HC Deb 11 August 1919 vol 119 cc1048-60

(1) The Welsh Commissioners may postpone the transfer under the Welsh Church Act, 1914, of any property vested in them to any person or body of persons, whether corporate or un in corporate, other than the representative body, and such person or body of persons shall not be bound to accept the transfer of any such property until the Secretary of State so directs; and so long as any tithe rent-charge which was previously attached to a benefice remains vested in the Welsh Commissioners, the Welsh Commissioners shall be deemed to be the owners of a tithe rent-charge attached to a benefice for the purposes of the Tithe Rent-charge (Rates) Act, 1889.

(2) If the Welsh Commissioners so agree with the representative body it shall be lawful for the Welsh Commissioners to buy and for the representative body to sell to them any of the tithe rent-charge transferred to the representative body under the Welsh Church Act, 1914, at a price to be ascertained by the same method as that prescribed by the Tithe Act, 1918, for the payment of compensation for the redemption of tithe rent-charge; and the Welsh Commissioners may determine out of what part of the funds vested in them the purchase money payable for any such tithe rent-charge is to be paid and the tithe rent-charge when purchased shall be dealt with by the Welsh Commissioners in like manner as if it had been derived from the same source as the purchase money:

Provided that if the tithe rent-charge at the time of sale is subject to any existing interest it shall be discharged from that interest, and the representative body shall be liable to pay to the person entitled to the existing interest, to long as that interest would have continued, an annuity equal to the annual value of his interest therein ascertained in manner provided by the Fifth Shedule to the Welsh Church Act, 1814, and this Act.

(3) There shall be included in the property which the Welsh Commissioners are required by Sub-section (1) of Section eight of the Welsh Church Act, 1914, to transfer to the representative body any tithe rent-charge derived from sources other than endowments of any tentative body any tithe rent-charge derived the Church in Wales, and not being Welsh ecclesiastical property, which has been appropriated since the year sixteen hundred and sixty-two to benefices in Wales and Monmouthshire.

The following Amendment stood on the Paper in the name of Mr. MOUNT: To leave out the words (2) If the Welsh Commissioners so agree with the representative body it shall be lawful for the Welsh Commissioners to buy and for the representative body to sell to them, and to insert instead thereof (2) If the representative body to request, the Welsh Commissioners shall buy and the representative body shall sell to the Welsh Commissioners.


My Amendment is intended to compel the Welsh Commissioners to purchase, if the representative body so wish it, any of the tithe rent-charge which is private benefaction. I understand that Amendments subsequently to be moved deal with some additional property. I do not propose to move my Amendment, in order that we may get a discussion on the more important question raised by the hon. Baronet below me (Sir Owen Philipps).


I beg to move, after Sub-section (2), to insert (3) If so requested by the Welsh representative body after the date of commutation the Welsh Commissioners shall sell to the representative body any glebe or other land (other than burial grounds) vetted in the Welsh Commissioners, and by them to be transferred to the county councils or the University of Wales at a sum equal to thirteen times the amount of the annual income derived there from as (-imputed for the purpose of the Fourth Schedule to the Welsh Church Act, 1914,subject to the tenancies, charges, and in cumbrances subject to which such glebe or other land is transferred to the Welsh Commissioners, but freed from any existing interest therein, or any charge in respect of any sum of money borrowed by the Welsh Commissioners under Section thirty of the Welsh Church. Act, 1914. Provided that there shall not be sold under this Sub-section any laud which before the date of commutation any county borough, borough or urban district council may, with the approval of the Minister of Health, determine to be required for the purposes of any housing or rehousing scheme under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts, 1890 to 1919. This is purely an administrative change to facilitate matters, and makes no financial difference. The proviso is intended to meet the question raised by a number of Welsh Members who are specially interested in the question of housing. It provides that the Representative Body shall not purchase any of the ancient glebe which may be scheduled by any urban authority for a housing scheme. Under the Welsh Church Act the Representative Body was given full power to purchase any glebe, and now the Church-in Wales offers this concession to meet the views of Welsh Members, and also to do all in their power to assist forward what everyone is so keen about—the encouragement of the building of houses. Anything the Welsh Church can do to help, they are most anxious to do. What I propose is that the Representative Body shall have power to purchase any glebe, subject to the proviso about housing, at thirteen years' purchase. The Welsh Church Act has already given the right to purchase to the Representative Body, and the Amendment simply fixes the price at which they shall exercise that right. As I understand it, the value of glebe was capitalised at 5 per cent.—namely, twenty years' purchase of the net value of the glebe—but such a price would be hard on. the Church, for this reason: in very many cases—in several hundreds, I believe—the incumbents have redeemed the Land Tax on the glebe, and the result is that the money expended on the redemption of the Land Tax on the glebe amounts to an investment by the Church. Such money is a voluntary benefaction in all cases where it has been done since the year 1662. The Church would not be entitled to this money, but as a matter of fairness it is strictly due to them.

12.0 M.

Secondly, all the buildings now existing on the glebe have been erected by the Church and practically all erected since 1662. The money was contributed by the incumbents or by voluntary contributions. This is a very large sum to which the Church has no legal right as the buildings pass with the land, but there is, I submit, a very strong moral right, and it is that which, I think, ought to be considered by the Committee as it is in the nature of unexhausted improvements. If the Committee is, as I hope it will be, in favour of dealing equitably with this Disendowed Church. Then I think that this is a fair way of doing it. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that the Disestablished Church of Ireland was allowed to purchase its glebes, and in that instance I understand that the purchase price was eleven years' purchase. People in England do not know or realise the distressing poverty of the great mass of the Welsh rural clergy. Half of the clergy in the northern diocese of St. Asaph's have not £200 per year and the small glebe lands eke out a scanty living for the incumbent and his wife and children. It would not only be a fair but a kind thing to grant them this small concession. These glebes do something to bridge the gulf between classes in Wales. In the hills of Wales the small Welsh farmer is brought closer into contact with the incumbent who has in many cases a small glebe. They meet and discuss agricultural and pastoral difficulties and that tends to bring them more together. On those grounds I move this Amendment. I think the concession offered by the Church with regard to glebes needed for housing schemes is evidence of their desire to settle a difficult problem in a spirit of compromise. I am in this difficulty that we of the Welsh Church accept this Bill as brought in by the Government, as a reasonable settlement of the difficult problem. We have to face and as fairly meeting the views both of the Welsh Members, or at least the great mass of the Welsh Members, and of the great mass of the representatives of the Welsh Church. Since the Bill was brought in I understand an arrangement was come to with reference to one of the matters that I mentioned as outstanding matters in my speech on the Second Reading, and that is on the question of churchyards. Therefore, whilst I trust that the Government may be their way to accept this Amendment, I do not wish to unduly press it. That is the position which I want to put clearly before the Committee.


I hope my hon. Friend will not. press this Amendment. The ques- tion of glebe has been discussed very carefully, and it has not been found possible to come to a definite arrangement on the point, and the Government there fore propose that the whole question of glebe should be left, out of the Bill altogether. This proposal as it stands cannot possibly be accepted by the Government, because in their view the terms of it are not equitable to the Welsh Commissioners or to the county councils. The proposal is that the Representative Body should been titled, as of right apparently, to purchase any of the glebe which is secularised at the rate of thirteen years' purchase, which, of course, is an extravagantly low rate, and more over the whole of this glebe is part of the security upon which the Welsh Commissioners would have to borrow the £ 2,400,000 in order to carry out the commutation scheme. This glebe would be part of their security, and before they could hand it over at thirteen years' purchase they would have to free the portion handed over from any charge in respect of any sum borrowed on its security, so that even if the Government could accept the arrangement with regard to the glebe the terms of this Amendment are not such as they could possibly accept, and, therefore, having regard to the fact that no arrangement has been able to be arrived at with regard to glebe, I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.


I am sorry to hear the answer of the Government. None of us wish to introduce any sort of bitterness into this controversy, but at the same time one cannot help feeling bitterly disappointed that to a small Amendment of this kind one hears a blank refusal from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. Without wearying the Committee, let me remind them of two or three facts connected with the question of glebe. The right hon. Gentleman says that this proposal is altogether unreasonable. As the right hon. Gentleman stated, who moved this Amendment, it is virtually the proposal that was agreed to in the case of the Irish Church. It is. There fore, quite practicable. Moreover, of all phases of disendowment. The phase which has least offended the Members of this and of the last House is that connected with glebe. May I remind hon. Members what took place in the last House of Commons? There was a majority in favour of Disendowment. But upon two occasion the majority, when it was proposed to omit glebe from the scope of the Act, in one case was reduced to twenty-three, and on the second occasion fell far below its ordinary average. Amongst those who voted to exclude glebe from the scope of the Bill were many confirmed Liberal and Radical Members who on other points were supporting the Act. Therefore, glebe: stands apart in the appeal it makes to Members in all parts of the House. It is a very small matter from the money point of view. It only amounts to £ 30,000 yearly, or £ 11,000 if you leave out of account the life interests—infinitesimal sum from the point of view of the Government or the Treasury. It is property which has been the property of the Church for centuries. It does not raise the controversy that tithes raise, nor that raised by the ownership of churchyards. It has involved an obligation of service for centuries that has been well and effectively carried out. In view of these facts I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the answer he has just given. I appeal, further, to the Leader of the House. I do not want to recur to the pledges that he gave in the last Parliament. I admit there is much in the contention he has made that this is not a Unionist Government, and that, therefore, it may not be possible for this Government to do what a Unionist Government might hare done. But at the time of the election he did imply that some concession would be made to the Welsh Church. Those of us who have followed this controversy in some detail and with some care urge that they interpreted that pledge by believing that the right hon. Gentleman meant that glebe should be given back to the Church. From the point of view of controversy, the concession has not a great weight, and I would again ask the right hon. Gentleman to give back this property to a very poor Church.


It is absolutely necessary to make the position clear to hon. Members who were not here before, in view of the powerful appeals which have been put forward, and to show that there is another side to the question. I understand the position to be this: It will be open for the Church to purchase these glebes back from the Church Commissioners. Under the original Act church-men can make terms with the county councils. It only wants now to bring into the Bill a fixed term of years. So we are entirely on a question of price. In the 'One case it is for the Church Representa- tive Body to make its arrangements with the county councils, and I cannot imagine any Welsh county council being stubborn or stupid about it. I have no doubt the Church would be able to give fairly reasonable terms as a purchase price. The difficulty about fixing an average price—one you always get—is that of interpreting it in terms of years, and getting anything like agreement between equitable parties—a point the Home Secretary has already mentioned. There is also this difficulty, that you have glebe—to use as British—which has ceased to be glebe in any sense. What I cannot make out is why you leave out the urban ground which is entirely built upon! I can quite sympathise with the desire to get back a few fields around the parsonage, or some of the ground around the cathedral. I do not want to go into that now. But take the town of Merthyr. It happens to be built upon glebe land. It has been a great disadvantage to the Church, and to everyone else. It is not a question of money, but of administrative control. We cannot really run the risk of leaving the town to the mercy of any county council that comes along. But why on earth not draft an Amendment to get what you want? This is really a bad Amendment, declaring the thing to be wanted for the housing of the working classes does not meet the situation at all. So far as I am concerned, there is very little in this. Once you get agreement as to which is a fair price the rest is not difficult. My hon. Friends, I would suggest, should not press this particular form of Amendment any further at this juncture.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to consider whether between now and Report he could not do something to meet the point of view that has been put by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. We should not get all we want, or are entitled to, but it would be something. if we could get a reasonable price such as is sketched out in. this Clause—opportunity to buy, at any rate, that part of the glebe which is attached to the benefice, and to which, in rural districts, considerable sentiment is attached, it would be well. It is very little to ask. I am bound to say, after the attitude taken up by the Government, it is impossible to feel, those of us who had hoped that something would be done, as mentioned by my hon. Friend, to improve the position of the Church toy the agreement between the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister, that it will be done. The Welsh Church Act, we find, according to the Home Secretary, is left intact. This concession should be made to us, and I ask the Home Secretary if between now and the Report stage something cannot be done to meet this point.


I shall stoutly resist this Amendment. The Church can buy the land back at a reasonable price from the Church Commissioners, and it would be unfair for them to get better terms than they have got now. I do not like this arrangement, but for the sake of peace and harmony in our country we have accepted it, and I think it is unfair to try and get all these little driblets back in this manner. The term of thirteen years' purchase proposed in the Amendment is not fair to the county councils or the Church Commissioners. In my opinion, the fair thing to be done with this Bill would be to take this money from the Church and not from the Treasury. We are tired of this question in Wales, and let us close it once and for all. To try and get an Amendment of this sort inserted is not doing the right thing to the Welsh people, who are mostly Nonconformists attending their own chapels freely and voluntarily, and this question has been crippling us for many years. I hope the Home Secretary will refuse to accept this Amendment.


I only rise in response to the appeal of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). I must ask the Committee not to regard this Amendment by itself, because you have to look at the whole proposal of the Bill. That is. the justification for it from my point of view. If it were true that this Bill does nothing whatever to improve the position of the Church in Wales I am quite certain not only English Members but everyone representing the Church in Wales would be utterly opposed to it. The arrangement embodied in this Bill has not been arrived at without a great deal of negotiation. An attempt has been made, and I think it has been successful, to come to some arrangement with those chiefly interested in Wales and the representatives of the Welsh people in this House. An effort has been made to come to an agreement with some prospects of peace in order to put an end to a quarrel which has done no good to religion, either as represented, by the Church in Wales or the other religious bodies there. You have to look at the arrangement as a whole. If it were possible to deal with this Amendment by itself I would vote for it, and if nothing were, done for the Church this is an. Amendment which all who hold my view would be bound to support. There would be some truth in that contention if this measure only benefited the county councils and not the Church in Wales. If that were true, not only would all my efforts have been based on a false foundation, but in addition a very representative body the Parliamentary Council of the Welsh Church, consisting of laymen as well as clergymen, and elected for this purpose, are the most stupid people who ever undertook to make a dial of any kind whatever.

There is no disguising the fact that the real truth is that the Church is entitled, by the fortunes of war and by the change established since the Bill was passed, to-all that it gets under this Bill, but without this measure and the £ 1,000,000 given under this proposal it is utterly impossible for the Church to receive the sum to which I think she is entitled. That is recognised so fully that I am stating only a simple fact when I say that the dangers of delay and the possibility of the fortunes of the Welsh Church being left to the Act have so impressed those who speak for the Welsh Church that the one thing we want is to get this Bill through quickly so as to prevent the risk of being left with the Act as it stands. This is not a Bill to Disendow the Church, but it is a measure to enable some of the evils to be modified.

Let the House consider what are the negotiations which have led up to this. This Amendment was made by the representatives of the Church and impressed upon me by them We had negotiation after negotiation on the matter. The difficulties on the other side were impressed not only upon me but upon the representatives of the Welsh Churchmen. The whole thing was discussed on the last occasion between the one man who was authorised by the Welsh Parliamentary Committee to speak for them on the one hand and the Prime Minister and myself on the other. These proposals in regard to churchyards were put before us and discussed at length. The Prime Minister met them. The representative of the Welsh Church discussed them with him alone. We looked into the dangers on all sides and he left me. with the view, I believe, of consulting some of his friends. He came back to me and said that he was. so impressed with the need of a settlement that, with a view to a settlement, he would agree that the Amendment should be adopted. What could I do in those circumstances? I had satisfied those who were acting for the Church that the arrangement was a fair one, and I think the Unionist party will regard it as a fair arrangement. That is expressed in the Church Parliamentary party resolution.

They still hope that these Amendments, or some of them, will be accepted, but the representatives of the Welsh Church have no more idea of going back on the bargain they have made with the Prime Minister than I have. They put it to me in the clearest possible way. If these Amendments will be accepted by the other side as they call it—by those who speak for Welsh Nonconformity in this House—we will be glad to have them. If they are not acceptable to them, we will not press them. After these Amendments had been moved I was still anxious if 1 could, but only in one way, by agreement with the different parties, to secure both of these Amendments. We have not succeeded. I hope the representatives of both the Church "in Wales and the Church in England will recognise the truth of what 1 am now saying, that a bargain was made. I do not think there is anything wrong in saying that in trying to settle an old quarrel like this our chief aim. should be to try and get rid of the ill-feeling in Wales itself. What I wish to say to the House is this: In view of the fact that this bargain had been made the Prime Minister had a perfect right to say to me, ''You have settled this; you have no right to reopen it. "I am bound to say lie has made a great effort to get an agreement between the Welsh members and the Church representatives with regard to the churchyards, and I am glad to say he has succeeded. In these circumstances I venture to say with some confidence that those who represent the Welsh Church in this Government have done their best in the interest of the Church, that the best has not been done unless there are further concessions, but that we have proved the desire of everyone to do all they possibly could to get peace where there was a sore conflict of opinion.


I recognise, of course, that my right hon. Friend has done what he thought was his best for the Welsh church, but the broad fact remains, and not the most ingenious Parliamentary speaking will get rid of it, that the Home Secretary has admitted, as clearly as it could be, that in point of fact the Church is only getting nothing at all except recognised rights which it had already secured by the Act of Parliament of 1914. That is quite clear, and not all the in genuity which we all recognise my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House possesses will get over it. I do not hesitate to say that in this case, as in others where he has tried to negotiate with the Prime Minister, it is the Prime Minister who has carried off all the honors. His account of what the bishops said to him is entirely news to me. Very wisely, perhaps, the Welsh bishops have acted in such a way that none of their supporters in this House were thought worthy to be consulted as to the arrangements which, were made. The arrangements have been made behind their backs. They are felt worthy to fight the battles of the Welsh Church, but they are not thought worthy of being consulted. The Welsh bishops, have played an extremely astonishing part. They had a case which was overwhelmingly strong—a position which had only to be stated and insisted upon to enable them to extort from the Government any terms they liked. They have chosen to accept nothing at all. It may be an excellent action on their part, but after all they are entrusted with the guardianship of the money which has: been handed down to them and it is no charity on their part.


The Noble Lord is not entitled to say that!

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)

Order, order!


I regret very much that I cannot appreciate the ability of those who have negotiated on behalf of the Welsh Church, but I do not think it would be desirable to divide on this. I still hope that the Government may have an opportunity of considering the matter further between this and the Report stage. In any case, we have registered our protest against the whole policy which the Government have thought it right to pursue in this matter. To divide again would be merely to waste the time of the House, and I hope my hon. Friend will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.

Major H ILLS

I rise, not to continue the discussion, but to ask one question of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I recognise that he has done what he has done in a rightful manner, and the only point I wish to ask him is whether in the conversations he had with the Welsh bishops and other persons representing Welsh interests, the proposal made by the hon. Member was in his mind?


Yes, certainly !


I mean the special proposal that different consideration should be applied to the urban and rural glebes?.


I meant to refer to that, but I forgot to do so. What I said about the general question applies. If between now and the Report stage it is possible for those who represent the Church in Wales, and those who represent other sections of the Welsh people, to come to an agreement on that matter also, I shall be pleased, but unless agreement can be come to so far as I am concerned I will press for nothing beyond that which has been secured.


My only object in speaking is to endeavour to make the settlement as acceptable as possible, and to try and secure that no source of friction or dissension shall remain in Wales. I take it that the Leader of the House has not entirely closed the door of settlement, and that he only says the settlement must be by consent.


In view of the statement we have just heard, I beg to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, at the end, to add the words all burial grounds of any ecclesiastical corporation or parish in Wales and Monmouth shire: Provided that any burial grounds to transferred shall be vested in the representative body subject to the provisions of Section twenty-four of the Welsh Church Act. 1914,as amended by this Act, and shall be held in accordance with regulations made by a joint committee of the representative body and of representatives of the various religious denominations in Wales and Monmouth shire and approved by the Secretary of State.


I thought that this Amendment was to be moved in a different form.


No; I will leave it in that form.


Yes; it will be in that form now; it will be altered on Report.


I would ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the Amendment for the time being. The parties have, as we know, agreed to negotiate, and I think have now come to terms. Those terms require some drawing up and putting into form, and if my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment with regard to burial grounds to-night, the matter will, I hope, be in form and regularised in time to be dealt with on the Report stage.


I want to say one word with regard to this matter. The Welsh Members have not accepted 'anything up to the present time. I want the Committee to know that very clearly. We have promised to consider these words when they are drafted on the lines of this Amendment, but no agreement has been come to.


I do not question that, but I have no doubt an agreement will be come to, and, in justification of what I said, I may say the Prime Minister told me that an agreement had, in fact, been come to.


I beg to withdraw. I understand that practical! an agreement has been come to; it is only a question of drafting; both sides will see it when it is brought in.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 (Additional Powers of Ecclesiastical Commissioners) ordered to stand part of the Bill.