HC Deb 18 May 1965 vol 712 cc1352-5

10.45 p.m.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)

I beg to move, That the Benefices (Suspension of Presentation) (Continuance) 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. I think that I need detain the House for a very short time only about this matter. The Measure which it is sought to continue is one which concerns the reorganisation of parishes, and this is a continuous process. Owing to changes of population, or other causes, it is very often necessary to unite two benefices. Indeed, the Pastoral Measure of 1949 set up in each diocese a pastoral committee which, if I may use the Whitehall jargon which covers this matter, have the special duty to keep the suitability of parishes for the purpose for which they exist "constantly under review".

It may be very desirable, and may have been found to be desirable by all those whose interest it is to watch these matters, to unite parishes A and B for instance; and everyone may have agreed. But if one of the incumbents dies, and if there is a presentation to that particular benefice before the union has been effected, it may well be that the man who is presented will not agree, and can hold up the reorganisation of the parishes, that is, the fitting of the parishes for the work they exist to do.

Thus, it is plainly desirable to have some machinery to avoid that sort of thing, and in 1946 this machinery was introduced, and it has proved so successful that it has been renewed already, apart from being renewed again this evening if the House agrees to it.

There is before the Church Assembly at present a comprehensive Measure about pastoral reorganisation reform, and it will contain provisions which will allow for the suspension of presentation to a benefice in a case which is considered appropriate by the proper authorities. What the House is now being asked to do is to agree to a further extension of the life of this machinery which permits of the suspension of the right of presentation to a benefice to take place until 1970 at the outside. It is not considered that it will have a useful life as long as this because of the comprehensive Measure now before the Church Assembly; but it is given until 1970 to be certain that there is no gap in the existence of this machinery which has proved so useful.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)

I do not propose to detain the House for very long on this Measure. I have never made a secret of the fact that I do not think that the House should be detained at all on Measures of this kind. I would rather that we were relieved of this obligation, but, as long as we have it, we have to examine these proposals.

I am a little worried about the time scale. Here we have a Measure which, according to the Report of the Legislative Committee, was introduced to facilitate the pastoral reorganisation necessary after the war. That is why it was originally presented in 1946 for 10 years. It was then extended for a further 10 years, and now we are to extend it for a further five years. I know that "temporary" is a fairly wide term, but this seems to be carrying it to excess. For 25 years the church will have been acting under temporary legislation.

The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), who moved the Measure so amiably, said that further legislation was on the way, and this is referred to in the Legislative Committee's Report, but it seems extraordinary that we should be extending for a further five years, from December of this year to December 1970, provisions which were brought in as a temporary measure in 1946, when we know that a comprehensive measure is already before the Church Assembly. I know, as the hon. and learned Member knows, that the Church Assembly, like the mills of God, grinds extremely slowly, as well as extremely small, no doubt, but it seems to be carrying slowness to excess to provide for a further five years in this matter.

What I want to put to the hon. and learned Gentleman is this: without wishing to oppose the Measure I would like an assurance from the Church Assembly that this type of temporary Measure will be made permanent at the earliest possible moment. The hon. and learned Member has said that five years is the outside limit. Can he tell us what he thinks the actual term is likely to be? I should be very much happier to pass the Measure if I knew that the temporary legislation would be embodied in permanent legislation which we can examine in detail when it comes before us at a fairly early date.

I recall the number of debates that we have had on the various temporary statutory Measures—I believe that the hon. and learned Member has been involved in them. We have Measures brought in after the First World War for a period of one year which we are still extending for one year in the emergency powers legislation each year. We do not want the same position to arise in connection with this legislation. I therefore welcome the hon. and learned Member's assurance that there will be legislation at an early date—preferably before 1970—to embody this in statutory form.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

I welcome the Measure as a Member of the Church Assembly. I fully support it. I took part in its passage through the Church Assembly. I believe that it is essential to have a Measure like this in our changing pattern of church life. Because of my work as a reader no one knows more than I do that pastoral re-organisation is vitally important to our church life today.

I want to put three points to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The first is on the question of time. No parish likes waiting too long before the future of its church is settled. People begin to lose interest when they have to wait a long time, and I do not believe that this matter should be allowed to drift on and on and on, as it has tended to do. I know that there are problems which any bishop has to face in connection with this matter, but it must not be allowed to drift on.

Secondly, there is the tradition of these churches. This question applies to both High Church and Low Church. This point should be remembered. The tradition of these churches should be maintained in this reorganisation.

Lastly, there is the question of explanation. I believe that there has been much misunderstanding with these churches, because it has not been explained carefully what is happening. I therefore stress the importance of explaining very carefully to the parochial church councils what is happening in order to try to fit them into the plan that is taking place. Most parishioners will be prepared to accept the plan if it is explained, but without any explanation—and this is what has happened in the past—they feel rather put out. They do not understand what is going on.

With those three small but important points, I welcome the Measure, and look forward to the bigger Measure that is coming later.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

Perhaps I may briefly reply to the interventions of the two hon. Members opposite. It is true that the original legislation was brought in to deal with pastoral reorganisation which was found necessary after the war, but it has been found necessary even now; indeed, it has become fully recognised that it is likely to be a continuing need. Hence the proposed legislation which is now before the Church Assembly. I have no authority to give a date when it will be through that machine, but I know that it is the intention to press on with it with as much speed as possible.

As for the question of consultation with parochial church councils—this is obligatory. A bishop must consult the parochial church council before he can suspend in this way. If there have been instances in which he has not fully consulted it, or fully explained what he was doing, I am surprised, and am sorry to hear it.

There is no doubt whatever that he is obliged to consult the parochial church council before he acts under this Measure and I am sure that the remarks which have been made will come to the notice of bishops who have this duty to perform. I have no doubt that they will wish to act on them.

I am grateful that the House should feel inclined to pass this Measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Benefices (Suspension of Presentation) (Continuance) 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.