§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth),
in asking leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Church Discipline Act, 1840, and the Public Worship Regulation Act, 1874, said the object of this Bill was to abolish the veto of the Bishops and to substitute deprivation for imprisonment in the case of clergymen who either in matters of ritual or doctrine defy the law. The Bill had already received the sanction of the last House of Commons. Amongst those who had supported it when it was before Parliament in 1903 were sixteen members of the present Government. The Bill was opposed by the present Leader of the Opposition, who used all the resources of his dialectical skill on that occasion to resist its passage. His apology for introducing this Bill now was the urgency and 857 the critical character of the situation in the Church of England. No impartial observer would deny that the real question in connection with that Church as an Established Church was whether or not it was going to retain its Protestant character. Another Bill had been introduced by the Member for Exeter, who had received the support of something like 230 Members, which was sufficient proof of the weight of opinion behind the demand that something should be done. The real question behind both these Bills was whether the plant and capital of the Church of England was to be retained by a Church which was recognised, or ought to be recognised, as one of a Protestant character. The Leader of the Opposition had his doubts on this point and appointed a Royal Commission, which reported six months ago. That Commission, amongst other findings, found, at least, that there was a large increase in forms of worship in the Church of England approximating to those of the Church of Rome, and that this was due to a widespread and organised movement amongst a large and increasing body of clergy and laity. The Commission also recommended that certain practices specifically named should be promptly made to cease by the action of the Bishops. Six months had elapsed, and they had no evidence as to whether the Bishops had done anything or not. The Government had issued Letters of Business to Convocation to consider the desirability of altering the Prayer-book, but no alteration of the Prayer-book by Convocation would relieve the Government and Parliament of their responsibility for seeing that the services in the parish churches were carried out in accordance with the law. He did not think that the Government either could or would seek to wash their hands of responsibility in this matter by Letters of Business or letters of any kind. The Bill did not represent the full demand of those who felt keenly upon this question. The Bill of the Member for Exeter more perfectly did that. But it would be perfectly possible for the Government, in the intervals between dealing with the House of Lords and Ireland and all questions of social reform, to pass both these Bills if they felt so inclined. He recognised as fully as any hon. Member that they were dealing, in the case of the Church of England, with a spiritual organisation, and that they required to 858 move warily in so doing; but he was perfectly confident that the situation that had arisen in that Church could not with safety be left to settle itself, and he trusted that the Government would take this opportunity, or some opportunity very shortly, of expressing a clear and decided line of action on what was one of the burning questions of the day. He begged to move.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (MR. ASQUITH, Fifeshire, E.)
said he understood from the hon. Member that the Bill he was asking leave to introduce did not propose to make any change in the law as regarded doctrine, discipline, or ceremony. It had for its object the provision of a simpler machinery for enforcing the law as it existed at the present time. If that were so, it was an object which must command the sympathy of all law-abiding citizens, including His Majesty's Government. Therefore he need not say that they would not in any degree oppose—
§ Lord R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.), on a point of order, asked whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer was entitled to address the House except in opposition to the Bill.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Strictly speaking, under the Standing Order, it is only a Member who wishes to oppose a Bill who is entitled to address the House, but, of course, until a speech is finished it is impossible to say what course any hon. Gentleman proposes to adopt.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I must admit that I ought to waive my right to speak in favour of the noble Lord. I was going to say we will reserve our opinion until we have seen whether the provisions of the Bill are really adequate.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered to be brought in by Mr. Austin Taylor, Mr. Thomas Herbert, Mr. Harmood-Banner, Dr. Hazel, Sir Joseph Leese, and Mr. Cameron Corbett.