§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, this Bill' proceeds, and I think one ought frankly to admit it, at the outset, on the acceptance of the general principles of the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Welsh 883 Church. That Bill, as your Lordships know, gave very little satisfaction to the majority of members of your Lordships' Rouse, and even some of those who accepted the first portion of that Bill (Disestablishment) were strongly opposed to every clause and every line of the provisions which dealt with Disendowment. This Bill accepts those principles, but what it does is to take into consideration and deal with certain financial changes which have affected the whole operation of the Bill—changes which have arisen mainly owing to the war and which have taken place in the price of commodities and in the price of money.
Under the Act of 1914 a choice was left to the Welsh Church as to the basis on which the Disendowment should proceed. The first alternative was that the present incumbents should enjoy for the period of their incumbency the benefices which they possessed, and then as each life fell in the corresponding revenue should be transferred to the Welsh Commissioners and to the county councils or Universities. The other was the alternative of commutation, and commutation meant in this case the payment of a lump sum based upon the actuarial value of existing interests, while the property was transferred to the Welsh Commissioners until the money so borrowed to pay off this commutation money had been returned to the lenders. This would necessitate the retention of these revenues in the hands of the Welsh Commissioners, because not only were these revenues the security for this payment but also the actual sources from which the payments were to come. Under this Bill the latter system, which I understand was going to be adopted, for the Church, the commutation system, is made compulsory, and it is made compulsory for the financial reasons which I shall come to in the explanation of the Bill, and to meet the arrangements which follow.
Put very shortly, the situation at present is this, that the Commissioners have to find a sum of £3,400,000 which they may pay to the Representative Body of the Church, and their income owing to the difficulties of the war and so on will only enable them to borrow £2,150,000 towards that sum. It is quite clear that we have arrived at an impossible financial situation. The Welsh Commissioners are short of £1,250,000 to meet the due claims of the Representative Body of the Church, and if 884 nothing is done the whole business of Disestablishment and Disendowment is suspended, and the Church are unable to get the money due to them. Here then we come across an impasse, and there is a knot to be cut, and perhaps your Lordships will not be surprised to find that the dens ex machina who descends in order to meet these difficulties is the British taxpayer. The British taxpayer has got to meet £1,250,000 to make up this deficit. This deficit is made up in two ways. First of all a definite sum of £1,000,000 is to be handed to the Welsh Commissioners to pay over to the Church, and the balance of £250,000 is to be found in this way. The Treasury has paid half the rates upon the tithe, but that payment of rates upon the tithe is only made while those tithes are attached to the benefice. Obviously when handed over to the Commissioners the tithes are severed from the benefice, and naturally it would follow that those payments would cease to be made; but this Bill by a polite fiction declares that these tithes will be held to be attached to the benefice, and therefore the Treasury will go on paying a half share upon these tithes. This will enable the Welsh Commissioners to borrow the extra £250,000 on that express security, and they will thus find the £250,000 and the £1,000,000, which will be handed over to the Representative Body of the Church.
This Bill and the arrangements under the Bill are based upon the assumption that the whole of this £3,400,000 which they will have to borrow, or rather that sum less the £1,250,000 which they get in this way, will have to be repaid, interest and sinking fund, in thirty years—that is to say, by the year 1950. What would be the position in 1950? Then the county councils, universities, and so on, will have the tithes and the revenues of the Church handed over to them. Under the previous Bill they would have had them handed over in the year 1941, and by the present arrangement therefore the enjoyment of these revenues will be postponed something like nine years. On the other hand, instead of receiving about £150,000 a year, which they would have received upon the old basis of tithes, they will probably receive something like £200,000 a year, but I am informed that the receipt of £200,000 a year in 1950 is very much the same as receiving £150,000 a year in 1941. Then your Lordships will see that, as is done in the Bill, it is necessary to prolong the life of the Commissioners. They will have to 885 administer this fund, and they of course cannot release the revenues, which are their only security for the repayment, unless those repayments have been made. Further, under this Bill the date of Disestablishment is postponed until March 31 next year, which will give time for arrangements to be made and which has this further convenience that that date fits in with the completion of what is known as the tithe year.
I ought to give one or two details of this financial arrangement, in order to show your Lordships how it is that the payment to The Church has increased and how it is again that the revenues handed over to the Welsh Commissioners are insufficient to meet the total sum. Of course one of the great difficulties has arisen over the question of tithes. In 1915 tithe stood at seventy-seven. Next year, I understand, tithe will stand at 136, or nearly double what it stood at in 1915. Meanwhile, as your Lordships know, an Act has been passed in 1918 settling the tithe or sterotyping the tithe for the next seven years at 109? Then on what basis is this tithe to be continued? Is it to be on the basis of 136 or on the basis of 109? The Law Officers have given as their decision that the tithe is to be commuted on the basis of 136, and that the Act of 1918 does not for the purpose of this commutation affect the basis of the tithe. On the other hand, of course, the incumbent will not be entitled to more than the tithe at 109, and therefore the difference between 109 and 136 will form a reserve fund for the Welsh Church, of which they will no doubt be able to make admirable use.
The second point which has caused financial disturbance is this, that the commutation of the existing interests, or rather the present value of existing interests, was calculated on the basis of 3½ per cent., the price of money at that time, and consequently, of course, the present value of these interests will be much higher than if they were calculated upon the basis of 5 per cent. On the other side of the account, however, the Welsh Commissioners can only borrow money at 5 per tent.—or possibly at more than 5 per. cent.—so that they have to borrow money at 5 per cent. in order to pay off commuted existing interests calculated at 3½ per cent.
But there is a further difficulty still. Your Lordships have all felt in your 886 own persons the rise of the Income Tax from 1s. 2d. five years ago to no less than 6s. in the at the present time. The much larger portion of the revenue handed ever to the Welsh Commissioners will be engaged in paying interest on this large sum which they have to borrow, and on that of course they will pay no interest. On the other hand, the surplus revenues—that is to say, the difference between this amount paid in interest and the total revenues—will have to bear Income Tax at that very heavy rate, and by this they will be very largely reduced. The calculation of the actuaries brings out this sum at £27,000 a year, but as the capital interest is paid off the surplus fund liable to Income Tax will increase, and towards the end of the period this sum will rise from £27,000 to £62,000, thus further reducing the amount of the revenues which can be used by these Welsh Commissioners. These then are the three financial changes—all, one may say, resulting from the war—which have caused this disturbance, and which have to be met by the present arrangements.
There is another point in connection with the commutation to which. I must refer, and that is the question of the lapsed interests. There were many persons who held that the interests that had lapsed during those five years had definitely lapsed, and therefore would not come into any commutation scheme, but I understand that the Law Officers have held that under the provisions of the Bill of 1914 these lapses have not taken place, and that the commutation will be calculated upon they basis of the interest existing in the year 1914. This, which was, of course, an opinion and no more than an opinion of the Law Officers, has been adopted by the Government, and is given statutory sanction in the Bill.
There are one or two questions that have been raised on this matter. One is, To whom does this £1,000,000 go? Is it a payment made to the Church, or is it made to the Welsh Commissioners for the benefit of the county councils? That, I think, is a problem which is practically insoluble, and it is really of no more than speculative interest. There is no doubt that this money is handed over to the Commissioners and that it is by them handed over to the Church. On the other hand, it is money to which the Church is fully entitled under the provisions of the Bill, and in that sense it can hardly be censidered as a payment to 887 the Church. It may, perhaps, be considered as a relief to the Welsh Commissioners, but unless this £1,000,000 was handed to them they would be unable to make this payment. Therefore, though the question as to whom this payment is really made may interest speculative, minds outside, your Lordships with Your more practical intelligence will probably come to the conclusion that it is hardly worth discussing. It is a payment made for the general purposes of reconciliation and good will.
The other question that has been raised is this. Does the Church gain or does it not gain by the provisions of this Bill? I think that from a practical point of view it gains in two ways. The question upon what basis the commutation should proceed, the question of lapsed interests, rest really upon the interpretations put upon the Act by the Law Officials, and those, of course, are still opinions, and I suppose that the administrators of the Courts if they were challenged, might possibly reverse those decisions. It is therefore, I think, a definite advantage to the Church that these two propositions should be put out of the realm of mere opinion and become definite statutory enactments on which the Church can rely. Again, it may be said that the Church was fully entitled to this money, and indeed that is so; but it is a very different thing to be entitled to money and to get the money. Here the Church has this advantage, that before this Bill passes it had a claim, after this Bill passes it gets a cheque and it gets a cheque which anybody will cash. That, I think, is the second great, advantage obtained by the Church under this Bill. I know that that is not the view of everybody, and that there are some distinguished and possibly ecclesiastically-minded laymen who hold that the Welsh bishops have been rather simple in this matter, and that they have been deceived by the guile of ingeniously-minded politicians. I think possibly that there is another explanation, and that the Welsh bishops themselves have thoroughly understood the situation, and that they think it is better to accept this measure in settlement rather than look forward by the resistance to long years of acrimonious and possibly barren controversy.
Can it be said that there is nothing further that the Church has gained by this settlement? I think it has. For instance, 888 that which it now possesses or will possess when tins Bill passes is secured to it by statute, and secured to it by statute passed by a democratic Parliament, and this gives it a title which no one can question. There will be in the future no delving antiquarian, no searcher of manuscripts, who can raise any question of ancient right. No one will be able in the future to speculate on the intentions of donors centuries dead, or to read the effect of later controversies into the simple minds of medieval laymen. No one—even the most obstinate particularist or provincialist—will ever again be able to speak of an alien Church. The whole field now lies open for the work of reconciliation and of good will. The voices of envy are silent and the poison of malice and misrepresentation is harmless or neutralised. No one can or will be able to attribute the future triumphs and successes of the Church to the attractions of great place, to the lure of wealth, or to the grip of privilege. No one can ever attribute the triumphs in the Church of the future to any other cause than the devotion of its own children or the inherent force of its spiritual mission. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Peel.)
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, we have listened with the intensest interest to the speech of the noble Viscount. He is, as he has shown us on previous occasions, a master of lucid exposition, but he never, I think, had a more difficult task to discharge briefly than that which he has discharged to-night in trying to make clear, not merely the definite provisions of this Bill, but the intricacies of the financial matters on which it is based and to which it alludes. He has tried, and certainly not unsuccessfully to elucidate the complexities of the financial situation.
The whole story of this Bill, as the last in a sequence of Bills or Acts dealing with the disestablishment of the Welsh Church, is a curious and, I think, hot a very satisfactory or edifying story. It we are to understand it aright to-day, apart from the details upon which the noble Viscount quite rightly and appropriately dwelt, I think we should carry our minds a little further back and see why a Bill of this kind is needed or ought to be needed at all, and how it bears upon what took place in 1914 889 and 1915. The noble Viscount has told us how it bears upon what took place in the Tithe Act of last year, and has mentioned, too, what has been occurring during the last few months.
I do not propose to enter at all upon those financial details. I am afraid that I should be likely only to darken counsel rather than to help matters, if I did. I have tried to understand them, and I think I do, but I certainly do not understand them to the degree of being able to expound them in detail to any of your Lordships whose knowledge of them is inadequate. What words I want to say will be rather different. I prefer to deal with the question on rather larger and more general lines, not perhaps essential to the consideration of what is before us but, I do think, helpful towards getting what is now being done put into the right setting for ultimate understanding.
During the five years in which this matter has been on occasion under discussion I have seen no reason to modify quite deliberate opinions which I ventured to express many and many a time in this House, and have expressed on frequent occasions outside this House, as to the whole policy and plan which was adopted in this Bill for the disestablishment and disestablishment of the Church in Wales. My conviction remains quite unshaken that the course of action followed was unnecessary, was unwise, was harmful to the religious well-being of Wales and indirectly of England, and was calculated to cripple the activities for religious purposes, and other purposes as well, of a body which has used magnificently (though, like other bodies, with occasional failures) the large opportunities which have been given to it in our constitution of Church and Realm. Those convictions I do not need to reiterate to-day.
I venture to believe that there are a great many people now who in 1914 supported the policy which was then before the country and was adopted, who, if they had the whole thing to do over again, would take a different course to-day. But, anyhow, the thing was done, and, as it seems to me, there must be some continuity in Parliamentary action so deliberate, and so thoroughly handled as that was. By, I think, almost common consent, it is felt that it could not now be completely undone, and that it is the old story—Quod fieri non debuit factum valet. 890 But rightly to understand this Bill we must glance at historical lasts, all the more so because undoubtedly the war has driven the details of what happened at the very moment of its outbreak out of the recollection of most people who would naturally be interested in the subject.
Since the Bill of 1914 took its final shape, before it was finally enacted, there arose a very wide Nonconformist anxiety as to its provisions. It became clear that they had not realised practically what Disendowment would mean. They had listened to, and adopted for themselves, a cry, without taking in all that that policy would mean when put, into effect. They had certainly not realised how many parishes would, from the day the Act became operative, be bereft of all the ancient property which was theirs, and how many others would be crippled as regards their efficiency. And, accordingly, something like 100,000 people, all Nonconformists, petitioned at that time for a reconsideration of the policy which had been adopted. The position was a difficult one, and a strong Committee of this House was appointed and held its first meeting about six weeks before the declaration of war. Its chairman was Lord St. Aldwyn. Abundant evidence was brought before it on two separate accounts. Convocation was one of them, the other was the question of Nonconformists' dissatisfaction with the provisions, and upon what basis of substantial truth their objections rested.
That Committee sat for some weeks, and took exceedingly important evidence. Had the Report upon that evidence ever been drawn up and presented to Parliament I believe that the effect it would have produced would have been very wide and far-reaching. But while the Committee was sitting the crash came and war began, and the whole thing was thrown into confusion. Lord St. Aldwyn was immersed in public service of the highest possible importance and unable to be in any further touch with even a matter that interested him so much as this did, because of the affairs, in comparatively huge proportions, with which he was dealing elsewhere. The result was that no Report was ever drawn or presented, although a substantial Blue-book embodies the rather voluminous evidence which was compiled, and which is exceedingly well worthy of reference by any one who will take the pains to refer to it. Of course, in any other circumstances the postpone 891 ment of a Report of that kind would only have been of a temporary sort, and we should have had it published a little later. But as the war went on it became more and more obvious that to produce a detailed Report (for Lord St. Aldwyn had died and the whole position was very different) would have been an exceedingly serious matter. Anyhow, it was not produced, but I hope that any of your Lordships who are interested will be at the pains to look at the evidence, which was given to that Commission, especially the second half, and at what was said about nonconformist opinion in Wales.
When the Bill was becoming an Act at the very moment when the outbreak of war came there was a large number of conferences of different kinds which were held by the then Government, certainly with representatives of the Church, and presumably with those who had been opposed to what we called the Church policy and principle in this matter. These conferences were held under all the stress and uncertainty of war conditions—I can speak as having had the privilege of taking part in several of them—under great misapprehension as to the probable duration of the war, the probable cost that would fall on individuals, and the position in which we should find ourselves when the war was over. I am sure that the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) has the same recollections of these conferences as I have.
Along with the principal Act when it became law there was passed a Suspensory Act postponing the operation of the provisions of Disestablishment and Disendowment, but it was soon found as things went on that the matter was not thus easily settled. Modifications were called for with regard to what had been already provided, and, as was not wonderful at the time, the matter became tangled and confused in the highest degree. Then in 1915 in this House the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, on behalf of the then Government, proposed and carried through this House what was called the Welsh Church (Postponement) Bill, which was an arrangement arrived at between the Government and those who represented the Church as to the date of Disestablishment and Disendowment, and the way in which it should ultimately be carried through. But, unexpectedly to many of us, the opposition to it in the House of Commons proved too strong, and notwithstanding the eloquence of the pre 892 sent Prime Minister in endeavouring to plead with his Welsh fellow-Members for carrying through the arrangement which the Government had accepted, those Members protested so strongly against doing it that the noble. Marquess had to come to this House and ask (so to speak) that those who in this place had got a pledge from the Government as to what they intended to do would abstain from calling for the fulfilment of that promise and would stand aside owing to the exigencies of the war and of public affairs. I was one of those who had to take part in that matter. We felt that we could not possibly resist the claim that was made upon us, and we refrained from pressing the Government, as we might have done, for the fulfilment of a promise which undoubtedly would have been fulfilled but which, if we had pressed for it, would have been fulfilled only at the expense of exascerbation and strife.
Perhaps I may read the words used by the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe) on that occasion. He said—I am happy to repeat in my own words what was said by my right hon. friend in another place—that the action of those who represent the Welsh Church in this matter was both generous and public-spirited. They were entitled, as we all agree, to ask that we should proceed, as we said we would, with the Welsh Church (Postponement) Bill, but they also realised that the consequence of so proceeding would be of the unhappy character which I have indicated. Therefore they agreed to accept the course of acting by Order in Council of which I have spoken. It is my belief that they and their interests will in no way suffer from the course which they have taken.I think it is well to bear that in mind to-day when we sometimes hear people outside say that the Church is benefitting by present difficulties to obtain what is supposed to be some unfair advantage. I believe the whole matter to be entirely the other way. The very opposite has taken place; and, in lieu of asking for something which is an unfair request to make from those who differ from us, or of the Government of to-day, the request which the Church might have made would have been for much more generous treatment than anything this Bill proposes to mete out to it.
All that took place four years ago. Since then we have had the war throughout those years until the Armistice; we have had the financial stress and difficulty not diminished but increased, and undoubtedly that affects very markedly the situation as we have to handle it to-day. Meantime I 893 am sure it is true to say that, out of the stress of our common sorrow and effort, a kindlier spirit has been evoked on both sides towards those who differ from them, and that people are more ready than they were five years ago to work together in coining to a satisfactory arrangement upon these matters. But above all I want to call attention to what has happened in Wales itself where the Bishops, the clergy, and the laity have set themselves with a quiet and businesslike and public-spirited endeavour to get the whole affairs of the Welsh Church into such a condition that when the ultimate issue came they would be able to make the mischief as little as may be, and to use to the full the opportunity which would be theirs. I have had occasion to look into it carefully, and I do not think it is possible to find words too strong for both the manner in which the work of the Welsh Church Representative Body has been fashioned and carried on during the trying and difficult years and for the issue to which, under the wisest possible guidance, they have ultimately come, with the object in view that, when the blow should eventually fall, things might work as well as the conditions would admit.
The war is now over but the financial difficulty is certainly not less—some would say that it is even greater than before—and reconstruction of all sorts is a most difficult thing where it involves the expenditure of money. There has been an upset of all the financial estimates formed some time ago; and the need for some reconsideration of all financial questions connected with the Church was shown when the Tithe Act of 1918 (which has been referred to) had to be passed for helping to clear up the tangle not with regard to Wales particularly but with regard to Ecclesiastical affairs altogether on the financial side of their business matters. A Coalition Government was in power instead of the Government which enacted the Disestablishment Act. All these conditions give a different setting altogether to what is being done to-day from the setting which belonged to what was done in 1914 and 1915. I do not enter into the minuter details of the matter—important as they are to the issue—especially of the Tithe Act of last year, because others will probably do so, and I prefer to deal with the larger principle.
In these circumstances the Coalition Government of to-day has taken the matter in hand and has found that it is essential— 894 as it obviously is—if the thing is to go forward that the Welsh Church Commission should continue in longer life than was supposed, and they have endeavoured to reach a solution which, while maintaining the principles of tie Act of 1914, should be reasonably fair all round. The fear lest that result should not ensue, or lest such conferences if they took place should be infructuous, led to the great loss which the whole country sustained by- the resignation of the man to whom in these matters we owe more than anyone else—Lord Robert Cecil. It is impossible to exaggerate what the Church in Wales-owes to the wisdom, counsel, and support which were given to it and to the Church in England by Lord Robert Cecil, and I should like to tender him here my warmest thanks for that and for very many other things he has done and is doing.
Those who represent the Welsh Church have at this time conferred with the Government. They have also conferred, as I understand, with those who represent the county councils of Wales or the interests which may be supposed to be rival or antagonistic to the Church's interest, and the Bill which the noble Viscount has introduced is the outcome of those discussions and deliberations. I will say at once that, though the terms which this Bill offers and describes are far from generous—I am not sure that generosity is exactly the term which we have, any right to speak about in a matter of this kind; it is fairness and justice rather than generosity which the Government as trustee of the national and other finances have to consider, and therefore generosity is not the word I would speak of—but although the result of this Bill, if it becomes an Act, will be to give less to the Church than I believe we have a right, after all that has happened, to expect, I do not think that the conditions which it brings about are so intolerable as to make it right that we should do otherwise than accept them if, as seems inevitable, the principle of the Act of 1914 should be maintained.
It may be, and here we come to very large questions, that in a matter of this kind—a matter of large principle, sometimes of deep religious principle—no arrangement or compromise ought ever to be attempted, because it is a matter not of expediency but of right and wrong. If I thought that the position could be so 895 stated, I should be opposing altogether any Bill of this kind. I do not deny at all that the principle of the power of Parliament, as representing the country, to take steps for some measure of Disendowment of the Church is acquiseced in, however unwillingly, by a Bill of this kind, and if one thought it to be a matter of simple moral right or wrong we should probably feel that we could have no part or lot in any arrangement which had that object. Can Parliament do such a thing as this without moral delinquency? If we said, "No," I should not be trying to handle in detail a Bill of this kind. That is a large question.
Exactly fifty years ago it was handled in a famous speech by one who afterwards occupied the Woolsack in this House, then Sir Roundell Palmer, on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. He spoke at length upon that subject, and he dealt with how far people were justified in using terms like "sacrilege," "apostasy,'' and so forth, which had been largely used in the whole controversy, and how fart hat was a straining of terms in an unfair way. Any one who wants to realise how possible it is for one who is vehemently opposed to the whole principle of Disestablishment and Disendowment, yet who feels he can with a clear conscience take part in some such arangement as this Bill brings about, may well be referred to that most remarkable speech on what I believe are the sound principles of the subject. Those principles were again reasserted by him in reference to that very subject, when nearly twenty years afterwards he published his book upon the subject of Disestablishment and Disendowment.
I, too, feel as strongly as any man can the wrong, the hardship, and the public detriment which come from the sweeping policy of the Disendowment of a Church which is fulfilling to the full the work assigned to it and discharging the solemn trust which has been laid upon it. I cannot, however, feel that the matter is one which can be expressed in such simple tennis of moral right and wrong as to make it impossible for us to handle an arrangement such as is now before us. It may be said by those who admit that, "The principle which you maintain is sound enough, but the agreement actually made is a very bad one. The Church has been needlessly complacent and its representatives have done what they have no right to do with regard to the position of which 896 they are trustees." There is a very grave responsibility resting in this matter upon the Welsh bishops. As I have said, we have to consider to-day whether any arrangement which has been arrived at was arrived at by a too complacent attitude on the part of those who represented the Church, and the position therefore of the Welsh bishops has been one of extraordinary difficulty. Their position was an anxious one. They are trustees for the Church and the Church's property in a sense which is not unique—not for them alone—but is very marked in their case. They are also trustees for something else; they true necessarily men on whom it lies to guide and direct the thought of those to whom they minister as to what is expedient for the cause of religion in the "Wales which they know so well, and in England so far as it is affected by what happens in Wales.
I have referred to the work which has already been done in the Welsh Church in the formation of these Representative Bodies and the way in which they have acted in giving shape and form to their plans for the future; and of course, as was right, the Welsh bishops in this matter did not act by themselves. They have taken counsel with the Parliamentary Committee of the governing body of the Welsh Church. That Parliamentary Committee gave full consideration to the subject. Those who were present spoke and voted about it; those who were absent had their opinions asked for and recorded. They were empowered by the governing body to deal with it, and they passed a Resolution which seems to me to justify to the full the action taken by the Welsh bishops in what they have done in regard to this Bill. The Resolution was as follows:—This Committee having carefully considered the provisions of the Welsh Church Bill, while reaffirming its conviction against the principle of Disendowment, realises so strongly the urgent need of an immediate settlement that it is prepared to accept the Bill although regretting the non-inclusion in the Bill of the retention of ancient and unenclosed churchyards and endowments other than tithes.That is a Resolution of very great importance which was passed deliberately by those on whom the higher responsibilities I have referred to rest.
I believe with them that a renewal of Strife on this subject at this time would be disastrous far beyond the borders of Wales. It would be disastrous to the deepest in 897 terests of religious life in this country. Those who are entitled to judge deem that a renewal of strife, were no Bill of an accommodation kind like this passed, would be inevitable at the very time when in these days that follow the war we are eager for harmony, eager for co-operation of the fullest and firmest kind for the new work which lies before us in Wales as in England. The Welsh Church has shown itself in these days in a marked degree to be keen and capable. Its energy ought to have at this time unfettered scope, and I believe that if it is to do its work aright it will be by having cleared out of the way this cause of bitterness which has lasted so long and hindered so much. It is because I believe that that will be the effect and result of the step now taken that I hope your Lordships, will give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I can only describe this Bill as most unsatisfactory and most disappointing. We had certainly been given to understand, and I certainly had hoped, that the Government would assist the Church in Wales, but the Home Secretary in another place has made it absolutely clear that the Church is only to receive that which she is legally entitled to receive under the original Act, so that the Government are not giving back anything at all to the Church. Is this the final word of thanks by the Government to those thousands of young Welsh Churchmen who, at the beginning of the war, sprang forward and offered their services to their country? Many of them have made the supreme sacrifice and have their names on the Roll of Honour.
A short way from your Lordships' House there stands in Whitehall a magnificent monument, with these beautiful and simple words engraved on it—" Our Glorious Dead." How do the Government thank our glorious dead? Why, by taking away from the Church in Wales £900,000. I have been given to understand that after the Battle of Waterloo, when the Peninsula War came to an end, a grateful nation, through Parliament, voted £1,000,000 for the erection of churches and cathedrals. In the year 1919 Parliament again votes, £1,000,000, not for the erection of churches and cathedrals, but simply that the Welsh Commissioners may meet their debts. Not so very long ago, Mr. Asquith was addressing his followers, and he told them 898 that Liberalism was a spirit. He did not say what kind of spirit, but the spirit of Liberalism which framed and passed the original Act dealing, with the Church in Wales was an extremely fiery spirit, full of uncharitableness to the Church, and a great deal of that uncharitableness and spirit seems to have fallen on the Coalition Government.
I had hoped that in this Bill we were going to get equality of treatment—equality all round. Under the 1844 Dissenters' Chapels Act a Nonconformist denomination has only to show that it has used its chapel and property and endowments for twenty-five years and it at once establishes a legal title. If the Government had wished to deal out equal treatment they would have said to the Church in Wales, "You are entitled at least to hold all your property, or its equivalent, which you have held for twenty-five years." But no In Wales the ancient churchyards are to be taken away from the Church and are to be given to the local authority. No graveyard or burial ground belonging to any other denomination is to be taken away. I do not wish to take them away; neither do I wish the graveyards of my Church to be taken away. No Nonconformist in Wales is forbidden to attend the National Free Church Council of England and Wales, but the Church in Wales is forbidden to send her representatives to her National Council—the Convocation of Canterbury. I hold that the Church in Wales is at least entitled to have it said in the Bill that she is at liberty to decide whether she wishes to continue to send her representatives to the Convocation of Canterbury or whether she wishes to set up a province of her own.
Have the Government the right to break a trust, as they are doing at this moment? I acknowledge that there are occasions when the State may break a trust. One would be when the trustees could not faithfully carry out the trust; a second one would be if the reasons why the trust had been formed had become obsolete; and a third would be if the trustees had more money than they could apply to the trust. But not one of these charges can be brought against the Church in Wales. She is faithfully and loyally carrying out her trust, by whatever test you like to take, and is, in the words of the late Mr. Gladstone, "rising from elevation to elevation." Who is going to gain by taking away from the Church in 899 Wales this £900,000? The Church obviously is not going to gain; nor is any other denomination. Are the ratepayers going to gain? Well, they will gain in 1950, but not until then. I think they will come into an income of £150,000 or £200,000 as the case may be. Will the State gain? Yes. The State, by taking £900,000 from the Church, is relieved of the obligation of finding more than £1,000,000 to meet the debts of the Welsh Commissioners. £900,000 or £45,000 a year—what is that to the State, which is spending £4,500,000 a day? £45,000 a year is a drop in the ocean to the State, but it means a mighty lot to the Church.
Are the Government wise at this time to be taking away property without compensation? We hear a great deal of nationalization—nationalisation of coal, land, property—without compensation. The Government are setting a very had precedent. They are putting a very strong weapon into the hands of those who would nationalise without compensation. I believe it will recoil on the Government like a boomerang. The curtain on this unhappy drama, which has now been running for seven years, is shortly about to fall. There will be no tumultuous applause when the curtain falls. Peace and the end of the war have brought to many members of the Church in Wales extreme sadness. I do not regret myself anything that I have done or said in playing my small part, humbly it may have been, in this drama. I believe I have addressed more public meetings on this question than any other layman. But I do not congratulate anyone who has taken any part in arriving at these conclusions. They can look back with no pride to the part that they have played.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I am aware that in the present state of public business it is not desirable that we should unduly prolong this debate; nor do I think that the issues involved are so wide or various that there is room for a great deal of statement. But at this time of the year the English bishops are naturally scattered, and I should be rather sorry if no opportunity were taken to express, on their behalf, the interest which they have felt in this matter. Those who like ourselves, know the interior of our own deliberations, know that the matter of the Welsh Church has been again and again under discussion, and we 900 give our sympathy—they certainly deg serve it—to our brethren of the Welsh Church. If the Bishops are not largely represented here to-day it is owing to the circumstances of the season and also because it is well known that the matter was being settled by some kind of agreement; men are not readily brought up from far distances when the issue is one which their presence will hardly affect.
We have listened with great respect, and not a little sympathy, to what has fallen from Lord Dynevor. He speaks for himself, but I undertake to say that he speaks for a good many people besides himself both in Wales and in England. To us (I speak for myself as well as for him) this issue is a matter of very grave disappointment. We have only to east back our mind to the time when the war supervened upon this rather acrimonious controversy in order to remember what we then confidently anticipated—namely, that the tide of warm and cordial feeling among different kinds and sorts of people which swept the country would have made it impossible to carry out what already seemed to very many, not only defenders of the Church but impartial people, to be a crudely severe and harsh measure inflicted upon a gallant little Church, certainly not over endowed with wealth, but, on the contrary, struggling along against pecuniary difficulties.
The most rev. Primate quarrelled with a word. He said he did not like the word "generous" in this connection; and I understand what he meant as he meant it. He implied that it is not the business of a Government, standing in the position of arbitrator, to be generous. I own that "generous" is the very word to express what we might have looked for and have not found in the treatment of this business. On the occason to which the most rev. Primate referred the present Prime Minister did express himself with generosity. He expressed himself in just the kind of language we might have looked for, not only from a man so warm hearted as himself, but from many other people, and I can hardly doubt that if the Prime Minister had had his unbiassed course we should have seen a different result.
We know what political considerations are, and we hare seen lately in the public Press expressions from individuals belonging to a body of men who have really been behind this movement which have shown 901 us how very little of generosity, I will not say more, could be expected from them. I am glad to think that in so speaking I am not speaking bitterly in any general way of those who, in Wales, belong to other Communions than the Church. We have reason to know that a very large number of people in Wales, Nonconformists, would have been ready to see Disendowment largely modified. There is, I believe, some reason to think that if opinion could have its freest scope the numbers who took that attitude would have been larger still. I mean, if it had been possible for any Government to come forward and say, "After what has happened; after the intensification of pecuniary stress which the war has brought; after the healing of divisions amongst us by the common patriotic feeling, we mean, as far as possible, either to go back upon Disendowmmt or to greatly reduce it, to deprive it of its most invidious features—the taking away of the churchyards and the glebe—I believe there would have been a sigh of relief on the part of a large number of people who, perhaps, have not the courage to put that sigh into words.
The question, however, is what course should be taken by those who are in opposition to what remains to be effected. I do not go back on the question of Disestablishment. I am thinking now of those who are opposed to such a measure as is at present in the balance. I believe those who opposed before are of one mind in opposing now. I do not think there is any difference of opinion on that. The difference of opinion to which the Primate alluded is a difference about policy rather than of principle. I do not want to weary the House by repeating what has fallen from him about that, except to say that I myself concur in it. I cannot think when the matter has come to this stage, that we are entitled to apply the words "right and wrong" in that peremptory sense in which they leave no chance to the conscience.
No doubt we have all admired the conduct of the noble Lord in another place who resigned his position on this matter, and we have seen with very great pleasure indeed that the effect of Lord Robert Cecil's action has been to lift him in the judgment and estimation of his countrymen, not only because he did so for conscience sake, but because he was able to fill a place in the conduct of the deliberations at Paris in connection with the League 902 of Nations which, if he had not vacated his office, could not have fallen to him. I do feel, as the Welsh Bishops have felt and as the most, rev. Primate has said, that in a matter like this it may really be better to take wrong and suffer loss. That it is a wrong, and that the loss ought not on this scale to be inflicted, I strongly feel. If there had been any generosity of feeling on the part of those who were in opposition, should have had a very different result. We miss that generosity, and it is for want of it that we have to consider our position.
I take it that my brothers of the Welsh Episcopacy are of this mind. I do not know what they think, and I am much too little instructed to be able to go into the question of pounds, shillings, and pence; how much they think they are gaining compared with what they ought to have gained; or how much they are losing. I do not know anything about these matters, but I think I may say this—that they desire very much now to be free of this controversy. It is worth more, may I say, than £1,000,000 to bring the thing to an end; it is particularly hateful to them that a great question which has involved immense issues about the position of religion in Wales should be reduced, or appear to be reduced, to a mere pecuniary wrangle; and on that account they have been inclined to say, We will listen to what a man in the responsible position which the Prime Minister occupies has to say; we will wait upon the course which he takes; and if it should be harder than we think it ought to be, we are not prepared to fight against it. For this further reason also, that they are looking forward to a period in the life of the Welsh Church which shall be a more distinguished and more effective period than those which have gone before, and are almost anxious to get free of the whole entanglement of this stage of the controversy, in order that those arrangements which we have watched them making shall come into full effect. Possibly on all sides of the House we should have a unanimous desire to see them under those circumstances and in that way leading on the Church in Wales to a new period which, although it may be a period of privation and struggle, as it will be, will be a period of honour and success.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, it is, I think, considered desirable that this debate should not be unduly prolonged, and I shall there 903 fore endeavour to keep what I have to say within a brief compass. I listened with much interest and pleasure to the speech of the most rev. Primate, and I was particularly glad that he ended his speech upon a note of the financial results which he hoped would follow from this settlement of the quarrel. I will not take up the time of the House by referring in any way to the many statements which the most rev. Primate made as to episodes in the recent history of this controversy. He will, however, permit me to say this much, that although I know he feels sincerely that what he says was correct, I cannot myself attach the same interpretation or give the same weight to that movement amongst Nonconformists in Wales with regard to modifications in the provisions of the Bill, neither can I—it, would be impossible for me to—admit that there is in Wales to-day any general change in the opinion of Nonconformists with reference to the basic principles of this Act.
Having said this, my desire to-day as a Nonconformist is very briefly to lay before the House the reason why I for one, at all events, as a Nonconformist, accept the settlement embodied in this Bill, in the hope and belief that it will lead to the good results to which reference has been made. I am here, as most of your Lordships know, as a Nonconformist. I have had the opportunity of knowing perhaps as well as can be known all that is best in the Nonconformist faith and character of my countrymen, and probably I am able to judge as well as any one the value of the contribution of Welsh Nonconformity to the life of Wales. I also think I am able to measure the forces which are actuated my Nonconformist countrymen in the long controversy and struggle which has taken place, and which has ended, as I hope, in the settlement that we are discussing to-day. Therefore your Lordships will understand that I do, and I must, approach this settlement in the light of that experience and of those convictions.
I should like to make it quite clear, if I may, to those who do not hold the same views as I do, that I fully recognise the reality and the strength and the extent of the convictions held by Churchmen, not only in Wales but throughout the country generally, upon the question of Disestablishment. It is a great change, and no Churchman can regard such a change as is involved in Disestablishment without very 904 grave apprehensions. But may I say this, that in the region of convictions, and especially if those convictions refer to the world of religion, no amount of argument can possibly alter these things. It is only time and experience which can pronounce a verdict on the right or wrong of a long drawn out controversy such as this, but I will suggest to the House that sometimes there collies the pressure of a great necessity which compels an agreement, in regard to the details of which we cannot all be agreed but which we accept as a means of securing a greater end, and that greater end in the case of Wales, as the most rev. Primate has already pointed out, is the determining of the controversy which has for so long sapped the vigour and weakened the energies of Welsh public life.
The position has been put with admirable clearness by the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. The Welsh Church Act; is on the Statute Book. The war has taken place, with its momentous changes, and the consequences of the war have made the financial clauses of the Act unworkable. We are in the position therefore that there are two, and only two, possible alternatives—either to seek to alter the financial clauses of the Act in such a way as to make them workable, and in that way to re-open the whole controversy, or to come to an agreement which recognises the war as a new factor in the situation, and which is based upon the provision and acceptance of a State contribution in order to meet the end which we have in view. My Lords, I have no hesitation in saying that I am clearly of opinion that the right course has been taken in accepting the settlement which is embodied in this Bill.
I have referred to the pressure of the great consequences of the war, and is there to-day in this House, or out of it, any one who knowing the forces which are moving on all sides and in front of us—forces which must inevitably change the whole structure of our social system—is there any one who does not say that the time has come for us to make every possible effort to unite the moral forces of the country, for the purpose of developing a citizenship which will be able to bear the great burden of coming responsibilities. It is on that account, my Lords, that I, Nonconformist as I am, representing as I do the Nonconformists of Wales here to-day, say that I am prepared to pay the price of the Bill.
905 With regard to the Bill itself, there is no need for me to go into details. It embodies an arrangement which has been arrived at after conferences between the representatives of both parties interested. Neither party can be or is satisfied with the result. If I were asked to give my Opinion as to the balance of financial advantage arising from the arrangement it would not be the opinion that has been expressed hitherto in this debate, but there is no use going into that. That is a question which has been settled. These conferences have been held, and an arrangement has been reached, and it is our duty to confirm this settlement.
In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to emphasise this. If I may express my own personal experience in the matter the real point is this. I see in this settlement something brought within the reach of Wales which may be of infinite value, that is the possibility, at all events, of united action in the sphere of religion, and for that personally I would sacrifice, a great deal. I do not mean to say that when this Bill is passed all these good things will come immediately. They cannot. There are old memories, old traditions of suffering on both sides, which cannot be forgotten in a day, but this I do say, that time will help these things to become of real benefit to the life of the people of Wales. While recognising that the Churchmen and Nonconformists in Wales under the new order of things will inevitably and naturally proceed for some time to come upon their own lines and principles in the work which they have to do, I am certain that gradually there will come a closer approximation of feeling and of spirit, and in that closer and more real union of purpose in religious things there will be found I believe a treasure of great price and of real benefit to the spiritual life of the people of Wales.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I have in one sense got a slender right to take part in this debate, but I ought to say something, because I was concerned with the Welsh Church Bill before the war, and the most rev. Primate, in narrating briefly and accurately the events of those days, alluded to the part which I then took. I am now here, however, not as a tertius gaudens but as a tertius spectans, and I have no desire to enter into any controversial details of the present measure. The most rev. Primate alluded to what passed in 1914 and 1915, and I can tell your 906 Lordships that I have nothing whatever to withdraw or repent of from what I then said. I agreed then, and I agree now, that there should be no question of permitting the Church in Wales to suffer owing to the tremendous events which so unexpectedly fell upon us in those days. Nor do I dispute that the most rev. Primate and those who acted with him showed the high patriotism awl, if I may say so, the admirable common sense which would have been expected, in not attempting to push their claims to the utmost in the untoward circumstances in which we found ourselves Owing to the action of some part of the House of Commons in 1915.
I may say in passing, as the most rev. Primate said, that the present Prime Minister then showed precisely the same spirit which he has undoubtedly endeavoured to show now in making himself responsible for the present Bill as being what he conceives to be the measure of absolute fairness which should be dealt out to the Church in Wales. Therefore the payment that is to be made in the terms of this Bill ought not to be, and must not be, looked upon as a payment made to purchase the good will of the Church, but simply as an endeavour to see that the interests of the Church are not damaged by the circumstances which have occurred in the course of these five years—that is to say, the terms, I take it, are intended to be those upon which Parliament, assuming it to be in favour of the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, would now fix and agree upon if the measure were now brought in for the first time, arch if the whole matter had to be considered de noro and a measure of Disendowment and Disestablishment had to be passed.
We have been told that the terms are not generous, and the most rev. Primate pointed out that the Church would not ask for generosity in the sense of undue largesse; but the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of Winchester, took a somewhat different view on the merits—namely, that a spirit of larger generosity might have been shown and might properly have been translated into easier terms of Disendowment. I cannot help thinking that, in the times in which we live, in not going further in this direction His Majesty's Government have this time shown a laudable power of resisting temptation. These are times when a fine open-handed generosity at the public 907 expense is all the fashion. I do not, of course, know what criticisms would have been made in another place, or, if a Financial Resolution had been proposed there for a larger sum than that which is allocated in the Bill, what its reception would have been, but I repeat that, in these days of huge expenditure, in my judgment His Majesty's Government are to be applauded rather than blamed for having endeavoured to find a figure which in their opinion represented absolute fairness—no extra profit on one side and no undue loss on the other—which they consider this sum of £1,000,000 realises.
Though the financial estimates as they affect the future of the Welsh Church are not altogether easy to foresee, certainly none of us wish it to become an impoverished Church to the extent which it conceivably might if private donations and subscriptions were to dry up altogether. I remember in the days of our earlier discussions it was one of the points most heavily emphasised by the most rev. Primate and others that the effect of the war would be so impoverishing that the prospects of private help to the Church for the future must be exceedingly dark. I hope that as things are, on the other hand, it may be found that some of the large fortunes which have been made in Wales, as elsewhere, may play their part in contributing handsomely to the funds of the Welsh Church. However gloomily we may talk and think about the financial future of the country, yet there is no question that a comparatively large number of people seem to have very large sums of money to spend, or in some eases to give away, and I sincerely hope that the Church in Wales will share in those benefactions.
We have seen, and I do not know whether we are to expect here, some adverse comments upon the assent which has been given by the Bishops of the Church in Wales to the provisions of this measure, and we have been told in no dubious tones that they have been thoroughly taken in, and that indeed, coming from their Welsh hills, like the conies they are a feeble folk, making their houses in the rock. I cannot entertain myself any such estimate of the right rev. Bench representing Wales in this House. It has been my fate in the past to cross swords with them individually in debate more than once, and I have certainly found them anything but weak or 908 unresisting, and my impression, speaking quite seriously, is that, in coming to this agreement, they have sought peace with a clue measure of justice; they have not laid themselves out to gain mere advantage, but at the same time I should be greatly surprised to find that they have tamely submitted to any unjust solution of the financial side of this question.
The noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, made a speech evidently inspired by strong feeling, deeply moved as he evidently has beer by the whole question of Disestablishment and Disendowment. The only passage in that noble Lord's speech which I regretted was that in which he spoke of the poor return which a measure of Disestablishment made to the memory of Welsh Churchmen who have given their lives in the war. I always deprecate comparisons of that kind. I have no reason to suppose that there was any comparison to be drawn between the sacrifices respectively made by Churchmen or by Nonconformists in Wales. We have heard the same attempts to make what one dislikes to call capital, but which almost amounts to it, in other quarters. One has heard the same argument used by some of the advocates of self-determination for Ulster. I have seen the same arguments used—and in my opinion no more worthily used—on behalf of the miners in regard to their wages and hours. All these comparisons are, I think, a pity, and it would be far better if they were not made.
The noble Viscount, in introducing this Bill, closed his speech with an eloquent passage containing a picture of the gains, whatever might be the losses, from Disestablishment which might be conceived by the new independence of the Church in her spiritual relations with the people of the country. I fervently hope that may be so. As we all know, there are definite spiritual advantages attaching to the existence of an Establishment. Here in England we know what those are. There are also definite spiritual and moral advantages attaching to the existence of Free Churches, unconnected by any formal tie with the State. The attempts to balance those advantages and disadvantages would mean a recital of a long essay on a most difficult subject. I can only express the hope that, so far as the Church in Wales is concerned, the result of Disestablishment will be the complete disappearance of that bitterness of feeling which, though I agree it is by no means universally held 909 by the Nonconformist in the country, yet has inspired a number of people who, feeling that they represent the greater body of opinion in tee country, resent what they consider to be a claim to privilege mid to superiority. Whether they are right or whether they are wrong is not so much the point as if the feeling has a real and definite existence. I do not believe that there has been a widespread desire among Welsh Nonconformists to be hard on the Church', in the sense of treating the Church unfairly, either in matters of privilege or in matters of finance; and I sincerely trust that as the years pass all those feelings of bitterness will disappear entirely.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. DAVIDS
(who was indistinctly heard): My Lords, I feel that some explanation is due to your Lordships' House for the position taken up by the Parliamentary Committee. That explanation is due because, in three successive years, your Lordships' House, in full exercise of its powers, refused to give a Second Reading to the Act of 1914. In all the circumstances of the case I think it would be disrespectful to the House not to give your Lordships an explanation, and I will do so as briefly as I can.
The noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of this Bill gave such an admirable explanation of it that I need not repeat what he has said, but there are one or two what I think may be called main points connected with this Bill which will hear repetition. In the first place let there be no mistake in any quarter that the effect of the Bill is to disendew the Church in Wales to the extent of about £50,000 a year, or £1,000,000 capital value. I take the estimate given by the Leader of the House of Commons, Mr. Bonar Law; but, from such calculations as I have been able to make, I put it at £18,000,000. We will, however, take £50,000 in round figures. Therefore I wish your Lordships to understand that this Bill does not alter the principle of the Welsh Church Act as an Act of Disendowment. The White Paper, which possibly most of your Lordships have seen, concludes with a paragraph which says that the effect of the Bill is to leave the beneficiaries under the Welsh Church Act in practically the same financial position as if the Act had taken effect in 1915. That is the meaning of the last paragraph
910 In his speech the noble Viscount told us where this £1,000,000 that is provided in the Bill went. But in my opinion, that is a problem which is practically insoluble. The noble Viscount must have given a great deal of time to the subject to have given such a clear and effective exposition, but I think I may say that I have given even more time to it. Not one penny of the £1,000,000 goes to the Church to which the Church is not legally entitled under the Act of 1914; which fact I was never tired of announcing before, and about which I hold precisely the same opinion as in the years gone by. What has changed the situation so much is the advice given to His Majesty's Government of the Law Officers of the Crown. The Law Officers took the view that in regard to the lapse of certain vested interests and in regard to the effect of the Tithe Act of last year, certain persons, whose opinions I knew, were entirely mistaken. Therefore is very natural for your Lordships to think with the noble Marquess opposite in his doubt—I appreciate very much his kindly courtesy—in regard to the Members of the Parliamentary Committee. For my own part I am not sure that the Law Officers made that discovery. We are receiving no grant from the Treasury, and the noble Lord (Lord Clwyd), who so ably interpreted the feeling of his brother Nonconformists in Wales, will pay no price whatever for the goodwill and so on.
It may be asked why we accept a Bill which gives nothing to the Church. I was particularly struck by a remark made by the noble Marquess. Lord Crewe. With a fairness which not for the first time has distinguished his speeches in this House on this difficult subject, he said that all parties would wish to handle this question oft the lines that would have been adopted if it were produced for the first time at the end of such a war as that through which we have just, passed. I do not think that I misinterpret the noble Marquess. I think that was an exceedingly fair observation to make. I am quite sure that the noble Marquess appreciates the enormous change in the financial position in the Church of Wales from what it was five years ago. It is exceedingly difficult for us to raise the £1,000,000 necessary to replace the ancient endowments of the Church. Not only is it an exceedingly difficult thing to do, but it is absolutely urgent that we should so do, for ministers of religion are the worst paid class of people in the country; especially are they 911 ill-paid in Wales. I therefore think that if the Bill had been framed on the lines of the Act of 1914, after so prolonged and terrible a war, with the cost of living as it is now, and with the natural resources of the country what they are, it would have possibly gone farther than this Bill goes today.
Without changing in the slightest degree my convictions about any of the principles of the Welsh Church Act of 1914, I feel a most painful difficulty in making up my mind. I came, before the meeting of our Welsh Church Parliamentary Committee, clearly to the conclusion that it was not only expedient but our duty in all the circumstances of the case to accept this Bill which the Government has proposed. It is especially difficult for me to take this course, for in so doing I know that we are acting contrary to the judgment of our best friends. Reference has been made to the great sacrifice which Lord Robert Cecil made for the principles which he advocates, which we also hold as strongly as he does. It may not be impertinent on my part to take the opportunity of thanking the noble Lord for allowing me to consult him. It was not without very great hesitation indeed that I came to the conclusion that it was my duty to take the line I do. One holding the office that I unworthily hold is bound to have particular regard to any question of principle. It is our office to maintain religious principles. The difficulty, however, is that life is so complicated that in almost any decision your Lordships have to take you are bound to consider more principles than one, the principle divinely embodied in the Commandments—that is, the principle of common honesty. There are others we have to take into account. There are facts we have to take into account. It is a concrete and complex problem.
Thinking of this subject as well as I could, without consulting anybody, I came to the conclusion that for a Bishop the chief principle of all which should govern his decision in regard to anything affecting his divine mission was whether accepting this Bill, which in my humble judgment makes the position very difficult in regard to the Church of Wales but not absolutely impossible, would hurt or hinder the spiritual work of the Church in Wales. My brother, the Chairman of our Elementary Education Committee, upon whom lay a heavy burden and responsibility in this 912 matter, knows that I had hesitation and difficulty in regard to accepting this Bill without the two Amendments that I wished should be inserted in it, but I was never more clear in my life about my duty in anything I have had to do than in accepting this Bill. I came to the conclusion slowly; I make no apology to anybody for that conclusion. I think it is my duty to ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.
Before I sit down, however, I want to say this. Remember that in accepting this Bill we do not deprive anybody of a penny. We lose £50,000 a year which I believe rightly belongs to the Church. A great distinction must be drawn between inflicting wrong and suffering it; between inflicting loss and suffering it. In no part of this Kingdom or Empire were times so difficult or the it situation so full of danger on the one side and of hopeful possibilities on the other as in the South Wales coalfields. People have too much money; people think more of their right than of their duty. It came home to me at first with a compelling force—it came home to my conscience—that I could not possibly see my way to do it even if it meant the question of repealing the whole Act. I think we have an absolute right to retain this property, but it is our duty in my humble judgment to forego that right. I do not think the Church of Wales will suffer in the long run by accepting this measure.
I am especially thankful for the peroration of the noble Viscount and for his appreciation of the fact that it is not a very easy thing, after so long a controversy, to have that co-operation which we all desire. It will come sooner if it is borne in mind that if there is anything which hurts Churchmen's feelings it is to find friends who have taken part in carrying out the Welsh Church Act, 1914, thinking that it really ought not to make the slightest difference in our attitude. I venture to say to your Lordships that you ought to take such steps as you may in your wisdom think will tend to weld together that unity between all classes and sections of the population, without which the war will have been fought in vain.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think none of your Lordships can fail to have listened with great sympathy 913 to the tone of deep concern with which the right rev. Prelate who has just sat down spoke. I do not pretend that I agree altogether in the action which he and his right rev. brethren have taken, but I should like to say that that fact does not alter the profound respect which I have for those, himself and others, who hold the high office which they do hold in the Church and for the devoted work which they have rendered, both in the political relations and the much more important relations over which they have jurisdiction, to their country and to a higher service still.
But I must say—and I should not be honest if I did not say—that I think the Welsh Bishops, in the arrangement to which they have come with the Government, have undertaken a very grave responsibility. I do not think the right rev. Prelate will differ from that in the least. He has stated, and I think stated truly, that so far as the situation is concerned the Church directly gains nothing at all by this Bill. Supposing this Bill did not pass, the rights of the Church to the enhanced value of the tithe, the rights to the lapsed interests and the rights as defined by the Law Officers of the Crown, which bind the Government absolutely, would have been secured That was absolutely so. Moreover, if the Bill had not passed by the end of this year, in all probability the Act of 1914 would have completely broken down. It would come to an end, because it would have become absolutely unworkable. As your Lordships know, after the debates in another place, unless the ratification of the last Treaty takes place before the end of the tenure of office of the Welsh Commissioners, the linch-pin of the Act disappears the Welsh Commissioners lose their office, and it would be impossible then to administer the Act at all.
That was the position when the Bishops went to negotiate with the Government. I wonder whether they were aware of that. I wonder whether they were aware that they held the Government, as it were, in the hollow of their hands. I wonder whether they knew that the Church was not going to get a penny out of the Bill, except what it would gain in any ease, and that unless legislation of some kind were passed, the Act of 1914 would have become absolutely unworkable. They did not confide in me, and therefore I do not know whether they were aware of it or not.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. DAVIDS
I was not aware of the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, because I understand; it was not given until the morning of the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
This is a striking example of negotiations when the essential points in favour of the Church were not communicated to the representatives of the Church, although the Government knew them, or had the opportunity of knowing them. That is a most striking admission, and I hope it will be marked everywhere that when the Government came to negotiate with two Bishops—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not know who were, but, at any rate, when the Government came to negotiate with the representatives of the Church in Wales, there were certain essential facts which were not revealed to those representatives. The Government, of course, could not themselves have known. I am sure there is not a noble Lord sitting on the Government Bench who, if he had known the essential points in the negotiations before they took place, would not have communicated them to the representatives of the Welsh Church, and I suppose there is none of their colleagues in another place who would not have done so. It must have been that they did not know the opinion of their own Law Officers. It is not to be thought that they knew it, and kept it a secret. That would be incredible. I presume, therefore, that the Government did not know the opinion of their own Law Officers as to these essential things; but I should have thought that when the Law Officers had given their opinion, then the whole bargain would have been revised.
Here was an essential fact concealed from one of the parties of the negotiations. I withdraw the word "concealed" because I do not imagine that the Government concealed it; but it was an essential fact not known by the parties to the negotiations, and yet the bargain was maintained. I think I had better not use any language in reference to such an arrangement. It speaks for itself, and the result of the Welsh Church negotiators not knowing this essential fact was that they were not able 915 to obtain other terms from the Government. I stand to be corrected by a member of the Government if I say anything wrong. There was the question dear to the heart of Welsh Churchmen and dear to the heart of all Churchmen—the fate of the burial grounds. The right rev. Prelate spoke of it just now with great emotion. It does seem to me that when it was found that these facts were unknown to the Welsh negotiators the Government ought to have been prepared to reconsider their decision in respect of burial grounds.
Then there is the question of the breach in the integrity of Convocation. That, again, is a matter which is very dear to the heart of Churchmen, and, indeed, as far as I know, no Nonconformist objects in the least to the preservation of the integrity of Convocation. Why should they? Why should they desire to limit the power of Churchmen to be joined in one governing body whether they belong to England or to Wales?; or let me put it in this way—to belong to one governing body until Churchmen themselves desire that it should come to an end? I for one, would never resist a claim of Welsh Churchmen to have a Province of their own. I think it is a perfectly reasonable proposition if they put it forward, and nothing I shall advocate here, or in the subsequent stages of the Bill, would be in the least inconsistent with that point of view. Those things they did not obtain. May I say this very respectfully to the Welsh Bishops and to those who helped them. What a pity it was that they did not take English Churchmen thoroughly into their confidence and accept the guidance of some of us. I have the profoundest respect for both of them, for all of them, but surely they are somewhat too simpleminded for this wicked world.
The great objection I have to this Bill is that there is no reversal of Disendowment. Your Lordships must not think for a moment that I care about the question of Disendowment principally from the point of view of the Church. I believe that the Church will survive, and that when she makes an appeal to the generosity of her children she will receive, partly from their purses and partly from their efforts, everything she requires after a certain interval in order to triumph over the difficulties with which she is confronted. I have always argued against Disendowment, not from the point of view of the Church, but because I believe it to be profoundly 916 demoralising to the State. You allow people to think that by agitation alone they can obtain what belongs to other people. That is what is demoralising from our point of view.
I listened to the moderate speech the noble Viscount delivered just now and though I do not imagine he goes to the length I do in this respect, I believe he will agree with me that a large number of the most earnest Nonconformists in the Principality, and in England as a whole, have the gravest doubts of the morality of Disendowment. We know it from countless evidence. We know it from the very interesting remarks of the most rev. Primate at the beginning of the debate when he recalled some of the evidence which had been delivered before Lord St. Aldwyn's Committee. And there was, of course, a strong petition, or memorial, signed entirely by Nonconformists protesting against Disendowment. Those Nonconformists (I have the most profound respect for many Nonconformists) believe that Disendowment was immoral; was wrong. Why could we riot have agreed with them?—they are some of the best Nonconformists in the country—why could we not have made peace on those terms and followed the lead of those religious men. It would have indeed been a settlement worth having; not because we should have saved the Endowments but because we should have made a joint national recognition of the demoralising effect of Disendowment, and because, joined as we should be, allied as we should be with some of the greatest Nonconformists in this country, we should have felt an even still warmer glow of friendship and gratitude to them than we do at the present moment. That is what one desires should have happened. It did not.
What has happened is an elaborate—I hope your Lordships will forgive the word—an elaborate financial juggle, under which the Welsh county councils (in whom, in this respect, I take the smallest possible interest) are pulled out of a financial hole, and the Church itself gets, not its rights, but half its rights that it would have obtained even if there had been no Bill at all. That is why I say the Bill to us is unsatisfactory. I do not ask your Lordships to reject the Bill but I do ask you to receive it without enthusiasm, and, if necessary, to insert all the Amendments you think proper in the next stage.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ASAPH
My Lords, I hope that anything I may say in answer to the noble Marquess who has just spoken will not be interpreted as indicating any lack of respect for him. During more than thirty years he has been an unfailing friend and adviser of Churchmen in Wales, and it is quite impossible to exaggerate what we owe to him. The noble Marquess says that we are simple people, but although we may be simple people all the points he mentioned have been before me for a longtime. I am perfectly well aware of the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown. I wish to speak with profound respect of the Law Officers, but there are other eminent lawyers who take a different view of these particular provisions. May I remind the noble Marquess that the ultimate decision on these questions does not rest with the Law Officers, and we could not run any risk on questions of that sort. Simple as we were, we set some store on security.
The situation to-day is this. The Welsh Church Act received the Royal Assent, and was placed on the Statute Book, in September, 1914. The two main principles involved in the Act were the national recognition of religion, and the question of diverting to secular purposes money devoted to religious purposes. I have not the slightest intention of reviving an old controversy except to say this, that I consider still that both those principles are vital. There are some, of course, who consider the first principle—the national recognition of religion—even more sacred than the second. The Act has been on the Statute Book for nearly five years and its total repeal or acceptance, with such adjustments as are rendered necessary by the war, are possible attitudes to take. A policy of total repeal could only have been ventured upon if the whole Church of England had rallied to the cry and was ready to stake her own position upon the result. To such a policy there are obvious objections. The repeal of a Statute so recently passed is not in consonance either with the spirit or the practice of this country. All the available evidence is against the policy of total repeal, and I can say with some feeling that Welsh Churchmen do not desire to be condemned to another period of barren agitation. The policy of acceptance has, of course, its difficulties—difficulties which make a heavy demand upon the temper and patience of those who are smarting under what they 918 consider to be an act of grave injustice. Put briefly, it seems to me that the policy of total repeal is right if not sensible, but that the policy of acceptance is sensible if not heroic.
The Bill before the House makes certain administrative changes which are rendered necessary by the war. Obscurities in the main Act, of vital importance to the Church, have been cleared up, and the Church stands saved from the peril of controversial interpretations. I quite sympathise with what the noble Lord said about the spectacle of county councils rendered bankrupt by the loss of spoils for which they have been waiting so long. It is open to more than one quotation. It is true "Nothing is here for tears." It is true, as was said by my brother the Bishop of St. Davids, whose devotion and incessant energy and work on behalf of the Church in Wales are beyond all words—it is true, as he says, that this Bill does not re-endow the Church of Wales at all but makes the Church, which is already a poor church, the poorer by £50,000 a year.
There is one point which has not been noted. The war has rendered it almost impossible for Churchmen to help the Church by voluntary contribution. I will venture to give the House one example. In my own diocese which is not the largest diocese nor one containing the richest people, gifts promised to the Welsh Church have been withdrawn. One promised gift was for not less than £80,000, and that promise has had to be withdrawn owing to the heavy taxation for the war. Those from whom the Church could look for financial help are those who have suffered most heavily by the taxation for the war. Personally, my Lords, I prefer that the Church should struggle on in her poverty until her own sons can come to her financial aid, rat her than that she should receive any Parliamentary endowment. I regard such an endowment as little short of a calamity.
Reference has been made to the Nonconformist point of view. It is a very remarkable thing that this Bill has been received with a kindly consideration in another place at the hands of the members from Wales. Sir Robert Williams, in a speech of remarkable eloquence, expressed deep regret that there had not been found among the Welsh members any one who would move a general Amendment to this Bill. I do not know whether your Lordships followed it, but a concession on the 919 question of the graveyards was offered in an Amendment moved by Mr. Forestier-Walker. It was moved in an Amendment the value of which I think our friends on the other side did not quite appreciate. Of course no one is more touched by the question of the churchyards than the speaker. In my own diocese there are 269 churchyards. Of that number only sixty-two are ancient unclosed churchyards, and these sixty-two unclosed churchyards do not pass over to the public body until the existing: incumbent dies or resigns. There is a considerable interval before our churchyards pass away from us. I do not elaborate that point. I am sure your Lordships will see the significance of it.
As the Archbishop has pointed out, Churchmen in Wales have been laboriously drawing up a constitution for the Church. It is not strange that they desire to be free from ambiguity as to their financial position. A noble Lord spoke about our being simple folk. It is fifty years ago almost to the month when this question of Welsh Disestabishment was first started in another place by Sir Watkin Williams, afterwards Mr. Justice Watkin Williams, and during those fifty years some of us have taken a constant part in Church defence in this controversy, and I suppose it is not egotistic to say that we do know something about the position of the Church in Wales, and of the very complex problems which lie before us. I say that with all possible respect and I hope with due modesty.
Reference has been made to the Convocation Clause—that is, the exclusion of the clergy of Wales from the Convocation of Canterbury. It would have been better I think, and I believe the Government were willing, to make it permissible instead of mandatory. Their inclusion in Convocation upon any other than equal terms would have been, I venture to say, impossible, and as far as I can see the attitude of our brethren in England—I say it with perfect good humour—is very natural, but it is something of this kind. They recognise the anomalies, the ambiguities, and the perils to themselves if such an in-elusion were to take place. I think they might very well say to us to-day: "You have our best wishes, but we tell you frankly if you go away soon we shall not be sorry. The State, of course, has thrown you overboard, and it is a matter of satisfaction and thankfulness to us to see that you do not swim badly."
920 This Bill concerns the principality of Wales mainly, and though it does not do all that we really hoped it might do, still it does give us what we have been yearning for, and that is a settlement. We want to know exactly where we are, and what we have to look to in future. During the last thirty years it has been my painful and somewhat undignified task to see one leading statesman after another from time to time upon the interests of the Welsh Church, and I should like to say this—I say it with all sincerity—that I have never in the course of my experience had to lay the necessities of our case before a Minister who showed greater courtesy and took greater pains to master the case than did the leader of the Unionist Party in another place and I take this opportunity of offering my tribute of grateful thanks to Mr. Bonar Law for what he has done for the Church in Wales. My brother of St. Davids has spoken with much feeling about the hesitation that he had with regard to accepting this Bill. I share it. I thought that the noble Marquess had been made aware of every step that we were taking. I know that my brother was again and again in consultation with, and I on one occasion had the honour of laying before, Lord Robert Cecil what we thought were the main points in the situation, but I could not as trustee for the Church in Wales run risks. We do not know what the political future may be, and I was not going to dishearten my people if I could help it by keeping them in suspense any longer. They want to begin to carry out their plans. This Bill has its defects of course, but it is a settlement, and although it leaves us a poor Church it will leave us a Church with a very clear mission and with a sense of independence. I look forward with no misgiving as to the work of the Church in Wales in future, and, impoverished as that Church will be, I believe that she can do perhaps more than any other body to promote in Wales a sane and sound character.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Will your Lordships take the Committee stage and Third Reading at 12 o'clock mid-day tomorrow?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I would like to consult the convenience of the right rev. Bench on that matter.