I beg to move,
I wish to begin by making it clear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, South (Mr. W. T. Williams) and I, are not opposed to the intrinsic merits of the proposal which is laid before the House by the Church Commissioners. Anyone who has known these parishes reasonably well, as I have done for the last 25 years, can be in no doubt about the wisdom of the recommendations which the Church Commissioners are now making. It is undoubtedly right to amalgamate the parishes of St. Stephen and St. Mary, Westminster, St. John the Evangelist, Westminster, and St. Margaret, Westminster. We have tabled this Prayer because of the effect the proposal will have upon the foundation of the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter, which is, of course, generally known as Westminster Abbey. Since the reign of Queen Anne, the rectory of St. John the Evangelist in Smith Square has been attached to the office of a residentiary canon of Westminster Abbey. These two offices have been suspended since 1941 when, unfortunately, the Church of St. John the Evangelist was destroyed by bombing. Shortly after, Canon F. R. Barry, who will be well known to many Members of this House, was appointed to the diocese of Southwell and relinquished his residentiary canonry at Westminster Abbey. I think it is interesting to look back to the Report of the Cathedrals Commission of the Church Assembly, which sat in 1926 under the Chairmanship of Archbishop Lang. It made its Report in 1927. Speaking of the residentiary canonries of Westminster Abbey, the Commission reported:"That the Scheme for the rearrangement of the pastoral supervision of the parishes of Saint Stephen and Saint Mary, Westminster, Saint John the Evangelist, Westminster, and Saint Margaret, Westminster, in the diocese of London, be disapproved."
In spite of that Report, the Abbey continued with five residentiary canons until Canon Barry became a Bishop in 1941. At this point I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I state that a residentiary canon, unless he is a parish priest, as in the case of the Rector of St. Margaret's, Westminster, has few duties. The main duty of a residentiary canon is to read the Lessons of the day on weekdays and to preach once on a Sunday. If there are four canons in the Chapter it means that they divide the year up between them, and the period of residence for each canon is three months. If, on the other hand, there are five residentiary canons, then the period of official residence is something like two-and-a-half months. In return for working for two-and-a-half to three months, these residentiary canons are receiving a yearly stipend of £1,400, I believe, and have in addition, a house and various other concessions. Since 1945, five of these residentiary canonries have existed, but only four of them have been filled, because one of these canonries had to be filled by the Rector of St. John the Evangelist, and changed circumstances have made it unnecessary to appoint anybody to that living. The extinction of the rectory of St. Johns, under the Scheme which we are considering this morning, means that the ecclesiastical authorities are now in a position to fill that residentiary canonry without the necessity of appointing an ordinary parish priest to that position. It means, in fact, that it is now possible to create something which is approaching a sinecure. It is not for me to say whether that is right or wrong. it is, indeed, difficult for anybody who is not well acquainted with the foundation of the collegiate church to know whether that is right, but I mention it for this reason. In October of this year, just over a month ago, the Lord Chancellor, representing His Majesty the King as the Visitor of the Abbey Church of Westminster, and the Lord President of the Council, acting on behalf of the Privy Council, appointed a committee to review the whole foundation of the Abbey and to adjust it to modern needs. The question of how many residentiary canons there should be would clearly be a proper matter to be considered by that committee, which was set up by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord President of the Council. It is a committee consisting of three very distinguished men. The chairman is Lord Simonds, a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a very distinguished Chancery judge. The other members of the committee are Sir John Beaumont, who was Chief Justice of Bombay, and Sir Richard Hopkins, who is known to most of us as a very distinguished and successful head of His Majesty's Treasury. That committee was set up last month. It is to hold its first meeting on 12th January, 1951. My submission is that if, by this Measure, we are creating a vacancy on the establishment of the Abbey, then it is surely right that no decision should be taken to fill that vacancy until the committee set up by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord President of the Council has reported. I have moved this Prayer in order to represent to my hon. Friend, the Church Estates Commissioner, that other points are involved apart from this clear and simple matter of parochial reorganisation. I appreciate that these matters are beyond my hon. Friend's jurisdiction but, nevertheless, I hope he will assure the House that, in his capacity as the representative of the Church in this House, he will represent to the proper quarters the strong feeling which has been expressed that, if the procedure of this House is to be used to enable the filling of a vacancy made available by this Scheme in advance of the report of the committee to which I have referred, such a step will be not merely inadvisable but will be little short of contempt of this House and of the Privy Council itself."We consider that four would suffice if the rectory of St. Johns were separated from one of them, and if the canons took part in the services and other activities of the Abbey throughout the year and not only during their statutory residence."
May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? May I second the Motion but reserve my observations until after my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) has replied?
The Motion must be moved and seconded before it can be put to the House. Otherwise, it cannot be debated.
I beg formally to second the Motion.
As this is the first occasion upon which a scheme under the Reorganisation Measure has come before this House, and as the other business of the House has gone through very smoothly, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, and hon. Members will allow me to make one or two general observations. It may well be that this will not be the last occasion upon which the House will be asked to consider a Reorganisation Scheme of this kind.About the general merits of reorganisation I am sure no hon. Member can have any serious doubts. Only a few years ago we found ourselves obliged, by the movements of population, to reorganise the constituencies or, one might say, the parishes from which we ourselves derive our authority and which it is our duty to look after as Parliamentary representatives. The same kind of thing is continually happening to the Church. In addition to that, the Church in these years is having to face a considerable reduction in the number of men available to care for parishes. I would like to point out, on behalf of the Church, that we require about 600 new entrants per year. In the last conveniently available 12-month period we had just over 600 applicants coming forward and offering themselves to be trained, but rather than accept the whole of this 600, which would have given us the number required for the year, the relevant Church authority thought it better to apply the policy of putting quality first and of adopting serious, and rigorous, tests by which about one-third of those offering themselves could not be accepted. With regret, it was not found possible to offer them training because it was felt that they did not attain the standards required. Therefore, another point which requires parochial reorganisation is the reduction in the number of clergy. Whenever any change is made in local boundaries of any kind, whether secular boundaries or church boundaries, I am sure it is the experience of hon. Members in all parts of the House that somebody is aggrieved. Somebody, perhaps, for quite good reasons, does not welcome the proposals. I feel sure we shall find, therefore, that over and over again there are groups of people who, for reasons of deep sincerity, wish to query these schemes when they come before this House, which is the last stage in our procedure. I am quite confident that I, or any successor of mine from whatever party might be in power, will always be glad to meet hon. Members and discuss with them the points which their constituents wish to raise on these issues, and will always be very glad to answer in public in the House. I am very well aware that cases could arise in which it would be proper for this House to disapprove a scheme put forward on behalf of the Church. I hope, however, that hon. Members will approach these schemes with the view that, prima facie, it is probable that by the time they reach the House the various objections have been considered and that, on balance, in the light of all the circumstances surrounding them, there is a fair probability that schemes will not have reached the House until good and proper account has been taken of all objections. To show what the procedure may be, let me state to the House the procedure which has taken place in this case. Other schemes may vary because of special circumstances, but this is the general picture. There is a formal consultation between the diocesan reorganisation committee, the incumbents of the parishes concerned, the patrons, the parochial church councils and the Rural Dean. If, as a result of these consultations, proposals materialise, they are submitted by the reorganisation committee to the bishop and are submitted by the bishop to the Church Commissioners with the request that they will prepare a draft reorganisation scheme to give effect to the proposals. The Commissioners then prepare a draft scheme and the Bishop has to approve it, as does the reorganisation committee. Then the scheme has to be approved by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. In the case of this scheme, it also had to be approved by the Crown, as patron of the benefices concerned. Finally, the draft scheme has to be transmitted to the patrons, the incumbents, the parochial church council and the Rural Dean once again, and to the local authorities concerned, with formal notice of the opportunities for objections. If no objections are put forward, which is the case here—and it may turn out that this is one of the rare cases in which no parishioner objects to the reorganisation at all—the matter then comes before the House. I hope hon. Members will agree that this is a procedure which at least sets up a prima facie case that schemes of this kind have been fairly and fully considered and thatpotential objectors have had their chance of stating their case. Coming to the merits of this scheme, I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) said he had no objection to the scheme itself. That enables me to deal with the matter quite briefly, although I cannot pass it over altogether because I must point out to hon. Members some of the consequences which would follow if we did not now give our approval to this scheme of reorganisation. I expect most hon. Members know that the architecturally interesting church of St. John, in Smith Square, was destroyed by enemy action during the war and that no vicar has been appointed to the care of that parish since then. The parishioners in that area have, therefore, been in an uncertain situation from that day to this. The first and most obvious effect of this scheme—which anybody can see by glancing at the map, copies of which are available in the Vote Office and in the Library—would be to remove the anomalous position of those who live in what is now the Parish of St. John's and to divide them, for the most part attaching them to the neighbouring westward parish of St. Stephen and St. Mary, and as to a small number in the northward part of the parish, attaching them to the Parish of St. Margaret's, Westminster. None of the parishioners object to this proposal, and I think it is fair to say that those who take most active interest in the work of the church in that parish want this proposal to go through. Another important proposal, which depends entirely upon the approval of this scheme, is that the Church of St. John shall be rebuilt as a depository for interesting records which are in the hands of the Church. This project will be of great value not only to church people. It is also a project by and through which the church will render a considerable service to historians and to students of history, whether they be members of the church or not. The church, as hon. Members will understand, has in its keeping records of all kinds—records of Queen Anne's Bounty, going back two or three centuries; the records of the Court of the Dean of Arches, the oldest court in this country, amongst which we have a deed signed by Henry III. I regret that the official business of the House went through so quickly that I do not now have with me the piece of paper on which I had written down all the fascinatingly interesting records which the church now holds in its possession but which, owing to bombing and to one thing or another, are now to be found in cupboards, in corridors of St. Paul's Cathedral, buried in turrets in Lambeth Palace, or in cellars of the office of the Church Commissioners—all in places where they are physically unavailable to be studied by any student of history who could derive great value from their study. The proposal is that this very interesting structure, the building of St. John's—which, let us be frank about it, is superfluous as a parish church, and where the Church in these days would not be justified in spending the money of church people on restoring it for use as a parish church—should be restored as a storehouse for these invaluable records, where they can be kept in conditions where students can have ready access to them. This is something which surely should go forward.
My hon. Friend will appreciate, of course, that this part of the scheme has my wholehearted and enthusiastic support.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having said so. I am well aware of that, but if the House were to disapprove of this scheme it would be absolutely impossible—legally impossible—for the church to go ahead with this proposal. It would be quite out of our power to spend any money on the proposed conversion of the Parish Church of St. John unless this scheme goes forward.
I understood it was part of my hon. Friend's case, not that the scheme was bad in itself, but that the moment of its presentation was inopportune, because of the Commission, which is sitting, appointed by the Lord Chancellor to consider the whole set-up of the Abbey, embracing the Collegiate Church of St. Peter. Does my hon. Friend say that if the House were to disapprove the scheme now, it would be impossible for it to be brought forward, if thought fit, at a later date?
If the House were to disapprove it now, it could not simply wait say another three months and then merely be re-introduced on the same piece of paper. We should, I understand, have to go right back through the whole of this long procedure. Meanwhile, with each month that passes, the weather will be doing more and more damage to this church, which has stood in a derelict condition for long enough. If there were to be further delay, it would be likely to be a matter of years. If there was any great cause for asking for this delay, my hon. Friends might be justified in putting forward their proposals. I apologise for having been so long, but it is worth while to deal with the matter thoroughly, to show the merits of the scheme, how it has come forward, and the general situation.Turning to the points which my hon. Friend has raised, I think that he is subject to a misunderstanding on this matter. The scheme says nothing about the appointment of residentiary canons, nor will the passing or the rejection of the scheme in any way affect their position. As I understand it, there is nothing to prevent the Crown from having appointed a vicar to St. John's Parish. True, he has no parish church, but that is not unique; plenty of parishes where the parish church has been destroyed have vicars. Nothing could have prevented the Crown from appointing a vicar of St. John's parish, yesterday or at any time since the bombing.
Surely it is implicit in the scheme that there is no work for a parish priest in that parish to do if amalgamation with the neighbouring parish is possible. I think it is my hon. Friend who is under a misapprehension. If, up to the time this Scheme goes through, a residentiary canon had been appointed, he would have had to be a working parish priest. Under the state of affairs created by this Measure, it would be no longer necessary to appoint the rector of St. John the Evangelist, and it would, in fact, be possible, as I have said, to create something approaching a sinecure.
I grant my hon. Friend this point: that not as a matter of the powers that could or could not be exercised, but as a matter of practice of what probably would or would not have been done, while this scheme was in preparation, there was a probability that no vicar of St. John's Parish would be appointed. But I am dealing with the question of what were the actual powers. The powers have always been such that at any moment a vicar of this parish could have been appointed. He would, as my hon. Friend has said, have then had the duties of a vicar of a parish with a bombed church, a parish where, for physical reasons, he could hardly conduct the normal services. I agree that he would have had those duties, but he would also have been a canon of Westminster and would have been in a position to take his turn with the other canons in the official duties of the Abbey and to take his part in consultations about the administration of its quite complicated business; and I do not think that any duties which would have attached to him in relation to the St. John's Parish, with its destroyed church, would have been so onerous as to prevent him from making a very large contribution as a canon. As I say, he could have been appointed at any time up till today.If this scheme goes through, he can be appointed tomorrow, but in that respect the position is not at all altered except in the respect that if he had been appointed yesterday; if he be appointed tomorrow, with this scheme disapproved, he would have had certain not very onerous duties in relation to the parish without a parish church; whereas if he be appointed tomorrow after the scheme has gone through, he would not have those duties. I have no knowledge at all whether a canon will be appointed in the near future, nor could I have that knowledge. I speak in the House on these matters as the Second Church Estates Commissioner on behalf of the Church Commissioners, and the Church Commissioners have nothing to do with the question of appointing canons. That is entirely in the hands of the Crown, and it would be quite impossible for any hon. Member, or even for any right hon. Gentleman who is a Minister, to give any sort of firm undertaking about the way in which the Crown would exercise its prerogative. I think I am constitutionally right on that.
Would the hon. Baronet give an assurance to the House that if this scheme is approved, he will be prepared to make representations to the Prime Minister that in view of the proposed inquiry into the constitution of the Abbey—
That is the very point to which I am coming.
I should like to finish what I am saying. Is my hon. Friend prepared to make representations to the Prime Minister that in view of the review of the position in the Abbey no residentiary canon should be appointed pending the report of the persons appointed to make the review?
That is, of course, the very point to which I was coming, after having made it abundantly clear that in my capacity, both as a private back bencher and as Second Church Estates Commissioner, I cannot give any cast-iron assurance as to what will happen in the same sort of way as Ministers who speak from the Despatch Box can give assurances. I cannot possibly do that. If I give the kind of assurance for which my hon. Friend asks—that I will communicate certain suggestions to those who advise the Prime Minister—I cannot, of course, give an assurance that those suggestions will prevail. There may be arguments the other way which the advisers of His Majesty will have to take into account.The only assurance which I can properly give, and I hope that my hon. Friends will feel it is adequate, is that I will communicate to the advisers of His Majesty a copy Of HANSARD which will contain the arguments brought forward by my hon. Friend, with a request that those arguments should be fairly, carefully and sympathetically considered before any step is taken in the matter. I do not think that, constitutionally speaking, I can possibly go further than that. I hope that this will satisfy my hon. Friend and any others who are concerned with him in this matter, and that the House will be prepared to give approval to this scheme.
It is not often we have an opportunity in this House of considering matters which affect the Church and it is therefore very convenient that this Prayer should have come up on a Friday when Government Business has been disposed of with unusual dispatch and the House has a rare opportunity of considering some of the important matters, including constitutional matters, which have been raised. As I understand it, we shall from time to time be getting before the House, as a result of the Reorganisation Measure passed by the Church Assembly, a number of schemes such as this which require Parliamentary approval and in respect of any one of which it will be open to hon. Members to put down a Prayer asking that the scheme should be disapproved.That has been found a convenient procedure because, whereas on the one hand it provides the Church with the largest possible measure of freedom in dealing with its own domestic matters, at the same time it gives this House an opportunity, when it thinks it necessary, of reviewing the decisions of the Church Assembly. It is right that this House should, on occasion, have the last word because these matters of the reorganisation of parish boundaries not merely affect the rights of members of the Church of England as such, but also affect the rights of all citizens of this country whether professing members of the Church of England or not. It seems particularly appropriate that we should on this occasion be discussing a Scheme for the reorganisation of three parishes, one of which happens to be St. Margaret's, Westminster, with which this House is so intimately associated and which has for many centuries been the parish church of the House of Commons. I think that the reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) has brought forward in support of his Prayer are of considerable national importance. As I understand his argument, he is not objecting in principle to the desirability at some time or other of these three parishes being united. With that I think we all agree. For the reasons he set out in the speech, which have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), it is a very sensible, practical method of dealing with this situation which has arisen since the Church of St. John was so badly damaged during the war. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale is quite correct in saying that we are just as much concerned to see what are the repercussions of this scheme on the constitution and organisation of Westminster Abbey. I do not think anyone would agree with the description given by my hon. Friend to a canonry in Westminster as a sinecure. Most people would take the view that Westminster Abbey occupies a distinctive and very important part both in the life of the Church of England and in our national life. I do not think that it is true to say that merely because a residentiary canon is only required by law to be in residence for two-and-a-half or three months each year, that his office is therefore necessarily a sinecure. If this scheme goes through, the net result will be that, whereas hitherto of the five residentiary canons of the Abbey two have necessarily had to be parish priests—one the Rector of St. Johns and the other the rector of St. Margaret's, Westminster—while the other three have had no parochial duties, in future of the five residentiary canons one only will have to be a parish priest because the parishes of St. Margaret's and St. Johns will be merged. The immediate result, as has been pointed out, would entitle the Crown to nominate a fifth canon of the Abbey who would not be a parish priest. My hon. Friend the hon. Baronet has indicated the very serious problem with which the Church of England is faced today in the matter of the recruitment of clergy and it is for that reason I have no doubt that schemes of this kind for the amalgamation of parishes will gather momentum in the years to come. It is equally important to point out that in a sense the whole nature of the Church is to some extent changing, from a parochial basis to a different kind of basis. In approaching this matter of the duties of parish priests and duties of other dignitaries of the Church, we should not overlook the important fact, that, whereas for many years past the Church has been organised on a parochial basis, parochial organisation is tending to cease to correspond with the national needs of the country. Everybody knows the extent to which Church attendance at parish churches has diminished in comparison with a generation or more ago. That does not itself necessarily mean that this country is becoming less of a Christian country. There are all kinds of other methods by which it is now becoming the recognised duty of the Church of England to fulfil its historic function of supplying and administering to the religious and spiritual requirements of the nation. In recent years there has been superimposed on the whole of the parochial system various new channels of approach, of which I regard two as of special importance. First, there are the facilities provided by the State for religious broadcasting and incidentally I do not think full advantage is being taken of the immense opportunities in this field. Secondly, we now have, for the first time in this country in times of peace, National Service with large numbers of men in the Forces for a period of two years. The State quite properly provides very considerable facilities to padres of the Church of England and other denominations, to provide services and give religious instruction and moral guidance and so forth to men in the Forces. This is work and opportunity quite outside the parochial system. Speaking again for myself from the information that reaches me, I doubt whether full advantage is being taken by the Church of England or other denominations of those facilities. Therefore, in regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale has said, I do not personally think it is any criticism of this Measure now before the House to find that it may incidentally have the effect of enabling the Crown to appoint another canon of Westminster Abbey who is not a parish priest. I think it would be quite wrong for it to be thought that this House takes the view that a canonry in the Abbey is a sinecure. My experience is that Sunday services at Westminster Abbey are very well attended, and it would be true to say that the kind of service provided at Westminster Abbey meets a demands and invokes a response of an order which is totally different from that which occurs in the typical parish church. Therefore, I would not think it a bad thing if as a result of this scheme being approved, there continue to be, subject to any recommendation the Lord Chancellor's Commission may take, as there have been in the past, five resi- dentiary canons of Westminster Abbey. The House will remember the long list of illustrious names of those who have occupied canonries at the Abbey and have been national figures. One calls to mind the names of Dean Farrar, Charles Gore, and William Temple, and Canon Barnes, the present Bishop of Birmingham. There are many others whose names will occur to hon. Members. My hon. Friend the hon. Baronet has indicated that he will send a copy of HANSARD to the Church Commissioners whom he so ably represents in this House. I also understood him to say that he will send a copy to the Prime Minister.
Not to the Church Commissioners because the Church Commissioners are not at all concerned with the point being raised, namely, the question of appointing a canon, but I agreed that I would send to or communicate with those who advise the Prime Minister making sure that they would give sympathetic attention to the arguments they will find recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT of today's Debate.
I welcome that explanation because I was afraid the hon. Baronet was trenching on a very delicate constitutional matter. As I understand it, the prerogative of appointments both to diocesan sees in this country and to deaneries and the canonries of Westminster and Worcester are a Royal prerogative. While I think it true to say that in the exercise of that Royal Prerogative the Crown has for many years been guided by advice tendered by the Prime Minister of the day it is equally correct to say that in tendering that advice this House has never had the right to address any question to the Prime Minister as to how that advice is given or to debate, challenge or criticise in any way in this House on any Motion that comes within our Rules of Procedure the advice tendered by the Prime Minister to the Crown in connection with Ecclesiastical patronage.That is a matter of some constitutional importance, particularly in this present juncture. There is another Commission sitting at the present time. It has been appointed by the two Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and I happen to be a member of it. It is appointed for the purpose of considering the present relations between Church and State, and one of the matters which gives rise to a good deal of controversy is that of the appointment of bishops. It is because the constitutional position is so clearly laid down that I thought it wise to point out that whereas this House is perfectly within its rights on this occasion in considering the many points which arise under this scheme for reorganisation, it will be for the Crown eventually on the advice of the Prime Minister to decide how many canonries there are to be in Westminster Abbey and how they are to be filled. If, as I hope, this proposed scheme is approved by the House, then whatever recommendations are made by the Commission appointed by the Lord Chancellor, this House will not have at any future time any constitutional right of any kind to question the advice given by the Prime Minister to the Crown as to whether the fifth vacancy should be filled and we shall have no right to criticise the method by which it is filled.
I was much impressed with what the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) said, and he represents almost exactly my view of this complicated matter. However, there is one point I should like to mention. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), I think inadvertently, made it appear as if he were making an attack on the system of residentiary canons who have no parochial work.
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting, I said I did not know whether it was right or wrong to appoint a fifth canon, that it was difficult for anybody not closely in touch with the Chapter to decide matters of that kind, but that there was a commission of inquiry, and it was better to await their report before any decision was taken.
I am glad the hon. Member has said that, because I felt that in mentioning salaries, and so on, there was a possibility that ill-advised persons might think that in this House an attack was being made upon the system generally. I wanted to make sure that was not the case. I do not think it is our duty in this House, nor are we properly equipped, to criticise the duties of canons, but equally, if the canons came here on Friday about this time and saw these benches only partially filled, they would not have the right to assume that all the absent hon. Members were doing nothing or were not paying attention to their constituencies. Those in close touch with the Church of England and the medical profession know that probably the clergy and the doctors are the most hard worked of all the population, and residentiary canons certainly perform a mass of work outwith their duties to their respective cathedral or abbey. I should hate it to go out from this House that we would think of criticising their activities in any way.
In view of the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), and in the hope that the Dean and Chapter will appreciate the interest we have taken this morning in the affairs of the Abbey, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Bowden.]