§ Major BIRCHALL
I beg to move,That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Episcopal Pensions Measure, 1926, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.This Measure is practically non-controversial, or at any rate I have not heard of any opposition, and therefore it will not be necessary for me to detain the House for more than a few moments. The reason for the introduction of this Measure is that the present law under which Bishops receive their pensions has been a distinct hardship, and creates a distinct burden. The present law is that of 1869, under which the Archbishop and Bishops are entitled to- a pension of £2,000 a year or one-third of the official income of I he Bishopric, whichever is the greater. It is payable on incapacitation, and the money is taken from the income of the successor in the Bishopric. That has become increasingly a burden, as the income of the new Bishops is not more than half of what it was in the old days. Therefore the burden has become intolerable.
There is also the difficulty that some Bishops refuse or are unwilling to resign owing to the fear of crippling their successors. Hon. Members may know many cases in which it is desirable that a Bishop should retire, but where it is impossible for him to do so on financial grounds. I would not give the impression that the Bishops who are on the retired list are drawing their full pensions, because it would be unfair to do so. They have Voluntarily resigned a considerable amount of their pensions; but even as it is, the pension drawn by the seven Bishops on the retired list varies from £500 to £1,500 a year. It is proposed, under the Measure, to sweep away this old system altogether, and to set up a new system of pensions based upon a contribution from every bishop—a contributory system—and the balance re- 1150 quired will be found by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I would say at once that, under Clause 5 of the Measure, the amount to be found by the Commissioners will only be realised when the Commissioners consider that the finding of that sum will not cripple or endanger in any way the work which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to-day are doing for the poorer clergy of the country. Therefore, if this Measure passes, there is no fear that any assistance that may be given to the bishops will be at the expense of the poorer clergy; that is made perfectly clear by Clause 5 of the Measure.
The amount of the pension is to be normally 1800 a year, with three exceptions, in the case of which it will be £1,000, and, in the case of the Archbishops, £1,500. The age of retirement will be 70, or earlier in case of incapacitation. In conclusion, I would remind the House that every bishop of the 38 or 30 who at present hold office has agreed to this Measure, and has Voluntarily foregone all claim that he might have under the old Measure. They have foregone their claims to higher pensions, in the interests of the more efficient working of the whole system and in the interests of their successors in their own sees. That is a generosity which I think deserves to be publicly made known. The Measure has been carefully considered by the Joint Committee of the two Houses, who have reported in these terms:The Ecclesiastical Committee are of opinion that it is desirable that the Measure should become law. They consider that it does not affect prejudicially the constitutional rights of any of His Majesty's subjects.
§ The remaining Government orders were read, and postponed.