HC Deb 23 February 1965 vol 707 cc296-332

7.10 p.m.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)

I beg to move, That the Prayer Book (Alternative and Other Services) Measure, 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. The House will doubtless be aware that the Prayer Book in use in the services of the Church of England is one which has been virtually continuously in use since 1662—for 300 years. It was an Annexe to the Act of Uniformity of that year, and it is hardly surprising that after the lapse of all those years there should be, and there has been for quite a long time, a widespread feeling that an attempt should be made to bring it more into line with modern thought and expression, and this in spite of the very real love which is felt for this Book both by reason of the words in which it is couched and also for many other reasons.

As long ago as 1906 a Royal Commission sat to study what should be done about this problem. There were many years of study, interrupted it is true by the First World War. This study resulted in the presentation to Parliament of the Prayer Book Measure of 1928. With the wisdom of hindsight, we, and I have no doubt most churchmen, have come to realise that this presentation of a whole block reform of the Prayer Book, a package deal in one fell swoop, was perhaps a mistake. Though much of what was proposed at that time met with general acceptance, there were parts of it, and one part in particular, which aroused a great deal of feeling, as hon. Members will recollect. As a result, none of it reached the Statute Book.

There were no further proposals on this line until the Measure which is now presented to Parliament. This Measure began to go through the legislative process of the Church of England in the summer of 1962, but it was based on the Report of the Commission ten years earlier presided over by Sir Walter Moberley. The House would like to know that during the course of the passage of that legislative Measure the House of Laity asked for it by a vote no less overwhelming than 203 against 11, that the House of Clergy voted for it by a vote of 200 against one, and that the House of Bishops was unanimously in favour of it.

As most hon. Members will be aware, every clergyman on ordination, induction, and on many other occasions when he changes office in the course of his church life, has to make a declaration that he will use the services of the Book of Common Prayer and none other except as shall be ordered by lawful authority ". Now, as we are all well aware, there have been many deviations from that Book of 1662, deviations which have been introduced with virtually unanimous approval. For instance, the custom which obtains in many parishes of laymen reading the lesson—probably quite illegal, the service by which so many were moved in St. Paul's a few weeks ago, again probably quite illegal. Nearer at home for us, there are the services in which the children of Members of Parliament are baptised in the Crypt Chapel of the Palace of Westminster. These, too, are probably quite illegal. This Measure is an attempt to set these matters and their consequences to rights.

There are four main objects in the Measure. The first is to permit lawful experiment for a limited time in the forms of service alternative to those prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. The second main object is to permit forms of service to be drawn up for special occasions where none is prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. The third object is to permit variations not of substantial importance to be made in any form of service which is prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. The fourth and last main object is to make it absolutely clear what are the forms of service "ordered by lawful authority" than which those in the Book of Common Prayer clergymen, in the declarations which they have so frequently to make, declare that they "will use no other".

I should like to say a few words on all four of these objects. In doing so, I want particularly to show the extent to which the experimentation proposed is limited in point of time and the extent to which the permission to experiment is made conditional upon the agreement of all those who might reasonably be expected to have a major interest in the matter—the agreement of the Convocations, of the House of Laity and of all interested persons when the services concerned, in the forms approved by the Convocation in the terms of this Measure, are the services of "occasional offices" as they are called—marriage, baptism and so on. I want generally to call the attention of the House to the safeguards which exist in this Measure to see that the innovations which are introduced under it receive general consent.

First, as to the permission to experiment in forms of service alternative to those found in the Book of Common Prayer, I have mentioned the limitation in time during which these experiments may take place. The first safeguard is that they may take place only for seven years, unless there is one further extension, and one only, of a further seven years bringing it up to a possible fourteen years.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

What happens at the end of the fourteen years?

Mr. Mallalieu

I will come to that. It is a very important point. Indeed, I do not see why I should not deal with it now and help the hon. and gallant Member and perhaps others.

At the end of the period of experiment, whatever that period may be, one of two things will happen. Either the Church will revert to the 1662 position, or the Church will ask Parliament for approval of what has taken place during the experiment.

Wing Commander Sir Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)

Not necessarily at the end of fourteen years, but perhaps before fourteen years are up.

Mr. Mallalieu

Yes; I should make plain that it would be at the end of the period of experiment, whatever that period might be, perhaps slightly less than fourteen years. Thereafter, it will either revert to 1662, or the question will come back to Parliament to have what has been shown to be generally acceptable and desirable confirmed by Parliament. There is, therefore, no question here of Parliament being asked to give up its right.

The second safeguard is that any proposal for experiment must receive a two-thirds majority of each House of Convocation in each province, and those majorities must be satisfied that the proposal is neither contrary to nor indicative of any departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.

The third safeguard is that there must be a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity. The fourth is that the parochial church council of any parish where the approved form is used must agree, and, in the case of the occasional offices, there is the right of the laymen most concerned—those who are to be married or whose children are to be baptised, for instance—to object.

The House will see that there is a provision in Clause 2 for preliminary trial of forms proposals for which the Convocations are considering. This is merely to enable the thing to be tried out in the field, so to speak, to see that there is nothing completely impracticable about it. The period here would be two years only with regard to any one proposal This, of course, is not a general provision applying to a diocese or province, still less to the whole country. Proposed draft forms for a two-year period of experiment may be tried out in selected parishes, and the consent of the parochial church council, of the incumbent, and of the lay people concerned in occasional offices all has to be obtained as well.

The second main object of the Measure is to permit forms of service to be drawn up and used for special occasions for which the Book of Common Prayer has made no provision. This can be done by the Convocation, by the ordinary or by the incumbent. Clauses 4 and 6 are the relevant provisions here. For Convocation in each province, the majority must be satisfied that the form of service is reverent, seemly and not contrary to or indicative of any departure from the doctrine of the Church of England. The ordinary must be satisfied about this as regards his diocese when he makes a proposal of this kind. So must the incumbent. All those matters must be quite clear in the mind of the body which has the power to make the proposed form.

In the case of the incumbent drawing up a special service for a special occasion, there are two formidable provisions which make it absolutely plain that nothing can be done contrary to general acceptance. First, anyone objecting to what the incumbent does in the matter may go straight to the bishop of the diocese for pastoral guidance to see whether the bishop can iron out the difficulty, but, whether or not that succeeds, the complainant may appeal to the Church courts.

There was a time when the mere mention of Church courts would produce derision on the ground that they were an anachronism, but, in 1963, by the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure, Parliament produced an entirely new, streamlined and, I venture to prophesy, effective system of ecclesiastical courts which will come into operation on the 1st of next month, so that this appeal to the Church courts will certainly be effective.

The third object of the Measure is to permit variations not of substantial importance to be made by the incumbent in the services prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. The words "not of substantial importance" come from the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949, Section 2. As the House knows, it is by no means infrequent that consolidating Measures are brought before us in order to bring within small compass a wide range of legislation to make it much more accessible, up to date and streamlined. In Section 2 of the 1949 Act, Parliament spoke of the removal of anomalies which are not of substantial importance". As every consolidating Measure comes before the House, a body of "case law" is created and developed which tends to show what Parliament thinks reasonable to allow as an alteration of the original Statutes which is not of substantial importance when the consolidation is brought about. It was thought desirable to use these words in this Measure in order that this body of "case law", as I have called it—I put it in inverted commas—should be available to help in deciding what is or is not of substantial importance.

The object of this part of the Measure is to allow the alteration of words. The obvious example which comes to mind is "Prevent us, O Lord". Of course, "prevent us" does not now mean what is meant in 1662, but if one ventures to use the words "go before us" one commits an illegality. There are the same stringent safeguards in this connection which will be applied to the forms of service for special occasions to which I have just referred, namely, the application to the bishop for pastoral guidance and the appeal to the courts.

It remains now for me to touch upon Clause 8 which makes clear what are the services ordered by lawful authority. This part of the Measure is extremely important for the individual clergyman who has to make his declarations. He has to make them although he knows perfectly well that there are, perhaps, many hundreds of deviations from the letter of 1662 which are in commonly accepted use. Strictly speaking, he knows that he ought not to make his declaration, and this problem has been something weighing on the consciences of a great many ministers for a long time. It is thought right to make absolutely plain by this Clause just what is intended by the clergyman when he makes the declaration. In future, he will be able to make it without dissembling or mental reservation.

The services than which they declare they "will use no other" are in future to be, under this Measure, if accepted, the services in the Book of Common Prayer, those which are authorised under this Measure and those which are authorised by Royal Warrant or by Order in Council. So it is absolutely plain from now on, just precisely what the clergyman is declaring.

I believe that this Measure is a great step forward, well within the splendid tradition of the Church of England, of which it has been the wisdom to keep the mean between too great rigidity and too easy acceptance of change. Seldom, I submit, has a subject of such important consequence been made the result of such careful and considerate change. I submit the Measure to the House for approval as one which will still controversy and enable calm minds to apply themselves to the achievement of that harmony within the Church which will bring peace as well in Church and State relations as in the whole body of the nation whom we are here to serve.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

In rising to address the House for the first time, I would crave its customary indulgence. It may well be asked why I, as a Scottish Member, should address the House on this Measure but I do not consider that coming from north of the Border precludes me from giving my views on this subject. I declare the fact that I am a baptised and confirmed member of the Church of England and still adhere to the faith.

My constituency must be one of the most beautiful in the United Kingdom, from the high hills, now snow covered, in the south, sweeping down to the coastal plain with many gradations of colour and scenery. The people of Banffshire are mostly concerned with nature-from the rugged sheep farmers in the north, the cattle breeders in the midlands to the coastal area, where we have possibly the finest inshore fishing fleet in the United Kingdom. With all this, the people of Banffshire are a church-loving and a church-going people. They embrace many faiths, predominantly, of course, the Church of Scotland, but there are many others, including Episcopalians and members of the Roman Catholic faith.

My predecessor in this House was Sir William Duthie. He was known in the House, I understand, as the "Fishermen's M.P." and as such was very widely respected both in the House and throughout the nation. One of his most notable contributions to the life of the country was the deep interest he took, the great amount of trouble and the great lengths to which he went to support his main love—the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.

Under Sir William's wise leadership over many years, the Mission has become a flourishing concern, catering for and coping with the needs of fishermen throughout the United Kingdom and, indeed, in other countries as well. The Mission has had a very flourishing evangelical flavour to it and it is on an evangelical note that I wish to address this house tonight.

Like the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), I am sure that hon. Members on both sides welcome this Measure, as I do. But I welcome it with certain reservations. If we require progress in our nation and in our lives, we must have progress in the Church as well. The mission of the Church is to reach and teach people, both the young and the not so young, and the Church and, indeed, this House, must not be afraid to experiment. But, in experiment, we must be careful not to split the atom. If we do split the atom then catastrophe must result. The atom must remain whole and intact. The atom in this context is, to my mind, doctrine.

Most references in this Measure are defined in Clause 9 but doctrine is not defined in that Clause. The doctrine of the Church of England is referred to four times in the Measure—in Clause 1, twice in Clause 4 and again in Clause 7. The last Parliament passed a Measure that was to my mind a retrograde step. This was the Vestures of Ministers Measure. Some people, including myself, did not and still do not accept that no significance or serious distinction attaches to the wearing of vestments. Similarly, I think that many ardent members of the Anglican Communion will attach great significance to the words: The doctrine of the Church of England". To many of us this doctrine is enshrined—indeed, it is enshrined—in the Thirty-Nine Articles and we have seen many deacons coming forward for ordination avowing upon the Thirty-Nine Articles and then saying that they do not mean to adhere to them. I contend that this is of fundamental importance.

Secondly, I draw attention to Clause 5 which says: Subject to the provisions of this Measure the Minister may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance in any form of Service prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer or authorised for use under this Measure according to particular circumstances. The important words here are: … use variations which are not of substantial importance … Pushed to its conclusion, that Clause could legalise variations by an incumbent either of his own making or utilising present illegalities. For instance, I consider that it would be possible for an incumbent to use services out of the 1928 Prayer Book.

That Prayer Book was rejected by this House and, therefore, an incumbent using a service from it would be going against the express wish of the House. In my view, strict control of the variations is necessary, and the hon. and learned Member has pointed out that it is possible.

Illegalities are going on at present, as we all know. If the services stay as they are, can we be sure that they will be safeguarded by the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measures? If we are to safeguard the reformed, Protestant nature of what I maintain is our greatest national heritage, the Church of England, these things must be enforced.

While giving my support to the Measure, I would plead for effective control, with adherence to the Thirty-Nine Articles. These Thirty-Nine Articles are based on Biblical truth. Biblical truth is the basis of our Christian faith.

With these reservations, I support the Measure.

7.40 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

It gives me immense pleasure to be able to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) on his maiden speech. I am particularly pleased to be able to do so, because the last time I went to the Church in Scotland it was in his constituency. I can also confirm what he said about his constituents being good church-goers. I am sure that the whole House will have appreciated the sincerity with which he delivered his maiden speech and the clarity and fairness with which he put his arguments. This is a topic on which it is very easy to become slightly overheated and those who sometimes get most heated are those who share the views which my hon. Friend expressed. It is, therefore, all the more creditable that he managed to hold the interest of the House so admirably.

I must confess a certain guilt in that when we were discussing the Jurisdiction Measure I got somewhat overheated myself on one occasion. I was very glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), whom I thank for the way in which he moved the Measure, say that nothing in this Measure undermined the force of the Jurisdiction Measure and that the implementation of this would depend on the use of the Jurisdiction Measure in extreme cases.

When we debated the Jurisdiction Measure, on 16th July, 1963, I made some remarks to which some exception was taken, not only by clergy in my constituency, but by the Archbishop himself. He was kind enough after that to address a letter to me and there was one passage in it relevant to what we are discussing tonight. I had referred to the Archbishop's remarks on his enthronement in Canterbury when he had, as I thought, indicated that if Parliament were now to prevent the Church from making certain reforms in its canon law, particularly those concerning the conduct of its services, it would not be tolerable for the Church to remain established. I thought that that was at least the inference of his remarks.

Perhaps I had misunderstood when I heard him on television making his address on that occasion and when reading the report in indirect speech in The Times afterwards. Perhaps I misunderstood the measure of freedom for which the Church was asking. The Archbishop pointed out that he had never asked for complete freedom, but only for greater freedom than the Church had at that time. Of course I fully accept that qualification—that it is greater freedom and not complete freedom for which the Church is asking.

My difficulty arises from the fact that so many people are acting in flagrant contravention of the law as it stands and it is not over-encouraging to those who regret that the law is being broken to feel that more alternatives are now to be given. If this Measure is taken to the full extent of what it permits, I suspect what otherwise would have been infringements of the law as it stands will be far fewer than is now the case in many churches.

However, the biggest question which all this begs is whether, if the Measure is passed and certain new alternative forms of service are introduced and accepted by the Church and generally adopted later, those whose practices in their churches have been wholly beyond what these alternative services permit will now come back and comply at least with the alternative forms of service. The enforcement of that must rely on the new Jurisdiction Measure and the discipline which the bishops can impose from it.

I have no hesitation in saying that the Bishop of Ely would have the greatest reluctance ever to have to resort to the use of that Measure in the Diocese of Ely, but that it exists cannot now be denied. It is very unlikely that we would have many churches or parishes in that diocese affected by the experimental period. The need for the experimentation is likely to be more frequently expressed in those dioceses where there are large urban populations, while in the remoter country districts the need for the alternative forms of service will be less.

I had that very forcefully confirmed at a meeting which I had only last Friday morning with clergy from the Diocese of Ely and living in my constituency. I should like to take this opportunity to say that I found this meeting of immense help. Between 25 and 30 clergy were present and we had a very useful discussion about this Measure. But it must be appreciated that not all the clergy and very few members of the laity have yet fully apprehended what the Church Assembly has been doing in this connection.

I do not want at great length to debate who should be members of the House of Laity in the Church Assembly. Indeed, it would probably be out of order to do so. However, in saying what the laity want we have to recognise that in this context the only avenue which the laity has for saying what it wants is through the House of Laity, which is a somewhat diluted form of democracy for the average parishioner.

Members of the House of Laity who have been instrumental in urging this Measure—and certain parts of it are at the instigation of the House of Laity rather than the House of Clergy or the bishops—are enthusiasts. But how did they get there? The parochial church council chooses its delegate to the diocesan conference and the diocesan conference then chooses who should be the member of the House of Laity, but that member, strangely enough, need not even be a parochial church councillor. Members of the House of Laity are tremendous enthusiasts and take a great interest in the work of the Church, and all power to them for doing so. But we must recognise that all too often they are very remote from the parishioners in the parishes of the diocese which sent them to the House of Laity. If one took a cross-section of the average people, very few would know who was the local member of the House of Laity.

I regard this as a great pity and unnecessary. The only reason I raise the matter tonight is because I hope that one of the things which will happen if we pass this Measure is that members of the House of Laity who took part in the discussions which led to the introduction of this Measure will use every avenue open to them to help the clergy in the parishes to make parishioners understand what is afoot. I have always been surprised that so few members of the House of Laity take the trouble to use the vehicle, for instance, of the parish magazines in the diocese which they represent to put across to parishioners what has been happening in the Church Assembly.

Probably it was a wise decision not to arouse intense feeling in the parochial church councils or among parishioners until such time as this Measure was either passed or not passed. I am sure that, although very little has been done up to now, it will be the intention of the clergy in the dioceses to ensure that the parishioners are better informed about these Measures. But, as I say, the number of selected parishes which will have a two-year experimental period will not be great. I think also that it is probably true to say that, generally speaking, they will be urban rather than rural parishes.

It should be of interest to many parishes outside the ones selected to know what is being done, how it is being accepted and whether it is causing resentment among the older parishioners. If only those who are most vociferous in resenting change would take the trouble to look at the Prayer Book in detail, they would find, as the hon. and learned Member for Brigg indicated, that there are many variations of it today. Many things are left out. I should say that the errors are ones of omission rather than insertion. The order in which things are done is varied frequently.

For instance, it is illegal for the banns of marriage to be read when they usually are read. They should be read after the second lesson. I cannot believe that it matters very much when they are read, as long as they are read. But these minor variations are illegal as the law stands.

There is the splendid Athanasian Creed which is supposed to be recited on many days of the Church's Year—Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and many Saints' Days. The Athanasian Feast has always had that' splendid title which tickles my fancy, Quicunque vult. That is hardly ever said in church today and it may be it is because people do not like the penultimate verse, which says … they that have done evil" shall be cast "into everlasting fire". Nobody likes to be cast into everlasting fire, and I know that Hell is no longer fashionable in Church thinking—more is the pity. If people stuck to the Bible, they would find it very hard to leave Hell out of it.

However, the fact remains that even in the ordinary morning service many things are done which are illegal and yet people propound that we must adhere to the 1662 Prayer Book, as though it was being adhered to now. Of course it is not. In the Communion Service and others there are many variations.

Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

My hon. Friend must think it strange to modern ears that we should pray that people should indifferently administer justice.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I am all for giving certain words whose meanings have changed in usage a new meaning which at least has the right implication. However, I hope that there is one word which will be left in and which is all too often changed, "lively". It is better than "living" and is much more gay. Minor points like that which come under the heading of "not substantially important" can be adjusted without too much palaver.

There is one feature of the Prayer Book which I should like to see used more often, and that is the Catechism. The rubric in the Catechism says: The Curate of every Parish shall diligently upon Sundays and Holy days, after the second lesson at evening prayer, openly in the church instruct and examine so many children of his Parish sent unto him as he shall think convenient in some part of this Catechism". I sometimes wonder whether we should have the juvenile delinquency which we have today if that had been done regularly over the years.

There are many other aspects of the Prayer Book which are all too little known by the average member of the laity. My feeling from the discussion which I had with the clergy in Ely last Friday was that the occasional offices to which the hon. and learned Member for Brigg referred are the ones most likely to be altered first. The Bishop of Ely indicated that he thought that probably the Baptism Service and the Churching of Women were the two which would be altered before the Communion was altered. Perhaps there is a division of opinion on that and it may vary from diocese to diocese. But my feeling is that we might well take note of what happened in Kenya because there the Prayer Book has been considerably brought up to date.

One of the clergymen in the Isle of Ely lived in Kenya for some time and he was able to tell us last Friday that the way that they went about the matter in Kenya was to introduce, first in pamphlet form, the alternative forms of some of the occasional services and then, much later, when they had got into customary use embody a complete Prayer Book and bring that into use. It was done gradually, and the point was made—it is a sound one, I think—that what is in the Statute is not the only thing which matters; custom is also of immense importance.

Looking at our proceedings here, we must agree, I think, that much of the statute law with which we have to deal has been amended or introduced as a result of custom having made it necessary. It would be well for the Church to bear that in mind.

In other words, I hope that this experimental period will not be hurried too much and that the custom will be allowed to grow which will eventually become widely shared and then there will be much less trouble in achieving final and complete embodiment of the various changes. But if there are to be only three or four years before Parliament is asked to confirm it for all time, there will be a great deal of trouble. I should like to see the custom established, accepted and liked.

It is only fair to say that, although I am satisfied that the vast majority of the clergy in my constituency wish this Measure to be passed, there are other opinions, and I think that I should quote from a letter which I received from one of the rectors in my constituency. He said: The tendency of all revisions is to place more and more authority (and grants of permission) in the hands of Bishops. I regard this as a thoroughly bad thing. The last time I went through the proposed revision of the Canon Law I calculated that if I in this parish obeyed the letter of the proposed Canons, I should have to write to the Bishop about once a fortnight for matters of his decision where I, as incumbent, knew all the facts and persons, and he knew nothing. I consider that the rule to be observed is: Pass no measures which will increase the Bishop's authority or discretion, but trust the incumbents. All of us know that some members of the clergy perhaps enjoy being outspoken for the sake of argument, and my correspondent in this case admits that he is. Nevertheless, he stresses the two basic rules that he regards as essential and think that they are important. We probably agree entirely with the first one: The parish system of the Church must be retained and strengthened. It has served the nation wonderfully well since the reign of King John and to throw it aside is madness. I should have thought that the obvious effect of this Measure would be to strengthen the parish. It ought to help the incumbent to have a bigger congregation and it should make it possible for people to come to church who now feel that the services are so archaic that they are not interested.

In discussing the matter with the clergy in my constituency, I have found that, although we may be regarded as a fairly remote rural area, some of them have already noticed that young people are coming to them and asking for a more up-to-date form of service. Almost in the same breath, however, someone else will tell me that the young are just as fond of the old services as are the older parishioners.

What we have to face is that in the experimental period at least, the old and the new must go side by side. It would be a great mistake if in introducing the alternative form of service in the experimental period, that were the only form of service available. To me, this would be a tragedy if it resulted, as in some cases it could do all too easily, in older parishioners drifting away and going outside their parish. My feeling is that in introducing this Measure and the alternative form of service, the Church will be very wise to be as compassionate as possible in its approach to the matter. Where the real difficulty is likely to arise is when matters of doctrine become involved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff mentioned the Articles of religion. There are, for example, Canon J. D. Pearce Higgins, in 1963, and Canon Montifiore, now of Great St. Mary's at Cambridge. Both of them, on taking up their new jobs, one at Southwark and the other at Cambridge, protested that they did not agree with certain of the Articles. Each of them has his own special dislikes. For example, Canon Montifiore does not like Article 13, whilst Canon Pearce Higgins does not like Articles 4, 10, 11, 12 and especially 17. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff said, they are all based on the Bible. It is difficult to understand how some of these exceptions are taken by people who, nevertheless, are perfectly happy about the Creed. Where the difficulty will arise, if it ever does, will be where the alternative form of service runs the gauntlet on the really thin edge dividing one interpretation of the doctrine from another.

Bearing in mind the different denominations that have existed in the Christian world, one sees that inevitably there will be certain alternative forms of service which some will regard as infringing doctrine whereas others will not. This is where the rub is likely to come if it comes at all. I hope again, therefore, that everything will be done exceedingly gradually and with a sense of compassion and understanding. I gather that in the Diocese of Ely an advisory committee is being set up to advise on what should be included in the interpretation under Clause 5 of the variations which are not of substantial importance. It is important to recollect that not only will the Measure which we are considering affect people beyond the shores of England, but also that the Church of England itself has been trying to work more and more closely with the Methodist Church. I am certain that there is a vast wealth of good will inside the Church of England that realises that it would be hardly fair to expect the followers of John Wesley to come back and work with the Church of England if the Church of England itself is to perpetuate the very things which made John Wesley break away from it. Indeed, it would be a pity if in whatever we do about this Measure we were to overlook the importance of realising that the Free Churches, the Methodists particularly, and the Church of England have been working together for some time and are coming closer. Do not let us spoil this progress by starting to be inflammatory over this Measure.

I am convinced that the Church of England is sensible enough not to overstretch the limit of endurance of the followers of John Wesley. I want to see those two Churches brought together. Indeed, in the Isle of Ely, where we have a strong Methodist representation among the population, one of my major intentions has always been to avoid saying anything that will divide the Church further away from the Methodists than it was in days gone by. I have, I hope, done something ,to try to bring the two together. Certainly, anything I do in connection with this Measure will be done realising the need the whole time to complete the process of coming together.

It is for that reason that I hope that the House will pass this Measure. I have thought about it a very great deal. As I tried to indicate when discussing the Jurisdiction Measure, I was brought up very "low church" indeed. There are many things which the high churchmen like having in their churches which I find either utterly meaningless or occasionally very irritating. Nevertheless, I hope that I have learnt by experience not to become too unselfish about it and that certain things which mean a great deal to some people mean very little to me. That is how I approach this Measure.

I do not wish to be a bigot about it, but I should like to recall a paragraph from a document which most of us were sent at the time when these Measures were first being mooted. It was a booklet called "Firm Foundation" by Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Smith, a former Chief of the Imperial General Staff in Cairo during the war, a man for whom many of us have very great respect. Towards the end of that document, he stated: Revision is in the air again and, while it is hoped that the many improvements in the 1928 book may find their way into any new liturgy—all changes must be tested both in the Book of Common Prayer and in the canons, by the Word of God. The temptation to trim our worship to fit in with personal whims is ever present. The plausible argument that men and women should be allowed to worship God in the way they like, is dangerous for in St. John's Gospel we are told that our worship must be 'in spirit and in truth'. It cannot be 'in spirit' if what 'I want' clashes with what the Holy Spirit wants, and it cannot be 'in truth' unless it conforms to Biblical teaching. The only plea I would make is that in making these alternative forms of service consistent with the doctrine, the doctrine of the Bible should be regarded as being quite as important as the doctrine of some churchmen. They do not always coincide. Let us hope that in the future they always will.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

I am grateful for this chance of saying a few words about this Measure. I very much appreciated what was said by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Baker). His speech was a very reasoned one for a maiden speech, and I congratulate him on it.

I rise to speak as a member of the House of Laity of the Church Assembly, and thus one who had a part to play in the construction of this Measure in the Assembly—a minor part it is true—and I am grateful for the chance of debating it here. I am also a diocesan reader in this beloved Church of England, so I may well have to put into practice some of the changes that might take place in the future. It is not often that one is in at the beginning of a Measure, seeks to help it through the House, and finally seeks to put it into practice in our parishes. This is a great honour, and this makes me very interested in this Measure and of course makes me have a great concern for it in every detail.

I believe that this Measure is long overdue. The Church of England is one of the last Churches in the Anglican Communion to make a revision of the Liturgy. The Church of England is very slow to change, and has this habit, as I have seen in the Church Assembly, of appointing endless committees and having endless arguments before anything is done. It reminds me of the rather unkind story that I heard, that the Church of England, when it hears the last trump, will set up a committee to see whether it is the last trump, or the one before the last.

But now we have action. Now we have finished with the committees, and we have action, and I welcome this Measure as long as certain of the most important parts of it, and as long as certain doctrines, are maintained. Let us look again at Clause 1 which refers to every such form of Service being in their opinion neither contrary to nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England. This is vital to the future of the Church of England, let alone to the future of this Measure. It is true that in these days "some would remove the landmarks", but our doctrine of the Church of England is a landmark which must be preserved, and I believe that this doctrine is based on the Thirty-Nine Articles and indeed on Biblical authority.

Our doctrine must always be based on Scripture, as it is now. I believe that there must be no wavering from this standard, and so I hope that these experimental services, which I welcome, will be based on scriptural truths. To my mind in some: cases this was overlooked in the 1928 Prayer Book, and I believe that most people are glad that that Prayer Book was not ratified.

To my way of thinking, the old 1662 Prayer Book is a good basis from which to start. Of course, it needs bringing up to date. It is not perfect. It needs additions, and so on. New forms of service must be added, but it was scriptural. It was the anchor of our beliefs for many years, and I believe that in these days there is a strong threat to this anchorage. I believe it is right that there should be these experimental services, but let us get the scriptural doctrines right—the call to confession, the fact of sin, the absolution, the justification by faith, and so on. This thread runs right through the 1662 Prayer Book, and I believe that this must be a basis for future Prayer Books and experimental services. I therefore make a strong plea for these experimental services to be based on Holy Scripture.

Many people have contacted me over this Measure, and I should like to read a letter from the Church of England Evangelical Committee. It is from Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Smith, who I believe was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). He says While welcoming the latitude to alter our Liturgy to make it more in keeping with the needs of the day, this Measure does away with the principles of uniformity and the safeguards thereof."— I am not inclined to agree with that. There are consequent dangers lest the additional freedom is abused and practices, which have not the authority of Holy Scripture creep in and become consolidated. It is that last phrase which is so important— which have not the authority of Holy Scripture creep in and become consolidated. I believe that there is a real danger in this, and I am not at all afraid to state that unless our services and our Prayer Book, and indeed our lives, are based on this solid rock of the foundation of Holy Scripture we are in grave peril.

Clause 2 contains the phrase subject to the control and supervision of the Bishop of the Diocese … This is absolutely right. It places a great responsibility on bishops, but it is right to do so, for they are our advisers in God, and they are the shepherds of the flock. It means great discretion for them in this control and supervision, and I hope they will remember that all shades of churchmanship must be taken into account and respected by them. This places a great responsibility on their shoulders, but I believe that it is right to do so, and I hope that there will be strict control and supervision. There is far too much latitude at the moment.

What we do not want at the moment is complete uniformity of service to the very letter, but unity of spirit, unity of aim, and unity of services based on scripture. I think that if there are too many experimental services going on at one time, there is a danger that people will be confused. A person may have followed one type of service in his church for many years. He may have had a chance to take part in one of these experimental services. He may then move to another area, and find that the service is different. This is something which we must watch. We must make haste slowly, and not have too many experiments being conducted at one time. This is the Church of England, and when people move around the country they have a right to expect a service which they can understand and appreciate.

I welcome Clause 3, which is very important. I hope that the P.C.C.s will play their part in this. Too often they are asleep, and do not awake to their responsibilities. Quite often after a meeting of my own P.C.C. I hear a tremendous amount of talk and chitter outside, but very little is said at the meeting itself. Much is proposed about what they are going to say, but when it comes to it they do not say very much. This is their chance. They should take a live part in criticising, helping and advising their incumbents when these experimental services come to their churches. If they agree to them I hope that they will give them their full support, so that the entire parish may work together to make these changes a real success.

Clause 5 provides for minor variations in the conduct of private prayer. I welcome this. As a lay reader in the Church of England I confess that I have been doing many things which are illegal. I have been leaving out things and adding things, Sunday by Sunday. Most readers do this. Now we have a chance to get the matter right. I am sure that this provision will be welcomed not only by the readers—who are playing an ever-increasing part in the maintenance of church services in the countryside—but also by the incumbents. In the countryside this is very important—perhaps even more important than in the towns. We must have these changes and experiments in the services.

I welcome the Measure with one proviso—a most important one. To me the Measure stands or falls on the question whether the fundamental doctrine of the Church of England is preserved. If it is, I welcome the Measure and wish it every success.

8.21 p.m.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) on his maiden speech. By a curious coincidence, when I made by maiden speech about 15 years ago one of the first to congratulate me was my hon. Friend's predecessor, Sir William Duthie. I made my maiden speech on the subject of inshore fishing, and Sir William was a great expert on it. I would not congratulate my hon. Friend on the choice of subject for his maiden speech. It is not an easy one on which to make a maiden speech. I hope that his constituents will understand that the whole House appreciated my hon. Friend's clarity and sincerity, and the fact that he chose to address the House of Commons for the first time upon a subject of great importance. It shows that he puts first things first.

I cannot join with those who have welcomed the Measure, although I agree with much of what has been said. Not all the eloquence and lucidity of the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), who introduced it, can persuade me that this is other than a sad occasion. Whatever the hon. Member may say, this is the beginning of the end of Parliamentary control over public worship in the Church of England. Secondly, it is the beginning of the end of Common Prayer as we know it. I find it sad that so few people—even in this House, and certainly outside it—seem to care about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) talked about the doctrine of the Church of England and the importance of the fact that it is founded upon the Holy Scriptures and is embodied and expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of religion. One of the great things about the Church of England is that when the Thirty-Nine Articles of religion were drawn up in the great Reformation Synod they were drawn in such a form that they permitted within the Church of England a fairly wide diversity of view. They ensured that the Church of England was sufficiently comprehensive to contain within it people who approached some of the great questions of theology from different standpoints.

If we study the Thirty-Nine Articles we cannot complain that they do not contain room for a diversity of religious thought. What the Articles ensured was that however different might be the approach of different people to some of the great fundamentals of the Faith, at least they could all worship together, according to a common form; that at least in the services of worship of God they could say the same things, even though they might interpret them differently and although to one the words might mean something different from what they meant to another. At least it was possible for people to worship together.

No one would hold that the 1662 Prayer Book should not be revised. The magnificence and beauty of the Tudor English is unfortunately a barrier to a great many people, especially young people, who are not accustomed to understand things written in Tudor English and who, while they may appreciate the beauty of the language, might not understand the words as they should be understood. There is every need for a revision of the Book of Common Prayer, but such revision should be in the direction of modernising its language where the necessity arises—modernising it so that it can cater for certain forms of service which the old Book did not cater for. There are many ways in which it could be improved.

But one way in which it will not be improved is by this Measure. I believe that at the end of the 14 years there will be no chance for Common Prayer. I do not believe that it will be possible. The hon. Member who introduced the Measure said that at the end of fourteen years there would be two alternatives—first, to revert to the Prayer Book of 1662, and secondly, to come back to Parliament. I suggest that there is a third alternative, which is to revert to the law as it is now, namely, to the Prayer Book of 1662, but with chaos in practice. I am afraid that this is what will happen. I find it inexpressibly sad to have to predict that it will happen.

Instead of a common form of prayer throughout the whole of the Church of England, we shall have experimental services going on in one direction in one church and in another direction in another. People will move more and more apart. This Measure is diversive rather than unifying. It will steadily—I deeply regret to have to predict this—break up the Church of England into sectors. I believe that it will destroy the possibility of an ultimate common worship. It is tragic that in an age when we are looking for Christian unity among the Churches such a foolish precedent should be established.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I should be grateful if my hon. and gallant Friend would assist us a little further. He is at one with those in favour of the Measure that this wonderful heritage, the Book of Common Prayer, should be brought up to date. He has been critical of the Measure and the method now adopted. He is critical, I understand it, of the method of what one might call the block new Book, as in 1928. What other methods does he feel were open to the Church?

Captain Orr

I should not object to a new Book at all. There was a great deal in the 1928 Prayer Book. What was wrong with it was that under the new guise of modernisation it sought to make changes to the detriment of the Church of England. Provided a new Book were produced which did not make changes in the fundamental doctrines of the Church of England and did not appear to do so, or did not offend the consciences of people who tend to worship under the old Book, I should not be at all against a new Book of Common Prayer.

There is only one thing about this Measure which I would commend, and that is Clause 3. At least it preserves this element of democracy within the Church in that it requires the parochial church council's consent. I do not feel that this is an occasion for a long speech. I feel a sense of inexpressible sorrow, and I regard the passage of this Measure with the deepest regret.

8.32 p.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), I wish to be brief, but I should like to pick up one or two of the points which have been made in the discussion in the hope that it may be helpful in our consideration of this Measure. Like my hon. and gallant Friend and other hon. Members, I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) on his maiden speech. I should like also to congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), who, I think, made his "maiden speech" in his present appointment, in which I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish him well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff made an extremely serious assertion which should, I think, in a friendly way be picked up at once. He made it obviously with absolute sincerity, but I think he is seriously mistaken. His assertion was based on Clause 5 of the Measure dealing with variations not of "substantial importance". He argued that immediately upon this Measure receiving the Royal Assent the 1928 Prayer Book would become, as it were, a legalised document. Quite apart from the fact that common sense would lead one to suppose that it could hardly be that so major a deviation would by this Clause be legalised, I am able to remind my hon. Friend of the words—though I may not quote them verbatim—of the Archbishop of Canterbury in another place when this Measure was discussed there; that such an interpretation unquestionably is wholly wrong; that the 1928 Prayer Book would have no more and no less authority than any other "experimental" service—if I may use that adjective in quotation marks; although I agree, it having been in existence for some years, it is likely, in part at least, to form part of one or other of the experimental services, but subject strictly to the safeguards set out in the first parts of this Measure, and most emphatically not by the operation of Clause 5.

If my hon. Friend, as I can well understand, is doubtful of my authority in saying that, perhaps he will take it as a correct interpretation by the Primate of what will become the law. I would also like to suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), to whose speech we listened with so much interest, that it is, in some dioceses, the practice to circulate to the laity an epitome of the work of the Church Assembly. He will know that there is produced by the Church Information Office an excellent regular epitome which, certainly in my Diocese of Oxford, is widely read and circulated. We are therefore fully able to read of the work of such persons as my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Mills) who work in the House of Laity. I am quite certain that he is right that it is even more important that this work should be widely known at present.

Finally, no one who has ever listened to these debates can possibly doubt the burning sincerity of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South and others when talking of their fundamental belief in the doctrines of the Church of England. But would it not be fair of me to point out that the state of affairs which they envisage is that a service will be authorised for experimental use, which is contrary to the doctrines of the Church of England or deviates very seriously, that that deviation will be approved by both Houses of both Convocations by a two-thirds majority, that that deviation will also be authorised by the House of Laity by a two-thirds majority, and, finally, that in the experimental period it will be accented as practice by a parochial church council by a simple majority. I accept that, legally, all these things are possible, but is it not fair to say that in so far as it is possible to safeguard these matters in legal language—which is what we are discussing—all these safeguards tend to reinforce the view that it would be almost inconceivable under these circumstances that a service which no one beyond a tiny minority of people believed was contrary to the doctrine of the Church could be authorised for experimental use?

I believe that such is the tradition of the Church that, if there were even a tiny minority—minorities are very important—who had a case of what at any rate they believe to be substance, it would be far more likely that these various bodies would take a conservative position in authorising experiment than that they should do the contrary. I would hope very much that those fears need not be unduly aroused, for it is common ground between us that, lovely and magnificent though the heritage of Common Prayer may be, and it is one which the Church of England is proud to share with others—for example, it is one upon which other Churches are drawing at exactly this moment—it is simply not fair to ask the clergy and the laity, both of whom have important parts to play, to use what was described in another place as the "blunted sword" of ancient language. However lovely and beautiful, it is for many a source of difficulty and a barrier in what ought to be something which unites all, whether they be young or old.

This is what the Church is surely asking for. In answer to my intervention, my hon. Friend expressed the view that it would have been better to do what I will loosely call another 1928, in the sense that the Church should once again have set to work and produced a complete book. That would have been a possible solution, but bearing in mind the immense difficulty and controversy of the last occasion, bearing in mind the acknowledged mistakes of the last occasion, bearing in mind, surely, the traditions of the Church in making its experimental changes over its history very slowly and very carefully indeed, is it not more reasonable, in fact, to test each proposition slowly and carefully and under very closely controlled conditions for very limited periods of time—as limited they are in the history of this Church and the House? After all, what is 14 years in such history? It seems to me to make sense that we should take very slow and cautious steps by way of practical experimental change.

I am afraid that I get a bit irritated at times when I read criticisms of the Church of England, when I read spread-eagled articles of failure often written by people who have no right to parade failure like that. I have said in the House before, and I repeat, that I am one of the innumerable hon. Members who keep closely in touch with the parishes in my constituency, and there is far more lively work, to use the phrase of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely, going on in the Church throughout the dioceses than there is dead wood.

But the laity and the clergy are crying out to be given a controlled freedom to bring their forms of worship into the twentieth century and beyond it. They are not asking for a complete carte blanche. Such would be unreasonable and wholly out of keeping with the obligations—and they are obligations—of establishment which the Church accepts, along with the privileges. But they are looking to the House for that very limited measure of freedom which, personally, I hope we shall tonight be prepared to grant them.

8.43 p.m.

Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)

Perhaps one ought to begin by saying a word of thanks to the Whips. We have complained on previous occasions of their habit of putting this sort of business on at a time when all honest men are in bed, and I think we may be grateful for having got this debate as far back in the day as this. I should like the Ministers to listen to me for a minute or two longer. I know that this is not Government business, but I am addressing myself to the Whips. I should like, if I may, to beg them not to weary in well-doing and I hope that, having got us far enough back for this debate to leave us a hope of getting to bed at a decent time, next time they will try to get us a bit further back so that we may have some hope of dining.

I would not go on further at this moment if I did not feel uniquely qualified to address the House on this occasion, partly because the real and literal centre of my diocese is the home of Cranmer, about whom we are all talking all the time, and partly because my great great grandmother came from Banff, which has dominated the debate. Availing myself of that qualification, I want to ask two or three questions. I apologise to those who have been present throughout the debate, because I may be repeating what was said by others more or less allusively.

I wish to put a few questions to the House, but somewhat more directly than they have been put so far. These discussions are riddled through and through with paradoxes. The function and method is paradoxical. Part of the paradox is that we have nobody here in charge of the debate and there is in no sense a Minister present to answer our questions. We cannot ask for assurances or advice on administrative matters at all effectively. Nevertheless, I wish to put some questions and I will do so as though there were a Minister present to answer them.

We have been told that at the end of the seven or 14 year period, whichever it is, we shall be left with the alternative of either the 1962 Book or, in any particular parish or even generally, such variations as have been experimented with and approved. I think that I am right so far. I agree that, on the whole, we should pass the Measure, but, if so, what we hope for would seem to presume a very elaborate administrative preliminary.

We all know—indeed, we have been told this repeatedly today—that at present in practically every parish there is a wide variety of variations, some substantial—an unfortunate word, I do not hesitate to say—and some not so substantial; but either way, a great many of them. Considering the prospect before us—the "either-or" prospect which we have been told about—we must begin by having a Domesday Book of the variations; by knowing what the variations are in, for example, Alford, and by saying, "No, old boy. Those are all off. You cannot go on with those because you have had them for the last seven or 17 years, whatever it may be. You must now make a list of the variations you now want and those will be registered as experimental".

I do not see how it can be done but by this method. If we are not going to perform the task I have indicated in the way I have indicated, how is it to be done? Unless somebody is clear about that before the Measure begins to be effective, there will be trouble. Ecclesiastical troubles are always more bitter than other troubles, because everybody always feels that they are more sure on this subject than they are on other matters. They tend to say, "We are all right, we have been doing God's work", while they say, "But someone else has cheated a bit". It is that feeling of having been frustrated by cheating that makes people bitter, and makes them cheat, too.

Of this sort of thing there are old and new examples of what happens, and it is a commonplace of ecclesiastical history. I have no doubt that it is older than Christian history. It is the oldest thing in Christian controversy. I believe that it will happen again, but with a much greater variety, both local and doctrinal, unless there are some answers given to the questions I am asking.

My second question concerns the "safeguards". The main topic about which I wish to speak on this issue is the parish church council. One of my hon. Friends who served on one of these councils and other ecclesiastical assemblies has already told how when members of them are on their way to meetings of parish church councils they are all chattering and chittering away like billy-ho about their plans and how they will tell the rector where he gets off and how our souls depend on this, that and the other. However, when they get there most of them say very little indeed. I have not sat on a council, only at lea afterwards, and sometimes heard them all making precisely this complaint—for contradictory reasons, often.

How are the bishops to make sure that parochial agreement in these matters is real, and is felt by the participants to be real? Unless we make sure of that, we shall get continual charges and countercharges of cheating. I must add something else I think true—and I say it in no anti-clerical spirit, whatever. I think that the rector, who is more concerned with the business before the parish church council than anyone else as a rule, as he should be, and is very often the most educated and intelligent man in the matter, also as he should be, is often apt not to be as self-critical as semi-honest politicians like us. When here we are fixing dates or the moment or the form of the vote to be taken, some of us always do it perfectly honestly. Those who do not do it perfectly honestly, unless they are half-wits, know when they are not doing it perfectly honestly, because this is a trade with a technique with which we are deeply familiar.

Parish church councils are superior to us in some respects but in respect of conscious technique they are our inferiors, and I feel sure that it is right to ask at this stage that there should be assurances from the ecclesiastical authorities, first of all, on the first point I have put, and, secondly, on this point that they are really to Indoctrinate and cross-examine incumbents to make sure that they understand that intellectual honesty in these matters is a deeply necessary spiritual quality, not easily got hold of; and that if it is not go hold of, this attempt to get rid of controversy and bitterness is likely in the end to do more harm than good.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)

Perhaps I may preface my remarks, as many of my hon. Friends have done, by extending congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) on his excellent maiden speech. Ecclesiastical debates—although this is only the third one at which I have been present—tend to become somewhat heated, and logic tends to suffer accordingly. That was not the case with my hon. Friend's excellent maiden speech. He was extremely logical and coherent—and I add that I could not have agreed more with what he said.

The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) opened the debate with all the eloquence and plausibility of a member of his profession. His case was extremely skilfully presented, but certain words appear in this Measure which cause me as much anxiety as they cause those of my hon. Friends who have referred to them. I am thinking of such words as "doctrine", "substantial importance", and—perhaps worst of all—"in their opinion". These words really frighten me, and in spite of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking-ham (Mr. van Straubenzee) I should like a categorical assurance that this Measure will not give scope to members of the clergy who are liturgically mischievous—because there are quite a number of such gentlemen.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) expressed the hope, and I am sure that we all share it, that the ultra wayward will be brought back into the flock if this Measure goes through. I cannot wholly agree with the desire of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) to modernise the English of the Book of Common Prayer. There are a tremendous number of people, of whom I am one, whose first appreciation of, and love for, the English language stems from the phraseology of the Book of Common Prayer, and from the music and rhythm of the words of that superb book.

Again, tonight there comes before Parliament yet another example of these piecemeal Measures. Times without number items have been presented in isolation, each very important, but perhaps they would have been seen to be even more important if they could have been studied in the context of a whole. I recall that in the last Parliament two Measures were presented about which I felt particularly heated. They came as individual items. I do not think that, with the best will in the world, we can appreciate the whole significance of these Measures unless we can see the whole picture. If my memory serves me correctly, there are to be 14 of these Measures in total, of which we have probably seen four or five.

I share the misgivings of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South, who spoke of the fear and likelihood of fragmentation amongst congregations arising as a result of this Measure. Are we sure that this is not yet another sop to those who have consistently engaged in illegal ecclesiastical practices? As an Anglican, I have believed, and I still passionately believe, that the Book of Common Prayer is the sheet anchor of this branch of Christendom, that it is the one point upon which all sections of the Anglican faith converge in unity and for guidance, that it is in fact the quintessence of the wisdom and unity of our faith.

Now it is to be regretted that there is the distinct possibility that the Book of Common Prayer, certainly in the form in which we have known it hitherto and the form in which our forefathers knew it, is not to continue in the form in which we would have liked to see it continue. Is it to become the symbol of a bygone age? I hope that it will not become such a symbol, but nevertheless I have my profoundest misgivings that it will do so.

Are we sure that this is not yet another trend away from the principles and ideals of the Reformation? Nobody in the House has an abhorrence of progress, least of all myself, but are we sure that we are not, under the guise of entering the 20th century, going back to the 14th or 15th centuries? This is more than a possibility, particularly in the light of the Measures which have gone before this one, the Holy Table Measure and the Vestures of Ministers Measure, which by no stretch of the imagination could be regarded as progressive. As this Measure comes on the heels of those two, one has the gravest doubt whether this Measure is not similarly geared.

Hon. Members have spoken of the need for Church unity. This again is something which strikes a common chord in us all. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely made particular reference to the conversations taking place between the Anglican and Methodist Churches which everyone would like to see come to a successful conclusion. When people talk of Church unity, it fascinates me to consider what they mean by "Church unity". Are we talking of unity with our brothers and sisters in the Free Churches, or are we not? To my mind, this is what we should be talking about. Therefore, Measures such as this, which present a real danger of drawing away from unity with our fellow reformed Churches, are to be deeply regretted. If this Measure leads, or if any of these Measures lead, to a breaking down or other retarding of these conversations between the Free Churches, it is most definitely to be regretted.

Although the Measure has been substantially less glamorous than perhaps was the Vestures of Ministers Measure, or even the Holy Table Measure, nevertheless this Measure is probably the most significant and fundamental of all that we have seen so far. I am very concerned that we should be prepared to give into the hands of ecclesiastical dignitaries powers which, if we were discussing matters temporal, we would never in our wildest moments give to Ministers of the Crown. The Measure contains words such as "doctrine", "substantial importance", and "in their opinion". During the short period in which I have been in the House I do not recall that any Minister of the Crown has got away with the expression "in his opinion" in a Bill.

Then we come to what one might almost describe as Jesuitical dialectic, the word "experimental". This is something which, in the context of the other words which have been used, causes me some anxiety.

Clause 3, the parish council Clause as I will call it, is the only redeeming feature of this Measure. The Church of England expresses the opinions of a tremendous number of people, it embodies their feelings, aspirations, hopes and also perhaps their fears. We have heard many times of the unrepresentative nature of the Church Assembly. I shall certainly not be discourteous to my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) on this, but such have been the doubts expressed in the House about the nature of the representation on that Assembly that one must be careful about reading too much into the bald voting figures as they have been presented.

In the first paragraph of the introduction in the Appendix to the Comments and Explanations by the Legislative Committee on the Prayer Book (Alternative and Other Services) Measure, I take exception to the word "elasticity" which for the moment I cannot find in the document but which I know is there somewhere. This is another unfortunate word to use in an ecclesiastical context, because surely any well-organised Church has a book of rules, not necessarily too stringent, from which departure is not taken too lightly. Are we, therefore, by using such words as "elasticity" going to allow a situation of laissez faire in the Church of England? If we are, I am most disturbed as to what could be the consequences of it.

I think that it was the well-documented Paul Report to the Church Assembly a year or 18 months ago which expressed concern about the way in which the churchgoing membership of the Church of England was declining and called for steps to be taken to bring the wanderers back to the fold. Is this Measure which is likely to divide parish against parish and section against section even within a single congregation likely to accomplish what we all want to see, namely, an increase in the churchgoing public? I am concerned about this. The Church of England is basically evangelical at heart and the average congregation is not particularly impressed by the trappings and fripperies of some of the Measures which have come before this House. I think that it was the Rev. Johnston, Vicar of Islington, who detailed the three essential qualities of a good canon or Measure. He said that it should be scriptural, it should be pastorally beneficial and it should be uncontroversial. On the first two points one must have a certain degree of reservation when related to this Measure, and while this Measure has not been highly controversial in the House or in the Church Assembly one must have severe doubts about whether it would be similarly uncontroversial among the parishes of the land, which should be a matter of concern to us all.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

It would be courteous if I made one or two remarks in reply to the debate. I am certain that those who are responsible for bringing the Measure before the House will be extremely grateful for the tone in which it has been debated. It is just that sort of tone which I think a great many people feel is spreading at present. The ecumenical movement all over the world is gathering force, and there have been references in the debate to our brothers the Methodists. I am certain that what has transpired in the debate can do nothing but good towards helping on that movement.

There is not very much to which I ought to reply. This is not in any sense a statement derogatory to those who have been good enough to intervene in the debate. When I say that, I mean that so much that has been said has really been a bringing out of truths, a bringing out which was markedly helped, I thought, by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), in a speech which dealt to a certain extent with some of the points which have been raised in the debate and thereby saved me from doing it again.

The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) expressed two very strong fears which I can sum up in this way, that this would be the beginning of the end of Parliamentary control and the beginning of the end of Common Prayer. I can only give him my opinion on these matters, having looked as well as I may into the documents and all connected matters. I can only say that I believe him to be wrong on both counts. I know not whether it will give him comfort to hear that opinion, but I express it to him.

I dealt with the first point about Parliamentary control when I said that, at the end of period of experiment, whatever it might be, Parliament would have to be referred to again and would have the last word. I appreciate the point he makes that, if Parliament does not endorse the experiment, there will be a lapse back not to 1662 but rather into the chaos which would then be created by diversity of experiment which had been going on, but I can only reply that, when the Church comes back to Parliament at the end of the period of experiment, it will be for the very purpose of establishing a Common Prayer again after the experiments have taken place.

Captain Orr

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for what he has said, but does he envisage that, at the end of this period, one would see Parliament presented with a consolidating Measure, a new Book of Common Prayer? Is that the intention?

Mr. Mallalieu

I am unable to speak on behalf of the authorities in this matter, but, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman asks me the question, I should expect to find either a Measure or Measures brought before Parliament, and these Measures together, or the Measure, if there be only one, would result in the establishment once more of a Common Prayer. Therefore, I have no fears on either of the counts on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman so eloquently expressed his fears. I can only hope that I am right. I firmly believe that I am.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) had fears which he summed up in the sentence, "Are not we giving freedom to the very people who have abused it before?". In a sense, the right hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) entertained the same fear. He felt that there should be a "Domesday Book" made of all the existing illegal practices. In fact, this very thing is being done by the Archbishops' Liturgical Commission at the moment, and I have no doubt that, as a result of its efforts, conclusions will emerge which will be very useful in the experimental periods. I think that the "Domesday Book" which the right hon. Gentleman suggested is not, therefore, entirely necessary because those matters are already being largely dealt with.

This is a Measure of peace, a Measure which will bring peace and which will bring uniformity in the long run under the control of Parliament. There must be a certain amount of trust between Parliament and the Church. I hope that we shall give that trust now, during the experimental period, and I firmly believe that the trust will be repaid to Parliament. If, at the end of the time, the trust has not been repaid, Parliament is supreme and can do very much what it likes in the long run when the whole period of experimentation has come to an end. I earnestly hope, therefore, that the House will agree that this Measure should be sent forward for Her Majesty's Royal Assent.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Prayer Book (Alternative and Other Services) Measure, 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.