HC Deb 18 March 1925 vol 181 cc2277-9

I beg to move That leave be given to introduce a Bill to remove the disqualification of Ministers of Religion from being appointed to city, borough, or district councils. The Bill which I ask leave to introduce is a simple one, and is intended to remove a very grave injustice from which a large body of men have suffered for over 40 years. Its object is to remove the disqualification of ministers of religion from serving on city, borough or district councils. There is a great inconsistency in the present law in this respect inasmuch as no such disqualification exists with regard to county councils, and we have the spectacle at the present time of one man being qualified to sit on the county council whilst his neighbour perhaps 100 yards away is disqualified from sitting on the borough or district council. I think hon. Members will agree that it is unfair to ministers of religion that they should suffer this disqualification and it is also unfair to the ratepayers because it limits their choice and rules out some very good men indeed. If these ministers have not complained, or at any rate have not complained loudly during the past 43 years, it does not seem right that because of their forbearance they should be compelled to suffer longer under this disability. If they were allowed to sit on district and borough councils I believe their presence would help the deliberations of those bodies and it would be a great advantage to have ministers of religion discussing important local affairs which bear upon the advancement of the conditions of people. Such men would be extremely useful also if borough councils were to emulate the example of this House and open their proceedings with prayer, but I hope if they do so that the aldermen and councillors will not remain behind the Chair while prayers are being said, as some Ministers and ex-Ministers of this House do at the present time. It may be that these right hon. Gentlemen think they are past praying for and I noticed with great pleasure that the only Member of the Government present to-day during prayers was its one lady Member. The disqualification which I ask hon. Members to remove is a very old one. Section 12 of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882 says: A person shall be disqualified for being elected … if and while he … (b) is in Holy Orders or is the regular minister of a dissenting congregation. I should like hon. Members to notice that if a Minister of religion is out of work, and has not a regular congregation, he is eligible. They seem to have had more regard for unemployment in those days than is the case to-day. The Bill which I hope to introduce provides that from the date of the passing of the Act no person shall be disqualified on account of bring a minister of religion from being elected to a city, borough or district council.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. William Greenwood, Mr. Waddington, Colonel England, Sir Joseph Nall. Sir Wilfrid Sugden, and Mr. Duff Cooper.