§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to Order).
*THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I have the gravest difficulty in saying what I feel I must say to-night. There is a pathetic unreality in the discussion of the measure which is now before your Lordships on the adjourned debate. The country is rightly and patriotically absorbed in a vast struggle involving the life and honour of the Empire. Our thoughts are far away, and matters of home policy which were stirring us deeply a few months ago create no very widespread interest now. And yet what is being done to-night? If the Motion of the noble Earl who is in charge of this Bill is carried in these totally novel conditions—for they are completely novel since this matter was last before us—what will be done? A thing which will in the deepest manner affect for generations to come the religious life of our country. The Government if it has its way will, in these novel conditions, not only cripple but literally paralyse great parts of our work and reduce to penury—I can use no other word—a large number of our best workers.
Things were bad enough a few months ago as the proposal stood then. But Wales was waking to the true aspect of the situation; some of the best Nonconformist opinion was becoming vociferous against Disendowment, and other people were becoming aware of the gravity of the forcible disintegration of the Church, which was being, as we thought, ruthlessly pressed upon us in the Government measure. Your Lordships, impressed by what was taking place, appointed from both sides of the House a representative Select Committee to look into the facts. Owing to the war, and owing solely to the war, that Committee has not yet reported. Could it have done so, and done so in a quiet atmosphere—impossible just now—the standpoint of many people on the whole subject would, I am persuaded, have been found to have largely changed. The presentation of a Report has not been possible. The thoughts, the interests—may I say the prayers?—of the people lie in directions other than that. Now the Government, freed by the people's patriotism, freed by absorption in those questions from the embarrassing position which might have arisen in consequence of such a Report and the 662 feeling that would have been awakened, desire to go forward and forthwith place upon the Statute Book, without the discussion of those great points, this impoverishing Bill—impoverishing not in the material sense only, but in the deeper sense which belongs to the sacred side of our work.
What need has even been suggested for this haste? I cannot imagine any, except on what I do not like to call purely Party political lines. I know of no one, outside the small clique in Wales itself, who desires at this moment to press this matter forward to an immediate conclusion. Reasons have been given yesterday and to-day why there are special difficulties attending the hanging up and postponement of the Irish question. I am not touching on the strength or the weakness of those reasons, which have been urged with great eloquence, but postponement was deprecated en account of the difficulties which might arise as regards the sentiment of the people on the great principles of Home Rule. But, my Lords, no vestige of reason was suggested in the discussion which took place yesterday as to any possible evil that could arise from the postponement of this measure on the lines of the proposal of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition. To-day, it so happens, I have been in personal touch with some of the leading English Nonconformists, with those to whose opinions the Free Churches in this country attach special weight, and they scouted the idea that the Government meant at this moment to press relentlessly forward the immediate operation of this measure. They assured me in the most positive way that they believed the Nonconformists of England at this moment would resent any attempt, during the stress of the war, to force into effect the previsions of this Bill. Indeed, they would hardly believe me when I told them that I thought it was seriously intended. I am not, of course, pretending to say that the opinion expressed to me would be found to be universally held among Nonconformists, but I do say that those gentlemen to whom I refer were amongst the foremost leaders in Nonconformist opinion in England, men entitled to the widest respect and to the most deferential hearing.
The argument that has been brought forward is that if this Bill is not now put upon the Statute Book the Parliament Act will be frustrated in its intent. Is that true? Is it a real argument that carries weight? 663 We have been told year after year that the object of the Parliament Act was a simple one, that it was to prevent the House of Lords from persistently thwarting the deliberate wishes of the House of Commons. Now, suppose there were no Parliament Act on the Statute Book and that the Government could pass—and perhaps in wartime they can pass—anything they liked in this House if they threw their weight into it, will any one say that the House of Commons at this time would think of trying to pass this Welsh Disestablishment Bill into law? I am perfectly certain that would not be the case. In one sense we might say that it is an actual thwarting of the purpose and spirit of the Parliament Act to use it for the purpose of doing something which is contrary to what was the Act's real purport and aim—namely, to secure that the House of Lords is not persistently obstructing the wishes of the House of Commons.
To some extent the inappropriateness and inopportuneness of pressing things forward now has been admitted and recognised, and the noble Marquess who leads the House told us last night that the Government recognise the hardship and are therefore introducing a Suspensory Bill. What does that Bill do? Your Lordships, unless you have paid close attention to the matter, are probably under the belief that by that measure everything will be postponed until the close of the war. Nothing could be further from the fact. If you will look into it in detail—by the courtesy of the noble Marquess I have seen a copy of the Bill, and I believe it will be in the hands of every one this evening—you will see that what the Bill does is to postpone for a few months what is technically described as "the date of Disestablishment." It does not, however, postpone the passing of the Act with all its immediate consequences. The Welsh Disestablishment Bill as introduced, and as it stands, proposes that on the day after the expiration of six months, or such extended period as His Majesty may fix by Order in Council, not being more than twelve months, after the passing of the Act—on that date, referred to as "the date of Disestablishment," such and such things shall happen. That is to say, six months must elapse after the passing of the Bill before the date of Disestablishment arrives; and it may be twelve months if the Government is so disposed. What this Suspensory 664 Bill does is nothing more than to say that it shall be twelve months; it merely makes compulsory that which is at present possible and indeed practically certain under the original Bill. But the things which are to become operative from the passing of the Act are not altered in any degree. They stand exactly as they were before, and if this Bill is now placed on the Statute Book we shall technically be obliged to begin, this week or the week after, the endeavour, though it is practically impossible, to take all the steps that are required for the important things which have to be done during the period which is to elapse between the passing of the Bill and the date of Disestablishment. That, my Lords, is an alleviation in name which seems to vanish almost wholly when we look at it in its practical operation.
It is true that the Bill goes on to say that if the Government so desire it may postpone the date of Disestablishment yet further, provided—and note this !—provided it is not later than the end of the war. The date of Disestablishment must come automatically at the very latest on the day when the war ends. What does that mean? It means that all the things we have to do in the interim must be done while the war is going on. While the thoughts of every one are directed in totally different directions we are to be asked to begin all those things which we are called upon to do during the period which was to pass—and which was intentionally meant to be a long period, because there was so much to do—between the passing of the Act and the coming in of the date of Disestablishment. There are Commissioners to be appointed, and they have to begin their work. There are all the arrangements which ought to be made forthwith, beginning let us say next week, for the formation of the Representative Body. That Representative Body at once begins to have duties; responsibilities have to be transferred to it; the Commissioners are to be in active operation; the Representative Body is called upon to be in active operation long before the date of Disestablishment comes. And all that has to be done now! Is it tolerable that we should be asked, at a time when, as I have said, the thoughts of every one are far away, to take steps which are most important, steps requiring meetings of the most important kind and the presence and help of the most 665 important men—that we should be asked to begin to take steps for putting into shape all those things to be ready against the date of Disestablishment? Yet that we shall be bound to do during the progress of this war. Is that a Suspensory Bill which gives us the kind of relief which was promised to us, the ordinary reasonable allowance which should have been made at such a time as this when the country is in the midst of an absolutely absorbing war?
There are many other things to be attended to before the date of Disestablishment comes. Every benefice as it falls vacant has to be treated after a new fashion. What we quite definitely understood was to happen was that there should be some date named—say the conclusion of the war—to which the whole thing should be postponed. What conceivable reason is there to put against such a postponement? If that is not done the hardship of the situation created both with regard to Disestablishment and Disendowment will be such as I find it difficult to characterise. Disendowment is to begin ipso facto when the war is over, if indeed the Government allow it to be delayed so long, because they have power to put it into operation before the end of the war if the war is prolonged. Anyhow, it is not to be allowed to be postponed beyond the date when the war comes to an end. By that time the Church will be called upon to make such provision as it can to make good the losses it will have sustained under the Bill which will then be an Act.
The Home Secretary indulged last year and the year before in an argument—I do not want to say a taunt—to this effect, "You have only to raise the money, !100,000 a year; it is a small sum. You have that to raise, and you will find you will be not much worse off than you were before." But, my Lords, at what moment is it that the people of England and Wales are to be asked to raise £100,000 a year for the sustenance of those whose incomes have been taken away under the Bill? At the moment when everybody has given every penny he can afford, and given it patriotically, to swell the funds needed for meeting our present difficulties. When men have done everything they can, emptied their purses and their coffers, and will in addition find themselves subject to heavy extra taxation, that is the moment when we are to be told, "Now set to work and make good the money we 666 have taken away from you." Those patriotic gifts which have been lavished at the present time as an initial step towards that which we shall probably have to go on doing for many a day will have depleted the very funds which would have been gladly and generously applied for the relief of the Welsh necessity. In short, it comes to this, that a Bill which would at any time have inflicted grave harm to the Church and seriously crippled its whole sources of supply, will now, by being brought into operation when it is, be absolutely devastating in its consequences. No reason whatever is given why the delay which has been asked for should not be allowed.
I say that when what is being done is rightly understood it will be felt that the Government have committed a grave error of judgment as to the feelings of the people of this country. We are, it may be, in the hands of the Government at this hour. No man in this House, certainly not I, wants at so grave an hour in our national life to raise any stormy controversy upon any matter whatever. As the Government have frankly admitted, everybody has been trying to do his very best to support them in the greatest task that has ever fallen upon the Government of this country. But, my Lords, to accept silently—it was almost suggested that we should do it gratefully—this mockery of alleviation is impossible. What we think of it is not very easy to put into words. To refrain from raising this solemn protest against such action, taken at such a time, would be to be false to the convictions of great numbers of the best, the most devoted, the most patriotic and thoughtful men and women in this country—not Churchmen only, but Nonconformists; not opponents of the Bill only, but supporters of the Bill, leading men who are at one with us in the protest against what we think is this grave wrong.
I hope the explanation of this cruel procedure is that the Government, in the stress of these absorbing and mighty events, have, perhaps not unnaturally, failed to realise the full bearing of what they are doing in this particular matter. But if that is not so, if they have realised it and deliberately intend to go forward notwithstanding what I have described, if they rest on the mere plea that Disestablishment in a technical sense has not taken place—if they rest on that, they are, 667 I venture to say, taking advantage of the war to do to us an intolerable wrong, a wrong which will be felt as such by honourable men for years and years to come.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I rise to move the adjournment of this debate. In doing so I shall not, of course, attempt to argue again the question of this Bill, which has been argued so often over the floor of this House; but I must follow to a certain extent in steps where the most rev. Primate has already trodden. Before I do that I want to refer to the eloquent speech which the Lord Chancellor made in respect of the Government of Ireland Bill. He looked forward to a time when the strain of this war, the influence of this mighty struggle, would have so profoundly affected our national life that people in Ireland, to whom hitherto agreement has been impossible, might win a national agreement and a national settlement out of the turmoil of this world struggle. And I think he meant chat the influence might go beyond the two parties in Ireland; that it might affect us too. Does he realise, can the Government realise, what they are doing now in passing this Bill for the Dismemberment and Disendowment of the Church in Wales? If the Government persist in their policy they are, in advance, rendering absolutely impossible that national unity out of this terrible calamity; they are introducing a breach into our national English and Welsh life such as has never existed hitherto in our history.
We have believed the passion for Disestablishment to be an ideal belonging to a past generation which bears no relation to the aspirations or needs of this century, but we have quite understood that you, the Government, have thought that the majority of the people in Wales had a right to demand it and did demand it. We have understood your view although differing from it. Then about Dismemberment. I have always felt that you have never been at all enthusiastic about Dismemberment. Yon have never really argued its merits. You have treated it as an unfortunate accident of Disestablishment, and your attitude has not been very different towards Disendowment. You have never said that you proposed partial Disendowment because you liked it, but because you did not conceive it possible to disestablish the Church in Wales without at least a partial measure of Disendowment. But you have always protested—and we have believed it so far as your Front 668 Bench is concerned—that you never were unfriendly to the Church in Wales. You have always protested that you hoped that your measure would not impair its spiritual efficiency. You have acknowledged frankly and freely that the money is being used and used well for sacred purposes. You have admitted that the Church in Wales could not do with less money, but you have always said that you believed that the Church of England and Wales would rise to the occasion and replace the funds of which the Church in Wales was deprived by your measure. I do not say that that represents the views of all your supporters in the country, but I believe that it has represented the views of the majority of them. I believe that you did not wish to cripple the work of the Church in Wales, and I believe that you thought that out of the vast resources of those who belonged to the Anglican Community in England and Wales these essential funds could be replaced.
But can you think so now? Is it possible for anybody who heard the speech of the most rev. Primate to think that the effect of this Bill, if you pass it as you propose, will be such as you have hitherto said it would be? I do not accuse you of meaning to mock; but surely you must see yourselves that the amount of respite that you are going to propose is a mockery and nothing else. The most rev. Primate proved that in his speech. Think of the task that lies before the Church. The most rev. Primate named the sum of £100,000 a year, but he will permit me to remind him that that is an understatement. The actual sum of which the Church will be deprived by this Bill is £157,000 a year. Why, my Lords, that sum capitalised amounts to more than the Prince of Wales's National Relief Fund; it can only be represented in millions. I ask the nation—not your Lordships' House only, I ask the nation —how possibly can the millions necessary to replace the tithes in Wales and the other endowments taken from the Church be collected during this war?—or after this war for some years to come, because the great financial strain is not coming during the war; it is coming after the war. There will be even less chance of collecting such a sum at the end of the war than there is now.
I cannot believe that the Government have really thought out what they are proposing to do. I cannot believe that this intense and wanton wrong is going to be perpetrated upon us until I see it actually done. May I ask upon whom 669 this wrong is going to be perpetrated? More than half the people of England and Wales are members of the Church of England, and of that majority of the population there are millions who are just as passionately devoted to their Church as they are to their country, and those are the very people at the present moment upon whom you are chiefly relying in the present crisis of our national life. I am not exaggerating when I say that in comparison to their numbers Church people are taking their full share of risk, of danger, and of work at the present moment. The most rev. Primate said that he had reason to believe that the Nonconformists of England did not realise what; was being done in their name. It is to my Nonconformist and Liberal fellow-countrymen in England and Wales that I would appeal. I appeal to them on the ground of our common faith and common nationality, I appeal to them by every instinct of generosity that pulsates through their breasts, not to inflict this wrong upon us now.
It would be so easy for Nonconformists to say on the question of Disestablishment, "We cannot give way, became that with us is a principle. Nor do we admit that we have not been hitherto justified in the action we have taken about Dismemberment and Disendowment. But we recognise that the circumstances have wholly changed; we recognise that this is not the moment to inflict what you believe conscientiously would be a wanton wrong upon all the Anglican community of England and Wales; therefore we do not in this great crisis of our national life insist any longer on Dismemberment or Disendowment." If the Nonconformists and Liberals of England and Wales would say that, they would strike a chord of nationality and sympathy among all Church people. Would not that be a real unity of the national heart as opposed to this breach which you will inevitably create if you proceed further? It is because there is still time, because I do not believe that my fellow-countrymen really mean to inflict this wrong upon us, that I hope that this House will come to no decision and that it will adjourn this debate so as to give the Government and their supporters still time to be just and generous, and not, in this moment of national fate, to trample on the deepest convictions of those who most desire to give them the whole support that their life can give. I beg to move.
That the debate be adjourned.—(The Earl of Selborne)
*THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ASAPH
MY Lords, I rise with much reluctance and with a deep sense of responsibility to address you for a few moments. His Grace has already dealt with the contention, as I suppose I may call it, as to the meaning of the Suspensory Bill—that is to say, extending the six months in the first clause to twelve months. There is one point which I should like to mention in regard to that. It would be absolutely impossible for the Commissioners appointed under the Act to get through the necessary preliminary work in six months, so that in any case as a matter of necessity it would have to be postponed for twelve months; therefore the Government are making no concession whatever.
Churchmen have always been convinced that this Bill was not approved of by a majority of the electors in England and Wales. That conviction has been fortified by the fact that the Bill would have on more than one occasion been rejected in another place but for the Nationalist; votes, and by the fact that even in Wales itself there has come from the Nonconformists a protest, against this Bill which, front the character and number of its signatories, cannot be ignored. I do not think even those who are prepared to question this contention would say that the people of this country are thinking of this Bill, much less desiring the passing of it into law. During the last few weeks the whole conditions have changed, and that change has affected the Irish Bill and the Welsh Bill somewhat differently. I suppose it might be said that the outbreak of the war tended to diminish, if not to eliminate, the most minatory elements in the Irish problem; but very little reflection would show that the passing of the Welsh Bill at this time would place the Church in a singularly cruel and embarrassing position. Upon the passing of the Bill the Church would have to face a problem which is not enlightened by any precedent in the history of this country. Welsh Churchmen would be called upon to reconstitute their Church; the questions of discipline, of doctrine, of patronage would require all the knowledge and the energy that the Church in Wales could command.
Consider for a moment what would be the position of Churchmen in Wales at this time. The majority of them have sons or 671 near relations who have gone forth to fight for their country, and amid these absorbing public and personal anxieties they are to be called upon to form and to attend Conventions and Synods to draw up a constitution and canons for the Disestablished Church. I think enough has been said to show what a very difficult task it would be. As the noble Earl has pointed out, this Bill takes away three-fifths of the endowments of the Church in Wales. Even in peaceful and prosperous times the loss of these funds would render it an extremely difficult and arduous task to carry on the most necessary work of the Church, but if this Bill passes we shall have to appeal to our sons and daughters in Wales when they have been impoverished not only by the war but by those countless charities for our sailors and soldiers which in Wales derive the main support in funds and denial from Church people. As your Lordships can see, this Bill will fall now with irretrievable cruelty on the Church people in Wales.
I wish to refer to the words which were used by the Prime Minister on July 30 in another place when he appealed to the Opposition for their support. You will remember the passage in which he said "it was of vital importance in the interests of the world that this nation should present a united front at this time and speak and act with the authority of an undivided nation"; and he added these words, "In the meantime the business to be taken will be confined to necessary matters and will not be of a controversial character." I am sure that the Prime Minister and the members of His Majesty's Government will agree that the response to that appeal was instantaneous. No Government has been supported at a great crisis by more loyal and cordial co-operation from the Opposition than the present Government, and that spirit of co-operation has spread through all classes. The leaders of both political Parties have appealed for defenders to a nation one in heart and mind at the present time. But I venture to ask, Has the pledge which the Prime Minister gave in very specific and definite words been kept? No one can contend that this is not a controversial measure. As has been already said, there is no measure that wounds the conscience and sensibilities of a larger section of the Welsh and English people than this Bill does, and the mind of man cannot imagine an act which will cause greater and more lasting bitterness and 672 division in this country than the passing of this Bill. I know that it is a very serious thing to impute bad faith to those in high positions, but I say deliberately that Englishmen who love justice and straightforward dealing will find it very hard indeed to reconcile the passing of this Bill with the solemn pledge given by the Prime Minister. The political necessities of the situation do not demand it.
There is, of course, a vast difference between a Bill still before Parliament and a Bill placed upon the Statute Book, and it does seem to me that the Government have been using the splendid patriotism of the Opposition to secure the passing of this measure which they know has not got the approval of the majority of the people of this country. I recognise the fact that the Government have the power to put this Bill on the Statute Book, bat it does seem to me that this is a singularly inopportune moment for them to find an ethical justification for their action in a gospel of force. I should have thought that if ever there was a time when it was more necessary to strengthen every spiritual institution in the country it was now. The hearts of our people have been moved as they have never been moved before by the tremendous struggle in which we are engaged, and it does seem to me an ill-omened thing that our churches, crowded as they are by worshippers, should be despoiled, not by the hand of the foreign marauder, but by a small section of people in Wales.
The great majority of those who first volunteered for foreign service in Wales are sons of Churchmen. Does it not occur to those who are pleading for a united nation to imagine what must be the feelings of our countrymen when they hear that the churches, to them the most hallowed spots in their country, are being despoiled in this manner? There is another thought which weighs heavily upon many of us. It is finely said in a book recently published about England and Germany that the Supreme Actor in history and politics is God. We have been told that this is a righteous war—we are told that by our leaders in Church and State. The people of this country, with an unexampled unanimity and with an inflexible resolution, have undertaken this war because they believe it to be a righteous war. They have entered upon this awful struggle feeling that they can go with a clear conscience 673 before the Supreme Governor of the universe. Daily, my Lords, from our altars we pray to Heaven for our soldiers and sailors. We pray that God may take into His own hands them and the cause in which their King and country send them forth. Yet at this tremendous moment the Government of the country come forward and ask you to pass a measure which will bring the oldest part of the Lord's heritage in this land into confusion.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, it is, of course, impossible at this stage and under these conditions to discuss the general principles involved in the Welsh Church Bill, but although our thoughts are elsewhere I think we must make it clear that our convictions are quite unchanged. There are three points which T wish to make. In the first place, during the course of the discussions on this Bill Churchmen made it quite clear that they desired to remove any obstacle which might stand in the way of the religious life and the religious faith of Nonconformists. The result of that has been, as pointed out by the most rev. Primate, that a large number of the most religious-minded of Nonconformists in this country are at one with Churchmen against the injustice on Christian and religious grounds of this Bill. And what is the effect of attempting to pass the Bill at the present moment? It must give rise to a feeling of sectarian bitterness; but speaking, if I may, on behalf of Church laymen, I am quite certain that they desire in every way as regards the future of our Christian life in this country to avoid sectarian bitterness and to introduce in its place the spirit of charitable tolerance.
In the second place, Disendowment as proposed in this Bill is an entirely new principle in the annals of this country. It means this—and I ask the noble Earl in charge of the Bill (Earl Beauchamp) whether he can give us any precedent for it—that trust funds urgently needed and properly used for religious purposes are to be confiscated and diverted to merely secular uses. When the Irish Church Bill was under discussion Mr. Bright said that he would never have been in favour of the partial disendowment of the Irish Church except on the ground that he was convinced that their endowments were not being properly used for religious purposes at that date. I am quite certain that no precedent can be found for what is 674 attempted to be done in this Bill—namely, the alienation of trust funds which are being properly used. When this Bill was discussed in another place I often challenged those who were in support of it to find any instance of compulsory dismemberment by political action of a Christian religious community in this country since the Toleration Act. No answer was ever given to that challenge. I am not now dealing with matters which were referred to the Select Committee of this House, but I do say this, that as regards religious life and as regards charitable thought and Christian co-operation there is nothing more reactionary than by political action to disrupt a religious community against the unanimous protest of all its members. I should use just the same argument if the religious community were some other than the Church of England. I should protest in the same terms if it was sought to take the endowments of Nonconformists which were being properly used. I should protest in the same words against the compulsory dismemberment of any Nonconformist community, because I think that on every principle Disendowment is unjust and Dismemberment is grossly un-Christian and uncharitable.
There is one other point. I admit that I was astonished to hear the statement made by the most rev. Primate. I understood quite clearly from what the noble Marquess the Leader of the House said yesterday that the Welsh Church Bill was to be put on the same basis as the Home Rule Bill, and that the operation of the Bill was to be postponed— I will deal in a moment with the date of Disestablishment—for at least twelve months or for a period extending to the end of the war if it should last more than twelve months. The most rev. Primate has told us that the proposal is nothing of the kind. The postponement of the date of Disestablishment is an entirely different thing from the postponement of the operation of the Bill. If the postponement only applies to the date of Disestablishment the Bill will come into operation immediately at a time when, by agreement of all parties, controversial matters of this kind ought not to be brought into operation, and at a time when it is practically impossible for Churchmen to reorganise and reconstitute their Church system in Wales. I hope that the noble Earl in his answer will deal with this point.
675 As regards what the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have to do, the powers of the Commissioners, vacancies in office, provisions as to trusts, provisions as to churchyards, as to transfer of powers of vestries and churchwardens, as to the constitution of the Representative Body, as to managing property—all the provisions dealing with those subjects are not dependent on the date of Disestablishment at all, but on the date of the coming into force of the general powers of the Bill. I ask the noble Earl, Does he mean that all those powers are to come into immediate operation not-withstanding the state of war? Does he mean that Churchmen are to be called upon to deal with these vital matters which go to the whole root of our Church system in Wales at a period when our thoughts are elsewhere? If he does, I say it is most unjust and unfair, and it is in the teeth of what I understood the noble Marquess the Leader of the Government to say yesterday. What he said was not that portions only of the Welsh Church Bill should be postponed during the period of the war, but that, as in the case of the Irish Bill, the whole Bill should be postponed at least for that time.
It was recognised in very frank terms yesterday by the noble Marquess who leads the House that one of the great difficulties in the reconstitution of the religious position in Wales is the question of endowments. It is, of course, quixotic to suppose that you can carry on any system of religious administration in this country at this date without adequate endowments. Why, every Nonconformist body is striving to get a proper system of endowments, and, speaking for myself, I entirely agree with the effort they are making in that direction. But how can this question be dealt with immediately the war comes to a conclusion? Every one knows—and the noble Marquess yesterday assented to the proposition—that it is hopelessly impossible to attempt to raise funds for the reconstitution of the Welsh Church at the moment of the conclusion of the great war in which we are engaged. Is that just and right? Is that leaving us as we ought to be, haying regard to the national crisis that has arisen? The conditions of the Welsh Church Bill are quite distinct from the conditions of the Home Rule Bill. What makes the difference to us is that the money we could leave raised under happier conditions it is impossible to raise at the present moment. 676 And why is it impossible to raise it? I am not throwing any doubt on the loyalty of other members of the community, but it is because Churchmen have done all they can by way of self-sacrifice to promote the common interests of our country at the present moment, and they have done it both in money and in service. They have shown that unquestioning and unswerving loyalty which Churchmen have always exhibited in times of great national crises.
I hope I may appeal to the spirit of fairness and justice in a matter of this kind. I desire to ask the Government, Is it not their intention to postpone the whole of this Bill during the period for which the Home Rule Bill is suspended? I go further. I ask that the period for which the whole Bill is suspended should be sufficiently long to enable funds to be raised after the stress and strain of the war expenditure has to a certain extent gone by. I cordially agree with what was said by the noble Earl who moved the adjournment, that this Bill is one which vitally affects the conscientious and religious opinions of the members of the greatest Christian community in this country. The biggest thing in the history of our country is the English Church, and I think that in those circumstances we ought not to appeal in vain for that fair treatment which I understand the noble Marquess thought was being given and which I thought was being given until the most rev. Primate told us what the terms of the Suspension Bill really are.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I should not add to a series of speeches on the same side nor should I inflict on the House another speech from the Episcopal Bench were it a question merely of emphasising once more the objections to the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. But we are dealing not so much with that tonight as with the particular circumstances under which this proposal is submitted to the House. And, impressive and pathetic as have been the speeches made to us, I cannot think that even now the House has fully recognised the gravity of this proposal. To me and probably to most of your Lordships this has been a melancholy evening, and I believe that in days to come we shall retain a sad impression of its effects. Why do I say that? In my recollection nothing has gone more to the heart of England than the feeling that when a great 677 danger came upon us it united all of us, and that we were able on account of that unity to lay aside our domestic dissensions, and, let me add, for I think this was implied, look upon those domestic dissensions in another light. But I must confess that the impression has grown upon me that there has been a certain hollowness in our self-satisfaction on that matter. I do not mean—Heaven forbid!—that the unity amongst us has not been real and deep down and that it is not to-day and will not be intensely valued, but when I approach the questions which divide us—unless I except the question about the other sex, where I think there has been a genuine arrangement—I look in vain to find that this happy unity which the war had brought about has really changed, as it were, the disposition or the character of the pieces on the political board. Had it been so I cannot help thinking that we would have found, as I believe we almost all expected to find, such a change that arrangements on all those great questions could be come to—arrangements which, while satisfying no one, would please everyone, if I may say so, because they brought us together. That opportunity, it seems, has now gone.
What about the future? I listened with great respect and much sympathy to what fell from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I saw that there was in his mind, what has probably been in the minds of many of us, a sort of anticipation of a period in future when, having passed together through a great crisis and having been stirred and purified by a great common discipline, we shall find ourselves able to go about our ordinary business, to deal with our most pressing problems, in somewhat of a different spirit. If that were to be so it is certain that a topic which concerns the things of religion and all men of religion ought to be one of those upon which that happy difference would be shown. But to me it is pathetic, it is deplorable in a degree which I can hardly express, to find that neither to-day nor in the future can this great subject be dealt with in any other way than by the ordinary methods of political pressure.
The Government have had a heavy burden on their shoulders and enormous pressure on their time, and I do not know how far they have been able to consider the treatment of these two Bills upon their several merits. I did not go into the 678 Lobby against the Government in the Division which was taken to-day on the Home Rule Bill. I felt, especially after what the noble and learned Viscount had said to us about Irish opinion all over the world, that the Government had a right to express a responsible opinion about what was necessary in order to obtain general support. I felt that it would be a responsibility for this House to have taken off their shoulders the decision of that question. But, my Lords, if I may put it plainly, there are no Welshmen across the seas whose relation to the British Parliament, or to the British Government., or to the British nation will be affected by the placing of this Bill on the Statute Book. It could not be so contended. I do not say that in an ungenerous spirit. There are Welshmen across the seas who, no doubt, would be glad to see this Bill passed. But this Bill is not political in that, sense and to that extent that the Irish Bill is, and therefore it is a measure upon which we surely could take separate action. I believe with the most rev. Primate and others that the attitude of opinion on this matter is such that anything like a concordat would be welcome. I will go further. If it were known that, owing to the common action of Churchmen and Nonconformists in England and in Wales, this matter had been settled, not by the pressing through of a measure under the force of the Parliament Act but by something like agreement, that announcement would be received with real enthusiasm, because it would be felt to be a great benefit to the religious and moral life of the nation and to the prospects of that life in the days that are to come. That, it seems to me, is what the Government are throwing away.
What we are asked to do to-day begins to alter the whole situation at once; it does not adjourn it; it does not leave a space for a more friendly consideration of the matter. Elements of such friendly consideration I believe exist; I believe they exist in high places; I would be hopeful that even in the Government itself there would be a real satisfaction if any such arrangement could be made. But that is denied to us. Now, why is it denied? Who is it, my Lords—I must speak one rather strongly controversial word—who is it that prevents this? There is no question whatever about it. It is the small body of men in the House of 679 Commons who sit for certain constituencies in Wales. I think we have a right to say that we have lately been given an opportunity of measuring the claim which they make for consideration. The Prime Minister the other day indicated—I do not know whether he expressed it particularly but he indicated—that there was going to be some concession with regard to this Bill. What was the reply of the spokesmen of the political Party in Wales? It was simply to reiterate their old pleas; simply to say, "This is national money and we will not part with a penny of it." When the leaders of the Government were saying, what I believe every member of the Government would say, that it is impossible to bring Disendowment to bear on the Welsh Church at this moment, these people in their cold and stony indifference to the considerations of their opponents took up the position of political Shylocks and said, "We will have, so far as we can have it, our pound of flesh." The Government, I am happy to say, have taken a more generous view up to a point, but they have travelled a very little way indeed.
We stand, no doubt, very close to the end of the session. I am not so foolish as to suggest that there should be any attempt to arrive at agreement to-day, to-morrow, or the next day; but if it were still possible to keep the door open—the door which I think is closed by the action of the Government to-night—I feel that we should then have before us a possibility of realising the fruit of the unity consequent upon the war, which would be a real contribution to the future life of the country, and which would help to lift things on to a higher level and enable us to lay aside the old rancorous controversial method of dealing with these great subjects. I believe I am right, speaking on behalf of those who represent Wales and of our own Episcopal Bench, in saying that if there were an attempt to arrive at some such conclusion the material for it I on our side would not be wanting. You may say that we ought to have made concessions sooner. You may blame us for that. I am not going to enter upon that now. The unity which the influence of the great European war has brought about has created a new position, and surely we all feel that it would be well to deal with that position in the spirit in which it might be dealt with and thus attain a better and a nobler result.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, I will not keep the House a minute from the answer of the noble Earl who will speak for the Government, but I rise to comment on a remark of the Bishop of St. Asaph which I think should be answered. The right rev. Prelate said that Church people in Wales had given a great deal more to war funds than had Nonconformists, and that Church people were volunteering more than Nonconformists—
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ASAPH
What I said was that the majority of those who first volunteered in Wales for foreign service were Churchmen.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I have the honour of representing His Majesty in my own county, and as I have been working there together with every one I think it would be an unfortunate thing if a statement like that went out without comment. Your Lordships know as well as I do that not only in England but in Wales the richer people are generally members of the Church of England. The bulk of the rich people are members of the Church of England, in Wales certainly, and I should think that is also the case in England too. As to the War Fund started in my county, it would be true to say that the Church people contributed the big amounts in the first subscription lists, but I think it would be most unfair if any impression went out that in this great emergency every denomination in the country was not contributing absolutely to the limit of the means of its members. Our fund was only recently started. The rich people gave first; they came to a county meeting, and the amounts they gave you can see. We have only just begun village collections, but I have been amazed at the reports. The smallest and poorest farmers from whom we expected shillings gave pounds; working men from whom we expected a shilling or half-a-crown gave a sovereign; others said they would give so much a week. The trade unions and others are making levies of so much a week. Every single class in Wales is doing the best it can. Whether one denomination is volunteering more than another I should doubt. In my own county the Member and the opposing candidate are going round making war speeches together. In every county of Wales Nonconformist ministers are on the platforms urging Noncon- 681 formists to enlist; and I say, without fear of contradiction, that it is an absolute fact that if this country wants more men you can empty Wales and nobody in Wales will ask to what denomination anybody belongs.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, the debate which has taken place this evening has naturally followed, not so much upon the actual merits of the Bill which is technically before your Lordships' House, as upon the terms of another Bill which your Lordships have been informed by my noble friend behind me His Majesty's Government have introduced into another place. We have been discussing chiefly the bearing of the Suspensory Bill upon the Welsh Church Bill, and it is naturally a matter of some regret to his Majesty's Government that their offer, however inadequate it may seem, should have been received with so little favour in all quarters of the house.
Consider for one moment the actual position with regard to the Welsh Church Bill. For all technical purposes it was immediately ready to go upon the Statute Book. No further discussions, no further stages, were necessary in this House or in another place. The mere fact of the Prorogation of Parliament would automatically have placed the Bill upon the Statute Book. There was, therefore, no reason, except from their anxiety to try and do something to meet the difficulties of the situation, why His Majesty's Government should have introduced the suspensory proposal. I quite admit that the terms which we have been discussing to-night, the terms of the Suspensory Bill, are of a somewhat complicated nature; but I shall hope, on a more suitable occasion when the Bill itself is being discussed in this House and if it should seem necessary, to explain to your Lordships the technical aspect of the question. But as a matter of fact I may say that the two Bills, the Irish Bill and the Welsh Bill, are to be treated in the same way, and that the same conditions are to apply. The difficulties which arise in connection with the Welsh Bill are inherent in the Bill itself. The Welsh Bill has a different method of coming into operation, and therefore the time which is mentioned in the Suspensory Bill has a different effect on the one Bill from what it has on the other. There are two dates 682 mentioned in the Welsh Church Bill. There is the date of the passing of the Act, and the date of Disestablishment. In the Bill the period between the passing of the Act and the date of Disestablishment is six months, which period may, by Order in Council, be extended to twelve months. But under the Suspensory Bill which will be before your Lordships' House to-morrow the period between the passing of the Act and the date of Disestablishment is extended to twelve months. And it is only fair to remind your Lordships, though we speak of twelve months, that there is also a similar provision with regard to this Bill as exists with regard to the Irish Bill—namely, that it is not to come into operation so long as the present war continues.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Does the noble Earl mean "come into operation," or is he referring to the date of Disestablishment? There is all the difference in the world between the two.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I will correct my phrase, if the most rev. Primate desires it. I will say that the date of Disestablishment would be postponed until the war conies to an end. I admit that the most rev. Primate was right in correcting me on that point, because although it sounds little more than a technical point it is really a point of some importance. Meanwhile those preparations, upon the necessity of which I think a good many speakers on the other side have on many occasions expatiated, will be made so that when the date of Disestablishment does occur at this postponed dote all the preparations which are necessary and which must be made before that date will have been accomplished, and then Disestablishment and Disendowment will at that later date come into full operation. The most rev. Primate spoke of a sum of £100,000 as being the necessary sum to collect, and he was corrected by the noble Earl who moved the adjournment of the debate, who thought it was a higher figure.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I venture to say that whether we adopt the later date which was in the mind of the most rev. Primate or whether we adopt the date His Majesty's Government propose, very little difference would be made to either of these figures. Those sums—which I might argue are not really so high as they seem to be to noble Lords opposite—are not likely to be collected within either six months or twelve months of the present date; and if the noble Earl really wished to put the Welsh Church in exactly the same position as it would have been in if the Bill had been passed last year or the year before, it would be necessary for him to mention a far later date. I venture to think that between the Bill which the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, proposed to us last night and the Bill of His Majesty's Government, as affecting the particular sum mentioned by the noble Earl opposite, there is very little difference so far as affects the Welsh Church itself. The date which the noble Marquess opposite proposes is not far enough off to satisfy the noble and learned Lord below the Gangway (Lord Parmoor), and if the noble Marquess's Bill were likely to become law he would have exactly the same request made to him by the noble and learned Lord for further adjournments because the six months—the difference between the noble Marquess's proposal and our own—would not be sufficient to collect the large stun I have mentioned.
I am bound to say that I regret the action of your Lordships with regard to the Welsh Church Bill. I regret the difference between the way in which your Lordships have treated this Bill and the way in which a great many years ago your Lordships' House treated the Irish Church Bill. Had your Lordships adopted the same procedure with regard to the Welsh Church Bill as you adopted in regard to the Irish Church Act that Bill would by now have become an Act, and the money would have been collected at a time more fortunate than that to which the most rev. Primate is now looking forward. Perhaps it would not be out of place to follow one or two noble Lords opposite in their references to the Select Committee which was appointed and which lately sat. It is fair to remind your Lordships that the Committee was appointed to inquire into two matters. One was the change of opinion which it was alleged had occurred 684 amongst Nonconformists in Wales with regard to Disendowment. There was not, so far as I read the evidence presented to the Committee, any very great attempt to prove that there was a considerable change of opinion with regard to the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales, but that there was some change of opinion with regard to Disendowment. I wish I could feel that noble Lords opposite were likely to have been convinced that Disestablishment itself, at any rate, was desired by the people of that country. They would then, I think, have been able to bring more influence to bear when they tried to persuade His Majesty's Government that there should be some change in the terms of Disendowment.
The other aspect of the question which was considered by the Select Committee was referred to by the noble Earl opposite, Lord Selborne, and may briefly be described as the Dismemberment of the Church. The noble Earl told us that that was the part of the Bill which, in his opinion, His Majesty's Government liked the least. I confess that I do not share that opinion. I would almost be prepared to go to the opposite extreme and say that I think it is one of the best parts of the measure. I should have thought that nobody who had seen the result of the separation of dioceses and provinces in the Colonial Church could have doubted the advantage it was likely to be to have a separate organisation for Wales, separated from the organisation which exists at the present time for the whole of this country. So far as we deal with the question of the Dismemberment of the Church in Wales and its separation from Convocation let me say this, that the spiritual affairs of the Church in Wales will in future be entirely within her own competence, and she will no longer be subject to the necessity of coming to Parliament in order that she may make such arrangements as she thinks desirable. The temporal arrangements will be completely under her own control, and if at any time she desires to meet the Church people of England in consultation there is nothing of which I know which will prevent the representatives of Wales from sitting with the representatives of the Convocations of Canterbury and York.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I understand that at the present moment when the Convocations of Canterbury and York send representatives that is not the Convocation strictly speaking, but I speak under correction from the right rev. Prelate.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I thought I was right, even though I was challenged by the right rev. Prelate. When these representatives from the two Convocations meet they meet as an entirely voluntary body, and I say that there is nothing to prevent Wales from sending representatives to join that body and taking common consultation with them in the same way as they do at the present time. In fact, the Church in Wales, by this act of Dismemberment, will gain that freedom and autonomy which a great many people believe to be of inestimable advantage to every Church. The noble Earl exhorted us in the name of national unity to postpone dealing with this Bill. I am afraid that I am inclined to think that his idea of national unity consists in His Majesty's Government giving way to his wishes and carrying out what he thinks to be the proper thing for them to do. The most rev. Primate spoke of this Bill being forced upon the country by a small clique in Wales.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
I should like to correct that. I said nothing about the passing of the Bill. What I said was that the desire for the postponement of its operation at this moment is probably universal except on the part of a small clique in Wales. Opposition to postponement is, I am certain, confined to a small clique, and that clique is, I believe, wholly in Wales.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I am sorry if I seemed to misrepresent the most rev. Primate, but it comes to the same thing so far as my argument is concerned. The most rev. Primate tells us that this step is now being forced upon His Majesty's Government by a small clique in Wales. We have yet to learn that the vast majority of those who represent the people of Wales in the House of Commons can be called "a small clique." I deprecate this way of speaking of those who represent the vast majority of the people of Wales. Such an 686 expression of opinion deserves, and I hope it will receive, every respect which is due to the authority of the most rev. Primate, but I am bound to say that as long as we see so little evidence of support of his view amongst the elected representatives of the people of Wales so long are we bound to believe that they are anxious that this Bill shall become law now.
There is another way in which we may attain national unity. As the debates which have taken place in this House this afternoon amply prove, there have been old quarrels which have provoked bad feeling in different parts of the country for a great many years past, running into a generation. That is so with regard to both of the Bills that we have been discussing this afternoon. Is it not passible that by accepting the verdict of the people of this country, by ceasing to resist the wishes of the people, by believing that their elected representatives properly represent their wishes and their wills, you may find a better means to national unity than in the way which has been suggested to us by noble Lords opposite?
§ *VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down has asked us to accept the verdict of the people of this country. If His Majesty's Government had consented, in any way they thought best, to refer this Bill to the people of the country we should not be troubled with the Second Reading of it in your Lordships' House to-night. The noble Earl used one extraordinary argument in his speech. He suggested, as has been suggested often before by other persons, that if this were a moment for the Disendowment of the Church in Wales which was specially hard upon that Church, it was all your Lordships' fault because your Lordships have not adopted with regard to the Church in Wales the same policy which you adopted years ago with regard to the Church in Ireland. If His Majesty's Government had, as Mr. Gladstone did in 1867, appealed to the people of this country on the principle of Disendowment and Disestablishment in Wales, and if they had obtained a verdict of the people in favour of Disestablishment and Disendowment, I do not doubt that your Lordships would then have dealt with the Welsh Church Bill as this House dealt with the Irish Church Bill in 1868. It is precisely because His Majesty's 687 Government have never attempted to take that course that your Lordships have never given your assent to the principle of the Bill which is now before us.
The noble Earl suggested that, after all, there was very little difference between the proposal of the Government with regard to the postponement of this Bill and the proposal of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. There is this difference, that the proposal of my noble friend would have postponed the whole matter until the close of the war, and in the interval it might have been considered by all parties how soon it was possible with reasonable fairness to the Church that the Bill should come into operation. Now we are told that the date of Disestablishment is to be twelve months after its passing, or, if the war lasts longer, at the end of the war; but that much of it is to come into operation at once on its passing,—that all sorts of changes are to be made. The ecclesiastical property left to the Church is to be settled; Commissioners are to be appointed; all kinds of steps are to be taken under this Bill which are more or less connected with the question of Disendowment. Disestablishment is so bound up with Disendowment that you cannot separate the two, and the only fair way, I venture to say, would be to postpone the whole thing for twelve months and then let the dates named in the Bill begin. That is what we thought His Majesty's Government proposed to do. I am sorry to be obliged to say that I think the noble Earl's speech has been one of the most unsatisfactory utterances that I have ever heard from the Front Bench opposite. He does not appear to have the least sympathy with the Church in the position in which he proposes to place her. He treats the whole thing as if it were solely a question of pleasing that small clique—very properly called a small clique—which His Majesty's Government do not dare to offend; and as for the future of the Church, he seems to care no more of what happens to it than this box on the Table.
I do not wish to refer at any length to the Select Committee which was mentioned by the noble Earl. I had the honour of presiding over that Committee. It was appointed with the assent of the Government to inquire into the dismemberment of Convocation and into the feelings of Welsh Nonconformists on the matter 688 of Disendowment. We examined a considerable number of witnesses—the evidence is published and is at the disposal of your Lordships; and it was just when the war commenced that we were about to consider the preparation of our Report. I was prevented from preparing that Report because I was asked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who, I believe, is at the bottom of the way in which the Church is now to be dealt with—to assist him in matters connected with the finances of the country, and, like all of us, I gave my very best work to assisting him in that matter and also in connection with matters affecting the bankers in the City. That is why the Select Committee has not reported. If there had been no war the Committee would have reported in time to bring the whole result of this inquiry before your Lordships in the debate which would then have taken place in the ordinary way upon the Second Reading of this and this could have been done so as to direct the attention of the country to the remarkable evidence that was given before that Committee, both as to the ignorance of His Majesty's Government on the effect of the dismemberment of Convocation on the future of the Church, and also upon, what is certainly a fact, the real and growing feeling among the better educated Nonconformists against the disendowment of the Church in Wales. I am debarred from entering into that matter at length both by the hour and because I think, as Chairman of a Committee which has not reported, I should have no right to do so; but I commend the evidence which was taken to the consideration of your Lordships, and I hope that as soon as we can take up ordinary business the attention of the country may be called to that matter in a way which will have a great effect upon the future of the Bill which is now before us.
But, my Lords, this fact remains, that His Majesty's Government are proposing to utilise the war to injure the Church by taking away its endowments at a time when it is quite impossible for it, I do not sax to obtain the whole amount of those endowments by voluntary contributions, but even to start a fund for that purpose. I cannot conceive a more cruel wrong. The noble Earl talked about the unity of the country. This will be felt to be a cruel wrong wantonly and unnecessarily 689 inflicted upon Churchmen in Wales for years and years to come. It will not have any effect upon them any more than upon Irishmen in their patriotic endeavours to help the Government; but they will never forget it. It will be a constant source of bitterness in the future between them and Nonconformists in Wales. If you had made up your minds to deal generously with the Church in this matter, to give it time to recover from the blow you are
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and debate,, adjourned accordingly sine die.