HC Deb 22 April 1914 vol 61 cc949-51

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to provide for taking a Religious Census in Wales and Monmouthshire."

I introduced this Bill two years ago and it was then carried by a very large majority, and practically every Member of the Front Government Bench voted for it. It is a Bill to take at once a religious census in Wales. I ventured to say when I brought it in two years ago that this Bill was a necessary preliminary to proceeding with the Established Church (Wales) Bill. If it was a necessary preliminary then, it is even more necessary at the present time, when the attempt is being made to carry that Bill under the provisions of the Parliament Act. I cannot understand why the Government, having allowed the Bill to be read a second time two years ago, refused to give further facilities. May I remind the House that when the Irish Church Bill was carried in 1869 there had been a religious census, and we knew exactly what was the proportion between the members of the Church in Ireland and the members of other denominations. I say it is absolutely necessary we should have some information now before we proceed under the Parliament Act to carry the Welsh Bill. We get nothing but bald statements made as to the proportion between Church and Nonconformists—statements which are untrue and unchecked, but which could be checked if you had a religious census. I utterly fail to understand why, if a religious census was permitted in Ireland, and has been taken in Ireland decennially ever since, there should be any objection to a religious census in Wales and Monmouthshire. We have the extraordinary fact that a few years ago, when the Census Bill was before Parliament, hon. Members opposite from Wales refused to have such a census in England and Wales, but immediately voted for a census in Ireland. What is the reason for refusing it in Wales? Simply because they know that the statements they have made about the weakness of the Church will not bear investigation, and they are afraid of the result. As things stand, we are in a state of absolute uncertainty. We only know one fact, and that is that whatever the number of Nonconformists in Wales may be, 104,000 of them are opposed to the provisions of the Established Church (Wales) Bill. Therefore, we want to know what the actual proportion is. If we did know, we should have a much better opportunity of giving an impartial consideration to the measure.

At the present moment we have what I may call guesswork figures. We have the figures of the Royal Commission, which are unsatisfactory, but which, at all events, prove that the Church is by far the strongest body in the Principality numerically, and the only body which is making progress at the present time. We have further guesswork figures deduced from the Year Books of the various Nonconformist denominations, many of which are admittedly inaccurate. But, taking those figures, we find that the Nonconformists in Wales, although they undoubtedly claim as many as they possibly can, do not claim more than 40 per cent. of the entire population, adding together both members and adherents. They claim less than a majority of the population, and we ask for an opportunity of testing the figures in order to see how we really stand. I have heard only one objection to this proposal. It was stated two years ago that we would not abide by the result. I want to know what hon. Members mean by that. If they mean that we would not necessarily say that if there was a bare majority of Nonconformists we would at once support the Established Church (Wales) Bill in its entirety, I quite agree. And I should be right in taking that position, because the figures that we have gathered since two years ago show that a large proportion of the Non-conformists—104,000 adults—are opposed to the Bill. But I do undoubtedly say that if we had these figures they would give a clear indication as to the state of religious feeling in Wales, and there is not a Member on this side of the House whose attitude to the measure would not be profoundly affected if the figures were in any way comparable with the statements put forward by supporters of the Bill in this House and outside. We only want to test the matter; we want to get the facts. I understand that hon. Members opposite say now that they are in favour of having the Census. If so, I trust they will, in the first place, allow me to reintroduce this Bill. But that is not all. We want a greater indication of their sincerity than that. The Government ought to give us facilities for carrying the Bill. If they do not, their professions are obviously insincere, and it is perfectly clear that they are still afraid of testing their figures, because they know very well that the statements they have made about the weakness of the Church and about the Welsh people being a nation of Nonconformists and all the rest of it, will not stand the test of scientific investigation. That is the reason and the only reason why they refuse to allow us to proceed with this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, Lord Robert Cecil, Mr. Mount, and Mr. Ormsby-Gore. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Friday, 1st May, and to be printed. [Bill 198.]