HL Deb 28 July 1910 vol 6 cc553-78


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN had given notice, on the Order for the Second Reading being read, to move that the consideration of the Bill be postponed until after the autumn recess. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Motion which I wish to submit to your Lordships has nothing to do with the merits of the Bill, and therefore I will not go into them any further than to say that the Bill effects, as I am sure every one will agree, a considerable change in the law. The objection which I take to proceeding with the Second Reading now is on behalf of the general liberties of the House. We have on frequent occasions objected very strongly to the indecorous, as we thought, and almost indecent way in which Bills were rushed upon this House. This Bill, I must say, appears to me to sin in this direction to a very remarkable degree. It is not as if we were within three or four days of the end of the session. I very much wish we were, but, as that contingency has not arisen, what I want to know is the reason why this Bill is forced upon the House with such insufficient notice. This Bill was only ordered to be printed on July 21. I do not know whether other members of your Lordships' House may have received it, but I do not think I received my copy until Tuesday, certainly not until Monday. As I understand, His Majesty's Government wish to press this Bill with the intention of passing it through all its stages here before we adjourn. Is that so?


We will answer that in clue course.


Will the noble Earl in charge of the Bill tell me whether I am correct in imagining that it is proposed to pass this Bill through all its stages in this House before we adjourn for the recess?


I think this kind of question is most inconvenient at this stage, but if the noble Earl insists upon it, I will say at once—


I beg the noble Earl's pardon. If it is inconvenient I will withdraw the question. The Bill, as I have said, was circulated on Monday of this week. It is an important Bill and effects an important change in the law. Why are we to be called upon to proceed with this Bill at once? What necessity is there for hurry? We shall meet in November, and, as I understand, we shall probably have nothing to do when we first meet, and there will be ample time to consider the Bill in an orderly and decent manner. It is not even as if this Bill had passed through your Lordships' House on previous occasions. It is not even as if it had passed through the other House of Parliament. It is a Bill introduced here for the first time. I believe it was introduced by the Government in the other House on two occasions, but was not proceeded with on either occasion; and so far as this House is concerned it is an entirely novel Bill. I think I have made my objection pretty plain to your Lordships, and I do not think it necessary to trouble you, at all events just now, with any further remarks. I beg to move.

Moved, That the consideration of the Bill be postponed until after the autumn recess.—(The Earl of Camperdown.)


My Lords, I will at once reply to the question which was addressed to me by the noble Earl in the course of his remarks. It was difficult at the beginning of the noble Earl's observations to give him a definite answer, because the course which His Majesty's Government will take on an occasion like this must necessarily very largely depend upon the sentiment of your Lordships' House and the opinions which are expressed in various quarters of the House, and I do not think it would have been altogether respectful to your Lordships if we had at once definitely answered the noble Earl either in the affirmative or the negative.


Hear, hear.


And perhaps the noble Earl underrates the effect of his own arguments. We might have wished to proceed at once with the Bill, but we might have been persuaded by the arguments of the noble Earl to postpone its consideration. I will confine myself to discussing the Motion now before the House. It is, I think, somewhat unusual that we should discuss a proposal of this kind before the Second Reading has been moved, but it is consequent upon a Standing Order that this Motion in the form moved by the noble Earl must be taken first. May I point out that we are not acting without precedent in this matter? Other Bills were introduced almost at the same time, I think, as this Bill, and your Lordships do not seem to object to passing those Bills without greater time for consideration. The noble Earl omitted to point out that a Bill very similar, though I think with a different title but with the same object, has been introduced into the other House on a previous occasion, and was there read a second time by a majority of two to one. It was introduced again in the following year, and was supported strongly on both sides of the House and passed without a Division. It was carried through Grand Committee, but although brought forward again in the House it never got beyond the First Reading stage. Therefore the matter is not so entirely new as might appear. At any rate the Bill has been on previous occasions before Parliament. It is, therefore, within the cognisance of members of your Lordships' House at any rate who might then have been sitting in another place, and consequently cannot be described as being a wholly new question. In these circumstances I venture to hope that your Lordships will allow the Bill to be proceeded with this evening.


My Lords, I do not think the House can have been surprised that my noble friend behind me should have urged that we were entitled to be given adequate time in which to consider and discuss the provisions of this Bill. It is an important Bill, and it contains certainly a number of highly controversial propositions. My noble friend is correct in saying that it has only been a. very few days before us, and that we have, therefore, not bad full opportunity of examining it. I am not convinced by the noble Earl's argument that the fact of this Bill having been before the House of Commons for some time is of itself sufficient to induce us to dispense with those opportunities of debate which we should otherwise be entitled to insist upon. But my noble friend, I observed, insisted in his argument mainly on the point, that he had been given to understand that His Majesty's Government desired to pass this Bill through all its stages during the few days that remain between to-night and the adjournment for the holidays. I am not aware whether that is so, but I think the noble Earl opposite was fully justified when he told us just now that he is not prepared to make any statement upon that point until he has learned from the discussion which will shortly commence what views are entertained in all parts of the House with regard to this Bill. It seems to me, in these circumstances, that my noble friend would he well advised if he would allow us to proceed with the debate upon the Second Reading of the Bill. His Majesty's Government will then have an opportunity of considering whether they should press the Bill forward now or await a later opportunity.


My Lords, as expressions have been invited from different parts of the House, I venture, with great submission, to support what has fallen from the noble Marquess. Will the Government give an undertaking that if the Second. Reading is passed this afternoon no further stage will be proceeded with before the adjournment? I venture also to point out that you cannot altogether disregard the character of this measure in discussing this particular Motion. If this were a trumpery Bill that involved no particular principle at all, there would be no objection to our proceeding to pass it through all its stages at the present time; but the noble Earl in charge of the Bill has given no reasons whatever for proceeding with what I can only term the indecent haste which he proposes to utilise on the present opportunity. It is no argument to say that this Bill or a similar Bill has been read a second time in the House of Commons; for, so far as that goes, a Female Suffrage Bill was read in the House of Commons a second time the other clay. That is an entirely impracticable argument to apply to present circumstances. Perhaps one of the noble Earl's colleagues will give a reason why this Bill is introduced at the present moment and why the Government are anxious to pass it through all its stages; but I venture to suggest that no reason has been hitherto given, and I hope that the proposal made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition will be acceded to.


My Lords, I think the observation made by my noble friend the Lord President with regard to the fact that the Bill had been more than once considered in another place has been somewhat misapprehended. Of course, it is true that in a sense that fact need have no particular weight with your Lordships. But what my noble friend desired to indicate was that the subject was no new one. It has been a matter of public discussion for the last twenty years or so, and presumably, therefore, anybody who takes any interest in it at all is familiar with the general outlines of the Bill. I should not go further than that; but it does differ in that respect from an entirely novel proposal brought before the House for the first time.

The noble Lord has asked whether His Majesty's Government will give an undertaking that if the discussion proceeds to-day no further steps will be taken with regard to the Bill until November. As the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition very fairly said, any decision upon that subject, so far as His Majesty's Government are able to decide it, must depend on the nature of the comments made on the Bill in the course of the discussion. For all I know, the Bill might pass through without opposition, and without knowing what the character and extent of the opposition to it is likely to be, and whether it is of a kind which could be disposed of in half an hour in Committee or would involve very prolonged discussion—without being able to realise those points by some discussion on the Second Reading it is not possible for us to give a definite answer to that question. We should be glad if it could go through, because it is a. good Bill. But the decision whether the Bill should go through in the course of next week is, of course, one which the House must decide, after, as I say, the nature and strength of the opposition to it or the criticism which may be directed at it have been divulged by what takes place on Second Reading.


Perhaps with the permission of the House I might say one word with regard to the course I propose to take on this Motion. I quite admit that it was a mistake on my part to ask the Government at that particular stage to say whether they meant to proceed with the Bill. I merely thought that I might save your Lordships' time. The noble Earl and the Leader of the House have quite properly said that they did not feel themselves at that moment able to answer the question. With regard to this Motion, what I propose to do is to accept the advice which was tendered to me by the noble Marquess and withdraw the proposal, so as to allow the House to proceed to discuss the merits of the Bill on Second Reading. But I reserve, of course, full power to myself, after your Lordships have decided what you will do regarding the Second Reading, to make any subsequent Motion at a later stage of the Bill. On that understanding I withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


My, Lords, after the little discussion which has taken place I suppose we may now proceed to discuss the merits of this particular Bill, to which I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading. Perhaps I might, in beginning, say that I noticed on referring to what occurred in the Standing Committee in another place that two noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench were members of that Standing Committee—Lord Salisbury and Lord Midleton, who both seem to have taken part in the discussions in the Standing Committee of the other House on this Bill.

To turn to the Bill itself, your Lordships will, I think, see even from a cursory examination of it what its object is. Considerable objection, rightly or wrongly, is taken to the leasehold system up and down this country. There are a great many cases of hardship falling upon individuals, and in connection with that echoes occasionally reach your Lordships' House. We are not, however, dealing on this occasion with any case in which an individual suffers hardship, but with the circumstances which attend a religious body when they find that the lease which they have taken of a certain piece of land, and on which they have built their chapel, falls in and they are unable to secure a renewal of the lease. Under the Bill the landlord will get full value for his land. That is, we think, amply secured by the provisions which assimilate the procedure under this Bill to the procedure under the Lands Clauses Act.

There is this, I think, to be said on behalf of those bodies who are particularly interested in this matter. They are themselves in a peculiar position, because they do not have that privilege which does exist, although I admit it is not often used, in the case of the Church of England. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners have power to acquire any freehold they require for the purpose of building a church. Naturally the Nonconformists of this country have not got that power. What we propose under this Bill is that where the landlord has shown his willingness to lease to them a piece of land they should be able to turn that lease into a freehold so long as the piece of land and the chapel erected thereon continue to be used for the same purposes as those expressed in the trust deed. The grievance such as it is—and it is a considerable grievance—is felt by the Free Churches in all parts of the country. When a similar Bill was brought forward some fifteen years ago it was stated that within the previous fifty years in the metropolis over fifty Congregational chapels had ceased to exist, the land and sometimes the buildings themselves being devoted instead to trading and other purposes; and what has been experienced by one body has also been experienced by the other.

I will give, as an instance, the position in a Welsh county. In one Welsh parish there are twenty chapels and one schoolroom, which have been built upon leasehold land at a cost of more than £45,000. At least eight of the chapels were erected on a thirty years lease; and in the case of a chapel which cost £3,000, when a further sum of £2,000 was spent upon it the lease was renewed for another thirty years. But although this money is spent in order to improve the chapels and to provide this accommodation, there is no security of any sort or kind that at the expiration of the lease the building or land will be available for this purpose. I ask your Lordships to turn to the Bill itself. You will see at once that there is no attempt in the Bill to secure any recognition of the enfranchisement of any land except land held on leases by trustees for the purpose of public worship; and I am sure your Lordships will recognise at once that there is a very clear and distinct difference between leases held for such a purpose as that and leases which are held for residential or trade purposes. The objects for which these leases are held command at any rate the good wishes of your Lordships' House, and can very easily be placed in a category entirely by themselves.

In Clause 1 trustees holding under leases to which the Bill applies, and which are specified in subsection (2), are given the compulsory powers referred to, and the Bill is to apply to existing as well as to future leases. The proviso to subsection (1) contains two exceptions to the right conferred in the preceding subsection—

  1. (a) if the premises exceed two acres in extent the trustees shall not be entitled to exercise such right in respect of more than two acres thereof;
  2. (b) this Act shall not apply where the premises are used or are proposed to be used for the purposes of a place of worship in contravention of any convenant contained in the lease.
Clause 2 provides the machinery by which the compulsory powers are to he carried out, and that is modelled upon the procedure prescribed by the Lands Clauses Act, which deals with the manner in which and the conditions under which lands can be compulsorily acquired, for purposes either of national defence, or general government, or of a local or municipal character, and, under certain circumstances—that is to say, in the case of railways or tramways —of a commercial character combined with public utility. So that you see a very similar power is already conferred on a number of companies, and considering the special circumstances of these religious bodies we do not think that it is asking a. very large measure of concession from your Lordships to extend it to places of worship. The sections of the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, mentioned in Clause 2, are the sections dealing with the respective rights as to minerals. Clause 3 saves existing covenants. The first part of the clause is framed on Section 65 of the Conveyancing Act of 1881. The definitions in Clause 4 do not, I think, call for special attention front me on this occasion.

I might refer to subsection (d) of Clause 2— (d) No allowance shall be made on account of the acquisition being compulsory. There are several precedents for such a provision as this—namely, in the Local Government Act, 1894; the Metropolitan Water Act, 1902; the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1907; the Housing and Town Planning Act 1909; and the Development and Road Improvements Fund Act also of last year. The modifications of the Lands Clauses Act set out in the Schedule follow the precedent of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act and the Housing and Town Planning Act. Paragraph (6) follows the precedent of the Public Offices Sites Extension Act, and a similar provision has also been inserted in numerous private Acts passed by the London County Council. One matter in connection with this Bill has been mentioned to me which seems to have caused some fear on the part of various members of your Lordships' House. It has seemed to them possible that trustees who acquired the sites of these places of worship would be able, having once enfranchised them, to sell the land for trading or commercial purposes. That, however, is not so. If your Lordships will turn to the Schedule and look at paragraph (3), you will 'see that it is there provided that if the trustees desire to sell the premises or any part thereof, Sections 127 to 132 of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, shall apply as if the premises or part thereof were superfluous lands within the meaning of those sections. That, in our opinion, entirely safeguards the landlords supposing the trustees were to try and divert the use of this land to other purposes. We also think that it would be impossible for them to let the land for other purposes, although that is a somewhat technical point with which I need not trouble your Lordships at this moment, but with which, if necessary, we could deal in Committee.

Finally, I do not know that it is necessary for me to say more than that the object of the Bill is very plainly set forward in the Bill itself; and in view of the fact that' in all these cases the landlords must have been willing that there should be a place of worship on their land and have therefore leased land for that purpose, we do not think that in continuing that piece of land for the purpose of public worship we are inflicting any hardship on the landlords, who have already, as I have said, expressed themselves willing, and in some cases even anxious, that there should be a place of worship for their neighbours in that particular locality. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Beauchamp.)


My Lords, I should like to say one word on this matter. I personally had hoped that your Lordships might have been able to defer the consideration even of the Second Reading of this Bill until a later period of the session, because it is a Bill which, although not a new one, yet undoubtedly does raise several very important matters. It is, I suppose, almost too late nowadays to oppose a Bill solely on the ground that it interferes with private property or the sanctity of contracts. But there was a time, not very long ago, when that would have been a good argument, and I should like your Lordships to consider for a moment the very rapid progress which Parliament is making in leaving off what no doubt are old-fashioned methods, but what at one time were regarded as methods of honesty. Land could not be taken compulsorily from any one unless for very good reasons given, except for some public purpose, and certainly for no purpose whatever unless the purchase was approved by Parliament itself.

That was in what I may call, I suppose, the good days, before we knew the present Government or their immediate predecessors; but since their advent to power there has really been a very considerable change. It began, I think, with the Act which was mentioned by the noble Earl in moving the Second Reading of this Bill—the Small Holdings Act. In that Act, I think for the first time, land was allowed to be taken compulsorily by an Order of a Department unconfirmed by Parliament. Now under this Bill you reach what really is, I hope, the limit of any possible villainy in this respect. You provide that an individual, of his own volition, may purchase compulsorily land which belongs to his ground landlord, without the approval of any Department or without the approval of Parliament. I venture to say that is a very large advance upon what we have always recognised as the methods of compulsory purchase of land in this country.

There are a large number of details in this Bill, even if we accept the principle, which require careful consideration. In many respects it is a very technical measure. I should like to refer to one instance, and perhaps it is only a minor matter. It may be quite right that a reversion of buildings used as places of public worship should be vested in the leasehold. It may be no real hardship to take away that particular reversion from the ground landlord, because I imagine that in the great majority of cases leases for that class of building are in any case continued. At all events in my experience I have never heard of a case where the landlord has exercised his right. But in the term "place of worship" is included the minister's house "attached to or used in connection with any place of worship." I suggest to the noble Earl that there may be instances where the minister's house, although it is used in connection with a place of worship, does not necessarily adjoin a place of worship. A minister may be occupying a dwelling house which was not intended for a minister's house at all. There are many cases I know of where a house is provided for the purposes of a minister, but the clergyman has let it and taken a smaller house elsewhere. It appears that under this Bill he could claim that the purchase of the freehold should be allotted to him personally. That seems to me a considerable hardship upon the ground landlord. I do not wish to go into the details of the Bill now, but I hope, even if your Lordships do grant a Second Reading to the Bill to-day, you will be prepared to put off the Committee stage until after the autumn.


My Lords, I cannot agree with any noble Lord who says that we are not competent to discuss this Bill now. This Bill in many ways has been urgently needed for years, and in some respects I do not think the Bill goes anything like far enough. The noble Lord who has just spoken complained of the tendency to extend the power of compulsory acquisition of land outside the scope of Parliamentary control. If your Lordships want to preserve your rights of property in land, it is essential that you should recognise the right of the community to come in and acquire land where it is necessary for the convenience and welfare of any substantial body of the population, provided fair and proper compensation is paid. The noble Earl the Lord President of the Council mentioned that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have power to acquire compulsorily land as sites for churches, and I think it is desirable that other bodies wishing for sites for places of worship should have similar power, subject to a right of appeal to some proper authority being granted to the owners of the land.

I do not see why, when there is a substantial body of the community wanting land which is essential as a site on which to erect a building for the common exercise of their religion, they should not have reasonable opportunities of acquiring it; and I believe there is not one in a hundred among members of your Lordships' House who would refuse a site in these circumstances, however distasteful to him the doctrines of the particular body might be. I think the noble Earl the Lord President made a mistake when he said that you might infer, from the fact that existing landowners or their predecessors had granted the leasehold of sites for religious worship, that they were in sympathy with that object. I believe that many landowners have, from a sense of fair-play, readily granted sites for places of worship which were positively distasteful to them.

The noble Earl mentioned Wales. No doubt if you rake up the past history of Wales there have been many cases of very great grievance. I do not say that you could not rake up some cases of grievance now; but I believe that the number of landowners who would venture to withstand the criticism of public opinion and refuse a site is very small. I should be glad if this Bill went further, and enabled, under suitable protection of the reasonable rights of property, the acquisition of sites for the development of other purposes. Not more than an hour ago I was criticising an attempt to invade the rights of private property beyond what was necessary for the particular purpose to be accomplished, but your Lordships were quite ready cheerfully to interfere with the private rights of patrons, although previous legislation showed that that interference had not been found necessary for the purpose of providing new Bishoprics. I think this Bill is subject to criticism from the same point of view. I entirely agree with simple and cheap machinery for settling the compensation to be awarded. I would negative expressly the customary ten per cent. I think if people wish to enfranchise buildings of this sort, they should be allowed to do so at the real value. I do not see, however, that because the purpose for which any particular property is required is desirable the owner should be compelled to give up the reversion for less than its real value. By enacting, as is proposed in this Bill, that in determining the amount of any compensation the value of any buildings erected by the trustees or improvements made by them shall be excluded, the landlords affected would be made compulsory subscribers to chapel funds, and Parliament would thus be practising a vicarious generosity. If a man takes land on lease- hold, especially on a short lease, it is quite obvious that he pays a much smaller-ground rent than if he took a feu or a, 999 years lease.

Lord Clinton called attention to the power to take the house occupied by the minister as well as the chapel. I assume the Bill means held under the same trust and the same lease. If in a town like Southport the minister of a chapel takes, a house convenient for his chapel from the ground landlord the Bill would not give him a right to enfranchise that house. I think the Bill means where you take one conveyance for the chapel and for a minister's house with it. If that is right if that is a sound principle to adopt, you ought certainly, especially in Wales, to go further, for practically every one of the chapels in the part of Wales that I know has also a chapel-keeper's house attached to it, and it is much more essential to the chapel that you should enfranchise the chapel-keeper's house, which is substantially a necessary part of the building, than the minister's house. If you are to affirm the principle that lessees should have the right to enfranchise the site of' their chapel without the landlord taking into consideration the value of the building, including the minister's house, then I say distinctly that in Committee you ought to extend it so as to include the chapel-keeper's house. If you grant the principle you ought fairly to go furthers. For my part I heartily agree with the principle. I am quite sure many of your Lordships who have property where there are a large number of these chapels have been only too glad to grant the fee simple where you could. This is a thing which all of us are doing as far as we can of our own accord. But it is one thing to do a thing of your own accord and another-for the law to step in and say this shall he done and your legal rights altered whether you like it or not.

There is another provision in the Bill, that the intermediate landowner, as I may call him, may take an annuity of the rent-charge instead of a capital sum, but the ultimate landlord, I think, is bound to be paid off in capital. I may mention that in Lancashire we have chief rent for perpetuity, or in those towns of Lancashire where we do not have chief rent we have a 999 years lease, which is equivalent to a perpetuity. I am quite sure that many landowners would much prefer to get their rent in perpetuity than be paid off and have to reinvest their money. But, my Lords, this Bill in principle ought to be passed. It is very much needed. It is fair and proper, and I hope your Lordships will go a great deal further in recognising that the land on which the people live must somehow or other by law be made much more accessible for any purpose which is reasonably desired by a substantial number. I do not say that A.B. is to be able to go to a farmer and say, "I want this field," and get it. You have gone some way towards that by the Small Holdings Act. But where any reasonable section of the community demand land I think they ought to be able to get it. If, however, it is to be recognised that the lessees of chapel property are to get the property for less than the legal value, why should not a municipality be entitled, if they are fortunate enough to get a reasonably short lease from a landowner—say twenty-seven years—to turn round when the land has developed and acquire it under the law at a price below its value? As your Lordships have shown a disregard of this point in the case of ecclesiastical matters, it may be said that you will show the same disregard as to secular. Whether that will be the result or not, we have set a precedent which I notice your Lordships shuddered at when the question came up with regard to Ireland and Scotland. And if you set these precedents on behalf of the established Church and the Nonconformists, I hope we shall be equally self-sacrificing in the interests of the community at large.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down and my noble friend Lord Clinton have found in this Bill at least the germs, if not something more, of some very wide principle with regard to dealing in land. I do not look at it in that way, and I do not think the Bill deserves the denunciation of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton; nor do I find in the Bill any warrant for the proposals the noble Lord who has just sat down has made for a wide extension of the principle of the Bill itself to all kinds of property held for all kinds of purposes by all kinds of bodies. It may be right and proper that some consideration should be given to the necessity, which no doubt exists in some cases, for regular religious bodies to obtain sites for places of worship. That is not a matter dealt with by this Bill, and it does not seem to me, therefore, to be a thing that can be profitably discussed on the present occasion. What this Bill proposes is simply this, as I understand it: that where the landlord or his predecessor has voluntarily given a site on a building lease for a chapel, when that lease comes to an end the persons representing the religious body which owns the chapel shall be entitled to claim the enfranchisement of that site on such terms as are proposed under the Bill. I believe there is a real grievance in this matter that requires to be remedied. I cannot quote a particular instance, but I have certainly heard of cases in which, where such leases have been granted, landlords have declined on any terms to renew them, with the result that the congregations had to discontinue their services in chapels where they and their forefathers had been worshipping, perhaps, for seventy or eighty years. I do not believe for a moment that your Lordships will defend such an exercise of his right on the part of any landlord, and I think the noble Lord is correct in saying that landlords as a rule have shown themselves most generous in these matters, and have readily given sites to religious bodies with whose principles and tenets they themselves entirely disagree. But as these cases to which I have alluded have undoubtedly happened, there is a grievance which Parliament assuredly ought to endeavour to remedy. That is all we are considering, as I understand it, in discussing the Second Reading of this Bill. But what has been said will be enough to point out to His Majesty's Government that there are points in this Bill which do require careful discussion and consideration, and in these circumstances I hope its further stages will be adjourned to the autumn sitting. We shall then have plenty of time to consider such points as have been raised with regard to compensation in respect of particular buildings which may be considered necessary for the purposes of worship in the chapel, whether it be the minister's house or the caretaker's house or anything else which is included in the agreement under which the chapel is held, and the mode in which the compensation should be given, whether by an annual rent-charge to the landlord or a lump sum. Those matters can be considered in detail when the time comes. All we are asked to do to-day is to admit the grievance and give a Second Reading to a Bill which proposes to remedy it. I hope that your Lordships may be disposed to take that course.


My Lords, I will only trouble your Lordships with a few words in support of this Bill on Second Reading. I think this question may be approached from two points of view—in the interests of religious communities and in the interests of property. Naturally it is chiefly as the Bill affects the interests of religious communities that I venture to say a few words. This is not a matter which directly concerns the Church of England. I should like to remove a misapprehension which might be created by what has been said, I think on both sides of the House, that the Church of England is in the habit of exercising compulsory powers for the acquisition of freeholds for its places of worship. That is not so. It is true that, by virtue of two Acts of Parliament passed in the reign of George III, the Church Building Commissioners, now the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, have such compulsory powers, but those powers are coupled with so many antiquated provisions that I am informed they are never used. I do not know of any instance within recent memory in which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have compulsorily acquired freehold property for sites. Therefore I should like to make it plain that it is not proposed to bestow upon other religious bodies a privilege which is in the enjoyment of the Church of England and which the Church of England continually exercises. What is true is that in the case of the Church of England no parish church can be consecrated until the freehold has been acquired. Therefore so far as our parish churches are concerned the difficulties contemplated in this Bill cannot arise. They can only arise in the case of unconsecrated buildings.

But I am informed that in many parts of the country there is, as has been pointed out to your Lordships, a very great grievance on the part of many members of other religious communities. They have spent large sums of money upon the building of their chapels. They have become attached to the place in which these chapels are situated, and it is a real grievance if they should be subjected to the risk at the end of the time of being turned out of premises towards the erection of which so much money has been given and to which so much association is attached. It is because I feel that there is this grievance on the part of many Nonconformists that I trust your Lordships may so far as possible be able to remedy it. With regard to the matter as it affects the interests of property, it is obviously not within my competence to deal with that side of the question. I think it has been abundantly made plain that there are points in this Bill that require greater clearness of expression and of definition. With those I do not deal. They have been dealt with sufficiently by noble Lords upon both sides. As a matter of fact, I believe that the grievance alleged only occurs in a few cases, because am satisfied that the great majority of your Lordships would be willing to extend a leasehold in cases where money has been expended on the buildings. But there is, of course, always the possibility of an exception to that general rule, and it is to guard against the grievance that arises if powers are exercised by landlords against the interests of these religious communities that this Bill is directed. I can only say, on behalf of those who sit on these Benches, that we give our cordial support to the general principle of this Bill.


My Lords, I cannot help saying one or two words upon the debate we have just heard. We have been told by the noble Earl on the Front Bench opposite that a. great ninny people would very much like to have the fee simple of the site of the buildings which they have erected on lease, and he thinks it a great argument in favour of his Bill that landlords have given their land for this purpose, and therefore in his opinion there is no injustice in annexing the freehold. I know that the ethics of private life and political life are totally different, It would not be possible for noble Lords opposite to treat such matters as these in private life as they treat them in political life. Supposing I lend the noble Earl a horse. I may possibly ask a little money for it by way of hire. The noble Earl's argument comes to this, "I have taken a fancy to this horse and now I intend to buy it"; and he uses my kindness in allowing him to. use the horse for a certain number of months as an argument in favour of my taking no objection to his depriving me of my horse altogether. Those are the ethics of the present proposal.

This proposal is excused upon two grounds. One is that land, as is sometimes said, is a monopoly. It has again and again been stated in this debate that landlords have been liberal in giving their land to various religious denominations, whether they are in favour of the tenets of those denominations or not. Lord Sheffield, who, I think, is partial in such matters, made some reservation in regard to Wales. Of Wales I know nothing. I must confess that I was sorry my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn should have made the statement that he had heard of several very hard cases. Lord Clinton said he was totally unaware of any instance in which either buildings had been unfairly resumed, or the use of land for the purpose bad been refused. I do think that if assertions such as the noble Viscount made are to be brought forward they should be substantiated.

It has been implied that the monopoly to which I have referred is so great that these denominations cannot get land for their purposes, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, said it was a great consideration how many people wanted it. That is an excellent argument for taking land compulsorily for religious purposes, but it is no argument whatever for taking advantage of a landlord's kindness in letting a site for a particular building and saying that that particular site should be taken compulsorily. I must say I was somewhat surprised, if he will forgive my saying so, at what the most. rev. Primate said. He most fairly admitted that the question as it concerned the landlord did not concern him. All he felt was that it was very convenient for religious bodies to get property. That I quite admit. But he went further, and said that it was a great grievance that buildings should be erected on leasehold unless the land could be acquired when wanted in fee simple. That is practically the argument he used. My Lords, how far does that go? It is not a religious argument. These people have erected the buildings on the understanding that it was a leasehold, with the full knowledge that at the termination of the lease they would be liable to be dis- possessed. If that is the canon to be laid down by ecclesiastical authorities as to the way we should treat land, I can only say that it is rather a far-reaching doctrine.

I do not want to detain your Lordships by dealing with the details of this Bill. It is a very ill-drawn Bill and will require a great deal of discussion. It does not refer only to religious buildings. It is called the Places of Worship (Enfranchisement) Bill. I shall have to ask what is a place of worship. When I look at the definition I find that a place of worship means a church, a chapel, or a meetinghouse used for religious worship, and it includes a burial ground, a Sunday-school, and a minister's house. I think that is rather a large series of items to include under the title of this Bill. It does to some extent affect the Church of England, because a great many mission halls are given to the Church of England while the operations of the Church are extending with a view to the building of regular churches afterwards. That is a very good instance. I heard it stated just now in debate that the instances where a landlord would wish to resume the use of a building which had been used for religious worship were very few. But in the case of these mission halls, not a few of them are let on the understanding that when the parish is developed and when the church is built those mission halls shall be resumed for secular purposes. You are, therefore, by this Bill giving a power to religious bodies which they have not only never had before but which they have never dreamt of acquiring. I do not wish to detain the House further on this occasion, but I trust that plenty of time will be given for the consideration of this measure.


My Lords, may I add a few words in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill? First of all, I have very true sympathy for those who suffer the tremendous hardship of having a building taken away that they have used for public worship for fifty, sixty or seventy years. That is one reason that induces me to vote in favour of the Second Reading. Another reason is that I am most grateful to His Majesty's Government for their attitude in this matter. They have brought before the public, in the most definite and positive way, their sense of the extreme hardship which is inflicted on religious communities in being turned oat of buildings which have been hallowed as a place of worship for a number of years, and the hardship is enormously enhanced in the case of those whom it is proposed to dislodge from buildings the associations with which date back centuries.


My Lords, I certainly do not rise to oppose this Bill on the ground that it necessitates interference with contract. I do not know whether I ought to make an exception in the case of the noble Duke behind me, but I doubt whether any of us on this side of the House would be prepared to vote against, the Bill on the ground merely that it allowed an invasion of contract. My noble friend Lord Clinton spoke rather wistfully of what he called old-fashioned ideas and old-fashioned procedure with regard to these matters. I would be inclined to say that, while the old-fashioned procedure for the acquisition of land for public purposes was very much too slow, too cumbrous, and, above all, too expensive, modern procedure is perhaps tending to become a little too rapid and reckless. I would certainly never resist a well-considered proposal for compulsorily acquiring property in the public interest, making always these reservations—that those who desire to make out their case must first show that there is a real necessity for such acquisition; next, that there should be proper machinery for compensating those from whom the property is taken; and thirdly—and perhaps this is the most important of all—that there should be a trustworthy tribunal for the purpose of determining what that compensation should be. It is upon that last rock, I think, which some of our modern proposals are apt to split.

The particular proposal before us does seem, I must say, at first sight to be a somewhat violent interference with existing contracts, because these are contracts which have been entered into without any duress being applied and between people who are perfectly competent to make contracts and presumably to protect their own interests. And not only will an opportunity be given for disturbing contracts, but they are to be automatically disturbed whether any grievance is alleged or not. On the other hand I freely admit that it seems to me desirable in the public interest that the occupants of these places of worship should be given an amply secure tenure. I do not think it is even necessary that the advocates of these proposals should be able to produce a series of hard cases in order to support them. I would put it simply upon the broad ground that it was not a good thing that those who occupied. public places of worship should feel that they were liable, from one cause or another, to have their tenure rudely interrupted and to be expelled from the place in they and their predecessors may have worshipped for a great number of years. Therefore I think this proposal can be defended on its merits and without those somewhat dangerous excursions made by the noble Lord on the Back Bench opposite (Lord Sheffield), and, I think, also to some extent by the noble Earl who moved the Bill. The noble Earl began by making a very pointed reference to the prevailing dissatisfaction with what he called the leasehold system. That is a very large question, but for the present I do not think that the House need concern itself with more than the very concrete and limited proposal which is before it.

What has happened, I take it, all over the country is that many owners of land —I think I should be inclined to say most owners of land—have been ready to give to the different religious denominations opportunities of building places of worship upon their estates. That having been done, I doubt extremely whether there is any reason for giving them opportunities of resuming these places, because it is part of the scheme of this Bill that the trusts upon which the premises are originally conveyed are to survive. Therefore, all that will happen under the Bill will be that the chapel carried on as a Methodist chapel will continue to be carried on as a Methodist chapel. It seems to me not irrelevant to observe—and I believe I am correct in making the observation—that in the case of the Church of England it hardly ever happens that a new church is built except upon a freehold site.


It cannot be consecrated unless the site is freehold.


My case is even stronger than I thought. That being the practice in regard to the Church, I can understand the corresponding desire on the part of other denominations for permanency of tenure. I shall, therefore, give my vote for the Second Reading. But I think, after the discussion that has taken place, it must be abundantly clear to His Majesty's Government that there are a number of points in the Bill which require careful examination in detail, and it would be altogether unfair to the House to ask us to take the remaining stages of the Bill during the few days that separate us from the adjournment. The definition of "places of worship" is an extraordinarily loosely-drawn one, and certainly requires to be considered. There is again a. provision which affects not only leases but under-leases which requires to be examined, and I think there probably is a good deal to be said with regard to the whole of the proposals in the Bill relating to procedure. The Schedule is a very difficult document to study. It contains some extraordinary passages. May I read the first two lines of the Schedule? They run thus— The use of the premises as a place of worship and for purposes connected therewith shall be deemed to be the undertaking or the railway. That may be excellent drafting, but at first sight it reads rather curiously. Therefore I do make a very strong appeal to the noble Earl who will follow me to tell us that he will rest content for the present with the Second Reading of the Bill and that the remaining stages will be taken when we reassemble in the autumn.


My Lords, this debate has wandered somewhat beyond the narrow limits of the Bill itself, and in one or two cases has been diverted into a general disquisition upon the rights of property in land. I do not propose to follow those who have made these excursions, because I think this Bill must be taken on its merits and in respect to the particular matters to which it applies. The argument for the Bill is that it applies to places of worship, and certainly I am prepared to maintain, and I should have thought that most, noble Lords in the House would have been prepared to maintain, that a. place of worship is intrinsically different from other buildings of the ordinary kind erected under similar circumstances. I entirely agree with the substance of what has been said by the noble Marquess who has just sat down, and it appears to me to be the main reason for the Bill that the system of short leases is one which in itself is thoroughly inapplicable to an ecclesiastical building. If it had been applied to the churches of the Church of England we should have lost a great deal of that historic sentiment in relation to those buildings which those of us who belong to the Church of England so deeply value.

The most rev. Primate who spoke, as I was glad to observe, so strongly in support of the Bill, alluded to an observation of my noble friend's as to the compulsory powers possessed by the Church of England, and he very truly pointed out that those powers are not easy to exercise, and, as a matter of fact, they are not so far as I know, ever exercised. But, of course, it has to he borne in mind that there is not much reason to exercise them, because freehold land for churches can as a matter of fact always be obtained. I do not know what proportion of the land of England is in possession of members of the Church of England but it must be very large, and I feel almost sorry at this moment that we did not accept the proposition of the noble Lord opposite for a religious census, because it might have enabled us to insert a further table by which we could have come to know how much land belongs to members of the Church of England. It must be undoubtedly a very large proportion of the whole. Therefore the particular difficulties in respect of which this Bill is introduced do not arise in relation to the Church of England.

The noble Duke opposite took a very high line on this subject. He accused us of having an entirely different standard of ethics in public and private life, and asked how we should like to see in private life the principle of this Bill applied. I think the noble Duke has two very distinct standards of ethics—one for the House of Lords and the other as to his own estate management. Here we are familiar with speeches by the noble Duke pressing the rights of property to an extent which, I think, would almost have horrified a French marquis in the reign of Louis XV, whereas I am certain that in the management of his wide estates he does not press those rights, but acts as most, members of your Lordships' House do in giving a reasonable interpretation to the claims which he may possess by law.


Would the noble Earl specify in what respect I have to-night put forward any very strong views as to the rights of property?


The noble Duke apparently considered that it was an arbitrary invasion of those rights not to permit a landlord at the expiry of a lease of a place of worship to take it over and to put it to any use that he chose. That I consider to be an assertion of the rights of property which at this time it is impossible to maintain, and I am prefectly certain that the noble Duke on his own estates would not desire to do anything of the kind. I am convinced that if a case came before him he would desire to meet those who worship in a building of that kind, and whose fathers had worshipped there before, in the spirit that such a. case would be met, as I believe, by every member of your Lordships' House. I have no desire to enter into any of the various points of detail Which have been raised in the course of this discussion. The noble Marquess and the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, both appealed to us on this side not to ask the House to proceed with the later stages of this Bill before the adjournment. We should have been glad to proceed with them, but I can assure noble Lords opposite that in our desire to do so we had no malignant object in view. The reason why we should have liked to proceed with this measure and to get it through before the adjournment is that the autumn session will, I hope, not be a very long one, but so far as business in another place is concerned it may conceivably be a tolerably crowded session, and it would, in our opinion, have greatly facilitated the passage of the Bill if it could have been got through this House now and taken in another place in one of those intervals of business which, as one knows, always occur even in the most crowded sessions. Therefore, if we respond to the appeal of the noble Marquess and do not proceed with the Bill now, I hope that it may be possible to take the Committee stage at the very beginning of the autumn session. That will certainly give noble Lords interval enough to prepare their Amendments. All I hope is that when we reassemble noble Lords opposite will not ask for more time; otherwise the prospects of the Bill in another place would be in peril, and that, I think, almost all your Lordships would regret, because I think from the debate the general principle of this measure receives the assent of the vast majority of the House.

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