I beg to move:
After an extremely interesting Debate which we had yesterday on Scotland, and the intense interest which has been shown in the Irish problem tonight, I hope that it will not be taken amiss if I ask the House to consider, for a few moments, a purely English problem. The Measure to which I refer is submitted to the House after long and careful consideration in the Church Assembly. It was before the Assembly at each of four sessions between the Summer of 1947 and the Summer of last year, and it is the fruit of searching inquiry and examination in the Church Assembly and elsewhere for the past 17 years. It is intended to help towards a solution of two distinct but allied problems which, although by no means new, have become more and more critical and disturbing. The first is the distribution of clergy in relation to the distribution of population. The present parochial system is, in the main, based on the territorial divisions of years ago, when the bulk of the population lived in villages. With the industrial revolution, and the migration to the towns and industrial centres, there has been a growing lack of balance between the Church in manpower and money and the needs of the population, with the result that some clergy serve among populations of perhaps two or three hundred while in towns there is frequently one clergyman to 10,000 or 15,000 inhabitants. The second problem is the remuneration of the clergy where the income is derived from ancient endowments. The cost of living has risen continuously, and the income of many clergy has remained stationary, while the poverty of some has seriously increased. It has always been assumed that a great deal of new money would be needed to solve this very real clerical poverty, but at the same time it is recognsed that it is not reasonable to ask for voluntary gifts to the pay of the ministry if, in the existing system, there is a misuse—as some regard it—of the endowments whereby some clergy, for no obvious reason, receive large incomes while their next-door neighbours, even with a great deal more work to do, receive poor ones. The way in which this Measure operates to solve this problem is fully set out in the comments and recommendations to the Ecclesiastical Committee. To appreciate the Measure, one has to think of it as a planning Bill. This is the first time that the Church has sought to arm its dioceses for dealing with this problem on a nation-wide scale. Under the existing law it is possible to deal with many of these problems in many ways, but only, nearly always, on a purely local scale. Now, in this Measure a diocese would be given the power and authority to deal with that problem in that diocese as a whole. As hon. Members will see from the Report, the Measure has been carefully considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee, as also have been the objections, some of which I believe have reached hon. Members. I draw the attention of hon. Members to paragraphs 5 and 6 on page 3 of the Report of the Committee, and to the fact that the Committee agrees with the Church Assembly that the Measure is urgently needed and is of the opinion that it should proceed. While it is true that there was in the Assembly some opposition on the part of the House of Clergy to Clause 12—(General power to divert endowment income)—it should be noted that the Measure was subsequently and finally approved by a very substantial majority. The English Church, with its unbroken history stretching back over the centuries to the earliest days in our island story, constantly renewing itself, is asking power to equip itself to combat the forces of evil. It has been truly said that we stand at a moment when the course of history depends on the calm reasonableness arising from a religious public opinion. Much depends on the clergy—a comparatively few men. This Measure will, in my humble opinion, help them as a whole in their uphill fight to maintain the values of a Christian civilisation."That the Pastoral Reorganisation Measure, passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England, be presented to His Majesty for his Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament."—[King's Consent signified.]
I beg to second the Motion.I should perhaps make it clear to the House that I am not a member of the House of Laity, but I believe that the equipment and machinery of the Church needs modernisation and alteration from time to time, like the equipment of many other organisations and bodies. I often wonder whether we fully appreciate the great difficulties in which many of our clergy are labouring today. I am certain that many of us are ignorant of the extreme anomalies which exist, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and with which this Measure is concerned. First, there is the shortage of manpower. In 1939 there were 6,000 fewer clergy than in 1910, and there are still fewer today. There are parishes of 15,000 or 20,000 inhabitants with only two clergy looking after them; there are others of only 30 or 40 with one man looking after them. Secondly, there is the shortage of funds and funds to which the hon. Gentleman also referred. Since 1936 we in this House—and I am making no party point because all parties are jointly responsible—have deprived the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of income to the tune of about £600,000. Moreover, sources of other income from gifts and endowments from laymen have similarly been reduced. That is the natural result of high taxation. In one diocese there are no fewer than 72 parishes with an income of less than £300 a year. Other parishes may be large either in area or in population with incomes of between £350 and £400. Others again may be small both in area and population but have incomes of between £800 and £1,000, and it is to even out those inequalities that this Measure is designed. Worse still, while I am speaking of the financial difficulties of many of our clergy, there are large numbers of parsonage houses which are very old-fashioned, very large, and hopelessly uneconomic to run. I often wonder how the parson's wife, living in one of these large rectories, with three young children and no domestic help, can throw herself into the life of the parish as she would wish, particularly when in many cases her husband's income, often bearing heavy dilapidations on the parsonage house, brings in net little, if any, more than the wage of a farm labourer on the glebe farm. I speak as a lay patron, and one of the livings of which I am patron, taken by itself, has a net income of £90. It is true that the living is now held in plurality with two others, and that three parishes together provide an income of £480. But I am certain that in present-day conditions a much wider extension of powers to unite benefices or to hold several in plurality must be entertained. It is not always easy to draw a hard-and-fast line between spiritual things and material things, but it is certain that if the spiritual life of any parish is to continue and grow it must be based, as far as the parish priest is concerned, on a reasonable economic standard. I believe that under this Measure the existing rights of sitting incumbents are fully safeguarded. I believe the period for appeal is adequate. I am prepared, for my part, to pool my rights of patronage, or see them in some minor ways restricted, to achieve the object which this Measure sets out to achieve. It has been before the Assembly and public for more than 12 months. There has been ample opportunity to discuss it. A motion for formal reference back was moved in the Assembly, but rejected. We spend many hours in this Chamber legislating for bodies rather than for souls, but if by giving approval to this Measure we can facilitate the task of those responsible for the cure of souls, and improve the quality and recruitment of those who go into the Church, we shall achieve something more than has been achieved by a great many Acts which are placed upon the Statute Book.
This Measure has been commended to the House, by the hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded it, quietly, lucidly and even eloquently. I do not think that even at this late hour the House should pass it without at least taking some cognisance of what the "Manchester Guardian" has called its truly "revolutionary" character, which has not yet been fully appreciated in the country. This Measure does mark a decisive further step in the destruction of the parochial system of England. We may regard that as evil or as good, or possibly as a necessary evil, but we should at least recognise what we in this House are helping to do tonight.The clergyman, and especially the country clergyman, has always been a distinctive figure in English social history. He has been the scholar, the poet, the gardener, pastor in parochia. One thinks of George Herbert, John Keble, Conrad Noel, and many others of their kind. They are passing. In the last fifty years a profound social change has come over the countryside. It is partly a matter of modern transport. The country parish is no longer an isolated and self-contained unit. The Church is no longer its unique social and cultural as well as religious centre. Churchgoing is no longer the conventional habit, the thing that has to be done, in England (as it still largely is in Wales). These changes are reflected in this Measure, which my hon. Friend who moved it has described as a planning measure to reorganise and redistribute the manpower and resources of the Church. As he also remarked, there has been a certain amount of objection to this Measure. Hon. Members will have received propaganda against it from various organisations and from individual incumbents, whose views one must certainly hold in respect; but I am inclined to think that most of that opposition has been based on a confusion, as it were, between cause and effect, and that those who oppose the Measure think that the Church Assembly are trying to do something which has already been done irrevocably by history. The features of this Measure which many of us do not like are not so much new proposals as a realistic recognition of existing facts and an honest attempt to deal with existing needs and shortages. There are many aspects of it which I, personally, view with some regret and even with mistrust. I do not like the extra concentration of power in the hands of the bishops which it represents, although for the bishops individually, of course, one has nothing but respect. I do not like the fact that it specifically excludes from its provisions the parishes of the City of London, whose benefices have, after all, some of the most grossly inflated incomes. It is a pity that, for technical or constitutional reasons which perhaps may be explained to us, they had to be excluded from this Measure. On the principal cause of objection to the Measure—that is, Clause 12, which is concerned with the alienation of endowments—I am inclined to think that we cannot object very strongly to that at this stage. Endowments of various kinds have been alienated before now, and have to be alienated as circumstances change and the centuries go by. There were many pre-Reformation endowments for requiem masses, the monetary benefits of which are still enjoyed by clergy of the Established Church who do not purport to perform the services required in those endowments. There is a constant alienation of endowments of one kind or another, and I do not honestly feel that is a reason for the rejection of this Measure by this House tonight. Yet it will be observed by those who study not only the Measure, but the Report on it by the Ecclesiastical Committee, that it was precisely Clause 12, on the "General power to divert endowment income," which in the Church Assembly was the occasion of the largest vote against the Measure, in the House of Clergy. In the House of Bishops the voting was 23 for and 1 against. I do not know who that one was: perhaps Dr. Barnes, but that is beside the point. In the House of Laity, the voting was 126 for and 20 against. But in the House of Clergy the voting was 104 for and 72 against—a very substantial minority against, especially when one considers the constitution of the House of Clergy and realises that it does not consist exclusively of ordinary parish clergy and incumbents. But that vote was only on Clause 12, and in the second division, on the motion for final approval, again the Houses of Bishops and Laity were overwhelmingly in favour and the House of Clergy in favour by 159 votes to 24—a much more substantial majority. I have been, as I know other hon. Members have been, much exercised about how we ought to treat this Measure, about how we ought to vote upon it if it should be pressed to a Division, especially in view of that much narrower majority in the House of Clergy. I ventured to circularise all the incumbents in my constituency about it with a letter as objective as I could make it and with copies of the Measure and the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee. There are 45 incumbents in my constituency. Thirty-six of them answered my letter asking them if they would be good enough to let me have their opinion on the matter. Of those 36, 23 were for the Measure, and 10 against. Three were more or less neutral. I think that, taking my constituency as a fairly typical rural constituency, that is rather strong evidence that the ordinary country parish clergy in general are not so overwhelmingly opposed to this Measure as has been represented to us in some of the propaganda which has reached us from the interested organisations. Out of 36 answers, 23 were for and 10 against. If the House will bear with me, I would like to read two short extracts, one from the letter of one of the clergy against the Measure, and the other from the letter of one in favour of the Measure, because they seem to me to sum up the arguments—on one side, as I think, the emotional argument, on the other, the rational argument. A greatly respected clergyman who is against the Measure writes:
He says that it does not distinguish sufficiently between town and country parishes. He says:"I start with some inherent prejudices. I do not like the amalgamation of parishes in general. It rarely works happily. I am of the old-fashioned type who think that a 'gentleman' in every parish is an advantage, and I am sure that the sons of the parsonage have done a great deal for the country. I know that that has changed with other changes, and I am not so foolish as to regret it altogether. The old days were all very well for the top dog, and the more all-round circumstances and outlook of the majority are a great and essentially Christian advance. As a realist, and as one trying to be just, even when he does not like it, I find the Measure open to considerable criticism."
This is a point which I think those who will have the task of putting this Measure into operation should bear in mind. There is considerable truth in it."The growth of a town often makes parish boundaries obsolete, and adjustment is there possible with the least discontent."
He goes on to say much more in the same vein, but I do not want to delay the House too long. On the other side a clergyman, who is also a rural dean, writes to me in favour of the Measure on strictly practical grounds. He says,"In the country it is different. We cling to our parish pumps, and the amalgamation of parishes cuts very deep. Villages do not love one another any more than they did in the Middle Ages, and I hardly think that the Measure takes into account enough the difficulty of distance and transport."
He quotes, in order to support that view, the precise population of nine parishes in his rural deanery, contrasting the two large villages on the one hand with the seven small villages on the other. The two large villages have a population of 5,416 between them, with one incumbent each, while the seven small villages have a total population of 3,438, who are served by seven incumbents. On the face of it, that is an absurd maldistribution of clerical manpower, and that is the hard realistic case for this Measure, however much one may nostalgically agree with the clergyman whose letter I first quoted. There is one other argument which I should like to examine. It has been put on previous occasions when controversial Church Assembly Measures have been before this House. It is the argument that we ought to accept these Measures more or less automatically, simply because the Church Assembly has approved them after long and full Debate; it is said that after the First World War we gave a measure of self-government to the Church and that we ought, therefore, to encourage the Church to go ahead and exercise this self-Government without interference, this House to act merely as a kind of endorsing body. I do not accept that argument. It is quite contrary to what was said and to the assurances given in debate when the Enabling Act was passed. It was then envisaged that Parliament would act as a final debating body. Unfortunately, we cannot be, like another place, a revising body, because we can only accept or reject these Measures. We are not allowed to amend them in any way. Perhaps that is a pity; I do not know. In any case, I feel that Parliament and this House of Commons should still consider these Measures seriously, and that Members should vote on them in accordance with their own consciences and judgments. Incidentally, if there is a Division tonight, which I personally hope there will not be, it will be a completely free vote, as it was on one previous occasion in this Parliament when the Incumbents Discipline Measure was before the House, and right hon. Gentleman from the Front Bench spoke and voted on different sides. Having said that I do not accept the argument that, merely because the Church Assembly has passed a Measure, we ought, therefore, to approve of it automatically, I would say that in a Measure such as this, when it seems that the arguments for and against are fairly closely balanced, with, in my view, a preponderance in favour of the Measure, if in any hon. Member's mind the argument is more or less equally balanced I think he should give the Church Assembly the benefit of the doubt. With apologies, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for keeping the House so long, I say, therefore, with some reluctance and with some nostalgic regrets, that I feel obliged, in view of the realities of the situation, to support this Measure."The pooling of manpower and resources is absolutely essential if the Church is to survive and meet future demands."
I only rise for quite a short time in order to try to persuade the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) that certain of the doubts which he appears to have are quite ill-founded. To begin with, if I may refer to his last remarks that the arguments with regard to this Measure appear to be more or less nearly balanced, I would say that is not the general consensus of opinion whatever. The overwhelming body of the clergy throughout the country, in so far as they have expressed any opinion at all, are in favour of the Measure. The hon. Member himself referred to only two of the votes which took place during the passage of this Measure during a number of sessions through the Church Assembly, and even on these two votes—and there were only two upon which the Assembly divided—the majorities were substantially in favour of the Measure. Therefore I think it is very difficult indeed for the hon. Gentleman to be correct in saying that the arguments for or against the Measure, as a whole, are nearly evenly balanced.
I am sorry if I made a mistake. What I tried to say was that, if they seemed more or less equally balanced to any hon. Member, he ought to give the Assembly the benefit of the doubt. I said that in my view they were strongly in favour.
With that explanation, I willingly leave the point and accept the hon. Member's view, in which I entirely concur. He opened his remarks by referring to a quotation from the "Manchester Guardian," which I have not myself seen, and in which, I understand, they stated that this was a revolutionary Measure. If that is in fact so, I can only conceive that they have never read the Measure at all because there is nothing revolutionary about it. Nor does it, may I say, tend towards any further destruction of the existing parochial system. What in my submission it does is to tend towards a revision of the parochial system in order to modernise it and bring it more into line with present-day needs. The House will appreciate that dealing as it does principally with the manpower and the parochial finances of the Church of England, the situation in the country has changed out of all recognition since the basis and foundation of the Church's finance was originally laid.It is to my mind a really quite remarkable thing, testifying to the ability and organisation of the Church, that it has succeeded in maintaining contact with the people during the century as it has done. When one visualises the changes in population which have taken place through the growth of industrialisation, through the gradual growth of the cities, through the incidence of war and so forth, it is really quite astounding the way in which the Church has been able to keep pace with and follow this trend of population and administer to its needs, bearing in mind that the basis of its finances was laid on an entirely different concept of society and an entirely different geographical dis- tribution of population from what we have today. In addition, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe), referred to the fact that the whole of the financial system of the Church has in recent years been on the downward path, whereas the needs of the Church and the needs of the population have been on the upward path. Church finances have been hit time and again as a result of the elimination of coal royalties and the reduction of interest as a result of nationalisation, and the incidence of taxation has affected them very seriously indeed. All these things have tended to make the financing of Church matters far more difficult. Therefore, it is essential for the Church to have a greater elasticity than it has at the present time. The purpose of this Measure is to introduce that greater element of elasticity. It is a Measure which is founded on experience, because we have already had in the past the Union of Benefices Measure, which has been successful up to a point, but which has established certain very grave objections. I will not keep the House now by detailing them, but I hope the House will accept it very briefly though I should be delighted to pursue the argument if the House wished it, having been professionally involved in a certain amount of litigation arising out of the Measure—that no form of proceeding could have been calculated to make it more difficult to persuade two benefices to unite than the procedure under the Union of Benefices Measure. The second Measure which has already been experienced is the pluralities Measure. It is as a result of the experience which the Church has had under those two different systems that the House is now asked to agree to the proposals contained in the Pastoral Reorganisation Measure, which modernises the effects of those two earlier Measures by combining them to a point and by making them experimentally possible—they are not experimentally possible at the present time—so as to provide for a far more flexible system than is available at present. I agree with the hon. Member for Maldon that there is much to regret in the passing of traditional things. One likes to think of "one church, one parson," but the difficulty at the present time is that one cannot even build churches fast enough, and when one cannot have churches fast enough, one certainly cannot have parsons fast enough. It is necessary that provision should be made to enable us to gain the extra flexibility which we desire. I believe that the Measure is one which will achieve that which it sets out to do in its Preamble, and that is:
I hope that the House will accept the Measure and pass it."To make better provision for the cure of souls."
I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), feel that it would be a great pity if there was any Division on this Measure tonight. Following the passing of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, we are provided with this sort of opportunity to raise matters in a less controversial way. I feel that the weakness of this Measure is the deterioration of the parochial interest resulting from its provisions. The position in the towns as one sees it nowadays is the great strengthening of materialistic thought and influences, and for that very reason, presumably, one must try to redress the balance by providing some sort of philosophical and spiritual leadership. The corporate life of our villages in the rural areas, after centuries, still demands that spiritual leadership which I feel that this Measure will in some way remove.On the subject of the union of benefices, there is one point on which I should like to have a little clarification. Clause 4, as drafted, specifies that a scheme may be produced by the Commissioners in substitution of a public inquiry. It seems to me that if that sort of procedure is to be followed we should have a healthy parochial church council. In this matter I must dissent from the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), who in his opening remarks said that he thought the Church had succeeded in maintaining touch with the community as a whole. I am afraid that I cannot agree with that. I feel that the position has deteriorated seriously even in my lifetime. The answer may be that these parochial church councils are not vital bodies in too many cases. If there were more publicity concerning their constitution, it might be more healthy for the Church. On Clause 12, which is the controversial Clause dealing with diversion of endowment income, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon who in a characteristically scholarly speech mentioned the inflated endowment incomes that exist. A case came to my attention the other day of an endowment income stipend amounting to £2,201 and a house. I cannot help comparing that with the situation that exists in too many rural incumbencies where a stipend well under £400 a year is found, usually with the incumbent occupying a house grossly out of tune with modern life, which makes his position quite hopeless. I draw attention to one comment made on page 8 of the Ecclesiastical Committee's Report, in which it says:
I would remind the House of the provisions embodied in the Housing Bill, which was given its Third Reading last week. Under Clause 25 of that Bill, specific provision is made for grants for improvements and conversions by local authorities in respect of tied residences. It seems to me that the implications of that provision might seriously be considered by the ecclesiastical authorities in assessing what part of the stipend to be charged should be allotted to conversions and rehabilitations of many of these vicarages. I went to a vicarage in Staffordshire the other day. It was a vast place. The only water supply was the water streaming down the walls. There was no electricity or gas, and it was quite obvious that the vicar's wife was having a very hard time to maintain the place in a presentable state. Too frequently one finds incumbents in that sort of residence designed for establishments of Victorian bourgeois dimensions. Too frequently there is a lack of energy on the part of the authorities concerned in dealing with the problem of these vast vicarages. Under the terms of the Housing Bill it seems that the Commissioners ought to survey the whole position anew and permit priests to live in houses under modern conditions and in the light of modern social requirements. The clergy should no longer be forced to live and try to maintain themselves in an elevated social position, which might have been well for the Victorian era, but which is now slightly grotesque. The fact will be that certain funds which would have been earmarked for rehabilitation from existing ecclesiastical funds can be used for increasing stipends as are necessary, and the other fact will be that there should be an increased amount of accommodation available; because I see nothing wrong in a clergyman sharing one of the vast houses in which some are forced to live with one of his parishioners. I hope that the House will not divide on this Measure; the only alternative which I have seen is embodied in the Memorandum and seems to me to imply the alternative that there should be positive direction of clergy. That is a provision to which, frankly, I could not agree."Subsection (3) of the Clause requires that all the circumstances of the benefice and particularly the parsonage house must be taken into consideration, and enables varying circumstances to be considered."
May I, even at this late hour, add one or two observations to the speeches which have been made by the hon. Members for Portsmouth, Central (Mr. Snow), Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks)? First of all, the House feels grateful for the gracious way in which the hon. Member for Maldon dealt with something which I thought he found to be distasteful, but in favour of which he has decided to come down. When we turn to ecclesiastical subjects in this House, one would get the impression that we were dealing with something which is incredibly dreary. That is not so. Hon. Members, having taken their parts graciously, should buck up and be cheerful, because heaven knows—and this is about the only occasion when one can make use of that cliché—however much our shortcomings, how awful it is where one finds old incumbents struggling on, knowing they will not get a pension until they are 70, and then only £200 a year, unable to buy a house, and going on until they die in their tracks; heaven knows, that is enough to make us blush. I do not know why the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) is laughing.
It sounds rather dreary.
The hon. Member is laughing, but that is a great mistake; what I describe is quite true. Incumbents do have to go on until they are 70, and one of the most difficult jobs in the whole world is that of the incumbent faced with an inadequate pension, and no capital; it is a terrible state of affairs. I should be glad to hear what the hon. Member has to say.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member did not misunderstand my smiling just now. He asked us to be cheerful, and to buck up, and I profoundly agree with him. I am not smiling because I am cynical, but because I was trying to follow his advice to consider this distressing matter in a cheerful spirit.
I am much obliged. May I explain to the hon. Gentleman that what I am suggesting is that, knowing quite well that these things are not laughing matters, what the House is going to do tonight is to take a step that is a really helpful and useful one. As far as that goes one can be cheerful about it, but there is a long way to go yet.With regard to the letter the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maldon received from one of the incumbents in his constituency who felt that the Measure was discriminating between town and country, all that really depends on how this thing is worked. There are oddities in the Measure. I do not quite understand why, if there is to be a plurality, in the case of parish A by agreement being combined with parish B the joint incomes can be reduced to as low as £500, whereas under Clause 12 a rich parish can only be reduced to £750. There may be, of course, reason for that. As far as it goes we must hope, and I believe it to be so, that the laity are now absolutely determined at last that something is stirring and things are going to get better. I believe this is a matter for rejoicing, and I am well pleased that the thing has been done for us.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Portsmouth (Mr. Snow) upon a most successful maiden speech. In fact, tonight we realise what a sacrifice it is not merely to the hon. Member himself, but to the House when a Member is called upon to fill the office of a Government junior Whip. I could almost wish that we had more opportunities of hearing my hon. Friend, and I have no doubt that the effectiveness of his speech will be duly noted in the proper quarters.Of course, this is not a Measure on which the Government have any views as a Government. All Members of the House have in this matter to exercise their own individual consciences, and to give expression to their views either in speech or in vote absolutely uninfluenced by any party consideration. I would not have intervened in the Debate but for the fact that, as a Nonconformist, it seems to me really to be quite an anachronism that I should be expected to give my views in the Division Lobby on such details as those just mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) whether £750 in one case, or £500 in another, is the appropriate minimum for the stipend of a parochial clergyman. I speak as an outsider in this matter; I am not even, in the words of Lord Melbourne, a buttress of the Church. He said that while he could not be regarded as a pillar he must be regarded as a buttress because he supported it from outside. I am not even a buttress of the Church of England; I am outside her communion, and I have suffered in my profession because I was outside her communion. It is an anachronism that still these intimate domestic details of a spiritual entity should be subject to the approval of this House, in which sit Nonconformists, agnostics, atheists, Jews, and persons of the most diverse religious persuasions. Speaking for myself alone, and not binding any other Member of the Government, or of the House, I think this Debate tonight, with this submission of intimate domestic, administrative details of a great Church, to an assembly which no longer admits religious tests with regard to its membership, is an anachronism, and that it would be to the advantage of the Church herself, and more in keeping with modern views on these matters, if the Church were disestablished.
I was particularly interested to hear the Home Secretary's remarks on the deplorable situation in which it is necessary for the Church of England to bring its domestic affairs to the House of Commons. I speak as an elder of the Church of Scotland, which is an Established Church but is not under any control by the House of Commons. I would not intervene if I were not convinced that I am helping, very slightly, in the discussion by saying that, if this Measure is going to produce a reasonable living standard for the ministers of the Church of England, it can do nothing but good. The Church of Scotland can set the example that the principle of a minimum stipend has been established for a considerable time. I believe it is in some of the dioceses, too. At the time there was a great deal of argument, as only Scotsmen can argue, and a great deal of heartburning and quarrelling whether it would be a good thing or not, because endowments and all these other things which come into this Measure were very much concerned then. The battle was a great and royal one, but in the end the principle of the minimum stipend was established, and has been a tremendous blessing not only to the Church of Scotland as such, but far more important, to the people of Scotland who are administered to by that Church.I am convinced that the step we are discussing tonight is of immense importance, although I think it should never have to come here at all. The existence of huge vicarages, or manses in Scotland, with unfortunate ministers' wives who are supposed to look after them, and ministers with very little to contribute to looking them, cannot do anything but harm to the work of the Church, whether in Scotland or England, if these ministers are thinking all the time of how they can make ends meet. If the Church of England can follow the Church of Scotland, and get down to this problem of levelling the salaries payable to the ministers, it can do nothing but good. I would not say that I am speaking entirely without interest in the Church of England, because in addition to being an elder of the Church of Scotland I am a confirmed member of the Church of England. I feel very strongly that there is only one Church and that is the Church of Christ. We talk about the Church of England the Church of Scotland and the Nonconformist Churches. They are all interpreting their Divine Master's doctrine in different ways, but they are all the same Church. Anything that one branch of the Church can contribute to helping another can do nothing but good. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which is sitting in Edinburgh, has particularly emphasised the need for getting closer to the Church of England and working together. I believe that to be in accordance with the highest Christian principles and in the best interests of everybody concerned. I intervene only because I think that there should be no division on this subject. Anything we can do in the Church of Scotland in the way of helping in the difficult question of finance, we shall be only too pleased to do.
I am sure we welcome the sympathy and support for this Measure from North of the Border. The hon. and gallant Gentleman claimed to be a member of the Church of Scotland as well as of the Church of England. That is surely rather an unusual claim.
The King is.
I was interested in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's claim, but did not know he was trying to emulate His Majesty in this respect. I think it is most unfortunate that propaganda and pressure groups in the Church should send out to members of this House one-sided versions of a measure of this character with the object of influencing their opinions and their votes. I think it is more than time that the Church authorities took in hand this question and on all future occasions when ecclesiastical matters are discussed in the House, they sent to Members of Parliament a short, concise and considered version of the official viewpoint. Those Members who rise and defend a Measure passed by the Church Assembly are at some disadvantage as a result of the situation I am describing. I think it is true to say that every Member has had a circular from one or other of the organisations opposed to this Measure. So far as I know nothing has been circulated to Members by any party in favour of the Measure. I consider that to be an unfortunate situation and one I would like to see altered.
For the sake of accuracy, may I point out to the hon. Member that the comments and explanations made by the Legislative Committee of the Church Assembly, which is the official body, are published as the appendix to the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee of the House, which can be obtained in the Vote Office.
I fully realise that, but that is not quite comparable with the situation on the other side, whereby something comes through the post to every individual Member which he is more inclined to read on that account. I know we can go to the Vote Office and get this publication, but I would venture to guess that a comparatively small number of Members have made themselves acquainted with the Report mentioned by the hon. Gentleman opposite. I would like to underline all the remarks made by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), the only criticism of his speech being that I think he rather tried to walk a tightrope in respect of the pros and cons, certainly more than I am inclined to do. He did, in the end, I admit, come down in favour of the Measure. I am whole-heartedly in favour of it. I consider that it is an urgent necessity, and unless this House gives this Measure its full approval tonight, the chaos which already exists in the Church of England is likely to be increased still further.There has been mention by various hon. Members of the dire straits in which some of the clergy find themselves under the present system. I envisage a time when many of the clergy may have to live together in a community, and jointly look after a number of parishes. In such an event there would be a pooling of the resources of the parishes concerned, and the body of clergy in any area affected would be far fewer than is the case when each parish has, as now, a single clergyman to look after it. I think that is coming, and that this Measure is a step towards bringing about that system—which is one I regard as largely desirable. I am glad that there has been no seriously adverse criticism of this Measure. As I know that various hon. Members opposite want to add their support of it, I will just close by saying that I am extremely glad that there has been unanimity on both sides of the House, so far, in favour of it.
There are one or two points to which I think that some reply should be made as briefly as possible. Before I do that I think that I ought to place on record the surprise which I felt that the Home Secretary in this Debate should have gone out of his way to depart from the Motion before the House in order to make a very few, but none the less pungent, remarks regarding the Establishment of the Church of England. I have no doubt that the Home Secretary was perfectly sincere in his views as a Free Churchman——
I am not a Free Churchman. I am a Nonconformist.
I gladly accept that statement. As a Nonconformist I have no doubt that the Home Secretary was perfectly sincere in his views in regarding it as anachronistic that Parliament should be in any way concerned with any changes in the laws relating to the Church of England. But we are debating this Motion for the approval, or otherwise, of a Measure passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England, under procedure laid down by Parliament itself. It would be, I think, quite out of Order for the Debate to be deflected into a debate upon whether it was, or was not, a good thing to continue this very procedure which we are doing tonight. I trust, however, from what the Home Secretary said, that the next time some Measure radically changing or reforming the very liturgy of the Church of England, comes before this House, the Home Secretary, as a Non-comformist, will stand aside and allow the matter to be settled by those who are members of the Church of England themselves.
The hon. and gallant Member is now raising the whole issue. I was careful to say—and I was not ruled out of Order by the Chair—that I regarded this procedure as an anachronism. As long as I am returned to this House, it is my duty to give my view, where there is a conflict of opinion, in the Division Lobby upon the issue raised. I regret that in this age that should still involve me in voting upon the internal domestic matters of a Church of which I am not a member.
The Home Secretary has a ready remedy the next time this occurs. He need not vote. He can abstain from voting. That is a common practice. It is not confined to any one Party in this House.
The hon. and gallant Member is making a very important constitutional point. I think he will agree with me that in the famous Debates of 1927 and 1928 a number of hon. Members who voted and were not members of the Church of England, stated specifically that they were representing their constituencies.
That is perhaps true, but it is also true that if the vote had been confined to a vote of hon. Members representing those constituencies in which the new Book would have been used, that new Book would have been carried into law by a substantial majority. I was only deflected from the strict path of Order by the remarks of the Home Secretary.The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) said he regarded this Measure as a step in the destruction of the parochial system. I must differ from him in that. I would regard it as no more destroying the parochial system, than I would say mat the Representation of the People Act, which the Home Secretary piloted through this House, was a step in the destruction of the Parliamentary system. The times have moved on. Just as the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies have to be changed, so also, in some cases, have powers to be given for the boundaries of ecclesiastical parishes to be changed. The hon. Member for Maldon also said that this is a Measure which would in some way or other, increase the powers exercised by the bishops. I think actually the reverse is the case, because where the union of benefices is involved, hitherto the bishop possessed arbitrary, discretionary power to recommend the course to be taken by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but under this Measure it will be the case that the bishop will not send such recommendations forward. Instead, the Diocesan Pastoral Committee which will be set up under this Measure, and of which, of course, the bishop is a member, will make the recommendations. Therefore, if anything, the procedure is now to be more democratic than it was before. The question was also put why the ecclesiastical parishes of the City of London were excluded from the scope of the Measure. The reason for that is that this Measure, in part, amends the Union of Benefices Measure, 1923. That Measure did not apply to the City of London. In 1926, the Assembly passed a Union of Benefices Measure for the City of London. It was rejected by the House of Commons. Therefore, the City of London parishes are now governed by private Acts of Parliament. It is also true that they have been brought within the scope of the Reorganisation Measure of 1944, and the Lord Bishop of London has set up an inquiry as to the whole future of the City parishes, following the changes that have been brought about by the devastation of the war.
Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us why Crown livings are excluded from this Measure? That is something which puzzles me, as they seem to be in much the same category as the City livings, which he has been discussing.
There is nothing unusual in excluding the prerogative of the Crown, but there is a provision in the Measure for the consent of the Crown to be given where there is Crown patronage. It is believed that in such cases the consent of the Crown will readily be given.Finally, Mr. Speaker, I believe this is an essential Measure that should be assented to by Parliament, if the Church is to carry forward its work in the physically changed conditions that we are confronted with today. The parochial boundaries can no more remain constant. It is no use asking people to come to churches which are remote from the places where people dwell. Rather, the Church, if it is to use its influence to the full, must instead itself go to the people. This Measure, radical as it is, is an attempt to do that within the framework of the traditional parochial system, and I believe if we assent to it tonight, we shall, not as active participators, but as assentors only, be assisting the Church in the carrying on of the great work that it has still to do.
I wish to detain the House only for two or three moments, but I make no apology for doing so in view of the importance of this subject to which every hon. Member who has spoken in the Debate has testified. I do desire to add a word on the subject mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew). I too was very surprised to hear intruded into this discussion the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who seemed to me to go out of his way to suggest that it was most unfortunate and a complete anachronism that the House should be discussing this subject at all. I was glad to note that the Home Secretary was careful to add that he was speaking entirely for himself and in his own personal capacity because, I think, it would be most unfortunate and subject to the most serious misconstruction if it were thought that anything in the nature of an official pronouncement was being made from the Front Bench on the subject of disestablishment.
I made it perfectly clear I was speaking for myself and I emphasised it twice in what I said.
I do not wish to pursue the subject except to say that, as the subject has been raised, it is important to express my opinion, which I believe is shared by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is that a great many people in this country, certainly a great many people in the Church of England, regard the present basis of the Establishment between Church and State as having been well settled, and settled for a very long time, when the Enabling Act was passed. I think it would be unfortunate if anything were said in this Debate which would suggest that the present state of the Establishment was one in which it is likely to be reopened to the House. If it is a matter which is one day to be opened, then it is a matter for the Church Assembly, whose function it is to consider it.I think it is of profound importance that a matter of this kind, which as has been pointed out, does not affect the Liturgy only, but affects the whole national life of our country, should be discussed in the House of Commons and not merely left to a decision of the Church Assembly. Reference has been made by more than one hon. Member to a passage in the "Manchester Guardian" of 14th June, 1948, describing—
I quote that not because I agree with the sentiments expressed, but merely to emphasise that this is a matter of very great importance to the nation. As hon. Members have pointed out, in a sense it undermines and changes the traditional parochial system on which the Church of England has through the centuries been built and grown up, in a measure which affects the whole land. However, like all other hon. Members who have studied this matter and spoken in this Debate, I have no hesitation in saying that, in my opinion, this Measure should be supported and approved by the House. I welcome the fact that the Church of England is keeping itself abreast of the times and is not hidebound by the traditions of the past. I welcome the fact that it is overhauling its manpower and its financial power and that it is planning its economy ahead and making preparations for its future tasks in accordance with its traditional responsibilities. I believe that this is a wise and an important Measure. I do not believe that it will produce the inconveniences which its opponents picture for it, and I am glad to think that, after a full, reasoned and balanced Debate, it will be approved by the House without a Division."… this revolutionary Pastoral Reorganisation Measure, to the implications of which the House of Clergy is slowly awakening. The parishes are not yet alive to its provisions. Indeed, for the most part they will only grasp them when they find themselves the victims. Then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, not that the Measure is bad in itself—there is a strong case for some such action—but because it will be enforceable upon an unprepared laity. Under its provisions no existing parish can be sure of maintaining its separate existence."
Question put, and agreed to.
"That the Pastoral Reorganisation Measure, passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England, be presented to His Majesty for his Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament."