§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out "Wednesday, 14th April," and to insert instead thereof "Tuesday, 23rd March."
The effect of my Amendment would be that the House would adjourn for one week. I move the Amendment on the broad ground that during the progress of the War it is very undesirable that there should be any lengthy adjournment of the House. There should be an opportunity 1783 for criticism, which I think has been usefully exercised during the last six weeks. Personally, I think we should go on, and I think there should not be an adjournment for more than a week at a time. The point to which I desired to draw the attention of the House particularly was the question which has been raised by the Bill known as the Welsh Church Postponement Bill. I hope that the House will allow me, if I may, to state very shortly the history of the events which have led up to the proposal of this Bill by the Government. Last September, when the Government was proposing to this House the course which they thought it ought to pursue in reference to the Irish and Welsh questions, the Prime Minister made a statement of a very important character, no doubt after full consultation with his colleagues, as to what the policy of the Government was in reference to the Welsh as well as the Irish question. I have copied from the OFFICIAL REPORT what he then said, and, as it is not very long, perhaps the House will allow me to read it. The Prime Minister said:—But we do feel, in regard to the Welsh Bill also that the outbreak of the War has created a state of things which would make it unjust, and inequitable to proceed with the immediate operation of the measure. I refer particularly to the fact that the Disendowment, or partial Disendowment, of the Welsh Church would necessarily impose upon its supporters and friends during the early years of the existence of the Disestablished Body pecuniary sacrifices for the purpose of getting together and making good a voluntary commutation fund. The burden under which we all of us lie, in consequence of the War, to restrict our expenditure and to devote as much as we can to public purposes, together with the certainty that new taxation must be imposed which will still further curtail the resources of the ordinary citizen, makes it appear to us just and equitable that the operation of the Disendowment provisions of that Bill should be postponed. But when you come to examine the matter you cannot disentangle the provisions in regard to Disendowment from those in regard to Disestablishment.He then proposed that,subject to such comparatively formal matter as the institution of inquiries which prejudice nobody, with that exception in the case of the Welsh Bill as in the case of the Irish Bill, no steps should be taken to put it into actual operation until twelve months from the date of passing, or, if the war then continued, during the same term as is prescribed in the Irish Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1914, cols. 892, 893.]When the Bill actually was produced some Churchman—I think a Member of the other House—pointed out that the actual proposals of the Bill would not carry out the undertaking so given to the House by the Prime Minister, and the Government explained that Churchmen were entirely mistaken in their attitude and that it did, in fact, carry it out. We, who have experience 1784 of the matter, I do not mean to say myself, but those Welsh Churchmen who have had experience of the matter, hold the view as to the effect of the Act that it did not, in fact, carry out what the Prime Minister had told the House that he intended that it should carry out. I do not want to labour that unduly. Those Members of the House who take an interest in the question are familiar with the question of ballots in the border parishes. It is quite true that the result of the ballots snowed that even though they were taken in circumstances which we believe to be unfavourable to the Church the great majority of the inhabitants preferred not to be under the Bill, but still we hold that the matter was one which should not have been proceeded with during the War. That is, of course, rather a minor matter and I do not lay any stress upon it. But where we do feel profoundly that Churchmen have been used very oppressively by the operation of this Act is in reference to the larger matters that are dealt with under the Act.
The House will recollect that there are two dates mentioned in the Welsh Church Act, the date of the passing of the Act and the date of Disestablishment. Broadly speaking, the purpose of the Act was that the date of the passing of the Act should be a kind of preparatory date, and that the date of Disestablishment was the date on which the Act should come fully into operation. But it is obvious to anyone who reads the Act that during that interval, if the Act is to be fairly and properly carried out, so as not to inflict undue or unforeseen injustice on the Church, certain very important things have to be done. Upon the date of Disestablishment, for instance, all the Church Courts come to an end and all Church law comes to an end. If the Church is to be prepared at the date of Disestablishment it must set up, as it is entitled so to set up, under the Act, new laws and new Courts. That can only be done by bringing into existence all the legislative, body provided in the Act, and that is equally true of all the constitutional results which flow from the passing of the Act.
From some points of view an even more important matter arises in reference to Disendowment. Those Members of the House who are familiar with the Act are quite aware that the Church is to consider whether it will accept commutation. The body to consider that is the Representative Body which has to consider and decide on 1785 that question on the date of Disestablishment, or within a month of Disestablishment. That body, therefore, must be brought into existence before the date of Disestablishment. There are other matters which affect Churchmen and the Church very closely. There is the relation of the Disestablished Church to Convocation and many things of that kind. All those matters can only be dealt with by the Church Synod, and the Representative Body, and those bodies must be brought into existence before the date of Disestablishment, unless there is to be an interval during which the Church will not be able to exercise its function under the new Acts. It is equally true with regard to Disendowment. They have got to make preparations for the cessation of their Endowments on the date of Disestablishment. They will have to face the collection of a very large sum of money. I have not been into the figures myself, but I am told, by those who have, that the amount will be something like £100,000. At any rate, a very large sum of money will have to be provided for the cessation of Endowments on that date. That must mean that they will have to start making preparations now, unless something is done to postpone the operation of the effect of the date of Disestablishment.
It is quite plain, therefore, that during the next few months Welsh Churchmen will have to be exerting themselves, not only as every other citizen is exerting himself, for the defence of the country, but also in making preparations for this great injury, as they think it, which is going to come upon the institution which many of them regard with the greatest veneration of any institution in the country. I have tried to sketch very briefly, and I dare say very imperfectly, the kind of difficulty which was before Churchmen. I will only add this, and I must make the statement as far as the House will take it on my personal authority. Leading Churchmen have taken the very best possible advice which they could get. I am not referring to my own opinion, or to the opinion of any Member of this House, or of any Member of the other House, but they did take the very best legal opinion that they could find, and the most impartial, and they were advised that if they were to be safe under the Act they were bound to take these steps before the date of Disestablishment, In those circumstances the Duke of Devonshire, in the other 1786 House, at the request of the House of Laymen, which is a lay body of the Church, introduced a Bill, the short purpose of which was to postpone the date called the date of the date of the passing of the Act until the end of the War.
I will tell the House exactly what happened, There is no reason for concealment or secrecy. As far as I know, and very naturally, the Government approached the Leader of the Opposition in the other House and suggested that it would be desirable, as we all think it would be desirable, to avoid controversy in this matter. Certainly I have not a word of criticism in reference to that. There was arranged a discussion between Members of the Government and Members of the Opposition, into which I do not propose to go at all, beyond the statement that, as most Members of the House know, it did take place, with this result, that the Members of the Opposition were asked to put forward in writing their proposals, and they did so. I am not going into all that now, though I have nothing to conceal about it, but the result was that the Government did not agree with these proposals and put forward proposals of their own. These proposals were contained in a memorandum, and as the memorandum was not marked confidential I think it better to read it to the House:—The Government believe that the apprehensions entertained by Churchmen as to the amount of work necessitated by the reorganisation of the Church in Wales on a voluntary basis, which will have to be completed before the date of Disestablishment, will, on examination, be found not to be well founded. But it is impossible to ignore the faet that such anxieties do exist, and it is with the earnest desire to secure a general acquiescence during the continuance of the War, not in the Act itself, but in the fact that the Act has been placed on the Statute Book, that the Government are prepared to propose for the acceptance of Parliament the accompanying Bill. There are, however, anxieties on the other side which, very possibly, have no better foundation, but have a very real existence, and which equally cannot be ignored. It is feared that the postponement of the date of Disestablishment might be taken advantage of by a new Government in a new Parliament for the purpose of repealing or altering the Act. The present proposals, therefore, are put forward subject to the condition of an agreement being arrived at between the responsile leaders of the two parties, that before the date of Disestablishment as fixed by the new Biil no proposals to repeal or amend the Act will be made or countenanced, except with the consent of both partiesThen follows a statement of the effects of the Bill.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The 8th of March. There is no breach of confidence in reading it. Parts of it were read to the House of Lords by Lord Beauchamp, 1787 so that there can be no breach of confidence. What happened was that the Peers accepted the proposal which was made, and there followed a Debate in the House of Lords in which Lord Lansdowne, speaking for the Opposition, explained exactly what he understood the agreement to which assent was required to mean, and Lord Crewe, for the Government, assented to that understanding of the agreement. Therefore, Lord Devonshire's Bill was withdrawn, and the Government Bill was proposed and passed through all its stages. I do not think any hon. Member will doubt that the Memorandum, followed by the action of the Opposition, constituted an absolute Parliamentary agreement of a most express and clear character. I have not the slightest reason to suppose that the Government have any intention of receding, or that any member of their party would wish them to recede from that agreement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—when we are in a great war, for a scrap of paper on a domestic matter, and I do not believe that hon. Members will disagree with what I say. I do not think that any Member of the House would wish the Government to recede from the agreement into which they have entered. What is the agreement, what is the compromise, as the Prime Minister called it this afternoon, which has been agreed to?
I have seen it referred to as a great concession to the Church. I do not think that kind of language is really justified. I say with absolute sincerity that I ask for this postponement, with others, not with a view to obtain some underhand advantage in this question, but because I do think, and I do intensely desire, that the consideration of these matters should be lifted from the minds and energies of Churchmen during the War. What is this dreadful thing that has been done? The date of Disestablishment is to be postponed for six months after the end of the War. Six months is not a very long time for an institution that has existed for seven hundred years and possibly for fourteen hundred years; that is not a very outrageous respite to obtain under the circumstances. And what is it that the Opposition bind themselves to in return for the concession of six months delay? They say that, until that six months has expired, they will not make any proposal in Parliament without the assent of the other side, either for the amendment or 1788 for the repeal of the Act; in other words, that they assented absolutely to this proposition, that whatever happened the whole policy of right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite shall be complete, and that any change in it which may be proposed must be by a separate and substantive Bill. That is a very considerable thing to undertake. Suppose—which appears to be the only thing by which the case would really be affected—that there is a General Election immediately after the War, and a Unionist Government is returned to power, they will not be able to promote a Bill in Parliament for the alteration or repeal of the Act until the date of Disestablishment has taken place.
What is it that hon. Gentlemen are so terribly afraid of? What is it that they are terrified about in reference to such a proposal as that? Surely it does provide, so far as human ingenuity can provide, that, on the one hand, Churchmen shall be given six months certain to prepare for this great Act, which will impair the vigour of the institution to which they belong, and, in spite of that delay, that Act will come into full effect whatever they may wish or whatever the Parliamentary procedure may be! I ask those hon. Gentlemen who, I gather from the cheers earlier, are strongly hostile to this Motion, to very carefully consider what their attitude before the country is going to be. Here is a proposal made, not by the opposition, but by the Government—not, as I see it alleged in some newspapers of their way of thinking, by the "wicked House of Lords," but by the whole Cabinet, by those vigorous defenders and upholders of the Church, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary. Is it really pretended that a proposal of that kind is intolerably unjust? Are you really going to put that case before the people of the country? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I envy your audacity, but I do not envy your prospects.
Another point. In previous Debates a great deal has been made of the three pillars of the Anglican Church who are in favour of this policy—the Bishop of Oxford, the Bishop of Hereford, and the Bishop of Lincoln. The other day in Convocation this very question of postponement arose, and the Bishop of Oxford himself moved that a postponement of this character—I do not say exactly in this form—should be granted to the Church. He did not define the form, but merely said that there 1789 ought to be a complete moratorium. That was carried unanimously, in the presence of the Bishop of Hereford and the Bishop of Lincoln. Not only that, but we have seen in the newspapers letters of Nonconformists who are not opposed to Disestablishment and Disendowment, but are opposed, under present conditions, to its being carried through without some delay. I venture to suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that all those who are nearly in a position of impartiality on this question think that such a postponement ought to take place.
Under these circumstances I deeply regret that it has not been thought right to go on with the consideration of this matter. Hon. Gentlemen opposite want a full discussion. Why should we not have sat and finished it now? I think that this measure was introduced as an emergency measure like other emergency Bills, to get rid of difficulties while the War continues, namely, the difficulties which lie upon Churchmen who are under the necessity of preparing for this question. I cannot myself see that there is anything whatever to gain by postponement in the matter. To my mind, we shall be left during the adjournment in a condition of uncertainty, not indeed as to the final passage of the Bill, because that would be an insult by the Government, but as to the actual number of days necessary for it to do through and get it passed. I have put the case clearly, and I hope truthfully, before the House. I have spoken of this measure as a relief not to the Church so much as to Churchmen. I saw a very interesting letter written in the newspapers the other day from Mr. Llewelyn Williams, who perhaps inadvertently and not intentionally seemed to suggest that Welsh Churchmen have done less in the National crisis than other bodies. I do not think if I appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or anybody that anyone would assert that there is any distinction in Wales between the efforts of Churchmen and of Nonconformists.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I have never heard of it. Churchmen have really been doing their best, and are anxious to do their best. Two of my hon. Friends sitting below me are already serving in a military capacity, and my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) is absent on military duties. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] I myself 1790 —the House will pardon my referring to myself, for I cannot pretend that I have deserved as well as they—have been working with the Red Cross, a department which has, perhaps, led me to realise with additional force, what the realities of war are. The Department in which I have been working is called "The Inquiry Department for Wounded and Missing." I have had to deal with a number of very painful cases, and with those who are anxious about their relatives. I do not want to bring my personality before the House, but it is inconceivably repulsive that, when one is engaged day by day and hour by hour, in work of that kind, one should suddenly be forced to consider domestic troubles of this character.
Something has been said about concentration of effort in this crisis. I still think it is the duty of every man to devote the whole of his energies to the service of the country in this great crisis, and I cannot help appealing even to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have not the command of the eloquence of the hon Gentleman upon my left, or of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I wish I had. I wish I could put the case I want to put in their language, and in a way that they would understand and that would touch them. I can only try to do so. I venture to appeal, if not to them, at any rate to my English fellow-countrymen, and I do say to them are you really going to put this great injustice, this great burden, on some of your fellow-countrymen? Are you really going to say to them, "You are not to devote your whole attention to the War, you are to have to consider the reconstruction and re-endowment of your Church." Is that really what any Englishman would wish to do at the present crisis? I cannot believe it. I believe that the great mass of them will reply, if they happen to read the observations I am now making, that they wish to remove this and all other harassing political questions till after the War, and that they understood that that had been done, and that they have heard much of a political truce and that they profoundly approve of it. And if they once understand, what I believe to be profoundly the truth, that this Bill does no more than give real and substantial effect to the political truce, then I am convinced that the Government may rely on the support of their countrymen in carrying this measure of justice into effect.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I beg to second the Amendment.
1791 In doing so, I wish to address an appeal to my fellow-Members for Wales. It is for that reason I felt it to be my duty to come here this afternoon, and the House will excuse me if I am rather personal in this matter. I have been one of those few Welsh Members, admittedly returned with a small majority, but representing proportionately a very large number of Churchmen throughout Wales, who have fought the Disestablishment and Disendowment Act through all its stages. When mobilisation came I was busily engaged in researches and in work in connection with the possible reconstruction of the Church to which I belong should that Act come into force. I was giving a certain amount of time to it, and during the latter portion of the discussion it had been my fondest wish that if the blow which I had done my best to avert fell upon the Church, that I should be allowed to have some small hand in the work of reorganisation and of helping it. What happened? I was called away to an equally high, or I may even say a higher duty, to which I hope to return this evening or to-morrow to the end of the War. It is most bitter for a Welsh Churchman who, before this controversy, was one of the few laymen who represented his diocese in the House of Laymen and who is keen to help his Church, and who loves its traditions, its faith and the standard that it sets up, to find that the position which the Welsh Church was placed in debarred him from taking any part in the work of reorganisation and reconstruction. I do, therefore, on personal grounds ask for these six months after the end of the War, in which I may take, if I am spared, some part in this work.
I do appeal to my fellow-countrymen, to my fellow Members from Wales, to be generous in this matter. If the Opposition, which we have seen from the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) already this afternoon goes on is that Opposition going to do anything to bring Churchmen and Nonconformists together to co-operate in the great national and Imperial work before us? I do think it is amazing when the Government, I would say generously, gives us the six months, which we do most earnestly desire, that the Welsh Nonconformist Members should take that action of the Government in the way they have taken it. I say that it is a lamentable thing for Wales. It is an attempt on the part of Welsh Nonconformists 1792 to keep the controversy embittered, and I cannot but deplore that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who after all, is the most prominent and the leading Welsh Liberal, more powerful than the whole of the rest of the Welsh Liberals put together, was a person who was a party to this compromise and to this suggestion. The Home Secretary, who was in charge of the Bill, and is one of the hon. Members for Monmouth, which is included in the Act, was also a party to this Bill. It is a lamentable thing for Wales to see such bitterness on the part of the Welsh Members when their leaders suggested something generous to the Church.
§ Mr. WALTER ROCH
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that they should not even have told or consulted the Welsh Members on the subject?
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer not a Welsh Member? Was he not consulted? I understand that he was consulted. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not know."] The Prime Minister this afternoon said that he was, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a better Welshman than the great leader of Nonconformity who represents Swansea Town (Sir A. Mond). The Chancellor of the Exchequer gives up a small holiday to go down and help Welsh Churchmen and Welsh Nonconformists in the Welsh Army. What does the hon. Member for Swansea Town do for the Welsh Army?
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
The hon. Gentleman has no right whatsoever to make that attack on me. If he does not know, he might have known that I devoted a great deal of time, I will not speak of money, to the raising of the Welsh battalions. If he does not know, he might have known I was one of the first members of the Executive Committee of the London Welsh Battalion. If he does not know, he might have known I was one of the first guarantors for the funds raised for the Welsh Army Council. I do not care to speak of these matters, but I will not have my honour insulted by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
If the hon. Gentlemen will allow me, I am perfectly willing to withdraw. I was under a misapprehension. I apologise to the hon. Member. I did not conceive it to be possible, seeing he is who he is, that he 1793 could have done so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!" and "Sit down!"] If I have said anything disorderly I am perfectly willing to withdraw it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!" and "Sit down!"] All I said was that the hon. Member was not a Welshman. He is not a Welshman, and I stick to it. He never had anything to do with Wales until he went from Chester to Swansea. I apologise for saying, perhaps with rather unnecessary warmth, what I did about the hon. Member. I beg to withdraw if I aspersed his honour or said anything against him. I had hoped I should be able to make my speech without saying any of these things. We remember how concessions to the Church were received by hon. Members sitting below the Gangway on the other side. We remember how that continued during the consideration of the Act, and nobody more than I regrets that that controversy should be alive to-day. The Government have only got to proceed with this measure and that controversy will cease. |HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Yes, it will. The reverend and hon. Member for East Carmarthenshire (Mr. Towyn Jones) is determined to keep it alive. Why, when all the national forces of Wales are desirous of co-operation between them, which is so urgently necessary—why he should desire that this controversy should remain and this bitterness should remain, I cannot for the life, of me understand! I do appeal to him to be generous and to allow the Government, which he supports so consistently, to proceed at once with this measure of alleviation. I hope that the Prime Minister will not adjourn the consideration of this Bill, but will remain, and in a week's time he, will pass it through all its stages in this House, and in doing so he will have the support of every Churchman and of a growing Nonconformist feeling in Wales.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I have no exception to take to anything that was said or to the spirit in which anything was said in the speech of the Noble Lord who moved this Amendment, nor to anything that was said, or to the spirit in which it was said, in the earlier part of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He made an appeal, I thought a legitimate and indeed moving appeal, to Wales with regard to the position in which Welshmen, devoted and ardent members of the Established Church, find themselves owing to the exigencies of the War, unable to take the part which 1794 under happier conditions they would have taken in the reconstruction on a new basis of their great institution to which they are devotedly attached. Therefore I all the more regret that in the latter part of his speech the hon. Member diverged into a territory which I am sure he now regrets, and for which he made a handsome and manly apology. It is most regrettable that in times like these, upon a subject like this, which naturally excites deep feeling, we should under any provocation allow ourselves to resort to personal attacks, singularly ill-founded as it appeared in this case. They do not help us but much prejudice matters, and I am quite sure the hon. Member himself now regrets the incident. I will say no more about that because I want, so far as I am concerned, that the Debate should continue upon the lines and in the tone in which it was started.
With regard to the main proposition put forward by the Noble Lord who moved the Amendment, I have no occasion to controvert it, although I might not have expressed it in exactly the same way as he did. The fact that the Government made themselves responsible for the introduction and prosecution of this Bill is a sufficient acknowledgment on our part of our feeling—I am not in the least ashamed to confess it—that, in view of the unforeseen and unforeseeable exigencies with which we are now confronted, something—I will not say of generosity, but something of justice and equity—ought to be and must be done to meet the special hardship to which the devoted adherents of the Establishment in Wales are necessarily for the time being exposed. I do not think there is a Welsh Nonconformist, either inside or outside this House, who does not agree that a case was made and ought to be met in that direction. It was in consequence of that feeling, not, I think, an unreasonable feeling, that, after much deliberation and some negotiation, the Government introduced this Bill in the House of Lords. As I said at Question time, I myself was much occupied with other things, and was not able to give any personal attention to the matter, except in an indirect and general way; but I was quite satisfied that the Bill in its main provisions—it may be capable of improvement here and there—represents a reasonable and equitable attempt at a modus vivendi in conditions which could not have been foreseen, but the reality and urgency of which we are all prepared to admit.
1795 This Bill was passed, as the Noble Lord has told us, through all its stages in the House of Lords, and it represents now the best opinion which the Government can form of the proper way of dealing with the matter. But of course—I note the Noble Lord's suggestion to the contrary—there was never anything in the nature of an assurance—whether there was anything in the nature of an expectation I doubt, but there was nothing in the way of an assurance that it would meet with equally summary treatment in this House. I should have been very glad if it had; but I cannot say I am surprised that my hon. Friends below the Gangway, who represent the vast majority of the people of Wales, should, in a matter of this kind which must be looked at from a large as well as from what I may call a momentary point of view, require a little further time for a fuller consideration of our proposals.
I am so anxious myself in these days, when all our energies ought to be concentrated upon one great purpose, we should not diverge into the byways of domestic controversy—I am so anxious that the temper and spirit, so admirably preserved as it has been by this House in spite of great temptations, and by no one more than by the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite, should be maintained at the level it has hitherto reached, that I hope the Noble Lord will agree with me that it will be much better to face the short postponement—it cannot be a very long one in any case—of this Bill's reaching its place on the Statute Book, rather than that it should be passed by compulsion amid controversy and dissension, in defiance of the opinion of some of those who are most entitled to be heard. It is on that ground, and not because I in any way shrink or recede from what I believe to be a just and equitable solution of a temporary emergency, that I think the Government will be well advised in not asking the House to proceed—as I confess personally that I had hoped it might have done with general acceptance—to pass the Bill through all its stages before we adjourn.
I must now say a word to my hon. Friends here (indicating the Welsh Members), who are among my most faithful and loyal supporters, and whose confidence and affection I prize almost more than I can express—I want to say a few words to them in regard to the position they have taken up. Things have to be done in these 1796 days in a more hurried, precipitate, and summary manner than if we were free agents and had time at our disposal; and I very much regret that there should have been some misunderstanding as to the degree and extent of the consultation and conference which have taken place. There is no body of Members in the House more entitled to be consulted than the Welsh Members; and, speaking for myself, and I believe for my colleagues, I would never have consented for a moment to the introduction of this Bill unless I had thought if would have the general concurrence of the House. We had no motive—what motive could we possibly have?—to discard their counsel or to ignore their views; and, in view of what, with all respect to them, I conceive to be some serious misunderstanding as to the effect and scope of the Bill, I hope they will do me the favour of accepting the invitation which I am offering them to-day to come and talk the matter over with me, and let us see if we cannot by discussion arrive at a clear understanding. But I must add that the Government are still of opinion that, given, as I think we are bound to give, further time for fuller consideration, there is no reason why this measure—which is, of course, a temporary expedient, but an expedient dictated, or at any rate suggested, by the exigencies of the War—should not be found to be outside the orbit of party contention.
We shall all agree—I have said so before, and I say it again, with a strength, emphasis and conviction which it is not possible to exaggerate—that it will be, I will not say impolitic, but unpatriotic, and a negation of the duty which lies on the shoulders of all of use, to relight, if we can avoid it, at this moment the flame of domestic controversy. I would, therefore, appeal to Members in all quarters of the House, whatever their preconceptions in regard to this matter may be—because we know there are few questions which have excited, and legitimately excited, greater and deeper divisions of sentiment and feeling—to enable us to maintain that happy atmosphere and temperature in which, during these long and anxious months, we have agreed to lay aside the things that previously divided us. With that object in view, I ask that the party opposite should consent without demur to the postponement, and I hope that my hon. Friends below the Gangway and behind me may be prepared with an open 1797 mind to consider that which is put forward to them and to the country by the unanimous authority and opinion of the Government of which they are convinced and loyal supporters. I hope we may in that way arrive at a very short distance of time at a general agreement in regard to this matter; and I would earnestly appeal to the House that in what follows of this Debate they should try as far as possible to urge points of possible agreement rather than to create or to inflame points of possible controversy.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I think that almost everyone in the House must agree that our main duty is to keep a sense of proportion in regard to this question. I certainly would not say a word which by any possibility could inflame any feeling of bitterness, or cause us to depart from that unanimity which for the last four or five months at all events has characterised the whole action of the House of Commons. After the speech of the Prime Minister I do not think it is necessary for me to deal with the merits of this question at all. There is only one point to which I would direct the attention of Members in all quarters of the House. There has been a suggestion that this is a great triumph for the Church. I entirely fail to see it. There has been no reprieve; the execution is still to take place; all that has happened is that it is to be delayed. I have seen it stated also that this proposal actually drives a coach and four—a phrase we have often heard before—through the Parliament Act. I cannot understand how that can be suggested. I did hope that the War would drive a coach and four through our party controversies. That hope was not quite realised but to some extent it was being realised. There has been a truce; and even from the point of view of the truce, as understood by the Government, it surely is evident that this delay is necessary. Unless it is given, as was shown in the speech of my Noble Friend, the work which by the Welsh Church Act it is intended should be done in the interval between the Bill becoming law and its coming into operation must be done during the War. That work is difficult and complicated, and it must be done by men who in one way or another are all engaged in the object which is occupying the whole attention of the House and the country.
What is it exactly that the Welsh Members fear? Let them look at the matter at 1798 the worst from their point of view. The greatest danger that can happen is that during the six months interval there will be an election, as a result of which there is a change of Government. I should have thought that to hon. Members opposite that would not seem a very great danger in itself. I am not sure that I would entirely agree with them; but I would agree to this extent—that it is a much less danger than would have been the case if the War had not broken out. But suppose that happens: even then, not only will the Welsh Church Act be on the Statute Book, but it will have become operative for a shorter or a longer time. Naturally, I can make no declaration as to what the policy of our party would be under such circumstances. But I can express an opinion, and it is at least my real opinion. It is this: That whatever action, under such unthinkable circumstances as hon. Gentlemen opposite imagine, we might take would not be influenced in the least by the fact that the Bill on the one hand had been operative for a few days or weeks, and on the other hand had been operative for a few months. That is the only risk the Welsh Members run. At a time when every section of the community is making sacrifices that does not seem to me to be a big sacrifice to make in the cause of unity, especially when it is asked by their own Government—by those with whom they have been accustomed—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am not going into that; perhaps I do not understand it. All that I say is that the real risk is one that at the worst might be very fairly run in the cause of national unity. I have no fault to find with what the Prime Minister has said. A Parliamentary bargain has been made, and is admitted. In the whole of our Parliamentary history there is no instance on record of such a bargain having been broken. There have been cases where there has been a misunderstanding, and there has been bitter controversy over that misunderstanding, but there never has been a case in which a Parliamentary bargain has been admitted and has been broken. Even in the experience of hon. Members who have been here for any 1799 length of time we have the knowledge of that. Bargains have been made between the Front Benches which have been bitterly resented by sections of the supporters of those who made these bargains.
Very often those bargains would not have been made if those who made them had known the feeling of their supporters; but never at any time has that been suggested as a reason why the bargain should be broken. I do not say this in regard to the Government at all—not necessarily; but I do say to those supporters of the Government that if they had any confidence in their own Leaders, if they had any respect for the traditions of the House of Commons, they would not ask to depart from the bargain which has been definitely and firmly made. I have no fault to find with the postponement suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. That is a question for him, not for us. It is for him to use methods which he thinks easiest to get the Bill carried through this House with the smallest amount of friction. It does not concern us except from the point of view that we are as anxious as he that there should be no wrangling at a time like this. If the right hon. Gentleman succeeds by this postponement in avoiding this wrangling I shall rejoice as much as he, and will in that case say that he has taken the right course.
Sir HERBERT ROBERTS
I feel sure that the House will believe me when I say that I very much regret, the first time I have to address the House in the position of chairman of the Welsh Parliamentary party for the time being, that I should be obliged to do so under such circumstances as the consideration of a question which has so long embittered Welsh politics. I shall endeavour, in the very few words which I have to say, to say nothing in any way to further inflame the feeling which has been aroused. I agree entirely with the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) that it is absolutely necessary in the grave position in which we are placed to avoid party controversy. All I will say is that in dealing to-day with this question it must be remembered that there are two parties to it. There are two sides to the question. However much, and however deeply, the Noble Lord and those who act with him feel on this point, I hope the House will recognise that we, representing the Nonconformists of Wales, feel as strongly and as deeply. I will endeavour very shortly to put before the House one or two of the 1800 main grounds upon which we as Welsh Members came to the conclusion that it was our duty to oppose the Bill as it stands. May I say this one word by way of explaining the situation as it appears to the Liberal Members from Wales? This is a time of political truce. I think I can say there is no portion of the United Kingdom in which there has been a more full and more loyal response to the call of duly by the nation than is the case in Wales. Churchmen and Nonconformists stand to-day shoulder to shoulder in defence of our shores and for the success of our arms.
I am sorry that at this time it has been found necessary in the eyes of those who are deeply interested in the Church to endeavour to reopen the question. It may be said: should not the circumstance of War, and the very grave condition of our affairs, now alter the attitude of Nonconformists to the raising of this question at this time? Let me say one or two things about that. I do not know whether even yet the place that this Act, the Welsh Church Act, fills in the minds of the Welsh Nonconformists has been fully realised. It is for the Welsh Nonconformists a thing very much greater than a mere political triumph—it is a victory which has been won by a small people against overwhelming odds after years of struggle. Why do I say that? I wish the House to understand how difficult it is for us representing Nonconformity in Wales to free our minds from, at all events, suspicion and fear regarding the effect of such proposals as these upon the settlement of the question. The second point I have to make is this: During the last few months there have been disturbing incidents. There has been, as the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin said, the introduction of the Bill in another place. Then there came statements made by prominent Churchmen, in Parliament and out, in regard to their intention to repeal the Act. Lastly, there have been many attempts made outside Parliament to create the impression that it was necessary to modify the Act. That being the situation, what were the only conditions under which an agreed measure of this character could be passed through the House? I say it without the slightest doubt that the only conditions under which such a measure could be passed was after the fullest consultation with those who were interested in the matter on every side.
I come to what I wish to make as plain as I possibly can—to the part I may have 1801 taken in connection with this misunderstanding which has taken place in regard to a consultation with my colleagues on this important matter. May I say—and the House will believe me—that the Welsh Parliamentary party had no knowledge of the proposals of this Bill until they were retailed to them on the floor of the House of Lords in the Debate last week—no knowledge whatsoever! It is true that on the night before the Debate took place, on the night of 8th March, the Secretaries of the party and myself had the opportunity of seeing the Home Secretary. In stating what I have to state about this interview, I am sure the House will allow me to say, and believe me when I say it, that the long political and personal friendship which has existed between the right hon. Gentleman and myself will be a sufficient guarantee for the spirit in which I desire to make the explanation. What I wish to say is thus: We as a party had no knowledge of the proposals of this Bill.
Three things are distinct in my mind as a result of this interview. The first is that no decision of any kind had at that time been arrived at. The Home Secretary agrees with me there. Secondly, I had no knowledge personally at that time of the fact that the Bill had been drafted, and I can truly say, speaking for myself, that it never occurred to me that a final decision had been arrived at, or that the Bill would be put forward by the Government without consultation with the Welsh Members for whom I have the honour of speaking. The Noble Lord opposite has read out to the House a memorandum which he said was dated 8th March. I did not, as the Home Secretary knows, see that memorandum until to-day. The last thing I would say as regards that interview is: Although certain points were placed before us in the informal discussion which took place, we never realised for the moment that they were submitted to us at that time as a basis for any settlement. I apologise to the House for referring at such length to myself personally, and the part which I had to take in this matter, but I think it is due to myself, due to my colleagues, and due to the House that I should make it absolutely clear that until the Debate took place in another place on the 9th instant the party which I represent to-day had no knowledge of the proposals of this Bill. I am not going to discuss in any detail the proposals made, but there was one omission in the speech of the Noble 1802 Lord and in the speech of the hon. Member for Denbigh Boroughs. They, at all events, did not emphasise the fact that a financial change is brought about by this Bill. I say nothing now about the merits or the demerits, the justice or injustice, of the financial proposals. Let the House remember that as a matter of fact, on the basis suggested, as a result of this Bill, there will in future be a fairly substantial sum added to the capital of the Representative Body.
But our main objections to the proposals is the consequences which may follow the postponement of the date of the Disestablishment until six months after the termination of the War. As I have said, we Nonconformists of Wales are most anxious that nothing should be done, either knowingly or inadvertently, which would in any way prejudice the position of the Welsh Church Act as a final settlement of this great question; and, before we can agree to any proposal of this kind, we wish to have every opportunity, by consultation and otherwise, of assuring ourselves that, whatever form this proposal may take finally, it will not in any way prejudice the settlement of this very difficult, thorny and bitter question, which has been an apple of discord in our national life in Wales for so many generations in the past. I repeat, in conclusion, that I fully realise the circumstances under which we are debating this question. In a sense, we ought to debate any question of this kind with bated breath, but I feel the House will agree with me that we have the right to place our view before the House and before the country, and to explain to the House quite frankly how, having seen these proposals for the first time and without consultation, we came to the conclusion that it was our duty to oppose them in their present form.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I desire to maintain the calm atmosphere in which most speakers have addressed the House this afternoon. It has been rather suggested, as a matter of course, that we Nonconformist Members of Wales are acting unreasonably in objecting to the Bill at the present stage. I think not. I am all in favour of adjournment for a month, not so much that we may consider our position as that the Government may consider theirs, and in order that the Government may find out, not what we think as Members, but what Wales thinks. Therefore, I think there is 1803 a great deal to be said for a month's adjournment rather than that of a week. There has been a constrained reticence, because if we are to be blamed for our attitude towards this Bill, we are very far from knowing what the Bill is. The Noble Lord opposite made a speech very different from speeches on this subject I have heard from him. In the past he has more than once referred to the phrase that there was money in this Disestablishment. Does he remember there is money in this postponement?
What is the position now? According to the original Act passed under the Parliament Act, which is also in some jeopardy at the present moment, the earliest date of Disestablishment was 18th March, 1915, and the latest date 18th September, 1915. When war had been going on for six months, at the request of hon. Members opposite, another Act was passed designed to deal with the situation created by the War. That was the Suspensory Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Two months after."] The two Acts came into operation practically together, and the effect of both Acts was to delay the date of Disestablishment until the end of the War. "The end of the War" is a very vague phrase, and if a Law Officer were present, which is not the case, I submit there would have to be another Bill to define what the end of the War is, so that we should have the principal Act, the Suspensory Act, the Church Postponement Act, and the Church Postponement Explanation Act. Now this Bill is introduced, and it adds six months to the Suspensory Act.
The result is that the date of Disestablishment is postponed till six months after the end of the War. I think there is a good deal of meaning in that six months; it is not accidental. It was the Prime Minister who said this was a bargain; it was not a concession; it was justice. The Noble Lord did not express any gratitude. He never does express any gratitude for any concession, he is so eagerly awaiting the next, and he is so seldom disappointed. At any rate, this is the situation. What did Lord Crewe say in the other House? I am trying to justify our apprehension of this Bill. We want this Act to remain an Act of Parliament. Hon. Members—I do not blame them—can repeal it as an Act of Parliament, that is what they are here for. Lord Crewe said:—The action the Noble Lord desired taken would, in the opinion of the Government, distinctly facilitate the 1804 repeal of the Welsh Church Act in a number of by no means impossible circumstances.Is the Government surprised we are a little nervous about an Act of Parliament that will distinctly facilitate the repeal of the Welsh Church Act?
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I think he was referring to the Duke of Devonshire's Bill, but I am not quite sure.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
They were discussing, as they do in the Lords, in a vague kind of way the whole situation; at any rate, that speech was made after Lord Beauchamp had made his general statement as to what he proposed to do, and how anxious he was not to ignore the Tory party. It is a common attitude of both Liberal and Conservative sides. Therefore, he said he wanted to hold the balance, and pointed out that there were difficulties on the other side as well. Then he produced this Bill. When Lord Crewe said this Bill facilitates the repeal of the Act—
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. McKenna)
Not this Bill, but the Duke of Devonshire's Bill.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I have said that when they are discussing a subject in the House of Lords they speak on another subject, and, although they were discussing the Duke of Devonshire's Bill, Lord Beauchamp made a statement in reference to the Bill that was the Government compromise. I do not want to detain the House on the point, but we will see tomorrow who is right about this. I think the Noble Lord will agree with me that the Duke of Devonshire's Bill was before the House of Lords. Thereupon Lord Beauchamp got up and made a speech, and in that speech he was not dealing with the Duke of Devonshire's Bill but with the Bill we are dealing with now, which subsequently Lord Beauchamp introduced. After Lord Beauchamp spoke, Lord Lansdowne spoke, and then the Archbishop of Canterbury; obviously they do not speak in order of merit. After the Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Crewe spoke.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I am afraid the newspaper omitted Lord Parmoor. At any rate, they were really discussing the Bill we are discussing to-day, and my point is that the Archbishop of Canterbury quite frankly said that their object was to repeal this Act. This is the great concession we are having. The Conservative party promised that their responsible leaders should not repeal this Act until six whole months after the War. Let us consider what that meant and try to be serious about this concession. Either the Liberal Government is in power or it is not. If it is in power at the end of the War and remains in office for six months, what does the concession come to? The Tory party solemnly assure us that they will not repeal this Act as long as they are in a minority in the House of Commons. What a splendid concession. On the other hand, supposing the Conservative party is in power for six months afterwards, then the responsible leaders—I should like very much to know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) is a responsible leader, because I fear him somewhat more than the responsible leaders. But let us assume he is a leader, although obviously not at the present moment a responsible leader—the Conservative party for six months after the end of the War cannot do anything, but directly the seventh month begins they are free to do what they like.
The Noble Lord opposite remembers that after the date of Disestablishment the Church has an option for a whole month as to whether it will put the scheme of commutation into action or not. That means that for a whole month not a penny piece of Church property will be transferred. They have got the funds intact for a month without option, and what more easy in the seventh month than for the Conservative party, in power ex hypothesi, to repeal this Act? That shows conclusively that whatever we are giving we are not getting. That is often the history of concessions. That is my view of it. Now with regard to the phrase about there being money in it. If they were only concerned about getting ready for Disestablishment, what becomes of the money part of this Bill? The Noble Lord, who is not only a very able man, if he will allow me to say so, but an able member of the profession to which I belong, showed in his speech, I thought, a reticence about money.
1806 But the second Clause of this Bill and the longest Clause deals with money only. I am concerned, not so much with the merits of this Bill now, as to justify us Welsh Nonconformist Members. I am concerned to-day not with opposing the Bill but in justifying my colleagues and myself in our attitude. According to the principal Act all life interests were to cease on 18th September, 1914. For every life interest that expired after 18th September, 1914, there was to be no compensation. The Suspensory Act was passed, and that made no alteration; it only postponed the date of Disestablishment to the end of the War, but it made no financial difference of any kind. Thereupon comes this innocent six months' Bill, and it takes advantage of an opportunity to introduce a financial proposal. What is the result? The Church is to have compensation for every life interest that expires between 18th September, 1914, and the end of the War and six months afterwards. Now, really, would the House have gathered that from the speech of the Noble Lord?
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The hon. Member appears to be confusing matters. I can only say that I wholly disagree with his interpretation of the Acts.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I do not think there is any doubt about that, and if the Noble Lord will look at the Bill he will find that what I say is right.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I do not agree with my right hon. Friend's construction of the original Act, and I think he is wrong entirely.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
That only goes to show that a lot of time is required to discuss this proposal and the danger of rushing this business through suddenly. Assuming my version is right, this Bill gives a life interest in all livings that become vacant from September, 1914, till the end of the War, plus six months. If you assume the War is going to last three years, which was the official view some time ago, and you add six months, the Bishop of St. Asaph claims that you will have seventy livings becoming vacant every year. I am so accustomed to the Bishop of St. Asaph's statements that I take 50 per cent. off his figures in older that I may get at the correct state of affairs. Of course, seventy is much more in favour of my argument, but I reduce it to thirty-five, and putting the average of 1807 the livings at £170, multiplying by thirteen, I find that in this three and a-half years the Church will get the equivalent of somewhere about £250,000.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
We will see whether I am accurate or not. I do not suggest that the Church gets that gain, because in any event they could not have had Disestablishment before September, 1915. Therefore all the Church gains is the life interest that becomes vacant between 1914 and 1915. Does the Home Secretary agree with me in that? On this computation, taking half the Bishop of St. Asaph's figures, the amount would be £70,000. It is not merely a question of six months after the end of the War or the possibility of that, because there is a financial Clause that must be taken into account. Therefore I suggest that there ought to be time allowed for the discussion of this Bill. We are not unreasonable in the attitude we have taken up. There is not merely the Welsh case, but there are wider issues. The case of Wales to-day may be the case of Ireland tomorrow. We must, therefore, be cautious with regard to the amendment of any of the Bills that have become law under the Parliament Act, and so far from acting unreasonably, I think the Welsh party have not only done good service to Wales by their action, but to Liberals generally throughout the country.
§ Mr. WALTER ROCH
I am sure all hon. Members will welcome the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey's return from a place of responsibility to one of greater freedom, and I feel that he has done good service to-day. I only wish to add a few words to what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey. First and foremost, I think even the Noble Lord and the hon. Member for Wales who seconded this Resolution will feel, in justice to the Welsh Members, that they are entitled to know something more about this question.
§ Mr. ROCH
I think hon. Gentlemen will feel that on a delicate matter like this, and upon a matter which is one of great controversy, some of these views might have 1808 been put before the Welsh Members—indeed, the case for the Welsh Members, who have been much abused, is even stronger than has been yet represented. During all these troubles Welsh Members made repeated representations through the usual channels asking that they might know what was going on. You were able to call into your counsels men who have carried on the bitterest controversy with some of us. Was that fair to your colleagues in Wales? Was it even decent, not to use a stronger word, after all the representations we made? Mark the position after what has taken place! The Welsh Members are now to be consulted. I feel sure that we shall go as open-minded as we possibly can to endeavour to get a compromise. I would rather not see a temporary settlement. I would like to see this great controversy permanently settled, and I will go a long way and make great sacrifices for a permanent settlement.
But mark how we are going into this! The Welsh Members have not been consulted, and they are asked to come in now when the thing is done. The Government are bound to go on now. I agree with every word that fell from the Noble Lord opposite and the Leader of the Opposition, that there is a Parliamentary bargain which the Government are bound to go on with. Cui bono? The thing is settled and must go forward. This was not only unfair to the Welsh Members, but it has placed them in a humiliating position. We have men who have served for generations to bring this controversy to an end, and if this Bill had been taken now we might not have had one word of consultation with our closest friends. We must all remember that wherever we sit, whether on the Front Benches or the Back Benches, we are the temporary servants of the people of this country, and we are not, as we sometimes seem to think, their permanent masters. Some of us wish to consult our friends upon this subject who have sacrificed so much for us.
I think all will agree that the Noble Lord spoke with great feeling and with great regard for our feelings, and, with the exception of one unfortunate incident, the hon. Member for Denbigh Boroughs (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) did the same. I do not want to revert to the way in which the hon. Member for Denbigh Boroughs spoke of another hon. Member of this House who, while he may not have had the good fortune to be a Welshman, he is a Member for whom his Welsh colleagues and many 1809 in Wales have a deep regard, and I am sure the hon. Member will now regret that he made the allusion he did. I hope that the hon. Member for Swansea will forget it. It is all very well to talk about a truce. While I am free to say that in a great many instances that truce has been honourably observed, it is not true as a whole. Wherever you look in parish magazines you will read evidence to the contrary, and I have seen references made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer which I regard as an insult. It is all very well to talk about a truce. We have had aspersions made on us, and we have seen this alleged grievance trotted out all these months, although it would have been far more decent to have observed the truce. Personally, I hope that some way will be found of altogether avoiding further legislation on this subject.
I am ready to admit, quite freely, that at the end of the War the position may be such as nobody can foresee. The position, financially, may be a difficult one, although I think it is easy to exaggerate that; but I believe at the end of the War, if it can be shown to the Welsh Members, or anybody in Wales, that the Church is really in a worse position than it would have been but for the War, there is no single Welsh Member who would not meet that difficulty. I would say to the hon. Member for Denbigh Boroughs, who has carried on a bitter controversy in the past, that the Welsh are not wanting in generosity, and I think he would be wiser in the interests of the Church for which he has such a deep feeling to wait until the end of the War. I myself hope that when that comes there may be a greater spirit of union than has been shown up to the present. I think there is a possibility of reaching a settlement of this great controversy if you wait till the end of the War and do not raise this spectre now. I feel sure that the hon. Member would do better to trust to the generosity of the Welsh people than to try and force through an advantage now.
What is the objection of the Welsh Members? I confess that I do not understand the financial part of it. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey does, or the Home Secretary, but there is a possibility of union between them, and God forbid that I set myself up as a judge in such a matter. This Bill hangs up the whole thing. The effect of this measure is that for six months after the War the Church is not to 1810 be Disestablished. Personally, I have always attached far greater value to Disestablishment than to Disendowment. To my mind, as far as human foresight can foresee, this proposal interposes a general election between the effective operation of this Act. That is what hon. Gentlemen opposite have always contended for, both as regards Home Rule and the Welsh Church Bill. Speaking for myself, I am unalterably opposed to the intervention of an election before making this Bill law. Hon. Members opposite say that they will not repeal this Bill in six months. I do not want to prophecy whether hon. Members opposite will return to power or not; but I would remind the Noble Lord opposite that his brother, whose name was received with the warmest cheers on account of his patriotism, said:—A war is always popular at the beginning, but when the back-wash comes, when all the feeling of reaction comes, then it may be that that reaction would sweep the Members of the Liberal Government from power.That is a thing which Welshmen look upon as possible, namely, that the result of an interposed election may be that hon. Members opposite will come into power. I cannot understand Liberals asking for such a pledge, because, after all, if the people give them a mandate to repeal the Welsh Church Act, the House will have to observe it, and even Liberals would say it would be the solemn duty of hon. Members opposite to carry their pledge through. It is an election on this controversy that I do not wish to have. Mark the result. Suppose the Welsh Church Bill is not operative, you will still have the Welsh bishops in the House of Lords, and you would still have the outward and visible sign of the Establishment to which we object. Mark what happens. The election comes, say, three months after the War. It is open to them in every constituency to say, "Rally once more round the Church. The Bill is not operative. Once more to the breach, dear friends. The Bill is not working. One more effort, and we shall kill this thing for generations." How different if the Bill is an established fact! How different if the Bill is law! True, you can say, "We will repeal it," but it is not quite the same thing. Throughout England and throughout Wales we can go to our own Welsh constituents who have worked on year in and year out and say, "So far as we could, the thing is done, and it is not open now. And it is open to our English Members who are fighting for their seats to say this thing is done. It is a fait accompli; make the 1811 best of it." That means a great deal to those who have the measure at heart.
Hon. Members do not quite realise what is the position of the Welsh constituents. I will try and put it quite frankly, as it has been written to me by an old and valued supporter. Here are men in Wales, perhaps the only relics of the old Puritans left in the country, who have had this thing, not only as a political issue, but as a fundamental part of their religious belief, brought right into their very souls. Mark their position. At last the victory seemed won after three troublous years with all kinds of anxieties, when Heaven knew what might have happened to the Government of the day. At last it was done. At last it was a fact. Then came like a thunderbolt, the War. They did not wish to take any political advantage of that fact, but they could not get out of their minds that perhaps this great catastrophe had put off, it may be for another generation, the thing they thought was accomplished. Those men are suspicious. I say so frankly. Those men are anxious to see this thing carried through in their lifetime. They see that the outlook is uncertain, and I think the Welsh Members would not be true to those men who have sacrificed so much, if so far as in them lay they gave a single point away in what has been a desperate fight.
§ Mr. CAVE
The two hon. Members who have just addressed the House have ex-expressed their intention of preserving the calm atmosphere of the Debate, but I do not think that either of them has succeeded. I am very much encouraged, however, by the fact that the opposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith) is based on a mistaken knowledge of the Bill. He said this: "I understand what the six months really means. It means that you will not bring in a Bill for repeal for six months, but after that the Commutation Clause allows a further month during which no transfer of property will take place, and during that time you will bring in your Bill." That is quite wrong. If this Bill to which we are referring passes, the transfer of property takes place immediately at the end of the six months. There is no delay at all. It is only the Commutation Clause which is affected by the further delay of a month. That Clause gives a month for commutation notice. It delays in no way the effect of the Bill in dissolving Church corporations, putting an 1812 end to Church powers, and transferring Church property. That argument was based on a wholly mistaken interpretation of the Bill. Then he said that Clause 2 of this Bill had a financial effect which the House did not understand. I am quite sure, with all due respect to him, that he does not understand it himself. He is under the impression that, under the Clause as it now stands, in the case of any living falling vacant after, say, September, 1914, the Commutation Fund will not be increased.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
We quite understand that if commutation takes place the Church benefit in no way by this Bill, but we point out that if commutation is not accepted the Church body will, under Section 1 Sub-section (2), get valuable livings.
§ Mr. CAVE
That is not the point I was answering at all. I was answering the hon. Member for Anglesey, and he made the point as I put it. I venture to say, if he looks into this Bill again, and into the existing Act, that he will find he is mistaken. The real difficulty is this: If a living falls vacant between the passing of the Act and the date of Disestablishment, then the commutation fund loses the value of that living, even although it is filled up. The Suspensory Act postponed the date of Disestablishment. Therefore it did have an effect upon the commutation fund, because in the case of all livings falling vacant throughout the War the commutation fund loses. I am quite sure that was not foreseen when the Suspensory Act was passed. The effect of this Clause, as I read it, is to put an end to a very doubtful point indeed as to the meaning of Section 18 of the original Act, and to provide in all cases where livings fall vacant before the actual date of Disestablishment that they shall be taken into account and that the commutation fund shall not be mulcted by what I agree is a very substantial sum. I entirely agree that this Clause may have a money effect upon the commutation fund, but I think the right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong in putting it at anything like the amount which he suggested.
We are not objecting to time being taken for discussing the Bill with the Welsh Members. They have a real interest in the matter; I certainly assumed when the Bill was brought in that they had been consulted, and I think it is quite right that they should have a word to say about it. They remember, of course, their own point 1813 of view—it is only quite natural—but let them, when they come to discuss it, remember another point of view. As matters stand to-day, the proclamation of peace is the signal for the Disestablishment of the Church and the passing of its property to others. That is not, I think, a very pleasant reflection by itself. It leads to this further consideration: If the Church authorities are to look forward and to provide for the future, they must provide for the new constitution of the Church, a very difficult matter, and also for the future financial position of the Church. As the law stands, they must do that during the War, when all our thoughts are elsewhere, when those who can make contributions desire to make them for other purposes altogether, and when no one wishes to spend his time, thoughts, or energies in going into matters of this kind, which are wholly alien to that on which our minds are set and which themselves are of a very distracting and very difficult character.
I do not think it is desirable that we should be compelled to go into these matters while the War is going on, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends that so far as I am concerned my only hope throughout these negotiations has been that a way would be found for making it unnecessary to deal with these matters in war time, and that the Government would consent to postpone in some way the date for which the Church must somehow or other prepare. I believe that was their only object, as it was our only object. There is not behind this Bill any of the Machiavellian schemes which the right hon. Gentleman has imagined, and which I assure him, so far as I myself am concerned at all events, did not exist. If you do nothing, if you do not pass this or some similar Bill, I hold that it is very unlikely that any agreement will be come to, but, to use a word which has been used in the correspondence, if you are able to give some breathing time after the end of the War, during which these matters can be considered, I think there is some real chance, when people begin to put their heads together, to deal with these questions of constitution and finance, and to come into contact with Members who differ from them, that a concordat upon the whole question might possibly be reached. If you force the Bill as it stands upon the Church, there is no chance at all of any agreement. There will be no time for any such discussion. If you pass a Bill in this form, or to this 1814 effect, you will, at all events, create some possibility that the end which many of us wish to see may somehow be brought about.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I deeply regret having any controversy not merely with a colleague, but with a Friend of mine with whom I have been associated nearly all my life, and nothing would distress me more than to take any action which would have the effect of creating a suspicion in that part of the country, the good opinion of whose people I court more than that of anybody else in the world. And I should not be taking the line I do take had it not been that I consider the action we have taken is in the interests not merely of this Empire in the greatest trial which has even befallen it, but in the interests of Wales itself in the greatest opportunity which has come to it. I am not going to say a word about the question of consultation with Welsh Members. I am heartily in accord with everything that has been said about that. I took part myself in a strong protest against the action of the Liberal Government in 1893–4, not so much upon the merits of their actions, as upon the fact that I considered it was an insult to that part of the country to which I belong that they should not be consulted about matters of deep interest to them.
Therefore, not a word have I to say in deprecation of any criticism which has fallen from my Friends from Wales upon that topic. But they will remember, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, that we have been worked in a way that no Ministers have been worked in my time. We are engaged in very anxious work, working constantly, and we were under the impression that there had been consultations. I, as well as the Prime Minister, certainly thought that the same consultation had taken place with Welsh Members as had taken place with the Leaders of the Opposition. We met two or three Members of the Opposition, and I thought the same consultation had taken place with the Welsh Members. The Prime Minister was under exactly the same impression; it was purely a misunderstanding, and I hope the Welsh Members will take that assurance from the Prime Minister and myself. We deeply regret it. If we had realised it I think it would have been put right. Now I want to come to the proposals of the measure. I have received letters from Wales; I have received telegrams from Wales; I have had interviews explaining the telegrams. The 1815 Welsh people for the moment do not understand the proposal of the Government. What is that proposal and what has prompted us to make it?
We are engaged in a War under conditions that have never occurred before. What do I mean? It is a war in which not merely the whole country is interested—in which the whole country is engaged as a country, but it is a war in which practically every family has its representative on the battlefield—Churchmen and Nonconformists alike; wherever there is anyone to represent them they are sent out. I see one of my hon. Friends behind me. His son is in the Welsh Division; mine are in the same Division. There is a Churchman, one of the best recruiters in Wales. He is a man who was taken a most active and formidable part in agitating against the Bill. I have never had the pleasure of being introduced to him, but he is a very able lawyer and a very dangerous organiser from our point of view. He is one of our best recruiters. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is that to do with the Bill?"] I think the House will see it has a good deal to do with the Bill. This man has thrown up all his work, he is engaged in recruiting; he recruited, I think, two battalions for the Welsh Division. What I want to point out it this: The whole energies, the best energies of Churchmen, as well as Nonconformists, in Wales, are absorbed in this life and death struggle in which their country is engaged. My hon. Friend now will see the relevance of my observation. That was the point which was put to us. They said to us, "It is true you have taken all that into account, and you have postponed any action as far as the Church is concerned during the War. But what will happen immediately after?" Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider that.
Disestablishment is a great change for the Church; it is a great change for the nation; it is a gigantic change for the people. They have to make preparation for it. They have to consider the constitution of the Church. It is a matter in which, not merely Churchmen, but the nation as a whole take a deep interest—I mean the new constitution of the Welsh Church. You may say, "You are not asked to engage in that operation during the War, because Disestablishment under the Bill as it stands will only begin when the War is over." But are these men who have been on the battlefields, are they to be back, if the War comes to an end on 1816 the 1st September—by the 1st October? That is not how wars are ended now. It means occupation, it means time for settlement, and how long the occupation takes depends on the extent of the victory. These men who are the most powerful organisers the Church have got, whose counsels are essential to the Church, will probably not return, assuming that they are fortunate enough to get through the War, for at least six months after the War is over.
Take the representatives of the Church in this House. One is already at the front—I think he has already been in action; another is liable to be called at any moment. Under these conditions I appeal to my countrymen—not merely to those here, but to those outside, and what I say to my Friends here I am prepared to say to any assembly of Welshmen in Wales, I say this: If you will not give six months' respite to these people, then it is not an honour to the race to which you and I belong. They say, "Oh! more vested interests can be created." I think my right hon. Friend who said that might have taken the trouble, before making that statement, to find out what the proposals are. There are no new vested interests to be created, except as they stood in January, 1913, and I want my countrymen to know that.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
Does it carry the controversy any further to suggest that one who does not agree with you has not read the Bill? What I submit is this: Under the original Act, and under the Suspensory Act, no life interests becoming extinct after 18th September, 1914, is to be compensated, but that under this Bill vacancies after 18th September, 1914, and until six months after the War, will be compensated.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
My right hon. Friend, if I may say so with respect, is putting a very different complexion on his statement to the one he made in his speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] The impression that was created in everybody's mind was this, that new vested intrests would be created in respect to vacancies that occur. If I am wrong, I am glad. I only want to get at an agreement. Let me come to the exact proposals of the Bill. The value of the life interest in each case is to be calculated on the life of the actual holder of the office on the 1st January, 1913, according to his age at that date. I want to explain what that means. Supposing the holder of a living is 1817 seventy-five years of age and a vacancy occurs before the end of this period and a new man is put in, thirty years of age. The life interest would be not on the basis of thirty years of age, but on the basis of seventy-five years of age. I am very anxious that that should be understood not merely here, but outside. It is very important.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
Does the right hon. Gentleman now say that there are not, under this Bill, life interests to be compensated which under the old Bill were not compensated? That is the point.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Certainly. But what I want to make equally clear is that they are only on the basis of the life interest on the 1st January, 1913. I know exactly what is in the minds of my hon. Friends. What they are afraid of is this, that advantage will be taken of this Bill to put in young men there and to create life interests. It is no use my hon. Friends shaking their heads. I know exactly what they are thinking of; they are afraid that advantage will be taken of this extension in order to jockey younger men into the livings and to create fictitious interests. My right hon. Friend may understand differently, but I want to make it clear to the people outside, who do not understand, that nothing of the kind can be done under the Bill.
I come now to the question of repeal. My right hon. Friend referred to the speech of my Noble Friend the Marquess of Crewe in the House of Lords. I do not know where he got the report of the speech in which it is said that the statement referred to the Government Bill. I have only got the "Times" report at the present moment, and according to that my Noble Friend made it absolutely clear that he referred to the proposal made by the other side. I hope my right hon. Friend after that will be satisfied that my Noble Friend did not refer to the Government Bill. I thought it was rather preposterous. I felt certain Lord Crewe never made such a statement, and if my right hon. Friend will refer to the speech, as reported in the "Times," he will see it distinctly alludes to the proposal made by the other side, and says that would be an advantage to them. Let us examine the question of repeal. If the country wants repeal the fact of the Bill being on the Statute Book six months will not make very much difference, if any. What will make a difference will be the temper in which the country considers the Bill.
1818 I ask my hon. Friends quite seriously—I have had some experience of political life and so have they—are they helping the temper of the country in considering the question of repeal by refusing to give fair consideration to proposals for granting an extension of six months to the Church when some of its leading men are engaged in the War? I say they are not. I should be more afraid of repeal under these conditions. I do not think the party opposite, when the time comes, will pledge themselves to repeal. The country will have its mind on other things. When this War is over they will be tired of domestic controversies. This War has raised issues never thought of—deep, searching, permanent issues that will affect the whole life of this country and the destinies of humanity for generations. Those questions—great questions of reconstruction—those are the questions which will occupy the minds of the nation of every class, great and small, when the War is over. They will be impatient of sectarian controversies. They will not tolerate them. They will want to get something bigger.
There may be men of strong sectarian animus—I do not say they will not remain—who will want to engage the attention of the country upon repealing this Act and altering another dealing with denominational problems. I do not think they will find countenance in their own party, but if you want to create a public opinion and atmosphere that will help them, the way to do it is to refuse to deal generously, fairly, equitably, and in a large way with topics of this kind. It is the only way to do it. They will be able to appeal to the sentiments of Churchmen in England, and not merely to Churchmen, but to some who are not Churchmen, but who love fair play. They will say: "Repeal this Act!" "Why," they will say to them, "when Churchmen were shedding their blood upon the battlefield, when the best men in Wales were risking all or endangering their lives, they would not give them six months for the purpose of coming home to set their house in order." That is the thing that will create an atmosphere for repeal. But if you are able to say, "No, we faced misunderstandings"—as I prefer to do—"we faced misrepresentations, we faced prejudices, we faced honest misconception of men"—whom I honour as much as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Walter Roch)—"we faced them all for the sake of doing something in the hour of our country's need to create 1819 unity and good will," you will have no repeal if you behave in a big way and not in a petty way in these circumstances.
I put this to the House: I am as attached to my little country as any man in this House, and I am looking forward to Wales getting something out of this War. It is the greatest opportunity. She has shown up to the present what she can do. There are 80,000 men who have volunteered in a country which is as anti-militarist as any portion of the Empire. Our countrymen who have fought as bravely as any others in this Empire, and that is a high standard. Yes, but she will have to show more. She will have to show not merely that she is prepared to take her part, but that there is nothing mean and small in the way she faces a great situation. One hundred thousand pounds more, is it? What is the value of that by the credit of our country? That is the computation. I do not believe it, but take it at that. You will get more to the credit and honour of Wales in the fact that our country has behaved with dignity in the great hour that has come to it.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
It is a very difficult task indeed for any Welsh Member to follow the Chancellor of the Exchequer on any question, particularly when he is defending a Bill to which he is a party. I desire, at the outset, to say that we accept the invitation the Prime Minister held out to us, and on behalf of my hon. Friends who come from Wales I beg to say that we naturally will accept with the greatest pleasure the invitation he has given us to meet him. There are, however, one or two observations which should be made. Notwithstanding the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is only fair to point out that in the House of Lords the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on behalf and with the authority of the Church, especially reserved to the Church the right during these six months to argue for the repeal or the amendment of the Act. I speak with some authority on that question, because I am one of the few Welsh Members who have always been anxious for a settlement of this matter before the question of compromise was popular on the platforms of Wales.
If a compromise is to be arrived at, the sentiment which animated the Archbishop of Canterbury in the House of Lords will have to be modified. Let it be made clear in Wales what is the real position. Notwithstanding 1820 the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I submit to the House with some confidence that the effect of this Bill is not what the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated it to be. The Bill is going to create for the Church life interests in all the benefices which become vacant between 18th September, 1914, and the date of Disestablishment. It is quite true, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out, that the value of the benefice under this Section will not be the value for the then life in possession but the value of the life in possession in January, 1913. I repeat again what I said in the interview to which he referred, that at the lowest this gift means, if commutation is not accepted by the Church, that this Bill is giving to the Church at least £100,000. The Home Secretary was asked by an hon. Member, whether the Bill does not give to the Church the increase in value which has taken place in tithes. The right hon. Gentleman, with very little courtesy to the hon. Member who asked the question, directly implied that it was a foolish question.
§ Mr. McKENNA
No. The answer I gave to my hon. Friend was not discourteous to him in the slightest degree.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
The answer the right hon. Gentleman gave was to repeat an answer which he had already given. By that course he suggested that the question should not have been put. As a matter of fact, if the right hon. Gentleman had read his own Bill, he would have found in the Fourth Schedule to the Act that it is specifically provided that the value of tithes should be ascertained by reference to the septennial average which was in force not last year, not this year, but on the date on which Disestablishment comes into force. The result will be that the Church—quite rightly under the Bill—will be entitled to the increase that has taken place in tithes, owing to the large increase that has taken place in the prices of food in this country. The Bill does more. It will enable the Church to invest its commutation money at a very much higher rate of interest. When the Bill was under discussion in the House, hon. Members opposite objected very strongly to commutation being placed on a 3½ per cent. basis. Is there anyone here to-day who does not think that a security can be obtained to yield anything from 4¼ to 4½ per cent.? That means that the advantage 1821 granted by this Bill will mean a substantial addition to the money passing under the control of the Church.
That is not really the objection I take to this Bill. There is a good deal to be said for saying that the vacancies which happen to be in the Church at the date of Disestablishment ought to be included in the price of commutation. What we object to, and what we cannot understand in regard to the Government, is the fact that for years we fought for the passage of the Parliament Act, and, having secured that, hon. Members opposite have insisted that this Bill should not come into force before there was a possibility of an appeal to the country. Under the Act as it stands to-day, in all probability there could be no appeal to the country, because it comes into force the day immediately after Peace is declared. On the other hand, if this Bill is passed, the result would be that six months would intervene between the date of the conclusion of the War and the date of Disestablishment. I take it that I shall carry the House with me when I say that whatever Government happens to be in power immediately after the War, Liberal or Tory, it could not refuse to go to the country and have a General Election within those six months. What is the position? For Wales, we have got absolutely nothing in return. Hon. Members opposite, apparently with the concurrence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have provided for themselves that the General Election will take place before this Act comes into force. They have done more than that; they have provided that every vacancy which occurs between September, 1914, and the date of Disestablishment will be valued and the value of it will be handed over to the Church body. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where is that provided?"] I can only refer the hon. Member to the Section of this Bill.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
I hope the Home Secretary will see what the Noble Lord expects. There is not one word of gratitude for these gifts he is taking from the Welsh people, and handing over to the Church. By deferring the date of Disestablishment and consequently the date upon which tithe is to be valued, a very large sum indeed, must of necessity, pass over to the Church. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has pointed out that there will be no repeal. The point is, cannot somebody 1822 on the other side get up and say that if this proposal be carried, that they, on their part will undertake not to repeal the Bill. [Laughter.] I can quite understand hon. Members laughing, but I would remind them that the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) three or four weeks ago, in speaking, I think, on the Adjournment, said that in certain circumstances, if there were no modification of the existing Act he would feel it his duty to fight for the repeal of the Act. That rather suggested that there were certain terms and conditions upon which the Noble Lord would not think it necessary to fight for repeal. What we want to know in Wales is whether those terms have ever been made known to the Government, and, if so, what are they? Some hon. Members from Wales have always been in favour of compromise, provided that the compromise was one which would be acceptable to the whole of the Welsh people, both Church and Nonconformist. Even to-day I am not without hope that that may be effected. It has always been to me one of the saddest things in our political and religious life that the Church which has a creed in common with a large body of Nonconformists in Wales, should be, as it were, the cause of all the bitterness and dissension that has taken place. I venture to suggest that by postponing the consideration of this Bill for another month something might be done by negotiation which would possibly lead, later on, to a better understanding of the position.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.