HC Deb 20 July 1926 vol 198 cc1012-4

Sheweth that, — A Measure passed by the Church Assembly under the powers of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, and having the above name or short title has been laid before your Honourable House with a view to your Hounourable House directing that the said Measure should be presented to Majesty for His Royal Assent. The object of the Measure is to facilitate the Union in Benefiees, and the Disposal of churches and other ecclesiastical property within the Metropolis (which includes the City of London) and for purposes connected therewith. The Measure if passed into law would have fuller and more serious effect within the City of London than elsewhere by reason of the large number of churches with sites and adjoining churchyards of great value existing within the City. Your Petitioners are the municipal and local authority for the City of London, and as such are vitally interested in the proposals of the Measure as effecting that area, and your Petitioners and the Citizens whom your Petitioners represent strongly object to the Measure. The churches within the City are for the most part national memorials of great historical and architectural interest and value. Of the fifty-two churches left in the City, nine were erected before the Great Fire of 1666, thirty-two were built by Sir Christopher Wren, and eleven have been built since his death. Several of these churches stand on sites devoted to religious purpose since prehistoric times, and the majority are resting-places of the human remains of by-gone generations of citizens. The aforesaid City churches have been built and maintained by the ratepayers of 1 the several parishes in which they are situate, and in some cases Church Rates are still levied upon the inhabitants, irrespective of religion or attendance by them at the services of such churches. Your Petitioners humbly submit that the said churches are not property within the disposition of the Church of England without the consent of the patrons and parishioners, since they have been provided by the piety and money of the inhabitants for the express purpose of local use for Divine Service, whereas by the proposals of the Measure surly churches can and will be diverted to other purposes. Your Petitioners believe that it was the intention of Parliament in passing the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, to enable the National Assembly of that Church thereby set up to promote legislation upon domestic matters affecting that Church. Your Petitioners humbly submit that the proposals of the Measure go beyond those limits and involve the rights and interests of persons who have no representation on the National Assembly and many of whom are not members of the Church of England. The present Measure, if passed, would enable a scheme to be initiated by a Bishop to secure the demolition of any church in the Metropolis, apparently even St. Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, and the scheme might become law without further reference to Parliament. Your Petitioners humbly submit that your Honourable House should not approve such a far-reaching Measure, which would remove matters of such importance from the control of Parliament. Provision has already been made by the Union of Benefices Act, 1860, which this Measure seeks to repeal, for the removal of redundant churches, and some twenty churches within the City have already been dealt with under that Act. That Act niches provision whereby the inhabitants of the parish concerned are able to adopt or oppose a scheme by resolution in vestry, and one of the objects of this Measure is to remove this power from the inhabitants. Your Petitioners humbly submit that the said Act of 1860 is sufficient for the Union of Benefices and for removing redundant churches, and that legislation of the nature con contained in the Measure is unnecessary and should not be sanctioned. Although elaborate machinery is provided by the Measure purporting to be safeguards against insufficiently considered action being taken as to individual churches, your Petitioners humbly submit that these are ineffective by reason of the fact that the constitution of the Metropolitan Benefices Board, which is the appellate authority under the Measure, confers the preponderance of power upon the Ecclesiastical Authorities of the Church of England, whose main purpose in promoting the Measure appears to he to secure such financial advantages as would follow upon the demolition and sale or other disposal of City churches. Your Petitioners therefore apprehend that churches might be singled out for demolition not so much because they are redun- dant but because they occupy sites of great value for sale.

Your PETITIONERS, therefore, pray that your Honourable House will not direct that the Measure be presented to His Majesty for His Royal Assent.

AND Your PETITIONERS will ever pray, etc.

Petition to lie upon the Table.