HC Deb 18 October 1976 vol 917 cc1025-74

7.22 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I beg to move, in page 8, line 9, at end insert:— '(3) In the event of there being any amendment made to the Deed of Union whereby the doctrinal standards as they existed at the passing of this Act are affected such amendment shall not prevent any minister, deaconess or local preacher ordained or admitted to such office in the church before the passing of this Act from preaching, expounding or otherwise maintaining the doctrinal standards as they existed at the passing of this Act'. The words of the amendment are a transitional conscience clause. That is what we are seeking to insert into the Bill, for reasons which I shall explain. There is no attempt on the part of those of us responsible for the amendment to block the Bill or to oppose the Bill as a whole, as will be apparent from the fact that the blocking motion which we had tabled, for procedural reasons, has not been proceeded with.

We are dealing with a quite specific point in a Bill which has had a more contentious passage than the promoters expected. It is right that Private Bills in this House, and the procedures for dealing with them, should not be a rubber stamp for approving the wishes of the promoters of such Bills. The proce- dures are designed to afford some protection for the various interests and views involved in private legislation. Over the years many of the Churches have had cause to seek the help of this House in enacting legislation enshrining the terms on which their property was held, and other relevant matters. That is the position of the Methodist Church.

There is Methodist Church legislation on the statute book now because Methodists asked for it. Now Methodists seek to amend it. There is some controversy between Methodists about how far that amendment should go, and it is for that reason that there has been some discussion. The aspect we are now looking at relates solely to the doctrinal provisions of the Bill—those provisions for changing doctrine.

I should explain the background to this. At first sight it seems a strange proposition that Parliament should be in any way involved with the doctrines of a free Church. But Parliament never made the choice to be involved or sought to determine what Methodist doctrine was. It was called in, so to speak, as the referee. When the three main strands of Methodism united in 1929 they specifically asked Parliament to include in the Bill which they then promoted the provision that the doctrinal statement of the Methodist Church could not be altered, which meant in practice that it could not be altered unless they came to Parliament with another Bill to do so. This was a safeguard for the contracting parties which was quite specifically sought by the Methodist Church at the time. They sought from Parliament the rôle of guarantor. It is a rôle that has been exercised entirely passively by Parliament ever since.

Most people assumed that Parliament would never again find itself considering the matter unless and until some change in doctrine was sought. But the Methodist Church leaders have taken a different view. They have now decided that they wish to remove the guarantee, although they say quite clearly, and I accept their word, that they have no intention of changing the doctrine. They simply wish to remove the safeguard and limitation and to have instead a purely internal procedure.

I do not believe that Parliament can contemplate removing that safeguard without first considering the position of those affected. That is the duty which Parliament owes to all the parties who contest, or become involved in arguments about, Private Bills. We must see that the various interests involved are properly considered. I emphasise that Parliament ought to have no wish to concern itself with what Methodist doctrine is or ought to be. That has nothing to do with this place and it is not what the 1929 Act envisaged. Parliament's rôle was simply that of guarantor or referee in a settlement made between various parties.

However, the responsibility of Parliament to look carefully at the safeguards and what replaces them remains whether we think Methodists were right or wrong to involve Parliament in this way in the first place. For my part, if I had been around in 1929 I do not think that I would have favoured the inclusion of the original provisions in the Bill. I would have been one of those who opposed the inclusion of a doctrinal statement in unalterable form in the Deed of Union to which Parliament gave its seal of approval. That is not the issue now. The issue now is that that having been the case over a long period of years, that safeguard having existed and been given to the various parties, can it be taken away without some consideration at least of the position of those who would be affected?

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in all probability the Deed of Union, as an attempt to bring together sections of the Methodist Movement that differed widely in concept, used Parliament as a catalyst, and that Parliament has the unenviable task of possibly being called in as an arbitrator in doctrinal matters unless the situation is changed?

Mr. Beith

I am glad to hear the hon. Member's contribution, because I know how much time he has devoted to the Bill and the great service that he rendered in Committee. I would change his analogy. I think that the contracting parties used Parliament not as a catalyst but as a guarantor. That is an important difference and an important concept in present ecumenical discussions, because situations will arise on other occasions when Churches and denominations, drawing together, will seek agreement and will then come to Parliament seeking to enshrine that agreement in legislation, so that the property of the various contracting Churches can be safeguarded and put on some common settlement.

Such parties will want some assurance that Parliament will not in future wipe away such safeguards without looking carefully at what it is doing and making sure that it is being fair to all the parties. The 1929 situation could return. We would be doing a disservice in our rôle as guarantor to that extent if we gave the impression that Parliament tossed these things lightly aside. Such an impression was not left by the Committee proceedings and I do not think it will be left tonight if the House considers carefully and fairly the terms of my amendment.

It is quite immaterial for the purposes of my argument in what direction any future doctrinal change may go. We do not know which section of the Church may consider itself adversely affected. We do not know whether—to use political terms which have a theologically different significance—the change will be in a conservative or liberal direction. We do not know who will be affected, whether a large or small minority. That is immaterial. The issue is what safeguard, if any, is required and how can it be provided?

The specific purpose of this amendment is not to deny in future to the Methodist Conference the ability, under special procedures, to change its doctrinal statement. It is not to deny to it what its leaders are now seeking—the removal of the old safeguard and freedom to make doctrinal changes by means of an internal procedure. The Committee on which the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) served made a significant amendment to the procedure and sought to ensure that discussion went down to the level of the local church. We must be grateful to the Committee for that sensible and constructive change. We do not seek to deny that power to Methodism, we seek simply to provide a transitional protection for those people, necessarily a diminishing number, who accepted an office with the expectation that the old safeguard was there.

7.30 p.m.

Under the amendment people who come into the Methodist Church and its ministry as preachers, whether local preaches, deaconesses or ministers, would have the safeguard in future years that, having come in before the passing of this measure, they could continue to preach the doctrinal statement which they believed would be safeguarded for all time. That would not apply to people who came into such an office after this measure was passed. They would know perfectly well that the old safeguard did not apply. Under the new provisions the doctrinal statement could be changed by the procedure that I have just mentioned. They would enter in the full knowledge of what could happen if the doctrine were eventually changed. Those whom came in prior to this date, believing that the doctrinal statement was unalterable without recourse to Parliament, would be able, by this amendment, to continue to preach the old doctrinal statement for the remainder of their working lives. The protection is confined to those coming in prior to this date and to those who preach—the ministers, deaconesses or the local preachers.

In two out of every three cases, let us remember, it is the livelihood of people which is at stake as well as their conscience and desire to preach the doctrine which they were ordained to preach. In the case of the minister and the deaconess it is their livelihood and ability to remain in the calling. The minister has made it his employment, upon which he and his family depend for their living. In this context it is important to make something very clear to hon. Members who may not be quite so familiar with the provisions of the Bill as some of us are. The Methodist Church has rather more rigorous rules than most Churches about adhering and preaching to the doctrinal standards and the doctrinal statement. The rules of Methodism are distinctly firmer than any other free Church that I know. I know of no free Church which has provisions comparable to those included in the Bill and which reflect the provisions in this Methodist legislation.

I refer in particular to Schedule 2, paragraph 14(3) of which contains an obligation on the managing trustees of any Methodist property, in that he shall not permit any person, at any service or meeting for religious worship held at or in any part of any premises comprised in the property, so as to preach or expound God's Holy Word or perform any act as to deny or repudiate the doctrinal standards. We are talking about the doctrinal standards which up until this date have been totally safeguarded. The trustees have no choice. They have an obligation to prevent anyone from rising in the pulpit, or at the Sunday school superintendent's desk, or anywhere else in those premises, and preaching anything which denies or repudiates the new doctrinal standard. Their obligation in such a case would be quite clear. They would be failing in their duty if they did not take steps to prevent anyone from preaching or expounding in such a way as to repudiate the new doctrinal standard.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

Before the hon. Gentleman suggests that the Methodist Church is too authoritarian, can he give any information about the number of occasions over the past five, 10 or 20 years where the situation he described has happened in practice?

Mr. Beith

The doctrinal standards have not been changed throughout this period. Parliament is now looking to what would happen in a quite new situation, which may well be hypothetical. It may well be that trustees in a number of places would feel able to preserve the provisions of the Bill, but Parliament must face the Bill as a whole. If one part of the Bill depends wholly on nonobservance, I really do not think this House would be right in accepting it. That is the implication of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He tempts me to say that the Methodist Church is authoritarian. I think that in this respect it has an authoritarian aspect to it. It is in that particular light that one must judge these provisions.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

Surely that is only a restriction. If doctrinal standards are clearly, carefully and precisely laid down—in fact, they have not been—the interpretation of Wesley's teachings and everything which came afterwards is a wide one, and therefore it is not a great restriction, even as expressed in the clauses in the Bill.

Mr. Beith

I thank the hon. Gentleman for helping me to answer the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). The present doctrinal statement is a reasonably wide one, in one sense, in that it refers to Wesley's sermons and notes on the New Testament and indicates limitations and how they are to be interpreted. But that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a situation in which a quite new doctrinal statement could be introduced—one which might be extremely precise, narrow and definite. That is the crux of what we are discussing now. What would happen under a different doctrinal standard if there were ministers who were quite happy to preach under the old doctrinal standard but were unhappy about the new one? That is the situation to which Parliament must address itself.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

Should that question arise it would be a matter for the Conference to decide. That is democracy upholding the rule of law.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman must realise that one of the reasons why the Methodist Churches did not feel happy in 1929 to give Conference unrestricted and unfettered jurisdiction in this respect was that they feared that minorities would be deprived. They were not happy to leave the power entirely to Conference in this respect.

I hope that those hon. Members who wish to intervene will speak in the debate, because I would much prefer to hear their arguments in that way.

Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)

It seems to me that this is something of a takeover bid by the Liberal Party in respect of the Methodist Church. I am a Methodist as much as anyone, but this issue is not doctrinal. There are many Methodist churches in my constituency of Huddersfield and, indeed, in Colne Valley, which is represented by the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not consider this matter in any doctrinal spirit. However, I am prepared to consider the amendments that have been put forward. I think the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is wrong, but nevertheless I am prepared to listen to him.

Mr. Beith

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's guidance and for his willingness to listen. I hope that he will no more attribute a Liberal Party takeover of the Methodist Church to the participation of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) in this debate, or the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), who would not wish to be included in that description, than seek to evince some Labour takeover of the Methodist Church by the presence of the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) in moving the Bill itself. I do not impute that and I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to do so.

There is some difference between the Methodist Church and other denominations in one respect; adherence to the doctrinal standards is enjoined in various ways. Every local preacher's meeting has on its agenda the question whether each local preacher believes and preaches the Church's doctrine and nothing contrary to it. There is a strain in Methodist tradition—an order that places the responsibility on the Church to ensure that its preachers comply with the doctrinal standards. I am not discussing whether that should or should not be the case, but we must consider the position of ministers, local preachers or deaconesses who find that they are prohibited from adhering to the doctrinal standards which were thought to be unalterable at the time they entered the ministry.

A situation that we would all wish to avoid is one in which anyone could be threatened, or considered to be threatened, with loss of the right to preach and loss of livelihood for preaching the very doctrine that he was ordained to preach, and which he believed at the time could not be altered without further recourse to Parliament. I believe that no one in the Methodist membership has the slightest intention of bringing that situation about. I hope he would have no such intention. But Parliament cannot simply look at what those now holding office might say; it must look at what the provisions of the Bill would be, and how they might be interpreted in practice in a variety of circumstances.

The amendment that we have put forward does not provide the only way in which this problem can be met, but it is probably one that would enjoy the widest agreement. There are alternatives. It has been suggested that the way to deal with this is to make provision for redun- dancy and the transferring of pensions for those who may lose their livelihood. I had a letter from one minister who said that he was perfectly happy as long as he knew that his pension rights were safeguarded if he were required to leave the Methodist ministry in these circumstances. But the bulk of the people to whom I have talked would wish to see a safeguarding of the right to continue to preach the doctrine that they were ordained to preach.

We have been told that no change of doctrine is intended, and that there is no need to worry. I am prepared to believe that assurance, but that does not apply to everyone. Many people who have written to me believe that there are plans to change the doctrine. However, that is immaterial, as the legislation will outlive those who give the assurance.

If no change in the doctrine is made for many years, there is no reason to resist the amendment. I am not quite sure why the promoters wish to do so. If they have no intention to change and if they see no prospect of its occurring, the terms of the amendment will not apply. The amendment will not cause them the slightest inconvenience. This measure will remain as some assurance for those who feel threatened by the position as they now see it.

The amendment is not intended to have and would not have the effect of blocking the Bill or of denying to Methodism the power to change its doctrine in terms of new procedure. It would not involve recourse to Parliament. It is a necessary provision. The Methodist Church asked Parliament to guarantee its doctrinal statement and it is the Methodist leadership that has decided to change that situation.

Parliament has a certain obligation in these circumstances to see that the interests of all those concerned are properly safeguarded. That is why there is a need to put in a transitional conscience clause of this sort. I believe that those who came in with an assurance that the doctrinal statement was unalterable are entitled to continue to preach that unaltered doctrine for the rest of their working and preaching lives. I hope that Parliament will feel it right to ensure that this provision is included.

7.45 p.m.

Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)

I am sure that the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for the brief and fair way in which he presented the amendment. The difficulty about the amendment is that it deals with a completely hypothetical situation. I think that the hon. Gentleman accepts that position. Therefore, it is difficult to consider the merits or demerits of the amendment. It is difficult at this stage to foresee the possible circumstances in which it might be implemented.

Although it is one of the purposes of the Methodist Church Bill that there should no longer be entrenchment of doctrine for the Methodist Church—namely, entrenched by Act of Parliament—there are now no defined intentions on the part of the Methodist. Conference to bring about any changes in the doctrinal standards as they are embodied in the Deed of Union of 1932.

Let us suppose that after a period such proposals were brought forward to change the doctrinal standards. In that event, the procedure laid down within the Bill would have to be admitted. That would require, first, the Methodist Conference voting in favour of the proposed changes by a majority of not less than 75 per cent. In the course of the following two years the issues would be referred to all the lower courts of the Church—namely, all district synods at home and overseas—and all the circuit meetings. Further, as a result of the amendment which was made by the Committee, there would also have to be consideration by church meetings.

I think that the promoters are thoroughly happy with that situation. After the period of consultation at all levels of the Church over two years, the same issue would return to the Methodist Conference. It would come into force only if the Conference again agreed by a majority of 75 per cent. It is clear that any changes such as the amendment might refer to can only come about after thorough discussion and consultation at all levels of the Methodist Church.

The amendment is suggesting that after all that process, which I can only regard as an extremely democratic one, any dissident members of the Church who did not accept the changes of doctrine that had come about should still have the right to preach, expound and maintain the doctrines that now exist, such dissidents being limited to those who held office at the time of the enactment of the Bill. After all the due processes of consultation by the Methodist Church in an attempt to come to a decision about an important change in its doctrinal standards, it would seem strange to me that when the change came it could be ignored by those who did not agree with it.

That effectively is what the amendment is asking—namely, that we play the game but that when the whistle is blown at the end, when the result is known and the decision is reached, people can still carry on as if they did not agree with it. That seems to be a total undermining of the idea of a united church.

If the Methodist Church is to be a corporate body and to have a set standard of doctrine, surely it is in the essence of a church that it should have a common standard of doctrine accepted by all those within it who expound, preach and maintain that doctrine. It is true that within Methodism already there is a wide measure of interpretation of the doctrinal standards set out in the Deed of Union. One of the curious features of the debate is that it is not really in touch with what Methodism is like. In the circuits and in the chapels that I see as I go around conducting services, I know that there are a multitude of different views on doctrine. One of the embarrassments in the Methodist Church at times is that in circuits where they are short of preachers they have to import people from other denominations to conduct services. Some of the doctrines that are expounded from Methodist pulpits in those circumstances can be very strange.

Anyone who thinks, as evidently the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed does, that somehow there is a rigorous police force within Methodism which ensures that standards are observed throughout the country is totally out of touch with the life of Methodism. The Church does not work like that. It is a voluntary organisation. At this time, like all the Christian Churches, it is battling against the tide. In a set of circumstances in which it is increasingly difficult to keep the life of the Church at its former strength, no one in it can afford to lay down the law on what should and should not be preached.

There is wide interpretations within Methodism of the doctrinal standards set out in the Deed of Union.

Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)

The hon. Gentleman has painted a vivid picture—no doubt in many parts of the country an accurate one—of a state of near anarchy that exists in Methodist circuits in which the regulations that are enshrined within the Methodist Church Act are not enforced. If that be so, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks that that will continue, why is there any need to resort to legislation if there is no enforcement?

Dr. Marshall

That is probably a true statement—namely, that there is no need to resort to legislation, and certainly not in the form of the amendment. Indeed, the amendment is totally unnecessary. The reason why entrenched doctrine should be ended is that it seems anomalous that a free church should be under parliamentary control as regards its own doctrinal standards. The amendment, if carried, would be a vestigial form of that entrenchment. It would be maintaining a form of parliamentary control over the doctrinal standards observed within the Church, at least by some members of the Church.

Although I do not think that, whatever happens to it, the amendment would make a great deal of difference, on balance if we are to end the entrenched doctrine we should remove all question of parliamentary restriction on the standards that are observed within the Church.

The doctrinal standards of Methodism as laid down in the Deed of Union are not, as some hon. Members might think from the debate and from the wording of the amendment, a list such as the 39 Articles—for example: "1. Thou shalt observe the truth of such and such; 2. Thou shalt not believe in the infallibility of the Pope." There is no list, and no sudden changes can come about.

I quote from Clause 30 of the Deed of Union 1932 to give the feel of it: The Methodist Church claims and cherishes its place in the Holy Catholic Church which is the Body of Christ. It rejoices in the inheritance of the Apostolic Faith and loyally accepts the fundamental principles of the historic creeds and of the Protestant Reformation. It ever remembers that in the Providence of God Methodism was raised up to spread Scriptural Holiness through the land by the proclamation of the Evangelical Faith and declares its unfaltering resolve to be true to its Divinely appointed mission. Clause 30 continues in the same vein. There is a breadth of interpretation. There is no recourse to the application of a set of rules like a catchism which everyone must repeat and observe from one Sunday to the next.

It is completely out of touch with the whole ethos of Methodism—which is a fellowship of people of which there is one head. Christ himself—to think that we can have a legalistic bandying about of words which will safeguard the doctrinal standards of individual members. The church does not work like that.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

That is how the Church should work, and the Methodist Church often does work as a fellowship, but we should not be having this debate on consultation and so on if it worked out in the way my hon. Friend suggests.

Dr. Marshall

My hon. Friend may hold that view. It is a shame that so many of these issues should have been raised within the parliamentary procedure, but I recognise the right of all hon. Members and their constituents to make these points. The Methodist Church has not come particularly well out of the process of the Bill and the various considerations raised on both sides. Whatever happens with the Bill, however, the future of the Methodist Church will be very different and there will be a much fuller measure of consultation on similar matters in the future than there has been in the past.

It will not be the end of the day if the amendment is carried. On the other hand, there is no need for it. We do not need unnecessary legislation. There is no reason for inserting this clause in the Bill, and I hope that hon. Members will agree that it is unnecessary.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) because I, too, rise to support the Bill and to speak against the amendment. As a member of the Church of England, it would be presumptuous of me to attempt to put detailed arguments against the amendment. In- deed, they have already been put forward more effectively by the hon. Gentleman.

I should like to put to the House two general points which lead me to the conclusion that the amendment is not desirable and not in keeping with the spirit of the times. First, we are in the midst of what might be called a quiet revolution in the religious life of Britain. There are many encouraging signs. There is a growing interest in religion and the message of Christianity. The Lambeth call made 12 months ago by the Archbishop of Canterbury and supported by leaders of the other churches reverberated round the nation and received concentrated publicity which would have been undreamt of even five years previously.

It is also encouraging that the unhappy divisions of Christendom are breaking down. Suspicion and hostility between denominations are giving way to understanding and friendship. We are doing things together and even worshipping together. That does not mean that we want one lowest common denominator type of religious observance. I hope that we continue to maintain the richness and variety which is as important in religious as in other aspects of life.

It is encouraging that at long last we are recognising that we are all on the same side and that all worship the same God and, therefore, have the same unity of purpose. There is also the happy feature that church attendances are going up. There are signs that the long drift from the pew on Sundays has been halted.

With all these new and encouraging circumstances of growing interest, greater unity and growing church attendance, the churches need freedom to responce. They are rightly asking themselves how best to appeal to contemporary Britain, how to get across to those who have no recent experience of regular church-going. In these circumstances, it is no accident that all churches are experimenting with revised orders of service in modern language and the like.

Material problems hit the churches as hard as anyone else. There are the problems of inflation, the upkeep of old and extensive buildings, making the best use of a smaller number of clergy and how to pay and pension the clergy in modern inflationary circumstances. Therefore, the churches need the maximum freedom to respond to this new religious revolution and to the material problems which they face.

My second point is that the whole trend in recent years has been towards responsible self-government for the churches, less interference by Parliament and more freedom for churches themselves to make decisions through their own constitued authority.

Mr. Beith

What the hon. Gentleman says applies particularly to the Church of England and the passing of the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure. I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises that Methodism owes no debt to Parliament for its doctrines, policy or any other feature, except in so far as it has asked for it and sought its regulation to meet its own requirements of union and so on. In some senses the story is the other way round.

8 p.m.

Mr. Dean

I agree. I take the hon. Gentleman's point and I shall deal with it later, together with the somewhat strange situation that we are discussing a matter of this kind at all.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter and I hope that we shall continue to maintain close links between the Church and the State. We are more likely to preserve those close links if parliamentary interference is kept to a minimum. In particular, I submit that there must be strong arguments for Parliament to reject a measure sent to it by a responsible church with a particularly constituted governing body. We should be doubly cautious about matters of doctrine.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said in his speech that we were not really dealing with matters of doctrine, and I was encouraged and reassured to hear him say that he would be strongly opposed to Parliament interfering in matters of doctrine. I submit to him, however, that we would be doing that if we accepted the amendment. The amendment would be inconsistent with the Bill and with the freedom for which the Methodist Church is asking.

What would the amendment amount to in practice? Surely it would mean that in certain circumstances the Church should have no power over doctrinal standards. As the hon. Member for Goole said, in certain circumstances some individuals would be able to ignore the doctrinal standards laid down by the duly constitutional body. I submit that that would amount to direct interference in doctrinal matters by Parliament, which the hon. Gentleman said that he did not wish to see.

It may seem strange that the Methodist Church, with its traditions and character, should be so tied down by Parliament, but we know that the explanation lies in the events leading to the union of 1932 and the 1929 Act which paved the way for the union at the request of the Methodists themselves. Surely the point today is that the Methodist Church is now asking Parliament to release her from the bonds of the 1929 Act which, she feels, are no longer appropriate. The Methodist Church has made the case, and I hope that the House will respond to it and not feel it right to impose the restrictions contained in the amendment.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

It seems that the objectors to the Bill lack faith in their own Christian adherence as they assemble at their conference. On the other hand, it seems that they have more faith in this House, consisting as it does of Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, agnostics and atheists, and that they turn to this body to safeguard their religious beliefs.

The greatest authority for the Christian religion is Jesus Christ. He gave exactly the opposite advice. He said: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's". He did not say: "Render unto Caesar the things which are not Caesar's". But that is precisely what the Methodists did in 1929. They were wrong to introduce the Bill in one respect, but it was for the sake of expediency and to join together the three separate bodies of the Methodist Church. It was a sensible way of doing things, but, although it was sensible then, it is not necessarily right nearly half a century later. It was obviously a temporary measure to unite the Methodists, so that they could see that there was no harm in the union. Few people then thought that there was no harm in it.

The objectors seem to say that they cannot trust their fellow Christians and cannot trust their annual conference on this subject despite the fact that it recommended that it should be discussed at grass roots.

It is sad that members of the Methodist Church have so little faith in the future of Christianity that they cannot trust decisions on future doctrine to their own members. Anyone who joins a body—whether political or religious—in which he believes—should have enough faith in that body to trust that it is likely that the group of people concerned will follow the right course. Nothing has been said to us to indicate that the Methodist Conference is hell-bent on self-destruction or on destroying Christian beliefs. Therefore, why not trust that body rather than one such as this Chamber, which is not particularly religious? It seems extraordinary not to do that.

In one of the amendments the objectors suggest that somebody entering the Church when the doctrine was formulated and entrenched by the 1929 Act should he in a vested position, and that vested interests should be considered. That must be so, because if that person's conscience were affected he could leave the Church and find an outlet for his religious expression in another body, or by himself.

I remember the famous Methodist preacher and orator, the Reverend Leon Atkins. As a boy I listened to him and found him a powerful speaker. He found it difficult to accept the United Methodist Church, and turned to congregationalism. He was a great gift to the Congregational movement. Hypothetically, those people who find that the conference changes the doctrine of the Church so much that they can no longer adhere to it, can express their opinions outside. But the amendment seems to imply that because they took up a position and remuneration some time ago they should be allowed, if necessary to preach doctrines that are contrary to those laid down by the Conference of the Methodist Church. That would be an intolerable situation. If hon. Members are concerned about the vested interests of these people, surely such action here is inappropriate when we are concerned with religious bodies and the state of conscience.

When one joins an organisation, whether it be a political party or a religious denomination, surely one retains sufficient faith in one's fellow members even when that body changes its doctrine or its policies to a minor degree. I cannot envisage the Methodist Conference doing more than changing doctrine to a minor degree. In such circumstances, one surely still has enough in common with the body one has joined to stay with it. How many of us in this House have never differed with their party on something or other? Yet we believe sufficiently in the ethic of the party to stay with it. That is surely the case here.

I think that there will be very few dissenters if the Methodist Conference should change doctrine to a minor degree. Judging by the record of the Methodists, they are most disinclined to change doctrine at all—perhaps the most disinclined of all religious denominations. I have faith that the Methodist Church will continue fundamentally to teach the doctrines of John Wesley.

But if one is concerned with a vested interest, surely this amendment is not the way to defend it or to put things right for these people from the mercenary point of view. It is pretty unreasonable that it should be attempted. I have been in the teaching profession—perhaps "vocation" is the better word—and I know that when a teacher of religious instruction is engaged to teach religious studies it is possible that in his career the syllabus will be changed. He cannot for that reason say "I should have power to continue to teach my religious studies based on the original syllabus". That would be an unreasonable position for him to take up. The honourable position would be for a minister in the Methodist Church, to accept minor changes of doctrine or to leave the Church and find a place elsewhere for the expression of his religious beliefs.

We do not expect all teachers, all preachers and all ministers of the Methodist Church to die on the cross—that would be asking a lot—but we can expect them to risk the possible ending of their remuneration if they decide that they can no longer teach the Christian religion as defined by the Methodist Conference.

The Bill puts right something that was wrong in 1929, and it is particularly important to have it now because there is need for change in minor ways in every religion. We have seen changes in the Roman Catholic and other denominations without which Christianity would be harmed rather than helped. With the development of 20th century attitudes, it is possible and desirable for the Churches to adapt themselves to the genuine beliefs of some of the young people who are not satisfied with all the traditional statements of all that their Churches stand for. It is perfectly reasonable that there should be some flexibility on minor matters.

I believe that the Methodist Conference is not bent on radical changes in doctrine. That being the case, it is a healthy sign that the Methodist Church has sponsored this Bill, which has the support of the Methodist Conference. Although the Select Committee recognised that the discussions should have been more extensive at grassroots level, that will be put right, and is embodied in the Bill. I hope that the Bill will be passed, because I think that it will help Methodism and Christianity in general.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

I welcome this opportunity of saying a few words. It might be felt that it is impertinent for a lay reader in the Anglican Church to speak about a Methodist Bill, but I think that it is right that I should do so, not only because I am a Member of Parliament but because I have the great privilege of speaking frequently in Methodist chapels and I was at one time a Nonconformist and I have not forgotten my early upbringing.

I support the amendment. I believe that it is of importance. Whatever people say, there is still considerable concern about these various proposals. I do not find, from my mail bag, that the fears have lessened, but I do find that many more ministers are writing to me in support of the Bill. It is interesting that in the past it was the laity who were writing to me about their concern and now it is ministers in support of the Bill who are writing to me. I leave the House to judge in that matter.

I am not prepared to block the Bill. I think that it should go forward now, although I am still not entirely happy. I believe, however, that the amendment should be carefully considered by the House, because the House has a right to consider these matters. If the Methodist Church or the Church of England brings in a Bill, we should consider it very carefully. It should not be allowed to go through on the nod because, as some people who have written to me have suggested, it is claimed that it is none of our business and that the House is composed of Christians and non-believers. If a Bill comes before the House, it is our duty to consider it carefully and to bring in amendments that we think necessary. There is no need to be embarrassed about it or to make excuses. That is what the House is about.

For example, as an Anglican, I think that it is a good thing that some years ago the House acted as a long-stop and prevented some changes in the Prayer Book. It is also true that many Methodist ministers regard the House as a referee, particularly on possible changes in doctrine. However, many ministers have the opposite view. It may well be that this is the last appearance of a Methodist Bill in this House, and that may be a good thing—I would not like to argue the point. But if it is the last time, because of what we did on the previous measure many years ago, there is all the more reason why we should look at the Bill carefully and consider the amendment.

The amendment is important to the South-West of England. One may think that strange, but it is important there because in the South-West there are various patterns or forms of Methodism. It so happens that a little place called Shebbear, in my constituency, is the home of the Bible Christian Methodists—most important people. They differ from other Methodists in their views and doctrine. They hold what are to them certain crucial doctrinal standards and views. The amendment would help to protect them. They would be able to continue to hold and to preach their views. I think that is important. I am not saying for one moment that the Methodist Church as a whole would be likely to bring in any major doctrinal changes, but there are groups of people in Methodism who are concerned and slightly worried. For that reason I believe that it is right that I should speak about it and support the amendment.

I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) when he talks about a united Church. We all long for this. The most terrible part about Christendom is that we are not a united Church. We want to be a united Church. Our Lord longs to see a united Church, but we are only frail and human, and, unfortunately, we have not a united Church.

In every denomination a certain degree of latitude is found. There are always some people who think differently. I believe that this should be allowed. The amendment seeks to allow and to protect this.

Like the Anglican Church, the Methodist Church is really a coalition of views. The members are not all agreed on any certain doctrinal basis. It is no good anyone in this House saying that they are. I believe that in many ways it is the Church of England's strength that it embraces people who are Anglo-Catholics and people who are Evangelicals. They hold different beliefs and different views within the Anglican Church. It can also be the strength of the Methodist Church that it tolerates and allows various groups within it. We want a united Church united in its aims, but surely we can worship, think, talk and discuss in different ways rather than being in a set stream. I think that this right ought to be protected.

The hon. Member for Goole said that some strange people preach in Methodist pulpits. Perhaps I am one of them. All I can say is that I am constantly getting letters, and had another one today—

Mr. Fred Evans

Will the hon. Gentleman please realise that in spite of the 1969 legislation on the sharing of buildings—the Model Deed of the Methodist Church—it could be argued that he is acting illegally?

Mr. Mills

I must say sincerely that all I seek to do is to extend the Kingdom of God, and if the Methodists think that I am fit to go into one of their pulpits to take a service in an emergency—or perhaps a special one—I shall continue to do so until I am told otherwise.

There are, then, strange people, perhaps, preaching in Methodist pulpits, but I believe that in many ways that is a good thing. There may be special preachers, or strange preachers, such as myself, but that is entirely different from the position of paid Methodist ministers or deaconesses who may be out of step with the new agreed doctrinal standards. It may be said to them "You are out of step and you may not continue to preach." I believe that the amendment is seeking to safeguard and to protect these people, so that they may be allowed to continue.

There are people who are highly sensitive to certain doctrinal matters—particularly the Evangelicals, as compared with the Modernists. It is no good denying that in both the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church there are modernists who really are out of step with the Evangelicals. There is no question about it. We have to live with this. We do not like to say it, but it is a fact of life.

I think that if the House were to accept the amendment it would help to maintain confidence and to allay fears. There is nothing wrong in this. Surely the promoters of the Bill can see this. Surely, if they think carefully and in a Christ-like way, they can see the fears of certain people. I see no harm whatsoever in bringing in the amendment. I believe that it would do a tremendous amount to help in the present situation. I hope that the promoters of the Bill will be sensitive to these people and that the amendment will be allowed.

The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) talked about faith. It is a very good thing for people to have faith that the Methodist Church will care and will be sensible and sensitive. Surely that is right. It is right, too, that people should have faith that the doctrines of John Wesley will continue. But I am sure that the hon. Member realises that there are trends away from these things, and that that makes it extremely difficult for those who want to hold on to the very basis of their own belief in Methodism.

I have heard many sermons in the Methodist Church that are miles and miles away from what John Wesley preached. The same sort of thing can be said of many sermons in the Anglican Church. Of course, faith is important, but it is also important to have consideration for and to be sensitive to the problems and fears of others. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Mr. Fred Evans

I certainly have every sympathy with the amendment and would be the first to admit the deep humanitarian motive that underlies it. I cannot, however, see my way to accepting it. I hope that I shall be able to give some fairly cogent reasons for my position.

There are still some vestigial remnants of the older thinking of the period from 1929 to 1932. I believe that we should never have had thrust upon us, however unwillingly, the power and capacity to act as arbiters in doctrinal matters. If we are to give to the Conference of the Methodist Church the right to rule its own destiny, we must see that no vistiges at all remain.

I speak as a non-Methodist, and I have always been struck by the great tolerance of the Methodist movement and the way in which its people incorporate so many different points of view. This augurs well for what will take place should the Bill become an Act. I suppose that the essence of it has been summed up tonight in that Methodism is really a way of living. It is the ethos of the belief that leads to this width of outlook, and this in itself will afford a reasonable protection.

The second matter to which I draw attention is that the debate so far has been unmarked by any deep delving into doctrinal matters. I was happy to hear the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) make this point, because it was not so in the Second Reading debate, when there was a tendency to delve into matters of a doctrinal nature.

The plain fact is that when the Methodist Conference was the ruler of its own destiny in doctrinal matters, as it was for such a long time, we did not see very many serious disputes about doctrine, and the situation which arose leading to the period from 1929 to 1932, when investigated historically, will, I think, show multitudes of reasons for that situation, very few of them doctrinal and some of them of a trivial and very petty nature.

We therefore find ourselves the custodians of an entrenched doctrine. But are we to argue that, however much the world changes, entrenched doctrine will remain entrenched doctrine? I thought that there was a hint of this in the remarks of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed—

Mr. Beith indicated dissent.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman does not agree. However, anyone who travels the country and talks about these matters to people will discover that very many of them do not even know that their doctrines in Methodism are entrenched because they had passed on to them the situation before 1932 and this has become a tradition with them.

I do not think that safeguards can be written into legislation. Again, time will pass by. The evolutionary process will take place. As the world has altered, so our attitudes to religious faiths have altered—not the faiths themselves, but our attitudes to the forms of expression and organisation of the faiths have changed.

In Clause 30 of the Deed of Union, for example, it was encumbent upon the priesthood of 50 years ago to say that they accepted the priesthood as their sole occupation, whereas today we have moved so far that we have worker priests and people of all kinds working in the various churches. We accept those changes, and so do the churches. Yet that provision is still there in the Deed of Union, and it is argued that it is now impossible probably for the Methodist Church to insist upon its priests being 100 per cent. involved in that sole occupation of the priesthood. We have people who teach religious instruction in schools. We have people doing various other tasks. We do not see them as incompatible—

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman must know that the very Deed of Union to which he has referred says quite clearly that the Methodist Church believes that no priesthood exists which belongs exclusively to a particular order or class of men but that, in the exercise of its corporate life and worship, special qualifications to discharge its special duties are required, and that the passage about sole occupation indicates simply that some are called and ordained to the sole occupation of being Christ's ministers in His church.

Mr. Evans

I am no expert, but I believe that the Methodist Church is the only Church which has the organisational set-up of adherents. I see a further safeguard in the fact that the Church has vast numbers of people who are extremely busy in supporting their churches but who do not feel it incumbent upon them to become members. For one reason or another, they do not wish to be members. Nevertheless, they play a vivid and active part in the life of their churches. These people are some 900,000 strong as compared with the official membership of 500,000. I cannot see a religion which is willing to accept this concept with such breadth of vision yielding for one moment to a situation which might savour, however mildly, of witch-hunting.

In the evidence which the Committee received, this point was dealt with by the Secretary of the Methodist Church. He was at pains to point out that while situations of disagreement did arise there was always great tolerance, a willingness to discuss and a willingness to act in a helpful way to see whether the dissent could be accommodated. In the final analysis there has been a willingness, if dissent is adamant, to try to find a denomination in which the tenets held by a person in that position would be more acceptable.

I know of a well-known parson, unfortunately now deceased, to whom all this applied, and there was a great deal of kindliness in the whole situation which filled me with even greater admiration for the way in which Methodists conduct their affairs.

I believe that doctrinal issues will be very rare. In the history of the Methodist Church they have been so rare, in fact, that they can almost be discounted. I believe that in future the rarity will be even more so now that the Methodist Church will be given—if the Bill passes—the right to decide its own doctrinal affairs.

I turn now to the situation in which someone is completely adamant in his dissent. I do not wish to introduce a sense of levity, but this reminds me of a situation in which an academic body decides that the world is flat. A young Galileo comes along with different thoughts, and as time goes by the roundness of the earth is accepted by all but one or two people. These dissenters say that it was on the belief that the earth was flat that they entered the academic organisation, and that they will remain flat earthers. They demand the right to propagate their principle of flat-earthness in spite of all things said to the contrary and despite efforts to dissuade them. The organisation should then say that it accords them that right, that they may remain where they are and continue to preach the same beliefs that they have preached hitherto. This is the kind of argument one hears.

We can safely entrust the Methodist Church, after the history of this exercise of trying to regain the one power which every other Church has, and which was taken from it, to look after that power.

I end as I started by paying tribute to the very sincere and humanitarian outlook behind the introduction of the amendment, but I hope that the House will reject it.

Mr. Richard Wainwright

In the interests of close debate, I take issue at once with the final point made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans). I believe most emphatically that we are not discussing anything remotely analogous to a flat-earther teaching a school of physical science. If we were I would not be speaking in favour of an amendment of this kind, because it would he too ridiculous.

We are speaking about a vast and mysterious subject on which there can be no precision and, in my view, no precise or always valid dogma. If we are talking about a school of physical sciences, and if a proven physical discovery had been widely debated in the scientific journals and held to be a new truth, it would be pernicious for that school to permit the teaching of some physical scientific fact which had been wholly disproved. But that is a million light years away from the matter of the human spirit and the divine purpose and being which are central to the matter tonight.

I am inclined to think that the House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) for reminding us, after some rather purple passages elsewhere, that those who entangled the Methodist Church with the parliamentary process, the people who have caused these debates, are the Conference which has promoted the Bill. It is intolerable for it to be continually alleged, especially outside the House—and here I use a phrase which might amuse you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that Methodism is being entangled with "a secular court", as this House is described in Methodist papers. If anyone has entangled a secular court with the affairs of Methodism, it is not the proposers of the amendment or those who objected to Second Reading but those who promoted the Bill.

Let me be more blunt as a West Yorkshireman than some of the more polite speakers tonight. It seems peevish of those who have promoted the Bill and have asked Parliament to take action to complain when Members of Parliament, who have plenty of other things to do, feel it their bounden and conscientious duty to enter certain objections against all the odds and against the barrage of obedient ministerial letters which have been sent to us in response to an instruction from headquarters.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Does not the hon. Member agree that it is peevish for the upholders, calling themselves the voice of Methodism, and having failed at the Methodist Conference, now to try to use the House to achieve their objectives?

Mr. Wainwright

No. I reassert that if people promote a Bill in Parliament they inevitably expose themselves to the consequences of their action. I cannot abate one tittle of the rights and duties of Methodists who have carefully considered this matter to act as the promoters have done and take advantage in a proper manner of the parliamentary process

I am grateful once more to the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) for sketching most accurately and vividly, and in a thoroughly characteristic way, the whole atmosphere in which most of the Methodist Church does its work. He was at pains to point out that we are not a body devoted to precise definition. Precision is not one of the main Methodist virtues.

The hon. Member for Goole illustrated with exemplary accuracy that Methodists are a fellowship and do not attach any great importance to precise, legalistic, medieval, theological uniformity. When he gave us that sketch, the hon. Gentleman gave us the amendment. The only conceivable objection to the amendment is that theory is not looked at with a totally cold eye of logic which, fortunately, the House has the sense to use only rarely.

8.45 p.m.

It might seem slightly illogical for the Methodist Church to arrive at a new doctrine and allow, for a limited period, certain ministers a dispensation, but the hon. Member for Goole, with perfect accuracy, pointed out that Methodists, preachers and congregations, are a fellowship and are not a body of logicians.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Does not that situation result from having ministers ancient and modern?

Mr. Wainwright

We cannot get away from that fact, and I regard it as an advantage and part of the wonderful variety of human tapestry in which we work.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

In addition to being a Methodist, I am a mathematician, so perhaps I might comment of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the logicality of the situation. If we are to accept within the Bill that doctrine should no longer be entrenched logically, the deduction from that is that there should be no remaining parliamentary direction over how the doctrinal variations within the Church should be organised.

Mr. Wainwright

But the whole Bill is about parliamentary direction for the ordering of the Methodist Church. It does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Member for Goole, who has given great consideration to these matters, to say that Parliament is now getting rid of its responsibilities for Methodist matters. There are still enormous areas of parliamentary supervision over Methodist property and trust deeds. If Methodists want to alter trust deeds they will have to come to Parliament.

One point has so far not been brought out. This is a rather solemn moment. Parliament is handing back to Methodism what, as the hon. Member for Preston, North, (Mr. Atkins) said, Parliament was asked to take on in 1929.

Any trustee about to divest himself of his responsibilities has a moral, and often a legal, duty to look round the whole sphere of his trust and, before quitting, ask whether the beneficiaries for whom he is responsible are being properly looked after and are being handed over in a proper condition to a proper regime. That is what Parliament is being asked to do.

I am surprised that a non-Methodist hon. Member has not asked whether ministers, who may have given half their lives or more to the Church and might now face a great crisis of conscience versus feeding the family, should not have been given proper protection by the goodhearted Methodist people themselves.

The message of the Bill is that Methodist officials—though I am sure they regret it now—never took steps to put themselves in the position of being able to tell Parliament that they had firm and indisputable evidence that the mass of the members of the Methodist Church supported all the provisions of the Bill. Unfortunately, neither the Bill nor an abstract of its provisions was put before the circuits of the Methodist Church.

Mr. Fred Evans

In examining the evidence, we discovered that every Methodist minister had received a copy of the Bill, that it had gone to synod level and that 8,000 copies, were distributed.

Mr. Wainwright

I was saying that it was beyond dispute that the Bill contained matters that were never laid before the circuit meetings of Methodists. That means that consideration was limited only to certain indirectly-elected bodies mostly of committed ecclesiastics. Therefore, the answer to the hypothetical question "Do not Methodists look after their own?" is "Yes, we usually do, but on this occasion Methodists have not had a chance to consider whether there might be a problem." As so often happens, the matter is left to this House to look after what may be a small minority of extremely worthy and deserving cases.

Let me try to meet another possible objection which has not so far been raised but which might be nut in the form of the question "Why did not the Select Committee, which spent so many hours labouring on the Bill, take this point?" Incidentally, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Select Committee. It devised its own amendment on how doctrine can be changed by conference, which has driven into the official structure of the Methodist Church a most potent wedge of genuine democracy. The Select Committee has insisted that matters of doctrine must be the subject of consultation down to local church level. That has greatly eased the feelings of many of us who otherwise would have felt obliged to oppose the Bill to the end.

On the matter we are now debating, I suggest that mainly owing to the attitude of the petitioners' counsel, who perhaps was coming to the end of a wearisome week, the Select Committee was not given an opportunity fully to explore in every detail the kind of amendment we are now proposing.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

We asked the promoters time and again whether there was any intention to change doctrine. We always received the answer "No" and were told that it was merely a hypothesis that doctrine was to be changed. That being the case, it was not necessary to make Provision for something that was not expected to take place. No doubt if there were such a change that conference could deal with the problem when it arose.

Mr. Wainwright

I do not believe the most enthusiastic promoters of the Bill would claim that they wanted so blatantly to have it both ways. No promoter can come to Parliament and say "We solemnly seek powers to change our doctrine, but we have not the slightest intention of doing so. Therefore, let us not bother about it."

Mr. Ronald Atkins

The promoters were saying "We no longer wish Parliament to be the arbiter of our conscience."

Mr. Wainwright

I do not wish to waste any more time on that matter—

Mr. Ron Lewis


Mr. Wainwright

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his comments later.

However, I ask the House to bear with me briefly while I take hon. Members over the main points of what happened in Committee when this matter, the subject of the amendment, was raised. First, the Secretary of the Methodist Conference, in a reply on page 38 of the minutes of the second day's evidence, said that he understood the case, but it is just very difficult to see how any provision of that kind could be made. We believe firmly—no one has controverted it tonight—that our amendment provides one method of doing exactly what is required.

Secondly, in discussing a change of doctrine, the answer of the Secretary of the Methodist Conference, throughout the whole of a long reply, implied that changes of doctrine would always, inevitably, be for the better. His version of a change of doctrine was a deeper understanding and interpretation of truth.

Mr. Ogden

Send for reinforcements.

Mr. Wainwright

However, surely the possibility must be envisaged that sometimes, in the whole length of human history, there have been changes promulgated in thought and doctrine which have not been a deeper understanding and interpretation of truth but have been, in fact, regressive. That is the unfortunate possibility that we must bear in mind when other people ask Parliament for certain power.

Then, at page 39 of the minutes of the second day's sitting of the Committee, an hon. Member serving on the Committee, no doubt unfamiliar with Methodist practice, asked the Secretary of the Conference: Would you not say that this has already happened to a very substantial extent both in the Church of England and even more possibly in the Church of Rome? The Secretary of the Methodist Conference answered—no doubt off the cuff, in a hasty session— I think that is so, sir, yes. We from this side in the debate shall have failed if we have not made it clear that we are dealing with a rigorous system of church discipline. It may not often be enforced. However, we are talking here about what the law is, and not how it is applied. We are dealing with a rigorous system of church discipline which is entirely different from that of the Church of England. With respect, the suggestion in Committee that all that was happening was that things were being brought into line with the Church of England was simply untrue.

Then arose the whole question as to how the conference would be likely to behave if it were confronted, after a change of doctrine, with a minister who wanted to stick with the old doctrine. Very fairly, the officials of the conference maintained that the conference was a very humane and sensitive body and that in some way or another, which was not specified, these matters would probably be resolved, but that if they were not the conference would say goodbye to the dissenting minister in the kindliest possible fashion.

We say that the situation of a minister running the risk of having a handshake of farewell, no matter how kindly given, is not tolerable. One is bound to point out—it has not yet been pointed out in the debate—that in recent years two Methodist ministers have been expelled on the grounds of their beliefs. Going back further in history, the particular Methodist church to which I belong, an official Methodist church, was founded by the 1,000 sympathisers in Leeds of three senior Methodist ministers who were expelled from the conference in a parody of judicial proceedings, which The Times said were worse than the Star Chamber.

9.0 p.m.

One cannot repose faith in the comments of a particular temporary officer of the conference, no matter how sincere his words may be.

Mr. Ron Lewis

I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. He has given the impression that the Methodist Church has been most unkind—indeed, cruel—to members who are expelled. It should be said on behalf of the Methodist Church that it bent over backwards to try to help those two colleagues.

Mr. Wainwright

As I have said before, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will later make his speech in his own way.

I come now to the final point, hon. Members will be relieved to hear, about the hearings in Committee. It was suggested by the petitioners, as indeed we who propose the amendment suggest tonight, that a number of ministers and deaconesses entered the ministry of the Methodist Church with some confidence in the knowledge that the doctrine was virtually entrenched, because it could not be altered without all the bother and the risk of coming to the House.

This matter was aired too briefly by counsel in Committee, and the answer of the Secretary of the Methodist Conference seemed to me to be very surprising. He said: …most of our ministers never give it a thought. The vast majority of our members, until this blew up, were unaware of the fact that we were shackled in this way; in other words, they did not know anything about the history of 1929–32. We are talking entirely about ministers. The reference to members in Committee was irrelevent.

We on this side dispute the suggestion that those who have been trained in Methodist colleges where church history is a compulsory subject have not at least been given the opportunity, if their ears were open, to understand the comparatively recent history of the Methodist Church.

I can speak for only one college, now closed, which has trained hundreds of eminent Methodist ministers—the college at Headingly, Leeds. I assure Members that a number of Mehodists in Leeds were conscientious in ensuring that at the Headingley college the history of each of the different strands of Methodism, with no particular predominance to the ancient strand but with full recognition of the newer strands, was properly taught to those entering the Methodist ministry.

It is a little hard on the staff of those colleges that the secretary of the conference should suggest that those now in the Methodist ministry are woefully ignorant of a central part of Methodist history.

All that we are seeking is a dispensation for a strictly limited time of the working life of people already in the ministry—an arrangement, therefore, which has a limited period of validity and which is only a dispensation. The amendment does not ask that Methodists should be required to tolerate two parallel and different formulations of doctrinal standards. As the Bill goes through, Methodists will establish their own doctrinal standards, but we say that, as in literally dozens of other Acts of Parliament which bear upon flesh and blood, which bear upon people who have committed their careers, as in the case of many other pieces of legislation, there should be a dispensation for those who have pursued a particular line of belief for many years and whose consciences would be put into an intolerable position if the law were to prove a steamroller.

Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I admit that I found these provisions most confusing at first, as they cover not only doctrine but property.

I admit also to some misgivings, particularly when I received from constituents, whose opinions I value considerably, letters expressing great concern about what they said was a great lack of consultation about the provisions of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned a memorial passed by the Hoylake and West Kirby circuit, within my constituency, which deplored the lack of information about the Bill. I shall refer to that memorial because it governs to some extent my initial concern about the Bill.

That memorial, passed almost unanimously within the Hoylake and West Kirby circuit, said: We deplore the lack of information concerning the contents of the Methodist Church Bill. We believe that such a fundamental issue requires fuller discussion. If serious mistakes of detail are to be avoided, there must be wide publicity and debate at the grass roots of our denomination. We therefore suggest that Conference should not discuss this until 1976 after the circuits have had opportunity to voice their opinion throughout the country.

It became clear to me from the correspondence I receivved that there were some fundamental misconceptions about the content of the Bill. The first letter I received, from lifelong Methodists, said that they did not want their doctrines to be altered by the Bill. When I heard of the memorial, I was very glad to have an opportunity of discussing the Bill with the ministers in my constituency. On closer consideration, I discovered that many of the worries of the two constituents who initially contacted me were not sustained by closer scrutiny of the Bill.

I wish, therefore, to put the record straight. Since there was that initial concern within the circuit about lack of opportunity for discussion, I put to the Methodist ministers in my constituency a clear request that, in order to give people every opportunity, before we had this debate they should ensure that the Bill was put on the agenda of the various Church courts which have been meeting during the past few months.

I am glad to say that they have done so, and there has been very full discussion at the circuit courts. Indeed, the circuit preachers' meeting, at which one of the objectors was given every opportunity to air his views, by about a 75 per cent. majority said that the Bill should be supported and brought into law as soon as possible, and a resolution to that effect was sent to me at the end of September. Now, therefore, people within my constituency, not just the ministers, have had an opportunity of considering the Bill, and I should make clear that the memorial originally passed has now been rescinded by a vote within the circuit meeting.

Although I have had the privilege of listening to what I felt was an extremely well argued, logical and well expressed speech from the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), why am I not persuaded by his rhetoric? I think that it is because I share the concern of one of the ministers in my constituency, the Rev. Edward Sainsbury, who told me that after due consideration he felt that the matter of doctrine ought to be within the hands of the Methodist Church and not subject to Parliament. The hon. Member for Colne Valley will quickly nod in agreement with that statement. But this amendment goes wrong because, in my view, the Methodist Conference should be the trustee of its own doctrinal issues, without parliamentary chains.

The amendment would establish a statutory right to dissent. Having given the Methodist Conference the right to decide its own doctrine there would be a parliamentary sting in the tail which would enable any preacher—and the hon. Member for Colne Valley said that it might be a very small minority—to confuse the issues of doctrine by persisting with a previous element within the doctrine when a change had taken place, approved by an overwhelming majority at conference. After due consideration and consultation I have reached the conclusion that it is not fitting for us as a House of Commons to sit in judgment on the doctrines of Methodism. We should pass the Bill and reject the amendment.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

I do not claim to be an expert on the Methodist Church. I make that clear at the outset. Like many other Members I have received representations from people who appear to be on both sides of this argument. In that situation we come to what is inevitable in our rôle as Members of Parliament. We must make a judgment and act accordingly. To decide my course of action I have made a number of inquiries to clarify the issue. Having done that, if the problem were a theological one I would still feel somewhat sceptical about making a contribution, because I am no expert theologian.

It seems, however, that this Bill is about democracy within a Church and not about theology. It is on that basis that I address the House. The Methodist Conference is a body that contains 50 per cent. elected clergy and 50 per cent. Methodist churchgoers. The conference has the right to determine doctrine in the Church, and that is presumably done on the basis of a majority vote. Within the local church situation it is the local members of the church who determine the nature of its activities. It is local churchgoers in part of my constituency and the adjacent constituency of my colleague the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) who have made representations suggesting that a majority in the locality seeks support for this Bill.

I do not wish to get involved in debating doctrine, because that is a matter for collective action within the Church and not for Members of Parliament. Clearly, some people in Methodism want to change the doctrine. That seems perfectly legitimate. But they will have to do that through the normal conference mechanisms that exist. The Church Council is democratically elected, whereas I understand that the trustees are not. They tend to be a self-perpetuating oligarchy. Since I am making a contribution that arises directly from constituency representations, I believe that the House ought to support the Bill without any amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Spearing

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) and the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) have perhaps asked the wrong question. I do not think that there is very much risk of the Bill being opposed tonight. That is very unlikely. What is at issue is the amendment, and both hon. Gentlemen, with respect, addressed their remarks rather more to the Bill than to the amendment.

I am certainly one of those who would not wish the Methodist Church to have to come to the House for any doctrinal test or change. But that is not the question. The question before us tonight is on what conditions this House permits, through this measure, a change in the structure and the way in which the Methodist Church formulates its doctrine, and what safeguards the House wishes or does not wish to put in in that process.

The Select Committee has already put in an additional and a very important safeguard. I for one am satisfied with that. That is why I am not opposing the Bill, although I did so on Second Reading. Perhaps it was a good thing that some of us did oppose the Second Reading, so that that important safeguard should go in.

The Methodist Church is a very important body. I am not a Methodist, although one of my parents was, but I can say that the Methodist Church is rooted in the history of Britain and, indeed, the history of this place. Many illustrious personages on the Front Benches—I think the last two occupants of the Chair—have a lot for which to thank the Methodists.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The last three occupants.

Mr. Spearing

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for my inaccuracy, but it underlines what has been said about the Methodist "mafia". People often say that the party of which I am proud to be a member owes more to Methodism than Marx. I happen to think that a mixture of Marx and Wesley, although rather strange, is a good one. I thus speak with a vested interest in the continued health and activity of the Methodist Church.

I should like to put forward three tests. First, how far did the discussions within Methodism come up to the standards which Methodism would itself set? Secondly, what protection is there for minorities in the proposals and, thirdly, how are they translated into legislative guarantee?

I suggest that looking at these three questions we come up with an answer that the Bill is unsatisfactory at the moment. I think it has been agreed, even by the promoters, that a little more might have been done in respect of consultation. I was speaking to a constituency colleague who is well known in the public life of my constituency and asked him: "You are a Methodist. What about this Bill?" He replied "I had not heard anything about it until I heard about it on Yesterday in Parliament'." That was a trustee of his local church who attends every Sunday. The trustees may not all have been traceable, but some could have been traced. They were not approached.

The Select Committee itself has written into the Bill a provision for consultation at Church level which was not originally in the Bill. I should have thought that that itself is its own commentary. Therefore, on the first test of discussion within the denomination we should have to say that perhaps the promoters did not do as much as they should have done.

On the question of protection of minorities, and at the risk of clashing with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans), it is important to make some reference to doctrine. As I understand it, the evidence of at least one of the witnesses before the Committee—Dr. Becker Legge—was that there was in Methodism a distinct polarity of view, particularly on the nature of the priesthood—the high Wesleyans on the one hand and the primitive Methodists on the other—at the time of the 1933 merger. Far from the House shackling Methodism, I would have thought it would be better for Methodism to come together in a self-denying ordinance and say "We are not going to discuss this because we shall note the Deed of Union and leave it at that". This possibly is a divisive doctrinal matter and the one that I have mentioned were never to be discussed, thus it was not an issue. I would have thought that that was a sensible arrangement. It may be that the promoters of the Bill do not wish to bring that matter forward if, indeed, there are changes in the doctrinal standards. A letter from the Secretary of the conference to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) points out that There is no present intention of making any changes". At page 16 of the Select Committee hearing, counsel for the promoters, Mr. Boydell, said: I want…to give one or two examples of the difficulties which have arisen in practice. He gave three examples. The first was language, the second was sole occupation, on which there has been some discussion this evening, and the third was the question of "maintained". However, he did not speak about the interpretation and nature of the ministry, on which two views have been maintained within Methodism, in complete harmony and fraternity to the benefit of Methodism and, I think, to the whole of the Christian Church. Perhaps there are fears by some who hold one or other view, but we are not here to discuss what they are tonight. However, there is some fear that a change in this respect will create some internal disturbance in the Church which otherwise would not have occurred.

On the second count—protection for the minority—there is some cause for concern. That brings us to the third test, because if there is cause for concern from a minority, what is the form and adequacy of the protection? In the Select Committee the Secretary of the Methodist Conference said that in the past when there had been difficulties with ordained men their pensions had remained intact and they had been helped to gain occupations. It seems that in a fraternal way they were helped in their future lives. However, if there were a change in the doctrine, it would not necessarily be only one change. For example, there might well be a change in an individual's whole career, and the question of the Church taking a different direction. It may not come to that, but that is what some fear.

Unlike the United Reformed Church Bill and other Bills that have come before the House, where there has been a distinct opportunity for a division of funds or of property, the Bill does not permit division. I understand that the trustee clauses, which we are not discussing and on which we are not disagreed, give central control in the final analysis. Unless there is another Bill, they forbid the division that may be adovcated in such conditions. I suggest that there is a real fear and that the Bill as it stands does not meet it. I happen to think that it is a great pity that the Bill has come to us as it stands.

I believe that Christian unity is not necessarily an organic unity. The Christian Church spends much of its time on internal discussions and doctrinal discussions. Until now the Methodist Church has not done so. Perhaps it is a good thing it has not. Perhaps it has been able to witness in the community. Certainly the world needs many things. The Methodist Church has a lot to give. It has historic concern for the prisoner, for example, and for social conditions. It would be a pity if the Bill went through in its present form and if that concern were to be blunted in any way.

Some time ago, as a result of the call from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the British Council of Churches had a committee at Lambeth Palace on the other side of the river. I understand that it could not make any call—it was dumb. I suggest that that happened because too many of our Christian friends are concerned with internal matters and not with the world in which they have to preach the Gospel.

I conclude by quoting an amazing passage from the Select Committee proceedings. I refer to page 7 of the report, when the Secretary of the Methodist Conference, under examination by Mr. Mortimer, was asked: Has there been a groundswell for Conference to try to take this power? He answered: No, I am sure there has not. That is what we are discussing. Is it a storm in a teacup? I hope that it is. From many points of view the Christian Church has been looked upon as an army. There are the old hymns about the army of the Church. Each of the denominations is a regiment and every Christian, and perhaps non-Christian, wants to see each of the regiments as strong, vigorous, well-directed and cohesive as it can be. Whether the Bill goes through or whether it does not, and whether the amendment goes through or whether it does not, I hope that in future the Methodist Church will be a fine regiment. We want to see it so. That applies not only to this country but throughout the world.

Mr. Costain

I resist the temptation to utter the cry "Onward Christian soldiers" in following the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). In the Second Reading debate I explained how, as an adolescent, by a fortunate coincidence I was present at the earlier discussion between leaders of the Methodist Church.

I was disappointed to see on the Order Paper the reference to the six months' delay, and I was delighted to hear that that was only a procedural motion. I thought that the amendment was unimportant and that it would not affect the Bill very much. Knowing the Methodist Church as you do, Mr. Speaker, you will know that it does not make decisions quickly, either on doctrine or policy. The old Section 30 shows the enormous diversity that is allowed. I understood that only one member had been expelled from the Church, but the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) said that three had been expelled. Whether it be one or three, there would have been good reason for it, not necessarily a doctrinal reason.

Innocent though the amendment may seem to be, if we accept it we should be saying that Parliament does not trust the Methodist Church to look after its own affairs and that we must have a saving clause. We are not here talking about a colony, where it is sometimes necessary to safeguard the minority. Surely, like every other free Church, the Methodist Church should be able to look after its own affairs. It should be able to trust its own conference, which is democratically elected.

Even those who support the amendment suggested that it was a pity it came to Parliament in the first place. We know why it came, but let us not accept it.

Mr. Ogden

A few minutes before my hon. Friend the Member for Newham. South (Mr. Spearing) made his powerful intervention, he told me that the 1929 Bill went through the House on the nod, with no debate. Times have changed. Whatever complaints are made, Parliament has considered the Bill and if the promoters have learnt something they did not know before they "ken the noo."

I hope that the custom of 1929 remains the same, Mr. Speaker. In a neutral position as presiding officer of the House, if it comes to the casting vote, I hope that you will uphold the tradition and vote for the Bill without alteration.

We are divided completely across the parties between those who are prepared to trust the Methodist Church to manage its own affairs and those who say that they trust the Methodist Church to a degree but wish to impose certain safeguards. That word "safeguards" is the key to their doubt. I am not following Dr. Kissenger's example in trying to get maximum agreement by fudging issues, but no one has told me why certain people have doubts. It is not the heirarchical system of the Methodist Church, the formation of conference. The Methodist Conference is a great deal more democratic than the Labour Party Conference ever was or probably ever will be, and it is certainly more democratic than is the Conservative Party Conference.

I am told that people in various places, including Colne Valley, have doubts, but no one has spelt out those doubts. I wonder whether the doubts about the direction of the Church in its search for unity are based on a fear that there will be a loss in doctrinal standards and a loss of Protestant belief that would be unacceptable. No one has spelt it out.

9.30 p.m.

The amendment is a one-off amendment, and my complaint is that either it goes too far or not far enough. Under the amendment, if a minister, deaconess or lay preacher had contracted to preach the gospel inside the church at a particular time on the basis of a particular doctrine which was later changed by the conference, he or she would be required to change the basis on which they preached. That is unlikely to make any change in the situation in Lancashire, where we preach the gospel in our own particular way. In such a situation there may be as many who agree with the new doctrine as with the old. In Lancashire or Yorkshire, we do not want a Tridentine conflict.

The principle is that if a person makes a contract and the terms of the contract are changed he should be allowed to keep to the conditions of his contract. A minister, finding the basis of his contract changed, would be allowed to preach the old gospel. But in five or 50 years' time a minister who came into the Church on the basis of the new doctrine, which was then changed a second time, would not have the rights that are being asked for now.

The amendment goes too far. If it makes one rule, it should apply to all. Nothing in the Bill should prevent the right of people to preach the gospel in a manner that is based on the doctrinal standards of the day when they were appointed. The amendment falls between two stools. It does too much for today and not enough for tomorrow, and I would therefore prefer to leave the matter where it is.

The promoters and the Methodist Church itself have learned a lot from the discussion. Members of the Church have been diligent. Although, there are only ourselves in the Chamber, one could say that we are surrounded by a crowd of heavenly witnesses.

Either we have to take a calculated risk and trust the Churches to manage their own affairs or we should control them and take over ourselves. This halfway stage is no good. Surely the Churches have enough common sense to be trusted and I therefore do not support the amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I have to tell the House that the Division bells in Norman Shaw North are out of action. Post Office engineers are trying to find and repair the fault. Meanwhile, night watchmen are telling hon. Members in that vicinity about the bells. I am saying this now in order to make it perfectly clear that if an hon. Member says later that he did not hear the bells, if there is a Division, I shall not allow a second Division.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I was puzzled about the remarks made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), who had the wrong end of the stick. He said that a new entrant would not have the right to dissent but would have to join on particular terms. In the past, those who joined the church joined on other terms, and it is their conscientious right and spiritual freehold that we are seeking to preserve in the amendment.

I was extremely interested in the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt). He was worried about this matter. He pointed out that many consultations were held in his locality and that 75 per cent. of those taking part came round to the Methodist Conference's point of view. But can we be assured that such consultation took place in all the other Methodist circuits? From the evidence given to the Select Committee, that seems to have been far from the case. That being so, although I appreciate the safeguards that have been, very wisely, written in by the Select Committee, I remain uneasy and would still like to see the right of conscience preserved by the amendment for those who seriously believe in the old terms which applied when they joined.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Like other hon. Members, I do not intend to labour anything that I have to say. The important point at stake is that the supporters of the amendment seek to shackle the Methodist Church as no other church is shackled. All that we and the Methodist Church are asking for is that the Methodist Church should have the same freedom as other churches. That will not be the case if the amendment is carried.

I hope that the House will not shackle the Methodist Church by accepting the amendment, which could undermine doctrinal standards. That would not be good for the Methodist Church, to which I belong. On the other hand, if the Bill goes through unamended but, with the suggestions of the Select Committee, the corporate conscience of the Methodist Church will be maintained.

Much has been said about consultations right the way down. What the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) said was illuminating about the consultations in Wirral, but that happened in other parts of the country. The Bill is the voice of Methodism and the Methodist Conference and the promoters of the Bill are acting on behalf of the Methodist Conference, which has taken its decision through all its stages, although at times the consultation might have been somewhat flimsy in certain areas. The Bill expresses the corporate voice of the Methodist Conference, and I hope that we in our wisdom will not be foolish enough to go against the voice of the Methodist Conference.

I make a plea to my fellow Methodists in this House, three at least of whom have signed the amendment. I ask them not to press the amendment to a Division. The subject has had a good airing and they have had a chance to put their point of view for the small minority. But the voice of Methodism is the Methodist Conference itself. I hope that, as we have had a good debate, those who have signed the amendment will withdraw it and allow the Bill to go through unamended, which is what the Methodist Church wants.

Mr. Beith

With the leave of the House I seek, as the mover of the amendment, to reply.

I am tempted by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis), my old friend and co-warrior on so many issues—we have spent many happy Fridays together on other matters of concern to Methodists—to direct precisely the same plea at the promoters of the Bill, who through their spokesmen have been very constructive and helpful, to consider accepting the amendment. I shall turn to that later in my remarks by way of reply, which I do not intend shall occupy the whole of the remaining time.

Let us be clear. The amendment arises not out of any desire to impose on Methodism shackles which it ought not to have but out of consideration of a proposal by the Methodist Conference to change the procedure of which the conference itself made Parliament the guarantor. The basis of the whole of this lies with the Methodist Conference. It would not be on the statute book at all but for decisions of previous Methodist Conferences. Parliament is being asked to take away a safeguard, a guarantee, and in those circumstances Parliament must look at the position of those whom guarantees of that kind are designed to protect.

The amendment does not deny Methodists the right to determine their own doctrine or challenge the principles of the Bill. It deals solely with the preachers who came in under the old safeguard. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) tempts me to go much further and to build in quite new protec- tions. I ask him, however, to look at the precise position of those who would be protected by the Bill and to deal with the amendment that is before us. He might wish to be much more radical than I, but I think he ought, on his arguments, to support our amendment.

We have had a most constructive and helpful debate, and I am grateful to those in all parts of the House and on both sides of the argument who have taken part. Some who opposed the amendment felt that the situation might not arise, but that argument must not concern us. We must prepare, in legislation which explicitly provides for this situation, for how it will be handled. We must not simply suppose that it will never happen, otherwise there would be no need at all to pass the legislation.

Some have thought that if anything occurs it will be of a minor nature, but it could equally be major. There is no guarantee that it will be minor. It might be major.

It has been said that the present doctrinal statement is wide. The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said this. But a future statement, with which we are concerned in particular, might not be. It might be narrow and restrictive and it might exclude whole categories of people.

It has been suggested that the elected conference ought to be in total control of the situation and should wholly reflect the views of Methodists, and that it should be, as the hon. Member for Carlisle said, the voice of Methodism. The conference is bound in some ways to under-represent some of the minority views which can develop in Methodism. It is an indirectly-elected body. Representatives are elected through its various stages and not directly from grass roots to conference. They are elected through church to circuit to synod to conference. Election is not directly, as in the case of the General Synod of the Church of England, which has stolen a march on us, with a considerable improvement. It has a form of direct representation which we lack.

In that situation, and with the very large number of office-holders who are automatically members of conference, there is a risk that a sizeable minority might find itself under-represented in conference. The fact that it is a minority does not absolve us from the need for the amendment. It points to the need for it.

The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) referred to the 25 per cent. minority in his own synod, and other hon. Members pointed out that, under the procedures that the Bill sets out, the minority would have to be 25 per cent. or less. But that size of minority is one about which Parliament ought to be concerned. Even a smaller minority, as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) argued, ought to have the attention of the House.

There are very genuine fears felt among a lot of people. The hon. Member for Devon. West (Mr. Mills) was most eloquent in pointing to them. If anything, they are strengthened by the two hon. Members who spoke from their own deep convictions and interest in such a way as to suggest that there was a real need that the conference should change its doctrine, and should do so soon.

There were very broad hints in what the hon. Member for Preston, North and the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) said—that the wind of change ought to be blowing through the courts of Methodism and that we should be explicitly preparing for doctrinal change. I think that in saying that they went beyond the Secretary of the conference.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating what I said. I said merely that the conference should be open to possible demands for minor changes. It is inevitable that over a long period these changes might have to be made.

Mr. Beith

Yes, and, as the Bill will make quite clear, the conference will have the power. I do not intend to oppose the Bill. The conference will be able to make not just minor but major changes, and the safeguard that we are discussing is for the position of those who entered the Methodist Church on terms which required the doctrine not to be altered unless it was first brought to Parliament. It is with that necessarily dying group over the years that we should be concerned particularly.

The hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) dealt very fairly with the amendment and said that, although he did not wish it to be in the Bill, he could not see its doing any harm. He painted a picture of Methodism in which it would not do any harm.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

I think that I said it would not be the end of the world.

Mr. Beith

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will hasten to the Hansard room to make sure that those words appear in his speech. He left me with the impression that he did not see that a protection of this kind would be of very much effect if his feelings were justified, and his view was that change was unlikely in any event but that, if it came about, it was likely to be dealt with in such a spirit of fellowship that there would not be those who felt that they had to cast themselves on the mercy of a protection of this kind.

We all hope that that will be the case, but that does not absolve us from the need to make sure that the protection is there. A protection which is never used is possibly the best protection of all, but it is not one which Parliament should leave out for that reason. In my view, we should be the more ready to see that that final fall-back position is available. It is temporary. It is confined to a limited group of people who entered upon the heavy and demanding duties of preachers—I think especially of the full-time ministers and deaconesses of the Methodist Church—knowing that they could preach a doctrine which was unalterable.

It is a small but important safeguard and benefit to confer on those people that we give them the assurance that, if the feelings expressed today are not borne out, they are protected for the remainder of their working lives. If people subsequently come into the Methodist Church, they know that the doctrine can be changed by a simple procedure. They know that, if that happens, under the procedures of the Bill itself they can be excluded, but they will have come in with that knowledge. To those who came in without that knowledge, Parliament owes a duty because Parliament passed the 1929 legislation. I ask the House not to permit those circumstances in which it could arise, and I ask it to pass this amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill to be read the Third Time.

The House divided: Ayes 30, Noes 134.

Division No. 327.] AYES [9.49 p.m.
Carter-Jones, Lewis Mayhew, Patrick Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Clegg, Walter Mills, Peter Shepherd, Colin
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Molyneaux, James Skinner, Dennis
Cormack, Patrick Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Spearing, Nigel
Fookes, Miss Janet Mudd, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Golding, John Noble, Mike Thompson, George
Henderson, Douglas Nott, John Winterton, Nicholas
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Jessel, Toby Penhallgon, David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Mr. A. J. Beith and
Mawby, Ray Richardson, Miss Jo Mr. Richard Wainwright.
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Archer, Peter Glyn, Dr Alan Parker, John
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Goodhew, Victor Perry, Ernest
Atkinson, Norman Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Bates, Alf Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Bean, R. E. Graham, Ted Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Bidwell, Sydney Grant, George (Morpeth) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bishop, E. S Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Blaker, Peter Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hampson, Dr Keith Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Boardman, H. Hardy, Peter Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Harper, Joseph Rowlands, Ted
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Ryman, John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hatton, Frank Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hawkins, Paul Silvester, Fred
Brotherton, Michael Hooley, Frank Sims, Roger
Buchanan, Richard Hunt, David (Wirral) Sinclair, Sir George
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Hunt, John (Bromley) Spriggs, Leslie
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hunter, Adam Stallard, A. W.
Carlisle, Mark Hurd, Douglas Stanbrook, Ivor
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Johnson, James (Hull West) Stoddart, David
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Knight, Mrs Jill Strang, Gavin
Clemitson, Ivor Knox, David Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Coleman, Donald Lamond, James Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Concannon, J. D. Langford-Holt, Sir John Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Costain, A. P. Latham, Michael (Melton) Tinn, James
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lawrence, Ivan van Straubenzee, W. R.
Crouch, David Lester, Jim (Beeston) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Lipton, Marcus Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Cryer, Bob Lomas, Kenneth Ward, Michael
Davidson, Arthur Luard, Evan Watkins, David
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Lyon, Alexander (York) Weatherill, Bernard
Dempsey, James McAdden, Sir Stephen Weetch, Ken
Drayson, Burnaby McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Wells, John
Duffy, A. E. P. McNamara, Kevin White, Frenk R. (Bury)
Durant, Tony Madden, Max Whitlock, William
Eadie, Alex Mallalleu, J. P. W. Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Elliott, Sir William Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huylon)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Montgomery, Fergus Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Morgan, Geraint Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Evans, John (Newton) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Woodall, Alec
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Woof, Robert
Fisher, Sir Nigel Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Wrigglesworth, Ian
Forrester, John Nelson, Anthony
Fox, Marcus Newton, Tony TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Freud, Clement Ogden, Eric Dr. Edmund Marshall and
George, Bruce Ovenden, John Mr. Ron Lewis.
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