§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)
§ EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I have given notice of an Amendment to subsection (1) of Clause 1 of this Bill—
§ 1.—(1) Where the time within which a duty is to be performed or a power may be exercised under any special Act is limited, an application may be made to the appropriate Government Department for an order under this Act extending that time; but only in cases where the time is due to expire within twelve months of the date of the application.741
§ But my Amendment to this subsection—after the word "special" to insert "or other"—does not carry out the point which I raised yesterday; in fact, it would be too wide, and I will not move it. But I am anxious about the proposal which I made in the debate yesterday with reference to the Welsh Church question, and I move the adjournment of this discussion in order to give the noble Marquess who leads the House an opportunity of saying whether it is possible for the Government to consider that proposal.
§ Amendment moved, That the debate be adjourned.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, I understand that the noble Earl agrees that the particular Amendment which he has placed on the Paper is not one which could be included in this Bill. If the noble Earl had moved it, I think that my noble friend in charge of the Bill would have pointed out that the particular terms of the Bill and its title prevent, according to our usual Parliamentary practice, the moving of such an Amendment, which does not fall within the scope of the Bill. But the noble Earl stated his case in more general terms yesterday, and it is on that, I think, that ho desires that I should now say something.
I ventured to point out on the spur of the moment that it would probably be considered by Parliament that it would not do for Parliament to hand over to the Executive of the day at an uncertain date the uncontrolled settlement of this question. It must be remembered that nobody can say for certain, whatever his personal opinion may be, what the composition of the Government of the country will be at that period. That being so, Parliament, as I understand is agreed by those who for the time being are entitled to speak for it—namely, His Majesty's Government—would not be willing to hand over to an unknown Government at an unknown date the possibility, either on the one hand of confirming the words of the Suspensory Act as it stands—namely, that the Welsh Church Act should come into operation the moment the war is closed—or, on the other hand, of postponing its operation for a term which might extend over a year and a half. I am afraid, therefore, that it is impossible to give army satisfaction to time noble Earl in the sense of now producing or enacting a measure which would meet the case.
742 But I think it only right to assure the noble Earl on behalf of the Government that we will keep this matter in view. It is, of course, well within the bounds of possibility that Parliament may think that to carry out the terms of the Suspensory Act as they are now on the Statute Book would not be a fair course to take. If Parliament takes that view—and I venture to say that it is altogether impossible without knowing more of the time and the circumstances than can possibly be foreseen at this moment to say whether they will take it or not—if Parliament takes that view it clearly cannot be a difficult matter, by a very brief Bill amending the Suspensory Act., to carry a change into effect. Beyond that I am afraid it is impossible for us to go. I desire once more to assure the noble Earl and others who are interested in this matter that we shall continue to regard it with close attention in the light of the circumstances as they may alter and of the date of the conclusion of the war, which, as we all agree now, it is impossible to foresee.
§ EARL ST. ALDWYN
I moved the adjournment of this debate in order to give His Majesty's Government an opportunity of dealing with this question now if they thought fit. I understand from the noble Marquess's statement that they do not feel able to do that, and I have nothing more to say except that I propose, in order to place on record the tact that I have endeavoured to show a way in which the thing which I believe they desire to do could be done, to allow my Motion for adjournment to be negatived, though I shall not put the House to the trouble of a Division.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BANGOR
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two upon the position in which we are left owing to what has taken place. It having been intimated to us that the pledge of the Prime Minister could not be carried out without mischievous results to the interests of the country in the prosecution of the war, there could, of course, be no question that we should waive any demand we might have based upon a definite promise given in Parliament. We readily admit that in the circumstances there was nothing to be done but to withdraw the Postponement Bill.
The Postponement Bill was introduced in order to give us relief in two matters.
743 One was this, that owing to the length of the war there would naturally be a great expiration of life interests, and in those circumstances it was thought, considering the way in which the whole country would be crippled, that it would be unfair to the Church in Wales that a large number of life interests should expire during the interregnum. The Postponement Bill provided that those life interests should, for the purposes of commutation, be considered as still in being. But directly the war comes to an end the life interests which have expired will now be forfeited. For instance, supposing a Bishop were to die just now: there would be no life interest in regard to that Bishop to be commuted when the war concluded. In this way the position is rendered very grave. When we as a committee met and considered the financial situation on the basis that the Postponement Bill was to be passed into law, our conclusion was that a sum of at least £100,000 would have to be raised to carry on the work of the Church for the first year. With the extra war taxation which has been imposed, what chance would there be of getting even that £100,000? But now it will be necessary to put the sum at a very much larger figure.
The second point in which the withdrawal of the Postponement Bill creates great inconvenience is this. I have sat on thirty or forty committees called to consider what is to be done under the circumstances of the Welsh Church Act. The work in connection with the Irish Church was nothing like so complex as this work. In fact, there seems to be work almost for years to come in getting the machinery of the Church into order. Owing to the war our committees cannot be well attended. I will give your Lordships an instance. There are six laymen representing my diocese. Of those one is a Lord Lieutenant and two are colonels of regiments. What possible time can they give to sharing in our councils at a time like this? One knows that they have far more important duties with their regiments and in carrying on the necessary work connected with the war. We know, too, that the date of Disestablishment is to come on a day which no one can prophesy. It may come in a few months' time or it may not come for another year, and we are all working in a state of complete uncertainty as to when we shall find ourselves thrown on our own resources and have to carry out 744 these very difficult things which we are now considering. Had the Postponement Bill been passed it would have given us six months breathing time, and we should have known that we would have that six months clear in which to get ready by a particular date.
It is for those reasons that I have ventured to trespass on the time of your Lordships, that you might know that, while we do not complain of the withdrawal of the Postponement Bill as the Ministers of the Crown considered it in the public interest that it should be withdrawn, we are placed in a position of great inconvenience thereby, and I hope, as the noble Marquess seemed to have some sympathy with the point, that means may be devised to meet it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, like my noble friend opposite I greatly regret that it should have become necessary to abandon the Postponement Bill, but we are all aware of the circumstances which led to that decision, and I am glad to know from the speech of the right rev. Prelate who has addressed your Lordships that he is one of those who are convinced that in the public interest no other course was open to us. It has been said that His Majesty's Government might, had they chosen, have overborne the opposition proceeding, as I believe it proceeded, from a comparatively small minority of the House of Commons. I have no doubt that is the case, but if that had been attempted or effected it could only have been at the cost of a domestic struggle which could not have failed to have created an impression, not only in this country but outside the limits of this country, of the most disastrous character. The present arrangement seems to be on the whole the best that the friends of the Church could expect to get.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My noble friend says "No." Under the present proposal the date of Disestablishment is put off to the most distant limit to which it can be put off within the terms of the Suspensory Act. We could not do more without fresh legislation, and it seems to me that an attempt at fresh legislation would be sure to raise the very controversy which we desire and which we hope to avoid by taking the course which we are 745 now taking. On the other hand, I am in strong sympathy with those who contend that by making the date of Disestablishment coincide with the date of the conclusion of the war we do stand a chance of inflicting a very grave hardship on the Welsh Church. The right rev. Prelate who has just spoken pointed out how utterly impossible it is for the Church, while the war is still in progress, to proceed with the kind of preparatory arrangement which it would certainly resort to in time of peace. My noble friend opposite suggested to us yesterday a means of mitigating this hardship by inserting an Amendment in the Bill now before the House. I am glad to observe that he recognises that that course is not one which the House would be well advised to take, or which would probably meet the necessities of the case. I certainly agree with my noble friend in believing that it will be the duty of whatever Government may be in power when the time comes to consider with an open and a sympathetic mind the position in which the Welsh Church will find itself at the time of the termination of this war; and what has been said by my noble friend who leads the House has, I think, been sufficient to show that in his view at all events the case of the Church ought to and will receive sympathetic consideration. That is what I desire to say, and I think that my noble friend opposite cannot do better than leave the matter where it has been left by my noble friend's statement.
§ On Question, Amendment (that the debate be adjourned) negatived.
§ Then the original Motion agreed to: Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed.