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Ancient Monuments Committee

Volume 41: debated on Monday 9 August 1920

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rose to ask His Majesty's Government for what reason the proposal is made to include cathedrals and churches within the powers of the Committee to be appointed in reference to Ancient Monuments; and whether any decision to so include them might not be postponed until after the first meeting of the National Church Assembly; and to move for Papers.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I ask this Question on behalf of Lord Parmoor who is obliged to leave the House. It is unfortunate that it should have been reached at so late a stage in the evening, because had the opportunity to put it been reached earlier the most rev. Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, would have been in his place in order to have made certain observations. In addition to the Question on the Paper I should like to know from the Government upon whose suggestion this Departmental Committee was appointed or is proposed to be appointed. Your Lordships will remember that the whole of this subject was under the very careful consideration of the House not many years ago, at the time when the Act was passed into law. If my recollection serves me aright, it was then definitely decided that cathedrals and churches should not be included in the purview of that Act.

What has happened since then to change the view which prevailed? I should have thought, if there was to be a change, that it would have been made only after careful consultation with those representative persons who were interested in the matter. I think it would be hardly credible to your Lordships and to the country that the most rev. Primate who presides over the Church of England was never told one word about this proceeding, that the Government have proposed to appoint this Departmental Committee without any reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I do not know what view the most rev. Primate would have held in regard to it, but he was not given the opportunity of making any observations at all. I should like to represent to my noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how very grave is the—I had almost said discourtesy, which has been committed—I have no doubt it was inadvertent by the Government—in appointing a Departmental Committee to consider the question of cathedrals and churches without any reference to the most rev. Primate.

In making this Motion I think a respectful protest must be made. Having regard to the fact that your Lordships so very recently passed into law the Enabling Act which called into being the National Assembly of the Church of England it is a most astonishing thing that this Inqury should be made without any reference to that body any more than to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but simply upon the fiat, so far as I know, of the First Commissioner of Works, who, I imagine, is no authority whatever upon cathedrals and churches and no very special authority, beyond what all of us are, on works of art. He has called into being this Departmental Committee, and I think it is very unfortunate even from the point of view of the Government. I cannot imagine that the Committee will command any very general confidence seeing that it has not been appointed with the

proper inquiries and consents beforehand. I beg to move.

My Lords, the Committee is a purely advisory one, and has no power over cathedrals and churches. An Act of Parliament would be necessary before it could have any powers of the kind indicated. The main object in including ecclesiastical buildings is this. In the case of cathedrals there is at present no sort of control over the Dean and Chapter, and it is possible to imagine a case in which all the members of the Chapter would be without artistic feelings.

Not nearly so easy as to imagine a First Commissioner of Works without any artistic feelings.

It would merely lie with the First Commissioner of Works to decide which cathedrals were to be repaired or whether or not structural alterations were necessary. It often happens that the Dean and Chapter are entirely in the hands of the architect of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and in that case there is no check upon him whatever.

With regard to the other part of the question, my right hon. friend the First Commissioner of Works does not think that any useful purpose would be served by promising that the Committee shall not meet until after the first meeting of the National Church Assembly. He wishes the Committee to get on with their work as soon as possible. The Church, of course, is represented on the Committee, Bishop Browne being a member of it, but the First Commissioner wishes me to say that he would be only too pleased to have the benefit of the advice of a second representative of the Church if it should be desirable. It is unthinkable, of course, that any discourtesy was intended to the most rev. Primate in not consulting him. That has been entirely an oversight, and I have informed his Grace that the First Commissioner would be very glad if he would suggest another representative, and I hope he may consent to do so.

My Lords, I think a protest should be made at once against the idea that the First Commissioner of Works has anything to say either personally or through a Committee in regard to our cathedrals or churches. This seems to me to be an attempt to assert a kind of control and cast-iron uniformity under the Ministry—the kind of centralisation such as we are accustomed to in France but not in England. To me it seems another usurpation, and I am very glad that the noble Lord has made a protest against it.

The noble Lord who replied to the question has, as I should have expected, expressed the regret of the Government at the method by which they have proceeded to deal with this matter, and I shall take care that the expression of regret is conveyed to the most rev. Primate, but I do not think that concludes the matter. It must not be assumed that the most rev. Primate has consented to the inquiry at all. It is not the business, if I may say so, of the Government to inquire into the management of other people's property. Their business is to look after that which belongs to the nation. These cathedrals are the property of the Church of England. Of course, if the Church of England grossly evaded any part of the duty of looking after these monuments, which are of great interest to many people in this country, there would be reason to consider the matter. But no such allegation has been brought forward. All that the noble Lord could say was that it was conceivable that you might have a Dean and Chapter under the architect of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who might be a person without any artistic taste. That, I submit, is a most unlikely contingency. But the question is, Has anything of the kind ever happened? Is there any such case? I am not, of course, referring to past years. No doubt in the nineteenth century taste was at a very low level, but at the present time there is no such suggestion; certainly not as regards the cathedrals. I am glad that my noble friend opposite (Lord Phillimore) has joined in the protest. I can only say that we reserve to ourselves the fullest right to treat this Report for what it is worth when it comes before us. Let it be understood that this is a thing which has been done without our consent and against our wishes.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.