HC Deb 28 May 1895 vol 34 cc476-85

"(1) The Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne's Bounty respectively shall forthwith, after the passing of this Act, ascertain and by order declare what property vested in them respectively at the passing of this Act or under the provisions hereinafter contained consists of, or issues out of, or is the produce of, or is or has been derived from, property situate in Wales or Monmouthshire, in whatever manner the same is applied whether in England or in Wales, and that property shall be the Welsh ecclesiastical property for the purposes of this Act. (2) They shall also, by order made before the date of Disestablishment, allocate the charges on any fund held by them respectively in such manner that the charges for purposes of the Church in Wales, and in particular for Bishops, Archdeacons, and Cathedral Corporations of the Church in Wales, shall be borne by the Welsh ecclesiastical property, so far as it is able to bear them, and that that property shall be exonerated from, and the fund wholly charged with, such of the charges as are not allocated on the Welsh ecclesiastical property. (3) Orders of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne's Bounty under this section shall be made with the concurrence of the Welsh Commissioners, or, in default of such concurrence with the approval of Her Majesty the Queen in Council given on the advice of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council."

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. H. H. ASQUITH, Fife, E.) moved, line 30, to leave out "they" and to insert "the Ecclesiastical Commissioners." The Amendment, he said, was purely consequential.

Amendment agreed to.

* MR. BUCKNILL (Surrey, Epsom)

moved, in line 31, after "Disestablishment," to insert "or so soon thereafter as may be." The Home Secretary had on the first day of the Committee, promised to consider this matter when Clause 4 was reached. In effect, what he proposed was that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should not be bound to make their order relating to the duties which they had to perform under this sub-clause before the date of Disestablishment—January 1st, 1897—but that following the precedent of the Irish Act, they should have a certain elasticity given them. This Committee had not the remotest idea whether the Commissioners could perform the duties imposed upon them within the stipulated time, and, therefore, in order to prevent complication, he thought it desirable that the words he had proposed should be inserted.


said, he would accept the Amendment, which he thought would improve the clause.

Amendment agreed to.


moved an Amendment describing the money held by the Commissioners as "their common fund" instead of as "any fund held by them." The change, he explained, was necessitated partly by the omission of Queen Anne's Bounty from the first sub-section and the provision made with reference to that body, and partly in order to specify more clearly what was the fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to which reference was made. As the Committee was aware, the payment made to holders of ecclesiastical offices in Wales were at present derived partly from Welsh ecclesiastical property, and partly from the common fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. On the other hand there were charges upon the Church of England, the payment of which was partly derived at present from ecclesiastical property situated in Wales. The object of the subsection was to provide that, after an order was made by the Commissioners, all charges of the Church in Wales, instead of being charges in part on the common fund of the Commissioners, would be placed exclusively on. Welsh ecclesiastical property in so far as it was able to bear them; and that charges now made on Welsh ecclesiastical property for English purposes should be shifted to the common fund of the Commissioners. The net result of that shifting of the charges and allocation between the two different forms of property would be that ultimately £44,000 a year, which now passed from the common fund to Wales, would cease to be a payment to Wales, and the Church of England would be a gainer to that extent.

* MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)

said, that the last thing any Churchman would wish would be to benefit one part of the English Church at the expense of another part. What was desired was that some latitude should be allowed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, so that they might do something to repair the wrong that would be done under this Bill.

Amendment agreed to.


moved, in line 38, at end, to insert— and that the fund shall, except so far as is required for the purpose of preserving existing interests, be exonerated from any charges for the purposes of the Church of Wales. This Amendment, he explained, was necessary to make clear the meaning of the clause. The cesser of liability and the exoneration ought not to take place until the existing interests should have gradually disappeared. Great hardship would otherwise be inflicted.

Amendment agreed to.

SIR RICHARD WEBSTER (Isle of Wight) moved, in Clause 4, page 2, line 40, after "section," to insert— shall declare what part of the Welsh ecclesiastical property referred to in the orders constitutes private benefactions within the meaning of this Act and. He said that he understood that the Home Secretary agreed with the substance of this Amendment, but he was not sure where it ought to be inserted. If the right hon. Gentleman thought it was more appropriate to the next clause he should be happy to defer it until then.


explained that he had no objection to the substance of the Amendment; but that, in his opinion, it would be more convenient to insert it in the next clause. He had, himself, put upon the paper an Amendment with the same object.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On the question: "That the Clause be added to the Bill,"—

* MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

said, that he should oppose the Motion. He wished to make one more protest against the treatment which Queen Anne's Bounty had received at the hands of the Government. The Debate, which was interrupted rather abruptly on the previous night revealed beyond dispute the real nature of these funds. As to the intention of those responsible for the formation of Queen Anne's Bounty no sane man could have any reasonable doubt. The funds were given by Queen Anne long after the Reformation. Therefore, it was unnecessary to engage in any controversy as to pre-Reformation and postReformation conditions. The funds originally belonged to the Church; they were taken from the Church by one of the Sovereigns of this country and subsequently restored to the church by another sovereign—as he believed, from the highest and purest motives. Now it was proposed to take these funds and to apply to them the Disendowment scheme. No argument worthy of the name had been adduced in support of the proposal. The Home Secretary was apparently unable to tell the Committee why he dealt with the property of Queen Anne's Bounty and the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners on different lines. All that the right hon. Gentleman could say in defence of this strange piece of Disendowment was that these funds were national property. Of course anybody could call anything by any name he pleased, but it was impossible to understand how Queen Anne's Bounty could be called national property. If ever any property was earmarked as destined to the uses of the Church this was. If the promoters of this Bill proposed that this property should be shared by other religious bodies he could understand—though he should not approve—their policy. That it should be shared in that way was he believed the view of the Bishop of Hereford. The policy of the Government, however, was a policy of pure secularisation. They were going to secularise funds used from time immemorial for religious purposes. There could be but one reason for this policy and hon. Members opposite hesitated to give it, for it was not a very noble one. That reason was that a certain number of people in Wales were jealous of what they considered to be the undue prominence of the Church. [Cries of "No!"] What other reason was there? If there were other reasons why did not hon. Members representing Wales explain them? He wished to record his earnest conviction that the Government, in the course which they were pursuing, were attempting to lower the position of religious endowments in this country. They would thus do, what in their more sober moments they would regret—namely, weaken the sources of religion.


said, that he did not want to revive the controversy of last night, but he must ask the Home Secretary for an explanation on the point then submitted to him by the Leader of the Opposition and himself. When the Bill was read a second time, sub-section 1 of Clause 4 put together the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne's Bounty, and they were to be treated in the same way. Negotiations took place, and the whole case of Queen Anne's Bounty was put before the right hon. Gentleman, and the result was to bring home to the right hon. Gentleman's mind that he must treat Queen Anne's Bounty in a different way to that in which he treated the Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman was quite entitled to say: "That is what I intend to do;" but it was in no way disrespectful to the right hon. Gentleman to ask: "Why have you made this distinction between the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne's Bounty?" This was not a case in which the Opposition had striven to alter the proposals which were originally in the Bill because they thought they would work unfairly; but they found that, when Amendments appeared, a counter-scheme was put down on behalf of the Government. Although the right hon. Gentleman had conducted the whole of the discussion on this Bill with great ability and with great courtesy to his opponents, they could not feel that the discussion was terminated when he declined to give any reason or any motive for this change; and if they did not get some satisfactory reason for the distinction now made between the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne's Bounty they ought to divide against the clause. The House was entitled to some explanation as to why this change had been made.


acknowledged the courteous tone of the right hon. Gentleman and of his hon. and learned Friend who had just sat down. With reference to what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, he would venture to suggest that the bulk of his arguments was really directed against Disendow-ment altogether. There were very few of the propositions which he laid down with reference to Queen Anne's Bounty which might not be laid down with equal truth with reference to all endowments which were to pass to the Welsh Commissioners under this Bill. As far as Queen Anne's Bounty was concerned, the view of the Government was that the fund now called Queen Anne's Bounty never, till its foundation, belonged to the Church. It was a tax levied on livings and Bishops when the Church of England was more or less subjected to the See of Rome. But it was never enjoyed by the Church until it was made over by Queen Anne to the purposes to which it had since been applied. In the judgment of the Government it was impossible to differentiate in principle that fund from the other endowments with which this Bill was concerned. He was extremely sorry if he had failed, as he appeared to have failed, in the speeches he made on this subject last might, to make clear the point of view of the Government in remodelling this clause, and he would endeavour with all possible brevity to restate what he had previously stated. He denied that they were dealing in this clause with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne's Bounty on different principles. The treatment of Queen Anne's Bounty had to be modified when the Government became aware of the nature of the property which was held by the fund. If it should be found, and for all he knew it might be so found, that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the course of the last 60 years had expended more on the Church of Wales than they had received from Wales, the balance ought to be treated as a charge on Welsh ecclesiastical property due from Wales to England, and only the residue should pass to the Welsh Commissioners. If the right mode were followed with reference to Queen Anne's Bounty, it seemed to him that similar accounts would have to be taken in the matter of that fund. Why should an account be necessary in the one case and not in the other? He contended that the Government had gone upon the same principle in both cases. In the case of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners they had taken whatever property in their hands consisted of, or was derived from, property situated in Wales and Monmouthshire. In the case of Queen Anne's Bounty, he would be practically accurate in saying that they were not the owners of any property in Wales; but they had been in receipt of an annual sum derived from benefices situated in Wales, and funds derived from Wales under the name of firstfruits and tenths had been received by them. He agreed that it was impossible to say how much had been derived from one source and how much from another. The simple, rational plan was to ask the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty how much of their fund was now allotted to Welsh ecclesiastical purposes, and to take from them that part of their receipts which, according to their own reckoning, was appropriated to Welsh ecclesiastical purposes. Mutatis mutandis, that corresponded to the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and must be treated for the purposes of this Bill as Welsh ecclesiastical property. No doubt, in the case of Queen Anne's Bounty the results would be very different; and different in the interest of the Church—because, when that fund came to be analysed, he was satisfied that the greater portion of it would be found to consist of private benefactions. And if it were not dealt with in this way, those private benefactions would never pass to the Welsh Commissioners and would never be lost to the representative body, although they might have been declared by Queen Anne's Bounty to be that part of their property which was and ought to be appropriated to Wales. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said last night, after comparing the Government to highway robbers, Oriental pashas, and all manner of unscrupulous and extortionate people —he did not complain of the right hon. Gentleman's imagery, for it rather enlivened the Debate—the right hon. Gentleman said that the principle on which the Government had gone in this matter was a very simple one: namely, to take whatever they could from the Church of England in order to hand it over to the Commissioners and get as much as they could for secular purposes, and that when dealing with Queen Anne's Bounty they resorted to another method in order to get the maximum out of it. That statement was not founded on fact. In the case of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners they were leaving a sum of £40,000 a year in their hands which, upon a very fair construction, being a contribution which they made annually from their common fund, might be fairly called Welsh ecclesiastical property. Then, as to Queen Anne's Bounty, he believed, after such examination as he had been able to give to it, that the whole sum that would pass in that case to the County Councils and so forth would be simply those Welsh firstfruits and tenths as they now stood on the books of the Governors, the proceeds of the sale of Welsh glebe, and the sums received by the redemption of Welsh tithe rent-charge and such part of the Parliamentary grant now unspent as had been allocated to Wales. Whatever else was included in the scope of the clause would go to the representative body. He hoped he had made it clear what the position of the Government was, and that he had exonerated them from any intention to deal unfairly with any of these funds.

MR. W. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)

said, he was not satisfied with the explanation given by the Home Secretary. The objection to his policy was—that he was not only taking away the property of the Welsh Church, but he was taking away property which belonged to the English Church, or at all events to a corporation which held the property for the benefit of the English Church. The true test of whether a property belonged to a person was what he could do with it, whether he could, for example, maintain an action to recover it or he could eject a trespasser. The property of a rector in tithes could maintain legal proceedings against a person liable to pay them. Where there was such an ownership of property, there was no objection on this score to the principle of the Bill. But when they came to deal with Queen Anne's Bounty, the facts were altogether different. There was no Welsh Corporation to which the property belonged; but it belonged to the Corporation of Queen Anne's Bounty. Assuming, for the moment, that the Home Secretary was right when he said that the fund might be regarded as a national fund, what right had the Welsh County Councils to lay their hands upon national property which did not belong to Wales? Poor rectories and vicarages in Wales had the same right as poor rectories and vicarages in England to assistance from the Bounty; and the Governors considered their claims in the same way as claims were considered by the Committee who had the disposal of charity funds. The Governors, in making grants to Wales, had not in any sense parted with the property. It was still in the hands of the Governors; and grants were liable to be revoked at any moment. If in any district population and wealth increased the Governors would be justified in revoking a grant and applying it to the benefit of some impoverished parish in England. This showed that all the right Wales had was to go as a suppliant to Queen Anne's Bounty, and ask that the claims of any district might be considered. It was as a branch of the Church of England in Wales that the Church in Wales had its claims considered; and when the Church in Wales was disconnected from the Church in England the whole argument for the Bounty having any further interest in Wales disappeared, as much so as it would in the case of a charity. The contention of the Home Secretary was—that parties who, while they were resident in a locality, were entitled to share in a local charity were entitled on leaving it to say:— We are no longer living in the district, and we ask you to give us, not merely our share of the income, but capital capable of producing as much as we received while we were resident. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of equity; but what equity was there which could be enforced by the Church in Wales on Queen Anne's Bounty? If the Governors had chosen to say they would no longer give any portion of the income of the fund to the Church in Wales, what remedy at law would any member of the Church in Wales have had? Clearly none at all. Would they have A had any right in equity? No. He challenged the Home Secretary to show that the Governors would have been in any way bound to continue giving help in Wales. If so Churchmen in Wales were mere suppliants. Although the right hon. Gentleman might be justified in taking property which belonged to Church Corporations, he challenged and denied the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman that, because grants were being given at the time of Disestablishment, therefore they could be fairly considered in any sense whatever to be Welsh ecclesiastical property. On these grounds he entered his protest against the inclusion of Queen Anne's Bounty in this category. If the Home Secretary were anything, he was logical; he followed everything out to its logical consequences; but in this case he went beyond logic, for this property did not belong to the Church in Wales in any sense whatever. It belonged to an English Corporation, and if it had a national Church, it certainly was not Welsh. There were no grounds on which Wales was entitled to put its hands on property which was exclusively English.

The House divided:—Ayes, 221; Noes, 194.—(Division List, No. 114.)

Clause 5.