HC Deb 08 August 1919 vol 119 cc747-51

Resolution reported, That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of the sum of one million pounds to the Welsh Commissioners under any Act of the present Session to continue in office the Welsh Com missioners appointed under the Welsh Church Act. 1914. to postpone the date of Disestablishment, and to make further provision with respect to the temporalities of and marriages in the Church in Wales.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I do not propose to oppose the Report of this Resolution, but I would like to say a word with regard to what was carried last night at a late hour. Although I cordially dislike the Bill, after the attitude taken by the Welsh Church party with regard to it, I certainly am not prepared, speaking for myself, to oppose the Bill, but I hope in Committee we may be able to get some of the Amendments referred to by the Leader of the House, and I should like to point out again, as there appears to be some misunderstanding, that this Grant of £1,000,000 is not in any way going to the Church in Wales. If there had been no Act of Disendowment at all, the House and country would not have been asked to vote this £1,000,000; but, apart from that, I think I can show in a very few words that this money is going, not to the Church, but to the county councils and the University of Wales through the representative bodies. The Home Secretary, in introducing the Bill, told us that the Bill left the position of the Welsh Church exactly as it was. The obligation of the Commissioners to pay to the representatives of the Welsh Church the commuted value of the vested interest is not affected or touched by the grant of this £1,000,000. The whole object of this Grant is to enable the county councils and the University of Wales to borrow money with a sinking fund at such an amount as to enable them to come into the money, for which they would otherwise have to wait a very long time, at a considerably earlier period. I can make that absolutely clear by pointing out what would be the effect if this Grant, instead of being £1,000,000, had been £500,000.

What is the position with regard to this matter? Under the Welsh Church Act the existing interest would have to be commuted. The value of that commutation amounts to £3,400,000. The proposal to grant £ 1,000,000 reduced that amount to be raised by the Welsh Commissioners to £2,400,000, and, by means of a sinking fund, if my calculation is right, and it is l½ per cent. per annum, that amount will be paid off in 1950. But, sup posing the Grant to have been £500,000 in lieu of £1,000,000. The Welsh Commissioners would then have had to raise the sum of £2,900,000. They have got, to meet that loan, £ 209,000 a year coming in from the tithe rent-charge and glebes in Wales. If you take the interest on that £2,900,000 at 5 per cent. you get a sum of £145,000 a year. Then, if you take off from the £209,000, which the Commissioners have for the service of that debt, the cost of administration, it leaves them with £199,000. They have, therefore, still £54,000 a year to pay the Income Tax and the sinking fund. Undoubtedly, they would not have been able to raise the money on such favourable terms as if they had only to raise £2,400,000. I have said I do not propose to oppose the Financial Resolution, but I do think it is only fair and right that the country and the House should understand that this Grant of £1,000,000 is the price which we are paying for the Disendowment Bill, and that not a penny of it is going to benefit the Welsh Church, but it is going into the pockets of the Welsh county councils and the university. I do hope, although I am not quite certain I am very sanguine, that this will still the controversy that has raged so long in Wales, but I think it is only right that somebody here should point out that it is not the Church that is getting anything out of this Bill, but it is the county councils and the university of Wales.


May I ask two questions? The first is as to when this £1,000,000 is to be paid. Is it to be paid directly the Act comes into force, or from time to time, or at any particular date? My second question is this. So far as I understand, the two Welsh Church Bills, by their combined effect, take away a certain large sum of money from the Church in Wales and hand it over to the Welsh county councils or the Welsh University, as the case may be. No doubt the Welsh county councils have suffered under that bargain, and it has its disadvantages. Why should not this money come from the money which has been taken away from the Church? Why should the British tax payer have to pay the money to make up this amount? I am not dealing in any way with the merits of the case at all, nor with the Tithe Act, nor its merits. My two points are: When is this million of money to be paid? And, secondly, Why should not this money be taken from the amount which is to come from the Welsh Church? Is there any precedent for action of this kind?


I shall first deal with the questions asked by my hon. and learned Friend opposite. The money will be paid at once. The loan will be raised, and the million paid over by the Welsh Commissioners to the representative body, who will then invest it or otherwise deal with it as the Church or the representative body see best, to pay the stipends of the benefices, and so on. But it will be paid at once, just as the money raised on loan will also be paid over at once by the Welsh Commissioners to the representative body. The Welsh Commissioners will then receive the in come which otherwise would have gone to the various incumbents. With regard to a precedent, I must confess that question leaves me cold. If an action is right in itself, I do not see why you ought to refrain from doing it because nobody has done it before. There is no precedent—or highly improbable. You do not very often get the set of circumstances which have occurred in this case—the pending Disestablishment of a Church, or action to be taken in a matter of the kind at the close of a great war. It is the changed circumstances of the War which renders this necessary. May I just remind my hon. and learned Friend that, under the Act of 1914, the tithe is commuted on the basis of a septennial average, and, further, it is commuted on a 3½per cent. payment? If there had been no war at all, the money taken over from the Church by the Welsh Commissioners would have been sufficient to cover the whole loan, to repay the interest, and to redeem it. Owing to the fact that it is commuted at what will in all probability be 136, and that the Welsh Commissioners can only collect revenue upto 109, that the money is capitalised on a basis of 3½per cent., and that money cannot be borrowed under 5 per cent., there is a very large deficiency. That is why the Grant is necessary. In order to carry out the Act of 1914, the sum of £3,400,000 is wanted. On the advice of an actuary who has gone very carefully into the matter, the whole revenue taken from the Church only gives security for £2,400,000 upon which the Welsh Commissioners can borrow. There comes the reason why it is essential that this money should be given.

What is going to be the position if some action is not taken? We see a vista of trouble, dispute, and bitterness before the country. I think everybody will agree under circumstances like that—I do not think it is arguable—that it is quite evident what the result will be. The Church will suffer; there will be bitterness of the worst description. Therefore we do this in order that there may be an end to these disputes. That would have been the position. That would have been the effect. It is because of the effect of this terrible set of circumstances that this proposal is made, and I ask the House to accept it as a fair and proper method of settling the whole question.


What about the matter of the loan?


The Welsh Church Commissioners will hand over to the county councils property which is not worth £3,400,000, and, therefore, under the changed circumstances, and owing to the way in which it has to be capitalised, the Welsh Church are getting more than that value of property which is handed over— at any rate more than would make it worth while. The thing could only be done if you extended the thirty years to souething like fifty or sixty years. At any rate it would not be just to leave the Church in a position it is in, for you would then leave the county councils in a position of considerable hardship. We submit this proposal is of a fair and generous nature.

Question put, and agreed to.