HL Deb 27 July 1910 vol 6 cc522-9


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, if I do not detain your Lordships at any length in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I am sure you will not think that it is due to any failure on my part to appreciate the importance and urgency of the subject with which it attempts to deal, but because of the fact that only last year I had the honour of passing through your Lordships' House a Bill on this subject of which this is a copy. Therefore I need not this evening go at any length into the arguments in favour of some change in the law. It has always been felt by members of the Church of England that the Bishop is necessarily the head of all spiritual work and organisation in his diocese, and from time to time attempts have been made, some within our own time, to add to the facility with which that work may be performed by subdividing the dioceses which have outgrown the power of any one man to cope with owing to the growth of population in this country. Nine such dioceses have been established within the last thirty or forty years, I believe.

It may be asked why cannot we be content to go on with the existing law, or why it is necessary to alter the law in order to facilitate the creation of new Bishoprics where such Bishoprics are required. Any one who has considered this subject at all and examined the present position of the Church of England must be alive to the fact that not a few of the existing dioceses have quite outgrown the capacity of any one man to deal with. It is not too much to say that men of the highest capacity and ability are completely overwhelmed at the present moment in some of these dioceses by the mere machinery of organisation and jurisdiction, and have absolutely no time whatever to attend to that pastoral and personal work which is, perhaps, after all, the best work which falls to the hand of any right rev. Prelate in this country.

Under the present law it requires legislation not merely to establish a new Bishopric, but even to alter the boundaries of a Bishopric or to interfere in any way with the income of an existing Bishop. When I represented Bristol in the House of Commons I naturally took great interest in the foundation of the new Bishopric of Bristol. I think I was responsible for the Act which established the Bishopric; but when that was clone it was found necessary to alter the boundaries of the diocese. That required a new Act; and in the third year it was considered advisable that the contribution from the income of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol should be somewhat larger than the contribution which had been laid down in the original Act. That required a third Bill to carry it into effect. I had the greatest difficulty, though all these Bills were practically unopposed, in carrying them through the House of Commons because, owing to the arrangement of business in that House, any one member could practically stop the progress of a Bill of the kind. Only last session when a very strong case indeed was made before the House of Commons for the establishment of a Bishopric of Sheffield, though that Bill obtained very general assent, it was found impossible, for reasons of the kind to which I have alluded, to pass it into law.

There is another reason why the present system requires amendment. When legislation has to be of the present fragmentary character merely for the constitution of a single Bishopric, it is impossible that a general scheme may be thought out and supported in the country which would be greatly to the advantage of the Church of England by a proper subdivision of many existing dioceses. Therefore the proposals of this Bill are simply these, that in future it may be lawful for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with the assent of the Archbishop of the Province and the Bishop of any diocese affected, to present to the Privy Council a draft Order in Council for the constitution of one or more new Bishoprics, which draft Order shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament. The funds must necessarily be provided by the subscriptions of members of the Church of England, or by some deduction from the income of any existing Bishopric on the first vacancy. Nothing can be taken under this Bill from the common fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the establishment of a Bishopric. The Bill proposes that the draft Order should lie on the Table of each House of Parliament for thirty days, and if during that time any objection is taken by either House, no further procedure can be taken under the Order, and the matter has to be remitted for fresh consideration to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Then there is another proposal in the Bill for the establishment in a similar way of deans and chapters in eight of the nine new dioceses which have been founded in recent years a d in the new dioceses to be subsequently founded; and further, for an amendment of the Bishops Resignation Act, 1869, which stereotypes the provision of pensions

The Bill provides that by an Order in Council the pension may be fixed at whatever sum may be considered right., subject, of course, to the existing interest of the present incumbents.

Those are the simple provisions of this Bill, and in proof of the necessity for them I may, in a few sentences, tell your Lordships what. would be possible within about a year of its passing, if it should become law in the present year. First of all, the great. diocese of York, containing two millions of population, could be divided by the establishment of a Bishopric of Sheffield, which has a population of 840,000, and, I believe, practically the whole of the sum necessary for the establishment of a Bishopric of Sheffield has been already subscribed. Then the diocese of St. Albans, containing a population of 1,336,000, 630 benefices, and 1,050 clergy; the diocese of Ely, extending over three and a-half counties, and with 763 clergy; and the diocese of Norwich, which now contains both the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, with 890 benefices and 1,000 clergy—these could be divided by the establishment of two new Bishoprics, one for Suffolk and one for Essex. I believe that everything necessary has been already subscribed in Hertfordshire and Essex, and nearly all in Suffolk; and the subscriptions have come in not merely from wealthy members of the Church but from a very large number of Churchmen within the dioceses that I have named. That is only one of the schemes that could be carried out if Parliament would enable the powers to be conferred on the Privy Council which I have proposed in this Bill. I do not know that it is necessary for me to say anything more in commendation of the Bill to your Lordships, because last year it was passed without the faintest opposition, and therefore I hope I need not detain you longer in moving the Second Reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount St. Aldwyn.)


My Lords, I wish to enter a caveat with regard to this Bill. I have no objection to the general principle embodied in the speech of the noble Viscount. My point is that in legislating you ought not to invade private rights beyond what is necessary in order to give effect to the purpose of the Bill. I wish to call attention to the proposal in this Bill, which is quite a new one, to take away compulsorily the rights of patronage, merely paying the patron compensation for the loss. That was not found to be at all necessary in the recent Acts which created the Bishoprics of Newcastle, Liverpool, and Wakefield, and later the Bishoprics of Southwark and Birmingham. You do not alway compensate a patron by paying him compensation, because he has an interest in connection with the appointment of the minister to the church; and in several cases where it was wished to create a new Bishopric the church that might, owing to its antiquity and dignity, be selected as the cathedral, might be in the hands of a patron who would be extremely indignant at being deprived of his patronage. When creating Bishoprics I feel it I o be very desirable that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should, as far as is compatible, have a free hand, but I see no necessity for this invasion of the rights of patrons, and patrons who take a great interest in their patronage will be very jealous of their rights. To take the case of Keble College, for instance, which enjoys a valuable trust for making appointments, they would not like to have that power taken from them.


Might I point out to the noble Lord that this was in the Bill last year.


I am aware of that, and I spoke to the noble Viscount in private about it and made my objection to it then. There is one other point that I should like to have cleared up. There is no provision in this Bill expressly stating that the patronage of these deans and chapters if they are created should be in the Crown. But that is a small point. I conclude by repeating that I think this is an unnecessary invasion of the rights of patronage and that the point should be dealt with at the next stage of the Bill.


My Lords, I am satisfied that the merits of the Bill, together with the extremely lucid speech of the noble Viscount, will be sufficient to secure its Second Reading at your Lordships' hands. I regret that my most rev. brother the Archbishop of Canterbury is unable to be present owing to indisposition. He would have wished to testify to his sense of the importance of this measure. I cannot think that the observations which have just fallen from the noble Lord are likely to affect in any way your Lordships' desire to give a Second Reading to the Bill. The point that he mentioned is arguable, and one which may well be discussed in Committee. It only touches, if he will forgive my saying so, in the most fractional way the really important and vital matter which is submitted to your Lordships' House. At this late hour it is quite unnecessary for me to speak at any length on the importance of the matter, but it affects vitally the efficiency of the Church of England. The Bishoprics Bill may sound a simple and uninspiring thing, but that is really what is at stake. If the Church of England has a work to do it is worth while that it should be able to do it well, and whether or not it is to do it well depends upon the reality, the vigour, the efficiency of this diocesan system.

The noble Viscount was entirely within the mark when he said that owing to the growth of the population, owing, perhaps, quite as much to the complexity of the problems with which the Church of England has to deal, and, happily, to the growth of the standard of work which the Church of England is expected to fulfil, there are many dioceses at the present time in England in which it is impossible for the Bishop with the best will in the world, to fulfil his office adequately. It is a difficulty which affects him both in the paternal and in the disciplinary aspects of his work. If he is to be an overseer in point of discipline it is at least necessary that he should see, and if he is to be a father among the people it is necessary that he should be seen. Neither of these conditions can at present be properly fulfilled in many cases. I say nothing of the effect of the present system upon the health of Bishops; that is comparatively a minor matter. I think more might be said of the difficulty of securing in this burden of administrative detail the time necessary for thought and reading, which are essential to any one who is called upon to occupy the position of a Bishop. I would urge that it is a matter which concerns not only the Bishops and the Clergy but the people themselves. Happily there is everywhere a growth of corporate spirit, and that corporate spirit depends for its vitality upon the presence in the midst of the people of a Bishop who is something more than a dignitary appearing at intervals on some ceremonial occasion.

I can speak from personal experience, both of the need of the creation of new Bishoprics and of the inadequacy of the present method of procedure. As the noble Viscount has reminded your Lordships, my own huge and unwieldy diocese cries out for subdivision. It is quite impossible for me, even with the aid of that inestimable diocesan agent the motor-car, to undertake the supervision of a population of nearly two millions of people, of 660 benefices, and more than 1,000 clergy, and of an area 100 miles long and forty-five broad, together with all the duties that belong to my office as the Archbishop of the Province. It is proposed, as the noble Viscount said, to create a diocese in Sheffield. No one objects to it in Yorkshire. Every one is cordially in favour of it, even the Nonconformists. At the first meeting a Nonconformist Lord Mayor was in the chair, and he has taken the most active interest in the question ever since. From first to last I have scarcely heard of any objection from any one on the spot. The proposed diocese satisfies all the necessary conditions. It contains a homogeneous population of manufacturing and coal producing people, and it has an obvious and proper centre in the great city of Sheffield. The money has been generously subscribed; £50,000 is required, of which £40,000 practically has already been subscribed. It is only in another place that any difficulty has occurred. Here is the need for a separate diocese, and the means provided by which a separate diocese can be formed. When I speak of the means I ought to mention that £1,000 a year is to be taken from the income of the Archdiocese of York. The Archbishop himself and the people are not only agreed that the thing should take place, but are themselves subscribing the money by which it can be realised.

Now I come to the inadequacy of the present system of procedure. We introduced a separate Sheffield Bishopric Bill in another place. There was everything in its favour. His Majesty's Government expressed their desire that it should pass; the ballot was favourable; the course of the Bill was as easy as could be expected; but at the last moment it fell a victim to the risks and pitfalls inevitable to the passing of a private Bill through the House of Commons. The effect of that failure has, of course, been extraordinarily depressing upon those who have subscribed such a large sum of money. But it is worse than that. It means that until such a Bill can get through Parliament the whole Church life and work of that district is arrested. New beginnings are impossible, and until the Bill passes there is inevitable stagnation. In these circumstances I think it is not too much to ask that facilities should be offered to enable these new Bishoprics to be created without the tedium and uncertainty and the general paralysis of the work of the Church which ensue upon the present position. I will not at this hour even venture to anticipate objections that can be brought. I do not think that in this House they will be brought at all on any question of principle. The principle is obvious; the need is urgent in many places. There are at the present moment, as the noble Viscount has said this evening, three Bishoprics already needed and waiting to be created—Sheffield, Essex, and Suffolk; and where there is no principle that can be questioned, and where no public money is involved, not even from the common fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and. where no living soul suffers any grievance whatever, our plea is that the administration should be rendered as simple as the principle is sound and the need urgent.


My Lords, I only rise to repeat the approval of this Bill which I was able to give last year. I think we may all anticipate a favourable reception and passage for it in your Lordships' House. It is in another place that difficulties are likely to occur, but even there I hope the Bill may meet with an atmosphere of good-will which will enable it to pass into law before the conclusion of the session.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.

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