HC Deb 09 May 1928 vol 217 cc241-4
Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the rights of parishioners in respect of the presentation to benefices. I should like to make two preliminary observations. In the first place, the Bill is non-political and is backed by representatives of all parties. Secondly, it is an earnest desire on my part to endeavour to bring peace within the Established Church of England, and order out of chaos. It is within the recollection of the House that when the Prayer Book was placed before us, it was rejected. When it comes before us again, whether it is rejected or accepted by the House, it will be equally impossible to get any peace within the Church of England. We have noticed the controversy that has been going on in the country and in the Press. I should like to give one instance with regard to what is going on in different parts of the country. I have received a letter this morning from Darwen saying that an Anglo-Catholic has been forced on the congregation there. He forced his views on them, but they would not tolerate it, and the only result will be that the Church will be emptied. I do not think we will get any peace in the Church of England as long as the Bishops or any lay-patron have the right to appoint a man whose doctrines are distasteful to the parishioners, and we know the Bishops have declared it is out of their power to control the clergy from introducing illegal doctrines into the Church. That being so, I do not think the Bill will abrogate or take away any power from the Bishops, and for this reason, that if a Bishop appoints a man and the parochial council approves of him, no power of veto would be exercised.

4.0 p.m.

In a case like Darwen and other places where either the Bishop or lay patron appoints a clergyman who introduces a doctrine which not only distresses and hurts those who attend the parish church, it is plain they are not doing their duty and the parochial council ought to exercise this power of veto. We know very well that a Church cannot exist, or that there can never be any peace within the Church, until the Bishops have the laity working with them. The churches exist by the attendance of the laity. I think it is obvious that, unless the laity have the power to say whom they will have presiding in their churches, we are never going to get any peace in the Church. There might be two arguments urged against the Bill. One is that the parochial council are not representative. But that remark applies equally to the Church Assembly. If the parochial council were given the power to take a real and active part in the Church, I think we should get peace within the Church, and we should find that every parishioner would take very good care that he was placed on the electoral roll. I would like to read the main Clause of the Bill, which is only a short Bill.


I am sorry to interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend, but may I ask him a question?


The hon. and gallant Member has only 10 minutes in which to ask for leave to introduce the Bill.

Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY

I would be prepared to answer any question, but 10 minutes is a very short time for what I have to say. The main Clause of the Bill states: No presentation by a spiritual patron to a vacant benefice shall be received by a Bishop and no presentation by a lay patron, other than His Majesty the King, his heirs and successors, to a vacant benefice shall he followed by the institution or admission of the presentee by a Bishop and no collation shall be made by a Bishop to a vacant benefice in his presentation unless the parochial church council of the Parish to which the presentee in each case shall have been nominated or presented or shall be intended by the Bishop to be collated, shall first, having been duly convened, resolve by a clear majority of votes that such presentee is acceptable to the parochial church council and communicate the resolution in writing to the Bishop. I would only say again that a Bill like this seems to me to be the only hope of getting peace in the Church of England. I am confident that, unless some such Bill as this is passed, the Church will be split from top to bottom. I shall not keep the House longer, because it must be plain to everyone what the terms of the Bill are and what they mean. I would urge every hon. Member, irrespective of party, to give me leave to bring in the Bill, and by so doing give the vast majority of Churchmen in this country the chance of seeing that the principles fought for and established at the Reformation shall be maintained.


I wish to oppose the introduction of this Bill, and I shall explain my reasons for doing so. In the first place, I think the House will realise what the Clause that was read really means. It means giving the power to every parochial church council to veto the appointment of any particular minister, and obviously to veto any particular applicant until they get the applicant whom they desire. I express only my own opinion as to whether that is desirable or not. In many cases and churches I believe that it works quite well. But my point is that it is only one of many proposals for giving parochial church councils more powers than they possess at the present time. I myself am strongly in favour of the principle of more power for parochial church councils. My objection to the introduction of this Bill is, therefore, not so much on the principle of the Bill, as on these facts: In the first place, this is purely a Church Measure. This House has delegated such Measures to the Church Assembly, the elected representative body of the Church of England. I submit that this House will be limiting its freedom in future if by permitting the introduction of such a Bill it prevents the free and open consideration of the proposals in connection with patronage which will certainly come before this House from the Church Assembly within probably the next 12 months.

The House has set up certain machinery for dealing with such Measures, namely, the Church Assembly. Certainly the Church Assembly is actually dealing with this matter at the present moment, and there is a Patronage Measure which is being carefully considered by a Committee of that Assembly. That Patronage Measure will come before this House in due course as the considered opinion of those who are capable of judging in the matter. The proper time for this House to express its opinion on this very difficult subject—a far more difficult subject than my hon. and gallant Friend has intimated—will be when the Measure comes before this House properly and in a constitutional manner from the Church Assembly. Without saying anything more on the principle of the Measure, because I agree with more power being given to parochial councils, I ask the House to refuse permission to introduce the Bill because the whole matter is bound to come before us in a proper manner in a very short time, and the House will be limiting its own freedom by allowing the introduction of a Bill which deals with this very important matter in a very lightly considered manner and a manner quite unsuitable to the very important question involved.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the rights of parishioners in respect of the presentation to benefices.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Lieut.-Commander ASTAURY and Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but there being no Members willing to act as Tellers for the Noes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lieut.-Commander Astbury, Sir Herbert Cunliffe, Sir Martin Conway, Sir Malcolm Macnaghten, Mr. Gerald Hurst, Dr. Watts, Mr. Crawfurd, Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy, Dr. Vernon Davies, and Captain Streatfeild.