revolutionary Bill. No real reason had been given for this sudden and complete change in our policy towards Ireland ; nor was there the smallest evidence that it would remove whatever discontent might exist. On the contrary, the Bill, aided by the impression the Government had created of their intentions on the land question, would produce much irritation and disturbance, if not disaster. In this struggle the powerful organization and discipline of the Roman hierarchy would make itself felt; the Protestants of Ireland would naturally and properly resist the establishment of Papal supremacy, and, among other serious consequences of the conflict between them, Mr. Disraeli hinted at a dissolution of the Union, civil war, another conquest of

, Ireland, a second siege of Derry, and a second treaty of Limerick. At least, to such ends tended the policy to be inaugurated by this Bill. And after complaining of the sternness with which all his amendments had been refused by the Government, Mr. Disraeli concluded by impressively warning the House of the vast importance of the issue, and exhorting each member to weigh well the responsibility he was about to incur.

Mr. Gladstone remarked that Mr. Disraeli's speech, though fertile in criticism, was barren of any kind of assurance from which his followers could gather what he would do for the Irish Church. He denied that the Fenian conspiracy had been the determining influence in shaping the Irish policy of the Government. The effect it produced was in directing the public mind to the condition of Ireland, and preparing it for this Bill. But, as he showed by reference to the Queen's Speech of 1867, and Lord Mayo's speech last year, Mr. Disraeli had formerly been of a different opinion,

, and Fenianism had influenced his Irish policy. The Government had acted solely on a deep conviction of the injustice and impolicy of the Irish Church. To Mr. Disraeli's complaint about the fate of his amendments, he retorted, that on a moderate calculation the compensations they proposed would have left the Church considerably richer than before. Reviewing the history of the Bill, Mr. Gladstone remarked that nothing could more powerfully help it to a successful termination than the unanimity with which it had been supported by the great majority of the House of Commons. The reason for this unbroken concord, which had so much surprised some, was due to their complete agreement as to the manner in which the Irish Church was to be dealt with; while the Opposition, on the other hand, were hopelessly divided on it. Adverting to a charge that the Bill was harsh and arrogant, he maintained that while it fulfilled all pledges, wherever it was possible it had tempered justice with mercy. As to the future of the Bill, Mr. Gladstone said, that as he had never complained of the Lords for rejecting the Suspensory Bill last year, so he would not now assume that they would fail to discern what was due to the emphatic verdict of the nation and to their own permanent utility. Treating as the momentary despondency of morbid fears the predictions that the Bill would permanently cripple Protestantism in Ireland, Mr. Gladstone concluded, in a powerful peroration, by expressing an earnest hope that the Church would pass triumphantly through the ordeal, and would emerge with a higher sense of her mission, and freed from the unjust privileges and the bitter memories which had been her unhappy heritage.

The debate was brought to a close by a division, which gave the following result :For the third reading

361 Against it

247

.

.

Majority

114 The Bill was then declared to be passed, and was sent up to await its destination in the Upper House.

CHAPTER III.

The IBISH CHURCH BILL IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS-State of public opinion, and

anticipations as to the reception of the Disestablishment Bill by the Upper HouseLetter of Mr. Bright to his constituents at Birmingham-Offence taken at his reflections on the House of Lords— Great Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill in that House-State of the House and excitement out of doors on this occasion - The Debate is continued for four nights - Remarkable display of eloquence and ability on both sides - Powerful speeches of the Bishop of Peterborough, Bishop of St. David's, and other Prelates - Speeches of the Earl of Derby and other Peers — The Second Reading is carried by a majority of 33 - Analysis of the division, and character of the Debate-Observations and criticisms in both Houses on the Letter of Mr. BrightExplanations on the subject by Earl Granville and Mr. Gladstone - The Irish Church Bill in Committee in the House of Lords— Important Amendments moved and carried by large majorities against the Government-Question of Concurrent Endowment raised by the Duke of Cleveland - Important Discussions on this subject-Result of the various Amendments made in the Bill—Great dissatisfaction of the Liberal party with the measure as altered - It is read a third time without division, and passed Protest of Lord Derby and other Peers against the principle of the Bill— It is returned to the House of Commons---Complaints and agitation against the House of Lords for thei. treatment of the Bill — Language used by some of the organs of the Liberal party-Consideration of the Lords Amendments in the House of Commons on 15th July-Mr. Gladstone moves and carries by large majorities resolutions to disagree with all the principal Amendments - Sone minor alterations are agreed toThe Bill is again sent to the Lords— Earl Granville urges the Houses to agree in restoring the main provisions of the Bill, but the Government is again defeated by a large majority - Earl Granville requests time to consult his colleagues, and the Debate is adjourned-Conference in the interim between Earl Granville and Lord Cairns, as leader of the Opposition-It results in a compromise, which is announced by those noble Lords to the House-Acquiescence of the Conservative Peers, with a few

« PreviousContinue »