HC Deb 05 December 1919 vol 122 cc859-66

When the Ecclesiastical Committee shall have reported to Parliament on any measure submitted by the Legislative Committee, the report, together with the text of such measure, shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament forthwith, if Parliament be then sitting, or, if not, then immediately after the next meeting of Parliament, and thereupon, on an Address from each House of Parliament asking that such measure should be presented. to His Majesty, such measure shall he presented to His Majesty, and shall have the force and effect of an Act of Parliament on the Royal Assent being signified thereto in the same manner as to Acts of Parliament:

Provided that if, in respect to a measure laid before the House of Commons, the Speaker of that House shall be of opinion that the measure deals with two or more different subjects which might be more properly divided, the Speaker may divide the measure accordingly; and, if any measure be so divided, such part or parts of that measure only as may be specified by Addresses from both Houses of Parliament (whether the Addresses be identical in both Houses or not) shall be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.

Amendments made: Leave out the words "an Address from" ["thereupon, on an Address from each House of Parliament"], and insert instead thereof the words "a Resolution being passed by."

Leave out the word "asking" ["asking that such measure should be presented to His Majesty"], and insert instead thereof the word "directing." — [Viscount Wolmer.]

Viscount WOLMER

I beg to move, after the word "measure," to insert the words "in the form laid before Parliament."


The effect of this Amendment, in the vast majority of cases, would be that a Resolution passed would be a Resolution affecting the measure in the form in which it was laid before Parliament. This cuts away a possibility, which was present to the minds of many of us who served on the Committee, and which we thought ought to remain. If these words were not put in, there would be just the opportunity for Parliament, not to amend the measure by altering or modifying it, but to say that they would pass, or direct the passing, of a Resolution, or direct an Address to the Crown, so far as concerned a part of the measure only, so that that part could then go forward and become law, if Parliament so decided, while the rest could await further consideration. That is a very small loophole indeed left for independent Parliamentary action, and, considering that some of these measures will be of vast importance, and are now known to include other aspects than those which are exclusively ecclesiastical, it is surely important that that very limited power should remain to Parliament, in the interest, I should have thought, of the Church itself and in the interest of the welfare of the country. I, therefore, very much regret that my Noble Friend should have put this Amendment down, and, frankly, I was surprised that he had done so. I fully admit that my friends have said all along that they wanted to have as little Parliamentary control as possible consistent with the preliminary arrangements, and, with the power of this and the other House, to say Yes or No; but I respectfully protest against this deprivation at the last moment of certain very limited powers which were in the Bill as originally drafted.

Viscount WOLMER

That is so. This Amendment has been put in simply to make it perfectly clear that when a measure has passed the Church Assembly, and has then received the blessing of the Joint Parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee, the question proposed by both Houses of Parliament will be whether they accept or reject the measure as a whole, because if either House is asked to amend a measure, then that involves a greater tax upon Parliamentary time than experience has shown us Parliament is willing to grant for ecclesiastical legislation. Therefore, this Amendment simply makes perfectly clear what has always been said by the promoters of the Bill from the very beginning, and I think we may regard my hon. Friend's speech as an argument in favour of the Amendment, because he certainly seems to be of opinion that without these words the Bill would not be doing what we all hope it will do.

Amendment agreed to.

Viscount WOLMER

I beg to move, to leave out the words Provided that if, in respect to a measure laid before the House of Commons, the Speaker of that House shall he of opinion that the measure deals with two or more different subjects which might be more properly divided, the Speaker may divide the measure accordingly; and, if any measure be so divided, such part or parts of that measure only as may be specified by Addresses from both Houses of Parliament (whether the Addresses be identical in both Houses or not) shall be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. and to insert instead thereof the words Provided that, if upon a measure being laid before Parliament, the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords and the Chairman of Ways and Means in time House of Commons acting in consultation shall he of opinion that the measure deals with two or mote different subjects which might be more properly divided they may, by joint agreement, divide the measure into two or more separate measures accordingly, and thereupon this Section shall have effect as if each of the measures resulting from such division had been laid before Parliament as a separate measure. Perhaps I ought to say a word about this Amendment, because I do not think I am betraying any confidence when I say I submitted this Amendment to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton, and I was sorry to find that it did not commend itself to him. I want, therefore. to say this: During the course of the Bill through the Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and some of his colleagues pointed out that the very point which arose on the last Amendment—namely, that the House of Commons or the House of Lords were only to be asked to say "Yes" or "No" in regard to any particular measure, caused anxiety in their minds in case the Church Assembly might lump together several different subjects in one omnibus measure, and that, while both Houses of Parliament might be willing to agree to four out of five possible subjects in a measure, they might very much dislike the manner in which the fifth subject was treated, and yet be unwilling to reject the whole Bill for fear of jeopardising the other subjects. That was the case put forward by my hon. Friends in Committee upstairs, and to meet those arguments, my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University put down an Amendment which was carried, and which now forms the proviso at the end of Clause 4, giving to you, Mr. Speaker, the right to divide any measure sent up by the Church Assembly into as many different measures as you thought light, and that was accepted by my hon. Friends as an adequate safeguard against the Church Assembly lumping together two or more different subjects which ought to be presented separately for an independent decision by Parliament. That was carried in Committee upstairs with general consent, but my Noble Friend made it clear at the time that if such powers were conferred upon an officer of the House of Commons similar powers would naturally be desired by members of the other House. I have alluded already to the difficulty that private Members have in piloting a Bill through Committee in this House, and therefore we have not the same opportunities of getting in touch with Noble Lords in another place as members of the Government have, certainly not at a moment's notice. Therefore we tried to do our best on the spur of the moment. That short consideration resulted in the addition of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, which was designedly confined to this House. We did not at that stage attempt to deal with the exercise of similar powers in another place. We took the view that Members of the other House would very much dislike this matter being dealt with in this House of Commons. Since then I have conferred with several Members of the other House, and I find amongst them a unanimous desire that the powers that were originally proposed to be conferred upon you. Mr. Speaker, in regard to the House of Commons should be exercised, as regards the House of Lords, by the Lord Chairman of Committees.

Then comes the question of co-ordination between the two Houses. Let us suppose that the Church Assembly sends up a measure which ought to be divided into two parts, and the measure deals with two different subjects. Obviously, it is the interest of everybody that these measures should be divided in the same way in both Houses. Therefore, we are anxious that whoever divides the measure in the House of Commons should have some opportunity of conference with the officer who divides it in the House of Lords. As I understand, there is no precedent for you conferring with the House of Lords, the Amendment appears in the form it does.


This modification is, I think, a rather ill-starred modification. In the Joint Committee the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University brought out this paragraph in the form in which it appears in the Bill. Those of us concerned for securing as much real Parliamentary control as is consistent with the general objects of the Bill did, in consideration of that Amendment, withdraw other Amendments which we had put down by which, at any rate, we could prolong discussion, if we wanted to, and which would have put much more pointedly the fact that this House should have the same power to deal with these Bills. I certainly was under the impression that no alteration would be made by either of my hon. Friends in a thing which was accepted after discussion, and on the fact of which acceptance other Amendments were withdrawn. I was surprised and sorry that my Noble Friend should have altered this. As the original paragraph stands in the Bill it is in your power, Mr. Speaker, to decide whether a measure so laid should be divided, and, if so, into how many, and that gives this House the right by itself to decide so important a matter. Now this House alone will have no right, and it can only be divided by the joint opinion of the Chairman of Committees in this House and the other House. Therefore it is open to the Chairman of Committees in the other House to veto any proposal that might commend itself to this House. The exercise of the real judgment as to whether more than one subject is included is taken away from the chief officer in this House and is dependent upon the agreement of two persons, one of whom does not owe any allegiance to this House. This is really a cutting down of the power of this House of deciding. I understand from your ruling, Mr. Speaker, that it would not be in accordance with Parliamentary traditions for you to confer with anyone representing the other House, and that is why the Noble Lord has inserted in this Amendment the Chairman of Committees. Of course I bow to that decision with the greatest respect. The point is not only who should have the power to decide, which I should prefer should be Mr. Speaker, but instead of this House having an independent decision, there is to be a joint decision between the two Houses. There must be and no doubt will be informal conferences between the representatives of the two Houses; it is not right that the decision of this House should be dependent upon the judgment and opinion of anyone in the other House. Therefore I protest against this alteration being introduced at the last moment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—[Viscount Wolmer.]


I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, a question upon the practice of the House. I understand that Resolutions under Clause 4 fall within the character of exempted business, and may, therefore, be moved after eleven o'clock at night, and may be taken, so that they could not be actually crowded out for want of time. It is desirable to know, if the worst comes to the worst, if they could be treated as exempted business, and your ruling, Mr. Speaker, on that point would be of great interest.


In reply to the Noble Lord, I am of opinion that the Resolutions to which he refers would be "proceedings made in pursuance of an Act of Parliament," and, they are "proceedings made in pursuance of an Act of Parliament," then they are exempted business under Standing Order No. 1, and can come on after eleven o'clock.


Considerable reference has been made to Free Churchmen and Nonconformists. I have endeavoured, in the way that I have approached this Bill, to view it only as a public citizen, arid, owing to the generous way in which the Bill has been managed upstairs, our views have received very great consideration, and very often have been met. I must say now, as a Free Churchman, that I sincerely hope that this power which we have conferred upon the Church of England by this Bill will help them to remove many of the abuses which we all deplore, and give the Church of England greater oppor- tunities for usefulness. These are not the times when we ought to magnify small points of differences. It is our desire to come together in a spirit of unity as far as we possibly can, so as to bring all the forces of order and of morality to help in the building up of this England, which is so dear to us all. I am sure that the supporters of this Bill and my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) will agree with me that so far as we Nonconformists are concerned we wish the very best to the Church of England.


I desire to associate myself with the words that have fallen from my hon. Friend. The discussions on this Bill have taken, on the whole, a most desirable and fortunate turn, because there has been a universal desire to keep in mind the high endeavours and objects which are behind the Bill, and to adjust those, as far as may be, to the constitutional rights of His Majesty's Government. Those of us who would gladly have seen the Bill modified in important particulars — I have only within the last five minutes been handed a resolution, very gravely worded, from the Free Church Council, full of anxiety on salient points—do not yield one iota to those who support the Bill as it stands in our desire that it may be an instrument of great good, and that all the dangers that we fear may none of them come about. I hope that I shall not be thought impertinent in adding this: In the Bill as it now stands, and as substantially it will become law in a few days, there are great experiments in the relation of religious enterprise to constitutional rights which must and will be undertaken. It must rest, with the wisdom of those who work this Act of Parliament, and with their sense of fairness particularly to those who share neither their position nor their privileges, whether this Bill is to be the success that we all desire. If it does become such a success, it will in its turn react upon Parliamentary reform, and we shall gain greater flexibility while maintaining a proper hold over the rights of all citizens.

Viscount WOLMER

I am very much moved by what my hon. Friends have said, and I have only risen to thank them and to say I hope we have now inaugurated a new era of Christian co-operation in this country.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed, with Amendments.