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Bishops (Retirement) Measure

Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 10 April 1951

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Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question—[ 13th March]:

"That the Bishops (Retirement) Measure, 1950, 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."

Question again proposed.

9.58 p.m.

In speaking in support of this Measure, I should be grateful if, on one particular point, I could have the help of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) when he replies. The House will recollect the somewhat unfortunate interventions of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) before this debate was adjourned. Mr. Rowse, the historian, has said, in writing of the sixteenth century, that bishops were always unpopular in the House of Commons. That may well be true of a period of twilight between an age when the high primates of the Church exercised great temporal powers and a period of strong religious controversy. That period, atmosphere and attitude have died away a long time ago, and I am sure that I am not alone in the House in regretting the levity and cynicism which the hon. Member for Maldon and the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch introduced into their remarks.

Is the hon. Member really suggesting that there is any levity or cynicism in pointing out serious drafting errors in a White Paper accompanying a Measure laid before the House, which was one of the main points in my speech?

When I recall that the hon. Member closed his remarks by referring to wolves in shepherd's mitres I think my criticism of his speech is fully borne out.

The point to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is contained in Part III, Clause 7 (1, b) of the Measure. No doubt the penalties which are prescribed in the Clause generally are meant to correspond with the recognised sentences of an ecclesiastical court, which are monition, suspension and deprivation. In this case suspension is exercised by the archbishop pending an inquiry of a Commission of the Upper House. Monition, according to subsection (1, b) may be passed on the bishop by the Upper House itself, and deprivation rests with the archbishop to be confirmed upon His Majesty in Council.

It is with the second penalty, that of censure upon the bishop, that I am concerned this evening. It is perfectly true, as has been the history of the Church from its very earliest days, that the bishop is not only a spiritual leader, but is also responsible for many administrative charges with regard to his diocese. At the same time, in my view, it is most important that he should maintain his standing and credit with those for whom he is spiritually responsible; and that he should not be open to censure by his fellow bishops and still retain his spiritual leadership. I cannot believe that any bishop who has, so to speak, been censured by his peers of the Upper House of Convocation can still retain the confidence of those for whom he is responsible. Therefore, we should demand from the leaders of the Church either that they should always retain the full confidence of their flock, so to speak, and of their peers, or else that they should be called upon to resign.

I understand—and this is a point which perhaps the hon. Baronet could confirm for me—that this sentence of censure can be carried out in secret by the Upper House, and, in fact, that it is probable that if the Commission decides that censure is appropriate for a misdemeanour that the bishop may have committed, that decision may be made in secret and not become public. That, in some way, may mitigate superficially the point I am trying to make, but once he has lost the confidence of his peers and incurred censure he is no longer, in my view, likely to retain that measure of confidence which he should have in the Church generally, as one of the leaders of the Church.

Has the hon. Member a recent incident in mind in speaking in that way.

I have no recent incident in mind. I was speaking merely as a matter of principle because I believe—I am referring to the event of the debate before the adjournment—that many of the expressions of opinion which we heard, particularly from the hon. Members to whom I have referred, did great damage to the standing of the Church in the eyes of the people of this country generally: and also to the rights and privileges which we have of considering Measures in this House for the discipline and government of the Church which come to us from time to time.

I am merely pleading that we should try to exact, and the Church itself should exact, from those who have the great responsibility of bishops of the Church, a higher degree of responsibility and a higher standard of leadership than we would exact from a parish priest or even from the laity. We in the House or in the country no longer regard bishops in a spirit of unpopularity. We look to the Church today perhaps more than ever before for the spiritual leadership which we so urgently need. Therefore, we regard any Measure that may come before us dealing with the discipline of the Church as being something which should exact from them a far higher standard than we would require from others.

I should like to ask the hon. baronet whether he will enlighten me further about how exactly this sentence of censure will be carried out. In what sort of cases is it likely to be applied? Was it considered at any time whether it would not be better to have that clear distinction between those who, in their great office, retain the full confidence of their fellow bishops and of those to whom they are responsible, and those who, having failed, should resign or be removed from their office straight away?

10.6 p.m.

In the earlier debate on this Measure much of the discussion was about the political and social activities of bishops against which complaint might be laid. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) has begun to discuss the ecclesiastical position of the bishops, and it is upon that that I want to comment. I wish to ask the hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) for some explanation of what we find both in this Measure itself and in the remarks which he made about it when he introduced it.

The hon. Baronet, when introducing this Measure, said that it had been referred back as a result of representations by the Ecclesiastical Committee on account not only of the possibility of bishops being disciplined for their social and political opinions and activities, but also on account of matters of doctrine. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) enlarged considerably in that debate on the political activities of bishops. Bishops have the same right to their political and social opinions as any other citizen. But with their great position in our Church, I am disturbed by the provision in this Measure by which complaint cannot be laid against them on account of matters of doctrine, ritual or ceremony.

I know that the words are similar to those in Part I of Clause 2 of the Incumbents (Discipline) Measure which was passed by this House in 1947, but I think that the analogy between priest and bishops is not a true one. To emphasise this point, I should like to enlarge upon the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester about the position of bishops in the Anglican Church.

It is a striking thing, and perhaps worth saying in this House as a reminder to us who are so proud of our traditions, that the ecclesiastical organisation of this country remains today virtually unchanged from the days when it was first set up by St. Augustine at the beginning of the seventh century. That is a very long time for so little change. It shows how well founded it was and how well, through all these centuries, it has met the demands for the spiritual guidance of the Anglican Church.

The position of the bishops, which was established under that organisation, was traditional to the Christian Church, and is a very unusual one. The bishops are the direct inheritors of the powers originally given by the Divine Founder of our Church to the Apostles. That power has been conferred throughout nearly 20 centuries by the act of consecration of bishops by the laying-on of hands. Some of these powers, as those who believe in the episcopal tradition and doctrine of the Church will know, were not only powers connected with the teaching of true Christian doctrine and dogma, but also powers connected with order and with jurisdiction.

These powers have been passed on all these centuries, so that today, as in the past, the bishop in his diocese is the centre of Christian unity, and of Anglican unity, as it is in the Established Church of this country, fulfilling certain demands laid upon him by the doctrines of the Church and in its traditions. Indeed, it was said long ago by a Father of the Church that the Church is in the bishop—ecclesia est in episcopo. That is the peculiar and great position of our bishops in the Church and the fundamental foundation of the standing in which they are held or should be held, and to which my hon. Friend referred. If any bishops have from time to time fallen from the great respect in which they are ordinarily held and which is the basis of their power and strength, they have fallen as we all fall from our human weakness.

I have gone through this short history of the Episcopacy in England in order to emphasise the position of the bishops in the Anglican Church, which is very different from that of the priesthood. Indeed, the fact that the Anglican Church holds these views about the Episcopacy distinguishes our order of bishops from that of any other of the Protestant and Reformed Churches.

I am sure I shall have sympathy from hon. Members on both sides of the House in saying how utterly offensive I found the mocking remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), which raised such unworthy laughter—laughter which, on second thoughts, I am sure was realised to be unworthy—in mocking at the present bishops, who, whatever their personal failings may be, stand in this age-long Christian tradition. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how grateful I was to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who is not of my confession of the Established Church, for the sympathetic remarks he made to those of us who felt grievously offended by what was said by the hon. Member for Hornchurch on that occasion.

Arising from what I have just said, I should like to ask the hon. Baronet why it was that this Measure was referred back to the Church Assembly on the grounds that, as originally drafted, it was apparently offensive because of its references to the fact that bishops could be disciplined in matters of doctrine, ritual or ceremony. With the position that they hold, and with the doctrines which are well known in the Church of England, would it not be possible for a bishop to be removed from his office if, through the working of his conscience, he should regrettably depart even from those wise and broad doctrines which I think we rightly hold in the Anglican Church? We should not be placed so that one day we find ourselves with someone occupying this great position who really holds views which are inconsonant with our doctrine, and, perhaps, indeed, if the worst should happen, with the doctrines of the Christian Church.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that many of the bishops themselves hold doctrines and interpretations of doctrines which would have outraged their episcopal predecessors of a hundred years ago?

I am quite aware that they would certainly hold those doctrines, because the Anglican Church has a great tradition for expanding and investigating further the Divine truths handed down to it, but that does not mean that at any given time the bishops should not be able to interpret those doctrines in a way in which it was safe to say that one of their brethren had departed so far from the truth, as we hold it to be, that he was no longer fit to hold the position of a bishop.

I really cannot at this hour of the evening, or, indeed, on this Measure, discuss the doctrinal differences of Bishop Colenso who lived so long ago. If I attempted to do so, I have no doubt that I should be out of order.

10.18 p.m.

I hope I may be forgiven for saying of the speech of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) that it came from one who felt deeply on the subject, and one whose views demand a great deal of attention from both sides of the House. For my part, I hope that in the few remarks I wish to offer and which may be deemed, perhaps, irresponsible, the House will not cast any aspersions on my two hon. Friends sitting on the bench beside me, the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who have nothing to do with me, but whom I am very glad to see on this side of the House.

The Archpriest Caiaphas was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth who founded the Christian religion. I am bound to say that the British people, who are somewhat addicted, despite their greatnesses, to hypocrisy, are a little unwilling to recognise the fact that if Jesus of Nazareth were to return to the world He would not be seen on the Episcopal Bench of the House of Lords, but possibly speaking somewhere in Hyde Park with no one listening to Him. He would certainly have no affiliation with any political party, and that is the main point of the speech on this Measure which I wish to make tonight. [An HON. MEMBER: "As an Independent?"] In doing so I speak as an Independent. I am often taunted with being an Independent, but I vaunt the fact.

The position under this Measure is that we are dealing with the powers of bishops and we are saying what code of conduct should be responsible for the conduct of bishops in general in relation to their affairs. On this subject we had a debate on a Motion of Privilege. During that debate it was said, quite rightly, that bishops had not the power to discipline the incumbents who come within their jurisdiction, and we are not giving them that power in this Measure. That is perfectly correct, but the bishops have power to recommend them for promotion.

I see many promising hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is perfectly true the Prime Minister has no power to chuck them out of the Labour Party unless they accept some degree of voluntary sacrifice such as has occurred to me personally. It does not alter the fact that the Prime Minister has the power to promote them. In effect the bishops have the power to recommend for promotion the vicars and curates and other incumbents who come within their diocese.

All the preferments are not in the hands of the bishops.

I accept that entirely. If the right hon. Gentleman would undertake to bring into the House legislation to see that all preferments are in the hands of the Church of England, I should be entirely in sympathy with such a Measure. On this point I might cross the Floor of the House were I not happy where I am. I disagree entirely with the right of some old Tory landlord to be responsible for deciding who will be the incumbent in a particular parish.

I come now to the major point, which has not been raised in the whole debate so far and which I believe to be absolutely fundamental. So far as we are concerned in this House, the Church of England is the representative of the Christian Church in this country, with the enormous and great tradition from which it derives. Ultimately, it involves the proposition that we believe in the tenets and the teaching of Jesus Christ. That being so, I say most profoundly that it is utterly wrong for any clergyman, any bishop, to indulge in party politics in any form whatever. It is time that statement was made in the House of Commons and in this debate. It is utterly wrong for any man who belongs to the most sacred calling on earth to indulge in any form whatever of party politics.

Would the hon. Member apply that to that most respected man. William Temple?

I do not see how that is connected with the Measure we are considering.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I draw your attention to Clause 5 (1) of this Bill which says:

"… Provided that no such complaint shall be entertained … (c) if and so far as it relates to the social or political opinions of a bishop. …"
That is the very subject of the Bill.

In relation to the hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), may I say with very great sincerity that I have a personal debt to him, as he knows. I hardly dare say it, but it is due to him that I am in the House of Commons. Nevertheless, I am sure he will forgive me for stating what I believe to be the truth about this matter. When he was introducing the Measure, I interrupted him and asked whether it implied that even if his political opinions were totalitarian, it would still be permissible for a bishop to express those totalitarian opinions. He very honestly answered in the affirmative—and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is also answering in the affirmative now.

I may be hopelessly wrong about this, but I do not agree with the Measure in this respect. Personally I am an anarchist, and the right hon. Gentleman is not. I am myself proud to be an anarchist, although I have not a bomb in my pocket at the moment; and as an anarchist I say it is wrong for us to allow bishops or people in authority or Members of either Front Bench to be totalitarian. In my view, the danger arising from totalitarianism is so great that we should not allow anybody to be in any position of authority if he holds totalitarian views.

If I may say so with respect, here we come to the crux of the Bill, which is not whether we are giving too much power under the Measure but whether we are giving sufficient power. It is monstrous that we should pass a Bill the effect of which is that the Dean of Canterbury can become Archbishop of Canterbury and nothing can be done about it. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to deny this: the effect of the Measure is that if the Dean of Canterbury tomorrow became Archbishop of Canterbury, nothing whatever could be done about it by the House of Commons.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the Dean of Canterbury is tomorrow appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by the Prime Minister or the King, nothing under this Measure can prevent it? The fact that he is a member of the editorial board of the "Daily Worker" is no disqualification for the Dean of Canterbury tomorrow becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

The fact that a great number of deans wrote algebra books did not prevent them from becoming bishops, either.

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman, about whom I shall have something to say tomorrow on another subject—his grotesque remarks about General MacArthur—that his remark just now was about as relevant as were his remarks about General MacArthur. The fact is that writing algebra books is unimportant, but the views which the Dean of Canterbury expresses throughout the world, advocating Communism, are so important that a couple of days ago Stalin gave him £9,000 in roubles. Therefore, if money is a sound test, he is getting slightly more than the yearly salary of the right hon. Gentleman. We must have a realistic attitude. Under this Measure, we are sanctioning the fact that we may have an Archbishop of Canterbury who is as much a prostitute of Communism as the present Dean of Canterbury. Does the hon. Gentleman disagree?

Of course, I disagree. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Measure, he will see that it has nothing do to with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It deals with the discipline of bishops.

The hon. Gentleman knows me well enough by now to know that I do not make these remarks lightly. I invite him to look at the Measure for a moment. The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished lawyer and I venture to point out that Clause 5 (1, c) reads:

"…no such complaint shall be entertained…if and so far as it relates to the social or political opinions of a bishop."
In the course of the hon. Baronet's opening speech, I asked whether, if those views were totalitarian, that was a disqualification and he said "Certainly not." Therefore, the effect of this Measure—[Interruption]—it is lovely to have cheers against me from both sides, but I should like to have an argument in answer to what I am saying; but there is no argument, and both sides know it. If a bishop propounds doctrines of totalitarianism or Communism, under this Measure there is no disqualification whatever. Does the hon. Gentleman deny that?

Of course, that is so; but it does not say that because the Dean of Canterbury holds particular opinions he is therefore to be made Archbishop of Canterbury tomorrow.

The argument was heard by the House and will be recorded in HANSARD. I was not recommending the Dean of Canterbury for the position: that is carrying the argument too far. I was merely saying there was nothing in this Measure to prevent the Dean of Canterbury from being made Archbishop of Canterbury, and the hon. Gentleman now admits it.

To return to the main proposition I put before the House, the greatest profession in the world, one which I am certainly unworthy to adorn, is the profession of those who serve Christ. I confess I am a friend of prostitutes, publicans and sinners, as perhaps was the Founder of the Christian religion. The priesthood being the greatest profession which the world has ever known, it is utterly improper for any bishop or vicar or anybody under their charge to indulge in party politics. For one reason, they have the cure of souls, a technical phrase which means they are responsible for the people held to their charge by the Divine Authority. They are the people responsible for seeing that their parishioners try to walk in the way of God.

How monstrous it would be if we had a child of our own who came to us for Divine guidance and we, as it were, alienated that child's affection by saying to the child what was so repugnant to it that it could not come to us or look upon us as its father. I appeal to the hon. Baronet, who is a father. Most of us here are fathers. How could we possibly incur the reproach of alienating our own child, when our own child came to us for religious guidance, by something which was extravagant—in the original sense of that term?

Yet surely this House is aware of the fact that party passions—which I deplore, personally—are so inflamed today that it is utterly impossible for someone who belongs to the left wing of the Labour Party to go to a priest who belongs to the right wing of the Tory Party and treat him as his father in God.

Have hon. Members read of the vote which occurred in the very parish of Mr. Fielding Clarke—36 to 34, or whatever it was? That surely explains what I am saying. I was not dealing with the Tory Party or the Labour Party. My argument is that, in my view, the word "totalitarians" ought to be inserted in paragraph (c).

The hon. Member says that has nothing to do with what I have just said. Of course, one of the embarrassments of civilisation today is that we have a number of people masquerading in democratic parties though their beliefs are really totalitarian.

If the hon. Member will permit me to intervene, I was replying to his previous outrageous remark, that it was quite impossible for a member of the left wing of the Labour Party to go to a parish priest who was a member of the Conservative Party and treat him as his father in God. I know from personal experience that that is utterly untrue—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and vice versa, too.

Let me say to the hon. Gentleman—I am a sincere admirer of his in many ways, as he knows—

—that if he tells us that that is so, I accept it. If I used the words "quite impossible" I withdraw the words. I think they are inaccurate. But in my opinion it is unusual—let me substitute for the words "quite impossible" the word "unusual"—it seems to me it is very unusual—the more I moderate it the better it becomes—

—for a man with very left wing opinions to be willing to regard as his father in God someone who belongs to the right wing opinion. I do not believe in either wing, but nevertheless, that is obviously so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Hon. Members say "Nonsense." It is perfectly obvious that what I am saying is right, and it is ridiculous, if I may say so, for the main point to be denied by the House. The fact of the matter is that if we have someone as our vicar, and if he is an outspoken Tory or an outspoken Socialist, we Socialists or Tories are bound to take that into account; and if the House of Commons denies that, it is flying in the face of nature.

I have personally experienced it over and over again. It has been seen in this special case. I entirely accept the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) in this affair. I am bound to say I do not understand his mental processes, but I do accept his sincerity. But it is undeniable that if a bishop is an outspoken friend of the Labour Party, people who belong to the Tory Party do not give him the respect that they would if he were an ordinary bishop. That is undeniable. Hon. Members are entitled to their opinions, but they are flying in the face of nature.

May I help the hon. Member to crystallise the views to which we have been listening? He seemed to be starting off on a clear proposition, which was that clergymen of totalitarian tendencies could not very well be good members of the Church of England and that this Measure might well have been made to apply to them in such a way as to exclude them from office in the Church of England. But if he is trying to extend that argument to a broader basis and to say that people should hold no political views, even democratic views of the Right or the Left, then I should think that 95 per cent. of the Members on both sides of the House are bound to disagree.

The hon. Member ought to know that as I represent.2 per cent. of the House of Commons, the fact that the rest of the House disagrees with me will not matter particularly. However, I am grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention because it enables me to clarify my argument, which I ought to have done earlier.

I do not for one moment suggest, not have I ever suggested, that this Measure, and particularly Clause 5, (1, c), should exclude the possibility of any bishop joining any particular party. I limit it merely to a totalitarian power. Nevertheless, it is my view, and I am a member of the Church of England, that if I were a religious member, or an important member—like the hon. Member opposite—I would certainly lay it down in the Church of England that no bishop should be a member of any political party. I hold most sincerely that this is the most sacred calling in the world and for a bishop, vicar or rector to show any bias is a betrayal of his trust as given by God. If any hon. Member disagrees with me, he is at liberty to disagree, and that liberty was also given by God. The fact is undeniable to anyone who views it with an open mind.

The hon. Member seems to know a fair amount about the Almighty. May I ask-where it is laid down that anyone in Holy-Orders with any authority, or any clergyman, must not have an interest in a political party? May I ask the hon. Member to remember, because I am sure: he is most sincere in this, that Christianity is a subject wider and broader than any political differences, and that men, as Christians, can deal with one another and, respect one another despite their differences? Otherwise, anyone who drinks deeply could not come to me for advice or anyone who sins could not seek advice from his parish priest.

That is the hon. Member's opinion. I entirely agree with some of the purpose behind the hon. Member's interjection. It is perfectly true that many people feel it is on their conscience in the Church to do all they can to improve social conditions, and that they feel that the only practical way to do so is by joining a particular party. I do not deny that. But I put it to the hon. Member—and he knows perfectly well my point of view—that in actual fact the most sacred calling of all is the calling of a bishop or rector, or of anyone who has the cure of souls. If it is a fact that this is a most sacred calling, then it conflicts with that calling to belong to some other organisation.

I am certain that the House of Commons as a whole will support the view I am now putting forward. I have been told this over and over again by people. I have been told by people who live in a vicar's parish: "That chap is a Tory. I know he is a Tory, and he is not sincere." I have said, "What has it got to do with you whether he is a Tory or not?" I have been told: "That fellow is a rabid Socialist." I have been told that over and over again and every member of this House, if he is honest, knows that is a fact.

I say that the Church should keep out of politics entirely. I am merely advancing a limited proposition tonight. I believe that the Church, by a self-denying ordinance, should be kept out of politics entirely. I am not advancing that proposition tonight. I am merely advancing a limited proposition. We should at least not sanction the fact that a bishop may be a Communist or a Fascist. Under this Measure you can have a Communist or Fascist Archbishop of Canterbury—

I have listened very patiently to half an hour of what I consider to be tedious repetition, and if it continues, I shall ask the hon. Member to resume his seat.

Is it not the case that an hon. Member must be warned more than once for that?

May I, in view of that courteous Ruling, perhaps finish my speech by saying that I am advancing an entirely new point of view in this debate, and the new point of view I put forward very sincerely is that I believe it is utterly wrong for this House of Commons now to pass a Measure that will enable somebody like the Dean of Canterbury, who is a known Communist and a member of the staff of the "Daily Worker," to become Archbishop of Canterbury. I believe that bishops are people who, owing to their great position in the world—

I must ask the hon. Member to accept my Ruling. I have been very patient.

There has been a great deal of repetition, and I asked that it should cease. I said that if it did not cease, I would tell the hon. Member to resume his seat.

I therefore ask the House to pass this particular Measure because this Measure represents something which goes further than what we have got already. In my view it does not go far enough in relation to discipline. I think it should go a great deal further. On the whole, I am in favour of this Measure because, although it does not go far enough, it goes some way. In any event—I am speaking with whatever sincerity I now command—I certainly wish the best of vigour to the bishops in the campaign they are now conducting throughout this country for the purpose of revivifying the Church of England.

10.50 p.m.

I think it is a long time since this House was subjected to so appalling a speech as that made by the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn). The position of many hon. Members of this House is difficult enough without having a contribution of the character of that to which we have just listened. I always find myself in a great dilemma in these matters because I am a Free Church man, and I feel the greatest reluctance in taking any side in Measures which affect the discipline or authority of the Church of England. But when the Floor of the House of Commons is used for a speech of the kind which has just been made, it is time that Christians of all denominations stood up and said something.

What the Church of England does with its bishops or deans is, in my opinion, a matter for the Church of England. If they choose to have a system such as that whereby the Archbishop of Canterbury is elected, it is for them to determine; but I would insist that that is a matter for the Church of England itself to decide; and I believe it is disgraceful that upon the Floor of the House of Commons such matters should be laid before us as have just been laid.

The hon. Member should sit down. I have finished with him. I disagree with some of the theological submissions put forward from the other side, but I respect the Church of England and I believe that it alone has the responsibility for determining its discipline and authority. I would say therefore that, disagreeing fundamentally with the extraordinary submission that clergymen should not have political opinions—

I did not say that. Of course clergymen should have political views. I said that they should not join a political party in such a way as to alienate a section of their congregation.

I can only say that that is a queer way to put it. I believe that every clergyman and every priest should have, as I have, his own belief as to what constitutes the channels of grace. It is up to the individual to make up his own mind about what he thinks. All I would say to the Church of England, and to the hon. Baronet who has charge of this Bill—and having made my protest against the last speech—

I would, as a Free Churchman, say to the hon. Baronet that it is time the authorities of the Church of England themselves looked into the disgrace and misery resulting from having a debate of this character on the Floor of the House of Commons, took their courage in their hands and faced up to what disestablishment could really mean for Great Britain.

10.54 p.m.

The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Gunter) gave us a contribution which I think was welcomed by hon. Members in all parts of the House. We are very grateful to him, particularly having regard to the religious views which he holds, for the remonstrances he made on behalf of the whole House about the speech of the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn).

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it in order for hon. Gentlemen to assume to themselves authority on behalf of the whole House?

If I were to follow the hon. Member for Doncaster in his last remarks on the question of disestablishment I should soon be in trouble with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, so I have no intention of doing that, but perhaps we might have a private conversation about it outside on another occasion.

I do not propose to make any further reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Northfield except to say that his theology appeared to be quite as inaccurate, if not more so, than his history, and it was a considerable surprise to me to hear, at the end of his speech, that he is in favour of the Measure being accepted by the House.

I want to detain the House for a few minutes because in the previous Debate on this measure, the House was addressed by hon. Members who had taken part in these proceedings in various different capacities. I myself happen to have taken part in them in one capacity which was not referred to. I think hon. Members probably know that these measures are produced by the National Assembly of the Church of England and the National Assembly has its liaison with Parliament through a Legislative Committee. That Legislative Committee acts in liaison with the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. I happen to be a member of the Legislative Committee as well as of the National Assembly itself, and therefore to some extent I am also responsible for the appendix which is bound up with the Ecclesiastical Committee's report.

That appendix contains the comments and explanations of the Legislative Committee. They have come under fire during this Debate, and it was suggested on one occasion that they were somewhat misleading. I think that was disproved by my right hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Bench on this side of the House, although it was recognised that the drafting even of these comments might have been improved upon. I think it was accepted that there was no intention to mislead this House at all with regard to the contents of these comments and explanations.

What this Measure seeks to do—and there are two aspects to which I should like to refer briefly—is to fulfil a request which was made by the bishops themselves some time ago. It was proposed some while ago that there should be a Measure with regard to discipline of incumbents. While that was in process and was being discussed by the National Assembly, it was hoped at the same time that there would also be a Measure for the disciplining, should it be necessary, of church dignitaries, who are the deans and the archdeacons and people of that calibre, and a third Measure for the bishops.

Gradually these Measures came before Parliament one by one, but when the Measure for the disciplining of the bishops came before Parliament, the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament advised the Legislative Committee of the Assembly that it was undesirable to put it forward without these particular phrases, to which various hon. Gentlemen have taken exception, and which have now been included in this fresh Measure. These phrases are with regard to political opinions. This Measure has been amended by the National Assembly in order to meet the requirements of the House in regard to the exclusion of the political activities of bishops.

Personally, I consider it is desirable so to do because I do not believe it is capable of being argued that an incumbent and a bishop are on a parity, and I do not think it is either right or reasonable for an identical law with regard to discipline to be applicable to them both. Another point which this House particularly has to bear in mind is that the most influential of the parties to whom this Measure will apply are themselves members of another place, and are freely entitled to express their views on all matters, controversial or otherwise, and in the widest political terms. These are matters which must be borne in mind in considering this Measure.

I should like to say one word about the drafting of the Measure, out of deference to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). He is a critic whose criticisms invariably contain good sense and are worthy of cognisance, but I do not think he knows the National Assembly. I can assure him that if we in the Assembly ever had the same facilities as the Government have in this place in the drafting of Measures, and if there were the same regularity of attendance for the debating of these Measures—instead of meeting as we do three times in the year—it would be a different matter.

The members of the Church Assembly. Whatever criticisms the hon. Member may levy against this Measure on the ground that he finds it difficult to comprehend and understand, I can assure him that the bishops and I understand it. We know what we mean by the drafting. The Church is perfectly happy, although that does not mean that the Measure could not have been better drafted. We need not be worried about any drafting lacunae that may be found.

It is a Measure which has been accepted by the three Houses of the National Assembly without a division. It has received very full consideration in the National Assembly, and it is a Measure which is in itself a tribute to the bishops, because it is they who have asked for it, in order to see that they are not putting themselves above the justice which they are seeking to put upon the incumbents in their own dioceses. A tribute has already been paid to the bishops, and I should like to add my word. I do not believe there is a body of higher-principled or higher-souled people. They are leaders and have a difficult task, but I believe that they fulfil it to the utmost of their capacity. The amount of work they do is simply terrific.

I hope this House, in giving its final consideration to this Measure, will bear in mind that it is a thing for which the Church has asked and that it is a Measure which the House may reasonably accord to the Church.

11.4 p.m.

Many points of importance have been put this evening, and many more, perhaps more important, were made when this debate was initiated on 13th March. If I do not reply to them, I may seem to be discourteous—and still more as a spokesman here of the Church Assembly, if it seems that the Church Assembly does not appear to pay attention to the opinions in this House—so I hope that I shall be forgiven if I spend the time necessary to cover all the substantial points.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) pointed out that this Measure does not affect the somewhat undefined powers which the Church may have either in its own or in secular courts for dealing with points of alleged doctrinal or ritualistic error. It was possibly a mistake on my part that in introducing this Measure I did not make it clear that it does not attempt to clear up all the uncertainties that exist in the whole of this field. If it had done so, I expect it would have been found much harder to get agreement. This is a modest Measure clearing up uncertainties on quite a limited range of points. But I would add—perhaps here I answer the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort)—that I am not at all sure it would be found so attractive in practice as it might seem at first in theory to produce a neat, tidy, ascertainable procedure by which alleged doctrinal or ritualistic errors could be brought quickly to the sharp decision of a court which would have to consist, after all, of ordinary, fallible human beings.

The unchanging Christian truth presents itself, generation after generation, in changing form, and, as some very wise and great men are bold enough to believe, in developing and growing form. It could, indeed, happen that what is, in effect, a new and valuable expression of the unchanging truth may, when it is first encountered, seem to be as shocking to those who are just conventionally orthodox as would a downright error.

Or there is a striking example of this fact in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, where the advice offered by the Pharisee, Gamaliel—"Let these things be, and let them be tested in the outside world"—is so much wiser than any suggestion that one should deal with alleged errors of this kind by allowing a legalistic procedure to be initiated by six parsons and six members of a diocesan conference. That is the fundamental answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for North-field (Mr. Blackburn), although he was on political rather than doctrinal questions.

My own view is, in general, that you would not expect a bishop to be a signed-up member of a political party, but I must assert their right and duty to make such pronouncements as they think fit on social and political questions, even though their assertions may prove helpful to one party and difficult to another. This relates as much to Archbishop Temple, who made political assertions with which I agree, as to the late Bishop of Gloucester, who, on the whole, made political assertions with which I disagree.

Will the hon. Baronet keep to the very narrow point I made? If a bishop or an Archbishop were a Communist or a Fascist—an open member of the Communist Party and of the editorial board of the "Daily Worker"—would he carry it to that extent?

The hon. Gentleman knows, and the Leader of the House will confirm, that many attempts have been made to define the word "totalitarian" in an Act or Measure, and they have all broken down. Rather than attempt to define it, I would leave it to the good sense of the present or future Prime Minister to ensure that our Archbishops are not Fascists or Communists, rather than to have some procedure by which any group of people could initiate legal proceedings to try the political opinions of the bishops.

I wish to come to the point raised by my hon. Friend, the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), who will know I use the word friend to signify more than the obvious fact that we are sitting on the same side of the House. But I would say of him that if he has a fault at all it is that although he is a loyal servant of what is, amongst other things, an episcopal Church, he unintentionally or occasionally gives the impression that he is never able to hear mention of a bishop without assuming the very minimum of spiritual humility coupled with the very maximum dishonesty of purpose.

In the earlier debate, when he referred adversely to the report of the Legislative Committee—on which he has been well answered tonight by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) and earlier by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton), to whom I am personally most grateful—he seemed to imply that there was a Machiavellian plot on the part of these arrogant prelates to impose a system of discipline on the lower clergy far tighter, in relation to political activities and opinions, than the bishops were prepared to accept for themselves. But as far as the presentation of this Measure from the Church Assembly is concerned, it came forward, with the approval of the bishops, in a form which gave them far less liberty in regard to their political activities and political opinions than had already been accorded to vicars and deans and other church dignitaries. Therefore, far from the bishops trying to give themselves greater liberty, they have approved this Measure in a form which bound them far tighter than anyone else in the Church. The Ecclesiastical Committee of this House referred back the Measure so that the bishops could be given rather greater liberty. This makes it clear, surely, that there was no bishops' plot. But in the result, what has happened?

I must thank my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon for the continued interest he has displayed in this series of three Measures, and I am sure there are many bishops who would wish to be associated with my expression of thanks. He has brought to our notice the fact that, without any conspiratorial ill-will on the part of anybody, there has come about a situation which is rather anomalous. When the Incumbents Measure was before us, it was so worded that no action could be taken in relation to a vicar on account of his political opinions. Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, asked that this should be extended to cover the vicar's political activities, and the answer then given by Mr. Willink was that you could not include the word "activities," because activities might become so regular as to amount to a neglect of duty, and it was on that ground that activities were totally excluded from the proviso.

Three or four years have gone by since, and draftsmen of greater wisdom have now in this Bishops (Retirement) Measure found a formula of words which is more satisfactory, in that no action for unbecoming conduct can be taken in relation to a bishop's political or social opinions or activities, and no action for neglect of duty can be taken in relation to his opinions, but if his activities amount to neglect of duty then a case may lie.

I want to give my hon. Friend this assurance—and I do it with the full knowledge and approval of the Chairman of the Church Assembly, and of the Bishop of Winchester, who has been primarily responsible for this Measure—that there will be introduced into the Church Assembly a Measure amending the Incumbents Discipline Measure so as to bring it into line with the formula used in this Bishops (Retirement) Measure.

May I interrupt the hon. Baronet at once to say that I am extremely grateful for that assurance? I realise that he has gone to a great deal of trouble, and that this is as far as he can possibly go in this House. In view of what he has said, it may help him to know that I personally—of course, I can speak only for myself—should not propose to divide the House against the Measure.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, which enables me to pass on to the points of draftsmanship raised outstandingly by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest, and the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod). I may have to repeat what was said so well by the hon. Member for Chichester, but that cannot altogether be avoided.

I by no means make light of the criticism of drafting in these Measures coming to us from the Assembly. I should like to point out, however, that Parliamentary draftsmen cannot be found under every gooseberry bush. In a sense they are mental freaks—I am not using that term maliciously, but with the veneration with which one might apply it to Professor Einstein or to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). What happens is that these very exceptional men, when found, are snapped up into the service of this House, and when they have been used up and burned up in our service and retire, at an age when at any rate their bodies are no longer so active as they were, they then become available to the Church Assembly.

It is, therefore, a matter for congratulation that Sir Cyril Atkinson has joined the Legislative Assembly of the Church of England; and it is a matter of regret that he was not a member in the earlier stages of this Measure but joined the Assembly only when it was at the point which we would call the beginning of the Third Reading debate. He then attempted to move what we would call the recommital of a Bill to Committee.

I want to thank the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Gunter) and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House for their sympathy in the difficulty which the Church is in in bringing these Measures here at all, but I am sorry that the Leader of the House said that on these drafting points he was so overwhelmed by the arguments of the hon. Members on the other side of the House that, without waiting for any comment I might make on them, he would be obliged, if it came to a Division, to abstain from voting one way or the other.

I have said I do not want merely to dismiss general criticism on drafting as being of no consequence, but at the same time I wanted to explain the circumstances under which the Church Assembly labours. I do want to give a definite answer, however, to the specific points that have been raised, for I think the two hon. Members gave rather an inaccurate impression when they said that Sir Cyril Atkinson, with his great legal knowledge, had riddled this Measure with criticism from the point of view of draftsmanship. I have here the report of the debate of the Church Assembly, which is a little less full than our own Hansard; but it appears that Sir Cyril Atkinson did not claim that the words of the Measure had an ambiguous meaning.

He did not raise a point of drafting, but a point of substance—namely, that the Measure unambiguously gave to the Upper House of Convocation an extremely wide choice of the various courses which they might or might not take. But, having listened to his point of substance, the Church Assembly disagreed with his argument and said, as they were entitled to say, that that was how they liked it. The Church Assembly said they chose to trust their Houses of Convocation, which have a long history behind them, and were able to regulate their own procedure on points of detail even when the points of detail were not worked out and elaborated with meticulous precision in the Measure before them. I think that if the Church Assembly were prepared to take that view, we ought to support them.

That leads me to say a word in reply to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport), although I doubt if I can give him very great satisfaction, because it is a little bit difficult to envisage the precise kind of case in which a bishop would commit an error so grave that this procedure would be set in motion. The alternative given to the House of Convocation to pass censure was, I suppose, given to them in order to widen their liberty of action and of discretion, were a particular case to arise. I am informed that occasionally—very occasionally—the House of Convocation has met in secret session—not a usual procedure. Strictly speaking, I suppose it could be done where, in any particular case, it would seem desirable; although, indeed, the very fact of secrecy might suggest to the outside public that something very much more sinister had occurred than would appear if the case were heard in public. I do not know. I fear that on a rather hypothetical case it is not possible to go very much farther.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, raised one point to which I should like to refer, namely, about the words,
"And if the Archbishop and the three bishops … or a majority of them, determine that the complaint is serious …"
Those words, I must honestly confess to the Leader of the House, are ambiguous. They could mean two things. They may mean the Archbishop and three bishops to be considered together, so that there must be a majority of the whole four of them; or they may mean that the Archbishop is to be considered separately and the three bishops or a majority of the three to be considered also separately. I do not want to excuse the ambiguous language, but I think it is a mitigating circumstance that, when we come to consider the words, not so much as they appear on paper, but in actual practice, they come to this, that, whichever of the alternatives were used, the same result would be achieved in all imaginable cases. I could only conclusively demonstrate this point if I could write out a table on a blackboard, but if anybody were to ask me on Monday a Question-it would not be reached because it would have to come after Questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—I could offer to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a table of all the possible alternatives and show how that would be. As it is, I hope the House will take my word for it.

Despite the absence, which I entirely regret, of the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch I must say a word about the charge he made. I am very reluctant to rake around in the embers of a fire which must be dying, if not already dead. When that fire was burning I indicated by my vote what was my view about the conduct of a Member of this House. I was in a minority, but my view is unchanged. But in the earlier part of the debate on this Measure, serious criticism was directed against a bishop, and it was directed by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch by the process of asking us to imagine hypothetical cases. He said:
"I do not for a moment suggest that such a thing could possibly be done, but let us just suppose for a moment that some Member … were to write …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 1454.]
Then he proceeded to set out circumstances corresponding almost exactly to something which everybody in this House knew had happened; and then immediately afterwards he asked us to imagine, with the use of the same formula, some hypothetical case of some action on the part of a bishop. It was left to hon. Members to assume that the action had actually happened.

If I may use the same weapon against the hon. and learned Member, even in his absence, I would ask the House to suppose that some hon. Member wished to mislead the House. I do not for a moment suggest that such a thing could possibly happen, but let us suppose for a moment that some hon. Members were to form the intention of misleading hon. Members into supposing that a bishop had done something which he had not done, then, by contemplating this fantastically improbable set of hypothetical circumstances, do not we see at once how it came about in actual fact that my hon. and learned Friend—quite unintentionally, of course—led this House to suppose that a bishop had brought spiritual pressure, political pressure, pressure of every other conceivable kind—and had threatened to put the Incumbents (Discipline) Measure into operation—in order to terrorise a particular vicar working within his diocese?

Whereas, what in fact happened? No one wishes to increase the difficulties which already abound, but it is reasonable to suppose that any active bishop has a good deal of knowledge of the very real difficulties encountered by individual clergymen who work in his diocese, and when a bishop writes a letter asking a particular vicar carefully to consider his position, even if that letter is rather strongly worded, is it to be supposed that anyone thinks there is anything wrong in what he has done? If an editor of a paper writes to a reporter saying that, having watched him for some time that he feels he might find his true vocation upon the stage rather than in journalism, or if a K.C., head of chambers, suggests to a junior that, after observing his progress he thinks that he would get on better in journalism than at the Bar, is there anything wrong in that?

I suggest that careful examination of this case shows that nothing more has been done than that. There is one other observation I wish to make to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch. He asked why should we pass a Measure which leaves the Church powerless even if a bishop were to bring pressure to bear upon incumbents in his diocese on account of political opinions. This Measure does not leave the Church powerless in such a case. As I read it, if there were a bishop who went round his diocese trying to bring pressure, spiritual or other, upon clergymen on account of their views, that would be unbecoming conduct by the bishop which could be challenged by this Measure. I hope that hon. Members will feel that this Measure can be given approval, so that its provisions may be carried into effect.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved:
"That the Bishops (Retirement) Measure, 1950, 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."