HC Deb 16 December 1948 vol 459 cc1373-5
45. Professor Savory

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that under the Act of Uniformity of 1662 and the Clerical Subscription Act, 1865, the Prayer Book attached to the Act of Uniformity can only be altered by Act of Parliament, as has been the case on several occasions, notably in 1872, 1922 and 1934; and, in view of the fact that the publication of the shorter Prayer Book is a violation of the above-mentioned Acts, what steps he proposes to take to vindicate the authority of Parliament.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

The The answer to the first part of the Question is: "Yes, Sir." With regard to the second part of the Question, I cannot agree that the mere publication of a shorter Prayer Book or any other book of devotion is necessarily a violation of the Acts, and I do not propose to take any steps in the matter.

Professor Savory

Without wishing to press the right hon. Gentleman unduly, may I ask if he is aware that this shorter Prayer Book wounds the conscience of many loyal churchmen? Is he not further aware that the Law Officers of the Crown unanimously recommended to the Prime Minister of the day that the deposited Prayer Book of 1928 must be submitted to the approval of this House and will he consult the Law Officers of the Crown with regard to the legality of this Book? May I he allowed to say I do not speak on this matter as a representative of Ulster, but as a member of the House of Laity of the Assembly of the Church of England representing the diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich?

The Prime Minister

As I am informed the publication of a shorter Prayer Book cannot be said to constitute any alteration of the Book of Common Prayer. It is in the same position as any other private literary work and to attempt to prevent publication by an Act of Parliament would be a gross interference with the liberty of the subject. That, I may say, was, I understand, the line taken by my predecessor, Mr. Baldwin, in regard to the deposited Book.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the view he has just expressed will he found unacceptable to many Church people and that the whole question of the relations of Church and State is raised by this issue? In those circumstances, will my right hon. Friend be good enough to represent to the bishops of the Church of England that they should give a lead in the matter by showing full respect for the law? May I have an answer to that question?

Mr. Wilson Harris

In view of the Scriptural injunction against the use of long prayers, is it not wise to be content with short prayers?

Mr. Driberg

With all due respect, is my right hon. Friend aware that his second reply was factually inaccurate, since this Book, which contains portions of the illegal 1928 Book, bears upon its title-page the misleading description, According to the Use of the Church of England"?

The Prime Minister

I understand there has been an unfortunate use of a phrase and I understand that that is to be deleted in further editions.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the interests of both Church and State would be best served by leaving these matters to be dealt with by the Church Assembly?

The Prime Minister

I do not feel I am called upon to advise the bishops in regard to this matter.

Mr. Driberg

Further to that point, while it may be desirable that the Church of England should have the same spiritual and liturgical independence as the Church in Wales and the Episcopal Church in Scotland, is it altogether reasonable for the bishops to claim that independence and simultaneously to continue to enjoy the benefits of Establishment?

The Prime Minister

That seems to be a matter of opinion.