HC Deb 05 May 1915 vol 71 cc1198-201

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I apologise for detaining the House, but this Bill is of such importance that some summary of its contents, I think, should be given to the House by the responsible promoters. It is termed the Methodist Church in Ireland Bill. Perhaps hon. Members are aware that the Methodist Church in Ireland insisted on Home Rule for themselves as a church, and then, after getting it, have devoted themselves to opposing Home Rule from a political standpoint. The result, as any hon. Member can clearly see in this Bill, shows all through the wish to keep Methodist matters in Ireland entirely separate from the rest of the Wesleyan Methodist Church here. I have studied the Bill carefully. It is an unopposed Bill, but it seems to me a very important one, and I think that those responsible for it should, at any rate, make some short explanation, so that the House may understand what legislation it is passing.


I am responsible for this Bill in the sense that I am one of the sponsors whose names are on the back of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Manchester (Sir John Randles) is also associated with me in bringing this Bill before the House. I am sorry that some Member of the House with a legal training has not the opportunity of explaining this Bill. It is certainly rather a portentous looking document, but I believe I can in a few words explain what is necessary. The Bill is for the purpose of constituting a corporate body of trustees, and of vesting in that corporate body trust funds at present held by various unincorporated bodies of trustees for charitable or for other purposes connected with the Methodist Church in Ireland. Where any of the trust funds are now held upon specific trusts the corporate body of trustees will be required to apply the funds to the same purposes. So far as the funds are not subject to any specific trust, the corporate body of trustees will apply the funds according to the direction of the Irish Methodist Conference. That body is the vesting authority of the Irish Methodist Church. The Bill authorises the trustees to be known as custodian trustees, and these are to receive and hold any property which may hereafter be transferred to the Irish Methodist Church; and it also authorises the trustees of other persons in whom property may be vested for that purpose to transfer that property to the corporate body of custodian trustees. The Bill contains other provisions of a domestic character for enabling the corporate body of trustees to carry out their duties, and it provides for the making of rules and regulations as to the conduct of the trustees, which rules and regulations will require the approval of the Irish Conference.

The Bill makes no change whatever, nor does it deal in any way with the doctrines, tenets, or usages of the Methodist Church. The trustees of the various Methodist funds in Ireland have not hitherto realised that it was necessary to fill up vacancies in their numbers by the appointment of new trustees by deeds under seal, and that it was also necessary to transfer all trust property to such new trustees when they were appointed. They thought a mere resolution of the Irish Methodist Conference was sufficient, and acted upon this. Consequently, a large number of trustees at the present time are not legally appointed. The invalidity of their appointment has been pointed out by counsel. The Methodist Church was consulted, and it has been arranged that the only way that they can be released from their difficulties was to bring in a Bill. This is the Bill which is now before the House. Furthermore, it was appreciated that on the death of any trustee a new trustee had to be appointed by deed, and stocks and shares and mortgages had to be transferred into the names of the new trustees, which would be an endless task and would involve continued expense. Again, counsel advised that in some trust deeds the names of the majority of the trustees were required to be inserted. This made it impossible to invest in anything else but mortgages. Therefore one of the objects of this Bill is to enlarge the power of the Methodist Church in the investment of its funds.

The same difficulties arose in connection with the English Church in Ireland. They were met by the Representative Church Body, which was incorporated by the Act of 1869. The same thing also applies to the Irish Presbyterian Church. The Act in this case was passed in 1871. In the case of the Presbyterian College at Belfast, a private Act was passed in 1882 to deal with the matter in the same way as it is proposed to do now. The necessity for applying for powers of this sort does not arise in the English Wesleyan Church, for the simple reason that there are general Acts under which the Methodist Conference in England has been able to act. There is the Charitable Trustees Incorporated Act, 1872, and the Public Trustee Act of 1906, together with an Order of the Charity Commissioners, passed July, 1911, by which the Trustees for Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Purposes (Registered) were incorporated. As these Acts do not apply to Ireland, it is necessary to bring this Bill in. The Bill is one of a purely domestic character, dealing with the Irish Methodist Church, and I am quite sure the House will be glad to give it their consent.


I hope the hon. Member for Pontefract will not think it necessary to persist in his objection to this excellent Bill. I earnestly hope that the opposition will not be continued. The Bill as I understand it is a Bill to establish and endow the Methodist Church in Ireland, and as such it has my hearty support.


This Bill has also my hearty support, for far different reasons than those for which other Members have supported it. I support it, first of all, because it unites two Churches which have been separate. The Primitive Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Ireland now cease to exist, and in future there will be one Methodist Church only. I entirely welcome the tendency of churches to unite in one corporate body, and when Parliament, in both Houses, can assist such a movement, as it is doing now, even by disregarding and changing the different trusts of these different bodies, I think it is a matter entirely to be welcomed. I think it is also a matter to be welcomed that this change has been effected without paying undue attention to doctrine. The matter of doctrine I understand has been raised, but the Houses of Parliament in their wisdom have brushed aside entirely all questions of doctrine. After all, Christianity in these days does not consist in a particular respect for doctrine, but of the spirit of true religion. For this reason, and especially for one further reason that the Bill deals in a stringent manner with trusts that have become outworn and are no longer as effective as they were, I welcome this Bill. I hope it will be taken as a precedent when we come in future days to deal with other ecclesiastical bodies, and will induce the House to be more ready to deal with them in that spirit which will adapt ancient endowments and ancient doctrines to the needs and the spirit of the present time. I have great pleasure in heartily supporting this measure.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.