§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
I beg to move,That, in accordance with The Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Bishopric of Shrewsbury Measure, 1925, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.I rise to move this Resolution by which the House is asked to agree to a measure passed by a large majority in the Church Assembly for the creation of a new diocese of Shrewsbury as soon as sufficient funds have been collected. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up !"] At the present time two-thirds of the amount required has still to be collected, but hitherto no public appeal has been made, and I should like to make clear from the outset that this proposal involves no charge whatever on public funds. The Measure provides that the new diocese shall include all parishes in the Archdeaconries of Salop and Ludlow which are situated wholly or partly within the County of Shropshire, together with one parish in the Principality of Wales. At the present time the Archdeaconry of Salop is in the diocese of Lichfield, and the Archdeaconry of Ludlow is in the diocese of Hereford. Therefore, under this proposal, these two diocese will be reduced in size. There are two main reasons for this proposal. One is to give relief to the diocese of Lichfield. I do not propose to dwell upon that side of the question, because that will be dealt with presently by my hon. Friend the Member for the Stone Division. The other reason is to provide better for the spiritual welfare of the people who live within the area of the proposed diocese.
It is largely a question of comparative accessibility and compartive distance from the diocesan centre, and that applies both from the point of view of the Bishop visiting the different parts of his diocese and also from the point of view of the clergy and laity visiting the diocesan centre. In the case of all the principal towns in those two archdeaconries, with two exceptions, the distances from Shrewsbury are very much shorter than the distances from either Lichfield or Hereford. Also, the majority of people who live in the area of the proposed new diocese have nor- 878 mally no business other than ecclesiastical which takes them either to Lichfield or Hereford, whereas Shrewsbury is the normal town for their business. It is situated in the centre of the proposed new diocese, and has roads and railways radiating from it. It is, in fact, an ideal centre for the diocese.
This proposal is no new one. It was first publicly discussed in the Hereford Diocesan Conference in 1889, and since then it has been very fully considered at numerous Church Conferences throughout the two dioceses. I am not going into the details of those. I will only observe that in the year 1921 the Bishop of Lichfield, in a letter to the Archdeaconry of Salop, strongly recommened the proposal, on account of the impossibility of doing his work adequately in a diocese so large and so thickly populated as Lichfield. In the same year, the Bishop of Hereford, in a letter to the Archdeaconry of Ludlow, stated that in his opinion the practical considerations in favour of the proposal outweighed the sentimental objections to it.
Then in 1924, a referendum was held, at the request of the Church Assembly, in order to ascertain the views of all the Parochial Church Councils in the two Dioceses on two alternative proposals. One was this proposal which is now before the House to form a new Bishopric, and the other proposal suggested that in order to relieve Lichfield, the Archdeaconry of Salop should be taken away from Lichfield and added to Hereford, that would have relieved Lichfield, but it would not remedy the disadvantages from which the Archdeaconries of Salop and Ludlow are suffering as regards distance from the Diocesan centre.
The referendum was held and the result of the voting was that in the whole of the two Dioceses, 499 Parochial Church Councils voted in favour of the Bishopric and 238 in favour of the alternative proposal, that is a majority of 261. If we take the figures only for the Archdeaconries of Salop and Ludlow, which are the parts primarily affected, the figures were 196 Church Councils in favour of the Bishopric proposal and 69 voted in favour of the alternative proposal, a majority of 127.
Then the Church Assembly appointed a Committee to' consider any other possible alternative schemes which might be 879 suggested. Five other alternative schemes were considered, and all of them were rejected by this Committee. Therefore, when this scheme came before the Church Assembly last year, it was passed by a very large majority. Thus the scheme has been passed by the Church Assembly and has been recommended by the Bishops of Lichfield and Hereford, and the figures I have quoted show that a great majority of the people in the parts primarily concerned desire it. I am aware that there are certain objections raised. It is said that the Diocese of Hereford will be left too small. It may be true that Hereford will be left smaller in area than most others at the present time. It may be true that the Hereford area will not have a very large population, but I submit that what really matters is the number of parishes and separate units with which the Bishop has to deal, and in this respect Hereford, even when reduced in size, will be still larger in this respect than several other Dioceses.
It is said that Hereford will suffer extra burdens, and that it will still have to maintain the Bishop, the Dean and Chapter, and so on, but this will cause no extra expense to the funds of the diocese. It is said that the administrative expenditure of the Hereford Diocese will be increased—that it will be automatically doubled. I do not know on what calculation those figures are based. According to my information, and I have figures in support of my contention, the extra expenses for administrative purposes which will be thrown on the Diocese of Hereford will only be about £70a year. Then we hear the argument that if money can be raised for Church purposes let it be used to increase the stipends of the underpaid parochial clergy. If it were true that the creation of a new diocese would prevent an improvement in the position of the parochial clergy, then I would certainly agree there would be very much to be said for the argument, but experience has shown that the creation of a new diocese leads to the raising of more money for Church purposes, and therefore so far from the creation of a new diocese injuring the position of the parochial clergy, it is more likely to benefit them. It is said that there are 880 alternative arrangements. We are entitled to ask what are they? All the alternatives that have been suggested have been considered and rejected. Therefore, I submit that these objections are outweighed by the arguments in favour of the scheme, the great advantage from the point of view of nearness to the diocesan centre, which it will bring to the area primarily concerned, and the fact that the great majority have clearly and definitely expressed their wish for it. For these reasons I hope the House will agree to this Resolution, and I beg to move.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman sits down, will he tell us in what diocese Bitterley and Woofferton will be under the new scheme?
§ Mr. LAMB
I beg to second the Motion so well and fully moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow.
I promise the House that I shall not detain Members long, not because I am lacking in appreciation of the justice or wisdom of this Measure, but because I have common sense enough to know that at this time of night hon. Members do not want long speeches. It will have been gathered that this Measure purposes to do three things. The first is to divide the present Bishopric of Lichfield by liberating that portion which is now situated in Shropshire; the second is to create a new Bishopric in Shropshire; and the third is to eliminate the portion which is now in Shropshire from the present Bishopric of Hereford. I wish to address my remarks to the House from the attitude of a resident, and one who has been actively associated with the Church in Staffordshire for many years. Let me give briefly the population and the area of the Diocese of Lichfield. There are 468 parishes; the area is 1,175 square miles; the population is 1,389,111. The present Bishop of Lichfield has given most nobly of his abilities and service to the work he has been performing. But I do say this: that the present condition of the County of Staffordshire deserves and requires a full time Bishop. The populations of the new 881 proposed areas would be as follows—the remaining portion of the Diocese of Lichfield which would remain in Lichfield—that portion now situated in the County of Stafford would have 330 beneficiaries with a population of one and a quarter millions. The population taken away from the Lichfield area and placed as part of the new Bishopric would be comprised in 138 benefices with 162,000 odd of population. The needs of North Staffordshire are very great, as, indeed, are the needs of the whole of Staffordshire, where we have two very large industrial areas. In the north we have the Potteries, comprising what is sometimes termed "The Five towns," which are really six, and have now been combined into the new city of Stoke-on-Trent. That is surrounded by a very large and populous mining district. In the south we have what is generally known to the public as "The Black Country," comprising seven or eight large populous towns, and in addition there are the city of Lichfield and the boroughs of Stafford, Burton and Newcastle. There is also a very large rural area, and the north-east portion of that, which is on the Derbyshire side, is very sparsely populated, and also very inaccessible, and its administration and supervision require a great deal more time from the Bishop than, possibly, is the case in other districts.
All I wish to say with regard to the Diocese of Hereford is that it appears to me that Hereford is the home of all the opposition to this Measure. It is quite justifiable, but I believe I shall not unnecessarily annoy the representatives of Hereford if I say it is based rather more on sentiment than on reason. The Hereford Diocese will undoubtedly lose a certain portion, that which is now situated in Shropshire, but it will gain the full-time services of a Bishop for the restricted area; and in addition to that the whole of the finance for the new Bishopric will be found by Shropshire, and Hereford will remain, with a very slight reduction, with the whole of their present income. The Measure has the support of both Bishops; the rural deaneries have very largely supported it; for the last four years—1921, 1922, 1923 and 1924—the Diocesan Conference has supported it almost unanimously; the Church Assembly has passed it; and it has been stated to be expedient by the 882 Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I consider that the great volume of evidence not only here but in the dioceses concerned is in favour of the Measure, and I have very great pleasure in seconding the Motion.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
May I intervene to give an answer to an hon. Member opposite who asked me a question? He asked me whether two parishes which he named would be in the new diocese. They will both be in the new diocese.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
You have been good enough to intimate to me, Mr. Speaker, that on a Motion of this kind no Amendment is in order. Therefore, I have to ask the House to give a direct negative to the Motion which has been submitted. I very much regret that a Motion of this importance should come on at a time of night when most hon. Members have probably no great desire to listen to argument, because this matter is absolutely of vital importance, from a Church point of view, to those I am representing. I apologise to the House for having to speak at this late hour, but I must deal, I am afraid, at some length with the arguments. I speak with some little knowledge of the question, because I have taken part in this controversy for the last five years as a member of the Church Assembly. In the first place, this proposal for a new Bishopric is absolutely unique in its character, and I do not know of any other Bishopric which was created under similar circumstances. In other well-known instances, when new Bishoprics were formed, it was done by cutting off large industrial centres like Sheffield and Birmingham, or cases like Winchester, which was too large, and it was cut into three parts, and Norfolk and Suffolk were divided to make them similar, and in all these cases the parts cut away were infinitely larger than what is proposed in the case of Hereford, and which is proposed against the wishes of the people in that diocese. I think I shall be able to prove up to the hilt that the majority of the people in the existing diocese of Hereford are definitely opposed to this Measure. As far as evidence of local feeling is concerned, I only need to allude to a great public meeting which passed a resolution against this proposal. The Hereford City Council unanimously passed a resolution against 883 this Measure, the motion being moved by a leading member of the Wesleyan body. Upon the instructions of the Church Assembly a definite plebiscite was taken of the parochial Church parishes of Tichfield and Hereford. The people in the Staffordshire Diocese had no interest in the matter except to get some relief for their Bishop, and it was merely a secondary thought to bring in Shropshire, which was suggested by the Bishop of Tichfield in order to put up a sort of smoke screen. A plebiscite was taken in the Diocese of Hereford, which consists of the county of Hereford and part of Shropshire, and in the existing Diocese of Hereford 207 voted against the measure and 105 for it, practically two to one against the measure. Now I will take the Shropshire part of the Diocese.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
The plebiscite was taken by instruction of the Bishop, and the voters were the members of the Parochial Church Councils. The Hereford Diocesan Conference was even more opposed to this measure.
In the Shropshire portion—that is, the portion of the diocese which it is proposed to take away—there were 71 for the Measure and 61 against it or for the alternative proposal, so that even in the Shropshire part it is almost even feeling with regard to this proposal; and I may say that the opposition to this Measure comes from Shropshire to a very large extent, and some of the leading opponents of this Measure are Shropshire men who desire to remain in the diocese of Hereford. I want just to allude to the pamphlet which has been issued by the promoters of this Measure, in which they deal with the question of local opinion. I do not think they deal with it very fairly. They say:The Shropshire portion of the Hereford diocese "—where, as have just said the figures of the plebiscite were 71 to 61—supported it by a 6 to 1 majority in this official Conference summoned ad hoc.They go on to say:The Hereford portion alone opposed it, but 18 per cent. of its parishes supported it.884 There they are not comparing like with like. They are taking the plebiscite where it suits them, and quite a different Conference where, again, it suits them. They do not even say that the resolution was carried at that Conference with a very important rider, which was this:That the archdeaconry of Salop "—that is, the part of Shropshire now in Lichfield—should be temporarily added to the diocese of Hereford until the Shrewsbury Bishopric should be formed.Those who supported that rider did so very much on the ground that they felt that, if once that union had taken place, it would be many years before it would break off, and that it would probably be so successful that that break would never come at all. So, in this pamphlet, it is hardly fair to say that the Shropshire portion of the diocesan Conference supported it by a 6 to 1 majority, without any allusion to this important rider, without which the resolution would not have been carried by that majority at all.
Although I do not wish to do so, I must just speak of the question of the support given to this Measure by the Bishop of Hereford. I am very reluctant to deal with the matter in any way, but, if I may say so, I think the Bishop was rather "got hold of," being very young as a Bishop, before he really knew what the feeling of his own diocese was, and that, having come to that position, he feels that he is bound to stand by it. At the same time, he has made two very important statements. One was that the Diocese of Hereford as it exists today is not too large for a Bishop's work, and the other was that he saw no practical physical difficulty that would prevent him from administering both Hereford and Lichfield. As against the opinion which he expresses at the present time, I would put the opinion of the late Bishop of Hereford, who is now Bishop of Durham, and who is, and has been, one of the most strenuous opponents of this Measure. He is a man who knows the conditions in Hereford.
I assure the House that the reason why we in Hereford oppose this Measure is not sentiment, and it is not pride; it is because we think the Diocese of Hereford will suffer serious and definite injury. We say that Hereford will be left too small. It will be left with a population 885 of about 114,000. I believe there are about 37 bishops in this country, and the population of the country is about 40,000,000, so that the average for each Bishopric must be something over 1,000,000, and yet it is proposed that the Bishopric of Hereford should be one of 114,000 souls. That would be about the population of Fulham or Hammersmith, or Shoreditch or St. Marylebone. Imagine having a bishop for one of these small districts, the size of which all hon. Members know and realise. The promoters of this Measure say that, although Hereford is small, it will be larger than 68 other dioceses as regards number of incumbents, and larger than about 10 in area. When I tell the House that one of these 10 is the diocese of London, it will be seen that the argument as to area is not one that can carry much weight. As to the number of incumbents, one of the dioceses that I have looked up is Birmingham, where, although they have a smaller number of incumbents, they have about 170 assistant clergy, while in Hereford, I believe, we have only about 13 assistant clergy In estimating the new diocese you want to look at the question with regard to expression. You want to see whether there is likely to be a growth of population that needs this spiritual care, and we find that by comparison with past figures the parishes of Hereford are slowly and gradually coming down in numbers. The number of incumbents is gradually being reduced. I know the parishes well. They are very small. You could get five or six within a Parliamentary polling district. They are well worthy of amalgamation, and, though this would need possibly 170 incumbents, in 10 or 20 years, that number might easily be reduced to something like 120. It is perfectly conclusive that you are reducing the diocese to a size that would become almost ridiculous, and probably bring scandal to the Church. Are you going to keep up a larger cathedral organisation, with your bishop, your dean, your archdeacon, your residential canons and vicars choral, and all other paraphernalia of episcopal dignity for such a small population as this? It seems to me that is likely to make the enemies of the Church, as such scooff, and that is a danger we should try to avoid.
886 I do not want to deal with the matter on a money basis. This is not a matter where money comes in to a great extent, but it means with regard to Hereford, that the administrative expenses will be doubled. At present they collect in the diocese about £8,000, and the administrative expenses come to about £900, which is roughly 10 per cent. It is calculated that when you take away the money collected in the Shropshire Parishes you cannot reduce your administrative expenses because the Secretaries of the diocesan societies, which must be kept going if the diocese is to live, tell us you are going to double your administrative expenses and the administrative expenses will go up from what is a fairly reasonable figure of 2s. in the £ to the unreasonable figure of 4s. Then I hear some suggestion has been made to the collections at the Hereford Musical Festival, which takes place once in three years, might be taken to make up the deficiency. When I tell the House these collections have been earmarked always for the widows and orphans of the clergy. I do not think they will listen very much longer to an argument of that sort. When the supporters of the Bill come to us in Hereford and tell us we do not know our own business and do not know what is good for us, it rather makes me feel as if someone came to my garage and stole my motor car and left a note to say "I have done it for your good because it will do you good to walk." It is almost adding insult to injury when they tell us after all it will not do us any harm and we do not know our own business.
Now I come to the most difficult point I have to answer—and I do not want to shirk it—the fact that the Church Assembly, to whom powers have been relegated, I have recommended this Measure, and I want to face that fairly and squarely. I believe there is a considerable amount of controversy when the enabling Bill got through as to the amount of power Parliament should have, and there is a considerable amount of controversy as to whether this procedure that we are taking to-night should be by direct vote or whether the Bill should lie on the Table to be objected to by means of a Prayer.
In order that Parliament might keep these direct powers for itself, the Bill 887 has to be passed by a definite vote of each House. The Winchester Diocese Bill only passed the House of Lords, I understand, by a majority of three. I may be wrong in my figure, but it was something very near that figure. That shows that the other place does not think that the powers of Parliament have been abrogated. I do not think this House would be wise to rest upon the argument that the power has been abrogated, and that Parliament ought not to interfere.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am not here merely to deal with the arguments of my hon. Friends, but to deal with the whole case, and also to anticipate arguments that may be used on the other side. I think my hon. Friend's interruption was irrelevant and unnecessary. I want to go back to the time when this matter first came before the Church Assembly. A new Sees Committee was appointed to survey the country to look into the question of Bishoprics and to recommend to the Assembly the new Bishoprics that were to go forward. Several have gone forward as recommended, practically unanimously; in some cases with opposition from this House, and in others without opposition in this House. With respect to the composition of the Committee as originally formed—it was only natural that it should have been so—far and away the overwhelming majority of the members were what might be called small Bishopric men. I do not want to go into this controversy, but there is a controversy between the small Bishopric men and the big Bishopric men. When a Committee of that sort was appointed it was natural that it should be a little Bishopric Committee. When the question of the Shrewsbury Diocese first came up I was a member of the Committee and I found myself in a minority of one, and I think I remained in a minority of one the whole time. The whole way through the influence and weight of the Committee appointed by the Assembly carried the Bill through stage by stage. Whenever it was referred back to another Committee we found that to a great extent the influencing personnel was the same. I felt the whole time that the dice was loaded against me—if I may 888 say so without meaning any offence—and there was no chance of obtaining a reversal of the decision originally come to.
Hon. Members may say that the House to-night has not the time and has not the evidence before it to enable it to come to a decision. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Well, I would say that the Church Assembly as a whole had very little more time and very little more evidence on which to come to a judicial decision than has this House to-night. It was the original work of the Committee which went into the question which practically decided it at the beginning. Again and again we had the weight of that original Committee against us, and therefore we found ourselves here tonight. Parliament has not abrogated its powers; it has the ultimate appeal in its hands, and to Parliament we appeal.
I want to say a few words respecting the relief of Lichfield. The main object of the Bill is to relieve Lichfield. I do not want to say anything unkind about Shropshire. Let us take it that the main object is to relieve Lichfield. Does this Bill relieve Lichfield either adequately, permanently or speedily? I maintain that it does not. Lichfield is a large diocese of over 1,000,000 people. You are going to take away about one-eighth of that diocese and leave a diocese which will probably be much too big, and one that in the course of time will probably have to be divided again. Anyone who studies the question very carefully will see that a new diocese in the Potteries is a far more ideal scheme than cutting off North Shropshire from the diocese of Hereford. In the Potteries you have a large industrial population. If the need for the relief of Lichfield is so urgent, this is not the way to do it. The promoters say that they are not going to raise the money at once. I have here a cutting from the report of a speech by Colonel Oldham, who was one of the most active promoters of the Bill, and a very eloquent promoter too. Speaking in Ludlow he said:There was no intention whatever, under present conditions of financial stringency, of trying to raise large sums of money for this purpose.That speech was made two years ago, but I very much doubt whether the condition of financial stringency is very much better now than then. So it does not mean 889 that the diocese of Lichfield is going to get immediate relief, but it does mean that the Ludlow Archdeacon will be like Mahomet's coffin, belonging neither to the one nor the other, still attached to Hereford by law, but knowing that at some time in an indefinite future he will go to Lichfield. That will be a bad situation for the whole Diocese of Hereford, and it certainly will not bring to Lichfield the relief that it hopes to get. I hope that the House will judge the case on its merits and not on the defects of my arguments. I feel very much handicapped in this Debate, because there is on the other side the noble lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), one of the most accomplished debaters in this House. He will be able, apparently, to rend my arguments to pieces, although the arguments remain just as sound at the end. I ask the House to beware of that. We also have against us the well-deserved popularity of the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the Admiralty. I feel that he, with his great weight and personality, is behind this Bill. Someone, not knowing that I was taking part in the opposition, said to me "Are you going to vote for Bridgeman's bishop?" I hope that the weight of the arguments of the Noble Lord and the popularity of the right hon. Gentleman will not have the effect of unduly leading Members of this House away from the real facts of the case. This Bill will do a serious injury to the Diocese of Hereford, it will not relieve Lichfield, and I appeal with confidence to the verdict of the House.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
I must confess that it is extremely unpleasant for me to speak against a Bill which I know is brought forward with the most admirable intentions, but I am absolutely bound to do so on the one great principle that I object to the creation of dioceses of about 100,000 souls. The whole object of the creation of new dioceses in England is to relieve enormous dioceses, such as Lincoln once was and such as other dioceses still are. This is a Bill to create a new diocese of 114,000 souls. It pretends to be a Measure to relieve Lichfield, but of the 1,200,000 people in the Lichfield diocese it is only going to take away 200,000. It is practically no relief to Lichfield at all. But it destroys the old Bishopric of Hereford—leav- 890 ing it a scrap with 114,000 souls only. Its main justification is that it takes county boundaries as the limits of the new bishoprics. But I see no tendency, under the present system of creating bishoprics, to take county boundaries as the proper limits. What counties could be more patriotic or more proud of their county traditions than Yorkshire and Lancashire? Are they asking to have their county boundaries respected and no new sees created? In these days we hear the county boundaries spoken of as the most admirable basis for delimiting bishoprics but it seems to be a doubtful policy. For example, Rutland with its 18,000 souls might, on this principle, demand to have its own bishopric—or, possibly, Huntingdonshire with its 54,000, which would be absurd. I submit that the idea of the county boundaries as the natural boundaries of bishoprics is not necessarily of compelling force. The question for us is the question of population. Here we have a district of 114,000 population, tending to decrease, the parishes rapidly diminishing in number owing to amalgamations, and we are asked to regard it as a fit and proper unit for a diocese, in this latest development in the process of dividing the English sees. It seems preposterous to begin making sees of 114,000 souls. It is not as though the people in the parts of Shropshire adjacent to Herefordshire had shown any absolutely predominant wish to do away with the ancient connection which existed between them and the historic See of Hereford.
If I am to trust the statistics sent to me by the Lord-Lieutenant of Herefordshire and the speech of the hon. Member for Hereford' (Mr. S. Roberts), there is no great demand in the Southern half of Shropshire for the severance of their connection—which goes back to the 7th century—with what has been an ancient political unit, viz., the Kingdom of the Magesactas, described by the Venerable Bede as "the bishopric of the Mercians who lie beyond the Severn"—a very excellent definition. This is am old royal Mercian bishopric which has survived down to this day, and I confess that I regard with sorrow, the idea of a small thinly-peopled diocese—it has only 200,000 souls, including its Shropshire parishes—of extreme historic in- 891 terest being cut up on some ground of adopting county boundaries. The old English Bishopric of Hereford is an interesting survival, and I see no reason why it should be interfered with. Therefore, while acknowledging the good intentions of my hon. Friends who have brought in this Measure, I suggest that certain things which may not be undesirable in themselves, certain things which may appeal to us as convenient, are perhaps not to be insisted upon, when we find that they are horribly objectionable to our neighbours. The promoters of the Measure must know that the whole of Herefordshire loathes it, and I ask them if it is their duty to offend their Christian brethren of Herefordshire by carrying it out? It will create the smallest and poorest diocese in England—not territorially small as the diocese of London is, but small in population. In the whole scope of the two Archbishoprics, the Isle of Man will now be the only see with a smaller population than the new Hereford diocese of this Measure.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
I want to appeal more particularly to those hon. Members who are not directly concerned with the Diocese of Hereford or Lichfield to support this Measure. While no one disputes that Parliament has the ultimate right to throw out measures of the National Assembly, yet the Debate we have had to-night shows, to my mind, the great wisdom of Parliament when it passed the Church of England Assembly Powers Act in 1919. As I understood the intention of that Measure, Parliament meant the Church in matters which did not interfere with the Constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects to decide its own administration, its own boundaries and its own affairs. I say with all respect that I am a little horrified at the material nature of the considerations which have been advanced to-night. Those who were in the National Assembly, the Bishops, clergy and the laity, were concerned with the multiplication of the arrangement of these dioceses for spiritual reasons. They were concerned with the fact that Bishops in the Church of England have certain spiritual functions to perform—the function of Confirmation and other functions—and Parliament in its wisdom decided in 1919 that spiritual matters were 892 matters properly to be considered by a body which it then set up composed of Bishops, priests and laity of the Church of England. That body came to a decision on spiritual grounds that it was wise in the spiritual interest that there should be created a Bishopric of Shrewsbury.
But the matter did not stop there. Parliament decided to put a check upon the National Assembly in the form of the Ecclesiastical Committee to which some of us—I for one, happen to be a member—are nominated either by Mr. Speaker or by the Lord Chancellor, for the very purpose of seeing that the Acts of the National Assembly do not interfere with the Constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects because it was never intended to give to the National Assembly powers which did so interfere with the Constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects The Ecclesiastical Committee, composed of Members of all parties in this House and in another place, meeting together has considered this matter and has reported to the House that this Measure does not prejudicially affect the constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects and the Committee considered it expedient that it should become law. Of course that is not decision, but it is a very strong recommendation.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
I should like to ask the hon. and learned Member a question, because I was very interested in the passing of the Act which set up this Committee. I have no recollection of its having been put upon the Committee as a duty whether they should recommend or not. I am only asking for information; I may be wrong.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
The whole matter is dealt with under Section 3 of the Act which says in considering a Measure the Ecclesiastical Committee shall draft a Report thereon to Parliament stating the nature of the legal effect of the Measure and its views on the expediency thereof especially with regard to the Constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects.
§ 12.0 M.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
I do not think we need enter into a legal argument at this time of night. I say, though Parliament has a perfect right, if it wishes, to ignore that recommendation, 893 at the same time, the Committee, having been set up by Act of Parliament for the purpose of making a report, the burden lies upon those who ask us to dissent from the Report of that Committee to show good cause why they dissent from the general recommendation. Otherwise, the whole settlement, as I understand it, of the National Assembly and the Ecclesiastical Committee becomes a thing of nought. The National Assembly, representing as it does all sides of the spirituality and laity concerned in Church matters, and the Ecclesiastical Committee, representing particularly the views of the two Houses of Parliament, have considered this matter in all its bearings, and have come here and said: "We think that this is a Measure which ought properly to be passed into law."
The matter is really a very serious one, because, as I understand it, if mere questions of boundaries or of the competing claims of persons in one diocese or another are to be considered in Parliament, regardless of the views of the National Assembly itself, which is more concerned than anybody else for the spiritual development of these matters, and of the Ecclesiastical Committee, then, I say, it is a very serious thing for Parliament lightly to overset those decisions. Some hon. Members from Hereford Diocese think they have been hardly treated in this matter—whether they think the spiritual interests of Hereford are affected or not, I do not know—but I submit to those who are not particularly concerned, who are the majority, that the fact that the Ecclesiastical Committee and the National Assembly, which latter body includes all the Bishops, who surely ought to know where and how their powers ought to be exercised, recommend this course is a fact that is entitled to some consideration.
The bishops themselves have decided in favour of this Measure, and surely the arguments which we have heard to-night are not sufficiently weighty for this House to take the responsibility of destroying a proposal which comes from the whole of the organised opinion of the Church of England, when you know in addition that your own Ecclesiastical Committee has said that there is nothing in these proposals which interferes with the constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects. 894 I want to press that point, because, if another view is taken and a precedent is established, as it may possibly be in this case, I can foresee that in future we shall have Debates—I will not say tedious, but protracted Debates—on every Measure which comes up from the National Assembly. If Parliament wishes, in its wisdom, to destroy the Church of England Assembly, there is a way in which to do that. Repeal the Act if you will, if you can get a majority for so doing, but so long as the Church of England has been given what Parliament intended to be autonomy, subject only to its not interfering with the constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects, I say that Parliament should hesitate long before it interferes with the considered, organized, and collective opinion of the whole of the Church.
§ Mr. FIELDEN
As I reside a few miles south of Shrewsbury, and in the diocese of Hereford, I hope the House will excuse me for a few moments if I ask them at this late hour to listen to my opinions on this question. The object underlying this proposal is the relief of the diocese of Lichfield. The seconder pointed out that the population in Lichfield at the present moment is about 1,300,000 or 1,400,000. This Measure will relieve that diocese to the extent of about 160,000, and it will still leave the diocese of Lichfield very much too large, considering the distribution of the population in that diocese, for its efficient working by a Bishop who lies far away from much of the population and in view of the fact that much of the diocese is rather inaccessible to him. The proposal for putting a new Bishop in Shrewsbury and adding the southern part of the county of Shropshire to the Archdeaconry of Salop will give a diocese of about 260,000 people, with a Bishop residing in Shrewsbury, and it will make an admirable diocese if small dioceses are the point at which we should aim; but is it fair to do this when it will destroy—for that is practically what it comes to—the existing Diocese of Hereford, by making it so small that it will not attract an energetic, active Bishop?
The alternative proposal that the Archdeaconry of Salop should be added, temporarily if you like, to the Diocese of Hereford would allow the Bishop of 895 Hereford further scope; it would not place upon him too much work for an active, energetic man; the rail connections between Hereford and Shrewsbury and between Shrewsbury and the northern part of the Archdeaconry of Salop are quite good; the Bishop of Hereford has offered to keep an establishment in Shrewsbury so that he can deal in Shrewsbury with the clergy in the northern part of the diocese; and, above all, it can be done at no cost except the out-of-pocket cost for the Bishop of Hereford, and in these days, I think, the question of cost is a material question. If the Bill goes through it cannot come into operation until the sum of about £60,000 has been subscribed for the proposed new Bishopric. I have not seen the figures with regard to the amount that is already subscribed or the amount that is already promised, but I understand—I may be wrong—that the sum subscribed and promised does not amount to one-third of the sum required. This proposed diocese will be entirely an agricultural diocese, and, I think, one is not wrong in doubting whether it will not be some considerable number of years before a Bishop of Shrewsbury will be established, even if this Measure passes. Therefore, if it is relief to Lichfield that is required—and I grant that it will be some relief to Lichfield, but only a small relief—that relief can be arranged for almost immediately. As to the question whether Hereford is in favour of the proposal or is against it, I will point out to the House that last year there was an election of representatives from the Diocese of Hereford to the Church Assembly. There were six vacancies. There were six candidates put up in opposition to this Bill, and five of them were returned; therefore, I think, there can be no doubt that whatever may have taken place in the past, last year the opinion of the Hereford Diocese was definitely against this Bill. The Seconder mentioned that there was perhaps some sentiment in this question. I think that there is some sentiment in Shropshire—a sentiment long held—that there should be a Bishop for Shropshire with a Cathedral in Shrewsbury. No one, I am sure, will find fault with such a wish so long as that wish, if carried out, does not inter- 896 fere with the interests of others. If it is carried out I maintain that it will seriously interfere with the wishes of those in the Diocese of Hereford at the present time, and if, when the Vote is given, sentiment is to have any weight, I hope that those who go into the Lobby to Vote will maintain in its present condition—a condition which has existed for the whole of its life—a diocese that has been in existence for upwards of twelve hundred and fifty years.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)
I do not want to answer all the arguments that have been raised in this Debate, but I do—as representing a constituency which under this Bill will be forming a part of the Diocese of Shropshire, and as myself residing in another part of Shropshire which is in Hereford Diocese—support very strongly this Measure. I want to do it, not on the grounds that have been very much brought forward to-night as to numbers and boundaries and so on, but on the ground of what is good for the Church. The Assembly are the best judges of that matter. We have been appealed to by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) to think about what happened in the 7th century or under the Venerable Bede. What we want to think about is what is going to happen in the 20th century and the needs of the 20th century. We have been told that we must not offend our Christian brethren. Might I suggest that they also might be careful not to offend us? What is the position? Hereford is a Cathedral town, easily accessible to the people of the county. What is the position in Shropshire? Some of those who desire to get to one diocesan centre, which is Lichfield, have to travel 60 or 70 miles, and to the other, Hereford, the distance is about the same. Anyone who thinks for a moment will realise how utterly impossible it is for any real corporate or diocesan feeling to be fostered under the circumstances. On the other hand Shrewsbury is in the middle of the county of Shropshire and accessible from every quarter. People can travel frequently, and at small expense. If made the centre of Church interests it is easily accessible. In my opinion, if there is one thing more than another that has had its influence upon 897 the character of Church life it has been the institution of Church Councils. They were made the interest of the poorer people just as keen, perhaps keener, throughout the Church than some others. they have brought new life into Church feeling, and the people take enormous interest in the work of the diocese. Where they live in a great many parts of Shropshire it is quite impossible, both in point of time and expense for these poorer members of the Church to get anywhere near the centre of the diocese. I do feel that Hereford should have some consideration for these things. They have everything they require. Why should they object to us having what we desire in this matter? They urge that small dioceses such as suggested are bad. But in all the instances where dioceses have been reduced in size, the church life has been improved; more money has been raised for church purposes, and benefit has been received in other ways. There will still be a large number of parishes left in the diocese of Hereford. If the Bishop were to go every week in the year to one of them it would take him four years to get round, and if he went oftener it would be better both for him and for his people. The smaller area of the projected diocese is the only argument put forward against it. That argument is controverted by the experience of the smaller dioceses. One hon. Member was anxious that population should be considered. Well, Hereford is very widely scattered and it is difficult to get about it. So is Shropshire. If the Bishop does his work thoroughly he will be a very much overworked man. Money has been referred to. The hon. Member who spoke seemed to think that because we had not found a lot of money that it showed a lack of interest in the matter. Would that hon. Member subscribe a large sum of money if he did not know whether or not there was any chance of getting what was aimed at? I think it is an extraordinary thing that £12,000 has already been raised by the people who are anxious to have this diocese. I hope that for the reasons advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the ex-Solicitor-General, and more especially for the reason that it will be for the good of the Church and give poorer members a chance of having closer relations with their diocesan centre that this Motion will be passed. The change 898 will be welcome to Shropshire, which, after all, is the centre of the new scheme, and is deserving of some consideration.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
Before the ex-Solicitor-General leaves the House, I desire to refer to and to demur to a statement he made a short time ago. I suggest that under no conditions or at any time has this House ever surrendered its powers to the Church Assembly. Both legally and constitutionally the right of this House is supreme. I suggest to members that to-night they have to answer two questions, first, whether this Measure is, as the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty said, for the good of the Church, and, secondly, whether the population of the district affected by the Measure want it or do not want it. I submit that no case has been made out on those two points. It may be said that those of us who speak on one side are influenced by biassed considerations, but the same may be said of members on the other side, and I think we ought to try to look at the matter fairly. Two years ago, during a discussion of one of these Measures, an hon. Member said he felt as if he were a juryman. I think that tonight a great many hon. Members feel they are in the position of jurymen, and have to decide between two issues. On the first issue, the good of the Church, the useful activities of the Church, we have heard it explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) how the Diocese of Hereford will be injured by being reduced to a population of 114,000. For what purpose? To relieve Lichfield of only one-eighth of its population. I suggest that any benefit to Lichfield in the matter of Church activity will be more than counterbalanced by the harm done to Hereford. So on the issue of whether the Measure is good for the Church I submit they have made out no case whatever. If the House of Commons is going to act as a jury, I submit to members that we in Hereford are in the position of the defence that the onus of proving their case is on the promoters of the Measure, and that they have not done so. If this Measure is passed tonight Hereford will be absolutely divided in two. If it is not passed there may be a possibility in the future of some alternative Measure being brought before the House. Again I would ask Members to consider themselves as a jury and we in Hereford as defendants, and would ask 899 them to give us, as defendants, the benefit of the doubt.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I think the House is now approaching the time when it will be inclined to come to a decision, but I beg to ask leave to say just one word in support of the Measure, before we proceed to vote. I have, of course, followed this discussion in the Church Assembly, and as my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) will agree, I was always most anxious that something should be done to meet the very strong opposition which was expressed by himself and other representatives of the County of Hereford. I think it was on my Motion that a special inquiry was made to see whether there was any possible way of dealing with the relief of the Diocese of Lichfield except the method proposed by this Measure. The position is quite simple. All people who looked into it, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford himself, are agreed that relief ought to be given to the diocese of Lichfield. One may say that that diocese unanimously supports this Measure as the best way of obtaining that relief. Two committees of the Church Assembly have looked into the matter, and they have satisfied themselves that this is the only way to give relief to the diocese. Then there is the question of local feeling. It is said that the local feeling of Hereford is against it, but after all Hereford will remain as it is now. Herefordshire will have the same Bishop, the same organisation, and the same traditions which it rejoices in now. It is said that the Hereford people were excited about it, but the ordinary layman in five years will not know that anything has happened. On the other side you have to consider the feeling in Shropshire. Do you really think you could shift them into a diocese against their will? The people of North Shropshire could not be so dealt with, nor those of South Shropshire for whom Hereford seems to have the same sort of enthusiasm as Germany had for Alsace-Lorraine.
It is quite clear to me that the reasonable thing is to have regard to the local feeling of those whose jurisdiction is in question. That is for Shropshire to decide. If they did not want to have that Bishopric they would not support it. I should be very unhappy if 900 I thought it would ruin the diocese of Hereford, but I do not think it will do anything of the kind. It is said there will be only 114,000 souls to the Bishop. For whom is that supposed to be bad? Is it bad for the souls to have too much Bishop or for the Bishop to be able to give enough pastoral care to the souls? Then we are told that no eligible person would accept the position ! Is that really likely? Could any of the hon. Gentlemen sitting there say that if they were offered a Bishopric of 175 benefices they would say, "That is much too little for me." When I am told that the diocese will be insignificant I ask, is the County Council insignificant? Does the Herefordshire County Council go about weighed down by a sense of its paltry significance? Is the Lord Lieutenant of the county ashamed to put on his uniform because he has so pigmy an office? Surely not. All that is proposed is that the ecclesiastical area should correspond with the civil area. If the civic area is an efficient area, why should not the ecclesiastical area be one?
I fully agree it is within the right of the House of Commons to reject any Measure it pleases, but will they be wise to do so? The Assembly has gone thoroughly into the matter; it has been examined by various Committees. What good shall we do by rejecting it? Is it to be supposed any Measure will be brought up overriding the feeling of Shropshire? If you reject this Measure, you will not do anything to relieve the diocese of Lichfield. You will turn a deaf ear to the wishes of the Assembly. Let the Assembly be your counsellor in this matter, otherwise you will leave this great grievance unreformed. I put it to hon. Members as the conscientious trustees of the great authority lying in their hands and appeal to them not to overthrow the decision of the Assembly, which I am persuaded is a wise, just and inevitable decision.
§ Mr. BARR
I think it is only fair that as one important voice has been heard from this side of the House there should also be heard the voice of one who would make clear that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) was speaking for himself and those who agree with him, and that there are other views held on these benches. It has been said to me, why 901 should a Scotsman interfere in this question? I would remind hon. Members opposite that in the Scottish Church Bill, in which I was interested, they completely snowed me under. I do not say this is retaliation, but I wish to speak on the merits of the case. I wish to say first of all, that to an outsider, the arithmetic of the matter does not commend the Measure. It is supposed to give relief to the Diocese of Lichfield, yet it must be admitted that the relief is of a slender character. There is at present 1,247,000 of population in Lichfield diocese. The reduction is 160,000, leaving 1,187,000 in the diocese. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) said that the Diocese of Hereford would remain just as it is, and mentioned its traditions, but I do not see how, when you reduce a diocese from a population of 200,000 to a population of 114,000 and make it the smallest diocese in the country, you can say it remains as it is. I would point out, further, that the new Diocese of Shrewsbury will have a population of 246,000, more than double the population you are giving to Hereford under the new scheme. An hon. Member opposite put forward as a case for this alteration that it would make greatly for convenience, as the people went to Shrewsbury for business, and they were at a much larger distance from Hereford or Lichfield. There is not a single diocese in the country that you would not cut up if you went on the principle of picking out a town because of its greater convenience.
My second objection to the Measure is that it is in a manner a forced settlement. There is keen division with regard to it. We find, further, that 230 parishes prefer the Shrewsbury Bishopric and 215 preferred some alternative. Hereford declared its opposition in every way open to it. I think it is bad for the Churches, both in Scotland and England, that they should overbear the small minorities in this manner. Those who have commended to us the judgment of the Church should compose their differences in the Church, and in these districts, before they come to us for our imprimatur. It has been said by more than one hon. Gentleman that this was not putting any charge whatever on public funds. I beg to say Parliament is asked to-night to put its 902 imprimatur on an appeal for funds. Clause 2 says:The Ecclesiastical Commissioners shall receive all contributions which may be made by the public for the purposes of the endowment of a Bishopric of Shrewsbury.In these days of economy it is interesting to find that £400 will be surrendered by Hereford, but there will still be a salary for the Bishop of Hereford of about £4,000 and provision is being made to build up a salary of £3,000 to £3,500 for the new Bishop of Shrewsbury. I do not want to accentuate the differences in this matter, but as we know the Bishops are paid very large sums. From the Archbishop of Canterbury downwards we have salaries from £15,000. The Bishop of Durham has £7,000 and in the present case the Bishop is to have about £3,500, while incumbents in the Church are receiving less than £200, and some of them £100. I cannot be a party to erecting new Bishoprics on this expensive scale as long as that exists. The other day it was declared that the minimum sum for any Minister in the Church to which I belong, the United Free Church of Scotland, with no State grants whatever was £300 with a manse besides. I think it was the First Lord of the Admiralty, who said the Measure was for the good of the Church. In my view these things and their continuance is not for the good of the Church. Reference has been made to the National Assembly of the Church of England (Powers) Bill, 1919, but I do not think the House should be under any misapprehension in regard to Parliamentary control. I should like to give these three brief quotations: The Bishop of Liverpool said:No attempt whatever is to be made to prevent Parliament having a final control over the destinies of the Church.Lord Robert Cecil, on the Second Reading of the Bill, said that it left Parliamentin exactly the position it always has been.. and to say the Bill abolishes Parliamentary control is a most fantastic perversion of the fact.Lord Parmoor, one of the sponsors of the Measure, maintained that theeffective control of Parliament would be enormously enhanced.My fundamental contention is that if a Church accepts public contributions it must submit to some measure of control. I think this House is very ill-fitted to come to 903 a decision on a Measure of that kind. We do not know what the requirements of the diocese are, and why should Parliament be asked to put its imprimatur on the raising of £3,200 without full knowledge of the case; and why should they invest Bishops, as Clause 4 does, with rights, privileges, and jurisdictions? There was a famous countryman of mine, Matthew Henderson, who said he held the patent of his nobility direct from Almighty God. It is admitted that the Church must submit to some measure of restraint and control. It is sometimes said that a Church in this position is as free as a Nonconformist Church, but that is falsified every time a Measure of this kind comes before the House. In my last sentence I would just say this parting word as a Nonconformist. Only as a Church surrenders its national endowments can it truly purchase its full
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Thursday Evening, Mr.904
§ freedom, and only as it gives up the privileges of establishment and throws off that restraint that Lord Selborne in his "Defence of the Church of England" admits, can it enter fully on the liberty, independence and full self-government that are the prerogatives only of those Churches that choose to exist or are driven to exist entirely apart from all State connection.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
rose in his place, and claimed to move," That the Question be now put."
Question put accordingly,
That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Bishopric of Shrewsbury Measure, 1925, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 57; Noes, 33.903
|Division No. 51.]||AYES.||[12.43 a.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francls E.||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Gibbs Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Harland. A.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Hartington, Marquess of||Sandon, Lord|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hayes, John Henry||Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y)|
|Birchall. Major J. Dearman||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun)||Smithers, Waldron|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Howard, Captain Hon. Donald||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Cope, Major William||Jacob, A. E.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichffield)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Dalton, Hugh||Loder, J. de V.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Davidson, J.(Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Lumley, L. R|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Macmillan, Captain H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Colonel Windsor-Clive and Mr. Lamb.|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Radford, E. A.|
|Barr, J.||Kelly, W. T.||Raine, W.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Knox, Sir Alfred||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Makins, Brigadler-General E.||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Neville, R. J.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Fielden, E. B.||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Windsor, Walter|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Oakley, T.||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Hohier, Sir Gerald Fitzroy||Penny, Frederick George||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Samuel Roberts and Captain Bourne.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Purcell, A. A.|
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ SPEAKER adjourned the, House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Ten Minutes before one o'Clock.