HC Deb 17 June 1931 vol 253 cc1901-12

I beg to move, That this House directs that the Cathedrals Measure be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent, in accordance with the provisions of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919. This Measure is one which, in its main purpose and outline, is very simple, though its details and machinery are complicated. The main purpose of it is to follow the precedent which Parliament has already set in respect of the universities, for example, that is, to set up a commission by which reforms in the constitution of the cathedrals may be carried through, but whereas in respect of the universities the commission was given compulsory powers to carry through reforms, in this Measure, except in two respects, the scheme of the commission depends upon the consent of the cathedral bodies or what are called in the Measure the consenting bodies. These consenting bodies in respect of the ancient cathedrals are the dean and chapter; in respect of the new cathedrals, what are called the parish church cathedrals, a body consisting of the bishop, wardens, two representatives of the parochial church council and other persons. The scheme made is submitted to the Privy Council after the security of proper publication and of the Church Assembly being able to interfere to prevent its going through, and by a delay which is required until the Church Assembly has sat. Finally, after it has been submitted to the Privy Council, and inquired into by the Council, if it be approved it is then laid before the Houses of Parliament, and anyone can take the opportunity of dissenting from a scheme. Schemes, therefore, are carefully safeguarded. Nothing can be passed which has not been scrutinised. The details of the Measure are highly complicated, but, broadly speaking, a scheme can extend to anything which cathedrals can do, and to the reforms which many people desire to see introduced into the cathedrals. When I say that they extend, it means that the Commissioners are allowed to introduce those reforms or are allowed to organise the existing functions of the cathedral. All that has to be done by consent, and under the supervision of the Privy Council, and, ultimately, of Parliament.

Only in two respects do the Commissioners act compulsorily. They transfer all the land which is at present under the management of the cathedrals, or the minor corporations comprised within the cathedral bodies, to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, unless the land is actually in the precincts of the cathedral. In that case it goes to the cathedral bodies themselves—that is, the dean and chapter. The second compulsory provision is that the minor corporations are to be either dissolved or reconstituted, but no one disputes that they need reform. The exact measure of reform is a matter of dispute, and that is left to the Commissioners to decide, and they will submit their conclusions to the Privy Council according to the process that I have described.

These are the main provisions of the Measure. They give an opportunity of reform by consent and by general good will of these very ancient bodies. The diversity of organisation, which would take too long to describe to the House, has been carefully inquired into by the Church Assembly, not only through a commission set up by the Church Assembly, but by a variety of sub-committees which travelled the country and saw every cathedral, and inquired into its particular circumstances. It is not at all desired that there should be a standardised type of cathedral, which would be deplorable. It is desired that our ancient cathedrals, in so far as their constitution is efficient, should be preserved, but that the scheme should be carried through with every possible regard to the feelings of those who have, naturally, sentimental regard for the cathedrals being made more effective than they are at present for the education of the people, for the good of the Church, and for the glory of God.


There are several doubts in my mind as to the scope of this Measure which some of those whose names are attached to this Resolution may be able to clear away. I would like to know whether the reforms include taking the emblems of militarism out of cathedrals, and whether the enormous amount of time now spent in church parades in our cathedrals will be devoted, as the Noble Lord said in winding up his remarks, to the glory of God, and not to the glory of Mars. During the War period guns were actually placed in our cathedrals and I wish to know whether this Measure will make such a proceeding in the future an absolute impossibility in a Christian assembly or a Christian edifice. Those are one or two questions which I think are deserving of the careful consideration of those who are promoting this Measure and asking that His Majesty should give it his Royal Assent.


I rise only to offer a protest against a complicated Measure of 31 Clauses being introduced at this late hour. How can hon. Members expect this House to exercise any control over the National Church when only a few minutes are available for a Measure of this kind and we have to take everything for granted? All sorts of things arise on this Measure—the method of electing Bishops, the method of transferring hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of property, certain exemptions, the question of depriving a number of people of office, and on all these points we have no means of knowing what this complicated Measure does. I would like to ask why, when they arranged for the transference of the property of the cathedrals, and they saw fit to exempt tithe rent-charge and other rent charges, such tithes and payments in lieu of tithes were vested in Queen Anne's Bounty. It seems to me that it is setting up a dual control so far as the so-called property of the cathedrals is concerned between Queen Anne's Bounty and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. With all these points involved the House ought to demand ample opportunity for going into the matter. If not, the time must come when this farce must end. The House ought either to be responsible for these Measures and for the National Church and take an interest in them and discuss them, or else the ties should be cut and the Church should be free to pursue her own way and develop her policy without the interference of this House.


There is one matter upon which I should like some information and on which I should like to give the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) an opportunity of giving satisfaction to the House.

Clause 21, Sub-section (2) provides: The Ecclesiastical Commissioners shall have power to pay out of their common fund to any Commissioner such remuneration and such allowances as they may think fit, and in any case where the Ecclesiastical Commissioners exercise the power conferred on them by this Sub-section they may pay the remuneration or allowances either periodically over periods to be determined by them or otherwise as they may think fit. The Measure provides that six Commissioners shall be appointed, and it gives their names. I am anxious to know if those six Commissioners are to be provided with salaries under the Clause I have read, and, if so, is six not an unduly large number? Could that business not be done with a smaller number of Commissioners?

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I would like to refer to what was said by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Ked-ward). I sympathise with what the hon. Member said about this Measure being brought before the House at this time of night, and perhaps that accounts for the hon. Member not having quite grasped the information, because he says that this Measure deprives certain people of office. May I point out to the hon. Member that Clause 25 makes it clear that no one holding office is to be deprived of his rights without his consent in writing.


I have not had sufficient time to go deeply into this Measure, but I have read Clause 23 which provides for the election of bishops, and I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) would have inserted in that Clause some facilities for the appointment of women as bishops. It is a matter of deep disappointment to me that, when this matter comes before the House, we should find the Noble Lord recalcitrant in regard to the question of women in the Church and their preferment to positions to which they have a perfect right, and where I am sure they could perform their duties to the glory of God just as well as the bishops. It is a matter of deep disappointment to me to find that women are not included. I have not had time to search the Measure thoroughly, and I would like to ask the Noble Lord if this point has escaped my attention.


I regret that it has not been found possible to take this Measure at an earlier hour. I think we might have taken it at 7.30 some evening when I believe the discussion would not have lasted more than an hour. I think that on some future occasion we might try such a reasonable experiment. There are other occasions on which this Measure might have been discussed. Last Friday and last night the House adjourned early. If this Measure had been starred by the Government, it would have been possible to take it on either of those occasions. I hope that in future the Government will consider the possibility of starring a Measure of this kind, not by way of supporting it, but in order that it may have an opportunity of coming on at a reasonable hour. I notice that the Ecclesiastical Committee in their report state that they are of opinion that the rights of His Majesty's subjects are "duly" protected. The words which are usually adopted are "fully protected." I understand that there is no longer any criticism on the matter of the minor Canons and I agree that it is reasonable that future occupants of these offices should have their services terminated when, for example, they have lost their voices, which renders them incapable of performing the duties for which they were appointed. The question might also be raised as to whether there are not other dignitaries of the Church who might be called upon to terminate their services at a time when for other reasons they may be no longer capable of carrying on their functions.

As regards the question of expenditure, a number of Measures have come from the Assembly to this House setting up new or reviving old Departments, and involving expenditure and appointments of staff. There have been Queen Anne's Bounty and the Pensions Board, and now a new body is to be set up, and money will have to be provided from funds which would otherwise be available for the payment of the salaries of the poorer clergy. I shall be glad to know how far the Noble Lord is going to take the House in reducing the funds which are available for proper purposes of this kind at the present time. It is said that this Commission is to be only temporary, for seven or 12 years, but does anyone really think that, once it is set up, it is likely to be terminated, either then or at any other time? We ought to regard it with very careful scrutiny.

Then there is the question whether, under the schemes which are to be put in operation under this Measure, it will be possible to protect the valuable property which these cathedrals own at the present time, and to prevent the sort of action that has recently been taken by the Dean of York, when, entirely on his own responsibility and without, as probably most people think, any proper regard to the possibilities of keeping the Caxtons in this country, he sold them for money to America. I think the Noble Lord ought to tell the House whether it will be possible to include, in the schemes under this Measure, provisions which will prevent the sale of treasures from the libraries of the cathedrals, or other valuable articles which they may possess, without the consent of an authoritative body, and will prevent these matters from being left, as often happens now, in the sole discretion of the Dean.


I regret that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has not moved the Adjournment of the Debate. I think it is quite wrong that a Measure of 31 Clauses and three Schedules—the third of which latter wipes out two Acts of Parliament which were passed under the older conditions relating to ecclesiastical Measures, and which had to go through a full course in this House and elsewhere and receive the Royal Assent—should be submitted to us in this manner at this hour of the night. We have a report from the Ecclesiastical Committee which runs to 11 pages. That shows the complicated nature of the issues involved. It seems to me that, unless we are very careful, many of us will be reduced, in dealing with these matters, to the state of virtuous indignation manifested by the Noble Lord the other night on purely secular issues. Up to the present we have managed to preserve at least the outward show of Christian charity when we have had to oppose these Measures, but I am bound to say that, as each succeeding one comes up, one realises the fact that very big issues are involved and are presented to us, "take it or leave it," either very late at night or in the early hours of the morning.

This is a very important Measure. It deals with some cathedrals which may be ancient bodies, but I see that there is one, the Cathedral of Guildford, which, at any rate, is quite a modern creation. There is an attempt to put new wine into old Bottles and new bottles. I do not know whether there is a desire to see whether the fermentation of the same wine in very different bottles is going to have any effect on the quality of the wine, but it certainly seems to me to be a matter that ought not to be submitted to us at this hour of the night when it is obvious that, no matter how effective the Guillotine may be on other occasions, the guillotine that one feels exerted upon oneself by the desire of Members to prepare for the labours of to-morrow by seeking their couch at a reasonably early hour restricts one in dealing with the situation. The first Sub-section of Clause 12 reads: The Commisioners shall, as soon as is practicable after the passing of this Measure, frame and submit to His Majesty in Council in manner laid down by this Measure schemes under this Measure providing for the compulsory transfer to and vesting in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of the endowments to which this Section applies for such consideration, whether consisting of a money payment or annuities or other property not being land, as may be laid down by such schemes, and for all matters incidental to such compulsory transfer. As far as I can gather, the further process of such transfer is to be removed entirely from the control of Parliament and is to be dealt with, if there is a dispute, by a person appointed by each side, and, if they cannot agree, by an umpire without, as far as I can see, bringing it back to Parliament again for its consideration. His late lamented Majesty King Henry VIII is mentioned in the Measure. It seems to me this might almost be a Measure after his own heart. He would come to Parliament, like the Church Assembly comes, for just as much as it pleases and, having got it from Parliament, would be content to go on ignoring it in this matter ever afterwards. I hope the Church Assembly will realise that it is putting a great strain upon, I believe, an increasing number of Members when Measures of this importance are submitted to us in this form and with so inadequate an opportunity for having them fully explained to us.


The hon. Member has inflicted a number of severe pedagogic censures on the Noble Lord and the Church Assembly, but the whole- responsibility for the lateness of the Measure rests upon his own Government. When he refers to the inconvenience of Members, he should also realise the enormous inconvenience to which the Church Assembly is put by having to wait for these Measures until Parliament can deal with them. We delegate these responsibilities to the Church Assembly, and we ought not to raise small debating points at this late hour and cast all this blame upon the Church Assembly and the Noble Lord for the lateness of the Measure when it is really the responsibility of the Government. As for the other censures, they are really unworthy of the Debate. I appeal to the House to let this Measure go through, and I hope that the Noble Lord will pay attention to the only constructive criticism advanced by the hon. Lady the Member for East Islington (Mrs. Manning). The one reason why I would support that suggestion is, that, if all the lady Members of the House of Commons were transferred to Bishoprics, we should be rid of them, which I think it would be a very good thing.


I desire to associate myself with the protest against bringing forward a Measure of this description at this late hour of the night, in spite of the fact that it is being sponsored by the "Unknown Warrior." The Noble Lord on one or two evenings has been protesting, almost purple with rage, against the gagging of the Opposition in connection with the Land Value Tax. I understand that the Bill can be obtained at the Vote Office, but I was not previously aware of the fact, and have had no opportunity of examining or discussing the questions at issue. Very grave issues may be involved. The hon. Member for North Paddington (Mr. Bracken) was wrong when he suggested that the responsibility lies with the Government for bringing on the discussion at this late hour. An opportunity could have been taken by hon. Members to bring forward various matters on the Adjournment. But I protest strongly against a Measure of this description being brought forward to-night and given preference, especially when hon. Members opposite almost shouted themselves hoarse against the Rent (Reduction and Control) Bill.


Under the Rules of the House this matter is exempted business, and the other is not.


The hon. Member should learn the procedure.


Probably when I have been here as long as you, I shall know it. Some of you have been here a long time, and you do not know much about it. I intend, if an opportunity is available, to register my vote against this Measure being carried through the House to-night. I do not know what it really involves, nor do I believe that a large number of Members who pretend that they understand it know what it involves. They continually claim that they are the custodians of the freedom and the rights of the public outside, and they ought to see that they understand fully what is involved in a Measure of this description taken at such a late hour.


I desire to reply, very briefly, to the criticisms which have been made. The most important criticism has been directed to Parliamentary procedure rather than to the Measure. That is a point upon which I am largely in sympathy with the critics. It is, unfortunately, very inconvenient that these Measures must be taken after Eleven o'clock. I do not blame the Government. I do not blame anybody. It is a difficulty in carrying on Parliamentary business with which we are all familiar. If I may make a friendly suggestion to those making the criticism, I would remind them that there is a Committee now sitting which is considering questions of Parliamentary procedure, and, if they would make representation to that Committee, perhaps some better means of dealing with these Measures might be found and more opportunities provided for discussing them. It is true to say that it is part of the policy Parliament adopted when it passed the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act that the details of these Measures should not come before the House but only the main principles of them. That was partly in order that the Assembly might deal with details and partly in order to relieve this House of burdens which were too heavy for it to bear. Accordingly, if you want to judge the details, it was the indention that you should go by the very elaborate report which the Ecclesiastical Committee present to Parliament, reviewing the whole matter. If any hon. Member feels that he ought not to assent to the Measure, he can vote against it, but if, after the fullest consideration, he feels it should be assented to, then he votes in favour of it. With that, I leave the question of procedure.

Then we were asked about emblems. I will not go into the controversial aspect of it, but provisions in regard to such things are to be found on page 10 of the Measure. Paragraph (ii) of Sub-section 2 of Clause 10 provides that the scheme may prescribe the purposes for which the Cathedral Chapter may act as Administrative Chapter in regard to the structure and fabric fittings, ornaments, furniture, and monuments of the Cathedral. That would no doubt cover the emblems to which reference has been made. With regard to the transfer of property, it should be understood that the transfer is to the Ecclesiastical Commission and subject, of course, to the Trust which originally governed the property. That does not really means that the property is taken away. What is really taken away is the administration of the property, which is merely following out what has already been done.


Why is Manchester excluded?


Because of the very peculiar character of the endowments of Manchester, which are largely a matter of sentiment and which are very old. The fabric of Manchester Cathedral was originally endowed by combining together certain endowments. There is a strong sentiment about land, and hon. Members on the other side of the House know that when you want to carry a Measure through the Legislature you have to make exemptions. As to salaries, I do not think there is any intention of paying salaries to all the members of the commission, but power was taken, and I think such power is in the interests of the poor man rather than the rich man. If you do not provide salaries at all, it means that you are obliged to select people with private means who are able to serve without remuneration. The power to give salaries enables you to use the talents and services of those who are not able to do without any remuneration. I think hon. Members can trust the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to watch over their funds with an eye to the strictest economy and not to give salaries unless they are in the interests of the churches.

Then I was asked whether there was any difference between the words "duly safeguarded" and "fully safeguarded." It is really an accident. "Fully" is often used, but "duly" has been used on this particular occasion. Of course, it is true that the rights of His Majesty's subjects are often modified, and, in that sense, invaded, by all Church Measures, for there is hardly a Church Measure which does not affect anybody's rights. The point is whether the rights are sufficiently protected, and it does not matter whether the word "duly" or "fully" is used. It was a mere scatch of the pen which decided the word.


I asked a specific question about the sale of church property and whether that was protected by the Measure.


I have looked into that, and I find it makes no difference. The law is left unchanged.


The Noble Lord has not answered my question.


The Measure does not deal with distinctions between the sexes, in respect of the Christian Ministry, but it is always open to ladies to wear gaiters.

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

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

Adjourned at Four Minutes before Twelve o'Clock.