§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
460 The title of this Bill may, perhaps, recall to Members the old and somewhat belated controversies of the past, but I hope that the Bill will remove once for ail those old struggles and differences, and enable the various Christian denominations in Wales to work together in the smoothest and most friendly manner. This Bill has been rendered necessary purely by the War and by the changed circumstances which the War has brought about. It makes absolutely no change in any of the principles or any of the fundamentals contained in the Act of 1914. We have, to recognise that by the passing of that Act Disestablishment and Disendowment have become accomplished facts. But, of course, changed circumstances require changes of detail, and, therefore, it became necessary to inquire into the whole position, in order to see what the existing circumstances are and whether there was anything necessary in equity and justice in order to enable the principles of the Act of 1914 to be carried put. Apparently, judging as far as one is able to judge from public utterings and writings, 461 the impression was that the Church had been a great sufferer through the War. But on examination of the whole position, and of the Act of 1914, and on consideration of the more doubtful expressions contained in it, I think that I shall be able to satisfy the House that it was not the Church that suffered, and that its position, in my judgment, and, I think, in the judgment of most people who examined the figures, is considerably better. It is really the Welsh county councils and Welsh Church Commissioners to whose assistance the State will have to go. I think that I shall be able to show the House that unless the State gives that assistance to the Welsh Church Commissioners and thereby to the Welsh county councils, it would be quite impossible for the Act of 1914 to be carried out at all.
There are three great differences which affect the financial position with regard to the Church proper. In the first place, there is the value of the tithe. When the Act of 1914 was passed, tithe then stood at a figure of about £77. It has since risen on the septennial average to £123 this year, and those whom I have consulted who are able to form an opinion tell me that next year it will certainly not be less than £132 and will probably be £136. The House may recollect that by the Tithe Act of last year provision was made that tithe can only be collected at £109 for the next seven years. So you have this position that on the septennial average tithe next year will be £136, and the tithe-owner will be prevented from collecting more than £109, and according to the original Act—that is to say, according to the time at which commutation has taken place in 1915, it would only be about £77. In addition to that the Act of 1914 provides that the price paid for the commuted tithe rent-charge, the capitalised value, is to be calculated on the 3½per cent. tables. That was quite right in 1914, but to-day, of course, it involves a very heavy burden upon those who have to pay the money and who cannot possibly borrow at less than 5 per cent. In addition to that, when you deal with the payments necessary for the redemption of the loans, necessary to pay the price for commutation and reckoning the length of period over which that redemption must run you have now to take into consideration the fact that the Income Tax on the surplus value of the Welsh Commissioners is 6s. in the £ instead of 1s. 2d. 462 8.0 P.M.
Those were three very material changes which operate in the circumstances as they now exist. There were two matters which were doubtful as matters of law in the Act of 1914. The first doubt was as to what are known as lapsed interests. It appeared to be taken for granted by everybody that the date of Disestablishment having to be postponed owing to the War from some period in 1915 until next year, some five years, a number of the then existing interests would have ceased to be existing interests at the date of commutation. I looked into the matter when I was first asked to take charge of this Bill, and I formed the conclusion that it was very doubtful indeed whether any interests had lapsed at all, having regard to the wording of the Act of 1914, and I am now fortified by the opinion of the Law Officers that in fact there are no lapsed interests at all. and that the Church are entitled to-day, if the Act of 1914 stands unchanged, to claim every interest and the value of every interest that they could claim at the date of Disestablishment in 1915. Therefore the position was that although it was arguable, although the point might be raised as against the Church that there were lapsed interests, still, in the view of those able to judge, there were no lapsed interests at all. We have thought it right to approach this whole question from the point of view that there are no lapsed interests, and that the Church is entitled to the whole of the interests that existed at the time of the passing of the Act. The other point of view was whether the Tithe Act of 1918 governed the provisions of the Welsh Church Act of 1914. If it did, then the Church would only been titled to have the tithe rent-charge commuted at the annual price of £109 instead of the annual price of £106. On that point, also, I have had my opinion fortified by the Law Officers of the Crown, who hold the view, as I myself did, that, in fact, on the interpretation of the Act of 1914, the Church is entitled to have the tithe commuted at the annual value at the date of commutation, which will be next year, and that in all probability will be £136. That being the position, we Have approached the matter from the point of view that the Church is entitled, as we believe in law it is entitled, if the Act stands unchanged, and without bringing in any amending Bill, to tithe commuted at the value of £136. Those two questions out of the way, the point arose, What was the position? 463 We had very careful actuarial calculations made, and the position appears to be this: We had to take into consideration, of course, the period of time over which the debt incurred by the Welsh Commissioners and the county councils could be redeemed, and we concluded that if it were possible so to arrange it, they ought not to be asked to wait longer than thirty years for the full benefit of the tithe rent-charge which they had purchased. Therefore, we have gone on the basis of a period of thirty years.
What is the result? In order to pay for the commuted tithe rent-charge and other commuted property of the Church, a sum would be required of £3,400,000, and the point arose what were the Welsh Commissioners to do to raise that sum? The whole of the property which they possess has been carefully valued by the actuary. He has had to go upon the assumption that as soon, as the tithe rent - charge is commuted it ceased to be a tithe rent-charge attached to a benefice. The point is this, that so long as the tithe rent-charge is a rent charge attached to a benefice it pays only half the rates and the Treasury pay the other half. The moment it ceases to be so attached, the tithe itself is liable for the whole of the rates and the Treasury no longer pay any proportion. Assuming that still to be the case, the whole of the property which will be transferred to the Welsh Commissioners, having regard to the amount of Income Tax and other charges, would be security at the outside for only £2,150,000. They have security for the borrowing of £2,150,000, and they are liable to have to raise £3,400,000. The way we propose to deal with that is this: We propose by the Bill to make commutation compulsory instead of optional, and we then propose that so long as the tithe rent-charge remains vested in the Welsh Commissioners, so long as it is not actually handed over to the county councils, it is to be deemed to be tithe rent-charge attached to a benefice, and by that means they will be relieved of half their rates. That will enable them to borrow another £260,000, and that will reduce the deficiency from £1,250,000 to £1,000,000. They are, therefore, now faced with this position, that they can borrow £2,400,000 and they have to pay £3,400,000.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt recognise that 464 these financial questions are very difficult to follow. Does that mean that the Treasury will pay another £250,000 to the county councils in relief of rates?
§ Mr. SHORTT
That will be so. In some way they have to provide £1,000,000. There is no specific means provided in the Act of 1914 whereby they can raise money in any way for any deficiency. Of course, they could ask the county councils to levy a rate for the purpose, but that has only to be mentioned to be dismissed as hopelessly impossible. Therefore, the only position is that they should have something corresponding to the Treasury guarantee which the Act of 1914 gives them, and that the Treasury, in the hope of securing peace in Wales and friendship among all parties—[Laughter]. I really do not know why there should be jeering about it. It is with that hope that the Bill is produced, and I hope it may succeed.
§ Mr. SHORTT
It is in the hope of get-ting that friendship and co-operation and co-ordination, that the British Treasury proposes to come to the assistance of the Welsh Commissioners by the grant of the necessary £1,000,000. That is the whole position, and that is the main object of the Bill.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
Will the right hon. Gentleman say where the £1,000,000 is going—to the Welsh local authorities or to the Welsh Church?
§ Mr. SHORTT
It is going to pay a debt which the Welsh. Commissioners are bound to pay to the Welsh Church under an Act already in existence. The Welsh Church is entitled by law to say one of two things, "Either you must let the Act of 1914 drop altogether, in which case there is an end of Disestablishment and Disendowment, or else you must carry that Act out and you have to pay us £3,400,000." The £1,000,000 will go towards the payment of that £3,400,000. Whether it is a payment to the church or to the county councils I will leave my hon. Friend to judge.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Is the basis of commutation for these life interests at 465 £136 or at the £109, at which sum tithe rent was sterilised throughout England and Wales, I think, last year?
§ Mr. SHORTT
As I tried to explain, after consultation with the Law Officers of the Crown we came to the conclusion that the Church is entitled to it at £136, that the sterilising Act of 1918 does not govern the Act of 1914. We have made arrangements that the county councils will be enabled to redeem in thirty years the debt which they have incurred. The income they will receive from the tithe-rent charges and the surplus of that income, accumulating as it will, will enable them to pay off the debt in a period of thirty' years. So far as the county councils are concerned the position is that whereas under the provisions that could have been made, had there been no war—no enormous rise in the price of wheat and bread and so on—they could have cleared off the debt by 1941; as it is to-day under the changed circumstance, they will have to wait till 1950 before they clear off their debt, but they will then come into £200,000 a year instead of £150,000 a year. That, to put it briefly, is the financial position. Broadly speaking, either the Act of 1914 must be dropped or repealed, or else this £1,000,000 must be found. We have come to the conclusion, and I think the whole country will support us in it, that, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the £1,000,000 ought to be found, and no attempt made to reopen once more the old sore struggle for Disestablishment.
There are certain other details, but they are all details necessary for carrying out of the 1914 Act. The date of Disestablishment, for example, is set over till next year. That date has been chosen after full consultation with the Welsh Church Commissioners and the representative body who have to carry out all the details. I am quite sure that owing to the work that has to be done by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and with the depletion of staff throughout the War, they could not possibly be ready at any date this year. You will have to take next year's price as the commutation price. It comets into force on 1st January. We thought we would then, choose the most convenient date, and the 31st March is the date most convenient for adjustment, book-keeping and so on. There is a provision to continue the life of the Welsh Commissioners. The Welsh Commissioners automatically cease to 466 exist on the 31st December of this year, and we make provision by which they are to carry on the work. I think, with regard to all the other matters, that they are really domestic matters. For instance, in the case of marriage, owing to the wording of the Act of 1914, in a large parish with four or five curates the vicar would be the only one able to solemnise marriage, and provision is made by the Bill so that the curates may do so. There is a provision also to free the Church to some extent from the control of the Charity Commissioners, and other matters which, as I have said, are domestic matters with which I need not trouble the House.
That is the Bill. I hope and believe it will be accepted by the House, and I hope it will be accepted as a final settlement of an old and somewhat bitter controversy. We certainly offer it in that spirit. We believe, and 1 certainly for one believe, that there has grown up of late years all over the country, and more especially in Wales, a stronger feeling of spiritual brotherhood among all denominations than has existed before. We want, if possible, to foster that spirit and to encourage it and to remove from its path every possible obstacle that may exist. I believe that until the provisions of the Act of 1914 are carried out there still remains an obstacle in the way, and the more generous the spirit in which it is carried out the more friendly will be the feeling that will continue to exist when Disestablishment is an accompished fact. I ask the House, therefore, to view this, because, after all, the generosity that we have shown the Church is not so very great. The generosity we have shown has been to take as a legal right, an established legal right, what we are advised could be established as a legal right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear," and laughter.] That is really all. I do not know what is meant by those jeers. The Church apparently were unaware of that because they put out a number of S.O.S. signals for months past which were quite unnecessary. An unfortunate result of that is to make people think that the Church were asking for some change in the Act of 1914, for some fundamental change, and if they had asked for any fundamental change they would not have got it. That generous treatment is given in the hope that it will produce real true brotherly feeling, and in spite of the somewhat jeering laughter with which some of my sentences have been greeted, 1 believe that the feeling of the whole of the House will be that this 467 ought to be done, and I am satisfied the feeling of the country will be that this ought to be done, and therefore I ask the House to accept it.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The House is very much indebted to the Home Secretary for his very lucid explanation of a very intricate matter. I have heard this Bill explained by more persons than one during the last twenty-four hours, and the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman is far the clearest and most intelligible to which I have listened. But it differs in one important respect from the other explanations in mentioning the very important opinions of the Law Officers of the Crown, from which it is clear, and indeed as the Home Secretary states it is clear, that the Church gets nothing whatever out of this Bill except the rights already legally assured to it in the Act of 1914. That is a very important statement, and I cannot help thinking that it would have been a good plan if that had been made as clear by an equally lucid explanation, for example to the Welsh bishops when they had been in conference with the members of the Government on this subject. They were quite unaware of the fact which the Home Secretary has so lucidly explained to the House. My right hon. Friend was surprised because a good many of his observations were received with laughter and ironical cheering. I can assure my right hon. Friend that that ironical cheering was not directed against himself, and we saw nothing worthy of derision in his language or attitude, but we had a certain amusement, tinged perhaps by bitterness, in the reflection that he is a colleague of the Leader of the House, and when we recollect what my right hon. Friend has said on the subject of Welsh Disendowment and which I suspect my right hon. Friend would now much rather forget. When the Home Secretary speaks eloquently and hopes, and we all echo his hope, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity among Christian bodies, I agree that that is a desirable thing, but at the same time I do not see why financing Welsh county councils will particularly produce fraternity among Christian bodies. It is appropriate that Welsh county councils should be able to pay their statutory debts, but there seems a certain inappropriateness in making that the theme for a discourse on Christian fraternity. If any good had been 468 done or any benefit had been rendered either to the religious interests of the Church or to the religious interests of Nonconformity by this Bill, then I could have understood this thought of fraternity and Christian obligation. But is the common honesty of a county council defraying its legal debt without any regard to the interests of religion or any bearing beyond the general bearing that common honesty has on religion really an occasion which gives the right hon. Gentleman a special title to appeal to Christians to forget their disagreements and controversies of the past? In one sense I hope that the controversies, both in England, and Wales, between the Church and Nonconformity may be buried, and I do earnestly desire that a spirit of Christian unity may remain among them, but I do not think this Bill will help it. I am quite sure that the original Act which this Bill seeks to amend did a very ill-service to Christian unity, and sowed the seeds of a bitterness which nothing but Christian sentiments and wiser and better Churchmen and Nonconformists would prevent coming to fruition.
I have no quarrel beyond the old quarrel with the Liberal members of the Government in respect of this Bill. Their position, I think, is open to the criticisms that have often been made on the question of Disendowment, but it is open to no criticism in respect of this Bill. They are perfectly consistent. I will say a. word later as to some arguments which I think should have more weight with them than they appear to have. I think my right hon. Friends, the Unionist leaders, are in a totally different position from the Liberal members of the Government. They are deeply pledged to the position that Disendowment is confiscation, and that it is an injury to religion. That my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House fully recognises. I know, because I have had the advantage of approaching him privately, and was obliged for the courtesy which he has always showed. He gave a promise on 21st April, 1914, that:If a Unionist Government is returned to power I am sure that one of the first things that Government will do will be to restore to the Church of Wales the funds of which you have deprived her."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1914, col. 878, Vol. 61.]My right hon. Friend takes this view. Though this Government absolutely depends on Unionist support—for it would immediately cease to exist if he and his colleagues resigned—nevertheless that 469 pledge has wholly ceased to be binding, and I am rather inclined to think that my right hon. Friend's explanation would qualify him for a place in Pascal's Provincial Letters amongst those who found excuses. But I will return to the question of how far my right hon. Friend is bound by that pledge before I sit down. Let me first advert to the general aspect, because you cannot judge of the importance of the pledge till you judge in what general light my right hon. Friend treated this Bill. My right hon. Friend made a number of speeches on this Bill. I cannot pretend to have had the pleasure of reading them all, but I have read one of them, or a part of one, which, like all my right hon. Friend's, was a very good speech. It is the same speech in which he gave the promise I have just quoted. He concluded with that promise, but he said a great deal before he came to that, and these are some of the things he said. He said:There is no doubt, if what is being done to this Chruch were being done to any other body, it would be admitted to be wrong, and the fact that it is being done from party motives and by the full use of the party machine makes it not less but more, undisguisedly robbery."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1914, col 872. Vol. 61.]The Home Secretary has told us that this Bill is necessary to carry out the original Act, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House sees no impropriety in remaining a member of the Government which is going to pass a Bill necessary to carry out a policy of undisguised robbery. I cannot think that that is a decision which will raise his own personal credit or the reputation of politicians generally in respect to grave matters. In the same speech he also said:I should like to go a step further. I hold that Parliament has absolutely no right to take these Endowments. But even if it had, and if there were some justification, I can imagine nothing more unwise than that these Endowments should be taken away."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1914, col. 872, Vol. 61.]He ended up that part of his argument in this way:Why are they taking them from the Church? No one will deny that to deprive the Church in Wales of these funds is to weaken that Church. It will, therefore, injure religion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 21st April, 1914, col. 873. Vol. 61.]My right hon. Friend is going to be a party to carrying out a policy which, by his own account, is, first, undisguised robbery, and, secondly, an injury to religion, and he is going to do that rather than to give up his place in the Govern- 470 ment that is a party to such a transaction. His Liberal colleagues are acting in perfect good faith. They believe their policy is justified, but he is acting knowing what he is doing. He is carrying out robbery, knowing it to be robbery. He is injuring religion knowing that he does injure religion, having said so, and I cannot think that that is a justifiable attitude for any public man to take up. Nor is this the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman alone; it is that of the whole of the Unionist Members of the Government. The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Long) spoke in the same Debate, but on an earlier day, the 20th April. It appears that Sir John Simon, who had just spoken, had pretended to think that the accusation of robbery was not one that could be seriously maintained, and the First Lord of the Admiralty replied:A moment ago, at the conclusion of his speech, he (Sir John Simon) did not forget to suggest that we adopted a form of opposition outside this House in regard to this Hill very different from the opposition which we offer inside, and he suggested that our statement that this Bill proposes to rob the four Welsh dioceses of the English Church in Wales is a statement which we keep for what he is pleased to term our Church defence platforms, and do not make on the floor of this House. It has been made on the floor of the House time after time, and it has been the burden of our song, and it has been the centre and foundation of speeches from this side of the House during all these Debates."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th April, 1914, col. 642, Vol. 61.]Yet my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty do not feel the smallest scruple or uneasiness at proceeding to pass a Bill which is necessary to carry out the policy which they repeatedly and over and over again—they and all their party—qualified as undisguised robeery and as an injury to religion. In the light of those quotations, to come back to the pledge that when a Unionist Government was in power Dis-endowment should be repealed, my right hon. Friend thinks that he is emancipated From that pledge, because, before the General Election, he said, "If there is to be a Coalition you cannot expect—it is impossible—that we can go to the country with precisely the same policy which we should adopt if we were going as a Unionist party alone." That is a very reasonable statement, but would anyone believe that that reasonable statement was intended to cover the adoption and acceptance of a policy of undisguised robbery? Is that the sort of moral give and take 471 that is to pass between politicians for political objects? Are these the sort of moral sacrifices that are to be made for the purpose of political co-operation? Action of that kind injures those who do it, and it injures the public life in which it is done. In my view, a sharp distinction ought to be drawn between what can be sacrificed for the purpose of political cooperation and what can not. Moral issues ought not to be lightly raised. In the heat of controversy perhaps they are often too easily raised, but if they are raised, those who raise them should recognise that they are under an obligation to act with that degree of fidelity to the moral propositions laid down which is required from all honest men by all honest men in respect to fidelity to moral propositions. That is quite a different sort of fidelity from that which is required about party allegiance or mere matters of policy. But my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has, if I may say so, inverted this salutary rule. He has exacted something from his Liberal colleagues. He has exacted, for example, a substantial measure of Colonial Preference. I greatly misunderstand the attitude of a large part of the Coalition Liberals in this House if I am wrong in saying that they would have far more willingly restored the Endowments to the Welsh Church—an act in their language of generosity, but in ours of justice—than they would have adopted a policy of Colonial Preference, but that did not weigh with my right hon. Friend. He cared, I suppose, a great deal more about Colonial Preference than he cared about hindering an undisguised robbery which is an injury to religion. To him, that was a much greater matter. He therefore insisted upon having his own way, and he had it. I do not complain at all. The policy is one which I thought reasonable and one which ought to be adopted, but I think, if there were to be compromises and sacrifices, the compromises and sacrifices should have been made where they could be made on a mere matter of policy and not on a plain moral issue formally and elaborately declared by the leaders of the Unionist party.
There is only one thing I would like to say to my right hon. Friends who are Liberals, and who are in a different position, and no animadversion on their personal conduct would be at all reasonable, but I would put it to them whether, on 472 their own principles, this Bill might not have been more generous, as they would call it, than it is. I am told—these figures are not always understood, but I am told —that what practically the net result of the Bill will be is that a sum of £960,000 will be taken from the Church in the end, allowing for all these payments that are provided for in this Bill, and devoted to secular purposes. Does that seem a very desirable thing to do? I know my right hon. Friends think that by some ancient historical title the £960,000 belongs to the State. I do not agree with them, but I am not going to argue that matter now, but I would ask whether there is not something rather mean and rather impious in at this moment, just when we have come forth delivered from a great war, taking £960,000 from preaching the Gospel and giving it to the purposes of the Welsh county councils?
The Prime Minister is pre-eminently associated with emphasising the duty of national thanksgiving. We have in every corporate way made acts of national thanksgiving. Just now we have voted gifts of money, as the natural companion of Votes of Thanks. When dealing in religious matters, it seems that our Votes of Thanks are not accompanied by grants of money, but by taking money away from those purposes and giving it to other things. I confess I think that is very unseemly. A sum which is very important to a little body doing a religious work is very small from the point of view of the State. Lord Inver forth, in moments of eccentricity, has spent more than that in one day—£960,000 is less than a quarter of what we have been told is the daily expenditure of the country since the Armistice, or the sum we spend between breakfast and lunch. I think it is a pity that we should inaugurate the period of peace by cramping the preaching of the Gospel. I cannot express, therefore, any gratitude for what this Bill may do. This Bill will mark one stage further down in the reputation of public men. I am sure, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in future has to deal with other matters—let us say labour troubles—he will find a certain difficulty arising, partly on account of the manner in which he has treated his obligations to the Welsh Church. He may have to say to owners of property and capitalists that they can count on him to protect them from robbery, but can any language be more vehement than that which I have quoted in respect of the 473 Welsh Church, and would it not occur to most of those who are asked to trust to such promises, that if it should happen that a political campaign might take place, which made it rather convenient to forget all about those pledges, those pledges would be of no avail?
The strange doctrine has been contributed to casuistry that if you give a rather ambiguous and meaningless statement at a General Election you are emancipated from all the promises you made before. That would apply just as much to anyone else who is the recipient of Government promises. Labour or capital might be put off with the statement, "I said something which, properly understood, meant I was not going to do what I promised to do, and therefore I am free." 1 believe it to be profoundly mischievous that a great political party and great political leaders should support by that sort of language and that sort of argument a particular position in respect to a great public question, and then, when they are in office, they should be concerned about all sorts of matters—concerned with raising their own salaries, as they were doing last night—but should not be concerned in saving the Church from the robbery they had previously denounced. I believe it lowers public life, and I am sure everywhere where the Church is honoured, everywhere where these things arc taken seriously and felt to be great questions and great issues, it will always be remembered against my right hon. Friend and his Unionist colleagues that they have basely betrayed the Church under whose banner they were not ashamed to fight.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I intervene with some temerity in this Debate, because what I conceive to be a. promising rift in the Coalition may be healed by my intervention. I must say the Noble Lord's description of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House as a "Jesuit Father" somewhat alarmed me. All I have to say about it is this, that during the time I have occupied this seat since January last his conduct has been distinguished by frankness, by candour, and by scrupulous attention to anything approaching a promise he may have made. However, I do not rise with any other intention but to put as well as I can, from this maze of figures, which I confess I have not been able to follow, what I conceive to be the public position, as apart from that of the Church in Wales 474 or the public bodies concerned in the Disendowment. The Noble Lord is under the impression that, in regard to Disendowment, the Church in Wales has still a great grievance. I am quite unable to follow that contention. So far as I have been able to follow the figures at all, it seems to me the net effect in 1950 will be that there will be no Disendowment at all of the Church in Wales.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I am trying to explain. I do not suppose that view of mine will please many of my hon. Friends in Wales. I base it on figures as given by the Home Secretary, and given in the White Paper, as I understand from the very summary perusal I have been able to give to it. What is the position with regard to the tithe rent-charge, which, after all, is the main source of the revenue. When the Church Act was passed in 1914 it was contemplated that somewhere in 1915 the process of Disendowment would begin, and at that time the tithe rent-charge stood at about seventy-seven. The War came, and the price of tithe, as we know, soared up so much that last year, in order to stop what was getting a real scandal, the Act was passed which stabilised the tithe at 109. What we call the market price of the tithe has run up to about 136 to 132. During the whole time from 1914 to 1919 the Church in Wales has been in receipt of the whole of the proceeds of these tithes at 136 until stabilised at 109— [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—or whatever it ran up to. It is constantly rising. It was not 136 when it started, but it went up to that. At any rate, on the average there has been a gain of about £186,000. The rise was very rapid.
An HON. MEMBER
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say they paid more than 109 at any one time? They never did.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I understand the tithe market rate this year was 136. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not!"] It is about 132. or 136 now. [An HON. MEMBER: "Next year!"] I will take it at 109 as against 77. They received that sum for five years. As I understand it— and indeed I think the Home Secretary said so—they are going to commute the interest at 136. But the county councils will not touch this money until 1950. When the matter is gone into on an actuarial basis I think 475 it will be found that, at any rate, by 1950, there has been a very small fraction indeed of Disendowment.
But here is my point—my public point. There has been an attempt, a successful attempt it seems, between those responsible for the Government, the Prime Minister and his colleagues from Wales, to effect a settlement. Of course it has been settled outside this House. We are entitled to hear the whole thing. The House of Commons is not bound by anything the Prime Minister has done. Of course, we know what the result will be, but at any rate the duty of the House of Commons is to insist, in all these financial matters, that whatever arrangements are made outside, full disclosure shall be made here before any decision is ratified. Why should the public purse be depleted to the extent of a million in order to settle a difficulty between public bodies in Wales and the Church in Wales in regard to the Disendowment of the Church there? Suppose at some date—it may not be a very distant date—the question of Disestablishment and Disendowment of the English Church comes up. What sort of precedent are we setting up now? This is a very serious matter as between the Church of England and its Endowment, and here we are deliberately setting up a precedent of the use of the National Treasury, to which all the component parts of the United Kingdom contribute, in order to settle the matter of the Church in Wales. That is the House of Commons point which I am taking. What may happen in the future, if this deal—or whatever else you like to call it—is passed through the House of Commons without a protest being made? It shall not be without, at all events, a protest from this side of the House. I am not very much interested as to Disendowment. Disestablishment, I feel, must always carry some measure of Disendowment, but the exact amount has never been a matter which appealed to me very strongly from one point or another. I quite agree that the attitude taken up toy the Noble Lord makes it of no use to try to make any settlement whatever.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The Noble Lord does not seem to recognise at all that there is an Act on the Statute Book.
§ Lord H. CECIL
But the Home Secretary said that that Act could not be carried, out unless something of this kind was done.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I must leave the Home Secretary to explain that himself. I am here to discharge what I think is the duty of any Member sitting on these benches, and holding the views that I do, and that is to make a strong protest against the National Treasury being used to settle what, after all, should be a matter to be settled by the public bodies in Wales with the Welsh Church. The House of Commons, in my judgment, should intervene under the circumstances in that dispute which ought to have been settled as between the public, bodies in Wales, and without the intervention of the House of Commons.
§ Sir OWEN PHILIPPS
The general view of all parties in Wales is, in my opinion, that the Welsh Church should not be placed in a worse position as a result of the War than it would have been if there had been no war. That is, I think, a very reasonable and sound position for the public and all parties to take up. What are the facts? If the Disendowment Clauses were entirely repealed, the Welsh Church would still be in a worse position than it was before the War. In other words, the Welsh Church, with her Endowments and after-war conditions and prices, would be in a worse position than she would be without her Endowments and with pre-war conditions and prices. It must always be remembered that the Welsh Church is and always has been financially a very poor Church. No less than seventy-five incumbents in Wales receive to-day less than £150 per annum from Endowments. This Bill is an equitable attempt on the part of His Majesty's Government to adjust the financial difficulties due to the War having been so very prolonged. Substantial justice is done by the Bill to the Welsh county councils, as the advance of a million sterling releases them from the necessity of raising a special rate to carry out the terms of the Welsh Church Act so far as it applies to the property they are taking over. The Bill also puts the county councils in possession of this handsome amount of property at a very much earlier period than they could possibly get possession of it without this Bill. I say, therefore, the Bill, so far as the county councils and the ratepayers of 477 Wales are concerned, does substantial justice. The Bill does some justice to the Welsh Church. For instance, I listened with interest to what the Home Secretary said about lapsed interests. But in any case, whatever the law may be held to be as to the right or otherwise of lapsed interests, the Bill makes the position of the Welsh Church absolutely clear and above dispute. It is an advantage to have a Clause in the Bill clearing up any ambiguity on this head.
The Bill includes a number of administrative Amendments which have proved of very considerable value to the Welsh Church. It is of vital importance to the Welsh Church and Welsh Churcnmen to know as promptly as possible the future financial position, so that they may have time before the date of Disestablishment to make all the necessary arrangements. The Welsh Church is in a very serious position. There is the impossibility at the present time of raising large sums of money to replace the money lost by Disendowment. If there had been no war, in my view, it would have been a comparatively easy matter to have raised the necessary money to replace these. Endowments; but the position now is entirely different. We had an example a short time ago in the case of the Church of England. That Church decided that they would raise £5,000,000 in the whole of England and Wales. They brought forward a great scheme, and I think it was magnificently advertised, and one came across very able advertisements setting out the full position, and they asked for £5,000,000 sterling. After a most extensive propaganda, the whole of this wealthy country produced less than 20 per cent. of what they asked for. That was practically a fiasco, and when you have that experience what chance has poor little Wales of raising this money to replace the Endowments?
Wales, like the Welsh Church and other people, has to face the great rise in prices. The Church cannot continue to pay incumbents at the old rates. I have already mentioned how very low the incumbents stipends are at the present time, and there are a very large number who have very little more than the figure I have mentioned. If this Bill is passed before the Recess it will greatly assist in putting the affairs of the Welsh Church in order. As Chairman of the Finance Committee of the representative body of the Church in Wales I can speak 478 with some knowledge of the actual position. I wish to appeal to the Government to favourably consider two Amendments in Committee. The first is as regards churchyards which are hallowed by centuries, and which I hope the Government will see their way to leave in possession of the Church, making provision for full security for the Nonconformist rights and feelings. I do not think there will be any difficulty in providing a satisfactory settlement which will meet the views of Wales on this subject.
The other matter which I hope the Government will favourably consider is to secure to the Church the Endowments other than tithe. This is not a large figure, and I believe the total value of those Endowments is comparatively a few thousands a year, and I think the Government might fairly meet our appeal in this direction. The Bill is primarily a Welsh question. We have heard a great deal in the last few months of self-determination. All we ask is that this shall be left to us to settle in Wales. The Welsh Parliamentary party accept the Bill, and we Welshmen are grateful to our English friends for their help in the past, and we look forward to their help in the future in raising the very considerable sums of money that will still be required by the Welsh Church. We heard a very able speech from the Noble Lord (Lord H. Cecil), with much of which I was in agreement, but not all. I hope they will permit us to settle this matter now and get the Bill passed at once. I may state that the Parliamentary Committee of the governing body of the Welsh Church has given the matter full consideration, and they were empowered by the governing body to deal with it, and to-day they have passed a resolution, which I will read to the House, as it sets out the position of the Welsh Church:This Committee, having carefully considered the provisions of the Welsh Church Bill, while reaffirming its conviction against the principle of Disendowment, realises so strongly the urgent need of an immediate settlement that it is prepared to accept the Bill, although regretting the non-inclusion in the Bill of the retention of ancient and unenclosed churchyards, and endowment other than titheSo that, whilst there is no bargain of any kind, and I would like to make that absolutely clear, here is a settlement proposed that is agreeable—not that either side may be absolutely pleased with it, but it does meet the views of the great mass of Welshmen, and I hope that it will receive 479 the support of this House. In these days of unrest all resources are needed for carrying on the work of religion. If the Government can see their way to grant the two concessions I have mentioned, they will go a long way to reconcile Churchmen to Disendowment, which they hate so much. It would do much to end the bitterness caused by old religious controversies, and would greatly facilitate all religious bodies in Wales working more closely together for the good of all Wales. It is for these reasons that I commend this Bill to the House, and I hope that by passing it into law we may at last bring to an end a controversy that has caused more "friction in Wales than residents in England can understand, or probably believe. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ Mr. HAYDN JONES
I cordially agree with the remarks of the hon. Baronet who said that he did not want the Welsh Church to be any worse off than before the War. I am in exactly the same position, but I do not want the Church to be any better off as well. I believe this measure of Disestablishment should be accompanied by a measure of Disendowment, and in that I am just as conscientious in my opinion as any hon. Member could be. The Welsh Church Act, after it had been passed, had its operation suspended by the Suspensory Bill. But it is now on the Statute Book. I well recollect that when the Suspensory Bill was brought in the statement was made that whatever Bill was suspended nobody was to suffer by these suspensions. But I maintain that the suspensions of the Welsh Church Act is going to militate very seriously against the interests of the local authorities. The commutation value of existing interests is included in a return presented by Mr. McKenna in 1915. The value of the existing interests of those who held benefices at that time amounted to £2,150,000. Today we are asked to vote a sum of £3,400,000, a difference of a million and a quarter.
§ Mr. JONES
In using the word "asked" I was wrong no doubt, but the fact remains that the present Bill, the commutation value is £3,400,000 as against the 1915 value of £2,160,000, and I want to know how the difference is accounted for. 480 The Home Secretary in an admirable elucidatory speech attempted to explain this. He pointed out that the tithe had advanced from 77, at the date of the passing of the Bill to 136, the anticipated figure at the actual date of Disestablishment at March, 1920. That, I am told, accounts for half a million of money. In addition there is the value of the interests to be computed. Money cannot be now obtained at 3½ pr cent. It brings in 5 per cent. These two items may account for the million and a quarter which is to be paid to the. Church entirely as a result of the suspension of the Act. In my opinion that should not be allowed, and I believe that the payment of this money by the Treasury for this purpose constitutes a precedent most dangerous which might be followed in the future. I have my doubts as to whether the million and a quarter will be sufficient however, and I will tell the House why.
The Home Secretary has calculated the tithe at 136, but the Noble Lord elicited from the right hon. Gentleman the fact that he is going to pay at least a quarter of a million on account of rates. I venture to say that under the present arrangement, that sum is absolutely inadequate. Let us look at the rates as they now stand and compare them with those for the three years preceding the date of the passing of the Act. The average rate paid when tithes stood at seventy-seven—and I am taking figures for my own county—show that the moiety which the incumbent bore—the average moiety in my own county—was £291 10s. 8d. before the War, whereas last year the levy will amount to £l,035. [It is clear, therefore, that the sum has gone up from £291 to £1,035, and looking at it in this way the Treasury moiety is practically doubled. I therefore venture to say that the quarter of a million which the Home Secretary said he would have to provide, in addition to the million he is going to grant to the county councils, is absolutely inadequate. It will be a far larger sum, and I feel that if any rearrangement is to be made it ought to be made in the financial Clauses of this Bill and not by granting money from the Treasury. If that were done, then we should have a clear issue between us. The Government have, in fact, taken the short cut, the line of least resistance. They axe handing over this money to enable the Church Commissioners to commute, otherwise the Act would have been a dead 481 letter. The honest tiling would have been to say that the War had altered everything, that interests had gone up, that the tithes had gone up, and that, therefore, it was fair and equitable that the whole thing should be rearranged and a fair balance drawn as between both parties. If that course had been adopted, good will would have prevailed. I think it is most unfair that the Government should have had recourse to a Grant from the Treasury for this purpose instead of enabling the House to go fully into the financial position. They are endowing the Church in this way. The tithe has been stablised at 109, and any layman can commute at that figure; but the moment the Welsh Church Commissioners seek to commute they have to do it at an average of 136. This Bill distinctly says that, for the purpose of annuities for the clergy, the yare to be paid at the rate of 136. That is simply a method of subsidising the Church in an indirect way. I may be right or wrong. I am simply giving my own views. I respect the views of the party opposite. I believe they are as conscientious in their view as I am in mine. But let us be quite honest over the matter. I put it to them that it is not straight business to compel an incumbent to accept 109 and for the Church body to get 136 for the tithe and to put the balance in an endowment fund. I go further and say that it is a sorry day for this House and the country when we begin to dole out of the Treasury—which is living not on it sin come but on borrowed capital—£1,000,000 when they are asking the people to save and exercise all the economy they can in order to meet the appalling debt of the country. Here, rather than make a fair rectification of what has occurred through the War, you are asking a depleted Treasury to hand over £1,000,000, and you ask this House to ratify that bargain. It may be ratified here, but I will be no party to it. The hon. Baronet the Member for Chester (Sir O. Philipps) said that he knew a good deal of Wales. I live in Wales and am there practically the whole of my time except when I am in this House. I am perfectly certain there is great feeling on the matter there. I am already beginning to be deluged with letters protesting against the voting of millions of money for the purpose of Church endowment. The matter could have been arranged equitably if we had only put our heads together without going to the Treasury. I protest most vigorously 482 against this, the first step in a policy which may lead to a great deal of mischief in the future. I will be no party to a measure of this kind. If in Committee I can move Amendments, it will be my duty to do so to try to get some of the anomalies which exist in this Bill put right. I hope that hon. Members opposite who think differently, when they see that the object I have in view is simply to set right what I believe is an anomaly, will give me their assistance.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
I, too, with the hon. Member who has just sat down, regret that I can have no part or lot in this Bill. I believe that it is the wrong way to tackle the problem, that it will not lead to good will or to a final settlement, and further that it is a gross betrayal of the interests of the Church in Wales. I confess that on this question I have a. past—that is to say, I have fought two General Elections for a Welsh constituency against the Act which is now on the Statute Book. During those elections and during the Parliaments which followed them, I took up a perfectly definite line. In the last Parliament, until this Act was put on the Statute Book, I opposed it quite frankly on the ground of principle. My principle was that the Welsh county councils had no right to the tithe, that the Welsh universities had no right to the glebe, that the churchyards belonged to the Church and should not be taken away, and that the Welsh dioceses were a part of the Province of Canterbury and should not be separated from that Province without the express decision of the ecclesiastical authorities of that Province. Those were the four points I took. The Act, under peculiar circumstances, was placed on the Statute Book. I remember being asked by the Bishop of St. Asaph to attend a conference at Shrewsbury and to move a resolution, not merely demanding the reconsideration of the terms of Disendowment which were placed by the Act on the Church in Wales, but asking for the total repeal of the Disendowment Sections of the Act. That resolution was submitted to an Assembly of the Church in Wales, and was carried unanimously. I am amazed to hear to-night that the hon. Baronet the Member for Chester (Sir O. Philipps) says that the Welsh Church accepts this Bill. Has the Welsh laity been consulted? This Bill was only printed the day before yesterday, and we did not get the White Paper until this morning. No, it is a bit of episcopal tyranny behind 483 the backs of the Welsh laity. I for one, until Welsh laymen in Wales have expressed their view upon the details of this Bill, will not give my support to its furtherance or any enactment of it in any shape or form. Why? There seems to be no ground of principle in this Bill.
We have had a most illuminating speech from the Home Secretary. I hope that every Welsh layman will read that speech. He tells us that the lapsed interests are secured to the Church under the old Act. He tells us further that, in the event of the Act coming into force, the commutation of tithe will in any case be on the basis of £136: Therefore, all that we have been Jed by the bishops to believe are advantages to the Church are not secured by this Bill but are in the old Act as it stands now. There is one very important thing which has not been made clear—that is that not one single penny of the amount that was to be secularised under the old Act is to be given back to the Church, but all of it is to be secularised, as provided in the old Act. Those Conservatives and Unionists who supported the Coalition at the last election understood perfectly clearly from our leaders that there was to be reconsideration of the terms of Disendowment. We understood that to mean, at least, that the glebe and the churchyards were to be given back to the Church. In fact, it was generally understood that tithe was to remain with the endowments to come back to the Church. Not one single penny of the amount that was secularised by the Act of 1914 is to be given back to the Church. It is all to be secularised, and money which has hitherto been devoted to religious purposes is, in the year 1950, to be devoted by the county councils to secular schemes for baths and the like. We cannot accept that, because we opposed it on principle, and we are bound to go on opposing it on principle. If we once get away from the principle we imperil the whole ground upon which the Church of England holds its endowments. If it is right to take away from the Church religious property devoted to the services of religion in Wales, it is equally right to take it away from Nonconformist bodies in England or Wales, or from churches in England or Scotland, or any other part of the United Kingdom. If once we get away from that principle it seems to me that we imperil the whole honour of the Church, the whole ground upon which the Church fought the 484 Bill, the whole ground upon which the bishops left off attending to their episcopal duties and came into the open and engaged in a political fight.
What is of most importance in the Bill is, I need hardly say, Clause 1. If Clause 1 is not passed, I believe that Disendowment will never come into operation—that is to say, if the Welsh Commissioners cease to exist, as they do under the existing law by the end of this year, and the deposit of ratification of the Treaty of Peace with Turkey does not come before that date, the whole of the Act of 1914 as regards Disendowment falls to the ground. We are asked in Clause 1, in a word, to re-enact Disendowment as a whole. I for one cannot be a party to the re-enactment of Disendowment, which I believe to be wrong on principle and in practice. Surely the whole principle of the Coalition was that it should be give and take; that if those of us who have supported the Welsh Church would accept Disestablishment, or even partial Disendowment, some arrangement might be come to. But we have been told by the Home Secretary perfectly clearly that this Bill contains no re-endowment of the Church from the funds which I maintain morally belong to it. I believe that the Welsh county councils have not got a moral right to a single farthing, and until I am absolutely beaten over that I cannot support it.
I am amazed to see the name of the learned Solicitor-General on this Bill. He was one of the staunchest Church defenders in the last Parliament, and now his name is on this, one of the most disgraceful Bills which I believe has ever been introduced into Parliament, for the re-enactment of Disendowment without attempting to meet the root principles of those who were opposed to the original Act. The mere fact that in this Bill there is no mention of the grievance which Churchmen felt most bitterly of all, namely, the confiscation of their churchyards, stamps the Bill as one which has been brought out in a hurry, without open consultation or open diplomacy of any kind, and which is brought into this House without any consultation with those who have been the lay leaders of the Church in the past. I believe that the most disastrous results to the reputation of the Government outside will follow when the provisions of the Bill come to be known. I venture to say that when Churchmen read the speech of the Home Secretary delivered in this House 485 to-night, and when they read the speech of my Noble Friend the Member for Ox-ford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), there will be a real outcry. Instead of openly asking the Welsh Nonconformists and Church people to come together and see if they could settle their differences in open court, by this Cabinet bargain we have been sold by the Unionist leaders in the matter. Under these circumstances, there will not be peace in Wales, and you will find many laymen like myself, who have been connected with the Church in Wales, who will not be content to come any more under the dictation of the bishops in a matter like this.
§ Sir E. JONES
I am afraid that we are going to get, after all, into the spirit of the old controversies that are quite irrelevant to this Bill, and that is the reason why, having decided to keep quiet, I, as one of the Welsh Members, intervene in this Debate. I can quite understand and respect the position of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, but for the benefit of several new Members of the House who happen to be here to-night but who were not here during the earlier controversies, and are probably not suite clear as to the issues, I want to distinguish for them and to ask their consideration of two very different propositions. The proposition that has been raised by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, and by one of my colleagues who was a dissentient from the majority of the other Welsh Members, is a proposition that goes to the root of the original Bill. The hon. Member's standpoint, which I quite understand, is that he will never rest until he gets some reconsideration of the original Bill. I want to suggest to the House that this is not a time to go into that, and this is not a Bill that enters into that at all. We are not here to-night in any way to amend the original Bill in any essential point. We start, in the words of my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Haydn Jones), from the position that the Church was not to be deemed to have gained on the one hand nor the local authorities on the other, but that they were to be in the same position, as the result of the postponement due to the War, as if the War had not taken place. This is a Bill which is attempting simply to see that both sides of the controversy are in the same position as before.
The hon. Member made a rather violent attack on his one-time leaders, the Welsh bishops. But how have the Welsh 486 bishops come to the position they are in I think it is fair that the House should know. The Government said, "We will have actuarial calculations made, and if it is true that as a result of the War the Church on the one hand has made any loss as compared with its position under the original Bill, then, whatever the loss is, it shall be made up to the Church. If, on the other hand, there has been a loss made by the other side, it shall be made up to them. "The Coalition Members of the Government and the bishops, on the one hand, and, I believe, the majority of the Welsh Members when it was put to them lately, said that that was a fair arrangement. It has turned out, as a result of the actuarial and official inquiries, that the Church has made no floss. It has turned" out, on the other hand, that as the Bill now stands it could not be carried out without making a bankrupt of every county council in Wales. That is quits clear. According to my hon. Friend, and there is a good deal to be said for his point of view, it turns out in a substantial enrichment of the Church as compared with what their position would have been if the original Act had taken effect in 1915, which was the original date. We have tried to take a middle view. We have tried to go into these figures as well as we could, and I should like just briefly to explain to the House what is really the meaning of these figures, and to dissipate a little of the confusion that there has been up to now in the Debate. If it were not for the commutation Clauses of the original Act, none of this bother or difficulty would have arisen, and this Bill would not have been necessary, nor any other Bill like it. The original basis of the Bill was that the tithe was, after the date of Disestablishment, to belong to the county councils and not to the individual incumbents, but there was an obligation upon the county councils to continue to pay during the life of an existing incumbent. If that had been allowed to stand, as the different incumbents died or removed out of Wales the tithe rent-charge belonging to their benefices would fall in, and by the time all the incumbents who were having a right to a benefice at the date of the Act would all have died out, all the tithe rent-charges would have fallen in. It was felt on both sides that that would have been rather an inconvenient process, to wait for these things to happen one at a time. Therefore, rather late in the negotiations 487 and in the stages of the Bill, it was suggested, Why not bring in a financial scheme to commute the whole of those interests on an annuity basis from the very start 1 It is the fact that that scheme of commuting the whole of the interests was finally introduced into the Bill that has created all this difficulty. It is purely a financial difficulty that we are dealing with to-night, unless, of course, you are going to raise a totally separate issue—namely, the principle of the Bill.
As the original Act now stands, the Church need not accept that commutation scheme. It was optional for the Church to say, "We will have the original form. Let the tithe rent-charges revert to the new authorities as the incumbents die out one by one. "But instead of that they could, on giving notice in writing, demand the payment by the Welsh Commissioners in a lump sum, that they will have to borrow for the purpose, of the whole commuted value of all these life interests. The Tithe Bill of 1918 struck at the root of that. We protested at the time, and pointed out that if that Tithe Bill were carried it would strike at the root of the Welsh Act as it stood, but we could not prevent the Bill passing. Therefore, the position is this: If the Church chooses, and takes up the option offered in the Bill, as I understand it does, it will ask that the whole of these life interests shall be commuted. That will mean that the Welsh Commissioners, who are to administer the Bill, have got to buy out the calculated value of all the life interests and pay that over to the Church representative body. Then you came up against this difficulty—that they would have to buy out these existing life interests at 136, or thereabouts, owing to the effect of the War on the price of wheat and the change in the septennial averages, and in the original Act they will have to commute all these in a lump sum at 136. But the amount that they will receive from year to year from these charges in the meantime will only be 109, because 109 is fixed in the Act of 1918. Therefore, it is not strictly correct to say that the county councils are going to get this money They will never see a farthing of it. It is the Welsh Commissioners who have to administer this Act of commutation. The Welsh Commissioners have to hand over to the Church the value of these commuted interests at 136. But the Welsh county councils will, under the new 488 scheme, never get a penny till 1950 to start with. Then in 1950 they will get exactly what they would have had under the original Act, and that is what we are arriving at.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
Has the hon. Gentleman read the last paragraph of the Government White Paper, which says the Welsh county councils will get £200,000 a year, while it was stated they would only get £150,000 a year?
§ Sir E. JONES
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will calculate the interest on £150,000 from the original date he will find, and we were told so by the actuary, that £150,000 and £200,000 in 1950 mean exactly the same thing. I said there was hopeless confusion in the minds of some hon. Members.
§ Mr. H. JONES
The amount will not be the same on account of the interest, but on account of the value of the tithe being higher.
§ Sir E. JONES
It is the change of date from 1941 to 1950. I am sure the Home-Secretary will confirm that, that it means-the same thing, and the Welsh county councils are not going to get an extra penny in the end. I can assure the Noble Lord and other Friends here that the Welsh Members were the last people in the world who wanted to reopen this old controversy, and I am very pleased to find that, contrary to the speeches of the Noble Lord in this House, throughout the whole of these three years, when the laymen of the Welsh Church and the parish, clergy got the chance, they followed the line that we always said they would, and not the line the Noble Lord said they would take. They have met in their assembly and have decided that they are going to have a National Church of their own. They have asked voluntarily to be severed from the; Province of Canterbury, and to be allowed to have their own Archbishop, and the bishops from that Church have said, in the middle of all this muddle, "For the sake of peace, leave us Welsh people alone! Clear up this financial thing that is due to your Tithe Act of 1918, and its interference with natural operations, and put us all exactly where we were under the original Act, and we are willing not to reopen the business and to settle down as Christian people in the job that, Heaven knows, is difficult 489 enough, of trying to bring a better nature among the people amongst whom we live."
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir A. Boscawen)
I wish to say a very few words about this Bill, and I speak with a great sense of responsibility. No one in this House, I think, has opposed Disestablishment and Disendowment in Wales longer or more vigorously than I have. I remember making my maiden speech against the Welsh Suspensory Bill in 1893, and I have consistently fought Disestablishment in England or in Wales ever since I have been in any way connected with politics. I have not changed my principles. I object to Disestablishment as a principle. I object to Disendowment, and if I am asked whether I like the present position, I say without hesitation that I do not like it. This Bill confirms in a sense the Welsh Church Act that was passed five years ago. It commits the country to Disestablishment in Wales. It will take away from the Church in Wales and from religion, and devote to secular purposes, something like £900,000. I cannot say that I am enthusiastic for that. I do not think it is a very good peace offering that we can make at this moment. But what is the position? Five years have elapsed since the Act was passed. Great changes have occurred in the five years. We find now that the Act cannot be carried out as it was originally intended. The alteration in the value of tithe has had this result, that if commutation is to be carried out the Welsh county councils will be bankrupt. The Welsh Commissioners come to an end, and if they are to do their work their tenure of office has to be renewed. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, whatever happens, that the Bill should be passed now either for the purpose of enabling the Act to become law or else to repeal the Act and institute a different policy altogether.
What were we to do? We could, if we had liked, have taken up the position which we took up in the year 1914. We could have demanded the repeal of the Act. It might have been consistent on our part if we had done that. It might have saved my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House from the attacks of my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford (Lord Hugh Cecil). But I ask the House, 490 Would it have been wise and would it have been statesmanlike and would it have succeeded? Supposing those of us who have opposed Disestablishment and Disendowment from the beginning now took the fiery cross through the country and said that we would repudiate this Bill and this policy, and would endeavour to get up an agitation for the repeal of the old Act. If we had done that, we should have made a great mistake and we should never have succeeded in our object. Not only so, but we should have rearoused those feelings of religious bitterness which used, unfortunately, to prevail in the Principality and have prevailed ever since I can remember, but which the War, I am thankful to say, has done very much to get rid of. We should have failed in our object, and in the end, probably, a very much worse Bill, from the Church point of view, would have been carried into law by a Coalition Government, or, it may have been, by a Liberal Government. An Act of some sort was necessary. The existing Act cannot come into law without amendment. It would have ruined the Welsh county councils. Its administration would have been impossible. There was an opportunity of endeavouring to come to some kind of fair compromise which would leave the Church far better off than she would have been under the original Act, and which would solve the difficulties of administration and the financial difficulties of the Welsh county councils. Though I say, without hesitation, that I do not like the policy, that I dislike Disestablishment, and that I have not changed my opinion and do not change my opinion on Disendowment, the only wise and statesmanlike course is the course which has been adopted by responsible representatives of the governing body of the Church in Wales, and to agree with the Government on a Bill of this sort, which, of course, may be capable of amendment in some particulars, which will give far better terms, in fact, to the Church than she would have got under the original Act, and which will, I hope, settle this controversy, so far as Wales is concerned, for all time to come. Therefore, though I do not alter my opinion, my strong advice to all my Friends in this House is that they should accept this Bill, possibly with Amendments in some particulars, which I will not enter into at the present moment, as the best solution of a very difficult problem.
I have referred to the fact of the old difficulty and the dangerous politico- 491 religious controversy in Wales. I was born and bred in Wales, and I can remember nothing from my youth up except this, that a Churchman was a Tory and a Tory was a Churchman, and that a Liberal was a Nonconformist and a Nonconformist was a Liberal, and whether it was a Parliamentary election or a county council election or a parish council election the Church and the Conservatives voted on one side—more on religious questions than they voted on political questions—and the Nonconformists and Liberals voted on the other side. Does anybody tell me that that is good for religion in Wales? It is the worst possible thing that could happen. If we can get rid of that horrible politico-religious feeling in Wales, the Principality will be the better for it for all time to come. Now we have the chance. I am speaking not only as a Member of Parliament, but as a member of the governing body of the Church in Wales, and I know that, though the majority of the members do not like Disestablishment, though they would sooner see the Act repealed, there is a very strong feeling, which is growing in Wales, that the severance of the Church in Wales, I will not say from the Church of England, but from a province of the Church of England, and the setting up of a separate Welsh province, getting rid for ever of any meaning in the cry of "an alien Church," and creating a Church in Wales, managed by Welsh Churchmen, having its own great history, built up in the history of the Principality, drawing its source of inspiraton from its central union with the Church of England, but at the same time a real national Welsh Church; 1 say that that feeling which is growing up is going to do much for the Church and for religion in Wales, and, in my opinion, if the Church is not absolutely crippled in finance, and she will not be under the terms of this Bill, in a few years' time the old Church in Wales, maligned, misrepresented, us she often has been in the past, will be found to be the biggest, the strongest, and the greatest power in the whole of the Principality. Therefore, we should be very unwise to refuse assent to this measure. I see in this measure the possibility of a great future for the Church and for religion in Wales. I see in it a chance of burying the hatchet so that the religiously-minded men in Wales, be they Churchmen or Nonconformists, may stand together 492 for the preservation of religion in the Principality, which, after all, is the biggest thing at the present moment. I hope that this attempt to oppose this Bill and to discredit those who are supporting the Bill and to charge people like the Leader of the House with inconsistency or immorality, and to say that if the Conservative party is returned to power we will repeal the old Act or we will restore all the endowments, is really to deal with a situation which does not exist, and which never will exist. Therefore, much as I dislike the principle on which the original Act was founded, yet I feel I am able to accept this Bill, and in doing so I believe that I am acting loyally to the leaders of the Welsh Church who have made this bargain or arrangement, or whatever you chose to call it, with the Government which, of course, must be confirmed by Parliament, and which, I believe, is the best thing that can be. done in the present situation.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I intervene for a few minutes to put before the House the view of the Labour party. The Noble-Lord the Member for the Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) made a most bitter and brutal attack upon the Leader of the House. I have not been a Member of the House for many months, but I must confess that the Leader of the House has always acted kindly and generously whenever he his addressed, the House, and whether I agree with everything that he has said in this House or not lie has always been earnest and sincere in. what he has said. The Noble Lord also accused the Leader of the House, in view of the pledges which he has made when the question of Disestablishment and Disendowment was being discussed in this House, of agreeing with undisguised robbery and doing an injury to religion and breaking the promise which he had. made that whenever a Unionist Government took its place in this House, the Disestablishment Act would be repealed. I have yet to learn that a Unionist Government is in office. The Leader of the House is only a member of a Coalition Government up to now, and no pledge has been broken so far as he is concerned until such time as he becomes the Prime Minister of a Unionist Government. I am not going to touch upon the financial side of the question; I have heard my Friend on the other side of the House who is an extreme Churchman, and I have heard my 493 Friend on this side who is an extreme Nonconformist. I am a trade union leader, and it is my duty always to try to bring both employers and workmen together, and to try to bring the two extreme ends together by taking a moderate view this evening.
I am the son of an old Nonconformist, and my old dad would have died, so far as fighting for religious liberty in Wales was concerned. He suffered a great amount of tyranny and oppression in these early days because he was a Nonconformist, and I have had it turned into me ever since I have been a child. Some of the Members who have spoken on this Bill have never been down a mine working, and have never been in a tin works or a steel works working; but I have seen Church boys and Nonconformist boys working alongside each other, and not speaking to each other for years, owing to this religious controversy. During the period of the War that has all been killed. Church boys and Welsh Nonconformist boys have been making munitions, working in steel works, and fighting alongside each other in the trenches. Are we now, in the sacred name of these boys, who have sacrificed so much on behalf of their country, going to allow a controversy of this kind to be raised again, and to create bitterness once more? Another thing you have to consider is this: The amount involved is very small. You on the other side have made great promises of reconstruction. We want houses and various other things. It is our duty as a House, and we have promised, to assist the Government in any great measures they bring forward so far as reconstruction is concerned. Let us devote our minds to greater things than the paltry matters which have been raised this evening. I think that that is the solution of the difficulties with which we are faced. I hope that the House will unanimously support the Government, and give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
As regards the general principles and the objects with which this Bill is brought forward, I cannot do better than associate myself absolutely with the spirit of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I have noticed that in military matters the very worst position is that a force should be subjected to two fires. In this question I do not think that the same thing is true. 494 I think it possible that the House may come to the conclusion that a Bill which is attacked with equal bitterness by those who represent the extreme view on both sides is possibly the Bill which does represent the desire of the nation as a whole. My Noble Friend the Member for the Oxford University spoke of me in terms of bitterness which rather surprised me. I have been so long free from attack that it was perhaps a useful stimulus, and I do not in the least resent it. One of the things which he said, and which I must say did surprise me, was that I had qualified to take a place in a Jesuit College. Well, I do not suppose that that can happen in this life. Nobody can say with certainty what his future may be in some other sphere. I hardly anticipate that that will happen to me, but if it does, although after the speech of my Noble Friend to-night I would not expect to be very kindly treated, yet I would rather face the evil I know than the unknown, and in that case I hope I may be billeted in one of the Jesuit colleges of which my Noble Friend is certain to be the head.
I do not like to deal with these charges of breach of faith. I say this with some strength, that nothing can be worse than that there should be doubt about the good faith of public men, and although I admit that if there is ground for such accusation it is quite right that it should be made, on the other hand I do contend that to make it without clear ground is one of the greatest disservices which can be done to our public life. What is the ground on which this charge is based? My Noble Friend quoted a number of speeches, in all of which I expressed the view, which I still hold, that the State had no right to take the Endowments from the Welsh Church. But does my Noble Friend or anyone suggest that if in fighting a proposal of this kind you put forth your best efforts to defeat it you are bound for all time to take steps to upset what has been done by Parliament? That charge cannot be substantiated. The ground on which the charge is made is this: On 21st April, 1914. I said this,If a Unionist Government is returned to power I am sure that one of the first things that Government will do will be to restore to the Church in Wales the funds of which you are depriving it.Obviously, therefore, that pledge can apply only if a Unionist Government is returned to power. My Noble Friend recognised that, and he said a Unionist Government 495 is in power. How does he justify that? He tells me that my right hon. Friend (the Prime Minister) can do nothing unless I agree to it. That is time on the one assumption that the members of the party which I have the honour to lead will follow me, and will not all act, as my Noble Friend does, in taking a lead of his own whenever he desires to do so. It is perfectly true that that gives us the power to prevent things being done; it gives me absolutely no power to do anything, for obviously my right hon. Friend, though he cannot command a majority without the support of Unionist Members, can prevent the Government of which he is the head doing anything, and can take whatever steps he likes to test the country as to whether a Unionist Government ought to carry on the government of this country. At the meeting of our party before the last election, when the advice I gave that we should fight it as a Coalition was. unanimously accepted, I stated, in the most explicit terms, which nobody could misunderstand, that the taking of that decision meant that we could not go back after an election with the same policy as we would have adopted if we had gone back as a Unionist party alone. Is there a Member of this House, however strong he may feel on this or any other question, who does not recognise that although there is a Unionist majority in this House, yet a very large number of those Members were returned with the help of Liberal votes, which were given to them not as Unionists but because they were pledged to support the Coalition Government, of which my right hon. Friend was the head? I was told at the time of the election that a great many of our candidates—I hope it was not true of myself; I would rather have stood on my own bottom—had this poster circulated on their behalf:Every vote given for ߪ is a vote for Lloyd George.To say that we are returned as a Unionist party is one of the most absurd claims ever made. I cannot understand how anyone can make that charge. My Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) was quite clear about it. He left the Coalition Government for the specific reason that my right hon. Friend and I refused to give an undertaking that if we were returned we would demand that the whole of the endowments should be returned. I hope I have said enough to dispose of that particular charge.
496 Now we come to the merits of the question, and that is much more important. My Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University suggested that the arrangement that we had come to with the Church Council in Wales was arrived at because we were dealing with simple bishops, and that if they had had information that all that this Act was doing was to give them something which they could get without it, then they would never have come to such an arrangement. As I listened to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary I was impressed with the success with which the simple bishops and I myself had pressed our view upon the Government and upon my right hon. Friend. It is perfectly true, in my opinion, that this Bill gives the Church nothing to which, under the Act of 1914, it is not entitled, but it does do this. The net result is that the Church is better to the extent of a revenue of £50,000 a year than it would have been if Disestablishment had taken place prior to the War. It is quite true that, in my view, the Church is entitled to that, and that if would be unjust to deprive her of it. What follows? The Church is entitled to it, but it can only get without an Act of Parliament what the Church Commissioners have to give. That seems to me overlooked.
The alternative to the course I have adopted would be obviously for the party which supports the Church in Wales, for our party, to say that we will have no compromise of this kind, that we will go again on party lines, that we will fight another election as a Unionist party. Well, if we do, the Church in Wales will, I suppose, gain from a financial point of view, though I venture to express the opinion that on larger grounds, from the point of view of what the strength of the Welsh Church will be in future, it would lose rather than gain by such a gamble. That is my view. Look at what it means. You have to take the chance of winning that election without a new Bill. All that can happen is that the Welsh Church will make this claim; the Commissioners have not the money to give; they can sue the Commissioners. They could not sue the Government. They might have a right to the money, but they would not get it. The arrangements we have made is that the Church does get this additional sum of money, and is thus enabled to carry on the work enormously better than would have been the case. It is said that the 497 bishops did not understand the arrangement. I want the House of Commons to understand that the views expressed by my Noble Friend and those who have supported him do not represent in the smallest degree the views or wishes of the Church in Wales.
Those who are entitled to speak for the Church in Wales look upon themselves as trustees for the interests of that Church. They are not prepared to make the Church for why they are responsible a pawn in any political manœuvre. They have got to look at the interests of the Church and of the Church alone. That is the position, and it is really absurd to suggest that it is only bishops who have taken part in these negotiations and in these arrangements. I was told by my be Friend that for the rest of my political life I would be hampered at every turn because of the Church which I betrayed. Will the House allow me to read a letter which I have received from the Bishop of St. Asaph, who is the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the Welsh Church and who alone is the one man entitled to speak for that Church:Dear Mr. Bonar Law,I have studied carefully the draft of the "Welsh Church Temporalities Bill, and although the Bill does not fulfil the wishes and hopes I entertained I am prepared to accept it as it stands. I say this because I am confident that whatever the disappointment of the Churchmen in Wales may be, they will gladly welcome an immediate settlement which gives promise of permanency and co-operation for the future.That is the letter I have received from the spokesman of this Church which I have betrayed. It does not end there. There has been throughout to represent the interests of the Welsh Church a Parliamentary Committee. It consists of four Welsh bishops and of representative laymen from every diocese in Wales. They have considered this Bill. They, too, have passed a resolution which was read I understand by an hon. Member of this House, and I will read it also to the House:This Committee having carefully considered the provisions of the Welsh Church Temporalities Bill, while reaffirming its conviction against the principle of Disendowment, realises so strongly the urgent need of an immediate settlement that it is prepared to accept the Bill, although regretting the non-inclusion in it of ancient churchyards and endowments other than tithes.There is the position. The Church does not pretend that it has received everything it would like. I do not suggest that. 498 I should have liked to see even; a larger Grant given to the Church in Wales. I should, but the House is under a great misapprehension if it is under the impression that in dealing with questions of this kind I go to my right hon. Friend as an opponent trying to drive the hardest bargain. It is not on that basis that this Government is being conducted, and it is not on that basis that it could last for a week. That could not be done. We discuss these problems together, and I have been dealing with this one, I may say, at frequent meetings of those interested in the Church of Wales for months. We discuss these problems not merely from the point of view of being fair to the different interests which are represented with the Coalition; we discuss them on broader grounds than that, and on this ground, that the only justification for a Government of this kind is that it should aim, in these old party controversies, at finding some middle course which will commend itself to the good sense and good feeling of the mass of the people of this country. That is the basis on which we have gone, and I believe that the arrangement is a justification for our attempts. I am going to say nothing more. I am not going into the merits of this arrangement. I think I have justified my share in it by showing to the House that I have satisfied those who alone are entitled to speak for the Church in Wales that I have made an arrangement which ought to be accepted. I think I have fulfilled my task, but I was sorry, not at all for the views that may be held about me by my Noble Friend, though I do not mean to say that I would not like his respect if I could get it, not for that reason, but for the opinion which may be held by Churchmen in Wales and by Churchmen in England and in Scotland as well. He said that I had got what I wanted, by bullying my right hon. Friend, I suppose, in regard to Colonial Preference, because I cared for it. The trade policy has not yet been put before the House of Commons. We are dealing with it in precisely the same spirit in which we have dealt with the Welsh Church. I cannot guarantee that when the time comes there might not be some—I hope they will be equally few and equally unreasonable—who will take the view which has been taken by my Noble Friend on this occasion, but I do not like, and I think it is unjust, that there should be any suggestion that I have not used whatever 499 influence was in my power in the interests of the Welsh Church as strongly as I should use it in the interests of any other cause for which I felt strongly. Throughout the whole struggle in connection with that Bill, though I am not a member of the Church of England, to the best of my ability I have fought it as strenuously as I could fight any cause, and I was glad to be able to fight it, for this reason, that I never could be of any use in any cause in which I could not believe, and I did believe most firmly that to take away the Endowment from a poor Church at a time when there was little enough spent on religion was both unjust and unwise. I thought so; I think so now; and I am convinced that whatever may be the opinion of a certain number of Members of this House, those who are responsible for the Church in Wales, the vast majority of the members of that Church, will think that the course which I have adopted is wiser, in the interests of that Church, than the course which is suggested by my Noble Friend.
That is my case, and let me say this further. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. It is worth paying a big price, if necessary: it is worth, perhaps, the price of being subjected to such charges, if you can get rid of a controversy which has been a source of endless harm, not only in Wales, but in England as well. We are living in, times which must fill every earnest man with anxiety, and everyone knows that preaching is not in my line, but I do say this, that when we find everywhere that the new heaven and the new earth which is being preached at so many street corners and on so many platforms represents a world where there will be no hardships, because nobody will do anything except what he wants, where everything is material, where there is no thought of anything beyond it, I say that when we look at conditions of that kind, any man who does not do what is in his power to break anything that separates the Churches which are preaching the game thing is doing something of which he has no reason to be proud.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I hope the House will believe me when I say that nothing has been further from my thoughts throughout the whole of this controversy than to say anything—of course, I may, in the heat of debate, have said things, and some of my opponents may have said 500 things, which perhaps are now regretted—but I have never intended to say anything; which would embitter the religious controversy in Wales. I agree most fully with. the closhing words of my right hon. Friend that it is of the utmost possible importance-that all should work together—and work together heartily and cordially—and I hope I have never done anything to hinder the consummation of that object. I will endeavour in what I am going to say to avoid saying anything that may be wounding to anybody. My right hon. Friend defended his position, and it seems to me that what it really amounted to was this. He said, in the first place—I am not taking the order of his observations, but the substance of them—that in a Coalition you must have perpetual compromise. Yes, Sir, and that is the principal difficulty of a Coalition. Compromises are right enough in questions of expediency, but when you come to questions of deep principle, then compromises are merely colourless. You have no right to compromise on a question of vital principle. That is wrong, and to do what is wrong is never, in my judgment, what is expedient. That is the real difficulty. My right hon. Friend and I, I am. afraid, approach this question from different points of view. He regards it as a question of ordinary political expediency. He thinks the Welsh Church Act was a grave mistake, unwise, and unjust. But he does not think more—at least, so I understand his speech this evening. Therefore, he says, "When I see an opportunity for settling the controversy by admitting a certain amount of the principle which was contended for on. the other side, I do so, and surely I am wise. I am following the ordinary principles of English public life in settling a controversy. I am making for peace. I am securing an end to religious differences," and all the rest of it. But if you take the view that Disendowment was morally indefensible, what then? Are you still to compromise?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is perfectly true, but the time to raise that question—and we did raise it—was when we agreed to have a Coalition election. It was impossible afterwards.
§ Lord R. CECIL
That, of course, is an observation my right hon. Friend is entirely entitled to make. But, so far as I am personally concerned, it evidently does 501 not affect me. I must have misunderstood the whole thing then. I resigned—it is on record if anyone cares to go into the history of the thing—because I was not satisfied with the definiteness of the pledge the Prime Minister gave. I have no kind of quarrel with the Prime Minister, of course, but I was not satisfied with the pledge. I certainly never understood, and I do not think it is possible in reading the Prime Minister's letter to my right hon. Friend to understand, that it was a definite repudiation of the possibility of settlement on the lines on which the Unionist party had always stood. I have the passage here from my right hon. Friend's letter, and if it is of any interest to the House I will read it—Finally, there is the question of Welsh Disestablishment. I am certain that nobody wishes to reopen religious controversy at this time. The Welsh Church Act is on the Statute Book, and I do not think that there is any desire, even on the part of the Welsh Church itself, that the Act should be repealed. But I recognise that the long continuance of the War has created financial problems which must be taken into account. I cannot make any definite proposals at the present moment, but I do not believe that once this question of principle no longer arises it will be found impossible to arrive at a solution of these financial difficulties.That was a statement that some assistance would be given to the Welsh Church —at least. so I understand it.
In a reply to that I said:In deals with Disendowment as if it was unobjectionable in itself, but admits that owing to subsequent events a compassionate allowance to the Welsh Church might be made. To me Disendowment is still an act of spoliation, objectionable both as a conversion to worldly uses of funds properly applicable to religious purposes, and as an attack on the security of property.I said a promise of some assistance is not enough for me unless you also concede that privilege I understand exactly to be conceded. I certainly never assumed that that meant that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—I am not going to say anything about freedom from pledges, or any. thing of that sort—I quite agree that the less Breach of pledges is thrown about the better—had completely changed the opinion which I understood him to hold up to that time. That is the position which I hold. The next point that my right hon. Friend made —at least, so I understand him —was that he could not have offered other terms to the Welsh Church without another election. I am amazed at that statement. I can scarcely believe 502 it. It is, of course, possibly true. I can not myself think that it would have necessitated another General Election if there had been insistence on the rights of the Welsh Church, and as to whether we should take that attitude we always maintained in connection with the Welsh Church Act. The strongest point made by my right hon. Friend was that this Bill was accepted and supported by the Welsh. Church, or those who were entitled to speak for it. I listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend read, and the copy of the resolution which the Parliamentary Committee passed. What did it amount to? They said—I am phrasing it, but I think not unfairly—"We do not like this Bill. It does not give us that to which we are entitled. It does not re verse Disendowment, as we think it ought to reverse it, but it does give us some thing. And we are accepting it as such." I do not think they say more than that. Then I should very much like to know exactly what they were told before they accepted the offer. Were they informed of the opinion of the Law Officers? No answer ! I assume they were not. There fore, they went into this—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not think the Noble Lord should misunderstand, nor do I wish to be understood. The Law Officers' opinion was only given this morning; but I myself stated to the Bishop of St. Asaph, who represented the Church, what in the view of the Home Secretary—who is a lawyer—the Law Officers' opinion precisely was.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I am very much- obliged to my right hon. Friend, but it is evident that- if they were told—and I certainly understand that if they were not told they received a very positive assurance—that unless they agreed to this Bill, in the first place, they would get no Bill at all, and in the second place, they would not get either what are called —I will say exactly what I mean later—lapsed interests—they would not be entitled to treat—
§ Lord R. CECIL
I am sure they were told—not by the right hon. Gentleman. [Hon. Members: "Name !"] Lastly, I should like to know what they were informed as to the effect of the Tithe Act. That is one of the reasons for objecting to Bills founded on private negotiations, 503 because you never know what takes place. Somebody says," This is an agreed Bill, and the House of Commons need not be anxious or nervous, because it has been Accepted by those who understand it; pass the Bill and have done with it." I dislike that method of passing legislation, and it is much fairer and better to everybody concerned that questions of this kind should be threshed out in public, and then we know exactly what takes place. On the merits—and that is the most important part—I want to try and explain what I understand from the Home Secretary's speech to be the effect of this Bill. I am not going into the details.
There are two parts of this Bill. In the first place there is the declaratory part and the enacting part. In the declaratory part it declares what the Home Secretary and the Law Officers believe is the law already, and the Welsh Church is to be entitled, in reckoning the amount paid for commutation of the existing interests, to take into consideration the interests which did exist at the passing of the Act of 1914. That, the Home Secretary tells us—and it is the best legal advice available to the Government—is the law under the 1914 Act; and no change is made by this Bill. Secondly, it provides that the commutation is to be paid on the tithe rent-charge at 137. That, again, the Home Secretary tells us, was the fair meaning of the Act of 1914; and the (Solicitor-General, who is a Conservative lawyer, and the Attorney-General, who is a Liberal lawyer, agreed in that determination. Therefore, those Clauses of the Act gave nothing to the Church, and that is important to observe.
They declare what was already the law, and they do no more. What does the Bill do in fact? It gives £ 1,250,000, I understand, one way and another, which, as the Home Secretary very fairly told us specifically, was £ 1,125,000 given to the county councils. I am not going into the question of policy, but I can conceive English and Scottish Members saying to to themselves, "Why should we pay £1,250,000 to relieve Welsh county councils who have made a bad bargain in accepting this spoliation of the Welsh Church?" What else does the Bill do? Apart from small matters, it does one very important thing: it prolongs the life of the Welsh Commissioners. Why is that very important? It is very important because, without prolonging the life 504 of the Welsh Commissioners, the whole of the Disendowment Clauses of the Act would be in danger of coming to an end altogether. I would not interfere with Disestablishment, but it would with Disendowment. Under the Welsh Disestablishment Act, the provision for Disendowment is that the property of the Church—I am putting it much more shortly and in different language from that of the Act, but I think I am putting it fairly—the property of the Church is vested in the Welsh Commissioners. Therefore, if the Welsh Commissioners are not there, the property cannot be vested in them, and the whole. of the Disendowment Clauses would fall to the ground. The Welsh Commissioners come to an end at the end of this year, and the time of vesting is the date of Disestablishment. The date of Disestablishment is the end of the War; and the end of the War, as defined by Act of Parliament, means the ratification of the Treaty with the last of our enemies. If, therefore, the ratification of the Treaty with the last of our enemies does not take place before the end of this year, the whole of the Disendowment Clauses come to an end.
I am not saying that it would be right to leave the position thus, but I want to call the attention of the House to the real effect of this Bill from the point of view of those who regard Disendowment as robbery. It gives no alleviation to the Disendowment provisions at all; they are left exactly as they would have been if this Bill had never been introduced. That is the statement of the Home Secretary. But it does provide that the Disendowment Clauses shall certainly have effect. Therefore this Bill really is to make Disendowment perfectly certain, and it has no other effect at all so far as Disendowment is concerned. I do not want, as I have said, to hurl accusations of bad faith, but I recollect that it was my business to attend night after night and listen to the Debates on the original Bill, and I remember that every one of the leaders of the Unionist party—my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the late Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, my hon. Friend who spoke this evening (Sir A. Boscawen), my hon. Friend the Secretary of the Board of Trade, the Solicitor-General—they all made statements, according to my very strong recollection, to the effect that the Bill was not only unwise in policy, but 505 that it was robbery, or words to that effect—that it was a gross act of oppression, and was taking property winch the State had no right to touch, and giving it from religions uses to secular uses. It was said over and over again by everybody. I said it and, of course, I said it in the strongest possible language. But I was not alone. I may perhaps be allowed to quote a little. In 1915 the question again arose of prolonging the date of Disestablishment. It was just after the first Coalition Government had been formed, and the question was whether the Government had given us a pledge that they would extend the period of Disestablishment. If that had been done, the Disestablishment Sections would certainly have failed. As a matter of fact, we agreed to let them oft their pledge. There is no doubt about what happened. I was asked to speak on behalf of the Unionist party, and to intimate the assent of that party to that arrangement. I said this—I remember it very well—I am authorised by the leaders of our party, both in this House and in the House of Lords, to say that, in acquiescing in the course proposed, it must be clearly understood that their views on the question of the Welsh Church have undergone no change, and that the pledges that they have given in connection with it are still binding on them. I hope that that will be perfectly understood in the country as well as in this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1915, col. 1994, Vol. 73.]Then I ventured to try to summarise what I, in my innocence, thought was the view of the party to which I belonged and my leaders. I said this:I am not going into the weary controversy again, but what are the great principles involved on each side? Those who desire this change are actuated, they tell us—I am quite ready to believe it—by a desire for religious equality, and a profound and growing belief in the national feeling of Wales. On the other hand, we who are opposed to Disestablishment and Disendowment are actuated —I ask them to believe it as fully as I believe their account of their own feeling —by a genuine fear of the secularisation of the State and a passionate belief in the unfairness and impolicy of Disendowment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1915, col. 1995, Vol. 73.]Even this year a memorial was presented to my right hon. Friend, signed by the Solicitor-General and by my hon. Friend who has spoken in this Debate, and they said this:The appropriation of these endowments by the State has always been regarded by the Church as an act of spoliation.They recalled the speeches of my right hon. Friend, and say, 506Your memorialists ask that the Welsh, Church should be fully reimbursed for the loss of the endowments,and they go on to ask for the restoration of churchyards, and for the reversal of the policy of driving out the Church in Wales, without its consent, from the Church of England. Can the House wonder, after all that, that we should not feel—I will put it no higher—some surprise that these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen should now come down supporting a Bill which is not going to make the Church one penny better off than it would be without the Bill, and which is going to prolong the machinery which is available for Disestablishment? That is really the position. I am not going to argue at length whether we were right or wrong about our objections to Disendowment, but I want to say this: We arc coming to a period when one of the great controversies will be as to the rights of property. I am one of those who believe that if you destroy the belief in private property you are going to undermine one of the foundations on which the State rests. I do not think civilisation can exist unless-you maintain the belief that a man has a right to the property which he owns. What is my right hon. Friend's statement on this question? He says, in clear language, that by every principle on which private property is held the Church is entitled to its endowments. Quite apart from the question of the breach of faith I venture to put to my colleagues in this House that the question is, Is this really a wise measure? Are they really wise to vote to-day in favour of a Bill which endorses the principle of Disendowment? Are they really sure that the endowments of the Church can be distinguished from private property, and did not my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House use the right term when he said there was no distinction? No one will claim that anyone has a right to property whatever he does with it. The principle underlying the trust is that it must not be used to the detriment of the State, and if it is so used it may be taken away from the person to whom it belongs. No doubt there are compensations to be given. Yes, but you are not giving the Welsh Church fair compensation. You are confiscating this property; you are taking it without giving any compensation in return. On what principle are you going to distinguish that Act from the action recommended by those who are 507 enemies of private property? I venture to say you will find it extremely difficult in the coming controversy to make any such difference. If you agree to this you will be reminded that you have voted for the endorsement of the principle in spite of the warning given, but now apparently forgotten by our leaders. That is the view I take. In 1913 and 1914 I said to my leaders that the taking of this property was robbery, and I meant it, and I will not be a party to any endorsement of a principle which I believe to be morally wrong. I am very sorry to differ with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I am extremely sorry to give even the slightest feasibility to the charge that I am re-arousing the religious difficulty. But even the bitterness and danger of the religious difficulty is equally as deplorable as the loss of trust in the absolute reliability of the statements of public men. Those of us who think as I do—that what was proposed in 1913–14 was robbery—have no right to come down here for any political consideration, however convenient such a course may be, to urge the House to accept and endorse a policy which we then denounced as we did. I should deeply regret if it was really a question between rearousing the bitterness of this controversy and keeping faith with statements which have been made in public. But I see no reason why that should be so. I cannot see why those who
§ wish for religious liberty, those who believe in the nationality of Wales, should not be satisfied to leave the Church to carry on her work. It is not as if it was a very rich Church. It is not as if it was pretended that she has misapplied her funds. No one has denied right through the whole controversy that the Church has honestly, honourably and faithfully discharged her duties to the Welsh people. Yet you are going to take this, property away. I dare say it will not cripple her. I dare say she will recover. Persecution very often does good to a religious body, but that is no defence to the persecutor. I dare say she will not even be injured, but you are going to take the property away without a shadow of justification, without being able to say to yourselves, to your consciences, or to anyone, that the Church has misused her position and is no longer entitled to her property. You are going to take it away not because you believe it is right, not because you think it is a necessary sacrifice to justice, but merely in order to facilitate the operations of a Coalition Cabinet. That is a course of action which anyone who endorses it will profoundly regret in time to come, which will lower the opinion of the public of this House and of Ministers, and which will not produce any compensating advantage, and one to which I will not be a party.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 182; Noes, 37.509
|Division No. 87.]||AYES.||[10.57 p.m.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Fraser, Major Sir Keith|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Carr, W. T.||Ganzoni, Captain F. C.|
|Amery, Lieut.-Col. L. C. M. S.||Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir A. C. (Basingstoke)|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Casey, T. W.||George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd|
|Atkey, A. R.||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Clay, Captain H. H. Spender||Gilmour, Lieut-Colonel John.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Clough, R.||Goulding, Rt. Hon. Sir E. A.|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Greene, Lt.-Col. W. (Hackney, N.)|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Coats, Sir Stuart||Gregory, Holman|
|Barrand, A. R.||Colvin, Brigadier-General R. B.||Gretton, Col. John|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)||Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Courthope, Major George Loyd||Griggs, Sir Peter|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, Mid.)||Grundy, T. W.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Hacking, Captain D. H.|
|Bennett, T. J.||Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)||Hailwood, A.|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Hamilton, Major C. G. C. (Altrincham)|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||Henderson. Major V. L.|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)||Herbert, Denniss (Hertford)|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Doyle, N. Grattan||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel F.|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Hinds, John|
|Beyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Edwards, J. H. (Glam, Neath)||Hood, Joseph|
|Bruton, Sir J.||Entwistle, Major C. F.||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.||Eyres-Monsell, Commander||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)|
|Buckley, Lieutenant-Colonel A.||Falcon, Captain M.||Home, Sir Robert (Hillhead)|
|Burdon, Colonel Rowland||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh|
|Burn, Colonel C. R. (Torquay)||Forestier-Walker, L.||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)|
|Cape, Tom||Foxcroft, Captain C.||Inskip, T. W. H.|
|Jameson, Major J. G.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Spencer, George A.|
|Jesson, C.||Parry, Major Thomas Henry||Stanley, Colonel Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Johnson, L. S.||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Suphenson, Colonel H. K.|
|Johnstone, J.||Perring, William George||Stewart, Gorshom|
|Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Philipps, Sir O. C. (Chester)||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray||Sugden, W. H.|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Pownall, Lieut-Colonel AssJistoo||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Pratt, John William||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Jones, William Kennedy (Hornsey)||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Kerr-Smiley, Major P.||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Purchase, H. G.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Knights, Captain H.||Raeburn, Sir William||Townley, Maximilan G.|
|Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Law, Right Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Raw, Lieut.-Colonel Dr. N.||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Lorden, John William||Raw, Sir J. D.||Waddington, R.|
|Loseby, Captain C. E.||Reid, D. D.||Ward, Colonel L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Lowther, Col. C. (Lonsdale, Lanes.)||Randall, Atheistan||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Lunn, William||Renwick, G.||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Mallalieu, Frederick William||Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)||Weston, Colonel John W.|
|Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.I||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Robinson, T. (Stretford, Lanes.)||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Manville, Edward||Rodger, A. K.||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Marks, Sir George Croydon||Rutherford, Col. Sir J. (Darwen)||Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)|
|Matthews, David||Samuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Middlebrook, Sir William||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)||Wood, Major S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Mitchell, William Lane-||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Mond, Rt Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Seager, Sir William||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Morris, Richard||Seely, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. John||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Morrison, H. (Salisbury)||Shaw, Hon. A. (Kllmarnock)||Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)|
|Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Younger, Sir George|
|Murray, William (Dumfries)||Short, A. (Wednesbury)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord E.|
|Neal, Arthur||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T., W)||Taibst and Captain F. Guest.|
|Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G. (Westbury)||Sitch, C. H.|
|Parker, James||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Ainsworth, Capt. C.||Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley)||Remer, J. B.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Horne, Edgar (Guildford)||Remnant, Col. Sir J.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, S.)||Kidd, James||Roundell, Lieut.-Colonel R. F.|
|Bettorton, H. B.||Lioyd, George Butler||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Bowerman, Right Hon. C. W.||Lort-Williams, J.||Surtees, Brig.-General H. C.|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Brown, Captain D. C. (Hexham)||Maddocks, Henry||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Carter, R. A. D. (Manchester)||Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchln)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES —Lt.-Col.|
|Child, Brig.-General Sir Hill||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Sir S. Hoare and Major Ormsby- Gore.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Oman, C. W. C.|
|Davies, Major David (Montgomery Co.)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Sir L. Worthington-Evans.]
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Shortt.]