HC Deb 13 March 1930 vol 236 cc1658-62

I beg to move, That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Parsonages Measure, 1930, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.

Viscount ELMLEY

I beg to second the Motion.

There are several reasons why I hope that the House will pass this Measure. In the first place it has been passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England after very careful consideration, and I put it to the House that it is a much-needed reform, whereby existing parsonages can be disposed of when they are found to be inconvenient and unsuitable. The Measure also provides that substitutes may be found more easily. It is common knowledge, especially to those who live in the country, that many benefices have existed for centuries, and that many parsonages are quite inadequate for the needs of to-day. It frequently happens that an incumbent who has private means has provided himself with a larger house, and when the time comes for him to go the fresh incumbent finds that he is saddled with a much larger building than he requires and that the cost of repair and maintenance makes a heavy inroad on what may be a slender stipend. The proposals in the Bill are these; If it is proposed to sell a parsonage it is necessary to have the consent of the incumbent, the diocesan authorities, and Queen Anne's Bounty which, as hon. Members know, is the national trustee in all matters appertaining to the Church and Church lands. The parochial church council and the patron of the living have to be consulted, and the patron has the right of preemption of the property it is proposed to sell. In these ways, all interests are fully guarded. I think the provisions of the Bill would simplify the conveyance of any property which is sold, and secure a satisfactory definition of the uses to which the proceeds of the sale may apply and the regulations under which the Act may be carried out. Under the rules made by Queen Anne's Bounty for the prescribing of conditions authorised by the Measure, they have to be submitted to both Houses of Parliament, which imposes an additional safeguard for the proper administration of the Act.


I desire to ask two questions with regard to safeguards concerning the patrons of livings. It has been said that the patrons are to be consulted. What exactly does that mean? Are the views of the patrons to be taken into consideration? It is easier to consult than to pay attention to what they say. Secondly, there is the question of their right to pre-emption. On what terms are they to have the right to pre-empt parsonages? If these questions are satisfactorily answered I do not want to oppose the Measure.


The patron will be consulted in all cases and he will have the right to call into being a committee on which he himself will serve. He will have the right to pre-empt on the purchase if the sale is proceeded with.


On what terms would he have the right to pre-empt? Would it be an agreed valuation, or by auction, or in what way?


I imagine it would be under valuation. His position has been carefully considered, and the hon. Member may take it that his rights will be protected.

Captain BOURNE

I wish to assure the hon. Member that this matter was carefully considered and the Amendments were thoroughly approved.


With reference to the three Measures brought forward to-night, I think it is unfortunate that they should come forward at this time of night. It never was intended, when the Enabling Bill was passed, that these Measures were to be given to us in a sentence or two, and I think that the House, when it has no chance of amending or inquiry into, a Measure closely, Clause by Clause, is entitled to a fairly full survey of a Measure, so that we may give our votes with some intelligence. It was not desired or intended to place any hindrance in the way of the Established Church of this country in passing these Measures, but my hon. Friends thought that when these Measures are brought before the House we should get a full statement of their purposes so that we might vote with some sense of responsibility.


It is fair to say that these Measures were considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee, and it is the business of that Committee to report to the House if there is any doubt as to the suitability of these Measures, and especially if they infringe any rights. They were unanimously agreed by Members of all parties on certain assurances being given. Let me deal with the specific point raised as to the question of valuations. The value is at such a price as may be agreed upon between the Patrons' sub-Committee or, failing such agreement, at such a price as shall be fixed by a valuer appointed at the request of the Diocesan Dilapidations Board.


The remarks the hon. Member has made raise a point that wants further discussing. He rather suggests that because the Ecclesiastical Committee has presented a report unanimously in favour of the Bill, this House has nothing further to do and I protest most strongly against any suggestion of that kind. As long as the Church of England remains by law established, it is subject to the control of Parliament and its Measures have to be brought before this assembly and they will be most carefully debated here before they are passed. I was sorry to hear the hon. Member suggest that, because the Ecclesiastical Committee does not look at it from a broad, general point of view, but has certain constitutional duties to perform, and does not go through all the Clauses. The hon. Member has put forward a point of view which will find very little support on any side of the House. We must retain to ourselves a free hand to look at the Measure that the Church may bring forward, and there will be every desire to support them, and facilitate them if they seem wise, but we are the judges in the last resort as to whether they are wise or not.

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

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-eight Minutes before Twelve o'Clock.