HC Deb 25 February 1960 vol 618 cc670-84

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

8.11 p.m.

Sir Hubert Ashton (Chelmsford)

I rise to speak in support of the Bill, but, first I should like to say a few words about my responsibilities in these matters. In the first place, I am described officially as "Second Church Estates Commissioner representing Church Commissioners". I am, therefore, directly concerned with all matters relating to the affairs of the Church Commissioners.

Secondly, I am a co-opted member of the Church Assembly, and when Measures come from that Assembly before the Ecclesiastical Committee and the House of Commons I would have prior knowledge of the Measures proposed. At the same time, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury wishes me to make it clear that any action that I might take in respect of such Measures—not directly sponsored by the Church Commissioners—would be in my capacity as a member of the Church Assembly and not as Second Church Estates Commissioner Thirdly, as a member of the Church of England, like many others though not all in the House, I am ready to assist in other matters which concern the Church and which may arise from time to time.

The present Bill is not the direct concern of either the Church Commissioners or the Church Assembly, but falls into the third category as concerning directly the Diocese of London. The Bill is, therefore, promoted by the Bishop of London who, in consultation with the Archdeacon of London, has asked me to take charge of the Bill this evening I am glad to do my best, and I readily acknowledge the help that I have received from many sources and especially from the archdeacon who, as the House will know, gave evidence before the Select Committee on 29th April. 1952.

I apologise to the House for having gone into some detail, but I feel that there are some genuine misunderstandings about my position as Second Church Estates Commissioner. I have occupied this office for the past two and a half years, and it is not always easy to define precisely the various matters which concern the Church Commissioners, the Church Assembly, and other official bodies of the Church of England. As, however, I am, inevitably, in fairly close touch with the affairs of all three, I hope that I may be given the opportunity by all hon. Members, and by others beyond the House, to help in any way that lies in my power and, indeed, at any time.

The Bill seeks to amend the City of London (Guild Churches) Act, 1952. As I am speaking in some detail on the Clauses, I hope that the House will forgive me if I stick fairly closely to my notes. The House may recall that the Bishop of London was empowered to designate and establish certain churches in the City of London as guild churches under the old Act. Broadly speaking, 16 churches—mostly rebuilt by Wren after the Fire of London—were scheduled as guild churches, leaving 24 churches as ordinary parish churches.

The proposals were considered in detail before a Select Committee on 29th April, 1952. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) were members of that Committee and played a notable part in its proceedings. I am glad to see both hon. Members in their places tonight. The reasons, broadly speaking, for the proposals were twofold. The first was to preserve these historic and splendid churches and the second to provide as vicars for them people with special qualifications.

Perhaps I can best explain the purpose of the Bill by reading a few lines from the Preamble to the 1952 Act, which said: And whereas it is expedient that each such church should be in the charge of a clerk in holy orders who in addition to his fitness to minister to the non-resident population of the city should also possess special qualifications in scholarship preaching pastoral work or administration or other particular qualifications which render him suitable to offer specialised ministrations or services under lawful authority elsewhere. I am sure that hon. Members will be glad to know that the scheme has proved successful and is working well. The number of churches designated as guild churches is 15, the one remaining being St. Mary Aldermanbury, which it is not proposed to rebuild. Good clergy have been secured as vicars and 13 are now at work, although some of the churches have not yet been fully restored. Twelve of these vicars are fully qualified under the terms I read earlier, and some instances of the special work being done may be of interest to the House. I summarise this under various heads.

There is the youth work and voluntary religious education for adults. There is one vicar who travels throughout the country on the affairs of the Church of England Men's Society. Others pay special attention to the ministry of healing, marriage guidance, and the approach of the Church to all sections of the industrialised society. There is a clergy centre for training and advising the clergy of the dioceses of London, Southwark and Chelmsford. I am a humble people's warden in a country parish in the Diocese of Chelmsford and I know that there are other hon. Members present who are churchwardens.

Yet others of these clergy are concerned with relations with the churches on the Continent and with the Anglican communion in all parts of the world. In addition, the vicars, of course, are ministering to the daytime population of the City. The numbers who attend the services, naturally vary from church to church. Some have very good congregations indeed while others are less good. Not one, however, can be said to be failing.

I think, therefore, that it is perfectly right and fair to claim that this important and imaginative scheme for the City of London guild churches is working well and has, by and large, provided the results that had been anticipated. It has, however, become clear that the successful operation of the 1952 Act would be facilitated if some amendments—not being matters of fundamental principle—were to be made.

I now come to the Bill before the House. I think that the first Clause to comment on is Clause 3. This would give the Bishop of London power to designate as a guild church any of the City churches named in the First Schedule. No such cases are at present contemplated, but it is felt that provision should be made as and when the need arises. It will be seen that the Bishop cannot give such a certificate until a church has ceased to be a parish church.

This, in turn, depends upon proposals under the Reorganisation Areas Measures. These have to be laid before the House for 28 days and can be prayed against. Thus, the rights and duties of hon. Members are not impaired in any way. Clause 4 has the purpose of allowing machinery for filling vacancies to be commenced at an early date. This brings the position of guild churches into line with that of parish churches.

Clause 5 would allow the bishop, in appropriate cases, to ensure that a vacancy is not immediately filled by the patron. Such action is sometimes desirable when plans for reorganisation involving that particular church may be under consideration. Furthermore, it obviates the possibility that the right of appointment might lapse successively During any period of suspension, the church concerned would be served by a priest in charge.

In Clause 6 it is proposed that authority should be given for the transfer, but not, of course, for the sale, of a right of patronage of the living with the consent of the bishop. When the 1952 Act was being considered, the matter of patrons was gone into very carefully by the archdeacon and others concerned. The position as agreed then, after many negotiations, is set out in the First Schedule and involves a number of exchanges. It is now thought that powers to effect other exchanges should be granted if and when it is considered desirable to do this.

Coming to Clause 7, this proposes to amend Section 15 of the 1952 Act, to overcome a possible difficulty. It would provide that where there is for the time being no vicar, persons who wish to be entered on the electoral roll of a guild church may be so entered with the consent of the Archdeacon of London. That was a point which was raised in the Committee proceedings.

Clause 8 seeks to amend Section 32 of the Act, which allows a parish church or a guild church at the request of the civic authorities to be established once and for all as a ward church. The proposed Clause would, however, allow the bishop, in consultation with the civic authorities concerned, to change one ward church to another. In other words, this would give a little more flexibility in the present proposals than is available under the Act. I should state that the Attorney-General has made a report to Parliament saying that he has no objection to the Bill. He adds that the Charity Commissioners have no comments to make thereon. Furthermore, the House will be aware that no petitions have been lodged against the Bill.

To sum up, it is clear that the proposals under the present Act are working well, and that after much thought and preliminary investigation they have provided an imaginative and up-to-date way of meeting the religious needs of the City in this modern world. At the same time, we are reserving a number of beautiful churches of great architectural value and historical background. Some Amendments, not of a major character, have proved by experience to be desirable.

I hope that after this explanation the House will not feel that I have kept it longer than I should have done and I commend the Bill sincerely to hon. Members. In order not to inflict myself upon hon. Members for a second time, may I say that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), who has been with the Bill since its first stage, will be good enough to help to reply to the debate which may ensue.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

It is no bad thing that this House should occasionally devote a little time to the affairs of the Church of England. According to one's views of the matter, this is one of the handicaps or one of the privileges of having an Established Church. Moreover, the Bill before us, although it is in a sense consequential on the Act of 1952, extends further the novel experiment legalised by that Act and, therefore, affects the rights of Her Majesty's subjects, our constituents, and is of interest, or should be of interest, to every hon. Member of this House. In particular, if I may say so without impropriety—as I think I can, since it is not at all a party matter—it affects the rights and interest of the constituents of Mr. Speaker himself in the City of London.

I say at once that I thought, and think, the experiment of the guild churches an admirable one. It is, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton) said, an ingenious and imaginative instrument for dealing with several related problems. It has enabled us to save some noble examples of the work of Wren and other great architects which otherwise might have been considered technically redundant, and in saving them it has provided an interesting assortment of specialist centres for the Church of England as a whole.

Some of these churches, including the one which I happen to know best, St. Mary Aldermanbury, have also been brought to new life and are furnishing a much-valued service to what the Bill calls the "non-resident population of the City", in the provision of lunch-hour services, concerts, lectures and so on. This was not, of course, the primary or necessary purpose of the 1952 Act. Parish churches in the City have been doing this kind of thing for many years. For instance, there is the remarkable work carried on at St. Stephen's, Walbrook, by the people called the Telephone Samaritans, who have actually, in the past few years, saved several hundred desperate people from suicide. That is very much a specialist vocation, and that is a parish church. Parish churches have been doing this kind of thing in various other ways, of course, long before the bombers destroyed so many of them, and even before our native vandals dared to list as redundant some of the masterpieces which have now, wisely, been rebuilt after bombing or preserved.

Since this scheme has now been in operation for some years, the debate provides a convenient occasion for a kind of interim report on its working, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said what he did about the scheme in general. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) winds up the debate he will tell us more about the individual churches involved, which all have their own special interests and attractions.

With the hon. Gentleman, I think that the experiment has been notably successful. Indeed, the only slight and, I think, unforeseen difficulty which has arisen has been financial. Guild churches, like other ancient buildings, are expensive to maintain. Their roofs leak, the stonework crumbles in the edacious metropolitan atmosphere. Each of them is in a parish—of which there is a parish church. St. Mary Aldermanbury, for instance, is in the parish of the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow, part of which was re-opened only yesterday. Bow Church, the celebrated mother-church of all Cockneys, still has to raise a large sum of money for its restoration. It would be wrong for a guild church to solicit alms publicly in competition with its own parish church, or indeed, to expect the commuters who mainly use it to ignore, in its favour, their obligations to their own parish churches in the suburbs or the country. I rather hope that any Members who may have occasion to visit the City will make a brief pilgrimage to some of the wonderful buildings designated under the Act or under this Bill. They will be impressed by the liveliness of what is going on, and I venture to hope that they will drop in one or other of the alms-boxes the price of, say, a glass of sherry, either Spanish or South African.

Having said so much in support of what the hon. Member for Chelmsford has already said, I must add that we have a duty to scrutinise carefully, before agreeing to it, any Measure which does in any respect, as this Bill does, diminish or affect the rights of our constituents. Two sets of rights seem to me to be involved—the rights of the incumbents and the rights of the parishioners. The parson's freehold is an ancient English institution which has sometimes been used in the cause of freedom and sometimes for the purposes of tyranny. In recent years, various Measures—disciplinary measures from the Church Assembly and others—have tended to restrict it. In each case I think a strong argument for the restriction has been put up, but at least the case should be made every time and we should be clear what we are doing when we decide to diminish an ancient liberty. For, after all, each time a parish church is turned into a guild church and its incumbency becomes strictly temporary, the parson's freehold is diminished, whether we think of it individually or collectively. Moreover, it may be supposed that if this scheme is successful in the City of London, as I believe it has already proved itself to be, it may serve as a model for tackling comparable problems in other dioceses and other great cities.

Secondly, there are the rights of parishioners. At present, people have the right to attend what are called the statutory services every Sunday, at their own parish church. If their parish church is turned into a guild church there will probably be no Sunday services in it at all, and, of course, it is one of the objects of the scheme that the vicars of these churches should be exempted from performing the statutory services because theirs is largely a weekday ministry. It is true that these residents of the City of London will still be in a parish, but they may have been used to attending the same church all their lives, and their new parish church may be further from where they live, or may be a church of a different tradition from that which they are accustomed to.

Emphasis is rightly laid on the weekday ministry—the ministry to the nonresident population, the commuters—but I must point out also that the resident population, very small as it has been for generations, is now once more increasing, with the Barbican scheme, the new Charterhouse flats and other projects. One defect of the Bill, if I read it aright, is perhaps that it does not place any limit on the number of churches that may be designated as guild churches. It is true, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford has told us, that there are still twenty-four parish churches left, and that is ample—perhaps too large a number—for the square mile of the City. But I hope we can have some assurance tonight from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East, that, however many more guild churches are designated, there will always be left sufficient parish churches, conveniently situated for the present and possible future resident population, and—this is very important, in view of the character of the Church of England—representative of the various traditions within that Church.

Now I want to put one or two specific questions to my hon. Friend who has, we understand, been asked to wind up this debate. I know that he has no direct responsibility, but if he cannot answer these points at once, no doubt he will be good enough to pass on to the promoters of the Bill the comments made in this debate.

My first question is a small one. In the Preamble to the Bill the word "corporation" with a small "c" is used. The passage reads: … by virtue of that Act one such Guild Church is vested in the corporation … It does not actually say what I suppose it means—the Corporation of the City of London. I do not know whether this is a drafting slip or whether there is some reason. If it is just a slip, no doubt it can be corrected in Committee, or when the Bill goes to another place.

Clause 3—Designation of additional Guild churches—I have already referred to in passing. Can my hon. Friend say whether there is any specific number in mind, since no specific number is given in the Bill itself? That ties up with the safeguards or the assurances I was asking for in relation to the permanent preservation of some parish churches.

Clause 5 is interesting and curious. It enables the bishop to keep the incumbency of a guild church vacant for as long as five years and, even after that, for further periods not exceeding in the case of any one such further period five years. That seems a rather odd provision. I gather that during the vacancy there would be some services provided in the church by a curate-in-charge, but it is surely not a very satisfactory position for the curate-in-charge himself, to go on for five years after five years. I do not know whether that is envisaged, or whether this is simply a safeguarding maximum time, but the main point I want to make is that under this Clause the Bishop is to have the power to suspend a presentation to a Guild church with the consent in writing of the patron of the Guild Church (where he is not himself the patron thereof) and after consultation with the Guild Church Council of the church … I should have thought that when making a new and rather daring modern experiment of this kind, we could afford to risk a little democracy, even in the Church of England. Why can we not have the consent of as well as consultation with the Guild Church Council? After all, the Council might strongly object to not having a parson to look after the church properly for five years or more. One has the impression that the church would inevitably be to some extent neglected and derelict. I do not know whether my hon. Friend can say anything about that point, but I hope that notice will be taken of it.

The hon. Member explained Clause 8, about ward churches, very fairly. This Clause refers back to the City of London (Guild Churches) Act, 1952, and is consequential to it and modifies its provisions. I am rather sorry, all the same, that it was necessary to include it. I can see that there were, perhaps, practical difficulties in the way of designating such ward churches for ever and ever. On the other hand, I do not quite like the way that it is put here—the provision that the alderman and common council of the ward may at any time ask the Bishop to revoke the designation. I do not know that it is in any way disadvantageous to a clergyman for his church to cease to be a ward church—I imagine that it might make some difference financially, not to him personally but to the church funds—but there is something a little distasteful about the Clause. It gives an impression of civic tycoons throwing their weight about to try to intimidate or to discriminate against some parson whose preaching may be too stark and prophetic for their digestions.

Mr. Ede

That may be one of the things which will happen if we try to democratise the Church of England.

Mr. Driberg

Quite possibly but we should not be entirely discouraged from making such efforts.

One does not like to think of the alderman and common councillors, as it were, carrying their maces and chains, or whatever they carry, walking in a huff from St. Magnus the Martyr to St. Margaret Lothbury, or vice versa.

Sir H. Ashton

The final decision rests with the bishop.

Mr. Driberg

I hope that my hon. Friend can reassure me that the little word "may" in line 18 of page 5 will give the bishop power to resist firmly any such representations if he thinks that they are made for any unworthy, frivolous or even political reasons.

With those reservations, and with apologies for detaining the House for so long, I have great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton) who opened the debate and moved the Second Reading in such comprehensive and felicitous language indicated that I had been asked by the promoter of the Bill, the Bishop of London, who for this purpose is represented by the Archdeacon of London, to answer questions that were asked during the course of the debate. I will gladly do so to the best of my ability and I will proceed at once to deal with the specific points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) before making a few more general observations that I should like to make about the merits, scope and purpose of the Bill, and the experiment which it is designed to extend.

The first point which my hon. Friend raised was one that also had occurred to me. When I looked at the Bill I noticed that in the Preamble there was a reference to "the corporation," without any indication whether it was the British Broadcasting Corporation, or any other corporation. I therefore looked at the parent Act of 1952 and I was surprised to find that there was no reference there to "the corporation," but that there was a reference to the "City Corporation," which is defined as the Corporation of the City of London. It is clear that this is a small drafting error, that the "City Corporation" is intended and that the necessary consequential Amendment will be made at a later stage to cure that small defect.

My hon. Friend then drew attention to what is perhaps the most important provision in the Bill, namely, Clause 3, which gives the bishop power to designate additional Guild churches. My hon. Friend asked two questions. First, whether there was any immediate intention of designating any more guild churches, and, if so, how many? I understand that there is no immediate intention of designating any additional guild churches. My hon. Friend then asked for an assurance that if further guild churches were designated the Bishop of London would see that there was always a sufficient number of parish churches left in London having regard not only to the present resident population of the City of London but also to the likelihood, indeed the probability, that in the near future the resident population of the City of London would be considerably increased.

I am happy to say that I am authorised by the Bishop of London not only to give that assurance, but also to give the assurance that care will be taken to see that there is always a sufficient number of parish churches in the City representative of the different traditions of the Church of England.

My hon. Friend then drew attention to the provisions in Clause 5 which, at first sight, are a little surprising. These provisions enable the Bishop to suspend presentation to a guild church. I suppose that a layman might well ask why it should be necessary for the bishop to have the right to suspend, either in the case of a guild church or in the case of an ordinary parish church. It might be asked, if there is a vacancy, why it should not remain unfilled until the patron has found an appropriate incumbent. The answer is that if, either in the case of a parish church or a guild church, a living remains vacant for more than six months, the patron loses his right of patronage, and it lapses to the bishop. Therefore, it is in the interests of the patron that the bishop of a diocese should have power to declare a suspension for a certain time in order to avoid a vacancy extending for more than six months.

My hon. Friend inquired why we should provide that before exercising a right of suspension a bishop should have to obtain the written consent of the patron, while merely having to consult the Guild Church Council. He asked why the bishop should not also have to obtain the written consent of the Council. The answer is that the provisions concerning the guild churches bring the position into line with the law regarding an ordinary parish church. In such a case, before the bishop suspends he must obtain the written consent of the patron; and must consult the parochial church council. In those circumstances I do not think it unreasonable that precisely parallel provisions should be made in the case of guild churches.

The final point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking concerned Clause 8, in respect of which he sought an assurance that "tycoons" of a particular ward in the City of London should not, for unworthy, frivolous or political purposes, abuse the right to ask that the designation of a ward church should be revoked. As the hon. Member for Chelmsford indicated, the final word on that matter rests with the bishop. I would regard that as a sufficient safeguard, and would deprecate the likelihood of any unworthy use of this power to redesignate a ward church.

Having said that, as one who took a great interest in the Bill originally promoted in 1951, which became the Act of 1952, I should like to endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Chelmsford and my hon. Friend the Member for Barking as to the way in which what was at that time a very novel and perhaps some what daring experiment has worked out. The provisions of that Measure were very carefully scrutinised at the time in order to see that there was no unjustified departure from the long recognised traditions of the Church of England concerning the general parochial principle, the parson's freehold, or the rights of parishioners.

I recall that Sir John Crowder, who at that time was the Second Church Estates Commissioner, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford is today, indicated that there were four main objectives in the Act. It is worth pausing to see how far those objects have been achieved. He said that the first object was to preserve these City churches. They are mostly Wren buildings and are full of architectural distinction and historical significance. They have all been preserved. Most of them have been restored in a very worthy manner and others are in the process of being restored.

The second object was to make provision for weekday services for the nonresident population of the City of London. Any hon. Members who have had occasion to visit these churches on weekdays will be aware that a very real need is being fulfilled by the services provided on weekdays in these Guild churches.

Thirdly, it was desired to strengthen the links between the religious and civic life of the City of London. I am sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that Mr. Speaker would be the first to recognise the considerable progress that has been made in this field since the establishment of guild churches.

The fourth object—and Sir John Crowder put this as the most important of the purposes of the Bill—was to provide posts and centres for clergy possessing special qualities in scholarship and so forth as referred to in the Preamble quoted by the hon. Member and which I need not quote again. Perhaps I may quote, as indicative of the general objects of the scheme, the words used by Bishop Wand, then Bishop of London: It is my wish and hope that the City may become a great ecclesiastical laboratory in which new methods of ministry, new physical experiments and new pastoral techniques may be tried out for the benefit of the whole church. Anyone who is at all familiar with the way in which during the last eight years the Church of England, and in particular the Diocese of London, has made use of the facilities provided by this House in this Act will agree that this experiment has achieved a remarkable measure of success. I think it true to say that it has been even more successful than many of us hoped or envisaged eight years ago.

Since we do not often have an opportunity to refer in this House to the work of the Church of England, this is perhaps a convenient opportunity for me to add a word or two to what has been said by the hon. Member for Chelmsford and by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking with regard to the spiritual activities of the Church of England which have been developed during the last eight years because posts and centres have been provided for specially chosen clergymen to operate as vicars of Guild churches with specialist responsibilities for the work of the Church as a whole.

I would refer, first, to the work being done by Prebendary Bosworth of St. Margaret Pattens, a living in the gift of the Lord Chancellor. The Church has been fully restored and established as a clergy centre for post ordination training for the clergy of the Dioceses of London, Southwark and Chelmsford. Invaluable work is being done there to assist ordinands with improved technical training. It is so important today that the clergy, like other persons exercising professional skill, should be equipped with the necessary technical training to make full use of their special opportunities and responsibilities.

I also wish to refer to the work being done at St. Botolph's, Aldersgate, by the Rev. R. L. Roberts, who has been specially charged with the work of co-ordinating throughout the country the activities of the Church of England Men's Society. Due to the post provided by him in a guild church he has been able to rejuvenate that Society which has had such a long and valuable history. I do not want to trespass on the indulgence of the House, but I should also mention how important is the work being done by the Rev. A. S. Hopkinson at St. Katherine Cree in an entirely non-parochial way in connection with the Industrial Christian Fellowship. I regard as most significant the fact that the Church of England is moving with the times and realising that it has work to do in a wide field outside purely parish work and that all kinds of new opportunities for the work of the Church in industry are being opened up and developed.

Finally, I must mention the invaluable contribution made over a number of years by Canon Waddams, who until a few months ago was Vicar of St. Michael's, Paternoster Royal. Apart from his work there, as some hon. Members will know he devoted himself for a long period to the important and specialised task of cementing and developing close relations and intimate contact between the Church of England and churches overseas, particularly in Europe and among the Orthodox Churches of the East.

I have myself noticed during visits abroad in the last year or two; for example, in Moscow, where I saw the Metropolitan Alexei, head of the Orthodox Church, and in Berlin, where Bishop Dibelius is bishop, the value attached by representatives of the Christian Churches in Europe—particularly in Eastern Europe, where, as the House knows, the Church has such a very difficult task—to their contacts with the Church of England. They have all been heartened by the knowledge of co-operation and friendship and indications of friendship received at the hands of the Church of England. Work of that kind can be done only by a specialist in this field who has a post such as a Guild church provides.

I hope the House will think that it was right eight years ago to pass this Act. I think the experiment has been very successful and that it is one to be encouraged, by giving this Bill, designed to extend the powers of the Bishop of London in this matter, a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed.