HC Deb 04 February 1958 vol 581 cc1127-52

10.30 p.m.

Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)

I beg to move, That the Church Schools (Assistance by Church Commissioners) Measure, 1957, 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. By this Measure it is proposed to enable the Church Commissioners to make to the Central Board of Finance of the Church of England payments up to £1 million within a period of twenty-five years to assist Church of England aided and special agreement schools. This might be done, and probably will be done, at the rate of £40,000 a year.

The sum may be expended by the Central Board by way of grants or loans for the improvement and extension of the buildings of Church of England secondary schools and by way of loans only for the improvement or extension of the buildings of Church of England primary schools. There is no obligation to pay any sum, but only a power so to do.

The initiative in this matter came from the Church Assembly, and after its discussions and debate the Measure was passed with a considerable majority. Then, after two meetings of the Ecclesiastical Committee, composed of Members of this House and of another place, and after a conference with the Legislative Committee of the Church Assembly, the Ecclesiastical Committee of this House and of the other place expressed the opinion that it was expedient that the measure should proceed. In another place, this Motion has already been approved.

In normal circumstances, I need not have detained the House longer in seeking approval for the Motion, a Measure for which the Church of England has asked. But the group which opposed the use of the Church Commissioners' funds for the purpose of Church schools appears unwilling to accept the Assembly's verdict and has continued its objections.

Two documents have been circulated to right hon. and hon. Members of this House, but they do not contain quite an accurate representation of the facts. In the main, the documents appear to seek to prove that the funds held by the Church Commissioners are held solely for the maintenance of the clergy and that this Measure would affect their legal rights and be a breach of the normal principles governing charitable trusts.

On these grounds, the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), who is one of those who has opposed the Measure, has put an Amendment on the Order Paper. The Amendment states that the purpose of the Measure is inconsistent with the terms of the statutes under which the Commissioners discharge their duties. That is not so. The Church Commissioners' case is that the Measure is not inconsistent with the terms of the 1840 Act, but in view of the narrow interpretation placed upon them for over a hundred years it is desirable to establish the case in this Measure. The Church Assembly has done just this.

The object of the General Fund, the direct successor of the Common Fund, laid down by Section 67 of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act, 1840, and still binding today, is: The cure of souls in parishes where such assistance is most required, in such manner as shall, by the like authority, be deemed most conducive to the effectiveness of the Established Church. The Church Assembly maintains that, although the greater part of the income from the General Fund should augment the stipends of the clergy, it is right to use a portion for Church schools, which certainly exist for the benefit of the souls of the parishioners, and this Measure confirms the Church Assembly's view. Clergy stipends and pensions are a permanent charge on the General Fund, and this Measure empowers the Church Commissioners to use a named and very small portion of the annual surplus for schools if they find it suitable so to do.

At this hour, I shall not dwell on what this country and, indeed, education generally owe to our Church schools and the need fully to maintain them. Some of those who oppose the Measure have questioned the necessity for retaining aided schools, and others have expounded the view that such expenditure should be a secondary consideration. The Church in general has made all possible financial arrangements for its modest school plan, and yet it still requires £1 million, spread over twenty-five years, from the Central Fund.

In recent years clergy stipends have been greatly improved, and that work will continue, but the laity must make a greater provision here. It is surely the responsibility of the laity to see that the clergy have a living income.

It should be pointed out that the Church Commissioners have decided that if this Measure is passed the money to be provided for schools shall for the time being be found at the expense of sums now being devoted to other Church buildings.

In conclusion, I would remind the House that, after extensive debate and discussion, the Church Assembly passed the Measure with a considerable majority. After two meetings of the Ecclesiastical Committee of this House the Measure was passed, and last week the Measure was approved in another place. I commend it to the House and ask that approval be given to it.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

I beg to second the Motion.

The Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House declines to accept a Measure which would allow forty thousand pounds of the Church Commissioners' income, hitherto used exclusively for improving the remuneration of the clergy and for providing for their dwelling-houses and for new church buildings, to be diverted away for twenty-five years to a new purpose inconsistent with the terms of the statutes under which the Commissioners discharge their duties". is out of order.

10.39 p.m.

Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

I appreciate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Amendment to which I and a number of my hon. Friends have put our names is out of order. Nevertheless, it conveys the sense of our objection to the Measure and to its being passed into law.

This is not a debate on the merits of Church schools, and I should like to say at the outset that if we were having such a general discussion I should range myself without equivocation on the side of those who value schools in which denominational doctrinal teaching can he carried on.

As that question is not raised in our discussion this evening, it is necessary only to point out that the only schools which are affected by this Measure are about 2,700 schools technically classed as "aided," where that doctrinal teaching can be carried on, and which form a minority of the total number of Church schools still owned by the Church of England. It is those 2,700 schools which would be eligible to receive any part of the £40,000 a year for twenty-five years for which this Measure provides.

I want to refer for a moment or two to how this matter arose. It was not at the initiative of the Church Commissioners, who have plenty of objects within the compass of their present statutory trust deeds upon which to focus their activities. It arose from the plan of the then Minister of Education to accelerate the reorganisation of rural education, and the Church Assembly and the financial bodies connected with it asked themselves what they should do about that matter.

They decided, in the form of a resolution, to ask representatives of three bodies, namely, the Schools Council, the Central Board of Finance of the Church of England and the Church Commissioners, to meet together to a view to agreeing proposals, if they could, in the light of the financial circumstances confronting the Church. In the event, they did not succeed in agreeing any proposals, although they signed a report in common in which each put forward its own point of view. I shall quote from that later. However, they made their report in the light of a commonly accepted assessment of the financial situation.

That envisaged that over a period of twenty-five years, if the Church of England was to bring its schools and build new schools up to the standards required by the State, it would be necessary to have an expenditure of about £14¾ million. An assessment of the resources of the Church showed that of that amount about £10¼ million could be forthcoming from existing resources, leaving an initial deficiency of £4½ million, that is to say, £180,000 a year spread over twenty-five years, or—and here is a very important point—equivalent to a present immediate capital sum not of £4½ million, but of only £3 million.

At that point, I am reluctant to have to say, error crept in and that error has been perpetuated even in the formal document submitted by the Chairman of the Legislative Committee, His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the comments which the Legislative Committee furnished to the Ecclesiastical Committee to enable it to come to a decision on the matter.

The Schools Council said that it thought that the Church, by what I would describe as a scoop round for fresh, new, voluntarily-found money over a period of years, could find £2 million. Therefore, on the wrongful computation on which their calculation was made they said that they required only £1 million over twenty-five years, namely, £40,000 a year. Actually, of course, the real deficiency was £100,000 a year, so that even were the House to pass this Measure and allow the Church Commissioners the initial £40,000 a year, there would still be a deficiency, entirely un-provided for and unestimated, of £60,000 a year.

At this point, it is fair for me to ask this question. Suppose the House were to accede to the request of the Assembly, would this not inevitably be the forerunner, in about two years' time—or a little more or less—of another Measure promoted by the Assembly to ask the Church Commissioners to find the full balance of £100,000 a year? Were that to be done, it would lead to a capital erosion of no less than £2½ million of the resources of the Commissioners.

Now we come to the question of whether any of the Church Commissioners' moneys should be used for this admittedly new purpose. In the Church Assembly debate upon the matter the Commissioners were neutral. They had no view of their own which they were willing to express about the desirability or otherwise of statutory power being taken to make such a diversion of their moneys. But already they had made clear in an official report to the Assembly in May, 1956, the one to which I have already referred, document C.A.F. 260, that The Church Commissioners, who, at present, have no power to use their funds for this purpose, can only consider supporting legislation giving them such power if the Assembly were to show a clear desire that money, otherwise available for the future augmentation of stipends or pensions, or for assisting in the provision of parsonage houses and church buildings in new housing areas, should be transferred to assist church schools. That was the view of the Commissioners upon this matter which they formally expressed in writing. They were, of course, not making a shot in the dark in putting forward such a point of view. They had regard to the Ecclesiastical Commission Act, 1840, Section 67, which defines the purpose for which the Common Fund of the Commissioners should be used. I will not quote that interpretation of "the cure of souls", but one of the interpretations placed upon it by the Church Commissioners was that in the absence of new legislation it would be an infraction of their statutory powers if they attempted to make such a diversion as this of any moneys under their control.

When the Church Commissioners came into being, in 1948—established out of their predecessor bodies, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne's Bounty—whereas the Church Commissioners supplied to the new General Fund moneys to the extent of two-thirds of the fund, the remaining one-third came from Queen Anne's Bounty. The moneys from Queen Anne's Bounty were to be exclusively applied for the maintenance of the clergy.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to mislead the House. The maintenance of the clergy would surely include the maintenance of parsonage houses.

Sir P. Agnew

In the case of Queen Anne's Bounty the maintenance of the clergy might have been held to include the maintenance of the dwelling-houses, or parsonage houses, in which the clergy were required to live in order to carry out their work of the cure of souls in the parish.

Sir G. Nicholson

Almost exclusively.

Sir P. Agnew

I would agree with that. It is part of the maintenance of the clergy. It is no good sending a man to a parish to do a job unless arrangements are made to find him a house in which to work.

I pass to the question of the diversion, as described in the Amendment which my hon. Friends and I have put on the Order Paper. We recognise that Parliament is omnicompetent; notwithstanding any former Acts which may be in the Statute Book, Parliament has the power to enact new legislation, tearing up or changing as many of the old trust deeds as it deems fit.

If the incomes of the parish clergy were today in an affluent condition, similar, may I say, to those of many of the higher clergy in 1840, the date of the original Act, I should certainly say that parliamentary action would be more than justfiied. Indeed, the Ecclesiastical Commission Act, 1840, was in itself a very great measure of redistribution of personal clerical incomes, which was very much overdue at that time. Today, in spite of the success of the Church Commissioners, which has already been mentioned, in helping to raise these money incomes to new levels in figures, there are thousands of parish priests with no more than £550 a year net income in certain dioceses and thousands who have to live in unwieldy or over-large rectories and vicarages which are very expensive to keep heated and to live in.

It is very important for the House to bear in mind, too, that there are many new residential areas which have arisen as a result of the war. Just as new areas had arisen by 1840 as a result of the Industrial Revolution, so, today, we have many new residential areas with no funds to pay parish priests, no house in which such a parish priest can live and, indeed, no church building to which he and the people of the parish can repair and where he can minister to them.

I have only a few more remarks to make. I wish to refer to the voting in the Church Assembly which took place on this Measure. A vote was taken by Houses. The reason that it was taken by Houses was that there was a feeling, which I would not dissociate from that entertained by the Chair in that Assembly, that the House of Clergy should be shown, if possible, to be strongly in favour of the Measure. There are 344 members of the House of Clergy. It is quite true that in the House of Clergy there was a majority for the Measure, but of those 344 members only 158 voted for it and the remaining 186 either abstained or voted against it.

Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)

My hon. Friend says that they abstained. Does he mean that they were present and abstained, or is he also taking into account the fact that a great many were not there?

Sir P. Agnew

There were very full Houses in the Assembly, clergy, laity and bishops, at that time. It was an extremely well attended debate. Although I cannot assure my hon. and gallant Friend that all those who abstained were present in their places at the session, I should suppose, from the appearance of the Assembly, that there were very full Houses indeed.

Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)

Who voted against? Will my hon. Friend tell us the actual number, so that we know?

Sir P. Agnew

The number voting against was 62, as compared with 158 who voted for. That may be a substantial majority, but it is not a substantial majority of the whole of those who were entitled to vote.

I will add this, that the clergy as a whole are long-suffering, unselfish people devoted to a life in which they do not make gainful profit; and when put to a direct challenge, that in the procedure of the Assembly they should record their votes, they would have been the last people, the majority of them, to have gone out of their way to vote for a course which would have preserved for themselves a chance of a greater increase in their stipends; and I think most of them deliberately abstained from voting because of the delicacy of that issue.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

My hon. Friend has had experience of membership of the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. I wonder whether he could say, when a report is submitted to that Committee from the Church Assembly, whether it is the custom, if the figures of voting are shown, for the abstentions to be shown, too, because in this case they have not been shown?

Sir P. Agnew

No. I do not think that it is the custom. I have looked at the precedents right back to the Prayer Book Measure. It is not the custom to show how many abstain. It has never been done, and I do not think that there is any machinery for doing it.

In coming to the conclusion of my remarks, I should like again to refer to those conditions somewhat over a hundred years ago which, indeed, prompted Parliament to do something in aid of the incomes of the people who have to bear the brunt of the Christian ministry of the Church of England in the parishes. It is perfectly true that when the Third Reading of the Ecclesiastical Commission Act, 1840, was taken in another place, of the bishops 10 voted for the Act, doing away with many sinecures and redistributing incomes, and 12 were against it.

But it was a Member of this House, Sir Robert Peel, who had appointed the Royal Commission which looked into these anomalies in clerical incomes and who recommended that a Bill should be founded on that Royal Commission's Report to give it effect. Speaking in the Second Reading debate on the 1840 Bill, Sir Robert Peel told the House that he had appointed that Royal Commission not from any wish for popularity, but from a deep sense of concern for the state of spiritual destitution in some of the largest societies in this country, in some of the great manufacturing towns. Those conditions are again with us in the new towns and the new housing areas. It cannot be right that, as we desire to preserve the doctrinal schools, the right source to go to for money is that accumulated fund which is doubtfully adequate to meet the Church's present needs, in paying its priests properly, or finding enough church buildings and houses for them to live in. That is why I oppose this Motion.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

I intervene shortly because some of the income mentioned in these proposals is derived from considerable properties owned by the Church in my constituency. Perhaps it may be thought proper that this House should consider how those properties are administered and the effect that these proposals might have upon the commitments of the Church to raise an annual income on its properties, irrespective of whether the capital will actually be wisely preserved if too much income is extracted.

Sir Lancelot Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

On a point of order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wishes to introduce the question of administration of Church properties, but it seems that the Motion is strictly limited and should not cover that wide sphere.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman had not quite developed his argument.

Mr. Parkin

It has already been said by a previous speaker that the House has the right to reach a decision on the proposals put before it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. One would expect the bulk of the discussion to be on the merits of the proposals, but Parliament still has the right and duty to examine the administration of those funds as a whole.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that we can look at the administration as a whole under this Measure.

Mr. Parkin

My case, which is certainly not a critical one, is this. I hope that these proposals do not involve an alteration in the policy which the Church Commissioners have just begun to develop in my constituency. It is a long time since anyone from my constituency got up and paid the Commissioners a compliment. The proposals to devote a certain amount of this income to new obligations and commitments, involve, on the part of those who reach the decisions, a consideration of where the money is coming from. The Paddington estates have had an unhappy history, in which it is clear that grave errors were made one hundred years ago, but we now have evidence that real initiative and imagination is being shown.

If time permitted, and hon. Members tolerated it—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that it is hon. Members who are not tolerating it—it is me.

Mr. Parkin

In that case, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am all right, because we know that the kindness of your heart is sometimes at great variance with the declarations or replies that are made from that Chair.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

However kind my heart is, my patience must not be tested too highly.

Mr. Parkin

Then, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will just say that the case which the Church Commissioners have recently taken up in Paddington, the imagination and initiative they have shown, and the visit I have had, all show that at least there is hope that the problem of these decaying properties, these ends of leases, may be solved. The fact that the Commissioners are now prepared to plough back into the properties some investment money will mean that their immediate income will not be greater but that, at the end of the leases, they will have some houses instead of some slums.

I hope that those considerations will be borne in mind, and that the proposals as outlined will not be pressed to the point when an undue strain is placed upon the Commissioners' finances. I hope that consideration will be given to what I believe to be a very promising future, as a result of what seems to be really brilliant administration in other directions of the Commissioners' funds. I hope that they will look forward, in a generation's time, to a much more substantial income than they have enjoyed in the past.

I hope, therefore, that if this Measure goes through uncontested, there will not be any sort of feeling on anybody's part that they should have made some sort of protest against the administration of the funds. For my part, I want to say that there has been a change of policy that has been successful; that it has been started in a small way, with imagination, and that it offers the promise that the social responsibilities and the financial responsibilities of the Commissioners will march hand in hand towards a successful future.

11.7 p.m.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I am sure that the House listened with appreciation to the speech of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). In order or out of order, it was a graceful compliment to the new methods of administration of Church finances. For many years, goodness and financial mismanagement seemed to walk hand in hand. Recently, there seems to have been a complete reversal of that policy, and Church finances are now managed, not only in an enlightened but in a capable manner—perhaps they go together. I am grateful to the hon. Member for his speech.

I want, for a very few minutes, to deal with some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew). I make no complaint of his speech. He made the sort of speech that I expected him to make—a courteous and a moderate one—but, I think unwittingly he rather tended to mislead us. It really was misleading to say that the fact that there will be a deficiency of £60,000 a year almost inevitably carries with it the conclusion that more of the Commissioners' funds will be diverted to Church schools. That was his implication.

It really was misleading to say that the Church Assembly was not, by a large majority, in favour of this Measure. He implied that all those who failed to vote were really opposed to it. I think that that is really going a very long way. I do not think that in any democratic body one can make that assumption. He said that the inferior clergy—if I may use the term—the non-bishops were—delicate-minded about voting against the Measure in case they were accused of trying to line their own pockets.

That delicacy could not apply to the House of Laity, and it gave an even more overwhelming majority in favour of the measure—194 votes for, and only two votes against it. It could not apply to the bishops, 25 of whom voted for it, and only two voting against. I therefore hope that the House will dismiss that rather ingenious juggling with figures, and the implication, as being baseless.

What I gathered to be my hon. Friend's main difficulty was that this money would mean a reduction of the funds devoted to the stipends of the clergy. I categorically state that that is not so. The reason is that the Commissioners do not think it right to make a grant to clergy stipends unless they are certain that it will be carried on indefinitely. I am sure that that is the correct policy. If they devoted these sums, which, partially, exist only in posse not in esse, to that end, they could not be certain of carrying them on indefinitely.

The Archbishop, in his memorandum, said quite clearly: It was made clear that grants for Church schools would only be made out of this balance, Possibly at the expense of parsonage houses or Church building in new housing areas, but certainly not at the expense of stipends or pensions, except so far as reinvestment might have produced a slightly higher income in future.

Sir P. Agnew

I think that my hon. Friend is not taking cognisance of the extract from the combined report of the three bodies—the Church Commissioners, the Central Board of Finance, the Schools Council—which included a reference to augmentation of clergy stipends. Because that was left out in His Grace's comments, as Chairman of the Legislative Committee, it does not mean to say that it had not already been present in the minds of the Commissioners and been reported on in their official report, C.A.F.260.

Sir G. Nicholson

I take it as a definite pledge by the Archbishop of Canterbury that this will not be at the expense of clergy stipends. I do not think that we can go higher than that. One cannot accuse the Archbishop of Canterbury, especially the present Archbishop, of being guilty of bad faith. When he says that I accept it.

I want to bring up this point, that the original Act of 1840 refers to the cure of souls in parishes; and the cure of souls includes Church schools just as much as it includes clergy stipends or the maintenance of parsonage houses.

Sir P. Agnew

May I interrupt my hon. Friend to say that the Church Commissioners, in their Annual Report for the year 1957, said that the terms of the existing Statute precluded them from giving any moneys to this new purpose?

Sir G. Nicholson

Yes, that is why this Measure comes in. When I referred to the cure of souls and said that that included Church schools, I meant that the interpretation of the cure of souls today includes all parochial work. It was not in 1840, very likely that it would; hence the need for this Measure. Today, in the minds of all Church men, it includes Church schools. After all, in prevailing conditions, unless we can educate children in Church principles, there will be no need for churches or for parsons.

Certain things are incontrovertible. First, this Measure has been asked for by a substantial majority of the representatives of the Church of England in the Church Assembly. Secondly, in spite of a campaign—naturally, one thinks it biassed if one does not agree with it—a strongly partisan campaign on the part of a certain group of Church men, there has been next to no opposition to the Measure throughout the country, and very little opposition in the Church Assembly. Thirdly, as I have said, Church schools are nowadays an inseparable part of the cure of souls.

I do not think for one moment that it is the duty of hon. Members of this House to act as a rubber stamp for the Church Assembly. For instance, if the Church Assembly were to pass something manifestly contrary to the views of hon. Members as to the place of the Church in the nation, it would be the duty of the House to vote against it; but I humbly suggest that, when the Church wishes to dispose of part of its capital towards an end which is manifestly necessary, there should be very strong reasons present in the minds of hon. Members before they refuse permission to do it.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. J. E. MacColl (Widnes)

I am not a member of the Church Assembly, nor of the Ecclesiastical Committee, and, therefore, I have no deep background knowledge, but only such information as came to me as well as to other hon. Members. But I thought that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) was a little out of place in his suggestion that because a vote in the House of Clergy was small one should be cautious about regarding it as a sign that they approved the Measure.

If we have a vote tonight in this House, it will be very small. I regret to say that votes on ecclesiastical matters generally are small. But it would be a very dangerous constitutional doctrine to suggest that, because the vote of those of us who stay behind to discuss this matter is probably a minority of the House, it should be disregarded as the voice of the House.

We have to look at the fact that the Church Assembly, which is, by Statute, a body set up to express the mind of the Church of England on these matters, has expressed it. As has already been said, unless one feels that this is alien to one's idea of what the laity of the Church of England thinks should be done, one should be cautious before interfering in the matter at all. I do not think that one could say that about this Measure, which is calculated to get money for the establishment, rebuilding and modernising of Church schools.

If the Church is to maintain its clergy and to establish churches in new areas, it can only do so because it has a vigorous life within it; and it is only likely to have that if it has available the children who have had the opportunities of a Church education. Therefore, it would be a shortsighted policy for us as a body outside the Church Assembly to intervene in this matter and say that we will not a low what is a discretion to the Church Commissioners. It is not a mandate. It is a discretion, in their wisdom, to provide money from their resources for Church schools.

In the country it would be regarded not only as a reflection on the Church of England, but upon us, if we were to stop this and to say that when the Church wishes to take seriously the need to provide reasonable buildings for its schools, we as a House prevented it from doing so. That would be a dangerous responsibility to shoulder.

wonder whether I might spend a moment wrestling with the soul of my hon. Friend, the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). I do so both as a friend and as a constituent. I want to be careful what I say, because if I say too much about the Church Commissioners I shall be out of order in the first place, and, secondly, in a dangerous position, because I am a tenant of the Church Commissioners and an interested party. I have an interest which I ought to declare.

The Church Commissioners are not loved as landlords and are not a help to the witness of the Church in Paddington. But one thing which is likely to make them a little more popular among their tenants is the thought that the proceeds of their activities in the borough are going into schools and not merely into the maintenance of Church buildings. That is more likely to make public opinion, which is at present very hostile to them, much more favourable.

I hope very much that the House will support this Measure, both because. prima facie, we ought to support a Measure which comes with the authority of the Church Assembly behind it, and, secondly, because the substance of it is one which will commend itself generally in the country, whether it is Church opinion or opinion outside the Church.

11.20 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I originally agreed to my name being added to the Amendment, which you. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, ruled to be out of order, in an exploratory state of mind as much as any other. I was hoping that when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) moved the Motion we should have some reassurance on the matters mentioned in the Amendment, but I find that even after the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), which I understand was intended to be helpful, I am still left in uncertainty about the matter.

I have in my constituency one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the country, and the lord bishop of that diocese is one of the Church Commissioners. I understand that the two documents which have been circulated fairly widely to hon. Members are also circulated by a Church Commissioner. I do not know Mr. Courtman and I do know my bishop, who has been there only a year.

I am in a very considerable difficulty in deciding the right thing to do in the matter because, of all the measures that we can take in this House, there is none which I believe more repulsive than that of altering the use of funds voted by the dead for a particular purpose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) has made it very clear that certainly part of the funds now to be used for the purposes outlined by the Church Assembly was intended solely for the increase of stipends and to enable clergy to have a reasonable standard of living. That, I understand, was the original purpose.

I have a particular family reason for thinking as I do. My grandfather fought a battle for twenty-five years with the administrators of the Queen Anne Bounty, and he spent more money in stamps than the amount of money at issue. I feel most earnestly that there has to be a very good reason indeed—I submit that that reason has not been put to the House tonight—before one diverts funds provided by our ancestors to purposes other than those which our ancestors intended.

I have not heard a straight denial by either of the hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the Motion that such a diversion is not to take place. If I could have that assurance I should feel very much happier about the Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham quoted a passage in the Church Assembly leaflet by the Archbishop in which His Grace said: It was made clear that grants for Church schools would only be made out of this balance, possibly at the expense of parsonage houses or church building in new housing areas but certainly not at the expense of stipends or pensions … Then my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South said that, in fact, His Grace has no authority to speak on behalf of me Church Commissioners to that effect.

I am sure that what His Grace is trying to do is exactly what he believes to be the intention of the Church Assembly. He is not, I take it, there assuming powers which he has no right to assume.

What I find so very difficult is to know what assurance this House has if it passes the Measure that we shall not be at least condoning, if not approving, the use of funds for purposes other than those for which they were originally intended.

Sir G. Nicholson

My hon. and gallant Friend will agree, will he not, that the Commissioners already use these funds for church buildings in new housing areas? That was certainly not one of the intentions of the Queen Anne Bounty.

Major Legge-Bourke

I think that could be accepted at once. I would not dispute it. Nor would I dispute—I should like to make this clear to my hon. Friends who have spoken in favour of the Measure—that the cure of souls includes the education of our children. Not for one moment would I try to argue that, whatever the Churches or anyone else may have said in the past, the education of our children is not part of the cure of souls. Prevention is sometimes better than cure, and if we can by educating our children correctly avoid the need for any cure later on, so much the better.

That is not the point that I am trying to make. I am concerned with just one point. I want an assurance by those who are putting forward the Measure to the House that if we approve it we shall not be condoning or approving the use of funds for purposes other than those for which they were originally intended.

Sir G. Nicholson

I did not make my point clear. A coach and horses have already been driven through the original intentions of the Queen Anne Bounty by the spending of some of the money on building new churches.

Major Legge-Bourke

I hope we are not to have the argument that because something has been done which might be questionable under the law it automatically provides a case for doing something else of a similar nature.

The last thing I want to do is to introduce party controversy into a debate of this kind, but I have very vivid memories of the debate which took place in this House on 30th April, 1946, when trust funds which had originally been given for the purpose of maintaining hospitals were taken over under the National Health Service Act, which involved their use for purposes other than those for which they had been originally intended. I remember the feeling that there was and how many hon. Members on both sides of the House had very grave misgivings about whether this was the right thing to do. If it was doubtful whether it was the right thing to do in a purely lay matter of that kind, surely it is our duty to make sure that we are not doing something perhaps even worse now in relation to ecclesiastical matters.

I have very great admiration for the work of the parish clergy, and I do not believe there is an hon. Member who does not feel that one of the first uses for ecclesiastical money should be to increase the stipends of the clergy. However many schools we build or however many aided schools we try to maintain, I do not believe that they will do their job properly for the children unless the local clergyman is able to carry out his duties as one would normally expect him to do.

The crux of the debate is whether by agreeing to the Measure we shall be increasing the likelihood of the parish priest being able to carry out his task better than he can now by giving him a standard which is fitting for a clergyman or whether we shall be diverting funds which would enable that to come about. The purposes may be very laudable and I do not dispute that. Of course they are laudable purposes, but that makes it all the more difficult. It is not a choice between two evils, but a choice between two excellent things.

For that reason, I hope that some member of the Ecclesiastical Committee will be able to give us rather more assurance than has been given so far to show that none of these funds, which were originally raised or provided to enable the parish clergy to carry out their job, will be diverted to any other purpose, however excellent. If I have that assurance, I shall certainly withdraw my objection to the Motion, but without that assurance I cannot possibly support the Motion.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

When this Measure first came to my notice, I started off with precisely the same sentiments and prejudices as those which have just been expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). As the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) reminded the House, this Measure came twice before the Ecclesiastical Committee. I understand that on the first occasion, for reasons very similar to those put by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, the Committee declined to approve the Measure.

Sir G. Nicholson

On a point of order. Is it not dangerous and against the custom of the House to refer to what took place in a Select Committee, other than by referring to the Report of the Committee? Might not that lead to fruitless argument and baseless accusations?

Mr. Speaker

The Ruling is that one cannot refer to what took place in a Committee until the Committee has reported.

Mr. Fletcher

I think that it is common ground that this matter was twice brought before the Ecclesiastical Committee and that on the first occasion the Committee adjourned its consideration. At the second meeting, at the Committee's request, the Archbishop of Canterbury was present. I am trying to give the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely the precise assurance for which he asked. I was present at the second meeting of the Committee and I attended that meeting with strong prejudices against the Measure, because nobody can be more sympathetic than I am to the need for seeing that the clergy are adequately remunerated.

If I still thought, as I did originally, that this Measure was calculated to prejudice the chances of the clergy being adequately remunerated, I should have been against it. At the meeting, the Archbishop was closely questioned and cross-examined—that is not the right word, but he was kind enough to answer a great many questions from members of the Committee who were very doubtful about the merits of the Measure. All I want to do is to give my testimony in answer to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, that I as one of the members of that Committee, having started out with a prejudice against it, was converted by the detailed explanations given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by those from the Church Assembly who attended the Committee.

I was convinced that the Measure did not involve any diversion of funds from a purpose for which those funds were originally intended. I was also convinced, having regard to the views expressed by the Church Assembly, that this was a Measure which the House should be asked to approve. My original misgivings were completely overcome when I received those detailed explanations and when I became satisfied that the Church Assembly wanted the Measure and that it would not involve a diversion of funds from their original purpose, or prejudice the proper remuneration of the clergy. For those reasons, I propose to support the Measure tonight.

11.35 p.m.

Sir Lancelot Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I appeal to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) to withdraw the Motion. Like several hon. Members, I find myself in a difficult position, both as a Member of this House and as a member of the Church Assembly. As a Member of this House, I am in difficulty because we would all agree that it is a serious matter for this House to decline to pass a Motion which will give effect to a Church Assembly Measure. We set up the Assembly and it has run successfully for a considerable number of years. We do not wish to put ourselves in the position of treating the resolutions of the Assembly lightly or of declining to accept its Measures unless we are given good and certain grounds. I do not consider that such grounds have been put before us tonight.

I am satisfied that the consideration given to the matters referred to by other hon. Members who have spoken against the Measure are sufficient to have justified that body in arriving at the conclusion which it did. For that reason, I cannot vote against this Measure. On the other hand, as a member of the Assembly I find myself in the difficulty referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew). I understand that my hon. Friend was right in saying that the decision of the Church Assembly was based upon a miscalculation of this aspect of its finances. It is impossible for me to say what effect that miscalculation had on the minds of the members of the Assembly.

It is a difficult problem for us to deal with in this House. It is true that the Assembly came to its conclusion, possibly not solely for this reason but certainly it took it into consideration, in arriving at its conclusion, the belief that the provision of this sum of money by the Church Commissioners would result in a closing of the gap which was believed to exist for the provision of the necessary funds for Church schools.

Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it would be better to half-close the gap without bothering about it being completely closed?

Sir L. Joynson-Hicks

I do not consider that that is a matter for this House to decide. It is for the Assembly to decide. It is money belonging to the Assembly, and whether the Assembly considers it is better to half-close the gap by the use of this money or whether it considers that the gap should be allowed to remain and to be enlarged, and leave this money for its original purpose, is a matter for the Assembly and not for this House.

I appeal to my hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw the Motion and to allow the Assembly an opportunity to take into consideration the effect, if there be any effect, of the miscalculation upon which it based the original decision. I believe that to be the right course to take. It would avoid hon. Members of this House being put in any difficulty.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. Arthur They (Bradford, West)

I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) will not take the advice which has been proffered to him. As a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee, I believe it to be our purpose to consider all the questions raised in this debate and to do our best to answer them in this House.

I wish to support the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) in answer to my hon. Friend's doubts. I do not see how we can ever find with absolute certainty what was in the minds of those who left money centuries ago. I do not have the correct wave-length to tune into them. Part of the Act, however, definitely sets out the authority— … for the cure of souls in parishes where such assistance is most required, in such manner as shall by the like authority, be deemed most conducive to the efficiency of the Established Church. If the Church Assembly in its great wisdom feels that the spending of money on these Church schools is for this purpose, surely there is the authority that the money which has been left is being used in the correct manner. I believe that it is better in acts of faith to go part of the way and half to bridge the gap than to leave the gap completely unfilled. It would be wrong if we delayed this Measure, because Church schools throughout the country are in urgent need of funds. It would be better for us to take a decision tonight.

I should like to give one further proof of the intentions of the Church Assembly in respect of the stipends of the clergy. Not one of us on the Ecclesiastical Committee would have voted for this Measure had we thought that the clergy themselves in our parishes were being prejudiced by it. The hon. Member for Islington, East echoed the voices of all of us when he said that we all went to the first meeting full of doubts. The Archbishop of Canterbury came to the second meeting and satisfied us on the point. He answered our questions.

The most important thing he said was that there is no obligation each year to pay this money. It will be paid only after all the dues and demands and liabilities of the clergy have been met. On further questioning, he went as far as to say that it would mean that there would be a slight recession in the building of new churches, because it was from that part of the fund that the money would come. At the end the Committee was unanimous in its decision, and I was staggered this morning to see the Amendment on the Order Paper. We have all heard with respect my hon. Friends who have spoken against the Motion, but I hope that the House will approve it without much further delay.

11.43 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)

I do not want to detain the House for more than a moment, for I have been somewhat reassured by what I have heard from members of the Ecclesiastical Committee, but there is one point on which I think it is fair to ask a question even at this time of the night. I allude to the voting figures in the House of Clergy. We are told that there are 344 members of the House of whom 158 voted "Aye" and 62 "No." That implies that there were 124 abstentions, either present or absent.

We are told by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) that it was a full House on that occasion and anybody who has attended the Church Assembly or the Sessions of Convocation will bear out that on the whole it is rare for Sessions not to be well attended. The parish clergy who are representatives there are assiduous in their attendance, and if there is a matter which raises any kind of principle or touches any kind of principle they are particularly assiduous.

When we see, therefore, that 158, which is a net minority of the House, voted for the Measure, we are bound to ask a little more. I hope that we shall be given an assurance tonight. We know that no exact records of attendance are kept, but if we were told that the House of Clergy was thinly attended that day the anxiety about the position, certainly in my mind, would be greatly diminished. It is striking that a matter in which obviously the clergy had a direct interest should have been passed by a net minority of the members. If out of 344 members 158 voted for and 62 against. 124 are unaccounted for. It is difficult for me to believe that those 124 were merely casually absent. That may have been the case, but it would surprise me if it was, and on that matter I remain to be assured.

Wing Commander Bullus

My hon. Friend will perhaps allow me to inform him, from a report given me by the Secretary, that no division lists are taken in the Assembly in the way in which they are taken in Parliament, and that the register of attendance is accurate only in so far as the members themselves record their attendance. It is not possible to say exactly how many clergy were present and abstained, but in the recollection of the Secretary there were very few. It is certain that the great majority of the 124 who did not vote were not present.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

My hon. and gallant Friend will bear in mind that that description is at variance with the one we have had from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South.

11.47 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I shall delay the House a moment only, and I hope no Churchman will ask why I intervene. I suppose I am the first Member of the House who is not a member of the Church of England to speak in this debate. I do so precisely for that reason. I was brought up as a Free Churchman. I have listened with great interest to what has been said here tonight about the figures of voting in the Church Assembly and the doubts which His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury removed from the minds of some of the Members of this House who heard him. I have not had that advantage, and I do not know anything about the internal administration of the Church Assembly, and I object to being called upon to adjudicate upon a Measure of this sort.

In so far as I have any sympathy with any side in the argument it is, with those who want to spend more money on schools. I am not introducing any political party point and I am speaking as an individual Member of the House, but I should be inclined to vote that way. However, considerable doubts have been cast upon the matter. I have to choose thus: I can go home, and leave this to the Churchmen in the House to vote; or I can exercise my right and vote upon an issue upon which, I regret to say, I am not nearly as fully informed as those who have been reading briefs obviously distributed. [Interruption.] There is no need for hon. Members to get heated about this. I have seen a lot of paper floating about, and people reading from papers, and I have seen a number of sheets of foolscap from which hon. Members have been reading. No doubt, they were speeches hon. Members had prepared.

What am I to do in the circumstances? It seems to me that the simple issue is this. It is high time that the affairs of the Church were dealt with outside the House of Commons. I do not know whether it is out of order to say that, as someone suggests, but I am quite sure Mr. Speaker will soon pull me up if I am out of order. Speaking entirely for myself in this matter, I hope that we shall not be asked to deal with these Measures which a great many Members of this House have not the capacity to judge because they are not members of the Church in question. I therefore propose to vote against this Measure although I have sympathy with the desire to spend more money on schools I shall do so in the hope that, if sufficient of these Measures are defeated, eventually the Church Assembly will realise its responsibilities and ask the House to disestablish it. Then, I believe, there will be a much healthier Church than there is at the present time.

11.49 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I really cannot let that speech pass without comment. I should not have intervened in the debate but for that speech. I really think we ought to allow the Church Assembly to manage its own business. Were it to present us here with something contrary to the public interest, we should be entitled to vote against it, of course, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) to reconsider his decision, because here is obviously a sensible decision carefully arrived at by a majority of the Church Assembly, and, unless we have very good reasons indeed for not doing so, I think we ought to support the Church Assembly.

Question put and agreed to

Resolved, That the Church Schools (Assistance by Church Commissioners) Measure, 1957, 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.