HC Deb 03 March 1909 vol 1 cc231-43

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of a Bill to facilitate the foundation of new bishoprics and the alteration of dioceses and to amend the Bishops' Resignation Act, 1869, it may, perhaps, be advisable that I should make a few observations upon the past Parliamentary history of this subject within our own time. When, now a good deal more than a generation ago, the Church of England awoke from what had been a long period of religious stagnation to real activity of spiritual life, I think one of the first matters that engaged the attention of those who were promoting her work was the defect in her organisation as regards the number of dioceses and the duties imposed upon the Bishops of those dioceses. Of course, in an Episcopal Church a diocesan Bishop is necessarily the head of all spiritual work within his diocese; but, in addition to that, Parliament has imposed upon our diocesan Bishops very considerable administrative responsibilities and jurisdiction, the exercise of which must in any case take up a large amount of their time.

Owing to the great growth of population in our country, especially within certain areas, it had become evident many years ago that certain dioceses were far too large for the effective control and supervision of their Bishops, and a movement was originated for dividing those dioceses in order that they might be brought into manageable shape. I am afraid it is not too much to say that in not a few cases the Bishops of such dioceses as those to which I am alluding have been completely overborne by the mere machinery of their administrative duties. Men of great ability, zeal, and energy have been so overborne by those duties that they have simply found no time for that pastoral and paternal work which I am sure every member of the Episcopal Bench must feel is, after all, the most important part of the duties of a Bishop. By degrees several of the larger dioceses have been divided, and I think within the time to which I am referring as many as nine new bishoprics have been founded, solely by contributions from the revenues of existing Bishops whose dioceses were divided and by the voluntary offerings of Churchmen without any call whatever on the funds of the State or on the common fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

This movement, of course, like all movements of the kind, has had its opponents. I do not wish to dwell upon the opposition which it has experienced at the hands of those who are not members of the Church. I never could understand the reason for that opposition, because I should be very sorry to attribute to any of those who, being Nonconformists themselves, have opposed the foundation of new bishoprics, no better feeling than an ignoble desire to force the Church to disestablish- ment and disendowment by preventing her from obtaining through Parliament, which is the only way she can obtain them, facilities for the performance of her proper work. But there has been opposition within the ranks of Churchmen themselves. Some have suggested—and with considerable surprise I saw the suggestion repeated the other day—that by the foundation of new bishoprics money which Churchmen might have contributed for another great need of the Church, the increase of the incomes of the poorer benefices, was practically being diverted from that purpose to the foundation of bishoprics. I was very glad to see that in another place the Prime Minister expressed his entire dissent from that opinion. I believe that absolutely the contrary has been true. I believe anybody who cares to look into the matter will find that wherever an unwieldy diocese has been divided and a new bishopric founded there has been, in every way, a growth of spiritual and active life in the Church within both those dioceses; and I could name one divided diocese of the kind in which, to my own knowledge, the Bishop of part of the diocese has, by his own generous initiative, raised more money for the endowment of small livings quite recently than has ever been dreamt of in that diocese before. I am sure that what has hitherto been done in this respect has promoted the welfare of the Church in all that could be desired.

But another objection has been raised, and it is this. Some persons have considered that by dividing dioceses and constituting new bishoprics with, necessarily, smaller incomes than those to which we have hitherto been accustomed, the dignity and influence of the diocesan episcopate will be lowered. I do not think there has been any result of that sort. It has been suggested—and it was suggested in a debate on this subject some thirty years ago, I think—that the way to meet the case of these large dioceses was not so much to divide them as to aid the diocesan Bishop with a suffragan Bishop. No doubt some of the spiritual work of a diocesan Bishop can be and is done by a suffragan Bishop, but, nothing can relieve the Bishop of a diocese from the responsibility, which no one else can bear, for the proper carrying out of his functions as regards jurisdiction and administrative work. And I think it may be said that the more the suffragan Bishop relieves the Bishop of the diocese from confirmations, or from attendance at church openings or matters of that kind, the fewer opportunities does the diocesan Bishop enjoy of meeting with the people of his diocese both clergy and laity, and of that personal contact with them which alone can give him a real knowledge of persons and places such as is necessary, above all things, for the proper exercise of his paternal influence as a Bishop, in matters with which he is concerned.

I have heard it complained—I have never made the complaint myself—that, in their control of ecclesiastical ritual, the diocesan Bishops have not been so active as some persons holding what are known as Protestant opinions have desired. I have had the honour, as some noble Lords may be aware, of serving as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline, and I can say from my own experience what I believe would be concurred in by all my colleagues, that we were very much struck with the extreme difficulty of the proper supervision of dioceses, in these and in other matters also, when they were of an unwieldy size In fact, where there have been these extravagancies in ritual, they have existed I think, to a greater extent, and have been much more difficult to deal with, in those very large dioceses than in the small dioceses; because, in the first place, it is extremely difficult in a very large diocese for the Bishop to be acquainted with such practices, and, in the second place, when he does become acquainted with them they have very likely arrived at such a point that it is far more difficult to deal with them, either by law or by the exercise of the paternal and personal influence to which I have already alluded and which is infinitely better than coercive law can possibly be in matters of conscience of the kind, than if his diocese had been smaller and he had been better acquainted, of his own knowledge, with what was going on within it.

Those are, I think, the two main objections which have been raised by members of the Church to the extension of the Episcopate; but, nevertheless, nine new bishoprics have been founded within the time to which I have alluded. They have been founded under very considerable difficulties. The Bills relat- ing to them have been introduced time after time into the House of Commons before they received the Royal Assent, causing much waste of Parliamentary time, great disappointment to the Churchmen who were specially interested in those measures, and also very great labour to those who endeavoured to carry the Bills through. If it was merely that in each separate case the assent of Parliament was required by an Act to the foundation of a new bishopric, that would be bad enough; but matters are really infinitely worse than that. When I represented the City of Bristol in the House of Commons I naturally took a great interest in the foundation of the Bishopric of Bristol, and I remember that I had to be responsible, more or less, for passing no fewer than three Bills with regard to that diocese, the first one being the Bill which originally founded the diocese, the second being a Bill to allocate—of course, with the consent of all parties—something more of the stipend of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol to the new diocese than had at first been thought fit, and the third for altering boundaries. No one who does not know the procedure of the House of Commons can quite appreciate the immense labour and trouble required to pass a Bill of that kind—a Bill which really was opposed by nobody, but which the mere interference of a single Member might have prevented from becoming law in the course of the session. The Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline had this matter before them in connection with the enquiries to which I have alluded, and they unanimously made the following recommendation— "That for the purpose of effective supervision and administration it is desirable that many dioceses should he subdivided, and that a general Act providing machinery for the creation of new dioceses by Order in Council should be passed so as to prevent the necessity of the enactment of a separate statute on the formation of each new diocese.

The Bill to which I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to-day has for its main object the carrying out of the recommendation of the Royal Commission. In the first place, it proposes that, with the consent of the Archbishop of the province and of the Bishop whose diocese is affected, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners might formulate a scheme for the foundation of a new bishopric, provided that such endowment for the new bishopric as they considered adequate was ensured, no portion whatever of such endowment to come out of their common fund. The scheme so framed would, of course, be submitted to the Privy Council—in other words, to the Government of the day. If approved of by the Government of the day, it would be brought before Parliament and lie on the Table of both Houses for thirty days, and if not objected to by either House within thirty days the bishopric would be founded and the scheme would have the force of law. In the same way by an Order in Council a dean and chapter might be formed in new dioceses that have been already constituted and which do not possess them, or in any new diocese which may be constituted in future

Then there is another provision in the. Bill dealing with the pensions of retiring Bishops. Under the present law the pension of a retiring Bishop, whatever the income of his See, is stereotyped at £2,000 a year, or, I think, one-third of the income of the See, whichever should be the greater. Those figures are obviously too high for the incomes of some dioceses that already exist, and they would certainly be too high for the incomes of dioceses that may be founded in the future. The amount of such pensions, like the amount of endowment of future bishoprics, is left to the decision, first, of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and then of the Government of the day and of Parliament in each particular case. Those, my Lords, are practically the sole contents of the Bill.

Now perhaps I may be asked what steps will be taken if this Bill should receive the assent of Parliament in the course of the present session. I have made careful enquiry on that subject. In Yorkshire one new diocese would be founded, and in the east of England two new dioceses would be founded, I think I may confidently say, within the term of a year from the present time. The great arch-diocese of York has a population of 2,000,000, and it is proposed to divide that by allotting a new diocese to Sheffield, with a population of 840,000. I understand that seven-ninths of the money required to be subscribed for that purpose has already been subscribed. St. Albans, with a population of 1,336,000 at the last census, has 630 benefices and 1,015 clergy within its borders. The diocese of Ely, which embraces three and a half counties, has 763 clergy. The diocese of Norwich, comprising the great county of Norfolk—the fourth in area in England—and the county of Suffolk, has 890 benefices and 1,006 clergy. It is proposed out of these three dioceses to constitute two new bishoprics, a bishopric of Suffolk and a bishopric of Essex, allocating £3,200 a year from the incomes of the existing Bishops towards the endowment of the new dioceses, and, of course, making up the balance by voluntary subscriptions. The diocese of St. Albans would then consist of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, and the diocese of Ely of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. All the necessary funds, I am told, have been subscribed in Hertfordshire and Essex, and nearly all in Suffolk. In all cases the funds have been subscribed not merely by a few rich men whose fancy may be to constitute new bishoprics, but by the great body of Churchmen in the respective counties or cities concerned with a general desire to improve the work and the organisation of the Church to which they belong.

It is proposed, I understand, that the incomes of the new bishoprics should be somewhat less than the incomes of those which already exist. I believe that the bishopric at present with the smallest income is endowed with £3,000 a year. It is proposed in these three cases that the endowment shall be £2,500 a year, with sufficient provision for a house for the Bishop. I do not propose this Bill with the smallest wish that there should be a very great creation of new bishoprics. I feel very strongly what was said a few weeks ago by His Grace the Archbishop of York, that you must have a very strong local feeling before you can constitute a bishopric of any real strength. He said, I think, that such a desire must be based on self-consciousness and pride of locality. With that I entirely agree. There must be that feeling of separate existence which makes a separate community. So guarded, I believe this Bill will work great benefit to the Church and do no harm to anybody who is not a member of it. And I would add that if anybody should object to the reduction of episcopal incomes to the extent to which I have referred, I think it should be remembered that the great expense of many of our dioceses is the maintenance of the palaces which are allotted to our Bishops. In these new bishoprics the houses need not be comparable in any way with such places as Farnham and Auckland Castles, which are, of course, relics of past times. At the same time I think everybody would wish that the endowment of a bishopric should be sufficient to enable a Bishop to exercise that generous hospitality which I believe our Bishops always do exercise, both to the clergy and laity of their dioceses and to candidates for ordination, to the great benefit of the Church. I have to thank your Lordships for listening to my arguments in support of this Bill, and I now beg to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount St. Aldwyn.)


My Lords, on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Home Department I rise to express a general approval of the terms of this Bill, and to say that although. important points of detail may arise at a later stage, still I shall be very glad to give the noble Viscount all the assistance in my power in passing the Bill through your Lordships' House. The noble Viscount has dealt so lucidly with the object of the Bill, and has answered, I think, so completely any arguments which might be advanced against it, that it is unnecessary for me to say much to your Lordships. I might, however, refer to one point on which I think the House will be agreed. It is obvious that great care and caution should be exercised in such an important matter as the enlargement of the Episcopate, but, as at present advised, at any rate, it seems to me that the provisions of the Bill as they stand, necessitating that the scheme should lie on the Table for thirty days, will probably be sufficient to meet the case. Certainly no member of your Lordships' House who had the advantage of acquaintance with Bishop Creighton and realised how much overwork contributed to his early death will fail to do his utmost to pass this Bill into law. It is difficult to exaggerate the amount of business detail, often of a trivial character, which a Bishop is called upon to attend to, and from my own experience I can corroborate the noble Viscount's words as to the advantage which accrues from the sub-division of a diocese. As a consequence of the constitution of the new diocese of Birmingham, I believe laymen have contributed far more largely than they did before for general diocesan purposes, both in the new diocese and in the diocese left behind. That, I think, goes to prove the statement which has just been made by the noble Viscount, and I do not doubt that what has happened in the past will probably happen again in the future.


My Lords, having been Bishop of a new diocese in the North which was manageable, and being now, unfortunately, in the position of Bishop of an absolutely unmanageable diocese in the South, perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words upon this Bill. When I heard of the question being asked in another place as to the possible impoverishment of the clergy as the result of this Bill I could not help feeling that anyone who knew the real state of things in a new diocese would be able to answer that objection at once. It happened that in the year 1897 I visited officially the diocese of Newcastle for the first time, and I found that during the fifteen years since the See had been constituted the number of clergy had increased in the diocese from 216 to 318 —rather a large increase, I venture to say, within that period—and every single fund had increased in the same proportion. I am almost afraid to mention the sums of money that had been raised in those fifteen years; they might seem exaggerated; but they were raised for the purposes of Churches, parsonages, and everything which concerns the Church; and if I were to state what had been done there to help the impoverished clergy I could prove that there had been a great improvement in consequence of the constitution of that diocese.

Coming South, at the earnest request of the authorities of both Church and State, I found myself in charge of a diocese as unhappily constituted for purposes of supervision as it is possible to conceive. I have two counties, Essex and Hertfordshire, which once found a rather natural centre in London. In 1846 they were transferred to Rochester; in 1877 that was found to be wholly impossible and the diocese of St. Albans was founded and really without a centre, for St. Albans is in the western part of Hertfordshire and never in any form can be made a centre for Essex. London has extended into Essex, and London over the border, as it is called, has a population of 800,000 and will soon have a million, so that I have to supervise a diocese a large part of which is really in London, extending over the counties of Essex and Hertfordshire; and if anybody is acquainted with the means of locomotion in these counties he will know perfectly well that they are based on the principle that every sane man desires to go to London in the morning and return in the afternoon and to go nowhere else. The result is that a man who wishes to go to Hertfordshire from Essex or vice versa, except through London, finds the greatest difficulty in doing so.

When this diocese of mine was founded the population was not quite half what it is to-day. From 658,000 in 1871 it rose to 1,336,267 in 1901, and to-day it has a population considerably exceeding one and a half millions. With population, benefices have increased, and every additional benefice adds considerably to the Bishop's responsibilities and labours. The noble Viscount mentioned just now 630 as the number of benefices in my diocese; the number to-day is 635. Benefices are continually being added, the number of clergy necessarily increasing as the population increases. It is not merely the ordinary population. I am annually asked to take at least twenty extra-parochial confirmations in various schools. I have often said that if dumping requires an illustration it will be found in Essex and Hertfordshire. The fact is that every large London parish desires to have its schools or asylums in the counties outside London, and these require chaplains and supervision by the Bishop; there are also a great number of secondary schools, so that the Bishop in charge of such a diocese with no real centre has not the time for that mature thought which he ought to give to the affairs of his diocese. Therefore I venture to say the case is plain and clear, in such a diocese as mine, for some relief. If you continue the present condition of things in these unwieldy dioceses it will mean short tenures of office for the Bishops, as no Bishop could retain the diocese in full vigour for more than a limited number of years. Each one of us would, no doubt, be perfectly willing to be sacrificed. But it is not a matter for the Bishops alone. It is just as much a question for the dioceses which have no fair scope for expansion and for realising their common life if their areas are too large. Speaking for my own diocese, at any rate, the diocese itself feels most strongly the necessity for division. In 1905 I put the question before my diocesan conference, and there was a unanimous vote of the clergy and laity in favour of division. A committee was then formed, and early in 1906 we determined to canvass the diocese and ask for assistance. It was thought that in about three years £45,000 might be raised to supplement the surrender of part of the Bishop's income, but in about a year and a half the whole of that sum had been raised or guaranteed. I appealed to the diocese to, if possible, raise £5,000 on a given Sunday to complete the fund, and the amount raised was rather more than £7,000. This, I venture to think, shows no lack of local interest.

I have had nothing but good will from the Nonconformist bodies in reference to this matter, and if Nonconformists object to an increase in the Episcopate it is certainly not in my diocese. A public meeting which I convened in the Town Hall at Stratford in order to test local Church feeling on the matter was so crowded that people were compelled to stand, and a Presbyterian mayor attended to express his goodwill and his hope that the scheme would succeed. I went, in the same way, to Colchester, and there the local interest was equally as great and a Congregational mayor came to wish "Godspeed" to the scheme. This is the experience I have had in my own diocese. Determining that if the scheme took effect it should not be merely by large donations from the wealthy but by the general goodwill of the people at large, I delivered addresses at some twenty centres explaining the office of a Bishop and what he has to do, and I venture to say that the inhabitants of the diocese of St. Albans, knowing far more than they did five years ago what the work of a Bishop is, are almost unanimous in favour of this scheme. If this is the case in reference to one particular area, I venture to say it may be repeated elsewhere.

The question simply is whether it is desirable to arrive at extension of the Episcopate by Bills dealing with specific dioceses, or by such a general enabling measure as that which the noble Viscount has laid on the Table to-day. Two years ago I had an opportunity of discussing the subject with the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and it is no breach of confidence to say that, the two methods being put plainly before him, the late Prime Minister strongly favoured the general enabling method embodied in the noble Viscount's Bill. It is simply and solely on the lines with which we are already familiar in relation to extension of parishes. When it is desirable to divide a parish the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have the power, with due consent, to form a new parish. In the same manner, in regard to the Episcopate, if there is no demand on public funds, if the funds are simply raised by voluntary contributions and surrender by the Bishops of existing incomes, and, further, if there is no idea of increasing the number of Bishops in this House, then I submit there is no reason why this matter should not be considered as one of administration, Parliament having the fullest opportunity during thirty days of expressing dissent to any proposal. I venture, therefore, to express a strong hope that the Bill will pass your Lordships' House, and in another place receive such facilities as will enable it to become law this session.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, but I do not like to remain quite silent lest that silence should be misunderstood. Those who are in positions of central responsibility in the Church, like myself and my most reverend brother the Archbishop of York, are eagerly anxious that this Bill should become law. It is the product of long deliberation, it has been drafted and re-drafted by different hands, and practically this consideration has always resulted in a Bill like that which is now presented by the noble Viscount. No one could have explained the position more clearly than the noble Viscount, and no one is more entitled from experience and knowledge of the subject to be its exponent. The Bill has been supported by my right reverend brother the Bishop of St. Albans, whose experience has been of a practical and unique character. I, too, can speak from some personal experience. I was for some years Bishop of Rochester and have of recent years had the diocese of Canterbury under my control. In each of those cases the diocese has been divided, the former since I left Rochester and the latter while I have held the See. In each case the gain in improved work and more effective administration has been marked. It is no mere money question. There is a general demand, on moral and religious grounds, for such a measure. We look for better supervision, with more local enthusiasm, zeal, and activity as the result of dioceses of more manageable size. I can say that from observation both in the north of England and in the south, and I am certain that if your Lordships give a Second Reading to this Bill and it should pass through the House of Commons and become law during the present session the gain to the country as well as to the Church will be great in the stimulus which will be given to effective moral and religious work. The proposals in the Bill hurt nobody; they are proposals of obvious and natural common fairness; and I find it difficult to understand how the Bill can be reasonably opposed by any man who has the religious and moral welfare of his country at heart.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.