HC Deb 15 April 1953 vol 514 cc329-30

10.2 p.m.

Sir John Crowder (Second Church Estates Commissioner)

I beg to move, That the Incumbents (Discipline) and Church Dignitaries (Retirement) Amendment Measure, 1953, passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament. This Measure was introduced and passed by the Church Assembly in response to a request from the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and an undertaking given by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) when the Discipline Measure concerning the bishops was approved by this House.

The object of this Measure is to bring the existing Measures dealing with the discipline of the clergy into conformity one with another, in so far as they relate to social or political opinions and activities. There are three such Measures, namely, the Incumbents (Discipline) Measure, 1947, the Church Dignitaries (Retirement) Measure, 1949, and the Bishops (Retirement) Measure, 1951.

The relevant provisions of these three Measures, as they stand at present, are set out on page 3 of the Comments and Explanations submitted by the Legislative Committee. It will be seen that the offences for which proceedings may be brought under all three Measures fall under two heads: (a) unbecoming conduct, and (b) serious, persistent or continuous neglect of duty; but the three Measures differ in their treatment of social or political opinions and activities.

The Incumbents Measure precludes proceedings under either head in respect of social or political opinions. But it does not mention "activities," and this has led to considerable doubt and controversy. The Dignitaries Measure precludes proceedings under either head in respect of either opinions or activities, that is to say, social or political opinions or activities cannot amount either to unbecoming conduct or to neglect of duty.

The Bishops Measure precludes proceedings under head (a)—unbecoming conduct—in respect of either opinions or activities, but proceedings under head (b)—neglect of duty—can be brought in respect of social or political activities, but not in respect of opinions. The reason for this is that a man may devote so much time to his social or political activities that he is unable to perform his duties properly.

The effect of the present Measure is to make the provisions of the three measures correspond as far as possible by assimilating the Incumbents Measure and the Dignitaries Measure to the Bishops Measure. It gives effect to the desire for uniformity which was expressed in the House in the debate on the Bishops Measure. The Measure was passed by the Assembly throughout all its stages without a division and has been reported on favourably by the Ecclesiastical Committee.

Sir Edward Keeling (Twickenham)

I beg to second the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.