HC Deb 17 September 1914 vol 66 cc991-6

(1) Notwithstanding anything in the Government of Ireland Act, 1914, no steps shall be taken to put that Act into operation, and notwithstanding anything in the Welsh Church Act, 1914, the date of Disestablishment under that Act shall be postponed until the expiration of twelve months from the date of the passing of those Acts respectively, or, if at the expiration of those twelve months the present War has not ended, until such later date (not being later than the end of the present War) as may be fixed by His Majesty by Order in Council; and the provisions of those Acts shall have effect accordingly.

(2) In this Act, the Government of Ireland Act, 1914, means any Act which becomes law during the present Session, and which may be cited by that short title; and the Welsh Church Act, 1914, means any Act which becomes law during the present Session and which may be cited by that short title.

Lords Amendments: In Sub-section (1), after the words "Government of Ireland Act, 1914," insert the words "or in the Welsh Church Act, 1914."


I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment must be taken in conjunction with the subsequent Amendments on the Paper, constituting, as they do, if read together, one whole policy. The purpose and, indeed, the effect of the Amendments is, in the first place, to give six months further time before the Act becomes operative, as regards either Disestablishment or Disendowment; and the second effect of the Amendments is to postpone for at least one year all the preliminary inquiries, which prejudice nothing, but which are indispensable in order to bring the Bill into operation. On the first point, as to granting additional time in order to allow the Church in Wales to make provision to meet losses that it would suffer from partial Disendowment, the Government admitted, by introducing the Suspensory Bill, that there was a case for consideration. The Suspensory Bill, so far as it applied to the Welsh Act, was not founded, as in the Irish case, upon any ground that there was an Amending Bill which had to be considered. On the contrary, the Welsh Bill had passed through all its stages. There was no question of any further Amendment being introduced, and, but for the War, the Bill would have stood now on the Statute Book. A claim was made, however, that, owing to the financial difficulty in which some supporters of the Church might find themselves in consequence of the War, further time should be allowed them to secure more ample provision in the way of Church subscriptions. We propose in the Suspensory Bill to meet that claim by allowing at least one year between the passing of the Act and the date of Disestablishment and Disendowment. Further, we have provided that this period of a year may be further extended by Order in Council up to a date not exceeding the end of the War. By the Amendment now proposed, this period of a year, or such further period to which it might be extended by Order in Council, is, by the terms of the Bill itself, to be still further increased by an additional six months.

Incidentally, I would ask the House to consider how essentially absurd—I can use no other word—this Amendment is upon the principles upon which it is founded. It is said that there may, owing to the continuance of the War, be a financial cataclysm. But let us take this hypothesis, that the War, through the valour of the Allied Forces, comes to a close at the end of three months. Nothing, then, is to happen in the way of Disendowment for a further fifteen months after the end of the War. That is to say, if the War is short, if it is comparatively inexpensive, and if no very serious strain is put on the country, fifteen months are to be allowed after the expiration of the War, which I suppose to have terminated at the end of three months. But suppose, on the other hand, the War goes on for a full year and has proved very exhausting. Suppose the supporters of the Church are in great financial difficulty. This Amendment proposes, not that fifteen months should be given for recuperation, but six months, and in effect the Lords Amendment proceeds on the principle of giving less time the longer the War lasts, and consequently the greater the financial exhaustion.

We admitted, by introducing the Suspensory Bill, that there was a case for consideration. The circumstances which are present to us now moved us to that conclusion. If at the end of the year the War is still going on, we should be perfectly free then to take action suitable to the occasion, but I submit to the House that not knowing, as we do not at this moment, what the financial position of this country will be a year hence—whether the War will be short or long, whether there will be any need for a short postponement or a long postponement or any postponement—it is not right to ask the House now to take a final decision and to give, in any circumstances, no matter what the length of the War may be, eighteen months before the Act comes into operation. I think that is a sufficient argument to convince the House on the financial side.

I come to the second point: That we should postpone all the preliminary inquiries which are to be undertaken by the Welsh Commissioners, by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and by Queen Anne's Bounty. In defending that point a great deal was made of the alleged—I can use no other word—of the alleged need for the immediate constitution of a Representative Body. The character, the functions, and the institution of the Representative Body, I regret to say, although the Bill has been two years before the country, have been entirely misunderstood in another place. It would have been impossible to use such language about the institution of the Representative Body if the Bill had been understood. The Representative Body is instituted purely as a financial body, acting as trustees to hold and distribute the property of the Church, and, apart from such dealing with property, having no other functions whatever. It was spoken of as if it were a governing body of the Church. I think it was spoken of as if it were necessary to call this body immediately into being. Not at all! As a matter of fact, in the Bill there is no compulsion upon anybody ever to constitute a Representative Body. The only difficulty for the Church would be that if it failed to constitute the Representative Body the property of the Church would be held by a body which did not represent the Church. But nothing would happen otherwise. The Representative Body are trustees, and the Church is entitled to set up its own body of trustees to take over the property which will be free to be handed over to them at the expiration of a year.

To talk as if it were necessary, immediately the Act passes, to consider the constitution of a Representative Body which would have no functions to perform until after Disestablishment and Disendowment had come into operation—at least, until the expiration of a year—is, I would in all seriousness submit to the House, really a misuse of language. There is no immediate need to set up a Representative Body. It may be set up at any time during the next twelve months. Its functions are purely financial. Consequently, I submit that to delay the necessary inquiries, and, among other things, to give freehold rights to persons who may be appointed officers of the Church after the passing of the Act, merely in order—this is the only argument used—to avert the need of setting up immediately a Representative Body which would have no functions, is an argument which ought not to carry any weight with us, and for these reasons I submit the House should disagree with the Lords Amendments.


In spite of the provocation offered by the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I am not going to raise a debate in regard to it. I will content myself with saying that the effect of refusing the Lords Amendments is either to deprive the Church of the power to replace the funds which you are taking from it or to force them to collect those funds in competition with the funds which are now being raised. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] If anything could have surprised me coming from the Government, after what they have already done, it would have been that they should have refused this small concession to the Church. As it is, I can only say that their conduct remains consistent—


Send that to Potsdam!


In this, if in nothing else, in that it is mean and petty.

Question, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: Clause 1, Sub-section (1), leave out the words, "and notwithstanding anything in the Welsh Church Act, 1914, the date of Disestablishment under that Act shall be postponed."

Question, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. McKenna.]

Lords Amendment: Clause 1, at the end of Sub-section (1), insert the words, "throughout the Welsh Church Act, 1914, the date of the Act coming into operation shall be subsituted for the date of the passing of the Act."

Question, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. McKenna.]

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing with their Amendments to the Bill.

Committee nominated of Mr. McKenna the Attorney-General, and Mr. Birrell.

Two to be the Quorum.

To withdraw immediately.—[Mr. McKenna.]

Reasons for disagreeing to Lords Amendments reported, and agreed to.

To be communicated to the Lords,—[Mr. McKenna.]

The remaining Government Orders of the Day were read and postponed.


There may be a message from the other House, and I propose to leave the Chair till five o'clock, or such other time as the message may be received.

Sitting suspended at Twenty-one minutes before Four o'clock.

Sitting resumed at Three minutes after Five o'clock.