HC Deb 26 June 1930 vol 240 cc1500-6

I beg to move, That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Pluralities Measure, 1930, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. This is one of those Measures which have been passed by the Church Assembly, under the powers conferred upon them by this House, and which they have to bring here in order to get passed into law. The Measure has had very careful consideration on the part of the Church Assembly, and is regarded by them as necessary at the present time in order to meet difficulties which have arisen in regard to man-power and in other respects affecting the work of the Church. Safeguards against any abuse are provided by the Measure, and there can be no fear that the power which is conceded in this Measure will be treated lightly. Hon. Members will find from the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, that the recommendations of a diocesan commission which has inquired into the necessities of the case have in every instance to be approved by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the bishop of the diocese, and the patron or patrons concerned.

The parishes which are likely to be affected by this Measure are usually very small. To-day, at the Ecclesiastical Commission, I myself was dealing with parishes whose population were only 42 and 50, and I think it is obvious that in such circumstances it is a waste of manpower not to be able either to combine the parishes or to have a measure of plurality. It is proposed to give to the diocesan commission which inquires into the question of unions of parishes, the power to recommend that an incumbent may hold these small parishes in plurality: and that will very often be the precedent condition to a union which may come later. In regard to parishes which may become largely populated later, this Measure will, by its temporary character, enable a later separation to be more easily effected than it would be under the Union of Benefices Act. Therefore I submit the Measure in the hope that it may receive the approval of the House.


I beg to second the Motion.


I think it is a matter of great regret that these important Measures come before the House in the way that they do. This is the fourth or fifth time in the course of this Session that, late at night, we have had placed before us Measures which very vitally affect the spiritual interests of great sections of the people. The Report from the Ecclesiastical Committee of this House is absolutely unenthusiastic about this Measure. In fact, I can go so far as to say that the very lukewarmness of the report would be a sufficient ground for asking the House to reject the Measure. After telling us that it is to amend a Statute that was passed for the protection of parishioners as far back as the reign of Henry VIII, whose interest in ecclesiastical matters is so well known, it goes on to say this: The Committee note that the proposed Amendment constitutes a serious extension of the power to hold benefices converted plurality which can only be justified on the ground of the existing shortage of clergy and, even so, only subject to proper safeguards. It is safe to say if there is one way to perpetuate the existing shortage of clergy it is to make it easier for one of the richest churches in Christendom to go on with an insufficient man power. This is exactly the wrong way to attempt to cure the existing shortage of the clergy. They go on: Their attention has been drawn to the fact that the safeguards provided under the measure are less than those in a case where a union of benefices is proposed. … they say in the next paragraph: The result of this proposal will be that whereas in the case of the union of benefices a scheme must be submitted to His Majesty in Council with a provision that appeals shall be heard by the Judicial Committee, in the case of a plurality no such appeal is possible. Yet we have the hon. Member who moves this recommendation telling us that he hopes that as a result of these pluralities being established they will lead to a union. There is no ground for asking the House to pass this Measure to-night. It is a matter which goes against the whole policy of the House in the matter of benefices for the last couple of hundred years. The scandal of pluralities led to very grave action being taken at various times to bring it to an end, and I am surprised that a Member sitting on the same side of the House as me should urge this Measure on the House on no other grounds than that it will enable the Church to escape from its obligation of paying a proper salary to its clergy by getting one man to do two jobs. It is a new doctrine for me to be asked to subscribe to. I heard an hon. Member earlier dealing with the question opt policemen holding two jobs, and suggesting that one way of dealing with the unemployment problem was to deal with that. I cannot help thinking that the same thing ought to be applied to this Measure. [Interruption.] I went to a Division last time and only had three Members against the strong support which my hon. Friend got from the Government Whips and I do not intend to put the House to the trouble of a Division against that kind of opposition. But I should be failing in my duty to my constituents and to the parishes which will be affected by the Measure if I did not make the strongest possible protest against the Measure being submitted at all, especially under these conditions.


The hon. Member has really a little misconceived the true purport of the Measure. The truth is that the Ecclesiastical Committee at first sight did not like the Measure, but on further examination they became converted and saw that their original objections to it were fairly met. The report bears the marks of having been first framed in a spirit of criticism, and afterwards in a spirit of approval. I am sure the hon. Member will see that really the Report is a very important testimony, since it was begun by somebody who was rather hostile to the Measure and became converted.


I think it was the other way round.


No, let me just try to explain how the matter stands. This is an Amendment of the Pluralities Act. License to unite two benefices or more in plurality was always contemplated under the Pluralities Act of 1838, but was subject to-special restrictions, modified in view of the present shortage of clergy. This provision is not in order to try to make clergymen take two jobs, but in order to try to get enough clergy to do the jobs. It is the want of clergy. In order to meet this situation, it is proposed to relax a little the provisions of the Pluralities Act in respect of the holding of more benefices than one, and this Measure relaxes them in two ways. First, for all benefices it makes a different geographical limit. It substitutes rather longer mileage, which is quite reasonable at the present day, when transport is so much easier than it used to be, and a rather higher unit of population. This is subject to the old safeguards of the Pluralities Act, with regard to appeal to the Archbishop of the Province. Hon. Members will have probably heard the very characteristic story of the late Archbishop Temple who was being asked to give a licence of plurality. The incumbent was very anxious to have it, and said: "Really, your Lordship, it is only two miles as the crow flies." But "you are not a crow and you cannot fly," was the reply of the Archbishop.


The Noble Lord bias just said that the distance is altered. As I read the report, it stated four miles as the law stands at present, and there is no alteration in fact made in the mileage.


I think it is extended from two to four, is it not?


I cannot find four miles in the Bill as I read it.


It is in the Bill.


It is extended; four miles is substituted for two. That is a general provision. In addition to that are these requirements as to geographical limit and the population which are relaxed altogether where an inquiry has been held under the Union of Benefices Act and a report has been made favourable to the holding of the licence in plurality. That has had both on the mind of the Ecclesiastical Committee and on the mind of the hon. Member a slightly confusing effect, because it makes people think that you are going to change the whole machinery and substitute the Union of Benefices Act for the Pluralities Act. In order to get over these questions and get an independent judgment on the questions of neighbourhood and size of population, you have to have an inquiry. There are the old safeguards of the Pluralities Act, which is appealing to the Archbishop, just as there always were. And you have the immense safeguard of experiment. Parishes try whether they like having one incumbent for two parishes, and, if they do not like it and in the process of time they do not get used to it, and prejudice against union has not diminished, they have an opportunity of objecting again when the incumbent dies or resigns and a new licence for plurality is applied for, so the safeguards are very great indeed. The danger that the interests of the parishioners will be neglected is avoided by the circumstances that not only the Bishop but also the quite independent authority of the Archbishop has to give consent, and because that consent cannot be of anything like a permanent character and must over and over again come up for revision every time a benefice is vacant. I earnestly hope that the House will pass this Measure, because the need occasioned by the shortage of clergy and the consequent spiritual life of the Church is really very grave, and we should not be acting honestly towards the Church under the conditions of Establishment of we stood in the way of a reform which really is in the interests of its spiritual welfare.


I rise to oppose this Measure because the parishioners are not safeguarded. They have no voice in the matter at all. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the Bishop, the patrons, the Archbishop, all have a voice, but no voice is given to the parishioners. I am speaking of an experience that came under my observation on Sunday last. The parish in question has been forced into a union and the parishioners are almost unanimously against the union, and it is causing great discontent. In this parish there is a great deal of building going on and properties and houses are being erected, and the spiritual needs of the parish are going to be grossly neglected. We pride ourselves in the Church of England on being the Church of the people and I think this is a retrograde Measure. The better method, in a mixed church like the Church of England, would be to pay the clergy a living wage.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, "That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Pluralities Measure, 1930, he presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent."

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

  1. ADJOURNMKNT. 50 words
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