Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—[ Mr. McKenna.]
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."I feel somewhat in a difficulty in moving the rejection of this Bill at a time when the very exciting topic of the Government of Ireland is engaging the attention of the public mind. A Government which is accused of contemplating wholesale murder is not likely to care very much for an accusation of actual robbery. Another difficulty I have is the way in which the Bill has been brought to the attention of the House. I cannot conceive myself that it is in any degree in my power to add to the arguments against this measure which has been presented to the House by hon. Members already. In reviewing the course of the discussion during the last three years, I think Churchmen, and not only Churchmen, but those who defend the Church, have every reason to congratulate themselves on the argument, and that since the original Motion for this Bill was proposed, the attack upon the Church in Wales has been of the most lifeless description. I notice with great interest what the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) said in a communication to one of the Colonial newspapers. He said:—
That, as every Member of the House, wherever he sits, knows is absolutely true, There is no force, and there never has been any force, behind the Bill in the country. Everybody, or almost everybody, in the country believes that the provisions of this Bill cannot be justified. The Bill, which was lifeless in its inception, is now shown to be absolutely destitute of any reason or justice. That is a very remarkable circumstance, because anyone who is familiar with the history of the Disestablishment and Dis-endowment question twenty-five or thirty years ago knows that it excited very great enthusiasm among those who supported it. The truth, of course, is that the whole position of the question has absolutely changed. When it was first begun, fifty or sixty years ago, it was really in accord with the general—I will not say the general Conservative point of view, but in accord with the general Radical point of view of the day. That was the day of triumphant individualism. Nobody believed in the State as an organisation or, rather, as an entity apart from the individual. The common impression of the State was that it was an aggregation of individuals who had entered entered a copartnery for good government, security, and things of that kind, and that the State, as the State, had no existence beyond that—no personality, or no entity. Particularly among the Manchester school any idea that it had any other kind of existence would have been scouted as absolutely absurd. I came across, only the other day, a statement written by a strong opponent of the Manchester school, and therefore it is discounted to some extent, but I believe that it is substantially accurate, allowing for the hostility of the tone in which it is written. It says:—"Thus it was that when the Welsh Bill came before Parliament, it did not excite a ripple among the working classes, and if it had not been for the steady adhesion and the splendid discipline and attendance of the Irish Members, it would not have passed through the House of Commons."
That was undoubtedly the view which prevailed, and in that state of feeling it was natural enough to say that there was no reason for the connection between the State and religion, apart from the connection between the individuals who composed the State and their own particular religious views. That was, in my view, the origin of the Disestablishment cry, and the fact that nowadays it excites no enthusiasm at all is merely evidence that that has entirely passed by as a point of view. What is really wanted now, if we wish to keep abreast of the trend of modern thought, is not, if I may put it somewhat paradoxically, less establishment, but more establishment. What is wanted now is essentially national recognition of religion. That is, I am certain, what is really not only desired, but what is very necessary in our present state of affairs. As far as I am personally concerned, I think that I have said before in this House, and I certainly have said else- where, that I should be very glad indeed to see extended to the Nonconformist body those privileges, if they be privileges, which are at present possessed by the Church of England. We hear a great deal about the presence of bishops in the House of Lords. I am quite sure that if any reconstructed Second Chamber, which proceeds on anything like lines which have sometimes been suggested, were created, provision could be made for representation in that Second Chamber, not only of the Church of England, but the other great religious body that exists in this country. In the same way, sometimes we are told that it is the attempt to impose social inferiority, if I may put it in the least offensive language one can command, which really galls some members of the Nonconformist body. That is a very difficult matter to correct, but as far as any question of rank or precedence is concerned, if that is what is desired, I am quite sure that no objection would be raised by any Churchmen to conferring upon Nonconformist bodies the same rank as is enjoyed by the Established Church. Of course, we sometimes hear of the Establishment as a fetter on the liberty of the Church of England. We are told, and no doubt quite honestly by some Members opposite—perhaps I may be permitted to doubt whether that is true of all hon. Members opposite, or of their supporters outside, but some of them no doubt genuinely believe, as Churchmen—that the connection of the Church with the State is a disadvantage to the Church because it fetters its freedom and prevents it developing in the way that it desires and governing itself in the way that it desires. As far as that is concerned, it has often been said in this House that establishment and dependence are not the same thing. I should be very glad indeed to see measures of Church reform which would confer much greater liberty on the Church than it at present possesses; the matter, for instance, of the establishment of new bishops or anything of that kind. In all that, I believe, there would be no difficulty. I believe that the attempt to destroy the establishment because it may no be the most perfect from existing, or because it may seem to inflict some inferiority, which is no part of its essential nature, on the Nonconformist body, is surely a retrograde step for which, if it is ever really carried into effect, our successors will be deeply sorry in the future. I am not going in detail into the proposals of this Bill. One of them, the proposal for the dismemberment of the Church, finds practically no defenders anywhere, and how hon. Members opposite, Nonconformist Members, who are coming to this House, asking nominally, and I believe really, for a measure which will free the Church from State control, can begin their crusade for freedom by tearing that religious body into two sections, by Act of Parliament, against the consent of both sections, and can accept that as part of their legislation, I do not know. I remember a speech which was delivered by the present Chancellor of the Duchy, Mr. Masterman, in this House, which caused me a consider able amount of indignation at that time as coming from one who described himself as a loyal Churchman. But that is not the purpose for which I refer to it now. But there was a great eulogy on the present Bishop of Oxford, and it was said, and said very truly, that he was a man of saintly life and distinguished intellectual qualifications. I wish that hon. Members opposite would always follow the Bishop of Oxford, and then at any rate we should hear no more of the dismemberment portion of this Bill. That very distinguished prelate in February last said:—"They tell us that … it is a delusion to give a personality to the State, to attribute to it moral duties, or to employ its powers for the gratification of lofty aims and feelings. Their constant struggle is to present it nakedly as a joint stock company for the preservation of life and property, and they are estopped by their own philosophy from appealing to the loftier views of it which have descended from less businesslike times."
I believe that that is a proposition which in other days would have commanded the universal assent of the Nonconformist bodies of this country. It seems to me a matter of great surprise, and I may say of great regret, that the Nonconformists should have allied themselves with a proposal of that character. I pass to the other part of the Bill, the question of Disendowment. There, again, I think that anyone who attentively considers it will be conscious of the enormous change that has come over the public mind and public feeling on this subject. Disendowment is never advocated now. I believe that one hon. Gentleman on the fourth bench, at any rate one of the Back Benchers, did say a word in favour of the ancient doctrine by which it used to be defended, but it is never advocated on the main grounds on which it used to be defended. Voluntaryism is absolutely dead. Let me not be misunderstood on this point, because there are very different meanings given to the word in different parts of the country. By voluntaryism I mean the doctrine that a Church ought to depend upon the contributions of the congregations which belong to it. That theory, which was the prevalent Nonconformist theory fifty or sixty years ago, is absolutely dead. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am very glad to hear hon. Members say that, because I am a great admirer of antiquities, and I like to see ancient monuments remain. But substantially no one will say that any of the Nonconformist Churches rely upon the voluntary offerings of their members. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] They are all seeking to collect Endowments for themselves. Every one of them—the Baptists, the Wesleyans, the Congregationalists—are all collecting a central fund, which is to be invested and applied to the support of the poorer members of the body. That is exactly what the Endowments of the Church originally were. I do not think that that is really a matter which is capable of dispute. That theory has disappeared. I do not mean to say that it may not be mentioned theoretically and academically by some people here and there, but substantially and in effect everyone admits that if you are to carry on a great religious organisation it is practically necessary to establish something in the nature of a central endowment fund, which shall carry on over difficult times and shall provide for the poorer members of the Church. That is accepted by everybody, and since that is so the central and the main ground on which Disendowment used to be advocated has disappeared. It is very interesting to note what has been the result. The Government and those who support the Bill have been driven to look far and wide for arguments to support the Disendowment proposals of this Bill. They are enormously numerous. I am not going to attempt to refer to all of them. I will just touch on one or two. There is the argument put forward by the Home Secretary which depends upon his theory as to the origin of tithe in Wales. I never understood myself the relevance of that argument. Still less do I accept its truth. But just conceive what it really amounts to. He says, in effect, this: In Wales, contrary to what happened in the rest of Christendom, there was no original tithe system at all, no native tithe system. It was entirely imposed from England by Norman barons armed cap-à-pie who came into Wales and imposed the tithe system; and I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman, regarding himself as the successor of those barons, is going to take up, after six or seven hundred years, what he calls his money. That argument I believe to be utterly fallacious. But if it were absolutely true, what possible bearing has it on these discussions at the present day? Whatever was the origin of tithe seven hundred years ago, that surely cannot be a reason which will be seriously or soberly urged by hon. Members opposite, or by anyone, for taking it away at the present time. There is the theory of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or one of his theories, a theory which other hon. Members also hold, that there was a complete change of view, a complete change of the doctrine of the Church at the time of the Reformation, and that therefore the Endowments are not properly the property of the Church. I do not think that anyone can seriously believe in that. But even if it were true, it would form no kind of justification for this Bill; it might, indeed, if it were true, give some kind of case to the Roman Catholic body to make a demand for a portion or the whole of the Endowments of the Church in Wales. I do not think hon. Members opposite propose to endow the Roman Catholic Church as one of the consequences of the present Bill. And really how hon. Gentlemen opposite have come to identify themselves with an argument of that kind appears to me most astonishing. What is it? They say—if it means anything—that any funds given to a religious body which has afterwards changed its doctrinal position do not properly belong to that body. That is their theory. Is there any hon. Member opposite who will get up and say that he really believes that is true? What becomes of the United Free Church's property? But we have got a much better instance. Last Session and this Session, we passed—and I am very glad indeed that we did pass—by general consent a number of Bills relating to Nonconformist chapels. I think some still remain to be dealt with. I looked into them rather carefully, because they throw some light on this question. There are some fifteen or eighteen of those Bills. What is the nature of those measures? In every case, in respect of form, they are to take property which was originally given on certain trusts as to numbers of very definite articles of belief, and to enact that this same property may be held by people who have absolutely rejected a very large number of those original doctrines. I took the trouble to obtain the official account of the Charity Commissioners as to what actually was done. Let me take almost any of them: Here is one which provides in regard to the original trust, comprising a great variety of opinions, things like original sin—I do not say this particular one includes that, but others do—unconditional election, effectual call, and final perseverance, and other doctrines of that kind, everything shall be swept away in the new trust, except a bare statement of what hon. Members opposite call "fundamental Christianity"; and the present property is now being held by men who have absolutely diverged from the opinions that were held when that property was originally granted. I do not criticise that; on the contrary, it is quite a legitimate thing to have done. These kind of examples can be indefinitely multiplied. Will any hon. Gentleman get up and deny, even supposing he takes an extreme Protestant view of the Reformation, that the changes of the Reformation are absolutely nothing as compared with the changes enacted in those Chapel Bills, and a number of other Bills? I pass to the other arguments, which I venture to call more serious arguments. There is the argument which I remember hearing stated with great force and lucidity by the Attorney-General. I hope I shall not do him any injustice in trying to restate it. It is that the Endowments were originally made to an undivided Christianity in this country, and that when a division takes place it is not right or proper that those who represent only a section of the Christian thought of the day should retain the whole of the Endowments. I think that is the substance of the argument put forward. If that justifies anything, it justifies concurrent Endowment of all religious bodies in Wales. I am not at all surprised that when that was offered it was rejected by Nonconformists. I quite recognise, after all they have said about State Endowment, that the inconsistency would perhaps be greater than they could possibly imagine themselves being guilty of. But if the argument does not lead to concurrent Endowment, it leads to nothing at all. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman and to those who believe in that argument, that it is absolutely disposed of if one looks at the history of subsequent legislation. It is quite true that at the time of the Reformation, or up to 100 years later, it might fairly be said that the gifts originally made to the whole of religious thought was being enjoyed by a section. But in 1662 the matter was entirely reconsidered by Parliament. At that time the country was at least as much divided in religious opinion as we are now. The Presbyterians and Independents undoubtedly formed quite as large a proportion of the population as Nonconformists do at the present day. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] I do not care about numbers; at any rate, they formed a very considerable proportion of the population, and I should have thought quite as large as now. At that time Parliament deliberately—whether rightly or wrongly—took the whole of the property and said, "In our view this property belongs to the Church of England, and we confirm it to the Church of England." I quite agree that is what happened; they said so quite deliberately; and from that time until the present time, for 250 years, the Church of England has enjoyed the property, relying upon what used to be regarded as the strongest of all titles—the Parliamentary title. 4.0 P.M. Personally, I believe that the origin of all this property—I differ from the Home Secretary in this—was private, but whether it was or not, in 1662 it was solemnly and deliberately granted to the Church of England by Parliament, and that Grant has been confirmed on many occasions since. There is a very good instance which has been given. This Bill proposes to take property in Wales which belongs to the ecclesiastical community. How did it get there? It is property that was taken away from the bishops and particular bodies in Wales and given into a separate fund to be distributed among the poorer parishes of the country. That was done by Parliament less than 100 years ago. Parliament deliberately confirmed that Grant, and you are now going to take it away. Was there ever anything so indefensible in any Bill ever proposed to Parliament? If that was the case of a private individual, of a school or a college, who would ever venture to make a proposal of this kind? I can quite understand that if the Church were not carrying out its original trust, if it were were no longer doing its duty, or if the funds given to it were excessive, these would be proper grounds on which to take away charity money, but no such allegation is made here. This money is attempted to be taken virtually by brute force, and without the slightest justification. I submit that on these grounds for the State to take away after 250 years what Parliament decided deliberately was to go to the Church is an absolutely indefensible proposal. I now come to the main point which has been put forward by the Government and their supporters. They say "whatever you may say, here are the wishes of the Welsh people constantly and overwhelmingly expressed, and we ought to do what they will." That is, of course, the argument on which they rely, and I quite admit it is the most plausible of their arguments. The Prime Minister puts it—and I am sorry he is not here, but it is not my fault that he is not—in this kind of way: He says that the Church, through its neglect in the eighteenth century, lost the affections of the Welsh people, though he admits quite fairly that for the last fifty or a hundred years it has struggled to regain them, and has done splendid work. No one has spoken more highly than the Prime Minister of the work the Church has done in the last fifty years. Yet, it is said, the Church has not regained them, and as it has not the property must be taken away from it. I never quite understood, and I really do rather regret that the Prime Minister is not here in case he takes part in the Debate so that he could deal with my difficulty, which I am sure is probably shared by many others—I never could quite understand what the relevance of the charge of lethargy and apathy against the Church in the eighteenth century really was. I am sure, that the Prime Minister is far too logical and fair-minded a man to suggest that because the Church was apathetic or lethargic in the eighteenth century, that, therefore, you are justified in taking from it its property, now that it has ceased to be either apathetic or lethargic. You cannot punish a body or a man for a crime which remote predecessors committed, so that it cannot be that. It think it may be this: It maybe that the Prime Minister desired us to understand that the real reason for the failures of the Church in the eighteenth century was because it was an Established Church, and that it was the fatal association with the State which prevented it doing its duty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I see that is cheered. I believe that to be absolutely and totally devoid of all historical foundation. In the first place, the eighteenth century was a time of general religious apathy, and no religious body escaped. The Nonconformists felt it quite as much as any other body; indeed, I think they felt it more. The hon. Member opposite who dissents has not really been into this matter recently. The Nonconformists felt it quite as much, and if he will read the very useful little Primer published by Doctor Selbie, the Principal of Mansfield College, he will find I am not exaggerating the matter. Even, if I may say so, the Roman Catholics suffered very considerably in this country in the same way. The truth is, that in the eighteenth century we were going through a period of great reaction. Right through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the whole world, and this country among others, was torn by religious conflict and religious controversy. Wars had been waged and every kind of disturbance had taken place, and when they were over we had got to the eighteenth century, and after the acute troubles of the past everybody was bored with religion, for that is the real truth, and there was a general lowering of religious temperature all over the world, and in this country among others. You can see a very good example of what I mean if you take the case of the Presbyterian. The Presbyterians in the seventeenth century, at the time of the Commonwealth were, I should think, the strongest Nonconformist body in this country. They were certainly the most numerous; and still, they almost entirely disappeared in the eighteenth century in England, and even now they are quite a small body."The Welsh Church Bill as it stood proposed compulsory separation. It did not seem to him tolerable that the ancient, spiritual and ecclesiastical connection between the Churches of Wales and England should be separated without their consent and violently by Act of Parliament. Against that proposal they should carry their protests to the furthest possible limit. It was their sacred duty to protest against the assertion by the State that it had a right to interfere in matters which were properly and entirely spiritual."
They are not the successors of the old Presbyterians.
There are no successors of the old Presbyterians.
If you like, Unitarians. No doubt some became Unitarians and some went back to the Church, but the Presbyterians and, I think in this the hon. Member will agree with me, as he knows the subject, disappeared as a body in the eighteenth century. That was a Nonconformist body—a Free Church. What happened to the Presbyterians in Scotland? They did not disappear, so that it was not any fault of the form of religion, or the nature of the Church government, for in one case it was a Nonconformist body, and in the other case it was an Established body, and the great momentum of Establishment, I think I am right in saying, carried it over the slack period.
In Scotland the great dissenting Presbyterian body came into existence in the eighteenth century.
They were quite insignificant. The hon. Member is relying on my ignorance, he really is not right.
Compared with the great body of Presbyterian opinion in Scotland, the Nonconformist bodies of the eighteenth century were quite a small insignificant body. I am sure I am right about that.
The great Dissenting body sprang into existence in the middle of last century, that is the United Presbyterians, and if you go back historically you will find that they were quite a small body in the eighteenth century. I believe that is not only true, but it is what you would expect. I believe that there is a great value in a great organisation like the Established Church. It is quite true that there are disadvantages, but it has the great virtue, if I may say so, of momentum. It performs to some extent the same function in religious opinion, that the fly wheel does in an engine. It carries the religious life of the country past dead points and points of less enthusiasm. I cannot help thinking when you have a great body with history and great traditions, and with a great liturgy, and even with pomp and circumstance, I think they operate as witnesses to the existing members of that Church of the great faith and enthusiasm and fervent feeling of their predecessors in the Establishment. I do not say that that is among the greatest features, but I believe it to be of great importance to a religious body in times of depression, and I believe that sooner or later when you have got such an organisation that when religious feeling revives it will revive first in that organisation. That is, you have this great body with all its traditions, and men of religious feeling in it, and then comes the moment when for some reasons, which we do not understand spiritual fervour is developing, and it touches those who are in the great organisation first. That certainly is what happened in this country.When we are told that the apathy of the Church was due to Establishment, we are entitled to reply that the whole of the great revival of religion in England, and even more in Wales, sprang from within the Established Church. I will prove that in a moment, though I do not suppose that anyone will dispute it. John Wesley, of course, was to the day of his death a member of the Established Church, and so was his brother. Whitefield was a member of the Established Church for many years after he began his ministry. The whole of the Methodist body remained part of the Established Church till after Wesley's death, and what was true in England was even more true in Wales. I copied down these names, which Welsh Members will be able to recognise, of great leaders of the Welsh Revival: Griffith Jones, Howel Harris, Daniel Rowlands, William Williams, and Thomas Charles, every one of them members of the Established Church. Many of them remained so to the day of their death. Griffith Jones to the day of his death was a member of the Established Church. Right down to 1801, I will not say there was no Nonconformity, but there was very little Nonconformity in Wales, except the Methodists, and the whole Methodist body down to 1801 protested in the strongest way against the idea that it was a Nonconformist body. They said this in, I think, one of their official statements in 1801:—
It was not, as hon. Members opposite know, until 1811, that the disruption took place. I say that the revival in England did not spring from the Nonconformist body. It was very much discouraged by the Nonconformist body, and they disliked it very much. I fake the following from Dr. Selbie's book:—"We do not intentionally dissent nor regard ourselves as Dissenters from the Established Church. With regard to our doctrinal position, we fully agree with the articles of the Church of England."
That is true. Therefore I am entitled to say this, that the revival, when it came, came from the bulk of the Church, and that the leaders of the revival were members of the Church, and therefore to say that Establishment is fatal to spiritual activity, or is responsible for the spiritual lethargy or apathy of the eighteenth century is an absolute misreading of the whole of history. I pass from that, which really is nothing more than a parenthesis, because I come to deal with the substance of what the Prime Minister and others have said, dealing with the feeling and the desires of the Welsh people. I recognise, whether it is due to the lethargy of the Church or not, that it is an important fact. I do not think it is conclusive. I have never been able to regard this as an exclusively Welsh question. The English are entitled to be heard as much as the Welsh, and, indeed, it has always surprised me that an argument founded on nationality should go as far as this, that in order to please the Welsh, or to do what is thought to be pleasing, you are to force a great change upon an English institution by the votes of the Irish and the Scottish. That has always appeared to me an astonishing doctrine, and it does not make it less so when you consider the formal pledges and undertakings which the Scottish entered into at the time of the Union, that they would never do anything to injure or interfere with the Established Church. But I admit, though it is not conclusive, it still has some bearing. We are entitled, I think, to very clear proof of the feeling of the Welsh people about this Bill before we allow even that argument to pass. I cannot admit that the mere return of thirty-one Welsh Members, or whatever the proportion is, is conclusive in the matter. I know there is the doctrine of mandate, but I am not going into that well-worn theme. I do not care very much about the doctrine of mandate one way or the other. It has always appeared to me to be rather overdone in this country. But of all the forms of mandate the doctrine of the constructive mandate is the most ridiculous it is possible to conceive. I can understand the idea that Members specifically instructed by their constituents to press for a particular Bill may be said to have a mandate; but if you have to refer first to one speech, which refers you to an address, and then back to another address two or three times removed from the election at which the Member was actually elected—to say that that constitutes anything like a direction by his constituents to vote for a particular Bill, appears to me to be legalism gone mad. However, I want to go behind that. I want to know what there is beside that to show that the majority of the Welsh people are in favour of Disestablishment. All the other evidence without exception is on the other side—absolutely the whole of it. We have tried petitions, meetings, addresses—everything we can think of—to show the Government and this House that the majority of the Welsh people do not believe in Disestablishment. And now we have got the most striking of all—this Nonconformist petition. What are the facts about that? I am very anxious that they should be known and thoroughly understood. I believe that the more you look into the matter the more striking the petition will be found. What are the facts on the surface? One hundred and three thousand persons over twenty-one years of age, alleging that they are Nonconformists, have signed a petition against the Disendowment Clauses of the Bill. They number among them no less than 790 Nonconformist deacons, and contain fifty-three Nonconformist ministers in South Wales alone."The normal Nonconformist Churches and ministers looked with great disfavour on the revival under Wesley and Whitefield."
And preachers—a very different thing.
Ministers and preachers; at any rate, officials of the Church. As far as political complexion is concerned, it is unquestionably signed by a very large number of Liberals. I have had furnished to me a list of the members of the committee in South Wales. It includes the treasurer of the Cardiff Liberal Association, a large number of vice-presidents of other Liberal associations, many men who have been lifelong Liberals, like Colonel Hughes, of Barry; Alderman Howell, of Newport; and a number of other well-known Liberals. Surely that is a very remarkable state of things! That it has been done with great reluctance by a large number of them is perfectly true. I have been shown a letter which I am entitled to read to the House, though the House will see that I cannot give the name of the writer. It is by a minister of the Calvinistic Methodist Church, and runs:—
I have no doubt it will be said that this petition is not a genuine thing, but, so far as I can learn, the greatest possible pains were taken to make it genuine. I have the forms of protest; anyone can see them. There are a Welsh and an English form. There are columns for the name, the address, and the denomination. Those who signed it, therefore, had not only to sign their name, but to assert in writing that they were members of some denomination, and they have done so. The numbers have been counted up, and it appears that there are so many Baptists, so many Calvinistic Methodists, and so many other denominations. That seems to me a very remarkable circumstance, and one that we are entitled to press very strongly upon the House. This has been done in spite of every effort by the Nonconformist bodies, very naturally, to prevent signatures. They have issued printed circulars complaining in the strongest way that Nonconformists should sigh it, and urging them not to do so. I do not complain of that. Some of the wording of the circular is open to criticism, but I do not complain of that. I shall be told—I think it has been said already—that this document was not understood. That is incredible. The whole Nonconformist body in Wales was there to explain exactly what was meant. There was Mr. James Evans, a leading Nonconformist, who said:—"Thank yon very much for sending me the protest form. I am very glad to have the chance to sign it, but I wish yon to keep my name private. If it was known that I had signed the protest, I do not know what would be the end of it. There are some bigoted Methodists in this county as well as in other counties, but I am glad to think there are some of a better class. I hope that God will bless your great effort with success. Kindest regards and wishes."
There is the result of your Parliament Act."Do not think that it is merely against the disendowment clauses. The Government cannot change the Bill "
"If you induce them to cut out any of the disendowment clauses, that means the loss of the Bill."
Does the Noble Lord really mean that all the signatories of the petition were members of Nonconformist churches?
I am certainly not prepared on my own authority to say that no single person who was not a member may have crept in. When you have 103,000 signatories, it is quite possible that you may find some here and there who have signed under a misapprehension. [An HON. MEMBER: "Adherents."] Members and adherents certainly, I do not mean members in a technical sense.
Did the Noble Lord say that all the signatures represented Liberals?
I have never said that. I said that there were a large number of Liberals amongst them. I did not go further than that. I saw a gentleman who was concerned in this petition, and I asked him how many Liberals there were. He said, quite fairly, that he could not tell me, but he pointed out some of the names to which I have called attention. That is the point—this is a non-party petition. It is not got up with the view of identifying it with either party. It is merely a collection of signatures of men and women over twenty-one who assert that they are members or adherents—I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for correcting me on that point—of some Nonconformist body. When you consider the whole population of Wales, I think a petition of that kind is entitled to the greatest possible weight. I could give several other instances of pressure put more or less legitimately upon people not to sign this document. One struck me as rather interesting. Apparently in several parishes it has been alleged that if they signed this document they would lose their old age pension. Here is a letter in which a gentleman, who was engaged in collecting signatures, wrote:—
That is not an isolated case. Observations of that kind were made in more than one instance. Every possible effort was made. One gentleman said that after May next everyone would be able to pay his tithe to his own minister if he desired to do so. That shows the strenuous opposition that was offered to the signing of this petition. At any rate, that those who signed it, did so knowing perfectly well that it was vehemently disliked by the members of their own Church, and that they were threatened with all sorts of pains and penalties if they did so. Mr. James Evans wrote:—"We should have had many more names, only two Methodist deacons went round the parishes threatening the people using as arguments that it is all a lie that the Liberal Government intend to takeaway the church-Cards, that the money really belongs to the people, and that Mr. Lloyd George would withdraw the old age pensions of those who signed."
I see from the correspondence published this morning that the Prime Minister complains very much of this procedure. He says that it ought to have been done by petition to the House of Commons, and not by protest to himself. We have tried petitions to the House of Commons. We had one signed by 550,000 people. A great deal has been said about that petition; but in actual fact no serious im- pression has been made upon the number of signatures. One parish has been disallowed on the ground that there was some irregularity in obtaining signatures. Practically we have done what we could with petitions, and the time was thought to be ripe for making an appeal to the Prime Minister personally. But it does not appear to have been very successful. The Prime Minister does not seem very much interested in the subject. But I cannot say that it appears to me to have been an improper proceeding on the part of those who are anxious to stop the Bill from becoming law. The Prime Minister said that it should have been referred to the Petitions Committee. I see present the highly respected right hon. Gentleman who presides over that Committee. I am sure he will not contradict me when I say that the amount of real examination that the Petitions Committee can give to the signatures of a petition is not very serious. I can say on behalf of those who got up the petition that they are perfectly willing that it should be examined by any Committee or Commission, or by any body the Government like to nominate for the purpose. They are quite sure that the more it is examined, the more genuine it will turn out to be. It really does represent a very large and growing feeling amongst the best of the Nonconformists in Wales that, whatever may be said about the other provisions of this Bill, the provisions with regard to Disendowment are absolutely indefensible. Even if that were the only argument we could put forward, I say that it makes a strong ease for further inquiry and a further examination into the feelings of the Welsh people on this subject. If that is to be the really serious argument—and I think it is the only serious argument put forward in favour of this Bill—we ought to remember the pledges of the Prime Minister at the time of the passing of the Parliament Act, when he said over and over again that he would never attempt to force through Parliament a Bill as to which there was any doubt whether it still retained the support of the people. Is there any fair-minded man in this House who doubts that this Bill has no support from the majority of the electors of this country? I do not believe there is one. I doubt very much whether it has the support, in its present form, of a majority of the electors in the Principality. I do not suppose that the Prime Minister will yield to this appeal any more than he has to the others. I suppose he will go on and pass this Bill into law, if he can; but I venture to ask hon. Members opposite who will suffer if it does become law? I believe that the Church will not suffer. No Church has ever suffered from persecution. There may be here and there—I am afraid there will be—some of the very poorest in Wales who will suffer. Some of the very poorest of the clergy will certainly suffer. The curates undoubtedly will suffer. Possibly some of the future incumbents of the poorest parishes will suffer. There will be a check, no doubt temporarily, in the work carried on in the slums of the great towns. The money required and devoted to these purposes at present will be diverted, for there being no Endowments, the voluntary subscriptions will be required to keep alive the Church in other parts of the country. But that permanent injury will be done to the Church I do not for one moment believe! That is altogether beyond the power of Parliament! May I remind hon. Members opposite that it was at the time that their Churches were being—as I freely admit—persecuted that some of their greatest achievements were accomplished? Yes, but others will suffer all the same. History is written in vain if it does not show that those who are engaged in the persecution of religion suffer for it themselves. It is sometimes said that Christianity destroyed the Roman Empire. In my view it is not true that Christianity destroyed the Roman Empire. It was the non-acceptance of the persecution of Christianity that destroyed the Roman Empire. If you read through history is there anything more certain than that the persecutors themselves suffer from the persecutions they carry on? I believe these Nonconformists—I am glad to think they do not embrace by any means the whole of the Nonconformists—who have engaged in this enterprise—they or their successors—will in time to come bitterly rue it. I am quite satisfied that if this House, representing the sovereignty of this country, or much of it, passes once again this Bill that they will be putting their hands to a great act of injustice, and what I cannot describe as otherwise than a great insult to religion. They will be doing incalculable injury to the highest national interests of this country. It is for this reason that, so far as I am concerned, I shall feel it my duty to oppose and resist this Bill to the very last moment. If, contrary to our efforts, it is passed into law, I shall never rest until the property which has been wrong-fully taken from the Church is restored."They say that the names of the ministers who signed will be kept secret. Don't believe it. Every one will be disclosed, and yon will have to bear the full brunt of the odium that will attach to your signature."
I beg to second the Amendment which has been moved by my Noble Friend (Lord R. Cecil). I have recently been reading the life of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The absence of an autumn Session enabled me to do full justice to that magnum opus which, though still incomplete, is now one volume longer than the life of Mr. Gladstone, and two volumes longer than the Life of Queen Victoria. It was with this object that I studied the Life: I have taken a close interest in the Debates on the Welsh Church Bill, and taken what opportunity I could to address meetings in the country on the subject. I was therefore anxious to understand what is the case of my opponents. To whom better could I go than to the hammer of the Church, the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I have read the volumes of this biography, and I have been struck, and somewhat surprised, by the fact that at the beginning of that biography there is some reference to the Welsh Church Disestablishment controversy, but as the right hon. Gentleman's influence increases, and as his position extends, mention of the Welsh Church matter becomes less and less. So it comes about that in the last volume, which is devoted exclusively to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, no place whatever is found for any speech on the Welsh Church Bill. One would have thought that a collection of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman would not be complete with the erasure of any reference to the corresponding Debate on this Bill two years ago, and the speech that the Chancellor then made on the Second Reading, when he talked of "hands dripping with the fat of sacrilege." To what is this singular omission due? The right hon. Gentleman is one of the cleverest electioneerers on the other side, and surely if there was a body of public opinion behind the Welsh Church Bill that Bill would have played one of the most prominent parts in the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman has been making in the country. In Volume 3, page 524, I find these words:—
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has leaped from Welsh Disestablishment to Insurance, from Insurance to Land, and from Land to the Army, surely substantiates all I have just alleged, for even he is beginning to realise that the body of public opinion behind the Welsh Church Bill is gradually vanishing away. Nor is he a unique example of the change that has come over the controversy during the last few years. Let me quote an extract from the "Cardigan and Tivy-side Advertiser":—"It is not the revelation of a secret to say that he won from the Treasury officials the sobriquet (not uncomplimentary as nicknames go) of 'the Welsh Goat,' because, as they explained, he 'leaps from point to point.' "
[An HON. MEMBEB: "Lloyd George."]"In all the annals of the history of Blaenyffos Chapel, last Whit-Sunday was truly a red-letter day.….At the termination of the morning service the pastor read a telegram from the Right Hon. Lloyd George stating that he would attend the evening service at Blaenyffos that day. That announcement, it is needless to say, was the means of drawing a large concourse of people from all directions to the evening service, the large building being overcrowded long before the appointed time, and a great many being unable to gain admission. The Chancellor was equal to his word. When he entered the chapel things might be said to have reached a climax, and enthusiasm reigned supreme. The Rev. Caron Morgan preached an eloquent sermon, based on St. John, Chapter XIV., verse 27, in his usual convincing style. During his discourse he referred to the ever memorable event in the life of Shadrach, Mesbach, and Abednego—their being cast into the fiery furnace, when the king, who had cast three persons into the furnace, beheld the form of the fourth "—
The reverend gentleman seems to have begun to realise that the taxation of the land had become a more interesting and urgent question than the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church. My Noble Friend behind me alluded to what has happened on the other side. A very remarkable expression of public opinion has taken place during the last three years against the Bill. It has culminated in a petition of 103,000 Nonconformists from various parts of the Principality against the Bill. That is an answer to and a commentary upon the assurance that the Prime Minister gave us two years ago that no Bill would be pushed through under the Parliament Act against which it could be alleged that public opinion had ceased to support it."the reverend gentleman declared that this was really the beginning of Form IV."
these are the Prime Minister's exact words—"Further, the delay of three Sessions or two years "—
When one thinks of the many arguments that have been used at various times in favour of this Bill, I cannot but come to the conclusion that only one valid argument is left—the argument of numbers. The right hon. Gentleman can still point to the thirty-one Welsh Members behind him; and to the fact that, with many ups and downs, they have been able to drag this Bill, somehow or other, through this House to Third Reading on two previous occasions. What does this argument really amount to? Does it mean that it is really an expression of the candid opinion of the majority of hon. Members in this House, or is it only another example of what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Welsh Radical party well describes as "the grip of the legislative machine?" It is easy to test the validity of the argument. If a majority in this House is really in favour of the Disendowment proposals of the Government, let the Government see that a Suggestion is considered to withdraw Endowment altogether from the scope of the Bill. Let the Government take the Party Whips off in that Division, and see the result. It is a clear and definite issue upon which we can have a clear and plain answer. Is a majority in this House in favour of taking £158,000 from an income of £260,000? If so, it would be a curiously mean act of the House of Commons that only next week it is to be called upon to vote a Budget of more than £200,000,000 Do hon. Members realise what this proposal means? We have been told time after time by responsible Members of the Government that this Bill is a first instalment, and that in course of time its provisions will be extended to the English Church. Apply the principles of the Welsh Church Bill to the English Church, what is the result? No less a sum than 16s. 6d. in the £ would, if a similar Bill was applied to the English Church, be taken from the Church of England. Take an example from the part of England in which I live. In the neighbouring rural deanery to that in which I live, in Norfolk, the deanery of Blofeld, a part of the constituency of the hon. Member for East Norfolk, an inquiry has been made as to what would be the effect of the proposals of the Welsh Church Bill upon its endowments; and what is the result? The rural deanery of Blofeld would be left with 3½d. in the £ Endowment of the scanty Endowment which it now has for its parochial work. Is a majority of this House in favour of taking every penny from 193 Welsh parishes? If so, it is a curious commentary on the policy of hon. Members opposite who, in their other proposals are so anxious to bring more wealth to the villages, and not take the scanty resources from them. Is a majority of the House of Commons in favour of turning 561 curates adrift with nothing at all? If so, it is a significant commentary upon the sincerity of hon. Members opposite who are proposing greater security for the farmers and a minimum wage for the labourers. Is the House of Commons in favour of taking 30,000 acres of glebe land? If so, it is a curious commentary on the authors of a policy for establishing small holdings. Lastly, is a majority of the House of Commons in favour of taking the churchyards? If so, how is it that only a fortnight ago the House of Commons agreed, without a Division, to a Bill which would give greater security of tenure to chapels, and enable them to turn their leaseholds into property? The cynicism of the proposal is the more apparent when it is remembered that in the diocese of St. David's in Wales, 421 different churchyards will be taken from the Church under the provisions of the Bill, while 480 Nonconformist burial grounds will be left. Upon all these questions I should like to have the unbiassed decision of the House of Commons, not simply the movement of the legislative machine, but the genuine expression of what hon. Members feel upon both sides of the House. At the present moment the Church, and indeed all religious bodies, are faced with peculiar difficulties. I do not suppose that ever before in the history of religious bodies in this country have there been so many questions thrust upon them for which they must find an answer. Take, for instance, the great changes that have been brought about by the development of modern thought. Take again, the changes that have been brought about by recent invention and discovery. Take the changes that have been brought about by the constant accumulation of great masses of the population in various parts of the country. Take, for instance, South Wales, and the great accumulation of the population which has come about as a development of the coalfields. To all these questions, and questions connected with them, religious bodies have to find an answer, and at the present moment their resources are being stretched almost to the point of breaking. Was there ever a more unfortunate time to cripple the resources of one part of the Church with Endowments less in amount than in any part of England generally? Surely, if ever there was a time when a religious body should have left to it all the use of its resources to the full to make every effort to find an answer to the many questions with which it is faced, that time is the present. I go further; I believe that so difficult and so urgent are many of the questions with which religious bodies are faced that they will find it very difficult to find a solution unless one religious body co-operates with another. There was a time when feeling was very bitter between Nonconformity and the Church in Wales. In 1854 George Borrow, when he was travelling through Wales, came to the town of Llangollen. He found there a cat, badly fed and apparently persecuted by the whole community. He found when it went into the street people threw stones at it. He found when it went into his house, his housekeeper turned it out. He asked the reason, and he was told it was a "Church of England cat" that had belonged to a former vicar and that was enough, and "Stone it, hang it, drown it," were the cries of almost everybody. That is a small example, but none the less significant example of the bitterness of feeling that existed in Wales fifty years ago. I am glad to think that during the last fifty years a change had come over the views of religious bodies in the Principality, and it certainly looked as if those days of bitterness and division were over. How extraordinarily unfortunate, in view of that fact, is it to-day by the action we are asked to take that we should again be stirring up the waters of strife! The ripples are already being seen. During the last few months the "Daily News" has been holding an investigation into the religious work that is going on in London. One of the branches of its inquiries was devoted to the subject of the co-operation between the various religious bodies. Here are two of the answers which the inquiry has elicited:—"when the suspensory Veto of the House of Lords is interposed, precludes the possibility—and I say this with the utmost assurance—of covertly and arbitrarily smuggling into law measures which are condemned by public opinion, and it will at the same time ensure an ample opportunity for the reconsideration and revision of hasty and slovenly legislation."
Here is another:—"In the exacerbated state of feeling caused by the Welsh Bill, very little would be done with our people."
Surely the House could do better than, by its action to-day, stir again the waters of bitterness and once more set Church against Chapel, and clergyman against minister? And if the Church has its peculiar difficulties to face at the present moment, the difficulties which are before the State are almost equally great. There, again, from whatever side one looks, one is faced with the greatest and gravest problems which not only need urgent solution, but which need the cooperation of all right-minded men to solve. Think of the problems connected with industrial unrest! Think of the problems connected with social reform! Think of the problems with foreign and Imperial politics! The whole House will agree with me that many branches of politics can only be satisfactorily settled if all men, whatever be their party views would strive to assist in their settlement. It is extraordinarily difficult to have co-operation between one party and another upon many of these questions, when in the minds of many of us there is bitterness from the introduction of this Bill, and feeling that will become far more bitter if it reaches the Statute Book. Think of the Irish question at the present moment! Surely, if ever a question needed the impartial co-operation of all men in this House, that is such a question. Speaking for myself and myself only, I say it is extraordinarily difficult for one like me, who feels as strongly as I do over the Welsh Church Bill, to co-operate with hon. Gentlemen opposite in a settlement of that question or any other. 5.0 P.M. It would be inconsistent in the last degree if Members of this House to-day gave this Bill a Second Reading. Why, only yesterday, many Members of this House attended a service at St. Margaret's, Westminster, to celebrate the third century, during which that church has been the parish church of this House. Was there ever a better example, was there ever a better outward and visible sign of the Church Establishment? Three hundred years that church has been the parish church of this House. As long ago as 1735 the journals of this House said, "It is as it were the national church for the use of the House of Commons," and yet to-day hon. Members opposite, many of whom yesterday were glorying in this connection which has lasted for 300 years with St. Margaret's, Westminster, are apparently prepared to break the tie, which for 300 years has connected the Welsh Church and the Welsh State. As my Noble Friend (Lord Robert Cecil said, I believe such action is in direct contradiction of the general trend of public opinion. Establishment at one time was the doctrine of high Toryism. To-day I believe it ought to be the dogma of democracy. As democracy extends, the work of the State expands. Why should democracy, when its work is extending over the fields of charity and social reform, be stopped by a single limit? Why, when it reaches religion, should it be "thus far and no farther"? I believe that democracy, if it associates itself with a measure of this kind, will be running a very great danger of degenerating into materialism without an ideal and without a sentiment. It will become nothing more than an insurance office, or a joint stock company. Why should it not invoke to its aid the sentiment, the ideal, and the tradition of the National Church? Only last week in the columns of the "Times" newspaper a distinguished Frenchman made an eloquent appeal to the French and the English nation. In the course of that appeal Monsieur Lavisse used these words:"Owing to the indignation amongst Church people owing to the Welsh Bill, co-operation with Nonconformists just now would be very difficult."
Let the democracy bring to its aid the sentiment and tradition that belong to the National Church. That Church, I acknowledge, has made its mistakes no less than the State. Its voice has not always been certain in the cause of right. If that be so do not silence it, but give it greater power and freerer scope, as you have given to the Church in Scotland. The Church, I am aware, has often been very conservative in its action. If that be the case, do not by your action drive it into the entrenchments of what you believe to be the reactionary party. The Church, in your view, has a place of privilege. If that be so, you will find equality, not in the levelling of one religious body, but in the raising of the others. To my mind it would be an act of the gravest misfortune if the democracy in the early days of its power were to throw aside a weapon which I believe in after time it will feel to be one of the strongest in its cause."I have made appeal to sentiments common to us. Sentiment, I know well, is no longer in fashion. Twentieth-century politicians disdain the 'tomfoolery' that amused those of the eighteenth and nineteenth. But England and France cannot discard sentiment without courting moral deterioration. Why should they fail to reinforce their material strength by their moral? "
The two powerful speeches which have been delivered this afternoon, in moving and seconding the rejection of the Second Reading of this Bill, strike me as more remarkable for one feature of the case which they almost entirely omitted to deal with than for the elaborate collection of considerations which each speaker put forward. The hon. Gentleman who seconded did not, so far as I heard him, refer to one matter at all, which, in the view of those who promote this Bill, is the most important and the most fundamental of all the facts involved in the discussion, and that is the verdict of Wales and the view which the Welsh people have again and again expressed on the very subject with which this Bill deals. It is true that the Noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Cecil) did make a passing reference to this aspect of the matter, but he will forgive me for saying that I think he obviously regarded it as not the most important feature of his speech, because he said that he was not sure whether there were twenty-one or thirty-one supporters of Welsh Disestablishment from Wales and Monmouthshire. There are thirty-one out of thirty-four, and ever since two generations ago, when the second Reform Bill gave Wales some opportunity of expressing, through its representatives in this House, its real feelings, there has never been in any Parliament sitting here at Westminster any other representation on this subject from Wales than an overwhelming majority in favour of Welsh Disestablishment.Let the House observe how really significant that circumstance is. In other parts of Great Britain you have had varying electoral representation according as the interests of the time changed. Here in England we have seen the change of majorities in this House and the fluctuating influence of peace and war. We have at one time had great Conservative accessions of strength, and at another time the Conservative tide has receded and the Liberal flood has come in its place. All these changes, which we English Members know to be essentially characteristic of our Parliamentary institutions here, are substantially quite unknown when you come to the representation of Wales as regards this question. Let me remind the House of how striking the facts are at this moment. There are returned to this House from Wales and Monmouthshire three Members who are opposed to the principle of this Bill, and their combined majority, if you add the three together, comes to 356. The remaining Members from Wales and Monmouthshire, as far as my own calculations show me, have an average individual majority of something like 2,000—I am told it is nearer 3,000. There are nine or ten of the seats which are uncontested, and it is a perfectly absurd proposition for anyone who knows the electoral conditions in Wales to suppose that any Liberal candidate in any corner of Wales would either be proposed, adopted, recommended, or voted for unless he proclaimed himself in favour of Welsh Disestablishment. There is not a single constituency in Wales or Monmouthshire which has not been represented in recent years by a supporter of Welsh Disestablishment, and yet we are constantly being told, I am sure with sincerity, by those who oppose this proposal, that if we will wait a bit circumstances will change. We have been told that again and again. We were told it by Lord Randolph Churchill at the time of the first Disestablishment Bill, and the situation in this House at this moment is that thirty-one Welsh Members are returned in favour of this Bill, and that is exactly the electoral situation with which Lord Randolph Churchill was dealing. You may say that that situation is irrelevant to the argument. You may say that the opinion of Wales has nothing to do with it, but assuming you start from this principle, that some regard must be paid to the persistent and reiterated demand of the people of Wales, as expressed through their representatives, then it does surprise me that the Noble Lord and the hon. Member opposite, in the course of their sincere and exhaustive treatment of this matter, should find that this aspect of it is so comparatively important. The Noble Lord finds some comfort in the face of these extremely inconvenient figures in a recent petition. He is quite right, of course, to call attention to that which has been with so much labour and care collected and presented, but I confess that I prefer for this purpose the verdict of the ballot, which is secret, to any petition, however honestly or carefully it may be organised. The Noble Lord read a letter which he had received from a correspondent, and he said he could not give the writer's name—and I do not complain of that—which he thought added to the claim which this petition might make upon fair-minded men. It so happens that since I came to the House this afternoon I got a letter, and I propose to read a portion of it. It is from a gentleman whom I do not know personally, though I know him by name. He is at present a rector in a rectory in a Church in Wales. He was for many years before that a vicar in a some- what important Church in a Welsh county town. He says in the first instance:—
I perfectly recognise that it is distasteful, and I think very unwise, for a man who is not a Churchman, as I am not, ever, of his motion, to put forward the argument that Disestablishment is going to be a benefit to the Church. I well understand, and, if I may respectfully say so, sincerely sympathise with the resentment which is sometimes expressed when that is presented as the opinion of those who are not Churchmen. But I am reading the letter of a Churchman and a rector—a man who holds, and to my knowledge had held, important positions, and discharged them with dignity, in this very part of the country. Then he goes on about the petition. He says:—"I am quite convinced that a majority of the Welsh clergy to-day are quietly in favour of the Disestablishment Clauses of the Welsh Bill, and will welcome it when it becomes law. And regarding Disendowment, if the leaders of the Church party would only accept the Government's offer of commuting life interests, the loss would readily be made up by Church people, and the result would be a message of peace to Wales, and a blessing to the Church, as a spiritual institution."
I certainly do not allege—I should be ashamed to allege—that these sincere people who have thought it right to organise this petition have been deliberately and systematically engaged in gerrymandering of that sort, but I think I am entitled to submit that a petition, and especially a petition that is drawn up at a time undoubtedly of keen feeling and acute controversy, at a time when the more religiously a man regards; that controversy the more likely he is to feel that almost anything is justified in order to protect the view which he believes—I do most sincerely submit to the House that this petition of 103,000 persons, who are careful not to say that they oppose Disestablishment, but who are supposed to be signing a document against the Disendowment Clauses, that a document of that sort cannot stand in the scales as against the persistent, reiterated and emphatic demand made in this House, Parliament after Parliament, through the Parliamentary representatives of a perfectly loyal, constitutional, law-abiding people, who say this is a matter which affects us, our own lives, the conduct of our own affairs, and we demand from the British Parliament that they should render to us what we conceive to be this measure of justice in order that religious equality may be a fact. Just suppose that such a demand were made in this House by representatives in similar proportion, not from this little nationality, not from an area which send to this House, all told, only 5 per cent. of the 670 Members here, but supposing it was made in the name of England. Supposing it were true that in one recent Parliament there had been an absolutely unanimous representation here from England from persons claiming the Disestablishment of the Church of England; supposing it were true that for the rest of the time there had been a majority of ten to one of English Members in favour of such a proposal, does anybody suppose that if that had gone on for a generation, or for two generations, it is conceivable that such a demand would not by this time have been recognised? It appears to me all the more important because of a second point to which the Noble Lord referred, and it is a matter to which I want to refer—perhaps he will forgive me if I say I do not think he appreciated it—it is that he does not seem to think it enough to observe the plain electoral fact that for a generation there has been this overwhelming demand from the people of Wales. You must go further, and ask why that has happened. What is the cause of this almost unexampled demand, a demand which is, indeed, in our own political experience, quite unparalleled, except in the case of Nationalist Ireland? There is this distinction. Whatever may be said of Ireland, there is no Ulster in Wales; in no corner of the Principality can you find an exception to the general rule in anything like the same degree. If you ask that question, "How comes it about that in its political representation Wales has for so long made so pronounced and emphatic a claim in this direction?" you must recognise, every fair-minded man must recognise, that some of the explanations that might conceivably be offered are not the true explanations. I have heard in these Debates more than once the suggestion that really this claim for the Welsh Disestablishment Bill is merely an indication that the Welsh people are inspired by "hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness." I am certain that no argument which inflicts that cruel reflection upon the mass of the nation is ever going to receive a welcome in the British House of Commons. More than that, it cannot possibly be said to be due to any want of religious feeling in the Welsh people as a whole. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last drew a picture of what he feared might happen if Disestablishment were carried. He spoke of a community which was denied an Established Church sinking to the level of a great insurance office or a great joint stock company. Does anybody allege that the history of the rise of Nonconformity in Wales and the regrettable history of the apathy and lethargy of the Church of the past one or two generations has anything to do with the fact that materialism makes an undue appeal to the Celtic temperament? There is no part of the United Kingdom where in the outward and daily practice of religion—as regards its inward practice no man can tell—where, as regards its outward, organised, systematic practice, you find so strong a flood of religious feeling constantly expressing itself and pouring itself forth as you do in the Principality. I speak on this matter with some little personal knowledge, because I am half a Welshman, and the whole of my youth was spent in the very midst of the tradition of Welsh Nonconformity, and really, if I may say so with respect, English Churchmen do not altogether appreciate the intensity, the fervour, and the universality with which the practice of religion in the home, in the Sunday school, and in preaching meetings up and down the countryside of Wales operates. This shifting away of the Welsh people from the Established Church has, therefore, nothing in the world to do with irreligion or materialism in Wales. Neither, as I believe, has it anything at all to do with some deep doctrinal difference. Nonconformity did not arise in Wales because there was some fundamental difference in point of doctrine, or in point of ritual between the Established Church on the one hand and those who dissented on the other; not at all. It was not, in point of fact, due to a Puritan movement, because, broadly speaking, though the Puritan movement had a great success in England it did not succeed in Wales. It was not due to some different conception of Church policy. It was not, if I may say so respectfully to my hon. Friend below the Gang- way who just now seemed to differ from me, due, I am perfectly convinced, to the fact that there was some difference of theory of the connection between Church and State in the Principality of Wales from that which obtained in the rest of the country. That was not the cause. If you search for the cause you will find it beyond all doubt and question in this single circumstance: Nonconformity arose in Wales owing to the failure of the Church of England to do its duty. It arose in Wales not to counteract the efforts of the Establishment, but, on the contrary, to supply the deficiency which the Establishment had failed to supply, and which it had its Endowments for the purpose of supplying. If one were to refer to that simply for the purpose of making a score between one side and the other, or simply for the purpose of saying, "And therefore the Church of England must suffer for it now," the argument would be false, and I think it would be very wicked and absurd. It is at this point that the Noble Lord does not really follow. You must trace back to that piece of history in order to ascertain whether the deep division between the mass of the Welsh peasantry to-day and the Established Church is due to some temporary accident, to some passing fancy, to some influence, which time is likely to change, or whether it is due to something far more deep-seated and far more certain to endure. If it could be reasonably shown to be true that what has happened since those events and has continued to develop was likely to be checked in its course, and that the history of the Welsh nation was likely to be carried back to its old position in relation to the Church, I, for my part, think that would be an important consideration, and one which it would be very fair to weigh in the balance against this Bill, but I believe it can be shown, and shown conclusively, by anybody who really knows the history of the Welsh Nonconformist movement for the last one and a half or two centuries that those who imagine there is going to be this filling up of this gap between the Welsh peasantry on the one hand and the Established Church on the other as the national church of the country are really speaking vain things. I started with 1662, and I noticed with some interest that the Noble Lord also made a reference to 1662, and a very significant and important reference it was. He told us that he relied upon the Act of Uniformity of 1662 as giving, or, at any rate, confirming, a Parliamentary title in the Episcopal Church to those Endowments which it might or might not be said at an earlier time had come to it when it had no rival, and he went on to say, and there was some force in what he said with regard to England, that by 1662 the distinction between the Church of England on the one hand and Nonconformist bodies on the other was perfectly well understood. It was in England, but does he mean to say that it was in Wales? The very date which the Noble Lord chooses as the date with which to begin the historic argument is the date with which I am content to begin. I am content to wipe out anything which happened in the history of Nonconformity prior to 1662. If you trace it you will find that, calculated from that time, the stream began to diverge, and there was more and more of the national life flowing into the stream, which was Nonconformist in its tendency. One of the first things that happened in Wales after the Act of Uniformity—it happened, of course, also in England—was the inability of a certain number of ministers to accept that Act and to remain within the Church. The really important thing in the history of Welsh Nonconformity comes later. It comes in the second quarter of the eighteenth century, and it is quite true that the names which the Noble Lord read out, which have been familiar to me from the time I was a child, and which Welshmen here know infinitely better than I do, are the names of persons who were themselves Churchmen, many of them indeed clergymen in the Church of England. How does it come about that they are revered to-day by the mass of religious Welsh peasantry as the founders of 1he Nonconformist movement in Wales? It comes about for this simple reason: Men like Griffith Jones and Howell Harris were Churchmen. Griffith Jones was, I think, a rector in Carnarvonshire. He started the Welsh revival, as remarkable a movement in its religious fervour and enthusiasm as ever occurred in Europe. He started the Welsh revival because he found that under the teaching of the Established Church in Wales all religious thought and emotion was dead, and everybody knows that. He was persecuted by the very people who ought to have been the first to have recognised his sincerity. He was pilloried by his brother Churchmen and for twenty years he suffered in the Ecclesiastical Courts of the Principality. The next Nonconformist leader who comes in my Saints' Calendar, Howell Harris, was a man born of Church parents who was destined For the Church, and who vas denied Orders simply and solely because he was prepared to go about in the highways and hedges preaching in open places and invading other peoples' parishes. If the Noble Lord will look again at the well-known text-books on this subject—there is a very good one by Dr. Rees, and a very well-known book by Mr. Jones—he will see that as this movement wont on two things happened. In the first place, it gathered great force and volume. The Welsh people, who are an emotional people, and a deeply religious people, regarded these leaders as persons who had saved the soul of the nation, and by the middle and end of the eighteenth century it would be grotesquely untrue to say of Wales what the Noble Lord said was generally true of these islands, that the eighteenth century was a time when there was general apathy."The Nonconformist petition is not a genuine expression of the real feelings of the Nonconformists of Wales. In rural districts in this county it has been worked up by Conservative landlords and agents; and many parsons, and hundreds of poor, innocent, conscientious Nonconformists have signed the petition in order to protect themselves and their homes, their wives, their children, and their relatives have likewise signed for the same reason. It was not a spontaneous or voluntary move on their part, and Nemesis will certainly follow at the next election."'
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. I should have said at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
That is only one of the results that followed. The other thing which happened, and which certainly any man who has had an English training and education and who goes back to Wales recognises perfectly, is this: I do not know whether it was always there or whether it was due to the influence of these great leaders of religious thought in Wales. But I make the avowal for what it is worth. The Celtic temperament in the rural parts of Wales is not particularly easy to approach by the stately methods—the pious methods—of the Established Church. Let any loyal Churchman consider how the Welsh practice strikes him. If he is candid with himself, he will admit that there is much in the ordinary religious practices in Wales to-day which, to a certain extent, offends his sense of what is proper and decent. What is the real character of Welsh religious organisation and Welsh worship as I have known it, and as many hon. Members here have known it? There is the universal practice of impromptu prayer; there is the very great emphasis laid on and the preponderating importance attached to preaching. You do not get one sermon preached, you get a whole series of sermons, one after the other. There is the open avowal of private and religious experience. There is the immense fervour, one might almost say the excessive fervour, of religious enthusiasm. There is the definite rejection of what may perhaps be correctly described at sacerdotal mediation. It is clear, is it not, to any fair-minded English Churchman that these elements do not strike him as the natural and appropriate way in which he, as a member of the Church of England, conducts his service. What is true of the attitude of estrangement with which English Churchmen look at these practices in Wales is certainly equally true of the view which the ordinary Nonconformist peasant takes of the practices of the English Church. He speaks with complete respect of them. I believe it to be a gross libel to say that the Welsh Nonconformist is a man who spends his time in abusing and libelling the Church of England. But this is true: The dignity of episcopal methods and the solemnity of them are very easily misunderstood by that hot and impetuous population as being coldness and mere formality, and it is that feeling, which has been driven into the structure of Welsh society, which makes it perfectly hopeless to suppose that it is going to be removed and made as though it never had been as the result of some further postponement of this reform.It does not stop there. Those leaders of the Welsh Nonconformist movement so completely represented it that they became something besides leaders of religious thought. The whole national movement in Wales is bound up with them, and it must be so. The Church of England is well entitled to say that whatever may have been her deficiencies in the past, she shows herself, in the language of Mr. Gladstone, a "growing and living Church" to-day. But from the point of view of the loyal supporter of the Established Church in Wales, What is Wales? To him Wales is but four dioceses in the Province of Canterbury. That is what Wales is to him, and it is for that very reason that the Noble Lord finds that one of the most terrible features of this Bill to be the mutilation, and lopping off, of a portion of the Province of Canterbury from the rest. Hon. Gentlemen are perfectly entitled to say that, and I do not suggest for one moment that they do not say it with all sincerity, but it is wholly inconsistent with the Welsh national view. You do not meet the aspirations of a Welsh Nationalist by telling him that he lives in that part of England which consists of four dioceses in the Province of Canterbury. Just as those religious teachers who started the Nonconformist movement in Wales in the eighteenth century gathered more and more force in the religious sphere, so the inevitable consequences was that they and those who follow them, and were associated with them, became involved in the whole national movement in Wales. It is true, and it is admitted by Churchmen generally, that outside altogether the religious life it is on these Nonconformist bodies, in the different departments of social life, that you find the natural leaders of Welsh opinion. There is a statement well known and quite true, made by Dean Edwards to the Church Congress, to the effect that
If you take the leaders of the Welsh political movement, you will find that they are almost to a man Nonconformist. Take the leaders of the Welsh Labour party. They are people who first learned the power to lead their fellows in religious exercises in Nonconformist chapels. Take the movement for education in Wales, whether it be the Elementary Education Act of 1870, the intermediate education movement later on, or the foundation of the University in Wales. It is not the fault of the Established Church, but it is inevitable in her position that she should be continually, to the appearance of the average Welsh nationalist, resisting the national movement and denying national claims, but it is the essence of her position that she is in Wales merely as part of a greater whole. There is the view which has been more than once quoted in these Debates of Sir Harry Reichol, who is not only a distinguished scholar, but the head of the University in North Wales. He described what in effect was the impression produced on his own mind by the development of the Welsh University, and the way in which Nonconformists in Wales were catching up any advantage which had previously attached to the old Church College at Lampeter. He said:—"For one hundred and fifty years every teacher whose name lives in the hearts of the Welsh people has been, almost without exception, a Nonconformist.'
I assure the House I did not read that extract with any desire to claim superiority for those with whom I have a natural sympathy. I did it to illustrate this argument, which I believe is a true one, that the division, which can be traced back to 1720 or thereabouts, and which began with the immense religious revival of Griffith Jones and others, has led up to today to such a separation between the Welsh national spirit on the one hand, and the Established Church on the other, that it is perfectly idle to suppose, as long as it remains, it is going to confine itself naturally to those represented by the Established Church. What a ridiculous position it is in which the matter is now left. Here-is a Church which by common admission—by the frank admission of those who do not belong to it, as well as by the claims of those who do—has made most, strenuous efforts, and has been engaged in most devoted work undoubtedly, which claims to be the national Church of Wales, and yet, whatever your statistics show, they show that the greater part of the Welsh nation repudiates its claim! Where else, in the civilised world, will you find an Established Church whose only claim is that it represents a minority of the population? The hon. Gentleman who spoke last told us that, in his view, the passage of this Bill was really going to produce increased bitterness. I was very sorry to hear him quote the sermon he did, but there is another side of this question. Will he not have enough imagination to perceive that there may be bitterness existing now, and that there is something repellent to most Welsh people in the present situation? Is there not some comfort to be drawn, even by him, from the undoubted fact that people are just as sincere and as convinced to-day as were the people who, in 1869, declared that the Disestablishment of the Church was in many ways for the good of the Church in Ireland? Where is there any responsible person speaking for that Church who is not now prepared to affirm that? [Dissent.] Then we are to understand that the view which hon. Gentlemen here put forward upon this Bill, the view that was put forward against the Bill in 1869, is the view which ought still to prevail. I was thinking of what was said of that measure by that well-known Churchman, Lord Plunket, an Archbishop of Dublin, who was a bishop in the Episcopal Church of Ireland at the time when Disestablishment took place. Twenty-five years afterwards, Lord Plunket, speaking of his experience of Disestablishment, said:—"When I first came into Wales Lampeter turned out a better type of man, take him all round, than the best of the Nonconformist colleges. The positions are now reversed. At present the Lampeter men are quite outclassed by the students of these colleges who enjoy the full advantages of the new system. What has happened in the interim? The great educational movement. The Nonconformist colleges have brought themselves into line with this movement. Lampeter stands where she did. No one who has not been brought into close contact with their students can realise the degree to which the whole intellectual position of these colleges has been raised and strengthened by that reconstruction, We are, indeed, if things remain as they are in Wales, within measurable distance of a time when theological learning, even in a subject like church history, will have to be sought, not in the church parsonage, but in the Nonconformist manse. Where in Wales must we seek for the true home of theological learning and research in future, if the conditions remain unchanged? Not in Lampeter, but in Bala, Bangor, Aberystwyth, Brecon, Cardiff, Carmarthen. Who will be the future leaders of theological thought in Wales? Not the clergy of the Church, but the ministers of the Nonconformist denominations."
I will not detain the House many more minutes, but I wish to say a few words on the Disendowment part of the Bill. The hon. Member who spoke last will excuse me for pointing out that he made a real misstatement, and it is a grievous misstatement, because it is so constantly made. I hope, now that I have an opportunity of correcting it, it will not be made again. He said that the Disendowment proposals of the Bill meant that £150,000 will be taken out of a total income of £260,000. That may be contended by those who say it to be accurate, but if they look at the figures they will find that the income of the Church of England in Wales is not £260,000 a year only. To it must be added another £298,000 in the form of voluntary subscriptions, and I know not how much more in the form of glebe."When I try to hold the balance evenly, and to weigh the losses and the gains as a whole, I say boldly and without reserve that the gain outweighs the loss."
I quoted from the Government White Paper.
Does the hon. Gentleman deny the accuracy of what I now state I Does he really justify himself quoting something which he apparently realises is likely to mislead, because, forsooth, he salves his conscience by saying that he is quoting textually from a Government White Paper? If the hon. Gentleman who makes that statement will read the whole of the Government White Paper I shall not mind. Anybody who reads it carefully will know that the Government White Paper, before it makes this statement, says that it is referring solely to the Endowments of the Church. I only point out to the hon. Gentleman—I do not suppose for a moment he deliberately intends to mislead anybody—that a repetition of that statement, unless it is explained, is likely to mislead. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not repeat it without the explanation. The Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil), in the speech he made earlier in the afternoon, put the case for Disendowment argumentatively, as he understood it to be put by somebody on this side. He was kind enough to refer to something I had said about it. Let me say at once that I do not materially dispute the accuracy of the version that he put forward. The proposition as I would seek to state it is this: the case for Disendowment does not in the least depend on an accurate and precise historical judgment as to the origin of tithe. All I would venture to say about tithe is that it is an exceedingly obscure subject, and though I find that the evidence, so far as it goes, appears to support the views put forward from this side, I do not think the argument is very essential to the case.What I do submit is that the essential thing is to distinguish between the position of the mediæval Church and the position of the Church as it stands to-day. No argument about the continuity of the Church can possibly obscure the importance of this distinction. Whether you regard the ambit of the Church, or whether you regard the function which it actually performs, the mediæval Church was in a perfectly different position from the Church of England as it is in Wales to-day. The mediæval Church was universal; it was unrivalled; it was co-extensive with the whole community, and it held in respect to the whole of the community very effective pains and penalties for their conforming and compliance, and it is no exaggeration to say that it was, in the true sense of the term, the community in its religious aspect. When one says the Church, and when one wishes to speak with accuracy, we should say the whole assembly of capitular, episcopal and parochial corporations which have apportioned between them the different properties of the Church. I am unable to suppose that all these ancient Endowments represent so much voluntary benevolence on the part of pious donors—I rather question whether they were so voluntary or quite as pious—still, those who are concerned to argue for their retention are well within their rights when they say, "Here is a prescription which is long enough as compared with the prescription ordinarily required within the English law, and they have had possession of these things for a great length of time." That is quite true, but when it is said that this money was given to the lineal ancestor of the Church of England in Wales to-day, one is compelled to point out what is the fundamental distinction. It was given to the mediæval Church. I do not know any other body existing in the Middle Ages to which money could be given, if it was desired, to provide for religion or for charity, or for education and the like. To-day the Church which claims to be, and perhaps rightly claims to be in some sense, the strict descendant of that mediæval Church, is not a Church which is co-extensive with the community. It is not working unrivalled and alone in the sphere of religious needs, and it is not and cannot, in any real sense, be said to be the community in its religious aspect. The Noble Lord recognised that there might be some force in the distinction, although naturally he does not think it carries the point, which was perhaps the reason why he laid some emphasis on the year 1662. So far as Wales is concerned, whatever may be said as to the other parts of the United Kingdom, the dividing line between the Church and Nonconformity begins after 1662 for all substantial purposes.
The Noble Lord said he had been reading the history of Welsh Nonconformity—
I did not say that Nonconformity in Wales was ever so extensive as it was in England in the seventeenth century, but I did say there was a very considerable body of Nonconformists in Wales in the seventeenth century.
I cannot dispute the matter with the Noble Lord. In a sense, perhaps, we are both right. No doubt there were some, but, broadly speaking, it is my firm conviction that the Puritan movement which had so much to do with the foundation of English Nonconformity did not appear in Wales until after 1662. Once that difference is realised between the mediæval Church on the one hand, which had the exclusive claim because there was no one else to claim it, and its modern representative on the other hand, which admits that there are other religious bodies which are its spiritual equals, working in the same direction as itself, how is the argument met, that in these circumstances some measure of Disendowment is fairly called for? It is said, in the first instance, that you are dealing with this as if it were national property, but that it is not national property, but property which belongs to this or that ecclesiastical corporation. If we are going to quarrel about the appropriateness of an adjective, I am not going to say that in some senses it is not national property. But it is not private property. It was not property given to the persons who received it to spend at their own will and pleasure. It is public property in the sense that it is held on trust for public purposes.
I said charitable purposes.
The Noble Lord did not draw the distinction I have heard drawn in this dispute between the immediate religious purposes and such charitable purposes as the relief of the poor. On that I may remind him that beyond all doubt a large part of the Endowments at least of the ancient Welsh Church arose as Endowments for a monastic establishment as distinguished from a parochial establishment, and in so far as these ancient Endowments are monastic in origin, it is surely impossible to deny that one of the very first objects designed to be served by them was the very object of maintaining the poor.
Were they not confiscated?
If you please. If the Noble Lord desires to suggest that whatever may be true about the monastic Endowments of the Church in England and Wales, none of them can be traced back to the monasteries now, he may be right. Be that as it may, the broad difference surely does exist in fact between the claim which the mediæval Church had as it existed in the Middle Ages and the totally different claim which may fairly be put forward on behalf of the Church now. It is said that if this argument is worth anything it is an argument in favour of concurrent Endowment. I am bound to say frankly that I do not see that. I know perfectly well why hon. Gentlemen opposite put it forward. It is not that they really approve of concurrent Endowment. Even to-day, the Church in Wales, although the greater part of its Endowments is in the hands of a small portion of the whole, and the greater part of the Church in Wales would be very well off with some of that money, it has never even pooled its Endowments. It has never done, even within its own borders, what might be done in the name of concurrent Endow- ment. If it is once fairly established that these ancient funds were given in trust in order that they should be used for parochial purposes—I doubt not for religion first and foremost, but also for the services of the poor, for the relief of the sick and what not—I cannot understand the state of mind of hon. Gentlemen opposite who, outside this House, if not in it, raise cheers in their church defence meetings, simply by saying bluntly, "This is robbery." [HON. MEMBEES: "Hear, hear!"] If hon. Gentlemen think so—as they plainly do—I can only say once again that they are back in 1869, when exactly the same thing was said, and when it was said in the face of some, at any rate, who spoke with unquestioned devotion to the Church, and said in spite of the rebuke of some of the leaders of the Church.There are conditions, as it seems to me, which it would be quite fair to require to be observed in any measure of Disendowment accompanying Disestablishment. I would name three: In the first place, it is clearly right that one should protect all existing life-interests to the full. There are you dealing with a vested interest? [HON. MEMBERS: "Curates."] In the second place, I submit one must distinguish sharply, and this Bill does distinguish most sharply, between the ancient endowments, on the one hand, and modern endowments on the other. I do not know whether anyone will suggest that if that task is to be undertaken the year which we have chosen in this Bill is not the appropriate year. There is one other condition I would lay down. I am conscious in doing so that I may easily seem to give offence. Of course, if hon. Gentlemen are right in regarding any measure of Dis-endowment as in itself wicked and wrong, then plainly there is no justification for leaving 19s. 11¾d. to the Church when the Church is entitled to £1. For the moment I am not speaking from that point of view, but from the point of view of those who think that some measure of Disendowment is reasonably justified by the circumstances. I would lay down this condition: I will not say that there should be generous treatment—that naturally raises irritation and indignation—but I would say that the terms should be terms which are fair and moderate to the utmost degree. I do not believe there has ever been a scheme of Disendowment in that respect which could more truly be said to be more moderate than the scheme which we propose. For the rest, it is because I find that this Bill does conform to those principles that I commend it to the House, and invite the House to give it a Second Reading. This, Sir, will be the fourth time that the Second Reading of a Welsh Disestablishment Bill has been carried in this House by a great majority. Hitherto, whatever has been the majority we have secured for it in this House, however persistent the demand made for it from Wales, those who have defended the other point of view have been very confident of the protecting hand of the House of Lords. That is not so any longer. This Bill, as I trust, when it leaves this place, will find its way without undue delay on to the Statute Book, and, while this is a matter of very bitter controversy in which I perfectly appreciate the depth of feeling which is roused on the other side, I would beg hon. Gentlemen to believe, at any rate, that those who are promoting this Bill, however wrong they may be, are convinced, as I am convinced, that it is our duty, and a duty which we owe the people of Wales, to carry this Bill into law.
I am quite sure that no one can doubt for a moment the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, but I wish he would put into practice himself the principles that he preaches so well when he is addressing the House. He asks us to give him and his friends credit for sincerity and for a real desire to do something effective, and yet, fortified though he is with all the greatest gifts which go to help oratory in this House, he never forgets when he is making a speech to adopt some of those minor tactics which fail to show the same spirit that he asks us to show to him. A moment ago, at the conclusion of his speech, he did not forget to suggest that we adopted; a form of opposition outside this House in regard to this Bill very different from the opposition which we offer inside, and he suggested that our statement that this Bill proposes to rob the four Welsh dioceses of the English Church in Wales is a statement which we keep for what he is pleased to term our Church defence platforms and do not make on the floor of this House. It has been made on the floor of the House time after time, and it has been the burden of our song, and it has been the centre and foundation of speeches from this side of the House during all these debates. I well recollect the Prime Minister in one of the previous debates on the Bill denouncing in the strongest terms our use of this language, but frankly admitting that that was the charge we made. It does not lie, therefore, with the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that our attack in this House is on different lines from what it is in the country.
I should be very sorry if I seemed disingenuous. I was referring to the two speeches which I carefully sat through and listened to, and which in that respect were entirely moderate speeches. I do not suggest that any hon. Gentleman would not say the same things in this House as he would say on the platform.
I am only human, and I can only deal with what the right hon. Gentleman said, and that was not applied to my Noble Friend (Lord Robert Cecil) and to my hon. Friend (Mr. Hoare), but to the party for whom for the moment I am speaking, and for them I say that we have never failed in our efforts to put our case in defence of our position in opposition to this Bill as plainly as we could, both in the House and out of it. The right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech by a reference to the Parliament Act, and he took great consolation from the fact that the Parliament Act has given relief and release to the party to which he belongs, and that it is going to enable this Bill to be placed on the Statute Book. The Parliament Act may have conferred this great benefit on the Government and on the Liberal party, but there is no doubt that it has hit a heavier blow at Debates in this House than has ever been struck by any procedure before. How curiously these words read when we hear quoted by my hon. Friend (Mr. Hoare) the statement of the Prime Minister at the time the Bill was passing to the effect that the passage of two years would give time for reconsideration, that there would be ample opportunity for alterations and Amendments, and there would be every consideration given to those who could make out a strong case! We have heard the reception given by the first spokesman for the Government to-day to the demand for alterations and for Amendments which have come during the time this Bill has become more familiar to the people of this country, which has not come from one party or one sect or one body of religion. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was powerful and interesting in so much as it was a record of a portion of Welsh history, given, as I noticed, as an old Member of this House, as these historical records always are given—very largely coloured by the particular views of the historian of the moment. But in so far as it was a record of the history of Wales and its great revival movement, and the effect of the great Nonconformist body upon religious work in Wales, it was interesting and effective. But as a defence of this particular Bill it showed no appreciation whatever for what has been going on in the country in regard to this movement, and of this Bill in particular, nor did it offer one single defence until he came to the conclusion, and in his concluding sentences, when he was almost on his peroration, he came to his remarkable defence of the Disendowment part of the Bill.The right hon. Gentleman, I think, will agree with me that one effect of the Parliament Act is deplorable. I think he will share this view, that, however sincere hon. Members opposite may be to place a good measure upon the Statute Book, when it comes to the Second or the Third Beading in this House the proceedings are farcical. No more powerful or more interesting speech on this or any other question has been made for many a day in the House than the one delivered by the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil). It was a speech full of carefully reasoned argument which must have appealed to anyone who heard it, and yet who was there here to listen to that speech or to give the reception to which it is entitled if you really mean what you said when you were passing the Parliament Act, namely, that arguments addressed to you which have weight and force should be listened to, and that there would be an opportunity for altering the Bill in order to meet it? Two or three Members on the Treasury Bench and a few-scattered representatives of their party behind them. Why? Because you are determined that at any cost, whatever may be its effect, you are going to obtain that release from your thraldom, to which the Attorney-General referred, which you get under the Parliament Act, and which will enable you to pass your measures whether they are good or bad, and whatever may be the prospect of their effect in future. I listened with amazement to the early part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He devoted a considerable portion of his speech to chiding my Noble Friend and the rest of us on this side of the House because my Noble Friend, in addressing to the House a most thoughtful and serious speech on this great question, omitted a reference to one thing. What was it? The question of the votes in Wales. The numbers for Wales, as he told us triumphantly, never varied, and they had consistently sent thirty-one out of thirty-four Members to represent them, all of them pledged on this question. This great fact, which moved the Government to introduce this Bill, ought to weigh with my Noble Friend and with us. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why it does not weigh with us. While it does for the platform, for which the right hon. Gentleman had so much contempt, it does not bear examination in the practical, every-day work of this House, because, with all their thirty-one Members and all the enthusiasm of the party to which he belongs and the gratitude felt by the Members of that party, it was not without the aid of Irish votes that you could carry this Bill up to its present stage. With all your thirty-one Members for Wales, and your Welsh sentiment and strong Welsh feeling, you will not yet succeed in giving effect to your Parliament Act and in placing this Bill on the Statute Book without still being dependent on those Irish votes which have enabled you to pass it so far, and to whom you look to enable you to pass it and other measures afterwards. Why? Not because this is a question in which they are keenly concerned. It is one on which in the old days they would have stood aside. It is because it is a part of your whole scheme of government that in order to please Wales you must have the Irish votes one day and vice versa another day, you shall have the Welsh votes in order to gratify Ireland. Therefore we do not attach quite so much importance to his theory of votes as he does himself. But the right hon. Gentleman is far too well informed and too great a scholar to be guilty of inaccuracy in a matter of this kind, and he was careful to talk of the four Welsh dioceses of the Church of England. What does his theory about the votes amount to? Does he mean this House to understand that it is the deliberate opinion of the Government that if you take any particular area which is specially represented and circumscribed and is well understood, such, for instance, as the Principality of Wales, the great Metropolis of London, Lancashire, Yorkshire, any of our great centres, if their Members are returned in a great majority in favour of Disestablishment, you are to take out of the Established Church the dioceses in which those Members' constituencies are resident? It is an absurd proposition to make to this House that we are to embark upon a policy of Disestablishment and Disendowment solely because the votes of Members from the Principality have consistently demanded it. The right hon. Gentleman failed to do what it seemed to me it was his first bounden duty to do, not merely to tell us that the Government are committed to this policy and Welshmen have voted for it continuously, and therefore we must give effect to it, but surely he was bound, as the first spokesman of the Government to-day, to take the House into his confidence as to what are the prospects of this Bill carrying out the object which he and his Government have in view. I believe myself that this Government, fortunate in many respects, are especially unfortunate in this. They have started out, for instance, with their two principal measures to grant Home Rule to Ireland and to Disestablish and Disendow the Welsh Church. They tell us that the Bill for the establishment of Home Rule is not only to lead to the better government of Ireland, but to lead to peace and prosperity in that country. Yet they know now—their ears have been deaf to it many a day—what everyone else has known for a long time, that the passage of their Home Rule Bill does not mean better government, peace and prosperity, but it means the destruction of government, misery, and actual civil war. What is your Bill for the Disestablishment of the Church of Wales going to do? The right hon. Gentleman had a mere passing word to say of this. He referred to the statement made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Hoare), in which he said that by your Bill you are creating great bitterness of feeling, you are establishing amongst Churchmen the strong conviction that you are wronging them and robbing them, and that you are doing them an irreparable injury, and all that the Attorney-General had to say in reference to this was to deplore it. I could not help thinking of a speech I heard him make, I think last year, on the Home Rule question. We were doing our best to impress upon the Government what would be the reception of their measure in Ireland, and what would be its effect upon the community at large, and the Attorney-General said: "I deplore and regret that this feeling should be as it is. Are you sure it is so? I refuse to believe it." That was the line taken by him and his Friends. Where are they now? They cannot refuse any longer to believe in the truth of what we said then, and do they believe this, that this Bill is going to revive Church life in Wales, to strengthen it and to add to it "? It was a very remarkable thing that to-day the Attorney-General could only produce one witness in support of the theory that the clergy of the Welsh Church are, in reality, in favour of Disendowment. He read to us a letter from a Welsh clergyman, and told us that this gentleman believes that the majority of the Welsh clergy would welcome Disestablishment, and that if they would accept the offer of the Government, they would find that Disendowment would cause no practical injustice. Surely that is not very strong evidence upon which to ask us to pass the Second Reading of the Bill—one letter from one clergyman—and yet the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as we do, that the bishops of the Church in Wales hold a totally different opinion. He knows that most of the clergy in Wales, and that most of the laity in Wales hold a totally different opinion. The hon. and learned Gentleman dealt, of course, with the petition to which my Noble Friend (Lord Robert Cecil) referred in his speech. It is a most remarkable petition. The Attorney-General will forgive me if I say that I do not think his reference to that petition was altogether worthy of the occasion. We all know that there are foolish people about who when petitions are being got up exercise great pressure sometimes upon their friends to sign them, and occasionally, no doubt, they get names added which ought not to be added, because their owners do not care very much one way or another. But this is a petition got up under very exceptional circumstances. All the information which reached me showed that the utmost precaution was taken that the signatures should be genuine and voluntarily given, and I submit that the evidence of one clergyman that there has been pressure, and in some instances even coercion, ought not to be accepted in this House as in any way qualifying the fact that the petition is a remarkable proof of the feeling which exists—feeling not confined to one party, or Church, or section of the community. All that the Attorney-General had to say about it was that this petition had been got up in that way, under coercion, and that he thought it might be dismissed. Surely to talk about coercion in regard to this petition is very ludicrous at this time of day. It would be easy for us to say that petitions are got up by hon. Gentlemen opposite under pressure. I have never said so, because I think it would be most ludicrous to say so. I have some knowledge of our country life both in England and Wales, and I cannot understand how hon. Gentlemen opposite can come here and say, as they have done to-day, that the kind of men whose signatures are to be found in the petition, are those who are likely to lend themselves to the kind of coercion of which we have heard. We are told that they have been compelled to sign because of their position in relation to landlords or employers. The hon. and learned Attorney-General turns to us with contempt and says: "You are prophesying this future for the Welsh Bill. Why! it is the same kind of prophesy that was made in 1869 when the Irish Church Disestablishment Bill was talked about." If that is to be a sound argument, what are we to say about this eternal revival of the old argument about coercion by landlords or employers? There may have been signatures improperly added to the petition, but in the great bulk of cases the signatures were genuine, and in this case they were honestly and properly given. This petition is a real proof of the feeling entertained in regard to this Bill, and it ought to receive more attention at the hands of the Attorney-General and the Government than it has received to-day. The Attorney-General dealt with the Irish Church precedent, and, if the House will allow me, I will say a word about it. I think he misunderstood the position. I believe everything said in 1869 can be proved out of the mouths of leading Irish Churchmen to-day. What we do say is that we challenge the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that any leading Irish Churchman would not deny that the passing of the Disestablishment and Disendowment Act had been to the benefit of that Church. I say, generally speaking, I cannot understand how the Attorney-General could have made such a statement, because the bulk of the evidence is on the other side. I do not care to what sources you go, whether clergy or laity, you will find that the evidence is on the other side. In passing, may I say that I think the Attorney-General was a little severe on the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Hoare), who quoted certain figures from a Government Paper of which the hon. and learned Gentleman fell foul, and he was especially indignant with him for quoting a Government White Paper. I confess that recent events have taught us to be very chary about accepting Government Papers, whatever their colour may be. I confess it is a new experience for me, at all events, to find a Member of the Government standing up in a white sheet and telling the House they ought to be aware of the Government's own productions. I asked at the beginning of my remarks a question to which I venture to give an answer myself. It is a question which, I think, the Attorney-General should have asked himself and given an answer to the House. He dealt with the general question of Disestablishment and Disendowment, and apparently he dismissed the question of Disestablishment quite easily on the ground that you have a great Nonconformist community in Wales—a majority. The Government hold that because at present the majority of Members from Wales are opposed to the Established Church, therefore you must Disestablish it, and that ends the matter so far as the Attorney-General is concerned. That is a simple way of dealing with the question. He went on to prove to his own satisfaction with respect to Disendowment that the provisions of the Bill are quite fair. I think he called them reasonable and moderate. But what we ought to have been told was, granting that Disestablishment and Disendowment are right, is this particular measure for which we are responsible to-day going to have the effect we desire? That is to say, is it going to put an end to those feuds between Church and chapel? Is it going to put an end to this animosity and improve and strengthen religious life in Wales? It is not enough to tell us that the Government are committed to the policy of Disestablishment and Disendowment, and to say that they are in themselves good things, without going on to show that this particular measure is going to have the effect they desire. The Government are not doing what they are called upon to do, namely, to give an answer to statements which have appeared in many directions that you are not going to bring religious peace by this Bill, that you are going to do a great deal more harm than good, and that you are going to create trouble where there is at present very little difficulty. We have heard to-day the historical and most learned arguments that can be advanced in support of a theory. These are not the arguments, as hon. Gentlemen know very well, which are used on platforms in the villages of Wales. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that the main argument used in connection with Disestablishment and Disendowment is the comparison made between the position of the respective churches. Often and often when I have discussed this question of Disestablishment with Welsh friends of my own who are Nonconformists—some of them ministers of Nonconfirmist churches—they have always pointed out to me that the real question in the present situation is with respect to the two men in the same parish, perhaps within a few yards of one another, doing the same religious work, one of them, as is often the case, ministering to the majority, while the minister of the Church of England has the care of the minority. Their positions are totally different, and in many cases the minister of the Church of England has a larger stipend, and the conditions of his living are better. I ask are you going to do anything by this Bill to improve that condition of things and to reduce the disparity? Are you going to do anything to bring up the underpaid man to the position of his brother whom he regards as better off than himself? I say that this Bill does not take you a single inch in that direction. Even although worthy of all the commendation on historical and national grounds which the Attorney-General gave it, if that be the answer—I believe it is the chief justification that there is for this particular measure—why are you leaving the greater part of the sore untouched, and doing that which the Church itself regards as a great injustice? I confess that I could not follow the Attorney-General in the concluding part of his remarks dealing with Disendowment. It seemed to me that he was leading inevitably to the doctrine of concurrent Endowment. He told us what we have very often been told before in the historical references to this question, that these funds had been the property of the mediaeval Church as it then existed. But he said that under modern conditions all this is altered, and that now it is our duty to divert some of this money into other channels. Surely, if that be the argument on which the Government and the Attorney-General found themselves, if that is the basis upon which they rest their confiscation proposals, if they are going to be logical and just, they will take this money, which they do not deny was originally given for religious and charitable purposes, and use it for other purposes of a similar character! Supposing your own argument is correct, supposing that Disendowment is in itself right, and that you are justified in giving effect to it, surely you are doing it because this money should be continued for its original purposes! The Attorney-General will not have it that the money was given by private donors. He says that it was public money, and intended for the special purposes of a religious and charitable character, and that now, conditions having altered, the money should flow in a different direction. But surely, if you are going to be just, you ought not to divert these funds and confiscate them from the purposes to which they are devoted! You ought not to apply the funds to objects of a purely secular character, which may set up injustice ten times worse, and add insult to the injury you are doing to the Church by taking these funds from the purposes for which they have hitherto been used. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea has said, at what a moment you are doing this! Everybody knows that the learned Attorney-General spoke with absolute accuracy when he said that between the Nonconformists and the Church people in Wales, as elsewhere, there is, as a rule, the very best of feeling. That is certainly my experience, and I believe that there is that feeling. Are you going to improve that feeling, or are you going to maintain that happy condition of things by leaving every Churchman with the knowledge that mainly by the votes and efforts of Nonconformists this great institution has been deprived of her revenues at a time when she sorely needs them, and when, by your own admission, she was doing good work? The Attorney-General told us in an eloquent passage that the real cause of this Bill was the failure of the Church to do its work in the last century. Nobody who is familiar with the history of the Church in Wales denies that there was a time in her history when she failed to reach a high standard, and to take full advantage of the opportunity presented to her. But is it not an extraordinary argument to offer to this House that now, when it is admitted in all quarters that the Church has long ago thrown off that lassitude, and has been for years and years doing splendid work, and doing it with real courage, devotion and ability, you choose this moment to deprive her of those funds which have hitherto been hers, and which to-day she so badly needs? The right hon. Gentleman in referring to the Disendowment proposals said he thought that they were, he would not say generous, but, at all events, fair. I confess that I was struck with the use of the word fair, because I thought that it was not one that would be used by him in this particular reference. I presume that if a man better armed than you meets you in the street and relieves you of most of your valuables, he may say that he is treating you fairly if he leaves you enough of money to pay for a ticket on the Underground Railway to get to your home. But I do not suppose that you yourself would regard that treatment as fair, and, therefore, I do not think that the Attorney-General can expect those who stand to-day for the Church in Wales to regard his description of the Disendowment part of the Bill as correct. But that seems to me to be an altogether inadequate argument. If Disendowment is right; if you are right in depriving the Church of her revenues, say so and do it; but do not ask us to believe that you are doing it with every desire to treat the Church not only with justice, but with generosity. The Irish Church has been referred to. I believe that there is no precedent in the Irish case at all. But this is undoubtedly true. The Irish Church possessed vast funds, much greater funds than at that time was apparent she could usefully employ. Nobody will pretend that that is the case with regard to the four Welsh dioceses of the English Church. If it be true that the Church was lax in doing her duty years and years, ago, it is also true that of recent years she has made every possible effort to overtake the past, and has more than made up for the arrears, and has been extending her work in every direction, not only in the towns but in the country parishes. The Attorney-General has asked "how can you expect these people to retain your Established Church in face of all this history of theirs and their present convictions?" Anybody would have thought, listening to the Attorney-General, that this Church had been doing nothing in Wales, and that it has been at a standstill, that it is an unpopular institution of which the people know little or nothing. Yet we know from figures which cannot be contested that the congregation of the Church in Wales has been steadily increasing, and that even in the small country parishes the number of the communicants has been steadily increasing. You can drive anywhere you like through the Principality and see what work is being done in the restoration of churches, the building of new churches, the increasing of accommodation in both churches and schools, and the improving of the work done by the clergy in Wales. It was a reproach against them that the Welsh clergymen and the higher officials of the four Welsh dioceses could not talk to the people in their own language. That is a criticism which can no longer be made. The clergy in Wales, whether they be the higher officers or the parochial clergy, are able to-day to appeal to the people in their own language, and I think they have appealed to them. That is the best answer to the statement of the Attorney-General, that you are compelled to Disestablish the Church in Wales, because a majority of the people in Wales are opposed to an Established Church. I do not deny the right of the Government to say, "This is our position. We are pledged to Disestablish. The people in Wales are all in favour of it." I do not deny their right to bring in a Bill, and I do not deny that a Bill for the Discndowment and Disestablishment of the Welsh Church has been long before the country. But I ask them, as I have asked them before, on the Second Reading, can they show to this House and to, the country that the Bill which they are now bringing forward is in conformity with the pledge which they say they have given, and that it is going to do what they desire, or tell us what they desire—I am giving them full credit for sincerity—namely, improve the religious life in Wales? The Attorney-General said in reference to this that the Irish precedent was one which had benefited the Irish Church, and he challenged us to give evidence to the contrary direction.
I do not complain of what the right hon. Gentleman says, because it may well be that I created that impression, but I think that it would be more accurate to say—and that really was the point which I was endeavouring to put—that very gloomy prophecies were put forward in 1869, and I should doubt very much, with great respect to him, whether competent authority will now assert that all those gloomy prophecies have been fulfilled. I think, perhaps, that it would be more moderate and more reasonable if I put it in that way.
Without hesitation I accept the altered description of the situation given by the Attorney-General, but I think that he will not deny that it has altered it somewhat. The proposition I have to meet now is somewhat varied by the language of the Attorney-General, to which I have listened with very great satisfaction. But by a singular piece of good fortune—this little scene has not been arranged between the Attorney-General and myself—the extract with which I had furnished myself is one which meets exactly the position which the Attorney-General has now taken up. I understood myself that the challenge was to produce some evidence from Irish Churchmen to the effect that the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church in Ireland have been harmful. There are a great many of them, but I am not going to use them. I am just going to quote the opinion of one distinguished member of the Irish Church, whose authority is accepted in all quarters, because he is a man of strong convictions, who is never afraid to say what he thinks, and he is a man who is revered wherever his name is known. I refer to his Grace the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland. This question of the effect of Disendowment and Disestablishment in Ireland has been, as the House knows, very often discussed. One of the very first Debates that I ever heard in this House was on that subject when the Bill was being carried. I listened to it from the Gallery. All my life I have taken a great interest in the subject, and I have followed very closely the subsequent changes in Church life in Ireland following on Disestablishment and Disendowment, and I could not understand the repeated declarations made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, notably by the Prime Minister, to the effect that this was a precedent which could safely be followed in regard to Wales.The Archbishop of Armagh was good enough to come here and to meet many of those interested in this question, and to go in great detail into the suggestion which has been made. These are the Archbishop's actual statements, and I think that the Attorney-General will agree that they are a complete answer to even the altered statement which he has just made. He, first of all, points out that there is the greatest difference in the world between the two cases of Ireland and Wales, and he goes on to say that the treatment given to Ireland was far more generous than the treatment given to Wales, even though Ireland was possessed of much larger funds. But, he says, Disestablishment had led since 1869 to a marked decrease in the number of clergy, and that 151 churches had been closed or dismantled in the South and West of Ireland, and he goes on to say that, as regards Church adherents, there had been an increase in Belfast and the larger towns in Ulster, but a large and growing decrease in practically all the rural districts where the Roman Catholics preponderated. He goes on to say that he attributes this general decline in rural Ireland largely to the inability of the Church since Disestablishment to provide sufficient resident clergy, for in cases where only afternoon or evening service could be provided the people were apt to become careless or to lapse from Protestantism. And he goes on to say, again with regard to the suggestion that Disestablishment had the effect of promoting religious unity, that although there were many Protestant sects in Ireland, not one of them had become united to the Irish Church since 1869. From the denominational point of view, there was perhaps less definite drawing together than ever. He emphatically repudiated the suggestion that Disendowment had done good in Ireland. I think that the Attorney-General will agree with me that, speaking generally, that is an answer to the challenge which he made, and I can only say that I am astonished at the view which he expressed being taken because all the authorities are quite in the opposite direction.
When was that?
In April, 1912, when this Bill was in its early stages. The Prime Minister, as the House will remember, made a statement somewhat similar to that which the Attorney-General has made this evening, to the effect that Disestablishment and Disendowment had worked well in Ireland. I have quoted the Archbishop of Armagh, whose authority will not be disputed in any quarter. I will quote now a layman, a man of business, who is well known in the city of Dublin, and who is a devoted member of the Church. I refer to Sir William Watson. He says:—
that is, of course, in the rural districts and the poorer districts—"In my opinion, the view stated to have been expressed by Mr. Asquith is absolutely untrue, and be calculated to give a most false opinion of our position. In the western districts in Ireland"—
The Dean of Bangor concluded the observations which he made by saying:—"the result has been most disastrous, May God grant that the Church in Wales may never suffer as we have done."
I am not going to trouble the House with extracts from the remarks of other people, but if it were necessary I could quote almost every bishop of the Irish Church, almost every office holder, and many of the laymen, who have had the working of this new system, and their statements are all to the same effect, that hitherto the experience has been bad, and that the results to the Church have been unfortunate. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are never tired of telling us that the result of Disestablishment and Disendowment must be greater contributions by the laity of the Church, so as to fill up the gaps that they will have created in her resources. I do not doubt that those greater contributions will be made in the future as in the past. I have known something of the work of the Church in England for a great many years. I know how munificent have been the contributions to Church work, and what vast sums of money have been spent by the Church upon her work during those years. I have every hope, if Parliament chooses to make inroads upon the Church and deprive her of her property, that her faithful children will in the future, as in the past, do their utmost to carry out her work. But because that is going to happen is no justification for our asking Parliament to do what it is doing; it is no justification for your seeking to deprive her of those funds which she has been using so well. There is another point. I am one of those who believe that the clergy, subject to the law of their respective Churches, should be as independent as is reasonably possible. What is it you are doing? You are deliberately saying to the Church, "You are to go back to your-own people—you are to go to the rich members of your congregation and get them to give you the money which you want in order to make up for that which we are taking away from you." It may be the right thing to do from your point of view, but I say it is not an argument which should be used by hon. Gentlemen opposite in regard to the Church, which has already money for her work, and of which you are seeking to denude her. I am one of those who believe that the prophets of 1869 have been justified. I believe that the result to the Irish Church has been injurious and, in some cases, almost disastrous. I believe the same result will follow in Wales. I do not deny that it is the duty of the Government to act as their convictions prompt them. I do not deny that it is their duty to carry out what they call their party policy. But I do deplore the fact that in the interests of their party policy they are doing this great and lasting injury to one of the greatest of our institutions. I do not for a moment suggest that this policy is the result of bitter feeling, of jealousy, or of hatred. I do not suggest anything of that kind. I have spent some of the best years of my life in the Principality, and I have a great admiration for many Welsh people. I know the people of Wales far too well to bring charges of that kind. Nor do I come to examine your motives, but I can examine what it is you are doing. Having before you what has happened in Ireland, you are going now, with your eyes open, to do in Wales, with a full knowledge of the prospects and what is likely to follow. The precedent of Ireland is to be followed in Wales. I am amazed that hon. Gentlemen who clamour for greater devotion to social reform and to the improvement of the condition of the poorer amongst our people—they seem to claim almost a monopoly of this work—I am amazed, I say, that they should be content to interrupt the progress of industrial legislation for a year or two, to set all that aside, in order to strike this fatal blow at a great Church which has done so much for the country, and which is doing so much for the people, crippling her at the very time when she is helping the work in the mission field, and retarding the work of those unselfish and noble men who are doing their best to help the cause of both the Church and chapel. You are doing, by this Bill, what we think is robbery. You may take away from the Church that which is hers, and that which she has well used. You may take a different view at this moment, but you cannot deny that every wise and thoughtful Churchman to-day is doing his best to strengthen the Church's position. You are taking from the Church opportunities which she has well used, you are making it more difficult for her to preach the Gospel of Peace, which she has preached so long, and we believe you are doing a great wrong for which this country will have to pay, and some day at all events you will realise that for political purposes you have been guilty of a grave and terrible injustice."It was evident the Prime Minister had been grossly misinformed as to the true state of things in Ireland."
I am bound to say that if the tone and spirit which characterised the three speeches which we have heard from the other side on the Amendment now before the House had been manifested at an early stage of the Debates on this measure there might have been much more agreement than appéars to exist between the two parties. The Noble Lord who moved the Amendment, the hon. Member for Chelsea, and the right hon. Gentleman who has just concluded his speech, all three appeared to express an appeal to the Labour Benches to oppose the Bill now before the House. Those of us who belong to the Labour party have received from associations connected with the Church resolutions protesting against the Labour party voting for the Disestablishment Bill without authority. The Labour party, after consideration, think it wise not to give a silent vote for the Bill, as was their original intention In the first place, we support this Disestablishment because it makes for democracy. At the present moment the Established Church is a privileged institution in the regions of religion, and no doubt she occupies much the same position in regard to Church life as the House of Lords did, and still does, in the eyes of the average Radical. We believe that religion, above all things, should be based upon equality of treatment and equality of opportunity. Endowments and privileges still remain to the Church; it is recognised by law, and it has a right to representation in the House of Lords—privileges which give it a position of superiority, social and legal, which in the very nature of things is bound to be offensive to Non-formist members of the community. Most of us in the Labour party, so far as our religious convictions are concerned, belong to the Nonconformists. The Noble Lord opposite put forward certain claims on behalf of the Church in regard to what she has done for religion and progress. He mentioned the names of a great number of Churchmen who had led great revival movements.7.0 P.M. I may remind the House, and I am sure the Noble Lord has not forgotten it, that when Wesley, Whitefield, and others began to promulgate their enlightened version of Christian teaching, those religious bodies, which were once within the Established Church, and are now outside, were created by their campaign. Therefore, the argument, as the Noble Lord will see, cuts both ways. As to the petition referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, a petition signed by 103,000 residents in Wales, against the Disendowment portion of the Bill, my reply to that, as a Welsh Member, is that there are nearly two and a-half million people in Wales. There are thirty-one Members sent from Wales, who, after deducting the 103,000 who signed the petition, represent the remainder of the two and a-half million. Mr. Gladstone observed that the only kind of representation was the actual vote, and we are here with our votes to speak for the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales. In regard to the property of the Church, it is far from an open question in these days that the Church originally had any absolute right in property bequeathed for what is now considered ecclesiastical purposes. Recent research and investigation go to show that in the early days of the Church many of the gifts were made not to the Church but to the parish, and the parishioners exercised a real and effective control over the Church and over the moneys received by the Church, which were mostly given for other and religious purposes. The argument that the Church is being robbed because its property is to be taken and applied to secular purposes does not carry much weight, because all that is being done is to transfer the use of these funds from purposes like charity, and education and recreation in some cases, to other purposes for the good of the people suitable to modern requirements. Speaking for myself, and I am sure for the bulk of my colleagues, I have other reasons for supporting Disestablishment. I believe the time will come when the Church of Christ will again be a united whole. I look upon the sectarian differences as matters which have separated the people into little separate units, and I believe that they will be broken down in the unification of the entire Christian Church, and I believe that Establishment and Endowment stand in the way as a barrier to that consummation being reached. We have an illustration of that just now in Scotland. Twenty-five years, ago the Disestablishment of the Church of Scotland was a great and burning political issue. As time went on it seemed to die out, and in its stead a feeling grew up among Christian Churches in Scotland in favour of unity. First of all, the Congregationalists and another body composed their differences and formed one denomination. Subsequently the Free Church of Scotland and the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland became one Church and since that became an accomplished fact very earnest negotiations have been going on in order to unite the whole Presbyterian Church, the United Free, and the existing Established Church. Earnest men on both sides have been zealously working for union. A Commission has been sitting to consider the whole question, and they find themselves in substantial agreement on ninety-nine points out of a hundred, but the stumbling block is the Establishment, and so long as that continues in Scotland there is going to be no unity. There is actually now a movement forming itself in the minds of the leaders of the Churches in Scotland to once more reopen the whole question of Establishment, not with a view to perpetuating sectarian differences or out of any ill-feeling against the Church, but in order to remove the last barrier which stands between the Churches of Scotland and their entire unification. That is one more argument, I think, for the Bill now before the House. I desire also to refer to a case which has only been slightly hinted at by hon. Members on the other side. There is one class of people connected with the Church in Wales who are still under much apprehension concerning their future. I am sure we shall all be agreed on both sides that there should not Be any favouritism shown in regard to those who possibly may suffer from this Bill becoming law. The class to which I refer are the men who have been spoken of, and I think rightly so, as the workmen of the Church, namely, the curates. The incumbent is cared for and provided for, whereas the curate is left practically dependent, first of all, on the will of the incumbent for being retained in his position, and, secondly, upon his life. In six months he may be driven from his present position without compensation, and on the death of the incumbent all claim that he has disappears entirely. I should have thought that the Government in giving the curates away would have at least shown as much generosity as they did in the case of the curates in the Irish Church. They had a life interest. We ask that if there is going to be any discrimination, it shall not fall upon what I have described and believe to be the working class of the Church, the hard-working curate. I hope, even now, it is not too late to form a suggestion, which the Parliament Act provides for, to come to some understanding or arrangement whereby the curates have a life security on the same terms as the Established incumbents have at the present time. We of the Labour party support this Bill for another reason, too. We want to clear the way for social reform. Disestablishment in Wales and Home Rule for Ireland have lain across the political path of this country for a quarter of a century. They have influenced elections, though I am not complaining of that as I took my part. They have prevented attention being diverted to and concentrated on the great social problems at issue, and which are now forcing themselves to the front. We want this matter disposed of. I would conclude with a sentence from a letter received this morning from the same gentleman from whom the Attorney-General quoted. He is arguing that both Disestablishment and Disendowment should be passed at once, and he continues:—
It is in that spirit the Labour party goes out of its way to support this measure, because we believe that thereby peace and goodwill will be promoted, and the effective power of Christianity increased when all the Churches stand on the basis of religious equality."And we beg you to send a message of peace to Wales, and goodwill to the Church, by settling this question now, if possible."
The hon. Member who has just spoken tells us that the Labour party support this measure for one or two reasons. I was interested to hear, in his last words, that he had apparently received the same letter as that from which the Attorney-General quoted this afternoon. It seems, then, to have been a circular letter sent round to Liberal and Labour representatives in this House, and undoubtedly written by a strong party politician who takes an entirely party view of this great religious question which we are discussing.
The letter is not typed or reproduced in any way. I think the contents are the same in both cases, but the letters have been specially written by hand by an aged gentleman who is now a vicar in the Church.
I am sure the hon. Member's interruption does not alter my argument, but it shows how very keen the individual is in party politics when he troubles to write those letters. I do not think we can be very much concerned or very much upset because one rector in Wales has taken the trouble to send those circular letters to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Another argument of the hon. Member was that the Labour party are very anxious to see this great question disposed of quickly. I am afraid if this Bill does pass that this great question of Welsh Disestablishment and Disendowment will not be disposed of. I agree with my Noble Friend behind me, and I am one of those who, so long as I have any political life at all, will agitate for the restoring to the Church of the money which this Bill proposes to take away. So that I am afraid by passing this Bill, and by, to use the words which the Attorney-General thinks we are afraid to use, robbing the Church of these funds, this matter will not be disposed of, but we who believe this Bill is wrong will continue to work for its repeal if it becomes an Act of Parliament, and for the refunding of this money to the Church. The same hon. Member referred with great sympathy to the curates of the Church of England, but I do not know that the whole of the Labour party supported our Amendment when we asked that the position of the curates should be further considered in this Bill. An hon. Member beside me tells me that there were only six members of the Labour party who had the pluck on that occasion to vote against their leaders.The hon. Member also referred with some scorn to this petition of 103,000 Nonconformists against the Bill, and he said that the Welsh Members opposite represented the rest of the 2,500,000. He must, however, remember that the 2,500,000 is approximately the total population of Wales, and this petition is from the adult population of over twenty-one years of age and only Nonconformists. Surely, therefore, he must give us a little more credit and must not belittle our petition in the words which he used. I have taken a very great interest in the Debate to-day and also in the Debate on the Address. I was somewhat struck with the fact that the Attorney-General opened his remarks today with practically the same speech for five or ten minutes which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary used in the Debate on the Address. The Home Secretary referred also to by-elections, and argued about the great demand from Wales. He mentioned the by-election at Bolton in these words:—
He added that that was the only by-election where it was an issue. The Bolton by-election took place in November, 1912, and I took some small part in it. My recollection as a worker against the present Member for Bolton is this, that up to a certain point in that election the Welsh Bill was considered, and very much considered, and in my opinion, and in the opinion of other Conservative and Church workers, we were gaining ground rapidly, and should have won the by-election and swept the majority away altogether if it had not been for the hon. and learned Member who sits for East Glamorgan (Mr. Clement Edwards), who came down a few days before the poll and appealed to the Labour party in the borough by circular, attacking my hon. Friend the Noble Lord who sits for the Newton Division (Viscount Wolmer) on some Labour question. There is not the least doubt that the working men in Bolton will tell you that they gave their votes very largely in that election owing to some misrepresentation—I would not like to use such a strong word—but inaccurate statements made and published by the hon. and learned Member for East Glamorgan and finally contradicted after the election. He went on to the Chorley election, but when he arrived at Chorley we knew what he was going to do. He was there tackled with regard to the inaccurate statements published at Bolton, and compelled to acknowledge that he had not obtained permission to use the names appended to those statements. The Home Secretary used this great argument about the Bolton by-election. I ran assure him that, in my opinion, up to within a day or two of the election, until the hon. Member for East Glamorgan arrived, the Church question was a burning question, and we, the op-posers of this Bill, were gaining ground rapidly and strengthening our position. With regard to my own by-election, the Home Secretary may contend, if he likes, that one of the issues was not this Bill. I can only say that I did all I could to keep this Bill, the Home Rule Bill, and the Plural Voting Bill as the three issues at that by-election, with this Bill as second in importance. I was accused of having been returned on the Insurance Act. I never even mentioned the Insurance Act in my election address, and I think I spoke about it only twice on public platforms. The Radical Press, the "Manchester Evening News," wrote two or three days before the election:—"It so happens that owing to the peculiar circumstances, the Welsh Disestablishment Bill was chiefly the issue at Bolton."
I am sure right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will not complain if I draw their attention to the fact that, while the Attorney-General has asked my hon. Friend (Mr. Hoare) to be very careful what he says in the country, here is their own Press putting forward three days before a by-election something which every hon. Member knows can only be described as a complete untruth."In Wales the abolition of the tithe would give very substantial aid to the tanners."
Surely it is a substantial relief to the farmer to relieve his conscience?
I will continue the quotation, and perhaps the hon. Member will then agree that conscientious relief was not quite what the "Manchester Evening News" meant. The paper goes on:—
And then it ends up with the words:—"In matters affecting the Church in Wales, religion, according to Mr. Hamilton, must come before politics."
that is, to myself. The hon. Member quite misunderstands—I am afraid intentionally. This newspaper meant to infer to the farmers in my Division that if this Bill was passed tithe would be abolished, and they would no longer have to pay that tithe. That is undoubtedly what it meant, and that is what the farmer in my Division, fortunately for me, did not believe. A Member of the Cabinet, only last week, was guilty of another inaccuracy. Mr. Masterman, the Chancellor of the Duchy, stated on a public platform that nine-tenths of the population of Wales were in favour of this Bill. I do not think there is a single Welsh Member who will maintain that that is true."The Welsh farmer need not look for relief in that direction"—
I was present at the meeting. Mr. Masterman said nine-tenths of the Welsh representatives in this Huose.
I beg pardon. I do not think he said that. He gave the exact figures. He was distinctly reported in the paper in which I read his speech—either the "Times" or the "Morning Post "—as saying that nine-tenths of the population of Wales were in favour of this Bill. If I am wrong I regret it very much. That is how I read the statement. He also stated that thirty one out of the thirty-four Welsh representatives in this House were in favour of the Bill—which, of course, is correct. I try when I am considering this Bill to put myself in the position of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and to realise why they are so anxious that this Bill should be passed. I listened to the Debate on the Second Beading last year, and I have listened to it again to-day, and the question which I ask myself, but to which I never get an answer, is, What good is this Bill going to do? Is it going to benefit religion in Wales? To take away the sinews of war from that portion of our grand old Church in Wales cannot do it good immediately. It may possibly eventually strengthen it, as the Noble Lord said, and in that way improve the work of the Church in Wales. But even if that happy result does come, new funds will have to be found for the Church. That means that Churchmen in Wales and in England will have to find the money for carrying on the religious work to-day. That means that they will not give to other religious or charitable work the money which they are giving now, because their money, after all, is limited. I would like to hear from some hon. Member opposite what good this Bill is going to do. In the Debate on the Address the leader of the Welsh party (Sir D. Brynmor Jones) told us his idea. The right hon. Gentleman said:—
I read the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest to find out what those principles were, but he did not tell us. The concluding words of his speech were:—"In the highest quarters we are gradually convincing the people that the principles upon which this measure is founded are true and ought to be acted upon."
My right hon. Friend said just now that he did not think that the supporters of this Bill were out for revenge; but the leader of the Welsh party gives as the only reason for the Bill historical retribution, which is nothing but revenge for action in the past by the Church of England. In this House when we are discussing Home Rule we are carried back seventy-five or eighty years to the behaviour of the wicked Unionist party at that time. Now, when we are discussing the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church, we have to go back to historical retribution for actions done many years ago by the Church, which we all agree might have been much better than it was. But we on these benches feel that the Church to-day is doing good work. We are here to deal with things as they are, not with things as they were a century ago. We do not believe that religious equality can be made greater than it is to-day in this country or in Wales. We look upon Wales as an important part of the United Kingdom; the Church is the Church of England in Wales; and just as Wales is part of the United Kingdom, so the Church in Wales is part of the Church of England in England. Why, when we are living amicably with all Nonconformists in Wales, when we do not stand in their way, when we do not ask them or press them to come to our services if they do not want to do so, when they are not compelled to attend the Church of England services, when they are not taxed for the support of the Church of England, when they have not to pay a penny-piece for the support of that Church, can they not leave the Church alone to carry on its own good and religious work parallel with their good religious work? I hope that hon. Members, when they are voting on this question, will answer themselves if they cannot answer me, what good this Bill is going to do. It is going to take away from good religious work money which is being well spent to-day, and to give that money to public libraries, and generally to the assistance of the rates. Is it right that money which is being used for religious purposes to-day should be taken away and used for these secular objects? If hon. Members opposite think it right, will they ask themselves this additional question: Would they like it if the wicked Tory party came along and endeavoured to take away the funds which they themselves are trying to collect every day for the assistance of their Nonconformist work? There is one thing which, in conclusion, I would say, with every emphasis, and that is, that if any single party tried to take away funds from a Nonconformist church in Scotland, Wales, England or Ireland, here is one Member, at any rate, who would vote against such a proposal with the greatest pleasure and joy, and support that Nonconformist Church and its funds."We shall spare no measures to compass the passing of the Bill, which we regard as one of tardy justice and historical retribution."
The ingenuous speech of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Hamilton) makes me feel doubtful whether there is really any further object in carrying on a Debate which has now lasted three Sessions. It seems to me, after listening to these Debates and reading the speeches made by eminent prelates in the country throughout the whole of this controversy, that we never get any nearer to understanding one another's position. The hon. Member opposite, who spoke with the utmost sincerity and candour, cannot yet understand why, not only a large number of Nonconformists, but all people with liberal ideas, consider the union of the State and the Church an evil thing which ought to be abolished. That is not a new doctrine. I remember it many years ago, and I have always adhered to it. I think it is historically true that it is an evil thing for the Church, and has been throughout all time, to be connected with a secular body like the State. If you take the history of the world from the very earliest times down to the most modern times, I think it is shown absolutely that to place a spiritual and religious body under the headship of a secular king or under the control of a secular body like the House of Commons is damaging at once to religion, to the spiritual development of that religious body, and to the State itself. That is why we believe in Disestablishment; that is why Liberationists have believed in Disestablishment, and that is one of the reasons why the Church has been Disestablished in the Dominions beyond the sea. I wonder whether hon. Members opposite realise that there is no Established Church in existence in any civilised country in the world, except Great Britain, in the form in which we have it, and if it had not been that King Henry VIII. was anxious to obtain a divorce which he could not obtain in any other way, I doubt whether there would have been a Church Established by law in Great Britain.That is why I am astonished that hon. Members opposite should not object to the Establishment. I cannot understand their being willing to remain in the anomalous position of having their religious creed dictated to them by a Chamber consisting of people, so many of whom are entirely alien to their belief and their religion. But that is their affair. Our affair, as far as Disestablishment is concerned, is undoubtedly to make an effort to untie the bond of union, which in our opinion ought never to have been formed. To come to the position which you have in Wales, the vast majority of the Christians in Wales do not belong to, do not believe in, do not worship in, and do not want the Established Church. The absurdly illogical position of insisting that this Church is to be the one privileged Church, the Church which the State recognises, and places above all others by the fact of the Establishment, I should have thought would have appealed to the spirit of fairness of any reasonable person. There is injustice there. Whether that is reasonable or unreasonable from the point of view of hon. Gentlemen opposite I do not say. I say it is there, and I say that this Bill will remedy it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite assure us that the bitterness will be intensified by Churchmen feeling that they are suffering a great wrong. Has it never occurred to them that Nonconformists feel that they have suffered a great wrong? Has it ever occurred to hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is cause for bitterness in that reflection? If you remove the causes of bitterness from Nonconformists, there surely will be less bitterness! So long as you have a privileged Establishment—some may not feel that these privileges are of any great value—so long you will have a feeling of injustice on the one side; feeling of bitterness which exists in Wales. For that reason now, and for all this time a great majority of the Welsh people have been working for the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. There is another reason. Some comment has been made upon a letter which was read by the Attorney-General from a Welsh rector who is in favour of Disestablishment. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division said that that was only one letter from the clergy. Of course, we are not likely to get a large number from the beneficed clergy in Wales written to Liberal Members of Parliament telling us that they wish to see the Church Disestablished. Obviously, because if the names of these clergy got out, and the information was spread abroad, it would not assist their career, considering that their ecclesiastical superiors take another view. As a matter of fact, I do know that that view is held much more largely than generally thought by the younger clergy in Wales. The younger clergy are anxious to take part in the national life of Wales. They are anxious to be connected with the Welsh National Church, as it was long before the See of Canterbury were ever heard of. When you go to the people of Wales with this terrible warning that you are going to take the Church of Wales away from connection with the See of Canterbury, they are not at all impressed by it. Some of them inquire where Canterbury is? When told it is a city in Kent, they are still not impressed by it. What interest can it have to Welshmen living in Wales and wrapt up in Wales? All the younger life in Wales is in favour of a Welsh National Church. It is anxious to build up a Welsh National Church under its own auspices. It is to liberate and not to persecute that we are proceeding with Disestablishment. We have heard—and one of the reasons why I have risen to speak at all is in connection with it—a good deal about the alleged petition supposed to be sent in by Nonconformists who formerly supported the Bill, but now are opposed to it. I should not have referred to this petition at all, but such an enormous point has been made of it, both by the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division, that I desire to deal with it. Personally, I have never been greatly impressed by petitions. We all know how many amiable people there are in the world who are ready to sign a petition of any kind if a friend brings it round. They do not bother to look to see what the object is. We also know how many people there are who are anxious to escape the boredom of being talked to on political subjects, and who would therefore sign a petition, whether it is against a Licensing Bill or Disendowment. But when you get a petition which has been engineered, like this petition has—as I shall presently show—in a manner which is almost a scandal and a disgrace, and which has aroused indignation in Nonconformist circles in South Wales, it is time to say something. I cannot believe that the Noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman knew how this petition was got up or they would not have ventured to bring it before the House as a serious fact. In respect to the methods, some of them are serious and some humorous. Let me give the House a humorous extract, an illustration of how this petition has been got up in the constituency of Newport:—
And this was a spontaneously organised Nonconformist petition, and these were the gentlemen who did it! What did they do next in order to make the Nonconformity more complete? They "roped in" Mr. Raymond Gibbs, the Tory agent for that town. He is a capable Nonconformist organiser of the spontaneous type! Then Dr. T. G. Lewis, a Tory representative on the municipal council, was captured."At the first meeting the energetic Vicar of St. Woolos presided. He was supported by the Vicar of St. Paul's, the Rector of Marshfield, the Vicar of Nash, the Curate of St. Lukes, Mr. T. H. Hazel, and other gentlemen who are active Churchmen."
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that this is the way to get up a Nonconformist petition—by Church of England organisers, and the professional Tory agent getting Tory employers and Church em-employers to go around amongst their workmen to ask them to sign this petition? Surely a petition got up in that way cannot carry any weight with any fail-minded man! Let me give to the House some of the harrowing tales which were told by the promoters to get signatures. It was stated that the churchyards were to be seized, ploughed up, and let out into allotments. It was told in one instance that land recently given to a church was to be seized and dealt with in this manner. Hon. Members on the opposite side waxed extraordinarily indignant at what they sometimes call our inaccuracies. Were it not that some of these tales are such as to make us amused, they would make us indignant at the extraordinary falsehoods which have been told against this Bill—the extraordinary lies that have been told about this Bill, and by people who ought to know them to be lies. The propaganda against the Bill included a statement that the churchyards were to be handed over to secular bodies to do what they like, to let out in allotments or whatever they choose. Every hon. Member who has read the Bill knows that not a word of that is true. It is never mentioned in the Bill. It does not apply to any private benefaction. There is a leading Conservative in my Constituency, a man who has been a Member of this House, a gentleman for whom we all have the greatest respect, and who has actually committed himself in the constituency to the statement that land in our lifetime given to a Swansea Churchyard was going to be taken away. Just imagine going to any man with a statement like that and asking him whether it is fair. Of course, he will say it is not fair, and you will get him to sign a petition against the Bill that he supposes is going to do this. But it is not fair to make a statement of the kind. The Bill may be a bad Bill, but it is not fair to misrepresent the Bill even if it be a bad one. Let me come to my own Constituency. I see that the Swansea English Free Church Council had a meeting on the subject of a petition. Here is an instance of what happened, given by a man I know, the Rev. E. P. Hughes, a very trustworthy man:—"A local clergyman urged that if it was to be a Nonconformist petition it had better be left to the Nonconformists to promote. This suggestion was very naturally brushed aside, and a policy was formulated which has resulted in works managers and officials, active Churchmen, being appointed to urge Nonconformists to sign. Primrose dames in Tory motor cars, with chauffeurs in livery, drive up to houses, and with harrowing tales of the dear departed in the churchyards being handed over to the local council,' win the most innocent of Nonconformist women to sign the petition."
This has been done continually—saying that this Nonconformist petition is not a Church petition, that it is not against the Bill. In another part of my Constituency people have been induced to sign under the pretence that the Minister, who is a personal friend of my own, had signed. There was not a word of truth in that statement. We, in Wales, know these things. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about Churchmen being indignant about some of these things. Let him stand at the next election as a Liberal candidate and he will never make that statement again. I have fought elections, and I know. Let me tell hon. Members opposite that I have canvassed personally about 2,000 people. At a number of the houses which I went to myself the people were exceedingly cautious. They were afraid they would lose their business if it was known that they were Liberals. A number of shopkeepers refused to go on to the platform because they were afraid their business would suffer, and they were quite respectable business men too. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense!"] It is always very well for hon. Members to say nonsense, but I have been through it, and the hon. Member must either say I am a liar or take my statement. Very much the same state of things that I have been describing has taken place elsewhere in South Wales over the petition. I know the case of one man who signed the petition because he was afraid that if he did not a mortgage would be called in. I have seen a letter from that man. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman finds that difficult to believe, but he belongs to a side that has never had to suffer anything of the kind."I heard to-day that the petition was taken in a certain street in Swansea, and every person belonging to a certain Nonconformist Church signed because it was represented to them as coming from that particular Church. There are members who are now ready to cut off their hands because they signed the petition after they learnt the truth."
What about Tariff Reform?
This was done, I will not say by the landlords, but usually by quite inferior people. Let me give another instance of how the petition was got up.
I have a large number of returns of a similar kind. I do not for a moment wish to say that there are no Nonconformists in Wales who are not opposed to Disestablishment and Disendowment, not that there are not a considerable number of Nonconformist Conservatives. Also I believe there are Liberal Nonconformists who object to Disendowment. But I do say that the number of people who have signed is not in accordance with the fact, and that the methods which have been adopted in order to get this petition signed are by no means creditable to the people who have taken it up. There is one more point, and that is the one made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand about the Irish vote. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and many other hon. Members seem to think that they have scored an immense point when they say that this Bill is carried by the Irish votes. Why the Irish Members should not vote on Welsh Disestablishment as well as English Members is something that I cannot understand."The petition in this parish of South Wales was taken round by the nephew of the present rector. He is a candidate for Holy Orders and a non-compromising Tory. I do not know the exact number of those who signed. I only know thirteen of them and these I will analyse. One is a Church member and an attendant. The only plea to the contrary is that forty years ago she went occasionally with her husband to chapel. For sixty years she has been known to have been a Church person, and has not been known to enter chapel for over thirty-five years. Five are not members of any Nonconformist Church; neither are seatholders nor worshippers. They go nowhere on Sundays. Of the five one was returned some few years ago at quarter sessions as an imbecile. There remain seven others who are Nonconformist members. They are over fifty years of age. Three are over seventy. Two over eighty-four. Only one of the seven can either read or write. The manner in which this petition was presented was misleading and was as follows. It was stated that it had nothing whatever to do with the Church, it was purely a chapel affair and only chapel people were signing it. It was stated that over 5,000 ministers and members had already signed. No one of the seven who signed identified the petition as having anything to do with the Welsh Church Bill. … Were another opportunity offered them they would readily sign the other way." I do not know any under twenty-one signed; but I know that some between fourteen and twenty were pressed to do so."
It is the English Church.
And the Welsh people. I understood the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) to say that the Bill would never have been passed only for the Irish vote.
And does the right hon. Gentleman make that a reproach?
As the hon. Baronet is anxious for information I will give it him. I said that the mere fact was well known to everybody that the Bill was saved, like other measures, by the Irish vote, and although I was not blaming the Irish for voting with the Liberal party, it indicated that this Bill, supported by so much enthusiasm by the Welsh Members, could not get the support of a sufficient number of English Radicals, and could not have secured a majority except by the Irish vote.
If you deduct the Irish Nationalist vote, you must deduct the Irish Unionist vote. I do not see that the point is very material, and I confess I never could see any argument at all in the point. Apparently the effect of the argument was that there were not enough Radical votes to carry the Kill, and that it was only saved by the Irish vote. I do not think that affects the demands of the Welsh people put forward through their representatives to have the Bill passed. The right hon. Gentleman instanced the case of Lancashire and of London. I would like to point out in this connection that we recently had a considerable amount of discussion going on, formal or informal, on the question of federal government. I have not heard anyone suggest that under a federal system, Wales would not have a Parliament, or that it would not be treated as a federal unit. If that is so, and if Wales is to have federal legislation, and a federal Parliament, and is treated as a unit, how in logic, in matters of religion, is she to be treated as an appendix of an English diocese. How can you say Wales is entitled to a separate Parliament and a separate Legislature, but that in the case of religion she is only to be treated as an English county with a certain number of representatives. Can any hon. Member opposite who believes in federalism—and I believe a great many of them do—say that Wales is not to be treated as a unit in this matter.
The hon. Baronet seems to forget that this class of question is excluded under the Home Rule Bill for Ireland.
I do not forget that for a moment. There is no Established Church in Ireland, and the right to re-establish a Church is excluded from the Home Rule Bill. Would not Wales, under her Parliament, be able to deal with this question?
Quite obviously not.
I do not think the Noble Lord will find that is the opinion of the Welsh representatives, but that is not my I point. I say if you treat Wales as a nation, and as of sufficient importance to be treated as a separate entity, and to have a separate Parliament, you cannot say that in religious matters she is to be treated as an English county or as an English town. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) was to that effect. He said, supposing Lancashire sent a certain number of representatives here, and demanded Disestablishment, would it not be absurd to Disestablish the Church in Lancashire? I agree it would, but you do not propose to establish a Parliament for Lancashire or for London. Wales is a unit, and under a national settlement the Welsh people will claim separate treatment. That is the whole keynote of the argument. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said no one in Wales was bound to pay a penny rate to the Welsh Church. That is not the view of the Nonconformist farmer who pays tithes.
No, he does not.
He pays tithes through the landlord. It is merely an indirect payment, and he feels he pays them.
The tithe does not belong to him.
I did not say it belonged to him. I said he was working in order to pay to a Church to which he does not belong, and he feels that to be an injustice. The tithe belongs to the people. The more I read about tithes, the more absolutely convinced I am on that. I cannot conceive myself how anybody can argue that the modern payment of tithes is anything but a tax which amounts in character to the old Church rates. It is very largely a parallel to the old Church rates which we abolished, but that is not material for the purposes of my argument. The farmer has to redeem it in some way. He works for the money, and the money should be spent on something for the benefit of the whole parish. The most ardent defender of Church Endowment cannot deny that the tithes were partially for the benefit of the parish and not all for the benefit of the clergy. I believe if an account was drawn up between the amount of money the community ought to have under the original tithes and the amount the Church ought to have, you would find the balance very heavily in favour of the community. We heard to-day about the ruinous effect of this Bill upon the Church in Wales. I was interested in reading a speech made by Lord Selborne on the 31st May, 1913, reported in the "Nottingham Guardian." Lord Selborne then argued against any form of compromise. He said:—
So Lord Selborne thinks there would be no great difficulty in getting the money required."If the Government retains power I pay most deliberately the Church will be much stronger, more enthusiastic, and in a far better position to find the money for the spiritual purposes of the people of Wales, if there has been no compromise, than she will be if she accepted the Bill under any terms. It will be far easier to raise £150,000 a year for the Church, if we have stood to the end for the principles in which we believe, than it would be to raise £100,000 a year if we had accepted the Bill in return for the retention of more of our Endowments. Therefore I deliberately reject the suggestion of compromise."
He does not say so.
He says it would be much easier to raise £150,000 a year without compromise than if there is compromise, and surely that means an alternative! The Church of England and Wales is much the richest Church of the entire community. In the large industrial centres where good work is done, no Endowment practically will be touched. In my own Constituency the amount of money that will pass will be £150. In Newport the amount is almost equally small. What is extraordinary is that the largest part of these Endowments is in agricultural parishes, where there is no community. I never could understand the Church not having rearranged its finances and economised and concentrated in parishes that do not justify such large machinery. Our position has always been a simple one—we honestly believe that this money and payment made to a National Church for the services of the whole community, cannot now be devoted to the whole community, and you cannot differentiate amongst each community, and the only way in which you can really get back these moneys is to use them for the purposes in which everybody in the general community can share. We are told that we are robbers—it is not pleasant to be told that we are robbers—but in this matter if we rob it is with a clearconscience and a calm mind. We want the people's property for the people's use. We do not use harsh words, but I have not yet had a definition for a system which accepts Endowments largely granted for a special purpose and adopts them to other purposes. I imagine in ordinary life quite severe terms would be applied to that behaviour, quite as bad as the term "robbers." Nobody seemed to think that it was strange in the time of the Reformation. Parliament took this property at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. It seized the land of the great Orders and gave them to the Reformed Church. Nobody thought that robbery. They applied these moneys to what they considered the greatest benefit of the population of this country. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners took the money which men had left to maintain great cathedrals and granted it to the diocese. No living nation can go on for ever having regard to the dead hand. We feel absolutely convinced that when this Bill has been placed on the Statute Book the terrible results which have been predicted will not happen. In spite of the abuse that has been showered upon our heads, both inside and outside of this House, and in spite of the strong language which has been used about us, we shall persevere with this measure, and the people who sent us will persevere.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Baronet who has just sat down either in his ancient or in his modern history. I shall content myself with saying that so far as I am acquainted with the Acts which he has referred he is wholly inaccurate. As it would take me several hours to deal with his inaccuracies I intend to deal only with the points which are more relevant to this Debate. On the whole, I can congratulate the Welsh party upon having the hon. Baronet opposite as their new national adherent. I do not at all resent the remarks the hon. Member made upon the petition of the Nonconformists. Obviously, that petition is causing great uneasiness upon the other side of the House, and I think the remarks of the hon. Member will induce a very large number of persons who have not signed that petition to express their sympathy with the object it has in view. The hon. Member referred to the Royal Supremacy Act. I made several attempts while this Bill was before the House at its various stages to find out from the Home Secretary what is the precise effect of this Bill upon the Act of Royal Supremacy, and I have never yet got a definite answer from the Home Secretary or any of his colleagues. Will the right hon. Gentleman state now, for the information of the hon. Member behind him, whether this Bill will repeal the Act of Royal Supremacy so far as Wales is concerned? This is a very important question and raises issues of profound importance to the institutions of this country. So far, the Home Secretary has always carefully avoided going into detail as to the Statutes which are affected by this Bill, supposing it becomes law.With regard to what has been said about the Nonconformists' petition, I should like to point out that the hon. Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond), that the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord Robert Cecil) expressed his greatest desire that the petition should be overhauled and examined in the most careful manner, and we on our side, hope that that will be the case, because I am sure there is nothing to be lost from our point of view by the closest examination. We had a very interesting speech by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) who opened up new fields for consideration. I do not agree with the tone of his speech. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil said that he supported this Bill because it made for democracy. I think the expression he used was that if this Bill were passed into law it tended to bring about equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity of what and for whom? Equality of opportunity for religious administration is precisely what the Established Church seeks to provide, and does in fact provide, and it is a strange doctrine to come from a Member of the Labour party that you will be promoting equality of opportunity—which I admit is one of the great objects they set before them—by forcing back religious organisation in Wales on to a voluntary basis, while in every other direction you have had to bring in the State to promote that equality of opportunity which the hon. Member desires. I do not understand from the point of view of the hon. Baronet who has just sat down, and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil how you can enlarge as they do upon the disadvantages of Establishment and the mischief of it, and in the next sentence talk about the privileged position of the Church in Wales. Surely it is going back upon the whole history of Nonconformity to talk of the Establishment as a privilege, while Nonconformity itself originated in the very idea of protesting against those whom they now regard as possessing a privilege. Another important point interesting as coming from the Labour party, is the hope for future unity of the Christian Church. I think there is a good deal to be said for that. I would like to know whether the Government are fully aware of what they are doing in this respect. Put it how you like this Bill raises issues more important than any of the issues of any of the Bills at the present time before the House of Commons. This is the first time that we see a Bill coming within measurable distance of undermining and possibly of destroying the Elizabethan settlement of religion in this country, and that is a matter of profound interest. I have just asked the Home Secretary what this Bill is going to do with regard to the Act of Royal Supremacy. What, in fact, does the right hon. Gentleman mean by Disestablishment? On the last occasion when this Bill was before the House, I heard the right hon. Gentleman deliver a discourse on the meaning of Disestablishment. I. want to know what Disestablishment means when it is dealt with by the Courts in reference to the matters dealt with in this Bill. What Acts of Parliament will be affected? Where is the Schedule? In every other great and important Bill you have at the end of it the Acts of Parliament which are repealed or partly repealed or affected by the Clauses of the Bill. In this Bill there occurs the phrase "Established by Law." This Bill says the Church in Wales is to cease to be Established by law. What does that mean? We cannot tell what this institution, which we now call the Welsh Church, will be after this Bill is passed, unless we know what laws are to be affected by the provisions of this measure. That is quite impossible. I have been through the Bill very carefully, and I have tried to form a picture in my mind of what kind of institution it will be that will be left in Wales if and when this Bill is carried into law, and I cannot do it. I submit that the Statute which defines the present position of the Church here and in Wales ought to be placed before us. I look at the Clauses of the Bill, and I ask myself, how will this or that Clause bear upon this or that particular Statute? And in the absence of any guidance from the Government it is absolutely impossible to say. The right hon. Gentleman opposite spoke about freeing the Welsh Church from State control. I would like to ask if the Church which is to be left after the Bill has passed into law is going to be a Free Church, and what will be its faith and its doctrine? The Bill says that the new Church you are starting is to start from the present position with the Articles, the Liturgy, the Prayer Book, the doctrines, the legal decisions, and everything, in fact, just as it is, and that it is then to have absolute freedom to modify those things. It may become a Unitarian Church. Do I understand that it may? Perhaps the Home Secretary will enlighten us when he comes to speak. Again, may I put this to him: I want to know what we are doing by this Bill. This Church you are to set up is to be a Free Church, free from all control. You give it a body of doctrines, a body of regulations, a body of decisions, and a body of Statute Law or rather what it implies, when you start; but when you have started that institution, then you say—I am coming to the Representative Church Council presently—that representative Church body is to have absolute freedom to modify all or any of those conditions. Therefore it may become a Unitarian Church, or it may accept the faith and the jurisdiction of Rome. May it?
It has perfect freedom.
We do not know what institution we are setting up. It starts with the position I may say theological, ecclesiastical, and legal of the Church of England as it is at the present moment. You then set up this body, this Representative Church Council, and it has absolute freedom to reject, or modify, or change any doctrine, anything it likes with regard to the Church. It may reject the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. It may go bodily over to Rome. It may become Unitarian. It may become Presbyterian. It may abolish or retain episco-palianism. It may turn the Prayer Book inside out. You are giving to this body, on whose future conduct you are putting no control and no guidance, and no anything, a lot of public money, I understand. Will the Home Secretary, when he comes to speak, kindly explain by what authority and by what right they take money which they say is national property, public money, and simply give it to an institution which is to have this absolute freedom to preach or teach anything in the world it likes? They claim a precedent for that. I should like the shade of Henry VIII. to come and have a look round and see what he would have to say about our proceedings. If this is the constructive effort of the Government in the field of legislation—The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he has admitted exactly what I have said.
I did not admit all that the hon. Gentleman has said. I do not admit his description at all.
The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the new Church to be set up was to be perfectly free, that it might become Unitarian, that it might become Roman Catholic, and that it would have absolute control over its faith, its doctrines, its discipline, and its jurisdiction. I do not want more than that. That seems to get very near to a General Powers Bill in relation to these questions. I am perfectly certain that arrangements of that kind are entirely contrary to the spirit of the English Constitution or anything that our ancestors have ever done in regard to religion, and cannot possibly serve any good purpose in Wales or in any other part of the United Kingdom. Generally, the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends belong to a party of men who are rapidly growing extinct—a party of men who, as my Noble Friend (Lord Robert Cecil) pointed out, believe in an entirely ancient doctrine, and an exploded doctrine, about what should be the relation between the Church and the State. All movements of modern times are against that purely individualistic theory. We have had, it is perfectly true, for the last twenty or thirty years a kind of wave of destructive interest in Church foundations all throughout the world. You have it in France, you have it in Portugal, and you have got it in practically every country in the world at the present time. This movement, of which the right hon. Gentleman is the head and front in the House at the present time, is merely the British edition of that all-world movement. Nobody knows why these movements take place, but, what is much more important, all over the world a reaction is setting in, and it is perfectly certain that when that reaction makes itself felt movements like that led by the right hon. Gentleman cannot possibly survive.You have merely to go to Wales. It would be quite untrue to suppose that it is only hon. Members on the other side who know anything about Wales. There are a good many people on this side who have a fair acquaintance with Wales, and who often go there, and the main thing one would say about Wales is that when you come to deal with the Nonconformist position you do not find it essentially different from that which you find, let us say, in such a district as the West Riding of Yorkshire. If you go to men of, say, over forty years of age, or of from forty-five to fifty-five, you find they retain to a very large extent and very sincerely the traditions and the teachings of their youth; but, if you go to the younger men, especially to the rising generation, what strikes every observer in Wales, as in Yorkshire, is that the young people no longer care about these things. It is certain to mean that a generation from now many of the doctrines and much of the teaching which were absolutely familiar to Nonconformists of a generation ago will have become a mere tradition and a mere tradition in which people are not particularly interested. If you go into the South Wales industrial districts, or even into central Wales, what one feels in dealing with the younger people there is that they are not interested either in the doctrines or the faith or the controversy which interested their fathers. Where you have an active and vivid and theological diet, the energies of men are not now directed as a rule to maintaining the particular kind of doctrine for which their chapels were founded and maintained, but they are all gradually being forced by the change in the critical position, and by the new views that have come forward into what you would call Modernists. I am not criticising it, but certainly anyone who was acquainted with Wales, let us say thirty years ago, and who is acquainted with Wales now, cannot but be impressed with the complete change of tone and fundamental idea which affects all Nonconformist churches at the present time. And in those circumstances you will have increased difficulty in a sphere in which you already have enormous difficulty. You will have increased difficulty in retaining the allegiance of the younger generation. I do not believe that there is a Welshman who will contradict me when I say that it is extraordinarily difficult to retain the allegiance of the younger people at the present time in the Principality. I am not criticising it, or opposing it, or denouncing it. I am merely pointing out a difficulty which is most acutely felt throughout the religious sphere. It is felt in England, too, but it has this curious result, that, as the younger generation breaks loose from the theological and doctrinal views of their parents and grandparents, they get caught in the movement for social reform and labour legislation, and that has the very contrary effect some people would imagine. It makes them less hostile to the Church, and more in favour of Establishment. You cannot get that same degree of bitter opposition in a young Welshman who is bitten with the Labour movement to Establishment, as you can in a representative of the older school who takes the same views of the doctrinal and ecclesiastical position of the right hon. Gentleman. I do suggest that in view of the very grave problem, the very grave religious problem, which the whole of this country represents at the present time, that it is the maddest thing that in Wales or elsewhere energy should be spent in controversial fights of this kind with the spoils of a few Endowments. After all, in a country where we are going to have a budget shortly of more than £200,000,000, it seems a very pitiful and mean thing for hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) who has just spoken to come here and talk about seizing these Endowments, or for any party or country to do in face of the great problem that we really have to consider. I am perfectly certain of this, that if you destroy the essentially religious basis upon which society here and throughout our Empire has been built, you are going to try a new experiment in Imperial Government which never has been tried here, but which we know, from the example of other countries, is destined to hopeless and irremedial failure. I go to France. I am not attacking any State. I know how some people regard the movement against the Catholic Church which has taken place in that country. But I am looking at its Imperial and political consequences. I say it is an established fact that French Imperial influence has gravely depreciated in consequence. There is no possible way of holding together an Empire, such as the British Empire, if you are going to organise your State upon a purely secularist basis. No such experiment has ever been tried, or if tried could be successful. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, reflecting what they are pleased to think are democratic views generally, talk glibly of what is going to be done when you have this secularised State and Free Church. That will not happen if, by pursuing your policy of Disestablishment, you mean what you do mean—what you succeeded in establishing in Ireland. If you are going to establish in Wales a system of government on a purely secularist basis, I say without the least hesitation, and with the most profound conviction, that your Empire is doomed. You cannot hope to do it having in mind all the varied races who inhabit these realms under the Crown, unless you have at the back, as the basis of your system, a profound Christian conviction which expresses itself in its public institutions. I assert that the consequences will be disastrous. I am not one of those who may be called an out-and-out defender of the existing relations between Church and State as they are. I can conceive many important modifications which would be of the greatest advantage. If I had lived in the sixteenth century I would have died rather than have consented to the arrangements then made. But that is another thing altogether. When you are talking about it, do let us concede there is a distinction between, let us say, the precise details of a scheme, such as we have at the present time, and arrangements that might be possible, and the proposals of the Government. Whatever we do let us keep firm in our minds the fundamental principle which the country stands for, on which it has grown, and on which its institutions have been grafted. It will be safe if we only hold to that, and I am prepared, in that event, to consider many things. But I do entreat the House not to lightly sanction a Bill which it has not considered, which the Home Secretary has not defined, on which we have had no proper explanation as to what it is proposed to set up or what we are going to do; let us treat this subject, which has engaged so much of the attention of this House in times gone by, with a spirit of earnestness, such as characterised our ancestors.
I am sure that both sides of this House must have listened with very deep interest to the very able and sincere speech of the hon. Member who preceded me. I do not propose to follow him in detail, but I would make two slight observations upon his speech. I understood him to say that the younger generation in Wales were fast drifting towards indifference more quickly than their fathers in the past. I would put it that their allegiance to the faith of their fathers is not as keen as that of their fathers. I am sure the hon. Member meant the remark to apply generally not only to the members of the Nonconformist Churches, but also to members of the Established Church.
I applied it all round.
I think it is quite true to say that in various parts of the country there is a tendency to drift towards indifference and materialism, but I think it is less true of Wales than of other countries. Still, the danger is there, and on this question I am at one with the hon. Member. What is the cure for it? I think it is to remove the Establishment of the Church of England in Wales, and to give the younger members of that Church a chance of joining in its administration, organisation, and internal work. By doing so you would get the younger people, both of the Nonconformist bodies and of the Church of England, to work together in harmony, and then I think we shall have done something towards erecting a great bulwark against any further drifting towards indifference. I propose to call the attention of the House to two points only which appear to me to have a very important bearing upon the present controversy. I do not complain that the Unionist party and hon. Members opposite generally are wedded to the principle of Establishment, because it is in its essence a State privilege. But, on the other hand, we who sit on these benches say it is equally in accordance with the great traditions of Liberalism that we should remove any such State privileges wherever they exist. Beyond this general outlook there is another feature in this controversy, and that is that we, as Liberals, claim that nationality, as nationality, ought to have the right to settle and manage its own religious concerns. It is a fundamental principle of Liberalism to recognise the claim of nationality, and we, as Liberals, believe that a nation ought to be its own ultimate judge of its own interests.Historically the Liberal party and the Liberal Government have always stood for this. Mr. Gladstone, during a long and distinguished career, always was the champion of the smaller nationalities in the East of Europe. Not this Government, but a Liberal Government recognised the claims of nationality in South Africa. A measure for the self-government of South Africa was granted, and hence it is that to-day the present Liberal Government is concerned with recognising the claims of Irish and Welsh Nationalists by giving them respectively a measure of self-government for Ireland and of religious freedom for Wales. I note upon this question of nationality there are other and divergent views. The Lord Bishop of St. Asaph, speaking at Rhyl last November, said:—
There is no doubt that the Lord Bishop of St. Asaph, in using the word "English" used it as distinct from the word "Welsh," because he mentioned the various attributes of the races. What does that statement mean? To my mind it means this, first of all: That, on all questions, whether national or Imperial, if you want justice, it is an. English jury, and an English jury only, that is to be trusted; and, secondly, it means an utter repudiation of the claims of nationality. One would have thought that even if the Lord Bishop of St. Asaph was not content to accept the verdict of a Welsh jury, he would, at any rate, have been prepared to accept the verdict of the British jury, which, in this House, has recorded its vote in favour of this Bill by such great majorities. Therefore, I do think that the school of thought to which the bishop and many other gentlemen belong is very wide apart from the view held by those who sit on these benches. There are signs that even the view of the Unionist party and of the Unionist Press is veering round on the question of nationality. The leading article in the Sunday "Observer" of 5th April, which is no doubt familiar to most hon. Members in this House, is headed—"The English love justice, and the English people are the best jury in the world to whom to submit a just, cause. He used the word "English" deliberately."
The article suggests a federal solution of the Irish question, and in the course of it these words appear:—"The A B C of federalism."
The first item is:—""As to the allotment of the powers to the local legislatures we merely suggest the following as possibilities."
That is a great admission of the claims of nationality. If I read it aright, it means that if we had Home Rule in Wales tomorrow, the Welsh people would be entitled, if they so desired, to Disestablish and Disendow the Church in Wales. If that is so, why is it not right and proper, seeing that the Welsh people have demanded this measure with a persistency and consistency which is quite exceptional for two generations, that the British House of Commons should give them this measure. As to the voice of Wales upon this question, I need not trouble the House with figures, because they know them well. There have been eleven consecutive General Elections fought upon it, and two by-elections have been held since this very Bill has been on the Table of the House. The result of these elections shows that Wales stands to-day where she always stood upon this question, and as firm as ever in her demand. It has been asked to-day, is there not a sign that Wales has changed her opinion? The question of petitions has been raised. We know that one petition has already been presented from the diocese of St. Asaph, in which I live, and there are other petitions in the course of being signed, one in North Wales and another in South Wales. Do petitions really represent what the people think? Are they testimony and evidence upon which we can rely, or are we to accept the verdict as given at the last General Election and the preceding General Elections? I will not say a word as to how these petitions are signed. I am not making any charge, so far as my own diocese is concerned, that anything has been done that ought not to have been done. We know that people sign petitions for various reasons, some, perhaps, because they are brought round in a certain way, and some, perhaps, because they are like the judge of old, in whose case the widow was importunate and would not go away. Petitions always come after the verdict of the jury has been adverse, and the question is whether there is anything in the petition which enables you to set aside the verdict of the jury. I suggest that nothing has arisen since the recent elections to set aside the verdict of the jury as given at those elections. This petition is different from ordinary petitions against the verdict of a jury, because you will find in ordinary cases that the petitioners are quite distinct from the members of the jury, whereas in this case the petitioners were members of the jury and had an opportunity of voting at the election, and, in fact, did so. I agree with the view of the Attorney-General, that we should accept the verdict of these petitioners in company with the other people who voted at the General Election, when they voted under the secrecy of the ballot box, rather than take the testimony of these gentlemen who have signed the present petition. We are constantly told told that this contemplated legislation will be a permanent obstacle to the reunion of the Churches, and that the movement in favour of Disestablishment is against the spirit and tendency of the age. The late Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, whose memory is so revered in this House, and whose presence is so much missed on an occasion like this, said on one occasion:—Religious establishments where they exist."
The Leader of the Opposition has stated that it is an anachronism. It is urged today that Establishment is no bar to cooperation with Nonconformity, and that the movement now going on in Scotland for the reunion of the Churches is an evidence of co-operation in Scotland between the Established Church and the other Churches. Quite recently some interesting light was thrown on the Scottish case. Professor Witton Davies, a very distinguished Welshman, whose reputation is not confined to the Principality, wrote a letter to the "Guardian" on 7th April, in which he gave the views of two very learned and distinguished Scotchmen, Professor Orr and Principal George Adam Smith. Quoting Professor Orr's letter to him, he uses these words:—"This movement is out of date."
Referring to Principal George Adam Smith, the Principal of Aberdeen University, he says that Professor Smith has always been one of the staunchest supporters of Disestablishment, and that since he has become the principal of a State university, where all the professors of theology have to belong to the Established Church, he had not changed his views in the slightest, and that he is as much a Disestablisher to-day as ever he was. Professor Davies uses these words:—"I do not think there is the least prospect of union unless the Established Church itself practically accepts Disestablishment."
Therefore, I maintain that in Scotland, as in Wales, the Establishment is, and will be, a bar to co-operation. When the Welsh Church Commission was sitting three of the bishops stated that—"It is because the Scottish Established Church has refused to accept full Disestablishment, though prepared to go a long way towards it that the hopes of a union between the Free and the Established Churches of Scotland are for the moment slight."
Why is that so? One reason is that the doctrines are laid down by law. If you remove the Establishment you remove any question as to whether or not co-operation will or will not be successful. We are all agreed that one of the great needs of the age is more active co-operation between spiritual organisations. The opportunities for the amelioration and regeneration of the life of the country are becoming more and more extended. I think the diversity of organisations makes it difficult for cooperation, and the diversity of organisations is a cause and a source of conflict and bitterness. The activities of Nonconformity are often cramped by a consciousness of a grievance, and a feeling, rightly or wrongly entertained, that Nonconformity is inferior in the eyes of the State. Entertaining these views as I do, I earnestly appeal to all Welshmen and to hon. Members in this House, to remove the barrier of Establishment in Wales, which, in my view, encumbers the usefulness of the Church, and is a bar and a barrier to active co-operation between the spiritual organisations of the Principality."The doctrinal objections were of such a character that in their view co-operation between the Church of England and Nonconformists in the matter of divine worship would weaken the cause of true religion."
The hon. Member's speech seems to me to divide itself into two parts. During the first part of the speech, I cannot help feeling that he must have been overcome by the atmosphere of the Debates which have lately taken place, because I think the arguments which he addressed would be more happily addressed to a measure of Home Rule for Wales. But I was also struck with a statement which was made at the beginning of the speech of the Attorney-General. He said this was the fourth time that a Bill for the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church in Wales had been moved, and he suggested that the Bill had been prevented from becoming law by the action of the House of Lords. I think he must have forgotten that this Bill has never passed this House yet, and has never reached the House of Lords. I cannot help thinking that there might have been considerably more difficulty in getting it through this House if it had not been for the fact that the Parliament Act was in existence, because we have often heard, and I sincerely believe, that one of the effects of the Parliament Act has been to make unreal a great deal of what goes on in this House, and I cannot help thinking that many hon. Members on that Side of the House, having shown by actions of theirs on the Committee stage and in other ways that they are not very keen upon this Bill, if it had not been for the Parliament Act and the hope that something might turn up before this Bill actually became law it might not have got as far as it has. We were promised that under the Parliament Act full opportunity would be given for the expression of opinion outside this House, and that full consideration would be given to that opinion so expressed. That was what we were expected to believe, but it was very largely because many of us on this side did not put much trust in those promises that we opposed the Parliament Act so keenly. I should like to give all the credit I can to hon. Members opposite, and I will give them the credit of believing that they seriously expected that these opportunities would be given to outside opinion to express itself under the Parliament Act.But what has been the result? It is difficult to adduce any fresh arguments in regard to the Bill, but we have heard how, by every means, the people outside the House, whether by petition, or by public meetings, or by the verdict of by-elections, have shown that they are not in favour of this Bill. Yet, in spite of this, the Government is going on just the same as if nothing had happened. I cannot believe that supporters of the Bill, when they have known the large numbers of signatures to petitions in opposition to it, if they had been able to get signatures in support of it would not have done so, and yet everyone knows that the number of petitions in support of it has been negligible, while those in opposition to it have not been difficult to get. This question is being forced through the House under the Parliament Act at a time when the whole political situation is dominated by the cloud of the Irish question, and it is very unfair, to put it mildly, that a great and fundamental change such as this should be made under the conditions which are existing now. It is a great and fundamental change. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to argue as if it was a question affecting Wales. The Church of England, from which you are cutting off four dioceses, is affected greatly and deeply by this Bill, and members of the Church of England, and members representing English constituencies, have a right to make their voices and their opinions heard in regard to it. It is an open secret that this Bill is being treated as a precedent for an attack upon the Established Church in England when occasion offers. It has been stated by more than one Cabinet Minister. But I think even far more importance ought to be given to what was said in an organ of the Liberal party which generally is pretty well informed, and which expresses a moderate Liberal opinion. Last year, after the Bill had passed through this House, the "Westminster Gazette" said:—
I think that alone is sufficient to justify us in saying that it is a great and fundamental change which is being made. It is a change which under any Government, under any written Constitution, would not be made unless you had got a decided majority obtained by special means in favour of this Bill. When the hon. Member (Mr. Parry) expressed a hope that under a federal system—of which the Home Rule Bill for Ireland is, I suppose, the first step—Wales would get the Home Rule for which apparently she is thirsting, I would remind hon. Members that under the Home Rule Bill it is provided that the question of the Establishment and Endowment of the Church should not come within the purview of the National party. Is it fair at a time like this, under the Parliament Act, to make a change so great and fundamental as this is? But, after all, the real question is not whether it is fair or whether it is right to make a change such as this. I think the real question which ought to be asked, but which is never answered on the other side of the House—I have never seen any real attempt to answer it—is, What good are you going to do by this Bill? The only real and substantial argument from the other side is the one to which the Attorney-General devoted a great portion of his speech, and it is the undoubted fact that there is a great majority of Members from Wales who support this Bill—thirty-one out of thirty-four. But I would like to ask hon. Members from Wales whether, if this Bill was out of the way, if the question of Disestablishment and Disendowment was settled, they think that we should have on this side many more Members sitting for Wales, and whether they think they would lose their seats? I cannot for a moment think they have ever justified the position they take up by supposing that they owe their seats simply and solely to the question of Disestablishment and Disendowment. I will go further and say that, even if we grant that a large majority of Members from Wales support this Bill, I do not think it at all follows that the electors in Wales would support this Bill in its present form. It may be true—I will grant for the sake of argument—that they support the principle of Disestablishment and Disendowment, but it is one thing to vote for the principle, and it is quite another thing, when you see that principle put into the concrete form of a Bill, to support that Bill in its concrete form. 9.0 P.M. I think it is not unfair to refer to the National Insurance Act in dealing with this question. I do not suppose that, if you had taken a vote of the people with regard to a system of national insurance, you would not have had an enormous majority for it. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself admits that, so far as the Bill itself is concerned, if it had been put to the people of this country, it would have been rejected. When the people of Wales find that under this Bill they have got to pay their tithes as they did before, when they find that the money is going to be taken from religious purposes and devoted to secular objects, when they find that Nonconformists are going to get no benefit as the result of this Bill, and that all that is going to happen is that one Christian agency in the Principality is to be handicapped without any good being done to another, I do not think the electors of Wales would support this Bill. The petition to which reference has already been made goes, I think, a long way to prove that, and I frankly admit that the use which the Attorney-General made of the letter he read to the House is one, if he had been in a Court of Law, he would not have troubled to lay much stress upon. You can always get evidence from someone or other against almost anything, and I do not think the letter he read was one which ought to count for very much. Let me ask again, What good is this Bill going to do? It is going, no doubt, to Disestablish the Church. It is going to take away a great deal of the money which the Church has been using, and using well, and it is going to handicap her, and make it more difficult for her to carry on the work which is so badly wanted in the Principality. The hon. Member for the Flint Boroughs (Mr. Parry) talked about Disestablishment as if all it did was to take away certain privileges of the Church. He seems to forget, as hon. Members opposite do forget, that the privileges which the Church enjoys are the rights of the parishioners. There are duties and responsibilities which lie on the Church as the result of Establishment. The Church, being the Established Church, provides, so far as she can, a resident minister throughout the Principality. The parishioners have rights in their parish church. There are duties upon the Church to baptise, to marry, and to bury the parishioners. The Church is not only the Church of a denomination, it is the Church of a parish—a right which, I believe, is deeply cherished by many who do not belong to the Church itself. What exactly the position of the Church will be under this Bill with regard to these rights, duties, and privileges it is not easy to see. Under Clause 8, Sub-section (2), the Churches are transferred subject to all public rights. What does that mean? I hope some Member of the Government will be able to reply to this question. Does it mean that the Church, though it is transferred to the Representative Body, will still have the same rights and duties to carry out which it had before? So far as marriages in the Church are concerned, I believe these are dealt with under Clause 23; so far as the rights of funeral are concerned, they are, to a certain extent, dealt with in another Clause of the Bill; but it is not clear, for we have not yet had an opportunity of discussing these matters, owing to the operation of the guillotine, what are the rights of the parishioners to attend the Church, and what are the rights of the parishioners as to baptism within the Church. You may say that these rights are still preserved, but when you have once taken away the Church and handed it over to the Representative Body, and it is no longer the parish Church, the position, I say, is impossible, if you make it the Church of a denomination, and at the same time try to make it the Church of the parish. There is another aspect of the work of the Established Church which will be greatly interfered with by the Bill, and it is one which is most valuable to the Principality of Wales, or to any nation in which there is an Established Church, and that is the duty of the Established Church to provide, so far as she can, a resident minister in every parish throughout the country. The use of religion is not, and ought not to be, confined merely to Sunday services. There are times, apart from Sundays, when the services of a minister of religion are badly needed and sadly wanted, and yet you will find that, so far as Wales is concerned, the only denomination which provides in all the parishes in the country a resident minister is the Church of England which you are preparing to Disestablish. She is able to do that because of the Endowments which were given to her in the past. You are taking away from her by Disestablishment one of the inducements to provide a resident ministry, and at the same time you are depriving her of the means of providing that ministry. What good are you going to do by proposals such as this? You are going to do not good but harm. There has been no attempt on the part of hon. Members opposite to show what good you are going to do by this Bill. I could show how Disestablishment in Ireland has done harm The number of resident ministers has largely decreased, and harm has been done by that. You by your Bill are doing harm to one of the great Christian agencies in the Principality. You are making an unjustifiable and unfair use of your powers under the Parliament Act to cripple the Church, and it is because I believe that if this Bill is passed into law the result would be not only to do harm to the Church in Wales, but will be disastrous to the cause of religion, that I shall, therefore, oppose it at every stage of the proceedings."We must carry this Bill through with the certainty that in every Clause of it we are defining the principle of Disestablishment and Disendowment, not for Wales only, but for all future purposes."
The speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down is in keeping with all the speeches there have been delivered from those benches to-day. Hon. Members opposite protest more against the operations of the Parliament Act than against the Bill itself. They seem to think that they have a grievance because this Bill is brought forward for the third time before this House, oblivious of the fact that when their Bills were brought forward we only had the one chance. We should have been glad to have had the Education Bill of 1902 three times before the House, so as to have given the Nonconformists of this country the opportunity of expressing their opinion upon it. Then the hon. Member went on to say that he quite believed that the Welsh people were in favour of the principle of Disestablishment, but he added that it was quite a different thing to have that principle embodied in a Bill. He seems to have forgotten the fact that already two Bills have been submitted to this House, much more drastic in their provisions than the present Bill, and that the Welsh people have had the opportunity of expressing their opinions; and let me remind him that it was after a very drastic Bill was brought forward in 1894 that Welsh Members who were in favour of Disestablishment were returned at the General Election of 1906, without a single exception. The hon. Member may take it from me that the Welsh people are thoroughly conversant with the provisions of this Bill. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the State Church providing clergy for every parish, and he seemed to think that the Church of England is doing more in that direction in Wales than the Nonconformists are. May I remind him of this fact, as attested by the report of the Church Commission, that the Church of England has provided 1,546 places of worship in Wales, and the Nonconformists have already provided 4,526, or nearly 3,000 more, and he may rest assured that there will be no diminution of zeal in the religious life of Wales.
I was not talking about places of worship, but of resident ministers.
If the hon. Member will refer to the same report he will find that there are nearly three Nonconformist ministers to one minister of the Established Church.
They are resident. They reside somewhere. They do not live in airships in Wales. But I know that the hon. Member's meaning is this: He is taking a narrow limit which is called the parish, and because there is no Nonconformist minister residing within the narrow limits of the parish, he says that the district is not provided for, whereas he will find that there is a minister living 20 yards away, but who may happen to be without the territory of the parish; and I say that he cannot go to any district in Wales in which he cannot come into touch with a Nonconformist minister. The Debate to-day serves to enforce this fact, that on the three issues raised by this Bill, the two sides of the House are not only diametrically, but hopelessly at variance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, and the sooner we recognise that the better; and I hope that all talk of compromise will be completely put aside. There is no common ground for compromise. There are three issues—Disestablishment, Dismemberment, and Disendowment—and on each of those issues we are entirely at variance. Hon. Members justify the continuance of the Establishment of religion on the ground that it embodies a national recognition of religion. Our reply to that is this, that religion can thrive, and, in our opinion, in the very best way of all, without any official patronage on the part of the State, that it is possible for you to have the one without the other, and that they are by no means synonymous terms. As the House knows, there is no such thing as the State Establishment of religion in Ireland, but I should like any hon. Member on the opposite side to declare that the interests of religion have suffered in Ireland in comparison with the state of things here in England.I was very much struck to-night with the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin. It proved to me how utterly, and I believe genuinely, the Opposition fail to realise the real force of our grievance as Nonconformists. "Is it," he asked, "because the Establishment enjoys higher social prestige than does Dissent or because the Welsh bishops sit in the House of Lords, while the Free Churches have no official representatives in that assembly, that the Nonconformists feel aggrieved?" Why, those very questions serve to show me how very completely he and his colleagues utterly failed to understand the protests made by us Nonconformists. May I quote to the House the definition given of Church Establishment by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University a short time ago. This is what he said:—
I want the House to mark that. I venture to say that the definition in itself suffices to shadow forth the real nature of our grievances as Nonconformists. We object to the State setting the seal of its approval upon the doctrinal exposition of one particular Church, and that the Church of the minority, and making it the official exposition of the religious sentiments of the community. No less an authority than the late Lord Selborne, a distinguished lawyer and an eminent Churchman, as hon. Members opposite know, defined Establishment as a political privilege."The recognition of Establishment is the recognition by the Stale of the truth of religion as it is expounded by a particular Church."
he said,"It is,"
On what ground—I put this question to hon. Gentlemen opposite—can one religious sect claim preferential treatment on the part of the State? Bishop Welldon of Manchester, who is not in favour of this Bill, so that I may quote him as an impartial authority, laid down the conditions which, in his opinion, would justify the preferential treatment of one sect on the part of the State. He says that"giving the Church a superiority in rank, an exclusive rank which no other body in the country possesses."
I challenge any Member on the opposite side to say that the Church of England in Wales has been able to fulfil either of those two conditions. So far from embracing one half within her pale, on her own showing, on the strength of the figures submitted by her own clergymen and bishops, the Royal Commission shows that she has only 193,000 communicants out of a population of over two millions—less than one-tenth of the population, while the Nonconformists, according to the Report of the same Commission, have a membership of over half a million. With regard to the second condition laid down by Bishop Welldon that the Church should be in sympathy with the temper of the nation, I need only quote the words of Dean Edwards, at the Swansea Congress, in which he referred to the Welsh Cathedrals as "Consecrated ice houses in which Welsh hearts are chilled.""the justification of a national Establishment and an endowed Church will require two essential conditions: Firstly, that the Church should be numerically far stronger than any other religious body in the nation. I think, as a general rule, that the Church should embrace half the nation within her pale. Secondly, that the Church should be broadly sympathetic with the temper and current of national religious life."
What was the date of that?
Thirty years ago.
But you claim that your Church goes back to pre-historic times. I should like to say that the Welsh cathedral is an ice-house even to this day, because there is no Welsh service in any of the Welsh cathedrals. Yet this particular Church, admittedly in the minority in Wales, and out of touch, as we believe, with the sentiment and traditions of the Welsh people, is singled out by the State as the organised official exponent of religious communities, and of the sentiments of the Welsh people. Let the House mark the corollary that by law it follows that any religious faith which is at variance with the doctrinal exposition of the State Church is not and cannot be regarded as of the true faith. I put it to hon. Members opposite is this not a grievance, that the accepted faith of the great bulk of the Welsh people should be branded, even by implication, as not being the genuine article. The late Lord Selborne once described the national religion of a country as the religion of the people of that country. Episcopacy is not the religion of Wales. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Chelsea has been to Wales, but he must know that Episcopacy is certainly not the religion of Wales, and the Welsh people are justified in declaring, "This is not our religion, and we object to it being standardised as such." Preferential treatment on the part of the State is reprehensible in every sphere. It is bad in commerce, it is bad in education, but there is no sphere in which it is so reprehensible as in that of religion. Preferential treatment on the part of the State is a distinct violation of the great principle of that actual equality which I believe is to be found at the root of all true religion. A word about dismemberment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) made this statement in the course of the previous Debate. He said:—
That raises a very important question. Is there a distinctively Welsh Church; are the four dioceses of Wales on the same footing as are any four dioceses in England, mere component parts of the Province of Canterbury, or do those four dioceses still represent a visible and a lasting embodiment of the old Welsh Church which existed at one time apart from and utterly independent of the See of Canterbury? Sir Alfred Cripps (now Lord Parmoor) in this House made the statement:—"In one sense this dismemberment proposal is both flagrant and scandalous, more so than even Disestablishment, What right have the Welsh Members, if unanimous ten times over, to interfere with the domestic arrangements of the Church' of England? "
I should be very interested to know from the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen) whether he is prepared to endorse that statement that the Welsh Church is simply a portion of the English Church. If that be so, if there be any historic sanction of that statement, then I think it must be admitted that something can be said for the contention so often put forth on the opposite benches that we have no right to cut off those four dioceses until we proceed to do the same thing with other dioceses in England. But is there any Welsh Churchman, be he clerk or layman—is there any one of their three Unionist representatives who sit for Welsh constituencies prepared to endorse such a dictum as that dictum which denationalises the Church in Wales and reduces Wales itself to the merest geographical expression? My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen on a previous occasion emphasised the circumstance that the full force of historic fact lies in quite the opposite direction. The Welsh Church existed 400 years before the See of Canterbury was ever founded. For eight centuries she remained in isolation and in a position of independence from that see. It was not until the twelfth century that she was brought into subjection to the See of Canterbury at all, and then not in the interest of the national religion of Wales, but in order to provide an additional and a more effective instrument for the conquest of Wales. Let me quote Principal Bell:—"There is no Welsh Church. The Welsh Church is a portion of the English Church."
In 1199 there was a petition from the Welsh Princes to the Pope begging him to sever the connection which had been made between these four Welsh dioceses and the See of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of Canterbury torpedoed—if I may use that expression—the petition by assuring the Pope that the absorption of these four dioceses in Wales had been rendered necessary by reason of the fact that unless the barbarity of a fierce and turbulent people were controlled by the higher authority of Canterbury the peace of England would be endangered. I say, therefore, to be logical you must still say the same thing that it is for the good of Wales that the barbarity of the Welsh people must be curbed by the higher authority of Canterbury, in order to justify the connection which already exists. But it is superfluous for us to go back to historical considerations. Disestablishment, to my mind, ipso facto, makes it impossible for the Welsh Church to remain in organic union with the See of Canterbury. I listened with great interest and attentiveness to the very able and powerful speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). He was very indignant over dismemberment. I wanted to know, and failed to find any answer from his speech, how you could Disestablish the Church in Wales and yet allow it to remain in organic union with the Province of Canterbury. How can a Church in one part of the country be liberated free of State control and still remain in organic union with a Church which is supported in every way by the State. I challenge any hon. Members, including the Noble Lord, how, if we Disestablish the Church it can remain in any organic union with the Established Church in England?"The first possible result of the Norman Conquest was the definite though gradual inclusion of Wales in the Province of Canterbury."
That is no reason why you should turn the Welsh Church out of Convocation of the Province of Canterbury.
We are going to put the Welsh Church in the same position as the Episcopalian Churches in Scotland and Ireland. They have the right to go to Convocation now. They are in voluntary association with the Province of Canterbury, and I fail to see that we are inflicting any hardship by placing the Welsh Church on the same footing as the Episcopalians in Scotland and Ireland. I come to the question of Disendowment, and I think here we are as much at variance as we are on either of the other two issues. You say that those Endowments were originally given for the exclusive use of the body which is still perpetuated in the present state of affairs. We assert on the contrary, that they were given to the Church when the Church was co-extensive with the Welsh nation, for the benefit of the community at large, and we in Wales, with all due deference to the Attorney-General, and even to the Prime Minister, assert that the present Church does not represent, either in polity or in practice, or in doctrine, the pre-Reformation Church to which the property was given. You claim that the incumbents are the true beneficiaries of those Endowments. We affirm that they are merely the trustees. We further state that it is the parish and not the parish Church which is the chief beneficiary. I venture to say that the remark so constantly made by the Bishop of St. David's lend countenance to this. As hon. Members opposite know, the Bishop of St. David's has constantly drawn attention to the fact that those Endowments, prior to 1662, the year in which Nonconformity came to birth in Wales, represented 18s. 6½d. in the £, while they represent only 1s. 5½d. in the £ afterwards.Since 1662 this country has passed through a period of unprecedented prosperity. It has passed from the category of being a decadent agricultural community into being the chief commercial country in the world. Vast fortunes have been made, greater accumulations of wealth have taken place in those two and a half centuries than all the preceding centuries put together. Yet, in spite of that fact, you are faced with this consideration: That Church Endowments, up to 1662, according to the Bishop of St. David's, represent 18s. 6½d. in the £, and after 1862, only 1s. 5½d. in the £. I venture to say that that fact admits of only one of two explanations, either Church people have been less generous since 1662 than were their ancestors prior to that date or, and what is more probable, up to 1662 the whole nation contributed, but after 1662 the Church, as one of several sects, received gifts only from its own adherents. I agree entirely with what the Attorney-General said on a previous occasion, although he was taken to task tonight for it by the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin, that to-day, in place of one body, we have several sects. I ask, is it fair, or is it equitable that the Endowments which were originally intended for the benefit of the whole community at large, should now be exclusively reserved as the monopoly of one sect only? The Moble Lord challenged the Attorney-General on that point. Let me quote words which endorse the theory advanced by the Attorney-General, used by no less an authority than the Bishop of Hereford. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I am sorry the Noble Lord should scorn the idea that a bishop should know something about the Endowments of his own Church. He is one of the leaders of your Church. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] He is certainly the best of your bishops.
From your point of view.
Yes, from our point of view, and from the point of view of the country at large too. [An HON MEMBER: "No."] He is entitled to say something about the Endowments of his own Church. You quote Nonconformists, and I think we are entitled to quote bishops. This is what he said:—
I do not know whether he had the Noble Lord in mind when he made that statement—"I think that we must all be agreed that these ancient Endowments are of the nature of a national trust. They are not property handed over to the Church to do what it will with. They were a trust for the whole community and for a long time they were used for the whole community, and now, when the circumstances are so changed that the Church is no longer in a position to fulfil that trust in its larger sense, those Endowments have become as a matter of indisputable fact"—
I am afraid he had not the Noble Lord in mind when he said that—"the monopoly of the small minority of the people of the Principality of Wales. Any impartial man"—
I am perfectly satisfied with the statement of the Attorney-General, backed up by the authority of one of the leading bishops in the Anglican Church. Let me say a word about that part of the original Endowment which comes under the name of Tithes. You say that tithe represents property, and that any diversion of it will mark a violation of the inherent rights of property. We assert, on the other hand, and that as far as Wales is concerned, in both origin and practice, tithe is a tax levied by the State and subject to the decrees of Parliament in regard to its incidence, its method of collection, its amount, and, also, its diversion. I noticed that the Noble Lord challenged the Home Secretary on his theory of tithes. He was not willing to accept the statement made by the Home Secretary that tithe was first levied by the Norman. He seemed to think that tithe was in existence before the Norman Conquest. [An HON MEMBER: "So it was!"] I will quote another authority—a great authority—a man who is one of the greatest authorities on the history of the old Welsh Church. He is a Churchman, he is a Conservative, he is a lawyer, and an historian, and what more could you want?"would say that the Parliament of the nation has a right to redistribute this portion of the Endowments, and that in doing so, no injustice will be done to anyone."
Is he a Welshman?
No, but that is no fault of his. He lives in Wales, which is the next best thing to it. His name is Mr. Willis Bund. I do not suppose anyone will dispute his authority. He is the author of a standard work on the ancient Celtic Church, and I believe he has been asked to stand as a Conservative candidate for a number of constituencies, so that evidently your party Leaders and Whips have faith in him. This is what he said:—
I hope that after that statement by such a leading authority we shall never again hear the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin challenge the Home Secretary on the point. I believe that I have convinced the Noble Lord. It has been said to-night and in previous Debates that, whatever may be the origin of these Endowments, no one can deny that they have been wisely used in the highest interests of religion. That statement has been made by the Leader of the Opposition on more than one occasion. He has challenged us on that point. Let me ask the House to face the facts. I think we are all agreed that it is the duty of all Churches, whether Established or Free, to concentrate their efforts upon those districts where there are the greatest congestions of human beings, and where consequently the spiritual needs of the community are to be found in their acutest form. What is the state of things in Wales? Take the three most populous districts in the whole of the Principality: Cardiff, with its population of 200,000; Rhondda Valley, with a population of 150,000; and Swansea, with a population of 100,000. In those three districts you have a population of nearly half a million, representing a quarter of the total population of Wales at large. How much of these original Endowments is spent for the spiritual needs of these districts? Exactly £870 a year. Where do these Endowments go? I have made some discoveries which I think will interest the House. There are twelve parishes, with a total of 140 communicants between them, drawing from ancient Endowments over £3,000 a year. In other words, you have £870 a year spent in districts where there are half a million people, and, on the other hand, over £3,000 spent on twelve parishes with 140 communicants."Tithes were a mere payment imposed on the Welsh by the Conqueror, and were rot one of the incidents of the Church in Wales. The Conqueror imposed them on the conquered as a mark of his victory and of their subjection. Whatever else Wales owes to the Normans and to the Plantagenets, she certainly owes the general legal imposition of tithes."
And you want to take away that £870.
I shall have something to say about that. Let me give some specimen instances. There is the parish of Gwytherin, with four communicants, revenue £170 a year; Llangwyfan—[laughter]—yes, I can pronounce the names, which some hon. Members cannot. Llangwyfan, five communicants, income £225; Marcross, five communicants, income £185; Mounton, seven communicants, income £460 a year. I challenge the Leader of the Opposition to say that that is money wisely used. £460 a year is spent for the spiritual needs of seven parishioners. Whether they are saints or sinners, they are certainly not worth that amount. The hon. Member for Oswestry asked why we take that away. I suppose he means why not readjust it and give it to these populous districts. I object to that. This money has been given to these particular parishes. These Endowments were given for the good of the parish, and it is not just that you should take the money from these parishes in North Wales to be spent in South Wales tender our Bill, when it becomes law, that money will be spent for the good of the parishioners. I confess that I wonder why the Opposition really oppose this Bill. You can only oppose the Bill on one or two grounds. One is that Wales is not a nation, and therefore is not entitled to special treatment in ecclesiastical matters any more than is Lancashire or Yorkshire. I do not know whether any hon. Member opposite for a moment believes that Wales is not a nation. I would remind the House of the words of the late Lord Salisbury, whose statement I believe the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin will accept. He said that if ever there was a people entitled to be regarded as a separate nationality, it is the people of Wales. I am satisfied with that opinion of so distinguished a statesman. Moreover, the annals of this House abundantly testify to the fact that Wales is regarded as a national entity. Wales has been treated as a separate legislative unit in regard to education, temperance, and national insurance. We cannot deny the nationality of Wales.There is only one other ground upon which you can object to the Bill, and that is that Wales does not need it. I wonder whether any hon. Members will be rash enough to take that ground. If so, they are forced to explain the fact—and I have never heard it explained—that out of thirty-four Welsh Members thirty-one are in favour of the Bill.
made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.
We should be very glad to include the Division of Oswestry, and no doubt the three Unionists could do with one more. Twelve of those thirty-one Members were returned unopposed at the last General Election, and the average majority of the remaining members was over 3,000. You are also faced with the fact that a turnover of only 180 votes would have sufficed to wipe out the majorities of the three Unionist Members now sitting for Welsh constituencies. I wonder what the Leader of the Opposition would have said if thirty-one out of the thirty-four Welsh Members had been in favour of Tariff Reform. He would have come down to this House and spoken of us in more eulogistic terms than even those which he has applied to Ulster. If representative Government counts for anything, the fact that Wales sends thirty-one out of thirty-four Members in favour of Disestablishment ought to count for something in this matter. We have heard something about Nonconformist petitions, and no doubt we shall hear more. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) doubts them. He thinks they are not genuine. But even if they are genuine—and I am prepared to accept the statement—what does that prove? That there are in Wales, as there are in England, a number of Nonconformists who are Tory in politics. Why, in this House there are on the Ministerial Bench more Churchmen than Nonconformists, and on the Front Opposition Bench there are more Nonconformists than Churchmen. The Leader of the Opposition, the late Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire—none of them are Churchmen. Despite the fact that they are Nonconformists, we know that they are opposed to this Bill, and you must apply to some of the Nonconformists in Wales the same consideration that you apply to them. There are only two Churchmen among the three Unionist Members returned for Welsh constituencies, while in favour of the Bill there are no less than six Churchmen. Therefore, I think, we are entitled to claim that this is certainly no "Church versus Chapel" controversy. "I have an old Parliamentary habit," declared Mr. Gladstone, "that of looking to the constitutional representation of the country as a proper and legitimate organ of the expression of public opinion." The people of Wales ask this House, as they have every right to ask, that their demand for religious equality, as expressed through their representatives, should be given its just interpretation and its full value. They have resorted to constitutional methods. What more could they have done? I confess that I wonder sometimes whether hon. Members on the opposite benches would have been more impressed with the justice and the claims of Wales if the Nonconformists in Wales had, after the manner of their fellow-Nonconformists in Ulster, resorted to Volunteer armies and a provisional Government; or if my right hon. Friend the leader of the Welsh party had pranced on the floor of this House brandishing a gleaming sword, and breathing out threats of violence and slaughter? We have heard something about a religious census and the referendum. Neither one nor the other will in the slightest degree affect the recurring issue of the ballot box. The men who first formulated this demand, whether on the floor of the House of Commons or in the country at large, has long since gone. Their voices have become hushed in the eternal silence; their dust now rests mid the lonely of their native land. But the demand of Welsh democracy shows no abatement, either in its insistence or in its persistence. It is as loud and as clamorous, as persistent and passionate as ever. It cannot be chloroformed into silence, and it can no longer be disregarded with impunity. Once again that demand of the Welsh people is being renewed on the floor of this House in full hope and confidence that this shall mark our last time of asking before it is consummated in law and becomes enshrined within the State Book of the realm.
I am not going to follow the hon. Member who has just sat down in some of his remarkable excursions and disquisitions on questions of history and law. On the question of history he appears to be at variance with practically the whole of the Front Ministerial Bench. He tells us he does not believe in the continuity of the Church, although the Prime Minister, and to-night the Attorney-General, have in effect affirmed it. When we come to the question of law, he has dealt in the most extraordinary way with the question of tithe. He has told us that tithe is really a tax by the State. I can remember the late Sir William Harcourt in this House dealing very summarily with an argument of that sort. He pointed out that tithe was a property, and never was a tax, and he asked the question, "Has anybody ever heard of a tax that was rated, because tithe is rated, and the very fact that it is rated shows that it is not a tax but a property?" I congratulate the hon. Member on one thing: he at least has given some support to the Home Secretary in his extraordinary freak theory of the origin of tithes in Wales. For some time the Home Secretary has been preaching that doctrine. He never got any support anywhere. At last the hon. Member supports him. We all know what the doctrine was. The Home Secretary realised that tithe in England was originally a voluntary thing, but that later on it became sanctioned by State enactment. He set himself to prove that in Wales there was a special reason why we should take away the tithe by trying to make out that tithe was not instituted there until the time that it became a legal obligation instead of a voluntary gift. He therefore started a freak theory, which no other historian or lawyer, or anybody who has considered the question, had ever advanced before. At last he got the support of the hon. Member opposite. I congratulate him. The hon. Member is very bold. He has jumped in where angels fear to tread. Only to-night the Attorney-General said that the origin of tithe was an exceedingly obscure subject. Nothing is obscure to the hon. Member opposite.
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me? I quoted the words of Mr. Willis Bund, who is an authority.
I think Mr. Willis Bund in this matter is an authority—about equal to the Home Secretary and the hon. Member opposite. At all events, he never got any support for the theory. Let us look at one of the better recognised authorities. Take the late Bishop Stubbs. He said:—
The Home Secretary in his theory apparently favoured going beyond the age of record. Bishop Stubbs went on to say:—"The property of the Church in Wales originated beyond the age of record."
The Home Secretary knows all about it, and he tells the House it was not brought by the Welsh bishops of antiquity. It was forced upon Wales by the Normans in the twelfth century. Beyond the hon. Member for Mid-Glamorgan he gets no support. The Royal Commission which was specially commissioned to inquire into this matter, said:—"The Welsh bishops brought with them into it one system of established churchmanship, possession of lands, tithes, canons, customs and traditions winch they had from an antiquity to which our oldest foundations cannot pretend."
The Postmaster-General said:—"It was an impossible and very controversial task, which was beyond the possibility of their inquiring into."
Mr. Masterman, late a Member of this House, said it was not a matter of any importance, but he added it did not matter whether it was in the first or the fourth or the ninth century. He said nothing about the twelfth century. Lastly, the Home Secretary had not even the support of the Leader of the Welsh nation. I mean the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Swansea district, because he said:—"Nobody knows what was the origin of tithe."
which is a flat contradiction of the strange freak theory advanced by the Home Secretary, and supported at last by one person."Tithes grew up in Wales under the same influences as in England."
I am not surprised the Home Secretary says "Hear, hear." I congratulate him on at last having found one supporter. But there is a serious point in connection with this. It is on inaccurate statements of this sort that this Bill is being defended all over the country. It is not only on the question of tithe that the Home Secretary has been guilty of misstatements and of misleading the country. We have not forgotten—perhaps it is ancient history, for it is impossible to find anything very new on this occasion in connection with this Bill—the misstatements of the Home Secretary in connection with the Cardiff churches. What explanation has he got to give of that? We all remember the Home Secretary told the House on the Second Beading two years ago that the Calvinistic Methodist forward movement had twenty-two mission halls in Cardiff, and that the Church of England had only thirteen Churches altogether, and he went on to say that anyone who Knows the wont done in Cardiff knows that the whole of the work done by the Church is not comparable with the work of one Free Church denomination. The whole of that statement or a mis-statement, is inaccurate. Instead of there being only thirteen Churches there are twenty-five Churches and thirteen mission halls in Cardiff; instead of the Calvinistic Methodists having twenty-two halls they have only got twenty-one, and you can only arrive at that by counting each separate room in each hall as a separate hall. Then when the right hon. Gentleman said that the work of the Church in Cardiff is not comparable to that of one denomination, let me give him the figures. I will take first accommodation. The Church has accommodation for 16,874 people; the Baptist, the strongest of the Nonconformists, has accommodation for 12,570 people; and the Calvinistic Methodists for 12,060 people, so that in the matter of accommodation the Church is a long way in advance of any one single denomination there. Take the number of communicants. The Church has 9,354; the Baptist, 5,393; and the Calvinistic Methodists, 3,484; yet these mis-statements are made and repeated in this House and on the platform, and it is by methods of this sort that this Bill is being commended to the House and to the country at the present moment.I will give another example of inaccuracy, this time from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is hardly necessary, in quoting a speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to remark that it is inaccurate. It would be more necessary to make the comment that it was accurate. On the Second Reading Debate two years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to what took place at the Reformation, and he went on to try to show that the Endowments of the Church before the Reformation were of Romish origin, and therefore that the Church now had no right to have them. Let me recall to the House what he said:—
10.0 P.M. These are very fierce denunciations. It might be apposite to inquire whether in these circumstances he wanted to imitate what took place at the Reformation, for we might well parody that by saying to hon. Gentlemen opposite that under this Bill they are robbing the Church, they are robbing the bishops, they are robbing the clergy, they are robbing the curates, they are robbing the cathedrals, they are taking away the graveyards, and they are robbing places hallowed by the dead. They are robbing all these. History repeats itself, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will go down as a second Henry VIII., who for the second time robbed the Church. But history repeats itself in another way. There is a remarkable similarity between a sermon preached by Archbishop Cranmer at that time and the speech lately made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Let me quote from the speech Archbishop Cranmer then made. He said:—"Look at the whole story of the pillage at the Reformation. They robbed the Catholic Church, they robbed the monastries, they robbed the almshouses, they robbed the poor, they robbed the dead."
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department the other day said this:—"The King should by the suppression of the abbeys, gather such an infinite treasure that from that time he should have no need nor would he, to put the people to any manner of payment or charge, for his or the Realm's affairs."
It appears there is a very great similarity in the methods of those times, and in the prophesies of Archbishop Cranmer and the Under-Secretary, although I cordially hope the Under-Secretary will not come to a similar fate of that of the archbishop. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer went on—and this is where the inaccuracy comes in—to quote a case to show that the early Endowments of the Church did not really belong to the Church; that they really belonged to the Romish Church, and he quoted from a charter of the original foundation of Peterborough Abbey, now the foundation of the See of Peterborough. Now what is the fact? The charter he quoted from is a well-known forgery. It purported to be five hundred years earlier than it actually was. It is spoken of by Bishop Stubbs in these words:—"If the funds derived from the Disendowment of the Church in Anglesey went to supplement old age pensions, the pensionable age in Anglesey could be reduced from seventy to sixty-five."
"The privilege granted by Pope Agatho to the Monastery of Peterborough and said to have been brought from Rome and presented to the Council at Hatfield by Wilfrid are obviously spurious."
Yet it is by such misstatements and by such means as to the Church in Cardiff, and by reference to a forged document such as this is, that this Bill bas been commended to the country, and we claim that the Government has no right to proceed with it unless they can produce better and more accurate arguments than they have done. I want to refer to the speech made this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General, and to contradict some of the points he brought forward. He spoke a great deal about the slackness of the Church in Wales in the eighteenth century. I think we might pause there and say this: If the Church did not do its duty in the eighteenth century that might have been a very good argument for Disestablishment and Disendowment in the eighteenth century, but what has that to do with the present slate of affairs. Everybody admits that since then there has been an extraordinary change and a wonderful improvement in the Church as to its duties, and because it did not do its duty in the eighteenth century appears to me to be no argument why it should be Disestablished now. But in some particulars the Attorney-General was wrong in his statements. There is one small point I might mention. He spoke about a great man—Mr. Howell Harris—and he held it as a great grievance that he was refused orders. What are the facts? If anyone takes the trouble to look into Mr. Howell Harris's diary he will see he was refused because when he went to the bishop the bishop told him to undertake certain studies, and he did not undertake them, and he did not get his Orders, just the same as if a man went in for an examination and was ploughed. The right hon. Gentleman held that to be a grievance, but he misrepresented what actually took place. Then the right hon. Gentleman entirely omitted to refer to what was the real reason of the lethargy and slackness of the Church of Wales in the eighteenth century. What was it? It was this: The Church in Wales had been impoverished to an extraordinary degree. The whole of the Church of England bad suffered at the Reformation and the troubles that followed, but in the case of the Church in Wales it was impoverished terribly. The cathedrals were practically tumbling down, the Endowments were of the smallest character, and the real reason of the difficulty of the Church in Wales is owing to the fact that the Endowments had been so reduced, and there was a great deal of pluralism going on. Consequently, there was not that proper supervision of the Welsh parishes that there ought to have been. What has happened since then? By a most judicious use and management of the funds of the Church, by the establishment of Queen Anne's Bounty, by the gifts made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, which now amount to £64,000 a year paid over from England for the Church in Wales, the Endowments of the Church in Wales were built up again, and the result has been an enormous expansion of the work of the Church in Wales. You are going to take all that has been done in the way of Endowments for the last two hundred years, and you are putting the Church back into the condition of poverty which it occupied two hundred years ago, and when you tell us the reason the Church did not do its duty in the eighteenth century my answer is that the Church was impoverished then, and your remedy is to impoverish the Church at the present time. The Attorney-General referred to what he called a persistent demand from Wales. I quite agree that the persistent demand from Wales is the best argument you have got for this Bill, and, in fact, I think it is the only argument. After all, if you say year after year, and election after election, that the Welsh people have demanded this Bill, why, instead of giving the actual number of men returned on the other side, do you not give the actual number of votes cast? If you did that you would find, instead of there being thirty-one Members in favour of this Bill and three against it, there would be fourteen against the Bill at the present time. In 1895, when this Bill came directly before the electors in a way it has never come before them in the past—no one can pretend that it was before the people at the last election—we had more Members, and the number of votes cast shows that once this Bill was brought before the people, they were really not in favour of this proposal at all. There is a new fact in connection with this case, and it is that you have accumulative evidence that the people really do not want this Bill. A great deal has been said tonight about the petition from the Welsh Nonconformists. What does it all come to? No less than 103,000 Nonconformists have petitioned against the Disendowment Clauses of this Bill. You can try to explain that away as you like. You may say the Church influence has been brought to bear, and you can say they were Conservatives. What does that matter, because they were Nonconformists, and that is the point. We have been told that we should have this Bill because the Welsh are a nation of Nonconformists. I do not know how many Nonconformists there are in Wales, and you will not give us a religious census, and consequently we cannot tell, but we do know that 103,000 Nonconformists in Wales are opposed to this Bill, and you cannot get away from that fact. If there had been more time, and if such tremendous pressure had not been put upon these people to prevent them signing, instead of 103,000 there would probably have been 150,000. I happen to know what that pressure was. The Noble Lord behind me has mentioned a case, and I can give another. Last month there was a meeting of the Free Church Council of Monmouthshire, at which a resolution was brought forward and carried that every Nonconformist who had signed that petition ought to be censured. A lady of my acquaintance who was present at that meeting informed me that a motion was also made that everybody present should sign the resolution, that the people should be censured, but she refused, and a great many others refused. You see from this one fact, that the Free Church Council found it necessary to move a vote of censure on those people, and they were moving Heaven and earth to prevent people signing that petition, and notwithstanding all this you got 103,000 to sign. It is all very well to try and discredit that petition. On a previous occasion you tried to discredit the petition of half a million people who signed the petition against the Bill. In the case of a petition coming from one parish, the Petitions Committee rejected it, but immediately another petition was got up in that particular parish in Anglesey containing more signatures than the one rejected by the Petitions Committee. When you find that 103,000 Nonconformists have signed against the Bill, I ask is it so certain that the Welsh people do want this measure, and if they do, why do you not have a religious census or a referendum in order to make quite sure what the people do want. The Attorney-General said that we were acting contrary to Welsh spirit because we object to the Dismemberment of the Church, and he said that Wales had not got a separate Church, and was simply part of the Province of Canterbury. That is a very remarkable argument. What is this Welsh national movement? Is it absolute separation. Do they mean by that argument that Wales is not only to have a separate Church but to be a separate State altogether, because that is what the argument means. It comes rather badly from those speaking for Welsh Nonconformity, because Welsh Nonconformity is not a separate entity."It is hardly necessary to call attention to the flagrant character of this forgery."
Certainly it is.
Are the Wesleyans in Wales a separate Church from the Wesleyans in England?
Not the Wesleyans, but all the others.
Is it true of the Baptists? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] Do you mean to tell me that representatives of the Baptist Church in Wales cannot sit as members of the Baptist Union in England? Of course they can, and what would you say if this House passed an Act preventing it?
You will be allowed to associate in exactly the same way.
The hon. Member has evidently not read the Bill.
In everything except Convocation.
By this Bill, the House of Commons determines without consulting the Church in Wales, or the Church of England, that in future they are to be separated, and this Bill forbids the representatives of the Church in Wales to go to Convocation. Such a thing would be intolerable and impossible if proposed for the Nonconformists.
It could not arise in Nonconformity, because Convocation is statutory.
Surely this House has full power to legislate for a Nonconformist body just as it has for the Church, because it has done it over and over again. We did it in the case of the Scottish Church a few years ago. I remember a Bill brought forward in this House which united three different bodies of Methodists at their own request. What reason is there to divide the Church in Wales from the Church of England, not at the request either of the Church of England or of Wales? They tell us that it is contrary to the national spirit. That when all these Nonconformist bodies are in communion and united closely and associated with similar bodies in England, is really to make a statement which is absolutely untrue. Take your Free Church Council. Have you not got a Free Church Council of England and Wales?
The Baptists do not belong to it.
What does that matter? The Free Church Council is for the two countries together.
I say that the Welsh Baptists do not belong to it.
Does anybody suggest that therefore the members of the Free Church Council are contrary to the national spirit in Wales? That is what it comes to. Then the Attorney-General asks us whether we are prepared to say in this House what we say on the platform. We do say on the platform and we say here that the Disendowment Clauses of the Bill are robbery. I say emphatically that they are. What is the argument? It is the most extraordinary argument I have ever heard in my life. He said, "Surely if you have Disestablishment some measure of Disendowment can reasonably be justified." How can it be justified? Only on this ground: If you can prove either that the Church is misappropriating or misspending funds or else that the Church has got more funds than she can do with at the present time. I fully admit that the Endowments of the Church are a public trust, and that the State has the right to interfere with that trust on certain principles if the money is misspent or if there is more money than the Church can make use of. That was the argument made use of in the case of the Church in Ireland. It was proved that it had more property than it could properly make use of, and a certain amount of it was confiscated; but even after Disendowment the Church in Ireland had bigger Endowments than the Church in Wales has got before Disendowment. So far from anybody being able to contend that the Church in Wales is not properly spending her funds, I venture to say that there is no Church in Christendom which is doing better work with slender means than the Church in Wales is doing at the present time, and what she wants in order to carry on her work properly are not smaller but greater funds. I would conclude by asking the House this question. It has been asked already, and, after all, it is a practical question: What benefit do you really expect to get from this Bill? The old Romans always had a question, a leading question. They used to say, "Qui bono?" "For whose benefit is this being done?" I would ask the House, as a practical question: Who is going to benefit by this? The Church is not going to benefit. It is quite true the hon. Member opposite told us that the Church would benefit, but I venture to say that those who are leaders of the Church in Wales are better qualified to answer that question than the supporters of the Bill. Are Nonconformists going to benefit? The Under-Secretary has told us very often that the Nonconformists are not going to benefit by this Bill. Are the ratepayers going to benefit? It is laid down distinctly in the Bill that no part of the money will be used in the relief of rates. Who on earth is going to benefit? Is the Welsh nation going to? Do you tell me that at a time when we are spending £200,000,000 a year on the public services, it is necessary to take a paltry sum of about £168,000 a year from the Church in order that the work of education, and so on, may be properly carried on in Wales? It is preposterous and absurd! The position is really summed up most admirably in a remarkable communication to the "Times," a short portion of which I will read. It says this:—
What is going to be the result? Just now I asked is the Welsh nation going to benefit? I do not hesitate to answer that the Welsh nation is going to be a great loser by this Bill, and I put it in this way. In Wales we are, as a rule, a friendly people. We may differ in politics, we may differ in religion, but we are all proud of our common nationality, and we carry out our controversies without any acerbity or bitterness. What are you going to do now? You are going to introduce a bitterness which has long been absent from Welsh controversies. What will be our position? There will be a feeling of rankling injustice on the part of every Churchman in Wales, You say you are removing a Nonconformist grievance, a grievance hundreds of years old. That grievance is purely sentimental, but you are going to impose upon us a present practical grievance which will not be forgotten for many years to come in Wales. I cannot conceive anything less likely to conduce to religious co-operation in the Principality than the carrying of this Bill. Already we see differences cropping up where there were none before, and, therefore, I say to the Welsh party, and to those who support this Bill, that they are embarking on a task which is calculated to do grave harm to the Welsh people. I believe it is a mere traditional policy that has lost its whole driving power at the present time, and it is our duty by every means in our power, to stop this movement which is likely to bring about bitterness in controversy and a feeling of resentment which will be to the permanent injury of the Welsh people."To spend Treasury funds on the preservation of rude cromlechs, prehistoric huts, and mined abbeys, and to withdraw Endowments, consecrated by the use of centuries, from the ancient Christian altars of Wales; to beg and pray for subscriptions towards securing a minimum wage for Nonconformist ministers, and to impoverish the ancient parochial system which guarantees a living and a universal Christian ministry throughout Wales; to bewail the neglect of public worship and the advance of materialism, and deliberately to divert to secular uses funds applied from time immemorial to religious purposes, and never more fruitfully employed than they are to-day; to exult in Welsh nationality, and yet humiliate the one national institution which supplies the background of Welsh history, and gives value and dignity to Welsh literature—surely no more violently incongruous spectacle could be imagined than that which Wales to-day presents ill its attitude towards its National Church."
who was indistinctly heard): I never hear the hon. and gallant Member take part in our Debates Without thinking regretfully of the fact that had it not been for this controversy he might have been a Welsh Member for many years past. He was once a Tory candidate for a Welsh constituency, and I remember perfectly well the statement he made after the declaration of the poll, in which he attributed his defeat entirely to the vexed question of Disestablishment. I am glad he has found some security of tenure in another place, and my only regret is that his views on this question have not enabled him to be a Welsh Member, because then he might have been on this side.
The right hon. Gentleman has quoted an incident which occurred some years ago. May I remind him of the fact that the particular scat for which I stood has never returned a Conservative at all on any occasion whatever.
That may be so. That only shows the gallantry of the hon. Member in fighting it. I am not on the point of the hon. Member's courage, but on the point of his explanation, because I do not suppose he was unduly exultant after defeat. The first thing he said after defeat was that if it had not been for Disestablishment he would have won that fight. If to-morrow the hon. Member will refer back to his notes of that campaign—I have no doubt he has them still—he will find I am correct. However, I do not want to light the ancient fires of this controversy. The hon. Member referred to the Cardiff incident. What my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was doing upon that occasion was comparing the mission work done in the city of Cardiff. What he said was actually, and is actually, the case, in spite of anything that can be said to the contrary, and I think it can be proved to anyone's satisfaction. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that 1895 was the high-water mark of the Conservative party in North and South Wales. What did the Conservative party succeed in doing at the top of its golden hours in 1895? They had exactly nine Members, and the Liberals had twenty-five Members. If the hon. Member regarded that with pride, it does great credit to the diffidence of his party.The hon. Member also referred to the religious census. That is one of his pet subjects. I remember asking him on one occasion in this House if, whether there was a religious census, he would be bound by it, and he said certainly not, which was exactly the answer I expected. He must now be persuaded that the religious census was the folly we then pointed out to him, for now there are 103,000 Nonconformists who would have signed the census as Nonconformists, yet who are against this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes! it shows the folly of the hon. Member. It shows that it is no good having a religious census. We told him so, but he did not agree with us then, although I believe he agrees with us now. I will deal with the hon. Member's speech first. With regard to the point about Convocation, I do not think he has quite fairly represented the position. The governing body of the Nonconformist denominations in Wales is a free governing body. The governing body of the Church is a statutory body. All the dioceses of England and Wales are grouped together and are subject to this one authority. A good deal has been said in the course of this Debate about Disestablishment and Dismemberment. May I say, once for all, in order to dispose of the matter, that Disestablishment and Dismemberment are two names for the same thing. If you look at it from the point of view of the four Welsh dioceses, it is Disestablishment. If you look at it from the point of view of the Province of Canterbury, it is Dismemberment. They are two names for absolutely the same process, that is, separating these four Welsh dioceses from the rest of the Province of Canterbury. Whether it be right or wrong, you neither make it better nor worse by using two rather long names for one and the same process. There are a good many hon. Members on that side of the House who are not so very averse to Disestablishment. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, having gone to Carnarvon, in the very bracing air of the Principality, did not take the same strong view as some of his colleagues did upon this question. Once admit that Disestablishment is right, can anyone in this House point out to me any way of getting Disestablishment except by separating these four dioceses from the Province of Canterbury? There is no other way. We may be right or wrong, but once admit we are right, there is no other way of getting religious equality in Wales except by separating there four dioceses from the Province of Canterbury. There is another method, that is Disestablishing the Church as a whole, but that is not a solution which hon. Gentlemen opposite would accept. But I say this in all seriousness, if there is to be Disestablishment, no one from the beginning to the end of this controversy, either in 1912 or 1913 or 1914, has suggested any different method of getting the result we desire to obtain. It may be right or it may be wrong, but there is no other process suggested except the process contained in this Bill. I quite admit that the difference that divides the two sides of the House upon this question is not one of detail, but one of principle. On this side there may be a difference of opinion as to whether the Bill is too generous to the Church or whether it is not generous enough to the Welsh people. On this side, at any rate, all admit two principles: First of all, that Disestablishment is right; and, secondly, that Disestablishment does involve inherently some measure of Disendowment. On the other side, the Opposition again unanimously adopt two views. They first of all consider that Disestablishment is an act of national apostasy; and, secondly, they think Disendowment is an act of spoliation and sacrilege. These are such fundamentally opposite mental positions that it is really quite hopeless, when we are so divergent in our views upon first principles, to arrive really at any agreement; and it is somewhat significant of the whole course of this Debate that no one even on that side of the House has suggested any compromise or agreement or any way of solving the real difficulty that divides the two sides of the House. Let me remind the House that Disestablishment is not an isolated act, but a continuous process. I think it was as far back as 1881 that the then Dean of Ely said the process of Disestablishment had been going on for fifty years. So it had. In 1828 the abolition of the Test Act, in 1829 the emancipation of the Roman Catholics, in 1840 the removal of matrimonial and testamentary jurisdiction from the Ecclesiastical Courts, in 1870 Church rates were abolished, and there was legislation to allow marriages to take place in Nonconformist places of worship and the allowance of burial under certain conditions in the churchyards—all this was the long struggle that took place, and as we claimed our rights, and as you were reluctant to abandon your privileges, the process of Disestablishment has been going on for fifty years in this country, and we say there can be no other final step to this long struggle except the establishment of complete religious equality by some such Bill as that which is now before the House of Commons. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman said—and I quite agree with him; he proved it, and probably I shall prove it, too—there is nothing new to be said in the course of this controversy. The same facts have been argued on both sides, the same arguments have been marshalled, and to a great extent the same language has been used. If one went back to 1869 you would find that a very similar situation prevailed then, and that again proves what I have said, that we are dealing, not so much with a different set of facts or details, but with fundamental principles that divide us into two schools of thought upon this question. If I understand it aright hon. Members who have spoken on the other side have taken some exception to the Parliament Act. They have said the Debate is unreal and I suppose that is why there are not more hon. Members here to-night.
There are more than on your side.
There ought to be for according to you, but not according to us, what we are doing is to destroy the national recognition of religion, and we are robbing and spoliating the Church. Really the great Conservative party ought to be here in greater numbers to resist these terrible proposals. I quite understand why hon. Members are not here in greater numbers. They say that there is an unreality about the Debates, that the Constitution is in abeyance, and that there is so great a difference from the old times when there were real debates. I never appreciated this contrast. In the old times debates were real because the Bill was going to be killed. That is why they were real. Hon. Members knew the views of the House of Lords. Does anyone say that the House of Lords would have passed this Bill before the Parliament Act came into operation? What has been done after the Parliament Act proves that they never would have passed this Bill. Now the Debate is unreal because the Bill is going to pass. I do not quite follow the argument which pleases hon. Gentlemen opposite. Something has been said about Ireland, and our generosity has been compared adversely with the provisions of the Irish Bill. When the Irish Bill was passed we had to reckon with the House of Lords. May I explain what was done by that House in the case of the Irish Church Act? The Irish Bill as proposed by Mr. Gladstone, and, as it left this House, was less generous to the Irish Church than this Bill is to the Church in Wales, but when the Irish Act was passed there was art absolute veto on all legislation in the House of Lords. The real fact is that Mr. Gladstone had to come to terms, because of the power, the unrestricted power, of the Upper House, and he had to give much more generous terms than had been proposed in the original Bill. We are not so free from the power of the House of Lords as we would wish, but we are free to a greater extent than formerly.
May I ask whether Mr. Gladstone ever proposed in the Irish Church Bill to take away any of the churchyards?
If the hon. Gentleman tells me that that was not in the original Irish Bill, I will accept it, but whether it was or not, we are not bound by the precedent of 1869. Really I do not follow that point. What are the four contentions, as I understand them, on the opposite side. The four points are these: The opposition to the Bill is based, firstly, on the fact that it abandons the national recognition of religion; secondly, that the existing legal organisation of the Church is overthrown; thirdly, that it separates the Church in Wales from the English Province of Canterbury; and lastly, that it secularises the Church's vested interests in ancient Endowments. What are the changes now as compared with the last time this Bill was before the House of Commons? There have been no by-elections in Wales, fortunately or unfortunately, since the Bill was last before the House. The Tory party are always in this position, that something more favourable to them would happen if they had only more time. The hon. Member opposite spoke about Bolton, and said, "If we had only had a few more days we would have won Bolton." [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] I was here and heard him. He said they were going on extremely well, and if they had only a few more days, they would have won Bolton.
What I said was that we were going on well on this Welsh Bill, that then there came down a Labour representative, and that the election was won on labour and not on this Bill.
That is to say that the constituents of Bolton cared more for labour questions than they did for the Disestablishment question?
Undoubtedly. That is my contention.
Of course, the hon. Gentleman says he had got Tariff Reform. The Bishop of St. Asaph was more sanguine. Writing so far back as 1894, twenty years ago, he said, "The political record of the next General Election will be very much more favourable to the Unionist, cause."
So it was.
So it was in 1895. But then there was a sudden lapse from grace afterwards in 1906. Does the hon. Baronet think that the bishop meant the next election, and that at the election after that they should do very much worse?
He did not foresee the Chinese labourers.
He did not foresee a good many other things. He did not foresee the General Elections of 1906, and January, 1910, and December, 1910. Bishops do not foresee everything. With regard to by-elections, I want to refer to three which have taken place recently. The Conservative party are never tired of saying that there is growing indignation over the country against this Bill. One would think from their speeches that they wanted to explain to the country the iniquities of the Government in regard to this Bill. May I refer them to the elections at Linlithgow, Wick, and Bethnal Green? At each of these elections, though the Liberal candidate mentioned Disestablishment, the Unionist candidate did not mention it at all in the course of his address. How is this?
Because they had so many other things to mention against the Government.
So many things to mention against the Government, and this was not one of the important things. If the hon. Baronet's colleagues continue to put it in a backwater, as he points cut—
They cannot do more than one or two things at the same time.
What are the other new facts? There have been demonstrations in the open air and in West End drawing-rooms, and there have been petitions. A great deal has been said about them to-night. The Prime Minister, when the first petition came to him from North Wales, was interviewed by the hon. Member, fit introducer for a Nonconformist deputation, and it was supervised by the Bishop of St. Asaph. You must have somebody on these occasions, and there was no Nonconformist minister and no deacon or officer, but the Bishop of St. Asaph kindly-consented to give, or volunteered, his presence on that occasion. He was there, at any rate. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Prime Minister said on that occasion that the petition ought to have been in the form of a petition to the House of Commons, so that it could have been investigated and scrutinised. They might very well have said that they did not know that and preferred to go to the Prime Minister. But that was no excuse for afterwards sending another petition in the same way. They have prepared it in a form in which it is exceedingly difficult to investigate or scrutinise it. As we know, a great many people have repudiated their signatures. Three ministers from one village wrote the other day to explain that they are not responsible for the signatures of their names. Then with regard to these petitions, it depends a great deal on who canvasses and on what is said. I have a leaflet here which I am told was used largely in connection with this petition. It is a beautiful production, and the hon. Member need not repudiate it. It is published by the National Union of Conservative and Liberal Unionist organisations, which is a very fine title with a good flavour. Here we have a picture of a church with the door overgrown with brambles, and on it is written, "Closed owing to the Welsh Disestablishment Act."
Does the hon. Gentleman say that this leaflet was used in connection with the petition?
Instances have come to my knowledge in which this leaflet has been used in connection with the obtaining of signatures to the petitions. But I understand the hon. Gentleman considers that this is too deplorable a leaflet to be used.
My point is that that is a party production. The protesters were a non-party organisation, and did not have any literature of any sort or kind.
I can understand the hon. Member's anxiety to repudiate it. I have on several occasions discovered instances of leaflets being used in politics. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with this:—
The rector of Hawarden has a very simple way of expressing this matter. His way is to get Lord Kitchener and also the Mediterranean Fleet to come to the Menai Straits. The Bishop of St. Asaph, who is never reticent in expressing his views on these occasions, says of this Bill:"For more than twenty centuries the Churches in England and Wales have been united."
I see the hon. Member for Oswestry in his place. It was from that phrase about the Decalogue that he got his inspiration of the three great principles of the Tory party—"Truth, Tariff Reform, and the Ten Commandments." I know why he put "Tariff Reform" between "Truth" and the "Ten Commandments." It was in order to prove it equi-distant from both. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last, referred to the impoverished Church. May I call his attention and the attention of hon. Gentlemen to those petitions, which say that this Bill takes from the Church £157,000 a year? Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman really think that a fair statement to make now?"It is a desecration of the churchyards and a shameless robbery, and if it were applied in England they would be preparing for civil war. If the Nonconformists want to abrogate the Decalogue let them do it by themselves."
Am I to understand now that you are not vouching your own responsibility, but somebody else's?
I think the Bill undoubtedly does take £158,000 per year from the Church. I merely mentioned the fact. Lord Crewe admitted it.
You must refer to some moment of time. It does not take £157,000 at any moment of time during the next forty years. At any rate, would it not have been better and wiser and more just to refer to "life interests," or words to that effect. As a matter of fact, this Bill leaves all the fabrics to the Church, ft leaves all the residences, palaces, deaneries and rectories and vicarages and an income of £102,000 per year. Then it leaves all moveable property of the Church; a considerable sum, and it allows them the life interest. Hon. Members know perfectly well that they can commute it for a certain sum. If they do commute it, and if you refer to Disestablishment at a time when the commutation option is exercised, what we take from the Church is not £157,000 per year, but all that we really in substance take will be made up by £51,000 per year. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Really, that is so. Any man who signed that petition on the other assumption, I think, is perfectly entitled to say that he was deceived with regard to that matter. There are three kinds of property: tithe, glebe, and the churchyards. Something has been said by the hon. Member in a humorous spirit about tithe. It is very much easier to reject a statement by an adjective than refute it by argument. Our theory has never been disputed in this House, be it right or wrong. Hon. Members have had plenty of time to deal with this question, but they have never been able to reply to it.
The guillotine did not prevent two discussions on glebe, and we might have had one on glebe. I feel perfectly certain that there is no Member of the Opposition who will be able to bring proofs against our statement that tithes in Wales were only superimposed on Wales as part of the Norman Conquest. I am not going into the question of glebe to-night or churchyards. As to the churchyards, there can be no doubt as to the law. Subject to the right as to the surface of the churchyard, the rights in the churchyards are vested in the parishioners. Speaking for myself, I do not think the parishioners would ever be justified in abandoning their rights in this respect. You talk about pious ancestors, but we had ancestors too. Our forefathers are buried in those churches, and we are unwilling, and I say it quite frankly, as I feel very strongly on this, to give up the rights we have in those churchyards. We are told there will be more bitterness about them. If you are going to be more bitter than before, we are entitled to take whatever steps we can to see that we have free admission to them. We have discussed this question to-night in a tone and temper more conciliatory than is usual in our Debate. For forty-five years, ever since she has had a popular franchise and an articulate political voice, Wales has expressed her allegiance to the doctrine of religious equality embodied in this Bill. Whether you regard the Bill from the point of view of spiritual religion or of equal citizenship, we think it right and just. We are asked sometimes to postpone the Bill. That is not for us, but for the people. In this struggle we are not to be overborne by the hostility or indifference of English public opinion. We have faith in our nationality, for we believe that it is an ennobling as well as an enabling force, and national salvation can never depend upon a State Church. Whatever may threaten us in the days to come we are content to leave the spiritual future of our country to the unfettered freedom of our people.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—[ Mr. Hayes Fisher],—put, and agreed to.
Debate adjourned accordingly; to be resumed to-morrow (Tuesday).