HC Deb 27 May 1924 vol 174 cc368-82
Viscount WOLMER

I beg to move, That, in accordance with The Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Diocese of Winchester (Division) Measure, 1923, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. I wish I could be as brief as my right hon. Friend and my hon. and gallant Friend who have respectively moved the two preceding Resolutions; but as the right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) has put down an Amendment adverse to my Motion, I must explain to the House the strength of the case in favour of my Motion. The Bishopric Bill which I am moving is exactly similar in purpose to the two which we have just passed. It is, however, opposed by a very small, but very important, section of opinion in the Diocese, which is most ably represented by my right hon. and gallant Friend. The proposal is to divide the Diocese of Winchester. The Diocese is of enormous size, covering the whole of Hampshire, part of Surrey, the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands. It contains nearly 1½ millions of people, 600 parishes and 800 clergy. There is an absolute and urgent need for the division of the Diocese. It is impossible for one Bishop to supervise such an area adequately. The Diocese is admittedly a very difficult one to divide, but this Measure has been most carefully considered for a great number of years.

In 1912 the Diocesan Conference, which represents clergy and laity, unanimously decided that the diocese ought to be divided and a scheme was prepared, in March, 1914, for its division. Then came the war and nothing further could be done. In 1920, the Diocesan Conference again unanimously decided to proceed with the division, and a fresh committee was appointed, which submitted the scheme on which this Measure is based. In 1921 the scheme received a Second Reading, that is to say, is was approved in principle by the Diocesan Conference with only five dissentients, of whom my right hon. and gallant Friend was the leader. The scheme was then referred to every ruri-decanal Conference in the diocese.

The organisation of the Church of England is that every diocese is divided into so many parishes. There are 600 parishes in the diocese of Winchester. These parishes are grouped into 28 rural deaneries. In the ruri-decanal conferences every parish is represented by several laity and one clergyman, and when this scheme was referred to the ruri-decanal conferences in 1921 it was approved by 25 rural deaneries, and only three voted against it. The scheme was again submitted to the diocesan conference in 1922, and approved in its final form with only six dissentients, again led by my right hon. Friend. In the Autumn of 1922 the new Sees Committee of the National Assembly of the Church of England, which was appointed to consider the whole question of these new bishoprics from the national rather than from the local point of view, examined this scheme and approved it.

In 1923 the Measure was again referred at the instance of my right hon. Friend, who I admit has been a most gallant and persistent opponent, by the Diocesan Conference to the rural deaneries, with the result that 19 voted in favour of it, one voted against, while eight did not bother to send up a resolution. In June last year the Diocesan Conference was again challenged on the subject by my right hon. Friend, and 232 voted in favour of it and only 14 against. Then my right hon. Friend comes to the House of Commons and puts down an Amendment to the effect that this scheme requires further consideration! I think that I have been able to show the House that the matter has been very carefully and adequately considered by all the representative machinery that the Church of England has at its disposal. The matter came up last year before the National Assembly of the Church of England and was fully debated in two sessions and was passed by a majority of nearly two to one.

This spring the Measure came up before the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, which is established under the Enabling Act, and which contains Members of both Houses and representatives of all parties. There are four Members of the Labour Party, four or five Members I think of the Liberal Party, and four or five members of the Conservative Party. The Committeee considered this and the other Measures, and their report is in the Vote Office. The Committee say that they have received representations from my right hon. Friend, from Lord Northbrook, and Sir Godfrey Baring, who object to the scheme. I do not minimise their importance, but they have no following among the churchmen who have done what they can do to improve the organisation of the church. The Committee continue: The Committee, while recognising the great importance of this statement, are of opinion that the objections taken raise matters of policy affecting the administration of the Church of England, and in these circumstances the Committee have felt that in this case they could not usefully review the decisions which have been taken by a body on which the interests concerned are represented. They are therefore unable to recommend the rejection of the Measure on the grounds set forth in the statement. Therefore, I think we can claim that every representative body which has examined this problem has come to the conclusion that this scheme is the best in all the circumstances. I need hardly tell this House that it will not cost a penny of public money. Every penny required for the new bishoprics is to be raised voluntarily. We have already raised and collected in hard cash over £20,000, and as soon as this Measure goes through we hope to collect the remaining sums. My right hon. Friend says in his Amendment that the claims of the poorer clergy should come first. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] If hon. Members feel that, let me tell them that there is nothing in this scheme to interfere with the benefit of the poorer clergy in the Diocese of Winchester. Two years ago the Bishop of Winchester opened two funds concurrently; one was for the division of the diocese and the other for the improvement of the stipends of the clergy. It was open to any member of the Church of England or anyone else to contribute to either of those funds. We have collected £20,000 for the division of the diocese and something like, £15,000 or £16,000 for the improvement of the stipends of the clergy. There is nothing to prevent my right hon. Friend contributing £100,000, if he pleases, to improve the stipends of the clergy of the diocese. In all friendliness, I say that that would be the most practical way to help. We believe that the improved organisation of the Church will be reflected in an improved financial state. I appeal to hon. Members of all parties, whether they belong to the Church of England or not, to help that branch of Christendom and enable its organisation to keep pace with the changing conditions of the times and the growing population, in order that it can carry out its work to the best of its ability.


I beg to second the Motion.

Major-General SEELY

I have given notice of an Amendment to leave out all words from "That" to the end of the Question, and at the end to insert the words this House declines to present the above Measure to His Majesty until the poorer clergy in the diocese have received an adequate stipend and until the wishes of the inhabitants of the diocese have been more clearly ascertained. The proposal of the Noble Lord differs entirely from any other that has come before this House in that, although the Noble Lord did not make it plain, there is a most acute difference of opinion in the diocese and a very large body of opinion which is strongly opposed to the scheme. The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. W. Nicholson), had put his name down to Second my Amendment, and that he has been for a long time the Member for that part of the diocese which it is proposed to separate, is sufficient proof that there is a large body of opinion among his constituents opposed to this Scheme. There can he no doubt that the Isle of Wight is opposed to the scheme. I shall speak in a moment about the responsibility of this House for all the inhabitants of this diocese, and not only for church people. Winchester is a very sacred thing to us, and we do not propose that it shall be divided unless there is some measure of unanimity. In the Isle of Wight the overwhelming majority of opinion is against it. The Noble Lord says "No," but he has forgotten the facts. Of all the parochial church councils only 13 were found to vote in favour of it.

Viscount WOLMER

How many against?

Major-General SEELY


Viscount WOLMER

The figures do not agree with mine, which show that 14 were for and 27 against, and the population of the 14 exceeded the population of the 27.

Major-General SEELY

That is good enough for me; 14 to 27 is nearly two to one. The Noble Lord mentioned population. Even so, it has never been proposed —I have consulted the Ecclesiastical Commissioners on the subject—to divide an ancient diocese where there is a big body of opinion opposed to the scheme. We have opposed to it the Chairman of the Hampshire County Council (Lord Northbrook) and the Chairman of the Isle of-Wight County Council. We had a public meeting in the Isle of Wight which was absolutely unanimous, barring one man, in opposing it. It has never been suggested to the House of Commons or any other body that you should divide a diocese and make two new bishops, as is hero proposed, against the wish of a large body opinion. The needs of the poor clergy should first be considered, and I commend that point to the House. The Noble Lord uses the extraordinary argument—which, so my mind, reinforces the case against the proposal—that the late bishop was in favour of the scheme.

Viscount WOLMER

May I inform the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that the present bishop has stated that he intends to vote for this scheme in the other House?

Major-General SEELY

The present Bishop, in my hearing, asked for a year to consider it before giving a deliberate opinion. The Noble Lord said the late Bishop raised two funds, one of £20,000 for making two new Bishoprics, and another fund to relieve the needs of the poor clergy, for which he received £16,000. I can claim to know much about collecting money because, owing to my official position in the County of Hampshire, I am asked to make many appeals for hospitals and other purposes. There is only one charitable fund. Nobody has an unlimited amount of money, and if it had not been for this Bishopric scheme, instead of there being £20,000 for two new Bishops—who wants two new Bishops while the clergy are starving?—and £16,000 for needy clergy, some of whom are really starving, there would have been £36,000 for the poor clergy. Which is to come first? The needs of these unfortunate clergymen who are in dire distress, or the proposal to make two new Bishops against the wishes of a large body of opinion? I am glad I have had the opportunity of raising the matter in this House. It is quite true that the Diocesan Conference has supported the scheme well-nigh unanimously: but the late Bishop, who was unanimously beloved, could carry his Diocesan Conference in any direction if he said it was for the good of the Church. But the people of Hampshire and of the Isle of Wight do not take his view.

Finally, I have this good reason: it is not only the church' people who are involved. The Diocese of Winchester and the Cathedral of Winchester are national possessions. The Church of England is trustee for the Cathedral of Winchester. Only a week ago there was a great service there for people throughout the diocese. The Cathedral was full of people of all denominations. They were not only Church of England people. There is a yet stronger argument to which I hope even at this eleventh hour the Noble Lord will listen to. At the end of the War we decided, as people did everywhere else, to erect a War Memorial. Where was that War Memorial put?—In the Cathedral Close. We decided to inscribe in a book to be kept in the Cathedral the names of some 10,000 men who died in the War. Now, it is being asked if the memorial is to be split up and divided 'between the new dioceses and if the names in the book are also to be distributed in the same way. The scheme is a wrong one. It is doing great injury to the Church in the county. It is saying that the poorer clergy are to be placed in a secondary position in order to make room for the new Bishoprics. The wishes of great bodies of opinion are being outraged, and I am sure both Churchmen and Non-conformists in the whole community will he glad if the House rejects the scheme.


I hope the House will support the Amendment of my hon. Friend, because there is a strong feeling about the partition of the diocese. There are many people who strongly object to that proposed division, and I think there are goad reasons for t hat objection. At the present moment we have a Bishop and two Suffragan Bishops in the diocese of Winchester. By this proposal it is proposed to set up two new Bishoprics in addition to the Bishopric of Winchester. A large sum of money has been found for the purpose, but I should like to call the attention of the House to the fact that this large amount of money will be used only for the stipends of the two new Bishops, and no provision is made for the Archdeacons in the new diocese or for the Canons. The total amount asked for is £106,000. We are told that only £20,000 has yet been collected. I do not think that speaks very well for the enthusiasm of those who support the scheme. I want to object to the scheme as one of those who live in a part of the diocese which is to be transferred to the new diocese of Portsmouth. We were not asked whether we wished to be so transferred. The scheme was drawn up and submitted to the Diocesan Conference, but the Ruridecanal Conference was not consulted.

Viscount WOLMER

On the contrary, it has been twice consulted.

12 M.


It was only consulted after the scheme had been settled. We were never consulted whether we wished to go into the new diocese. Take the case of my own neighbourhood. We are some 14 miles from Winchester, which is the chief market town and the town where all the business of the neighbourhood is conducted. We are now to be transferred to the Portsmouth diocese. Portsmouth is 25 miles away; we seldom have to go there, and, consequently, we are being put into a district which, I may say, is altogether new to us. There is a very strong feeling among laymen in Hampshire about this proposed division of the diocese, and if the diocese had to be divided, it should have bean divided into Hampshire and Surrey. It would have been far more convenient to keep to the county divisions. I will not detain hon. Members further than to express the hope that the House will not approve of this proposal, against which there is, as I say, a very strong feeling in Hampshire.


I earnestly appeal to the House to pass the Resolution of my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), and to approve of this Measure. This House has, of course, an absolute right to exercise its veto in Church matters whenever it pleases, but I am sure it would be acting in accordance with its own best sense and its own best traditions in only exercising that power for very grave reasons, and when it can allege some broad question of principle, some interference with secular right or the intrusion of the Church assembly beyond its proper functions. No such case has been made or can be made in respect of this Measure. This scheme has been considered very carefully and very elaborately by the local Church organisation. I can quite believe that not everybody is satisfied. Is it within human wisdom to produce schemes which satisfy everybody? It is quite true there is a section of opinion in the Isle of Wight against the idea of division, largely from sentimental motives—very honourable to them—of devotion to the ancient See of Winchester. There is also the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. W. Nicholson), who appears to differ from my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely), because he does allow us to make some division, whereas my right hon. and gallant Friend wants us to go on for ever in the present state of chaotic organisation in the diocese without applying any remedy at all.

Is it not manifest, however, that this House cannot possibly usefully revise a discussion which has extended over years, which has been made with infinite care and which, beyond all doubt, has brought together an immense preponderance of those people who are really concerned about the organisation of the Church in this diocese and who are familiar with the arguments which weigh in such a question of administrative organisation? I do not know whether the House appreciates the care with which the question has been considered. First of all there was an inquiry by the New Sees Committee; then the Measure was brought forward in the Church Assembly, where it was dealt with in stages, the procedure being modelled on the procedure of this House. It was carefully debated in the Assembly, where no alternative scheme was put forward which could be preferred to this scheme. It was then referred to what we would term Select Committee, which considered the whole case afresh and went into every detail. Then it came back to the Assembly on what we would call the Report stage, and there was again a long debate, during which the case of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member tar the Isle of Wight was carefully put before the Assembly, debated and considered. After that inquiry, if the whole machinery of the Enabling Act is not to be treated as useless, is it wise for the House to seek to annul a decision so carefully taken on what is strictly a question of administrative organisation? Is it not wiser to be guided both by the preponderance of local and by the preponderance of central and Church opinion, and allow the Church to settle a question of this kind for itself? After all, those decisions are not irrevocable. If my right hon. and gallant Friend and my hon. Friend work out, in the years to come, a better scheme for re-arranging the Diocesan organisation of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, by all means let them do so, and nothing would be easier than by general consent to have a re-adjustment of the Diocesan boundaries in a better way, if they can work out a better scheme, but let us not now throw this scheme back, to the bitter disappointment of all the Keenest Churchmen in Hampshire, throwing cold water on all their efforts and all their pious purposes for the good of the Church. Let us not do that after all these years of inquiry and months of careful discussion. We shall be forced, by the traditions of this House, which has always respected deliberative action by a deliberative assembly, and which has always been brone to trust, in accordance with the root, principles of liberty, for which we most of stand, to the expression of the local desire of those who are concerned, to trust the expression of a great deliberative assembly like the Church Assembly, and ask that that trust may now be expressed and that we may ratify a decision so carefully taken.

The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Colonel Wedgwood)

I think it is as well that the position of the Government should be quite clearly stated on this Bill. We are in the position of Gallios. This is not a question which interests the Government, and the Government's position is simply this: Measures are passed by the Church of England Assembly, they then come before the Ecclesiastical Committee of the Houses of Parliament, upon which the Government have no representative, and they are then presented to this House for ratification. This House cannot alter any Clause or carry any Amendment to the Measures presented to it. All it can do is to decide whether or not it shall ratify he Measure as a whole. This position has been given to the Government by the Enabling Act of 1919. It may very well be, on future occasions, that Measures will be put before us which the Government will be unable to accept, in which case they will have to recommend to the louse to reject those Measures. We are not unfortunately situated that the details If these Measures are not put before the 3fovernment. They are not acquainted with the Measures at all till they are actually banded to them in a finished state, so that if some small part of a Measure were objected to, the Government would have to recommend the House to reject it in toto. That is a very unfortunate position to be put in, and, so far as this Measure is concerned, we have no objection to it, but we want it clearly understood that this must be no precedent, and if, as they can under the Enabling Act, the Church Assembly should pass serious Measures affecting the rights of this House and the Constitution of the Realm, we should certainly take steps to prevent it. We think that the position of the House of Commons and the Government vis-è-vis the Church Assembly could be very much improved if we had a certain amount of consultation on these Measures before they are placed before us.


I want to utter a word of protest at the unfortunate position in which I find myself, as a new Member of this House, being a strong Nonconformist, and having brought before me a position in which members of the Church of England are divided upon the subject matter before us. I have nothing but good wishes for the success of the Church of England in all her enterprises, but I feel that it is a position which ought to call for the sympathy of all the members of the Church of England, and that they ought to desire that a man of my convictions, along with others who may be Christian Scientists, Roman Catholics, Agnostics, Unitarians, or of any other religious conviction or otherwise, who are asked now to express themselves upon this matter, should be relieved at the earliest possible opportunity from having to exercise their judgment upon these things, which really concern the Church of England alone. I plead here that all those who are interested in the welfare of religion, and especially of the Church of England itself, should set themselves to go in for the disestablishment of the Church of England.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: (Mr. Entwistle)

The hon. Member must know that he is out of order in saying that.


There is one matter which should be cleared up, and upon which this House is entitled to guidance. This, I believe I am right in saying, is one of the first Measures under the Church of England Assembly Act which has come up for the consideration of this House, and to which there has been any considerable opposition. It, therefore, marks a very important point in Church administration and history. A point upon which we should like guidance is this: Is there any real, sound, and valid reason why there should not be delay, and why this matter should not be postponed for further consideration? Are we sure that in passing this Measure and in giving our assent to this proposal we shall not be making more discord in the Church of England? I want a definite assurance on that point before I am prepared to support the Motion before the House.


It is as well that we should take this debate with a certain amount of seriousness. I come here in the capacity, in which we all find ourselves occasionally, of a member of a jury. My knowledge is limited on this question, and I have listened to the debate with a very open mind, and must say that I gave the matter a fair amount of attention and also read very carefully the Report which I have in my hand. When Committees have sat, and there have been inquiries into a subject of this kind, the House of Commons, the great bulk of whom have no knowledge or intimate connection with the subject, must be guided by the Committees which have inquired into it. Having regard to that fact, I listened to the speeches to-night, and I must say that, taking it from a neutral point of view, the whole weight is behind the Measure brought in. But I must also have regard to this fact, that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) made one observation which gave every Member some cause to think, and which I would ask those connected with the Church of England to take into account, or it will mean that some of us will have to take steps in future occurrences of this kind.

I refer to the poorer clergy, who will suffer undisputed—


I meant to say that this matter of the poorer clergy is not a all subordinated to these new Bishoprics on the contrary, the only central fund from which money can be drawn is the great Ecclesiastical Commission Fund and it is part of the policy of the Commission, a policy which has lately bee reviewed and inquired into, always to give first assistance to the poor clergy and to carry out a great scheme which they have for raising the income of the poor clergy to a certain level—£300 o £400 a year—and that has always to be preferred to any donation that might be made to any of these Bishopric Funds.


I am obliged to the Noble Lord for his intervention, but I am concerned for the poorer clergy. It is disgraceful thing that in a question [...]religion you are going to have the sor[...] of obstruction repeated as before when trying to improve conditions, not only c the clergy, but of others who work about the church. I submit to the House in a[...] seriousness the view I am putting forward and though it may he that I am in strange company this evening, I say that those concerned ought at the earliest possible moment to set about passing a Measure to secure to the poor clergy of this diocese something, at least, of a decent adequate income to maintain the church in it dignity.

Question put, That, in accordance with The Church c England assembly (Posers) Act, 1919, thi[...] House do direct that the diocese c[...] Winchester (Division) Measure, 1923, b[...] presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.

The House divided: Ayes, 97 Noes, 43.

Division No. 84.] AYES. [12.19 a.m.
Aske, Sir Robert William Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.) Greenwood, William (Stockport)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Clarke, A. Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N)
Banton, G. Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K. Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton
Barnett, Major Richard W. Compton, Joseph Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Costello, L. W. J. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L. Harland, A.
Bonwick, A. Crittall, V. G. Harris, John (Hackney, North)
Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Hartington, Marquess of
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil) Harvey, C.M.B. (Aberd'n & Kincardn
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Dawson, Sir Philip Hayes, John Henry
Briscoe, Captain Richard George Dixey, A. C. Hobhouse, A. L.
Brown, A. E. (Warwick, Rugby) Finney, V. H. Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebon)
Buchanan, G. Foot, Isaac Hood, Sir Joseph
Buckle, J. Gibbins, Joseph Howard, Hn. D.(Cumberland, Northr
Bullock, Captain M. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools)
Burman, J. B. Greene, W. P. Crawford Kay, Sir R. Newbald
Kedward, R. M. Oman, Sir Charles William C. Thompson, Piers G. (Torquay)
Keens, T. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Tout, W. J.
Kindersley, Major G. M. Perkins, Colonel E. K. Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
King, Captain Henry Douglas Raine, W. Warne, G. H.
Lamb, J. Q. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Weston, John Wakefield
Lane-Fox, George B. Ritson, J. Westwood, J.
Lumley, L. R. Roundell, Colonel R. F. Williams, David (Swansea E.)
Macfadyen, E. Royce, William Stapleton Willison, H.
McLean, Major A. Russell-Wells, Sir S. (London Univ.) Windsor, Walter
Marks, Sir George Croydon Savery, S. S. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G. Sherwood, George Henry Wise, Sir Fredric
Maxton, James Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Wood, Major Rt. Hon. Edward F. L.
Moulton, Major Fletcher Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) Wragg Herbert
Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph Smith-Carington, Neville W. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Spero, Dr. G. E.
Nichol, Robert Stephen, Campbell TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Weld, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Sutton, J. E. Viscount Wolmer and Mr. Middleton.
Ackroyd, T. R. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Rea, W. Russell
Alstead, R. Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor) Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern)
Apsley, Lord John, William (Rhondda, West) Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.
Baker, Walter Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Starmer, Sir Charles
Black, J. W. Leasing, E. Stewart, Maj. R. S.(Stockton on-Tees)
Cautley, Sir Henry S, Loverseed, J. F. Thornton, Maxwell R.
Comyns-Carr, A. S. Maden, H. Varley, Frank B.
Dodds, S. R. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Wedgwood, Col. Rt. Hon. Josiah C.
Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L. Mansel, Sir Courtenay Williams, A. (York, W. R., Sowerby)
Fletcher, Lieut.-Com. R. T. H. Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.) Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frame) Mond, H. Wilson, Colonel M. J. (Richmond)
Greenall, T. Nesbitt, Robert C.
Gretton, Colonel John Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Guest, Capt. Hn.F. E.(Gloucstr., Stroud) Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Major-General Seely and Mr. William Nicholson.
Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy Owen, Major G.
Hudson, J. H. Pringle, W. M. R.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Tuesday evening, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-six Minutes after Twelve o'Clock.