HC Deb 17 November 1927 vol 210 cc1284-7
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I beg to move, That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Indian Church Measure, 1927, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. This Measure has been passed by all the authorities required in Church and State in India. Having been passed by the Church Assembly, it is now submitted for the approval of the House.


I beg to second the Motion.


Are not we to know what this Measure actually does?


I have received from India a number of letters and other communications about this Bill. For instance, they write to me: If by any chance this Indian Church Measure should come up before Parliament before our memorial can be presented, we very earnestly hope that we may count upon your assistance against it becoming law. It will undoubtedly cause endless strife among Christians. Indeed, between 9,000 and 10,000 in the South have already deft the Church of England and are seeking to organise their own Church because of this Romanising movement in that area. This further telegram has come to hand: Memorial recently posted with certified signatures, received in ten weeks, of 20,848 India, Anglo-Indian, and European Christians, all ranks and casts, praying Parliament will reject the Indian Church Measure, which India never asked for. It is being forced upon us by Anglo-Catholic Bishops and followers. As I am not only anxious to do my duty by my Indian correspondents, but also am inclined to think that one of the best things the Labour Government did when it was in office was making Canon Barnes a Bishop, I am naturally anxious to know, before Parliament gives assent to this Measure, whether the charge made in this letter and in this telegram as to the Romanising effect or the Anglo-Catholic effect of this change in the Government of the Church in India, is a fact, or whether this is merely one of those religious phantoms. Normally speaking, I must confess that I should have been more anxious, because one sees at the present time a certain amount of interest even in this country in the Prayer Book question. Moreover, as a careful reader of "Mother India," it seems to me that in that country to-day there is probably a thought too much of superstition and idolatry already. But I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Noble Lord who is Under-Secretary of State for India, and, although possibly there is no other single point on which we could ever be agreed, I have a certain faith in him in matters of this description. He tells me that, in spite of the doubtful company I notice on the Front Bench—the doubtful nature of the religious views of the Noble Lord who is introducing the Measure, and whom I always regard as the worst "clerical" in the House—this Measure is perfectly safe, and, therefore, I do not propose to oppose it, but merely to ask the Noble Lord a few questions about it, to satisfy myself and the other Members of the House who have the same sort of feeling. In the first place, can we be assured that this Measure does not change the Thirty-nine Articles; that it does not commit the Church of England in India to the doctrine of transubstantiation; that it does not commit the Church of England in India to prayers for the faithful departed, and that it does not supersede the authority of the Bible for the more doubtful authority of the ancient Fathers and the modern Bishops. I prefer to stand by the Bible and the Bible alone, and I would like to have an answer to these questions so as to be certain that in passing this Measure we are not committing ourselves to any movement we do not like.

Viscount WOLMER

I have pleasure in giving my right hon. and gallant Friend the assurance for which he asks, but I should like to say that I am speaking on behalf of this Measure in my private capacity and merely as a member of the Church Assembly, and one who has had a good deal to do with this particular question in the last few years. The purpose of the Measure is simply to give the Anglican Church in India complete self-government and put it in the same position as the Anglican Church in Canada, Australia and other parts of the world. The position of the Anglican Church in India is really anomalous and dates from the time when it consisted of a few thousand English people who were temporarily resident in India. Now it consists of over half a million people, of whom 400,000 are Indians, and yet the Indian Church has no power of self-government at all. It is legally speaking a sort of extension of the Church of England, and is in fact supposed to be under the supervision of the Archbishop of Canterbury, although as a matter of fact that supervision has never been exercised within living memory.

That lack of power on the part of the Indian Church to make arrangements for its own government has caused a great many inconveniences, and therefore there have been negotiations going on for some years to bring about reform. There have been very elaborate negotiations because a great number of authorities had to be consulted, but the Diocesan Conferences, the General Council of the Indian Church and the Government of India and the Secretary of State in Council, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church Assembly have all approved this proposal by enormous majorities or else nem. con. My right hon. Friend (Colonel Wedgwood) read out a petition which has been signed by a number of individuals who are still opposed to this. I quite recognise that there is a small section of opinion which still desires to cling to the ancien regime but my right hon. Friend (Earl Winterton) has satisfied himself that they do not represent a large section of opinion either in India or in this country. The Measure therefore is simply and solely to give the Church in India complete self-government and all the questions raised by my right hon. Friend do not arise at all. The Indian Church will start, if this Measure is passed, free, with the English Prayer Book as it now is, and of course having self government they can in time, under their constitution, modify the Prayer Book in certain directions, one way or the other. No one suggests that that should be done at the present time—none of these questions are at issue. If this Measure is passed, my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for India will have to introduce a Bill, which has already been printed and has received its First Reading, called the Indian Church Bill. It merely deals—it has already passed the House of Lords—with the trust funds of the Indian Church, and regularises their position; and it also deals with the position of the Garrison Churches in India, and gives effective safeguards in regard to English Services. I hope that my right hon. Friend is satisfied by that assurance, and will allow us to have this Measure.

Resolved, That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Indian Church Measure, 1927, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.