HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 cc261-83

10 pm

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioners, Representing Church Commissioners)

I beg to move, That the Church of England (Legal Aid and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament. I will not detain the House for long on this Measure. The purpose of a miscellaneous provisions Measure is to effect minor or, as I hope it will prove, non-controversial changes in the law. Part I of the Measure consolidates and amends the provisions relating to the ecclesiastical legal aid fund at present contained in three different Measures. Part II makes minor amendments to the law on several topics and Part III contains formal provisions.

The four clauses of Part I and schedules 1 and 2 revise and consolidate the existing statutory provisions concerning the Church of England's ecclesiastical legal aid fund.

At present three Measures and three items of subordinate legislation deal with legal aid. There is the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, the Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure 1977 and the Pastoral Measure 1983. Alongside those are three subordinate pieces of legislation: the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Legal Aid) Rules 1964, the Vacation of Benefices (Legal Aid) Rules 1978 and the Compensation of Clergy Rules 1970. That is a disparate collection of Measures and rules which vividly show the advantage of consolidation.

The ecclesiastical legal aid fund was set up by the 1963 Measure to which I have referred. Section 59 states that it was for the purpose of assisting in the payment of the costs of any complainant or accused person in … any legal proceedings … in respect of any offence under this Measure. The two more recent Measures provide that legal aid may be granted for other sorts of proceedings. The sort of cases with which we are concerned are those relating, for example, to the parson's freehold or the compensation that might be payable to an incumbent displaced under a pastoral reorganisation scheme. The various Measures and regulations to which I have referred do not provide a common approach and practice in the administration of the legal aid fund.

Part I of this Measure together with schedules 1 and 2 consolidates, with amendments, the statutory provision. It deals with existing differences and includes further provisions. New rules made under clause 4 are being prepared and, in accordance with clause 4(4) and 4(6), they will require the approval of the General Synod and be subject to the negative resolution procedure in the House. The new rules will provide one set of legal aid rules providing a common procedure for applications for the grant of legal aid, the issue of a certificate, the control of proceedings and the assessment of costs.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of clause 2(4), which gives the criteria by which legal aid can be granted and the assessment of means. Will he explain how, when assessing the availability of legal aid, it can be said that the means of a wife should be taken into account? She may he a material witness in the case or not a party to the application. For example, a vicar whose wife has left him may be an adversarial party. Have the Synod or the Church Commissioners considered such an analogous matter?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman will note the phrase in clause 2(4): the Commission shall consider the financial resources of the applicant". The conclusion that it may reach following that consultation remains within its discretion. The sort of technical or human point that the hon. Gentleman has given will readily be taken into account and weighed in the most humane way by the commission in its discretion.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

The right hon. Gentleman says that he is sure that it will be all right. Parliament is telling the Church that, where a vicar is appealing on a matter that will require legal aid —it may be of an ecclesiastical nature and have nothing to do with his relations with his wife, from whom he may be separated —that it can examine, like the Supplementary Benefits Commission, whether the wife can afford to pay. Is the right hon. Gentleman asking Parliament to give a family means test provision where there is a legal aid arrangement that might protect a vicar from dismissal from his parish?

Mr. Alison

The Church of England asks us, in this Measure, to authorise the making of rules. The rules then made will have to come before the House for scrutiny and be made subject to the negative resolution procedure. The right hon. Gentleman will have a further opportunity to consider the rules as made. They will have to be subject to the ultimate assent of the House if prayed against.

Mr. Benn

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, but what if people object in principle, as I do, to the idea of a family means test for legal aid? The only way in which that could be clearly shown to the Church would be by declining to pass the Measure tonight.

Mr. Alison

The right hon. Gentleman has already made a helpful intervention and has sent up a signal, which will be duly noted. The rules must be fully endorsed and passed by the General Synod. It is not unresponsive or unaware of the interest that the House takes. The right hon. Gentleman's objection in principle to family circumstances being taken into account will be noted. I shall make it my business to ensure that the General Synod is aware of his sensitivities on this matter. It may be that the rules will be considered in the light of his comments.

The right hon. Gentleman is right. If, finally, in the light of all the criticisms and reflections made in the House and elsewhere relating to the rules and their consideration in the Synod—in the House of Bishops and Clergy, who are the most intimately affected by this, and to whom no doubt the right hon. Gentleman's point has already occurred — the rules come before the House with roughly what is here suggested in place, the only remedy available to the right hon. Gentleman is to vote against them when they are brought here in the form of a statutory instrument. He may then pray against them.

Mr. Benn

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for clarifying the matter. I am particularly grateful for the flattering suggestion that I have only to make an intervention for the Synod immediately to abandon the family means test, that he will undertake to refer my comments to the Synod and that it will no doubt yield immediately to what might be called the "Chesterfield objection".

However, the right hon. Gentleman did not answer my question. If we want to rule out the possibility of a family means test, the only way to do so is to defeat the Measure. If we defeat it, the Synod will have to reconsider the matter and bring it back without even an enabling provision. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to give me advice as to how one could rule out, without having to listen to speeches or read Hansard, any possibility of a family means test.

Mr. Alison

The right hon. Gentleman has over-evaluated the significance that I placed on his intervention. I would certainly not claim that the General Synod is waiting agog for every word that drops from the right hon. Gentleman's lips. However, as his colleague in this House, I have my ears finely tuned to his remarks and I shall certainly make it my business to ensure that his views are conveyed to the General Synod. However, I am afraid that I cannot guarantee that the General Synod in its wisdom will not come forward with rules including what the right hon. Gentleman describes as a family means test.

Part II comprises nine clauses. Clause 5 amends the Extra-Parochial Ministry Measure 1967, under which clergymen are licensed to perform offices in institutions such as hospitals and prisons, to take account of the changes made in the law of marriage for households or detained persons under the Marriage Act 1983. The clause has been included in response to the request made by the Home Office, during the preparation of the Marriage Act 1983, that consequential amendments to the 1967 Measure be made by Measure rather than in the 1983 Act. The effect is to enable clergymen to solemnize certain marriages in institutions such as hospitals, prisons or places of learning.

Clause 6 provides for the name of a diocesan or suffragan see to be changed. As present, there is no machinery to allow this to happen and the clause gives powers to Her Majesty in Council to change the name of a see.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the clause was prompted by the likely request for such a change? It was recently reported in the press that the diocese of Ripon was contemplating changing its name to the diocese of Ripon and Leeds or Leeds and Ripon. Are there any other such changes in the pipeline?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the clause was prompted by the case to which he referred. I am not aware of any others but perhaps when the precedent has been set, others will wish to follow suit.

Clause 7 deals with the revocation of licences. A bishop, by right of his office, has always been able at his discretion to revoke a minister's licence to officiate in his diocese. Until 1964, a minister had no right of appeal. Section 10 of the Clergy (Ordination and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 1964 gave the minister a right of appeal and incorporated in statute the bishop's power to revoke summarily licences of ministers in his diocese. It was considered desirable to give a similar right of appeal to other persons licensed by the bishop — for example, deaconesses and lay workers. Section 10 of the 1964 Measure is being repealed and clause 7 is an enabling power for the General Synod to make provision by canon as to the revocation of licences of ministers, deaconesses, lay workers and readers.

Mr. Bermingham

Bearing in mind the fact that the right is now being extended to deaconesses, lay readers and other persons, and bearing in mind the views expressed by some bishops on what should and should not be practised by ministers of the Church, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a little fairer if the reason for the revocation of the licence were given? I understand that by tradition, if a minister has his licence revoked, reasons are given for that revocation. Should we not write into the statute a provision that says that if a deaconess, lay reader or other person has his or her licence revoked, reasons must always be given? The person wishing to challenge the decision would then have something upon which to act and a ground upon which to appeal. Otherwise, they will find themselves doing something akin to swimming in a bowl of treacle.

Mr. Alison

It follows logically in the provision that is being made, both for the revocation of a licence and for an appeal against such a revocation, that that against which an appeal is to be lodged must be specified in clear terms so that an appeal is feasible. The very fact that those two notions go together demonstrates with logic that the nature of the charge will be made plain.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman assist me by telling me whether there is any other appeal other than that to the archbishop following revocation of a licence by the bishop—

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

To God.

Mr. Banks

Well, from a sedentary position the hon. Gentleman says "To God". However, God works in mysterious ways and He might not necessarily deliver a judgment that is immediately helpful to the minister who has just had his licence taken away. Is there a more earthly appeal or any way in which a minister can, for example, go to an industrial tribunal or come to Parliament to make a further appeal?

Mr. Alison

I can speak with authority only within the ambit of the Measure and of canon law, which underpins and underlies it. So far as canon law is concerned, the archbishops at either end of the wicket are, as it were, the longstops of this match. The buck stops with them; they have the final determination—

Mr. Tony Banks

It is a funny old cricket match.

Mr. Alison

Well, although I am not a lawyer, there may be some scope in common law or natural justice for further appeal. However, I am not competent to pronounce on that. It is conceivable that common law might have a part to play in such matters. I can advise the hon. Gentleman only in the context of common law, because determination of an appeal is made by the archbishops.

As right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who will have been able to get hold of a copy of the Ecclesiastical Committee's report will have seen, the second paragraph of that report states: The relevant Canon approved by the General Synod would give ministers the same right of appeal as they presently enjoy, and the Ecclesiastical Committee accept the evidence given on behalf of the General Synod that it would be unrealistic to suppose that the power in Clause 7 would in future be used in such a way as to remove or cut down the right of appeal. Clause 8 is also an enabling power to make provision by canon as to the appointment and dismissal of organists and choirmasters. The right of appointment to the office of organist belongs to the incumbent. However, the parochial church council is responsible for the payment of his remuneration. The right of the incumbent to appoint and dismiss an organist is being retained, but provision is to be made by canon for the agreement of the parochial church council generally to be attained first, before an organist is appointed or dismissed.

Clauses 9 to 12 deal with minor amendments or improvements to various statutes made at the request of the Church Commissioners and the Church of England pension board.

Clause 13 amends the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 so that money given at the service of holy communion should be disposed of at the discretion of the parochial church council and not of the minister and churchwardens as currently directed by the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer. The provision makes it possible for communion alms to be treated in the same way as the other money collected in church, which is already the regular practice of the majority of parish churches. It should be noted that money given at a holy communion service which is in the form of a covenant or other pledge in favour of the PCC is not, in any case, subject to the rubric.

In its report, the Ecclesiastical Committee was of the opinion that the case for Clause 13 is well-founded.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Could my right hon. Friend say how much, in proportion to the general total of almsgiving, comes from holy communion services? I believe that it is much more substantial than 50 per cent. and, therefore, that this is a most important Measure.

Mr. Alison

I cannot give my hon. Friend that information, but I shall seek to obtain it and communicate it to him. He will understand the difficulty about having a sure measure of this because of the wide and divergent practices in many parish churches. Many of them have the communion service as an integrated part of their main service of morning prayer. Others have it as an isolated and single service early or late in the day. It is difficult to get cut-and-dried information, but I shall try to do so and pass it on to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the right hon. Gentleman indulge me by going back to clause 8, which he skipped over quickly? Why are we talking specifically about an organist or a choirmaster? Are there no other office-holders in a church whom the minister might wish to dismiss, or already has the power to dismiss? Why is it considered inappropriate for a parochial church council to discuss the reasons for the dismissal of an organist? Are the morals of organists particularly lax? We might be discussing an alleged improper relationship between him and a member of the choir. Of course, it might not be a him; it might be a her. Why are organists being singled out? Does the right hon. Gentleman know something about the sexual mores of organists which Opposition Members do not know? We should like to share that experience with him.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to draw a veil aside, which it would be quite improper for me to draw. I must remain comparatively Trappist in my response to him.

I am content to return to clause 8. The incumbent, or the minister, as he is properly described in the clause, does not have many individuals whom he might have the power, authority or occasion to dismiss. All members of his congregation are voluntary participants in the community, the parish and the fellowship of the Church. His own fellow-ordained clergy would be subject to the various appropriate canons and ecclesiastical disciplinary measures. Their disciplining would be taken out of his hands. Paradoxically, it boils down to the choir and the choirmaster, who are paid from funds which remain at his discretion.

The Measure seeks to make it the norm, or to reflect the broadly established norm, that it is natural for the incumbent to discuss with the parochial church council, which has the ultimate spending sanction at its disposal, whether the hiring or firing should take place. Particular sensitivity is reflected in the comments made by the Ecclesiastical Committee that there may he some occasions relating to a dismissal when it would probably be unhelpful, particularly when personal relationships were involved with the individual subject to possible dismissal, for the nature of the case to be widely discussed and circulated among a quite numerous parochial church council. It would probably be accepted by all in the parish that the discretion of the vicar was properly exercised without more general and widespread discussion.

Mr. Tony Banks

Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows that the more vulgar Sunday newspapers are usually full of stories of vicars running off with wives and boy friends and organists going off with choirboys. In those cases, the parochial church councils will have the disadvantage of reading about these events in local or national newspapers and not having the opportunity to discuss them and to make a decision. Surely they must know more about the facts than the journalists who go sniffing around church vestries to try to get hold of these stories.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman has not taken my point. Reports in The Sun and the News of the World, or whatever other papers may be thought likely to be interested in such cases—

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Why only those two?

Mr. Alison

I can give the hon. Gentleman a much longer list, but I do not want to detain the House.

The very fact that an incumbent decides not to discuss a particular case with anybody, including the PCC, is probably the best remedy for securing that the PCC does not subsequently read about that particular case. Discretion is of the essence of this provision.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that at present the PCC has no locus in this matter and the purpose of the new Measure is to give it a new locus, subject to the exceptional case where the archdeacon intervenes? The Ecclesiastical Committee — it is a matter of public record — asked exactly the same question that my right hon. Friend has just answered.

Mr. Alison

I am happy to confirm my hon. Friend's interpretation. The PCC has no de jure involvement in the situation, but in most parishes and for many years past there has been a de facto relationship of close co-operation for the obvious reason that the PCC holds the purse strings. This measure formalises that partnership but makes provision, by the use of a particular word, for the incumbent, in certain circumstances, to dispense with the advice of the PCC in a dismissal case.

Mr. Bermingham

The right hon. Gentleman passed clause 10 at a gallop; that deals with section 31 of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain where, for example, the church has a property which it holds on a long leasehold, whether the vicar, curate or somebody else becomes the tenant, why, in the terms of this amendment the church is surrendering its right to enfranchise that leasehold? The right hon. Gentleman may be well aware that if a person who holds such a leasehold is resident for more than five years, he has a right to enfranchise that leasehold. If that leasehold lies in the body corporate, for example the diocesan board, that right is lost. Would it not be better to allow the vicar or curate, or other servant of the church, to have it in his name during the course of his occupancy of a particular office and thus to exercise the benefit of section 31?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman talks in the language and the jargon of a lawyer. I suspect that he must have some legal knowledge. I would want to see in the cold print of the Official Report exactly the point he is making. On studying it carefully, I shall get in touch with him on his complex point. Suffice it to say that clause 10 amends the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 to take account of the transfer of the interests of the incumbent as landlord of glebe land to the diocesan board of finance by the Endowments and Glebe Measure of 1976.

The Home Office has been fully consulted on the measure throughout its progress through the General Synod, and the General Registrar Office and the Department of the Environment have also been consulted on clauses 5 and 10. When the Measure was given final approval by the General Synod at its February 1986 group of sessions, there was no vote against the legislation. The Ecclesiastical Committee stated in its report that the Measure is expedient.

10.28 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

There has been some merriment in the course of the speech of the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), but for those in the Church this must be an important Measure. It may not raise issues familiar to Members of Parliament, but it touches on pensions, legal aid — on which I raised questions about a family means test—the ownership and disposition of land and land rights, and the name of a diocese, which would certainly have as much interest in the Church as a change in our constituency boundaries. It deals with the revocation of a licence by a bishop. It deals with the question of the appointment or dismissal of organists or choirmasters. It deals with the disposition of funds coming in in holy communion.

Those are very important matters. They come before a House that does not by law require to be Anglian or Christian, and I do not believe that the House tonight, in a debate that perhaps is more jocular than it should be, should venture to enact such a Measure, for a very simple reason. I shall give the House that reason, first in detail and then in general.

If an organist is dismissed in Chesterfield and comes to me as his Member of Parliament and says, "I have been dismissed," am Ito say, "Nothing to do with me"? He will say, "Not at all. You passed the Church of England (Legal Aid and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure. Why did you pass it? It is under the authority of Parliament that I have been dismissed."

Or what about a minister who may be dismissed by a bishop, for all sorts of reasons? I will not go into them, but the Bishop of Ripon has recently made some statements about his attitude to the sexuality of those in his diocese. —[Interruption.] Hon. Members may agree or disagree, but I do not see why Parliament should empower the bishop to sack a minister and then the minister be able to come to us and ask, "Why did you pass this law?" with the answer being," Because you are an established Church."

We do not in this House legislate for Catholic churches. We do not legislate for synagogues. We as Members do not have to be Anglicans. The Measure could go through tonight on the votes of humanists. According to Gallup polls, a quarter of the population of this country claim no religious affiliations whatever. Yet a House of Commons that has no knowledge of, interest in, or religious commitment to, the Church of England, is taking decisions that, although we may laugh about them, because they have a comic side late at night, are desperately important to the people for whom they would then become law of the land.

I raised this matter of the establishment on the bishops retirement Measure some time ago. The two Measures go together. On that occasion I did not divide the House; I shall tonight, if I receive support, aim to do so.

There was a provision in that Measure that the Church of England, with the authority of Parliament, could retire a bishop, which, among other things, would take him out of the House of Lords. The only person who can be removed from the House of Lords is a bishop forced to retire. Bishops, when they retire voluntarily, not being temporal peers, do not remain there. A bishop can be retired, and the bishop can revoke the licence of a minister. But the power to appoint a bishop rests with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister does not in law have to be an Anglican. In law, the Prime Minister does not even have to be a Christian.

Mr. Harry Greenway


Mr. Benn

I shall give way shortly to the hon. Gentleman, because he may have a point of substance.

The question I am asking the House to consider is whether we any longer seriously wish, as a House of Commons, to interfere in and legislate for the affairs of one Church only, in one part of the United Kingdom only. We disestablished the Church of Wales. We disestablished the Church of Ireland many years ago. The Church of Wales was disestablished by a 1914 Act. The Church of Scotland is not established.

Do we really want tonight to entrench in the legislation of this country detailed control of the affairs of human beings who have rights of their own that we tonight are taking away without knowledge or any possibility of amendment? Does not that raise wider questions?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Benn

I give way to all those hon. Members who wish to intervene—by seniority. Perhaps they could sort it out for themselves.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Although the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that in other parts of the United Kingdom the Church has been disestablished, the fact is that in England the Church has not been disestablished. So we have not only a right but a duty to examine these Measures.

Mr. Benn

I take the point. But I am, and always have been, a disestablishmentarian. It is a permissible view to take. If under 30 per cent. of the clergy, according to Gallup polls, for what they are worth, take the same view—

Mr. Harry Greenway


Mr. Benn

I will give way to everyone in a moment.

If I want to bring about disestablishment and the separation of church and state, which is a legitimate political objective, one way to do it would be to refuse to pass the Measure. Then the Church would say, "We must be free to legislate." if the Church legislated, that would be part of the process. What the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said is correct. Under law we have to legislate, but if we refused to legislate, the Church would have to decide for itself.

It would be just as if the Prime Minister were to refuse to appoint a bishop, which it is open to a Prime Minister to do; the Church would have to pick its own bishop. That would be one way of precipitating a separation of Church and state—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I must remind the House that this is a very narrow Measure. It does not deal with disestablishment. Hon. Members must relate their comments to the legal fund and the provisions of that fund, which is the crux of the Measure that we are dealing with.

Mr. Bermingham

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely if we are discussing a Measure which deals with the question of the locus standi of a particular body, we are entitled to question the locus standi. Otherwise, surely we cannot discuss the matters relative to the question generally. I appreciate that your assistant clerk may be advising against me, but I say gently that I disagree with him.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may well disagree with the Chair, but that is not what the Measure is about. The Measure is about legal aid and the provisions of that fund. It does not relate to the disestablishment of the Church. I am simply giving a warning. If hon. Members wish to go wider, their comments must relate to what is in the Bill.

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman was about to give way to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway).

Mr. Harry Greenway

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) rightly said that all hon. Members, regardless of their religion, are entitled to speak upon the Church's position in relation to its employees, such as an organist. Does he accept that the spirit of these debates is that on the whole only hon. Members who belong to the Church of England participate? A great many hon. Members who belong to other churches do not take part in these debates simply because, although they have the right, as he does, they feel that it is outside their real interests and outside their moral interests.

Mr. Benn

If it is true, as the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South said, that we have a duty to do it, that duty applies to every hon. Member. The fact that the debate tonight may he confined to people of a particular religious denomination has no bearing. In the view of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), if a Jew or a Catholic were to become Prime Minister, that Prime Minister would not appoint a bishop. That would have exactly the effect that I seek, which is that Parliament should not intervene in these matters.

Mr. Harry Greenway


Mr. Benn

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again. Other hon. Members will want to raise points.

I am serious in what I am saying. I have no wish to circumvent your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, or to leave the Chamber under circumstances preceded by a Division, so I will not get into any difficulties of that kind.

I ask the House seriously to consider, as we deal with what one might call the minor aspects of establishment, whether the manifest absurdity of what we are doing does not point to the liberation of the Church from the control of the state.

Supposing today I had been moving a ten-minute Bill to establish the Catholic Church, people would have thought that I was mad to suggest that Parliament should take over the Catholic Church; or to establish the Jewish faith, so that the Chief Rabbi would be appointed by the Prime Minister. He has been put in the Lords, but that is another matter, and that is another aspect of privilege. As far as I know, the Prime Minister did not appoint the Chief Rabbi; she ennobled him, along with a lot of others.

I believe that what is wrong in our system of government is the absolute corruption of patronage. I raised it today with Mr. Speaker on other matters—the power of the Prime Minister to appoint Ministers, to appoint bishops, to appoint judges, to go to war, to sign treaties, without any requirement to come to Parliament.

What we are discussing today is the implication of patronage. A Prime Minister appoints a bishop. A bishop then sacks one of the clergy in the diocese under the law that we are about to pass tonight. The man appeals, and they will not give him legal aid because his wife has some British Telecom shares. Are we really tonight to uphold the principle of state control of the Church? I believe not.

I hope that I am within the ruling that you have given, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I want to be a good parliamentarian. I have been here far too long to wreck that reputation now. But what I am saying is that there are lessons to be learned from individual Measures, and this Measure, in my honest judgment, confirms the view I have long held—that the Church should be free of the state.

It is easy to giggle and say that the hon. Member is favouring privatisation—I have heard that said in fun—but of course it is more than that. In other countries, where the Church is controlled by the state, we denounce it as a denial of human rights and the rights of religion. In Britain we just assume it is all right. It is quite sensible for an hon. Gentleman to be put up by the Church Commissioners to justify a Measure. We all nod and thank God there is not a Whip, and half a dozen Members come along and it goes through.

But it is more important than that, because there has been evidence of direct political intervention in the Church. I do not have to go into it, because I would be out of order, but the anger at the Archbishop's sermon on the Falklands, the Crockford's dispute, which led to a tragic suicide, the argument for the appointment of a stronger —[Interruption.] Well, the bishops—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a superb parliamentarian, but he is now going wide of the Measure, I am afraid.

Mr. Benn

I do not wish to fall foul of your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I want the chance to develop a fair argument. But it is a fact that the relationship between Church and state, which has burbled on non-controversially for a long time, has flared into political argument in recent weeks. Therefore, we have to look at the implications of what we are doing.

Mr. Latham


Mr. Benn

The rules of the House are that, if a Member does not give way, the hon. Member wishing to intervene has to resume his seat.

I am sorry to perform your function for a moment, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will give way in a second.

Madam Deputy Speaker

My attention was riveted on the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Benn

I find that very flattering, just as I do the fact that I understand that the Synod is going to amend its plans when its members read Hansard, according to what I was told a bit earlier on.

I am going to seek to divide the House tonight, first of all because I think this is a bad measure in regard to the family means test, but secondly because I think that no Parliament, looking at the argument that surrounds the relationship between Church and state, should reinforce that relationship by purporting tonight, not being a Christian body, to lay down laws for the Church.

Mr. Latham

Could the right hon. Gentleman answer two questions very briefly? First, has any significant number of people in the General Synod asked him to propose disestablishment in the House? Secondly, will he confirm that the present rules relating to the appointment of bishops were set in motion by Lord Callaghan when the right hon. Gentleman was a member of his Cabinet?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have ruled that the first of those questions is out of order.

Mr. Benn

I did not know that an hon. Member had to be interrogated on his sources, but if it is of any interest to the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), he will see from the record that I have been arguing this case seriously, beginning with a major lecture at St. James's, Piccadilly about five years ago, the text of which I sent to a number of bishops and clergy; out of that, and in correspondence since with the Archbishop of Canterbury and so on, I have put the case honestly and sincerely.

I wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury just before Christmas, telling him that I intend to proceed—as I do, but it would be out of order to discuss it now—with an English Church Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I intend to bring forward in order to follow the precedent of the Welsh Church Act 1914, the text of which I have but which you will not let me read, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not complain, however, because that would be beyond the point.

But I do know, from my correspondence on this matter which is quite extensive, that a very large and growing number of clergy in the Church of England are deeply worried about a relationship that they thought was cosy and innocent and which is now charged with political danger for them, arising from the patronage of this or any other Prime Minister.

As to Lord Callaghan, I do not answer for him, and I hope that I can anticipate what I shall be writing later on that matter, for those who cannot wait.

I have almost finished, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that I have not strained the rules of the House—I do not believe that I have. There is a libertarian element in the Conservative party — I am not trying to divide hon. Members on the Government Benches but there is an element there which believes, as I do, that the state should not control the Church.

When the Anglican Communion meets later this year, the only Church in that Communion throughout the world whose bishops are appointed by the Prime Minister will be ours. In no other episcopalian Church does that occur. It is a feudal anomaly, launched by Henry VIII because he would not have the Pope interfering. It is a feudal anomaly that turns up as a funny Measure that normally goes through on the nod but which tonight has become real because of the political pressures being put upon the established Church. I recommend the House not to accept the Measure.

10.46 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

I shall not be tempted to follow the arch-leveller of Parliament too far along the primrose path. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is an experienced parliamentarian, as both he and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have attested, but the fact of the matter is that he is waging a campaign, as he would readily admit, for the disestablishment of the Church of England. In a strange, paradoxical way, the Measure before us tonight will make his task all the easier. Because it will do so, I have grave misgivings about it.

I should like briefly to refer to a very interesting and extremely perceptive letter that I have received from an experienced cleric, who wrote to me in these terms: I would respectfully submit that there are two points at least of the greatest significance in the Measure: first, that it is possible for the Church of England to legislate for the people of this country without their having a clue as to what is proposed. The average Churchwarden, Incumbent, Curate or Organist who is affected, for better for worse, by this Measure is quite wholly ignorant of what is about to become the law (unless you can stop it). You can test this innocence for yourself easily enough". That is true.

He goes on: Secondly … it is a very undesirable development that many of these areas of law should be permanently removed from Parliamentary scrutiny, and for the future made a matter purely of delegated legislation by Canon: not even to be laid before Parliament as a Statutory Instrument would be, or the Rules made under certain other Measures are. This really brings us to the nub of it. There are those of us who feel very deeply and passionately about the Church of England as by law established. This debate, in a sense, is rather like Hamlet without the prince, because I have very much missed the presence of Mr. Enoch Powell, the former right hon. Member for South Down. He brought to our debates a depth of knowledge and passionate intensity that is much missed.

Tonight we are being asked to connive at a Measure that can have only one effect—to erode the influence of Parliament, to remove parliamentary control and to give greater autonomy to the General Synod and the bureaucracy of the Church of England.

Mr. Latham

We must get the facts straight. At present there is no parliamentary scrutiny of the dismissal of an organist by the minister. The minister can just dismiss him. All that clause 8 does is give new rights to the parochial church council.

Mr. Cormack

That may or may not be so. If my hon. Friend will allow me to develop my case, I shall do so.

My hon. Friend cannot deny—no one can—that we are willingly abdicating a degree of parliamentary responsibility. It may be perfectly reasonable that we should do that; it may be an entirely proper step to take; but if we pass the Measure, that is what we shall be doing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby, (Mr. Alison), when introducing the Measure with his customary moderate lucidity, referred to the Ecclesiastical Committee. Some of us who serve on that committee feel that it is an unsatisfactory body for one fundamental reason — it cannot amend. It can deem a Measure expedient, or reject it. As hon. Members know, many measures that come before us do not divide the House on Second Reading, but are subject to detailed scrutiny and amendment in Committee. Many measures emerge from Committee much the better for that detailed scrutiny.

The Ecclesiastical Committee, on which many hon. Members serve and have served for many years, is unique in that it is a Statutory Committee of the Commons and Lords, bringing together—I exclude myself, but say this with some certainty — Members with enormous experience and commitment to the Church of England. But it does not have the power to amend. If it did, it would. Anyone who has sat on the Committee for any length of time— I have sat on it for many years—would know that we frequently deem a Measure expedient because we do not want to cause a confrontation; nor do we wish to cause great consternation in the Church, but we are often not wholly happy with the Measure before us.

My right hon. Friend was guilty to some extent of the sin of which we are all guilty from time to time—that of selective quotation. I want to quote parts of the Ecclesiastical Committee's report which he did not see fit to quote to the House. He quoted entirely accurately and properly from the second paragraph of clause 7, but he did not quote from the concluding words of the first paragraph: The Committee were concerned that the effect of the Measure was to remove a right of appeal at present directly conferred by Measure, and therefore under Parliament's control, and replace it by a power to deal with the matter by Canon, thus taking it out of Parliament's control". That is why I said at the beginning of my speech that this Measure, if passed, is taking a step along the road to disestablishment. That is the road that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield seeks to take. Debates such as this are not party political and it is sometimes paradoxical that hon. Members find themselves — almost like Caesar's Gaul—divided into three parts.

Let us consider the report's comments on clause 13 In the second paragraph, the Ecclesiastical Committee said: The objects to which money collected in church is in general to be allocated are determined by the parochial church council jointly with the minister. That is provided by section (iv) of the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956. That provision is, however, expressed to be subject to the directions contained in the Book of Common Prayer. I remind the House that the Book of Common Prayer is still the statutory Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.

Mr. Latham

A statutory book.

Mr. Cormack

My hon. Friend reminds me, quite accurately that it is a statutory book, but neverthless, to many of us, it is fundamental.

Mr. Latham


Mr. Cormack

I am glad that my hon. Friend echoes that sentiment.

The Ecclesiastical Committee report continues: That provision is, however, expressed to be subject to the directions contained in the Book of Common Prayer as to the disposal of money given at the offertory. The directions in question are embodied in one of the rubrics at the end of the service of Holy Communion, and that provides that such money is to 'be disposed of to such pious and charitable uses as the churchwardens' "— in fact the Book of Common Prayer says ministers and churchwardens— 'shall think fit.' The effect of Clause 13 of the Measure is that churchwardens would lose"— I must declare an interest as a churchwarden— their ancient rights in this respect and money given at Holy Communion would be at the disposal of the parochial church council jointly with the minister, like all the other money collected in church. No one can pretend that the changes are not significant alterations. They are steps along the road towards disestablishment. That is a perfectly proper road for certain people to advocate that we should tread. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield has an extremely consistent and honourable record in this regard. He has never disguised his feelings. The argument that he has put forward, year after year, has, in logic—if one accepts his premise—been entirely reasonable. However, there are other arguments, and I am sure that he would accept the logic and integrity of my arguments, as I accept his.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Cormack

I shall give way in a moment.

There are many of us who firmly and deeply believe in the position of the established Church and who very much regret changing its status by stealth. Who would deny that the Measure is, in effect, changing the status of the established Church by stealth?

I would welcome a full-blooded debate on establishment, and perhaps at some stage in this Parliament or in a future one that will take place. That debate is not taking place tonight, but it is perfectly permissible for those of us who see the Church of England, as a result of the Measure, taking steps along that road to say that it should hold, listen and take account. Parliament must realise what It is doing. We must realise that, if this Measure is passed, we are surrendering certain rights, passing over certain responsibilities and sacrificing a position. Fair enough, if that is what people want Parliament to do, but let us he in no two minds about what we are doing.

Mr. Tony Banks

It has been argued in the past that disestablishment started on its long road with, for instance, the repeal of the Test Acts and the Catholic Emancipation Act. We are still, perhaps, proceeding down that road. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us, as he is obviously opposed to this Measure, whether he will join us in the Lobby and vote against it? If so, it will be the first time that we have been in the same Lobby, and we shall be there for completely different reasons.

Mr. Cormack

The hon. Gentleman knows enough about my independence on a number of issues to be aware that it would not be the first time that we have been in the same Lobby. Whether we will be tonight depends on what others say in the debate. I simply want to put down a few markers.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the hon. Gentleman joining the unholy alliance?

Mr. Cormack

Any alliance joined by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would be sublimated, not holy.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I understand the hon. Gentleman's objections to disestablishment, but can he tell us whether he honestly believes that in practice the Measure takes any steps down that road? It seems to me that the proposal for the alteration of the collection money does not alter that issue.

Secondly, has the hon. Gentleman any practical objection to, for example, the proposal that the funds collected during holy communion be distributed by the parochial church council rather than by the churchwardens? He does not seem yet to have made any objection to the content of the Measure.

Mr. Cormack

Either the hon. Gentleman has been slumbering, or I have been guilty of total obscurity in the argument that I have sought to advance.

I do not wish to transgress further on the time of other hon. Members on both sides of the House; nor do I wish to trespass on territory which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have suggested is forbidden. Let me simply say in conclusion that we should realise tonight that if the Measure is passed we shall be giving up a certain amount of the parliamentary control, scrutiny and supervision—as well as parliamentary duties—that we now possess. I do not think that we should do that lightly. It is very important that, sooner or later — in my view, it is in everyone's interests that it should be sooner—we should examine, with total clarity and objectivity, the relations of Church and state; and, in particular, the position of the established Church.

11.2 pm

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I hope to be a little briefer than previous contributors. Let me begin by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) for making out a powerful case for establishment, although anyone listening to him might not have fully realised that he was doing so. The case that he put tonight centred on a couple of clauses: first, clause 7, which Opposition Members take very seriously. After all, it is the reselection clause, and those of us who have to face that process are very interested in people's rights of appeal. He also made an important point about how any means test will be calculated for legal aid.

Had we had a disestablished Church, this Measure would not have come before us. We would not have had the benefit of listening to my right hon. Friend making his case, and obtaining an undertaking from the Church Estates Commissioner that Synod would at least listen to the arguments put forward, if not actually agree with them.

The other argument is one that I have had before with my right hon. Friend. It is a very simple argument about the Church of England. Because it is established, it belongs to the whole nation and that is why the House has every right to discuss it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, it does. The Church is accountable to all the people who are elected to this Chamber. It is right that that should be so. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield brings forward his Measure for disestablishment I shall oppose it, as I have opposed every measure of privatisation. We shall see a national body handed over to a sect or the shareholders, and for that reason I will object to it.

Mr. Bermingham

My hon. Friend worries me a little when he says that were the Church disestablished there would not be provisions for legal aid and so on. Surely, then, the servants or employees of the Church would have the normal right to apply for legal aid, subject to the normal rules and not the sectarian rules contained in the Measure.

Mr. Field

Each time I hear my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) intervene, I become more convinced that he must be a lawyer, as does the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison).

I want to make two other points about the way in which the Church brings forward these Measures. When pressed, the Commissioners had to say that although they are changing the status quo they can assure the House that nothing will change. Hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber have been concerned about people's rights when they face the possibility of losing their jobs. The right hon. Member for Selby said, "We can assure you that when the Church obtains control nothing will change." If nothing is going to change, why do we need the Measure in the first place?

The second point deals with clause 13. It shows the dangers of a body that wants to reform for reform's sake. It changes what should happen to collections at the eucharist. I have been briefed, as was the right hon. Member for Selby, by a vicar in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). He pointed out the irony of bringing forward this reform tonight. In 1549, Cranmer directed congregations to put their offerings in the poor man's box, as it was then called. He said that those offerings should be used for the direct relief of poverty. Because congregations did not pay enough attention to that, the direction was brought back in 1552 and the churchwardens were asked to produce the box in front of the congregation so that they could be reminded of their duty to the poor, not just in theory, but so that they would give some of their wealth for the relief of poverty. Tonight we are discussing the abolition of the compromise that was put forward in the Prayer Book of 1662.

It seems ironic that when the Church is setting up the urban fund, it should also come before Parliament to ask us to abolish a much longer-standing relief of poverty. It is just a warning to the Church. When the right hon. Member for Selby reports back to the Synod he will report back on the household means test, which concerns many people, not just my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield. He will also report on the temper of these debates and the difficulty that will be experienced in getting through reforms, a large part of which are unnecessary.

11.8 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I do not have strong feelings about establishment or disestablishment. However, I certainly echo the views of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) who feels strongly that hon. Members who do not have the slightest honest interest in the Church of England ought not to be seeking to make powerful contributions to discussions on the Church of which he and I are members. I say that simply in respect of the fact that most colleagues in the House who do not have a close and living membership of the Church of England do not normally take part in these discussions, for honourable reasons. I do not deny anybody their rights. As the hon. Member for Birkenhead has often said, that is a point that many hon. Members should bear in mind, and I do not fear to say it.

Mr. Tony Banks

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's strictures apply to me. Is he saying that, because I am not a practising communicant, although I have been baptised and confirmed in the Church of England, I should not take part in the debate? I should tell the hon. Gentleman that I was a verger at one time.

Mr. Greenway

My point applies to whom it may concern. I shall be brief because other hon. Members want to take part—

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Greenway

Labour Members can all make their claims. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is shouting, "Chapel," and God knows what. I shall let him shout.

Clause 8 will facilitate the dismissal of a church organist by the incumbent without the agreement of the parochial church council, if agreed by the archdeacon; I fear that clause.

The last Bishop of Dover said many a time that the devil often comes into church through the organ. That may be true. It is certain that many an organist has got up sides with his or her incumbent because they do not agree with the music on offer at church services, and tragedies have resulted.

I would cite, in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), the case of Oakham parish church, where there was, until a year or two ago, a superb, almost unsurpassed choir affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music. It would sing Stanford in B flat and Stanford in C as well as any other choir. The organist got uptight with the vicar; the vicar dismissed him and the choir walked out in support of the organist. The Church has been deprived of a major element of worship through its music since that moment. I am not saying that the present choir does not make a brave effort, but it is not like the first one.

Such an example will be facilitated by this measure. That is a pity, and I express my reservations about that matter.

Clause 13 will take from churchwardens the right of disposal of collections at holy communion services. My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) was unable to give the proportion of Church income that is given on the plate at holy communion services. I believe it to be substantial; possibly as much as 75 or 80 per cent. of the Church's income.

There are not many churches, rightly so, that do not teach that the holy communion service is the central service on a Sunday and of the Church.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Will my hon. Friend comment on the proportion of that giving of holy communion that comes from planned giving through the envelope scheme? It seems to me, and other Conservative Members, that the rubric has abolished itself because the overwhelming proportion of such giving in my parish church is in that form.

Mr. Greenway

The answer to my hon. Friend lies in the spirit of stewardship schemes and giving through envelope schemes, in which a member of a Church is asked to consider that the essential giving will be in the spirit of the eucharist. Therefore, I do not think that my argument falls down by virtue of my hon. Friend's important point.

If 75 or 80 per cent. of Church income comes through the holy communion service, this is a major step to take. I have always thought it valuable that churchwardens should be slightly apart from parochial church councils in their advice to incumbents or in their view of the appropriate disposal of church giving. Having sat on parochial church councils for a long time, I know that those bodies are sometimes given to discussion of an excessively parochial nature that does not take into account the wider aims of giving that a couple of wise churchwardens can see. That may seem a small point, but in practice it is substantial.

11.15 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

The Church of England has not had much good said of it in this debate; in fact there has been no positive comment on it. With one exception, the provisions in the Measure should be accepted.

Mr. Dennis Skinner

Tell us about "Voices and Choices For All".

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman said that loud enough for it to appear in the Official Report, so I shall comment on it. On balance, i feel that the Church of England should be an institution in which the voices arid choices are for all and that it should not be subject to the jurisdiction of this place. I speak as one who was confirmed into the Church in Wales, which is disestablished. That is a proper issue and I would welcome an early debate on the matter.

The point made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) showed up the ludicrous nature of the debate. We could have a debate with 650 hon. Members, from all Churches and from none, participating to discuss the jurisdiction, running and practical details of the Church. Although I understand the arguments about whether the Church is a Church for the whole nation, in a nation many of whose members are of no faith or of other faiths, I think that the time has come to deal with this point and that the Church would be far more militant and probably more effective if it were not hidebound by many of its traditions and old practices. For as long as we have jurisdiction, however, we must do our job. On that basis, I happily take part and argue that the Measure should be approved.

My one reservation coincides with that expressed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and others, and I would ask the Synod to re-examine the provisions in clause 2 relating to legal aid. It is not in keeping with the mood and spirit of the times that the financial resources of another person should be taken into account in assessing a person's legal aid. Although elsewhere in the Measure we are removing from ourselves the right to determine very important matters of appeal, we are doing so on the basis that there will be an appeal mechanism through the hierarchy of the Church, and that is a satisfactory alternative.

I have made this complaint before. The Measure was approved by the Church with no dissent nearly two years ago. It has taken two years to come this far. The slowness of the legislative process is highly unsatisfactory.

Mr. Skinner

Like your merger.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. The process—

Mr. Skinner

It is not settled yet.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is certainly right to say that it is not settled yet but it started formally only six months ago and it is proceeding pretty quickly by comparison with this Measure.

As we hold responsibility for these matters, we owe it to the Church to get on with the job more quickly. I have now been nominated to the Joint Ecclesiastical Committee, which has not yet met in this Parliament. I am concerned that it has not met for one reason in particular. Members from this House have been nominated but I understand that Members from the other place have not yet been nominated. That is holding up an important Measure — the Church Urban Fund Measure, which needs urgently to come before the House.

I advise the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), who speaks for the Church Commissioners, that I hope that he will use his influence and that the members of his party's Front Bench will use their influence to make sure that Members are nominated in the other place so that that Ecclesiastical Committee can meet and we can deal with matters that are in the pipeline, and, with the Church urban fund, which needs to be dealt with soon. The delays that occur in relation to Church legislation are highly unsatisfactory and as long as we have the competence to deal with it, we should do so properly and expeditiously and not nearly so slowly as we do now.

11.20 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

It may come as a slight embarrassment to the spokesman for the Church Commissioners, but I declare an interest as a lawyer. I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) that his constituency is but a little way from mine and I have been known to be somewhat concerned with legal matters for some considerable time.

I also declare an interest as a non-member of the Church of England, so it is with the permission of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that I trespass on such matters. Sometimes it pays to listen to the voice from without, rather than to the voice from within. The voice from without does not seek to interfere in the affairs of the Church of England, for which I have the greatest respect, but it occasionally seeks to question the wisdom of what the Church seeks to do.

Mr. Frank Field

My hon. Friend is making the case for establishment.

Mr. Bermingham

I hear mumblings from my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, who may just have a slight interest in such matters.

I draw to my hon. Friend's attention the clauses dealing with legal aid. You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it was I who first posed the intervention tonight on the question of legal aid, which was ably and well taken up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I came tonight simply to bring the outsider's voice to the issue of legal aid in the Church of England. I do so because that issue has been raised with me, as a Member of Parliament, by several persons who are members of the clergy. I am delighted to see the Attorney-General, who has, perhaps, a little interest in such matters, present tonight, and perhaps he might take under his wing the comments that I make about the Church in respect of legal aid generally.

Bluntly, the position is that if one looks at the proposed arrangements, the Church Commissioners are to accept or to determine who shall or shall not have legal aid. However, the Church Commissioners are a party to the proceedings. Therefore, effectively, under these clauses the party who is to be judge is the deciding party as to who shall or shall not be represented, and the terms and conditions under which they can be represented. No matter how one looks at it, that is not fair.

I am moving as speedily as I can and am bearing in mind that other hon. Members wish to speak. However, if one considers clause 4(2), one wonders how the Church of England and the Church Commissioners can justify that subsection, which states: The Standing Committee of the General Synod may by rules vary the provisions of Schedule 1 to this measure. It also states that there are certain tribunals to which a person shall not have the right of representation by solicitor or counsel and in those cases there shall not be legal aid. In effect, they are closed little courts in which people cannot have the right to representation.

We all know the old adage which states that the man who acts for himself in a court of law has a fool for a client. It is an adage as old as time—

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

It is, "A lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client."

Mr. Bermingham

The Attorney-General corrects me, and he should know. A lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client. I stand corrected, but the principle is the same.

If one gets to the point where one says that here are certain places where lawyers shall not go because the Church will not have them, one is effectively saying that there are persons who may well come before tribunals, committees or other bodies when their future, their living or their rights are at stake and because they are not articulate and not able to express an argument, they may well find that they suffer considerably.

Justice is meant to be absolute. Rules and regulations brought before the House by a body which is the established Church of this land should at least have a semblance of justice. Conditions in respect of this Measure concerning legal aid, the right to representation and the right of audience and other matters are a disgrace. I hope that the Church Commission will take away the remarks that have been made in the House tonight and I ask Synod –1 ask this as an outsider—to think again. Surely the Church should set an example on the matter of justice. I hope that the Measure will be opposed tonight.

11.25 pm
Mr. Alison

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply briefly in the few remaining minutes.

It was a paradox of the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that he referred to the weightiness of the issues with which we are dealing tonight — for example, the fate of individuals such as choirmasters, the names of dioceses involving much local pride — but then complained that we disposed of too much power by way of remedy for those sensitive issues. No doubt real power does lie here and the right hon. Gentleman will flex the muscles of parliamentary power if he seeks to divide the House, but disestablishment, the elimination of that power, lies wholly and fully within the hands of the Church of England.

The real pressure for disestablishment can and should come, if come it will, by the initiative of the Church and its adherents. The cause of liberty and its attainment is in the Church's hands. If it wants it, it will undoubtedly get it. The right hon. Gentleman should not overstate or overestimate the extent of the Prime Minister's power in, for example, the appointment of bishops under modern arrangements. It is very limited. The logic of the right hon. Gentleman's appeal for the elimination of parliamentary power over the Church of England is that he should sit in his place tonight and not to seek to divide the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) was anxious that we were abdicating parliamentary responsibility, and he levelled the charge against me of selective quotation. But he himself stopped short of the operative sentence in the first paragraph in the Ecclesiastical Committee's report on clause 7 which says that the Ecclesiastical Committee is, however, satisfied that this is a matter that may properly he left to the Church's own regulation. The regulation in view here is the question of the revocation of licenses. It can hardly be imagined that the Church of England in the Synod drafting its own canons with a House of Bishops and a House of Clergy, all ordained men concerned with these revocation matters, will not grant canons which fully sustain and maintain the interests and the needs of the clergy who are affected by this. There is no abdication of power here.

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) referred particularly, in a helpful contribution on the relevance of establishment, to the clause relating to the Book of Common Prayer's rubric. The legal advisory committee of the General Synod was asked for an opinion on the rubric and it stated: Whilst no exhaustive definition of the phrase 'pious and charitable uses' can be given, the uses are not confined to the relief of poverty though that is certainly one of the objects to which the money can be applied. Any object for the advancement of religion is a pious and charitable use, including most items for which money which is collected for general treasury purposes is usually devoted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) referred to the important question of collections. I must stress once again the significance of the envelope and the convenanted collection system under which these envelopes, that go straight to the paraochial church council, are collected at the time of holy communion. That is not in accordance with what is stated in the rubric, but it would be reasonable to modernise church practice in this respect.

The important matters about which the House has expressed anxiety, particularly the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), are subject to the negative resolution procedure. If he needs one, he will have a further opportunity to reflect on the rules when they are brought before the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 66, Noes 36.

Division No. 154] [11.30 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Amos, Alan Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Janman, Timothy
Ashdown, Paddy King, Roger (B'ham N'thfiek)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Knapman, Roger
Boswell, Tim Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bottomley, Peter Latham, Michael
Bowis, John Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Brazier, Julian Lightbown, David
Burns, Simon Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Burt, Alistair McLoughlin, Patrick
Butterfill, John Mates, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Chope, Christopher Meyer, Sir Anthony
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Colvin, Michael Nelson, Anthony
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Neubert, Michael
Cope, John Patnick, Irvine
Dorrell, Stephen Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Dunn, Bob Shaw, David (Dover)
Durant, Tony Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Evennett, David Soames, Hon Nicholas
Fookes, Miss Janet Stevens, Lewis
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Thompson, Patrick (Norwich
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Thurnham, Peter
Green way, Harry (Ealing N) Tracey, Richard
Gregory, Conal Twinn, Dr Ian
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Wood, Timothy
Hampson, Dr Keith
Harris, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Hind, Kenneth Mr. Richard Ryder and
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Mr. David Maclean.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony McAvoy, Tom
Blunkett, David McCartney, Ian
Clay, Bob McFall, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cousins, Jim Martlew, Eric
Cunliffe, Lawrence Meale, Alan
Cunningham, Dr John Michael, Alun
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie
Eastham, Ken Murphy, Paul
Flannery, Martin O'Brien, William
Fyfe, Mrs Maria Patchett, Terry
Haynes, Frank Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hood, James Rooker, Jeff
Skinner, Dennis Wigley, Dafydd
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Wilson, Brian
Strang, Gavin
Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford) Tellers for the Noes:
Vaz, Keith Mr, Gerald Bermingham and
Warden, Gareth (Gower) Mr. Tony Banks.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Church of England (Legal Aid and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.

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