HC Deb 07 March 1933 vol 275 cc1129-54

11.18 p.m.


I beg to move, That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Benefices (Purchase of Rights of Patronage) Measure, 1933, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. We have this advantage to begin with, that I am moving a Motion which is recommended for adoption by the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament that consisted of 15 Members of this House and 15 Members of the other House, presided over by an eminent Judge and lawyer, Lord Warrington. I do not know whether we shall have from the learned Attorney-General any legal criticism, but I submit to the House that, whatever may be the value of the judgment of the Ecclesiastical Committee on the main principle of the Measure, they are to be trusted about the question of legal propriety and about whether the general character of the Measure interferes with general rights or not. Its approbation, therefore, from that point of view, is, I conceive, important. I think, however, that the House will decide, not on small criticisms of detail, but on the main principle of the Measure.

The principle of the Measure is simple. It is that parishioners, when the advowson has been transferred in such a way as to grant a patronage which they find profoundly unacceptable, should have the right to purchase the advowson back again on fair terms, determined by an arbitrator, and entrust it to the Central Diocesan Board of the diocese. The principle is that it is the right of the parishioners to be concerned about the patronage which is to determine the pastoral care of their spiritual well-being. The machinery also is simple. There must be a resolution of the parochial council, confirmed by a resolution of a meeting of the church electors of the parish, and then a proposal to purchase must be made. If after three months the parties cannot come to an agreement— as in general I hope they may—the matter will go to arbitration, the arbitrator being chosen from a panel of three set up by the Ecclesiastical Commission with the consent of the Lord Chancellor. The arbitrator will determine on the price to be paid for the advowson, and the transaction will be in that fashion concluded.

The Measure relates only to a certain period. I know that some people say that the period might have been much more extensive, while others say that no transaction which took place in the past ought to have been dealt with. The period chosen is the period during which advowsons are changing from being saleable to being un-saleable, under the provisions of the Measure of 1923, which was passed in 1924. That Measure provided that, after two further presentations, in the case of every advowson, that advowson should become un-saleable, the theory being that the value of the advowson depended on two presentations ahead, and that, therefore, if the owner were allowed to sell for two presentations ahead, he would realise what was substantially the value of his advowson as it stood.

I am sure that the House dislikes, and I know that the Attorney-General dislikes, the purchase of advowsons. In fact, the Attorney-General proposed to abolish altogether the sale of advowsons. But, although generally I sympathise with his dislike of the sale of advowsons, I thought that, as the property in advowsons has for so long been saleable, and the State has so fully recognised it, to abolish it without any compensation would involve an undue disregard of legitimate rights of property. Although I dislike exceedingly the idea of the cure of souls being a matter of property and saleable, nevertheless I think that strict justice should be done, and I conceive that that would not have been the case if all advowsons bad been at a blow made un-saleable, as the Attorney-General proposed. Moreover, his solution of the difficulty would not really have relieved the grievance of parishioners who had had an advowson sold or given over their heads and so had had a form of patronage set up which was profoundly unacceptable to them. In that case, the parishioners have a right to a remedy. They are deeply concerned with that. It matters to them immensely who is or who is not the patron.

The patron certainly has a right to be compensated for any pecuniary loss but, apart from pecuniary loss, his concern in the matter is very much slighter than the parishioners, because a long period of years may follow during which the spiritual traditions of the parish are violated because an advowson has been purchased or given over the heads of the parishioners. It must be for years and it may be for many years. On the side of the patron, he is obliged to sell the right of appointment which he has had for a few years past but not more than nine. I am myself a member of a body to which advowsons are sometimes given. It does not buy them but they are given because of its particular religious traditions. I am, therefore, quite able to judge the feelings of those who are deeply attached to particular religious opinions and desire to exercise patronage in accordance with those opinions. I am a member of the Council of Keble College, which has a number of advowsons, this Measure is passed and made to operate against one or two of the advowsons which have recently been given to it, I shall not feel the slightest sense of grievance. I cannot understand how any self-respecting patron, or body of patrons, can wish to exercise patronage if they know that patronage is profoundly unacceptable to the great mass of parishioners. What benefit is it to them, and what a mischief is it to the parishioners. It surely is equitable that the parishioners should have a remedy.

We are blamed because it is said that what we are doing is retrospective. It is not retrospective. We do not want to reverse any transaction that has taken place in the past. What we want is to relieve a present grievance that is felt in a number of parishes. We do not want to make anyone unhappy or to damage anyone. We think that if the parishioners have had imposed upon them, whether by gift or by sale, a form of patronage which is so profoundly unacceptable to them that they are ready to take the trouble to pass resolutions, collect money and purchase the advowson back again, that is a legitimate claim and they ought to have the right of re- lieving themselves from the grievance which has been imposed upon them and make the patronage such as is acceptable. Then some say it is not proper to give it to the Diocesan Board. The parishioners can choose. If they prefer the present patronage to the Diocesan Board, naturally they will not use the Bill. The Diocesan Board is representative of all schools of thought in the Church. It is not representative only of the Bishops. There are 10 members besides the Bishops, five clergy and five laymen. They are elected by the Diocesan Conference on the principle of proportional representation in order to ensure that all schools of thought shall be represented. What more impartial authority could you have? It would, indeed, be a grievance if you took it from the extreme Anglo-Catholic trust and gave it to the extreme Evangelical trust, and vice versa, but if you gave it to the Central Body you might reasonably have a moderate and reasonable consideration of the spiritual needs of the parish.

I think everyone would be unanimous in supporting this Measure, except that some people feel so keenly their own old religious conviction that they conceive themselves justified in doing what seems to me to be a harsh measure unto others in order to impose their religious opinion upon other people. They are so convinced that they are in the right; they are so certain that their religious conviction is the conviction of religious truth, that it seems to them quite legitimate to purchase or acquire the advowson, however little the parishioners like it, however unwilling the parishioners may be and however they may protest against it, in order to impose their particular feeling upon that parish in perpetuity. And what is really objectionable is that what is called the trust goes on for ever while every other form of patronage changes. You have a bishop who is succeeded by another bishop, and you have the individual proprietor who dies and whose heirs may be of a different kind. There is no perpetuity. The thing does not hold with patronage. If you have a trust it is for ever. I think that that ought not to be, except when the parishioners, at any rate, acquiesce and give their approval. That is really the point of the Measure.

If you think that it is legitimate to impose your religious opinion on a parish whether they like it or whether they do not like it, however much they may be indignant, then, I agree that you will disapprove of this Measure. If you think —as I do—that the parishioners have a real right to be concerned about the patronage of their benefice, if they are really entitled to be considered in the matter, then you will say that, given that the pecuniary rights of the patron are properly safeguarded and that he has a fair price for what he has to sell, they are perfectly entitled to buy the advowson back and so obtain relief from their grievance. This Measure will apply for a certain period; the period, that is to say, for which advowsons are usually sold. That period will be, I suppose, substantially for 15 or 20 years. I shall not then be a Member of this House, but I daresay that the Church Assembly and the House may contemplate some further dealing with the difficulties of patronage, which extend, of course, far beyond the confines of the present Measure. But in the meantime there is this transitional period which has its own danger and in which owners of advowsons may attempt to sell before it is too late. This Measure is put forward in order to meet the difficulties of that transitional period, and I believe that anyone who values the rights of parishioners in respect of patronage will vote for the Measure in order to be safe from having their advowson bought over their heads, in spite of their protests and without any right of redress.

11.35 p.m.

The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

I am sure the whole House will join with me when I say how delighted we are to welcome the Noble Lord back to his place in the House, and with what appreciation we have listened to his exposition of the Measure which he bas commended to the House. I do not quarrel in the least—perhaps that is not putting it quite accurately—at any rate, in substance, I do not quarrel with his description of the Measure, but there are one or two points of detail on which I must attempt to qualify some of the things he said. I am not a consistent opponent of Church Measures brought to this House. I forget how many have been brought here, certainly well over a score. I have not agreed with many of them, or with some of them, but I have not spoken against them, with one exception, and I still think that my opposition on that occasion was not only justified but was acceptable to the great majority in this country. I say that, not in the least to go back upon a controversy which has nothing, or very little, to do with the present controversy, but lest anybody might say, as indeed my Noble Friend seemed to hint, that it was a little difficult for this House to reject a Measure which has come from the Church Assembly and has had the advantage, as he put it, of having been approved by the Ecclesiastical Committee of this House. This House was not the only House to reject a Measure from the Church Assembly. The other House rejected a Measure, the Shropshire Bishopric Measure, which most certainly concerned the Church more exclusively and in a much larger degree than this Measure concerns the Church exclusively. Again, I mention that act of another place lest it might be supposed by those who are unused to these Church Measures that there is something improper in our considering them on their merits.

The Measure as presented by my Noble Friend, as we should all expect, looks very well, but on closer examination I suggest that it will not bear the same attractive appearance as he, quite honestly, has made it seem to appear. My Noble Friend has said that the Measure will apply to all. In a sense it may be true that it will apply to all, but even if I accept that view it really would not reconcile me to the Measure. It seems to me no argument in favour of an injustice, if injustice be done, that the injustice is impartially distributed over the whole community. If it be wrong to apply the methods of this Measure to transactions which have taken place in the past, I cannot find any satisfaction in the fact that it will affect all alike. But I cannot help feeling some little doubt as to whether this Measure really is designed to fall alike on all, for I have received from some anonymous correspondent a circular, which is not anonymous, signed by a gentleman giving the name of Mr. Merit, with the heading: "Anglo-Catholic Group." This document is dated 17th February, 1933, and it says: I understand that the Benefices Measure is likely to be considered in the House of Commons shortly. I am advised that the most effective means of assisting its passage into law is for individuals to write to their own Members of Parliament asking them to be present in the House when the Measure is debated, and to vote in its favour. You might wish to write such a letter and try to persuade your friends to do the same. Each writer should use his or her own words, in order to avoid the appearance of a letter drawn up by some organisation for mass correspondence. All letters should be deposited by the end of February. I am sure that no such invitation to what has been called mass correspondence has been sent out in connection with this Measure from any people who happen to hold the same views as myself. Some letters may have been written, but I doubt whether there has been any mass correspondence.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

I must contradict the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Letters have been sent out by such organisations, and I could give him the names if necessary.


I accept the statement of the hon. and gallant Member and perhaps later on he will give me the reference and confirm his statement. I only mention this document emanating from the Anglo-Catholic group because it suggests that that group feels that it is not going to fall upon them. My group says that it will fall very hardly upon them. The hon. and gallant Member's group says that it is going to fall hardly upon them. Yet they ask for as much support of the Measure as is possible. There is an obvious difference between the two positions. But, quite apart from that, I ask the House to consider the Measure upon its merits. Consider the nature of the patronage of the Church of England. It is of a varied character. There is official patronage, private patronage, episcopal patronage, clerical patronage, and lay patronage, and on the whole it provides a variety of opinion and permits a certain elasticity, a certain adjustment of opinions in adjacent parishes. It enables people to find a church, according to their desire, in which they may worship. To my mind, nothing could be more disastrous than to embark on a course of concentrating patronage of this country in the hands of what I may call official patrons. I must remind the House that the Diocesan Board of Patronage is presided over by the Bishop of the Diocese and it is naturally and properly sensitive to the wishes and directions of the bishop of the diocese. It is largely composed of persons who represent what I may call the official trend in the particular diocese concerned. No one can deny that, least of all the Noble Lord.


There is Mr. Barker, who the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows is a strong Evangelical churchman.


I am myself a member of the Diocesan Conference, but my disadvantage is that I am one of two as against 10 of the opposite opinion, and it is obvious that my chances are not very great. I am not complaining on the score that Evangelicals are not well represented, it is true, but it does not affect my argument. My argument is that it is not in the interests of the Church of England that patronage should be concentrated in official hands. If we had a wholly different system in which episcopal patronage was the rule it might have its advantages, or, if we had the Scottish system in which the congregation were the patrons of their own churches, that might be of advantage, but as we have neither system, it is better, broadly speaking, that we should preserve it in its essential principles.


If one belongs to the Episcopal Church, surely one would follow the rule and guidance of the bishop.


I do not follow the relevancy of the interruption of the hon. and gallant Member. I was merely citing the Scottish system of patronage in comparison with our own system. The two are widely different. But let us recognise what has been done in connection with patronage. In more than one quarter we have heard arguments that this Measure increases the rights of the parishioners, that it gives the parishioners a voice in the appointment of their own incumbents. A few years ago it may have been true to say that the parishioners or local church council were powerless in face of the patron. That can no longer be said. By a Measure passed in 1931 the parochial church council were given the power of imposing a temporary veto upon the appointment of any incumbent who was uncongenial to them, and there is a right of appeal to the Bishop and from the Bishop to the Archbishop, who in that way may prevent a patron from imposing an unwelcome incumbent upon an unwilling congregation.

I am not aware that sufficient attention has been given to this feature of the present patronage system. The whole burden of my Noble Friend's speech this evening was that patrons had bought their right of patronage, and are now in a position—to use his own words—to impose or force their opinions upon the unhappy parishioners. That is not really true; they are not in a position to impose an unwelcome incumbent upon unwilling parishioners unless the consent of the Bishop or the Archbishop to the action of the patron has been obtained. That remarkable qualification of the one-time powers of the patron deserves to be borne in mind when one is trying to weigh up the necessity for this Measure and the advantages to the parishioners. Now it is said that this Measure is intended to remedy the parishioners' grievances. I take leave to say that there is a certain speciousness in that argument, which is the result of confounding two things which are not always the same—the parishioners and the parochial church council. I am aware that many a parochial church council may disagree with the appointment made by the patron, but it very often happens that the appointment made by the patron is the salvation of the parishioners and that the parochial church council do not truly represent the parishioners. Everyone knows that a churchman, high or low, can often, within two or three years, obtain a parochial church council that is a reflection of his own opinions. Sometimes a High Churchman, sometimes an Evangelical, empties a church in the process. We remember the cases in the North of England lately, where the appointment of an unwelcome incumbent has had unseemly consequences, resulting in brawling, sometimes inside and sometimes outside the church. What I do want to represent to the House is that it is not accurate to suppose that because the parochial church council for the time being objects to an incumbent that therefore he is unwelcome to the whole of the parishioners. One has to remember, whether it be the parochial church council which has the grievance, or the parishioners or the outgoing vicar, in every single case there is this right of appeal to the Bishop to protect them against an unauthorised and unjust use of his powers by the patron.

Let me assume that the grievance is felt as the consequence of the purchase of advowsons. Against whom ought the grievance to be most strongly felt Is it against the man who sold the advowson or against the man who stood by and allowed the advowson to be put up to sale and did not spend his money to buy it or against the man, however fanatical he may be, who, at any rate, stepped in and bought it? Let the House understand I am not defending the sale of patronage. The Noble Lord has justly said that I have consistently opposed it for years. I have spoken in the Assembly against the sale of advowsons. At last, goaded by the inaction of those whom I hoped and believed would have taken steps to abolish the sale of this spiritual duty, I myself moved and my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) opposed the Measure on the ground that I was proposing an interference with the sacred rights of property. I was no more proposing an interference with the sacred rights of property than this House was when it abolished the rotten boroughs without compensation. Be that as it may, I mention it, because it illustrates the radical difference of opinion between my Noble Friend and myself in approaching this question.

I do not view the right of patronage as a right of property. I regard it as a trust. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] My Noble Friend says, "Hear, hear," but really it does not lie in his mouth to deal with it as a trust, because he persuaded the Church Assembly to resist my proposal—with which he said he had a great deal of sympathy—on the sole ground that I was interfering with the rights of property which had existed for eight hundred years. I disagree with my Noble Friend in toto on that point. I regard it as an affront to the parishioner that the right of property has been sold over his head. I am quite willing to concede, and I have always recognised in my objection to the sale of advowsons, that the sale does cause a grievance that rankles in the minds of people whose advowsons have been sold over their heads, but if that injustice and that grievance exists, is there any hon. Member who will tell me that it justifies a Measure to deprive the existing trustees, who have not bought their patronage, of their position as trustees in order that another body of trustees may be substituted, because that is what this Measure is doing?

Let me concede to my Noble Friend, for the purpose of argument, that the fact that in a few cases, whether it be a score or two score out of the ten thousand benefices which exist in the country, there has been a purchase of advowsons, as he put it, over the heads of the parishioners and the Parochial Church Council. Then let a Measure be framed to deal with that injustice or that grievance. I do not know whether it is possible, but will anybody tell me that it is a justification, or that the desire to remove it is a justification, for depriving the trustees, who have committed no breach of trust, of their position as trustees—for what purpose? That another body of trustees should be substituted? [HON. MEMBERS: "Impartial ones !"] Let me try to deal with the question, because the House is likely to be confused over the proposals of this Measure. After all, it is the fifth Measure which has proceeded from the Church Assembly dealing with patronages. That does indicate a little want of due caution on the part of that distinguished body, and I am not surprised that hon. Members find difficulty in dealing with this question. The point which I would put to the House is this. Regarding the position of patrons as that of trustees, I cannot see how anyone, in the absence of any breach of trust, can defend the displacement of one set of trustees in order to substitute another, even though the others are elected.


Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean breach of trust to the fellow-trustees or to the parishioners?


I use the words in their fullest sense. I am assuming that the existing trustees have not sought to make private profit out of their position as trustees. The effect of this Measure is to enable, shall I say, a rich and well-disposed person to provide money for the parochial church council in order that that council may claim to exercise its right to purchase and thus secure for the diocesan board, patronage which properly belongs to the private patron who is trustee. I know of scores of cases—I have checked the figures—in which private patrons, as a result of the break-up of their estates and their unwillingness to profess to be able to carry out a duty which is becoming very burdensome owing to the present shortage of clergy and smallness of livings, have given their advowsons to existing trustees for the purpose of appointing in the terms of trust deeds— illustrations of which I have copied out — "a fit and pious person, of Godly life and conversation, being in holy orders." If they had not made those gifts, those persons would not have been subject to the operations of this Measure. But in order to make the duty of appointing clergymen one which would be as perfectly performed as possible they have given it over to other persons and, immediately, that patronage comes within the scope of the Measure, and it is possible for a parochial council inspired it may be by some wealthy friend, to expropriate the trusteeship of the existing trustees and transfer it to the diocesan board.

If the House really understands that such is the effect of the Measure— though I quite agree that it is not the main aim of the Measure—I cannot persuade myself that the House will accede to such an injustice as I deem that to be. The Measure is far wider than it was ever intended to be. When the "Times" newspaper was commending this Measure to the Church Assembly it desribed it on two separate dates as a Measure the full aim of which was to remove actual grievances now felt by many parishes where advowsons had been subject to recent purchase. [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear !"] But it goes far beyond that. That is my whole point. If it were limited to that end I should not be opposing the Measure in this House to-night. An Amendment was moved in the Church Assembly to omit those cases where private patrons had transferred by gift their trusteeship—


How are you to distinguish gift from purchase?


My Noble Friend asks how are we to distinguish gift from purchase. If that means that we cannot do what he wants without committing an injustice, my answer is that you cannot distinguish and you cannot bring in your Measure. It does not seem to be any answer to my point to say that in as much as we cannot distinguish gift from purchase, therefore we must include gifts, which we do not desire to include, in order to include sales which we do desire to include.


It is unfair to the parishioners whether it is a gift or a purchase. A purchase may be more odious, but a gift over the heads of the parishioners, is just as unfair to them.


I am very astonished at the lengths to which my Noble Friend's own argument drives him. Apparently, he regards it as an affront to the parishioners that—


It is not a Measure to remedy a past wrong, but to remedy a present grievance.


I cannot answer my Noble Friend's arguments if he interrupts me half way through every sentence. I am surprised that he should be driven to the length of saying that it is an affront to the parishioners, or to the parochial church council, to find a patron appointing, by way of gift, new trustees to exercise the duty which he feels himself unable properly to carry out, having regard, it may be, to his age or to some other consideration.

I place myself in opposition to this Measure on three principles. I say that it enables trustees to be removed against their will in favour of other trustees, although no breach of trust has been committed by them. That is wrong. No argument of expediency will persuade me that it is right. You can only proceed with that argument if you are determined to confiscate somebody's rights. The second principle is that it makes the matter no better, but rather the worse, if my Noble Friend tells me that the trustees are to be compensated for what they are to be forced to give up. Is it not an affront to tell a man that he is to receive money for what has no money's worth in his estimation? His duty is the performance of a solemn trust. I am speaking of cases of gift, and leaving out purchase at the moment. You tell that man, as trustee, that he must surrender his duty as trustee, and you try to make it better for him by telling him that you will pay him a sum of money if he surrenders. The sum of money will be assessed by a gentleman who will be appointed by a bishop, and will be the chairman of the board of patronage and will say to whom the patronage should be transferred. He is to be chosen from a panel of three persons. If I am wrong in my conclusion, I shall fully accede to what my Noble Friend may say. The payment of compensation money to a trustee does not improve the position one whit, but seems to make it infinitely worse. I lay this before the House: Here is a trustee who is in a position to receive compensation, as I am, in many cases. If this Measure is made operative against me, what am I to do with the money? I have not power to use it; I should have to go to the courts or to the charity commissioners to have a scheme approved to spend the money which has been forced upon me by the operation of my Noble Friend's Measure.

The third principle on which I base my opposition is the retrospective character of the Measure. That is wholly objectionable to every principle of sound legislation. I am surprised at the way in which some hon. Members overlook this objection. My Noble Friend says that the Measure is not to remedy a past wrong, but a present grievance. Present grievances are nearly always caused by past wrongs. People who want to find an excuse for retrospective legislation almost invariably point to some existing grievance. I cannot lend my support to the transaction that is made by way of purchase. It would be contrary to the principles which my party have always respected, that we should tear up contracts by way of gift legally entered into at the time they were made and acted upon in such a way as to make the advowsons un-saleable, at the instigation of a Measure passed by the Church Assembly. Many a transferee has accepted the gift and made a declaration of unsaleability, and this Measure comes along retrospectively and says that that acquisition, that patronage, shall be sale- able at the instance of the parochial church council or of persons who may use the vehicle of the church council. While my Noble Friend agrees that it should be retrospective, so friendly a supporter of the Measure as the "Times" pointed out on the 6th February that retrospective legislation of this kind has obvious drawbacks; and again in June the "Times" pointed out that the retrospective character of the Measure involves a number of obvious dangers. I take the same view.

I might detain the House with what I think is the view of Evangelical Christians of this country. I do not propose to discuss these matters here in this case; I do not think that the House desires it or that it will be helped by it. I base my view on something much deeper than a discussion of that sort or of differences of religious opinion. I base myself on the broad principle that even removing a. partial wrong in some cases cannot do anything to remedy that wrong if it encourages people to perpetuate other injustices. I regard the taking away from patrons of their existing rights as a grave injustice which will cause affront to a number of people who have committed no wrong.

It may be that the House will pass the Measure and that the weight of support which it has received from notable quarters will persuade hon. Members that it must be right, and that the dislike that many Members feel for the actions of some patrons, some persons who have bought patronage, will blind them to every other consideration of justice or equity. It will be a Pyrrhic victory, if victory there be I venture to say that, if the House passes the Measure, the day is likely to come when the Church of England will bitterly regret that it has put its hand to a Measure in which for the first time the ugly features of the confiscation of the rights of trustees have appeared. On these broad grounds, I beg the House to defeat this Measure. As I began by saying, I have not been a consistent opponent of Church Measures. It has been a. difficult duty for me to perform to represent the view that I hold, but I have some confidence in the justice of the House, and I believe that the Measure will be dealt with as I ask.

12.8 a.m.


I want to support the Measure and to give some explanation to my colleagues of the unaccustomed company in which I find myself to-night. I support the Measure on quite simple grounds. In the first place, I support it on good Socialist grounds. I deny the right of owners of property to control the economic life of other people, and, similarly, I deny the right of owners of patronage to control the religious opinions and education of the people. The state of affairs in this connection is little less than a scandal. In many instances, something like a corner in advowsons has been created. I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should come to the House tonight to preach as he has done. He himself is particeps crimines. I see from a list of these trusts which has been sent to me that he is a trustee of at least two. In one of them there are something 100 benefices, and in the second something like 30 or 40 benefices are disposed of.


Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that I have been a party to purchasing benefices?


I have no knowledge of how these trusts have obtained the rights of patronage they hold, but I do suggest that they are using their power to appoint to those benefices individuals of a particular school of thought. I am not here speaking for any school of thought—I may or may not agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point of view in that connection—but I do suggest that it does not lie in his mouth to come here to talk about a breach of trust, because no breach of trust has taken place, and to claim that power should not be taken away from these trusts in two of which he is himself a trustee. I understood his second argument to be that he did not approve of these proposals, because it would be putting the right of patronage into official hands. As I understand it, the Diocesan Board of Finance is an elected body. It may or may not be actually representative, but it is an elected body, and I suggest that it is far better to have the power exercised by that body than concentrated, to use the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own words, in the hands of a particular body of individuals holding particular 'views whether constituted as a trust or not. My third reason is that this Bill does give some rights to parishioners which they do not possess at present. The parochial church councils are elected by Church electors, and I suggest that the Bill does give them, through their representatives on the Diocesan Board, a voice in the selection of those to be appointed to benefices. The Bill harms no one and appears to me to afford full and fair powers of protection to all interests concerned.

Finally, I would ask, "What is the use of this House committing to the Church Assembly certain powers if, when that Assembly has passed a measure on three occasions, the House does not pay some regard to the decisions of the Assembly and some regard to the Ecclesiastical Committee, composed of all parties, which has considered and recommended the Bill to the House? "I submit that the Bill will remove a real grievance, that the grounds which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has urged are not sound or serious ones, and that the House will do an excellent piece of work if it passes the Measure.


rose in his place, and claimed to move " That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

12.14 a.m.


I cannot quite understand why a question of this kind is so vitally interesting to all of us. I think it is because we are taking part in an age-long struggle which has been going on throughout the centuries. We are tonight merely a reimbodiment of our ancestors. Recalling to mind all the Members for Newcastle who have stood for the same liberties for which I stand to-night, I beg the House to have some feeling for the sort of Debate that should take place at this time of night. This Bill is so mean. Everything is on the Catholic side to-day. We have seen in our own lifetime the Church of England churches throughout the country become gradually changed. You have on your side all the bishops, all the wealth and all the commerce. It is inevitable that clericalism should appeal to one who is engaged in the ritualism of religion. Against that, we have only to put the same old fight that was put up by our ancestors—that it is the individual that matters and not the ritual.

I had my education at the same college at which the learned Attorney-General happened to be. I was there before him. All that I have felt since I learned then. Archdeacon Wilson, our headmaster, preached always in a black Geneva gown. There you had an exposition of the Bible and of the Faith. There you had a minister of the Gospel; and now, all over the country, ministers of the Gospel have gone and priests have taken their place. The only effort to stop this has been made by a handful of fanatical Protestants. Why not? A handful of fanatical Protestants have moved this country not merely in religious matters, but in political matters. These people have subscribed money which they could ill afford to build up one or two trusts. The senior trustees are those whom I know best, because several of their churches are in my constituency—the only churches in the constituency where one can still get the faith of our fathers.

What have the other trustees been doing? They have been buying up, and receiving gifts of, advowsons of churches, in order that there might be some kernel of Protestantism left. All that this Bill asks is that you should not stop this effort, and destroy the little chance they have—[An HON. MEMBER: "Against the wishes of their parishioners "]—I have seen the churches emptied in my constituency. I have seen one emptied completely by an Anglo-Catholic parson who then built up his own following who are in future to be the voice of the people. The voice of the people is outside the Church now. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the parochial electors?"] How often do they take the trouble to elect? Once you have the churches going backwards, the decent people, the people of opposite views, leave it.

You have here an effort to put an end to something which has been painfully created to do the work of the Reformation, to preserve the teaching of the Bible, and to preserve that system under which, we were all educated in our youth. I beg the House to think twice before it destroys that, and hands over to a bench of bishops who are overwhelmingly Catholic, more patronage than they have already. In the exercise of their patronage up to now, they have constantly strengthened the Catholic Church. Here is one chance for securing a few isolated livings for Protestant clergymen. That is now being shut down, and the diocesan view favours the Anglo-Catholic Church. Only four years ago in this House we voted, after a year's Debate, definitely against the new Prayer Book, and yet that new Prayer Book is in use in more than half the churches, because the bishops wish it. Can we stop it now?— [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think that we can. I think that if this House of Commons is inclined to go on to the clerical side, there will not always be a House of Commons like that. I would remind hon. Members that the last House, which voted for the Protestant religion against the new-fangled Prayer Book, was an overwhelmingly Conservative House. Religious people are divided on this question, irrespective of party, and therefore I believe that there will still be enough men in this House to see that fair-play is given to that struggling minority of Protestants in the Church of England who wish to preserve a corner for their Faith.

12.22 a.m.


The House has sometimes been kind enough to listen to me when, as this evening, I speak definitely of my own knowledge and experience. I happen to be by consent a patron of livings in three dioceses. I have to do my best there to find incumbents when vacancies occur. All my traditions and the traditions of my family are, if one is to name particular things, Low Church and Evangelical. The parishes where I have to make these recommendations are similarly Low Church and Evangelical. When vacancies occur, people apply to me, as always happens, to be considered for the vacancies. I have to make the best inquiries I can. I very often find that the only men of any earnestness and any go are of the Anglo-Catholic school. If I appointed any of them I know that I should upset the parishes, and I do my best to try to find men who will not upset them. I have several times been unable to find among applicants people who would not upset the parishes. I have applied to the bishops and the bishops, after taking counsel with those who advise them, have, in several cases, advised me of people, but they have always taken care to try to suggest to me men who would not in any way upset the parishes which are Evangelical. I have never known any tendency on the part of the bishops to take a High Church view and to try to suggest to me people of High Church persuasion. The bishops have not tried to foist on the parishes men of High Church views. On the contrary, I believe, so far as this Measure works, they will try to select men of the views that the parish really wants. It is a piece of practical experience, and I thank the House for allowing me to deliver that plain story.

12.25 a.m.


I want to emphasise the point that was made by the learned Attorney-General, that at any rate since 1930, this Bill has been entirely unnecessary. The rights of parishioners are already as great as they can expect under this Bill. They are notified of the vacancies, and within a few days they can pass a resolution saying the kind of man that they want. The patron is bound, within a certain number of days, to consult with them, either personally or through his representative. If the parishioners after that cannot accept the appointment of the patron, they have a right of appeal to the bishop. The bishop, under the present law, has to consult that body, which, if it is not the Diocesan Patronage Board, has exactly the same obligation and is elected in a similar way. They are the board to whom the patronage would be transferred. There is a right of appeal to the arch-bishop.

Do the supporters of this Bill think that the parish, refusing to agree with a change of patronage, would not appeal to the bishop? Would not the bishop consider the traditions of the parish and the wishes of the parishioners? Would not he see that no violent change was made? Does not the present law give the promoters of the Bill all that they want? I think that there is a little bit of meanness and vindictiveness behind the Bill, in trying to get two or three cases where something might be happening at the present time. Another thing occurs to me to be slightly mean under this Bill. I am the patron of a living, and I desire, not thinking myself com- petent, but having a general idea of what I should wish to be done, to hand the matter over to the bishop. He is exempt from this Bill. I can give the living to the bishop. He is not subject to the parochial church council. If I give the living to trustees who hold similar views to myself, I am penalised under this Bill and I can be expropriated, and the trustees to whom I have transferred it can be expropriated. My wishes may be ignored; but by transferring it to the bishop one's views would probably be carried on.

Comment has been made, particularly by the "Times" newspaper, that the parishioners would have to pay handsomely, but I think that in many cases livings are so small that they have no commercial value. If they are in the hands of trustees who do not wish to dispose of them and have no means, a few pounds compensation would be of very little value to them. If money was wanted, I do not think that it would be found by the parishioners on their own initiative. It would be found in certain cases by one side or the other—I do not say which side. I do not think that the parishioners would have to find the money actually—it would be found by others.

This Measure is unnecessary. It is very mean. There are many illogical points in it which I have no desire to bring before the House this evening. It is not a Measure which has come unanimously from the Assembly. It is not a Measure to which, as the "Times" said, the opposition arose at the eleventh hour. When it came before the Assembly for last approval, which is like our Third Reading here, it was taken in the Assembly at a time which is similar to our Fridays. The attendance was very much smaller than is usual. Therefore, it does not come from the Assembly unanimously. As far as the Legislative Committee are concerned, I understand they do not consider the merits, but whether the Measure complies with certain statutory considerations, and can go forward to this House. I do ask the House to consider carefully before we do an act which will give a serious grievance, and cause heart burning, to a section of the Church which has suffered greatly by having provided for them incumbents who have entirely upset the parish. We have not been able to have any remedy, but when, for the first time, two or three grievances are felt they turn round upon us and bring in the full weight of the Church. I cannot help feeling that it is wholly ungenerous.

12.32 a.m.


I appeal to the House to come to a decision, because it is for the general convenience of the House. I will only say one or two words about this Measure.


On a point of Order. Is the Noble Lord in order in speaking again? Has he the right of reply?

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

Any hon. Member who moves a substantive Motion in the House has a right of reply.


As to the last approval of the Church, Assembly, the figures were in hundreds, sufficient to indicate the mind of the Church. The real point is that the Attorney-General and we see justice in a different light. He thinks of the feelings of patrons sincerely animated— and all honour to them for their motives—by religious convictions. We think rather of the parishioners. That is really the whole discussion. Are you on the side of the parishioners, or do you think the vexation of the patron ought to outweigh the right of the parishioners? In our view it should not. I hope the House will accept the view of the Church Assembly and support the rights of the parishioners.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes, 103; Noes, 81.

Division No. 74.] AYES. [12.35 a.m.
Acland, Fit. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Marsden, Commander Arthur
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Eillston, Captain George Sampson Mills, Major j. D. (New Forest)
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Elmley, Viscount Milner, Major James
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Emrys-Evans, P. V. Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)
Aske, sir Robert William Fox, Sir Gifford Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.
Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J. Glossop, C. W. H. Patrick, Colin M.
Balniel. Lord Glyn, Major Ralph G. C. Pearson, William G.
Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th.C.) Graves, Marjorle Percy, Lord Eustace
Beit, Sir Aliped L. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Petherick, M
Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel Grimston, R. V. Peto, Sir Basil E. f Devon, Barnstaple)
Bernays, Robert Gunston, Captain D. W. Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n,Bilston)
Blindell, Jamet Harbord, Arthur Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada
Bracken, Brendan Hartington, Marquess of Price, Gabriel
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Kellgers, Captain F. F. A. Raikes, Henry V. A. M.
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Hirst, George Henry Rathbone, Eleanor
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Cadogan, Hon. Edward Horobin. Ian M. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.
Cape, Thomas Horsbrugh, Florence Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Carver, Major William H. Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Hugh Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Slater, John
Christie, James Archibald Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Roml'd) Sutcliffe, Harold
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Iveagh, Countess of Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Cook, Thomas A. Kimball, Lawrence Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Courtauld, Major John Sewell Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Courthope, Colonel Sir George L. Law, Sir Alfred Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Cripps, Sir Stafford Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.) Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle) Leighton, Major B. E. P. Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Lindsay, Noel Ker Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)
Daggar, George Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Womersley, Walter James
Davies, Maj.Geo. F. (Somerset.Yeovll) McKie, John Hamilton Worthington, Dr. John V.
Dawson, Sir Philip McLean, Major Sir Alan
Denman, Hon. R. D. Macmillan, Maurice Harold TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Drewe, Cedric Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot Viscount Wolmer and Sir Francis
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Mander, Geoffrey le M. Fremantle.
Edwards, Charles Margeeson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. O. R.
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Burghley, Lord Foot, Dingle (Dundee)
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Llverp'l, W.) Cautley, Sir Henry S. Gibson, Charles Granville
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Croom-Johnson, R. P. Goodman, Colonel Albert W.
Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton) Cross, R. H. Greene, William P. C.
Boulton, W. W. Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Eastwood, John Francis Guy, J. C. Morrison
Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald Entwistie, Cyril Fullard Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)
Broadbent, Colonel John Ertkine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)
Browne, Captain A. C. Evans, David Owen (Cardigan) Holdsworth, Herbert
Hornby, Frank Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Savery, Samuel Servington
Hume, Sir George Hopwood Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld) Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. North, Captain Edward T. Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.
Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Oman, Sir Charles William C. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Palmer, Francis Noel Soper, Richard
Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Penny, Sir George Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Liddall, Walter S. Pike, Cecil F. Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Mabane, William Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian) Stones, James
McGovern, John Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Strauss, Edward A.
McKeag, William Ratclifle, Arthur Sugden. Sir Wilfrid Hart
Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton Remer, John R. Templeton, William P.
Magnay, Thomas Roberts, Aled (Wrexham) Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Joslah
Martin, Thomas B. Roberta, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall) Wells, Sydney Richard
Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Ross, Ronald D. Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Russell. Richard John (Eddlsbury) Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)
Morrison, William Shepherd Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Mulrhead, Major A. J. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Nail, Sir Joseph Sandeman, Sir A, N. Stewart Mr. Michael Beaumont and Major

Resolved, That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Benefices (Purchase of Rights of Patronage) Measure, 1933, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.

It being after half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Tuesday evening, Mr. Deputy-Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Seventeen Minutes before One o'clock.