HL Deb 23 September 1915 vol 19 cc924-6

On the Motion that the House should adjourn until Wednesday,


My Lords, as we shall not meet again for some days and as the matter to which I desire to allude seems rather pressing, I will detain your Lordships for a very few minutes in referring to it. It is an important matter relating to the action of the Welsh Church Commissioners in regard to the Church in Wales. Within the last few days—I was only informed of it this morning, or I would have given the noble Marquess notice of my question—a circular has been sent by the Welsh Church Commissioners to the incumbents of all livings in Wales asking for information, which, of course, they were quite entitled to ask for, as to the parochial property of the Church in each of the benefices. This circular was accompanied by two enclosures—one headed "Instructions for Incumbents," and referring, as far as I have had time to look at it, solely to endowments, which of course might properly be inquired into; and the other headed "The Welsh Church Act, 1914," and requiring particulars of emoluments from sources other than endowments. The emoluments which the incumbent is required to state are—Easter dues; statutory pew rents, which I should think hardly exist, if at all, in Wales, but which of course are entirely Church property; customary fees for baptisms, burials, and marriages; and, finally, any other receipts from any other private source not included in the above. There is nothing to show that these emoluments of which particulars are asked for have anything whatever to do with the Welsh Church Act, or are within the authority of the Commissioners. What I think the public will desire to know is by what authority such inquiries have been made, which appear to me to be of a most impertinent nature, and what section in the Act it is that has allowed the Commissioners to send such a circular to the incumbents. I do not expect that the noble Marquess will be able now to make any reply to what I have said, but what I would ask is whether he would agree to inquire into the matter and to lay the Papers to which I have referred on the Table.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for having called attention to the form of inquiry issued by the Welsh Commissioners under the Welsh Church Act. I trust that two points will be made quite clear. There is a general impression abroad that the postponement of the Irish and the Welsh Acts was identical in its provisions. It is natural that that impression should prevail. Part 1 of the Order in Council provides that no steps shall be taken to put the Irish Act into operation until the end of the war, and the ordinary reader must be forgiven if he draws the conclusion that the same words must also apply to the Welsh Church Act. I feel sure that the Government themselves would not regard as controversial the statement of the fact that very important steps are already being taken to put the Welsh Church Act into operation. On the day that the Order in Council was published every incumbent in Wales received this form of inquiry with its seven schedules and more than a hundred questions. It is important that the whole of the country should clearly understand how the Welsh Church is being now treated. I venture also to point out that it hardly seems considerate to issue just now this form of inquiry to Welsh incumbents and to demand under pains and penalties its return in a few weeks. I believe that there is not a clerical home in my diocese where sons fit for military service have not joined the Colours. Several of the clergy are serving as chaplains and some of the younger clergy in my diocese are now on active service abroad. Added to this it is an established fact that at least seventy per cent. of the recruits from Wales who have volunteered for foreign service are Churchmen. Is it quite fair and reasonable to ask a clergyman, amid all his home anxieties, to devote all his time to filling up this most elaborate form of inquiry, which requires not only local but highly-trained expert knowledge. There is scarcely a parish where the laymen who supply this knowledge are not themselves engaged in military duties. If those responsible for the issuing of this form of inquiry would only transport themselves in imagination to those clerical homes in Wales where the head of the family is sharing to the full those anxieties and sorrows which now darken every home in the country, they would, I feel sure, recognise that the treatment of the Welsh Church at this time would not commend itself to patriotic and chivalrous Englishmen. I have studiously abstained from discussing the moment and the manner of the passing of the Welsh Church Act. The time for that will come later. It is with the utmost reluctance that I feel it my duty to let it be known how the Church in Wales is being treated. Small though Wales is, the principles involved in this matter are great and sacred.


My Lords, I am quite sure that, as the noble Earl opposite was good enough to suggest, the House will not expect me to say anything as regards the merits of the matter to which he has drawn attention. I will, of course, make it my business to inquire into the whole subject. As regards the request which the noble Earl made that I should agree to lay on the Table the Paper to which he alluded, he must allow me to make that also a subject of reference to those who are more directly concerned with the matter than I am, since without knowing anything of the contents of the Paper or much of its origin the noble Earl will understand that I cannot give a definite assurance that the Paper can be laid. But he can be sure that I will lose no time in giving attention to the subject and inquiring of those of my colleagues who are particularly responsible for this question what can be done to meet the wishes of the noble Earl.


Possibly the noble Marquess will be able to answer the question on Wednesday?



House adjourned at Five minutes past Eight o'clock, to Wednesday next, a quarter past Four o'clock.