HL Deb 04 March 1919 vol 33 cc445-59

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to ask that you will consent to give a Second Reading to this little Bill. It is in almost every respect the same Bill that passed your Lordships' House last July, and in view of the importance of the discussions that are coming on later in the afternoon you will probably be glad that I should not speak with quite the same elaboration as that with which I attempted to support the Bill six months ago. And in truth the circumstances are very much now as they were then. Those circumstances include the absence of a very large number of chaplains on foreign service. They are still abroad and still doing a noble and a gallant work, which perhaps is as useful as ever in these duller times at the Front when the men have more time to respond to what is done for them by the chaplains. This makes this Bill, as it was last July, still a kind of appendage to war legislation. I urged that argument in its support last July.

You will remember, my Lords, that about the year before last an Act was passed to make it easier to liberate some of the clergy from their parochial duties in order that they might take up work as chaplains at the Front. That Act is still in force, and under it we have been able in some of our country dioceses to unite, during the period of the war, some parishes in such a way as to make an economy of the clerical forces of the country. What we are doing now at any rate shows the possibility of working—and I think fairly satisfactorily—with a smaller staff of clergy in our small country parishes. What we have done successfully during the war I believe that we ought to attempt to do in the days of peace.

But I think that in one respect, perhaps, the situation has altered since last I had the honour of addressing your Lordships on this point. I believe that the poverty of the clergy has been more fully recognised by the public at large. Not very long ago, in a leading article in The Times, it was said that— Not only many an incumbent but most curates have to struggle to meet the increased cost of living on earnings which were never more than barely adequate—if that—and are now hopelessly below the subsistence line. The poverty of too many of the clergy is nothing new, though we fear that the laity have tacitly joined in a conspiracy of silence about it, founded on the proud reticence of the men who have had to suffer it. What the Church has lost in the broken spirit of those who have found the struggle too much for them it would be difficult to say; but it is certain that it has lost even more in the resentment of men and women who have been brought up as the children of wretchedly paid clergymen. That reproach the war has at least made so intolerable that silence can be kept about it no longer. The high prices of these times hit the clergy quite as hardly as the small professional men. Only the other day one of my right rev. brothers used the phrase that the clergy could not strike and they could not beg. They were enduring their straitness with wonderful courage and contentment, which, he thought, was an example to many people in this country who were discontented and clamouring for higher wages.

It is true that many of the country clergy are receiving more from tithe than was the ease at this time last year, but any one who has looked into the subject is perfectly well aware that the rise in tithe has certainly not in the least kept pace with the rise in prices. Recently there was a short debate in your Lordships' House on the subject of the inadequate payment of the clergy, and I would ask you, my Lords, to be kind enough to bear that in mind without my going over all that was said on that occasion by various members of this House who took part in the debate. But there are more lofty grounds than the grounds of the mere poverty of the clergy to be thought of. In the sad position of a clergyman ministering to a very small flock with a very small remuneration, the situation tells against the efficiency of his work, when he is, perhaps, not in a position to secure a pony or even a bicycle so that he might come in contact with the companionship and the cultured association of men like himself.

Again, there is the question of the general economy of spiritual forces. On all sides we hear, and we rightly hear, that, our nation wishes its man-power to be used to the best advantage, and so it is with the Church. There is a great shortage of clergy at home, and there is a great shortage of clergy in the foreign field. We rejoice to know that the number of men coming forward who are at present in the Army is very large, and we are still more pleased to know that the type of man is a very excellent one; but the shortage in the last years has been so great that if we ordained all these men, or even a larger number than those offering to come forward, we should still be under-staffed both at home and abroad. They will only just fill the gaps, and we have to remember that when the war is over probably many resignations on the part of the older clergy that have hitherto been postponed will take effect. It would be a disastrous thing for the Church to be compelled to maintain what I would call the archaic methods that belonged to a day long gone by. And it is hard upon the Church to be unwillingly tied to those methods from which it would wish to be released.

Many criticisms are raised against the Church at the present time, and here is a very just one: the Church does not use its man-power to the best advantage. But that is not because it is the Church's wish to go on in this inappropriate way. The Church itself is most anxious to be relieved from an obsolete piece of organisation, and to make its methods more up-to-date in the way that is contemplated in this little Bill. May I be allowed to illustrate very briefly from the docese of Norwich the kind of thing that is in my mind. In the City of Norwich the number of parishes is beyond the present requirements of the population living where many of the churches stand—namely, in the business quarters of the city. It is very much like the City of London in that respect. There are about 600 parishes in the diocese of Norwich. The population of 200 of these is actually under the figure of 200 persons; 100 of these parishes out of the 600 are already united with other parishes; some 25 more are held in plurality. Certainly there is plenty of scope in the diocese of Norwich for the operation of this Bill, if it ever becomes an Act.

For a man can do very much more than care for the spiritual and material needs of a population of 100 or 200 souls. Do not forget that he is tied to that parish. I do not wish to represent the clergy at all as being wilfully idle, for they are tied to the parish to which they belong, and all of us know how very much we owe to the clergy in faithful discharge of their duties among their small flocks, and not less to the family of the clergyman and to all the good influences that emanate from the parsonage. But all this depends on the love and goodness and the accessibility of the clergyman and not upon his having too little to do. Sometimes, of course, we hear of disasters occurring, and often we know that the first beginning of the lapse of a good man comes from the fact that he had not quite enough to do to fill up his mind and keep his attention fixed upon his duty.

The plan that this Bill indicates is, I do not question, as a rule locally unpopular. People will praise it in general, but when it comes to be applied to their own parish it is usual for those concerned to find some special reason why, though appropriate to all the other parishes in the country, it happens to be inappropriate to the one under discussion. But I believe that it is our duty to correct such a tendency to selfishness and to look beyond the present generation of critics. We want a larger vision and one that is not confined to the limits of one tiny parish and its prejudices. It seems to me as if it were something like the selfishness of which we should be guilty if we had some very efficient doctor to whom we owed a great deal in his attendance upon us, and we said, "We must keep that doctor entirely for ourselves and not share him with others."

It would, of course, be wrong to rearrange parishes if it, meant taking away the endowments of one parish and leaving the parish from which they were taken un-provided for in spiritual needs. But adequate provision does not necessarily mean continuing all the arrangements of a distant past. There is a great difference between principle and custom in a matter of this kind, and the parishioners do not stand to lose if the union of the two benefices tends to attract to the work a better man than could be secured if the benefices were still left ununited.

This Bill introduces no new plan. It is possible, and has long been possible, to unite benefices together, and if this Bill is rejected it will still be possible to unite benefices together. It only attempts to improve the method. I would venture to indicate two or three points in which this Bill would alter the existing law. First of all, it alters qualifications in regard to benefices eligible for union—that is to say, it does not demand that two benefices, for example, have to be actually adjacent to one another. Only the other day I heard of a parish in the North of England where there are four householders and a population of twenty-three persons, but, owing to the distance between the church in that parish and the adjacent parish, no union could be effected. Then there is to be a preliminary inquiry on the spot, which I regard as of the greatest importance, and at which people who have anything to say on the strength of their local knowledge would be heard. The tribunal will weigh up the matter, having access to the best information.

The necessary consents are reduced: the consent of the bishop as the supreme spiritual authority is maintained, but the patron loses his veto. On the other hand, the patron is represented on the tribunal because the patron's position in regard to the parish, of course, is exceptional. An advowson represents property with trust, and the patron's representative on the tribunal will be able, taking him at his best—and we know how very many good patrons there are—carefully to weigh what is really desirable in the interests of the parish. This Bill also alters the event on which union is to take place. That is to be prescribed in the final decision. That is an important point. Then it is possible to divide the income, and there are new ways of dealing with churches and parsonages, and this will be considered on the spot to meet local requirements.

I cannot for a moment imagine that if this Bill becomes law there will be anything like a wholesale attack made upon our country churches. An unnecessary parsonage, I suppose, would in most cases be sold for the benefit of the benefice, and it would be very rare that there would be any occasion to pull down the parsonage, and I suppose the pulling down of a church would be exceedingly rare. One can be sure that in the country districts where such unions take place, though the benefice will be one, the two parishes will still go on existing side by side. All that it would mean would be that when a sound case for union is made out it would not be checked by any unreasonable prejudice and ignored simply through the indifference of a patron, or through his unwillingness to take a wide view of all the interests that are involved.

There is also a section dealing with expenses, and a new section that was not in the Bill last summer, but it is of very small importance. It is the last one, and it provides that if any local Acts are made regarding special places this Bill shall not over-ride them, while the Bill does override any common law procedure which may be in existence under which benefices at present can be united. That is a somewhat obscure subject. I ought to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that there is an appeal in the last resort if the scheme as made appears to be unjust. That you will find in Clause 5.

I repeat that the plan introduces no new principles; it is only a small measure to facilitate procedure, and to prevent a union, which in the judgment of reasonable people must be held to be desirable, from being kept back through indifference or mere parochialism. Lastly, I should add that the Houses of Convocation approved of the principle and practically of the details of this Bill before it was introduced last year, and the same may be said of the House of Laymen of Canterbury. It has also been approved by the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, and by the Ecclesiastical Commission. If I am not supported by a larger number of right rev. Prelates on this Bench, I think the reason is that they have expressed themselves on those more ecclesiastical bodies—Queen Anne's Bounty and the Ecclesiastical Commission—and, having approved of the proposal there, they have not thought it necessary to go one step further and to approve it here.

I hope I have said enough, and that I have not said too much. I am afraid on the one hand of being rather a bore to those who heard me speak on the same Bill last July. On the other hand, I hesitate to leave any word unsaid that would induce your Lordships to give what I consider to be an important little Bill its Second Reading. In my humble opinion the case seems to be a good one, and I hope your Lordships will be of the same opinion and consent to read the Bill a second time. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Bishop of Norwich.)


My Lords, those of your Lordships who have had practical experience, not only of the difficulties in which the clergy are placed in many parts of the country by their poverty, which has been referred to by the right rev. Prelate, but also of the extreme difficulty which exists under the present law of effecting the union of small benefices, will welcome the Bill which the right rev. Prelate has introduced. Although a layman, I desire to express my strong sense of the need for some legislation of the kind which the present Bill contains. A good many years ago, when I was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I had to deal with a number of questions with regard to the union of benefices, and it is impossible to exaggerate the number of petty difficulties that one found arising in applying the law to the union of benefices even in a case which seemed to have the maximum of advantage in its favour.

When you touch—it is an instance, in some respects a laudable instance, of the extremestrength of local feeling in England—any local affair, when you try to move the parish pump, or to alter the line of a pathway, an amount of local feeling is evoked quite surprising to a person who contemplates what is supposed to be the usual placidity and monotony of local life. I remember cases in which there was every reason for uniting benefices, but where nevertheless difficulties arose which required a great deal of time and tact to remove. I would therefore express hearty concurrence with all that has been said by the right rev. Prelate, and add the hope that your Lordships will favourably entertain the Bill; because there is really very great need in our rural districts, to some extent in our cities also, but much more, of course, in our rural districts, for effecting the unions that have been standing over for a long time.

There are two small points in the present Bill to which I would ask the attention of your Lordships, and particularly that of the right rev. Prelate. One of them is in Clause 7, and relates to the parsonage. It is provided that every scheme under the Act shall determine, where there is a parsonage house in each parish, which shall be the parsonage house of the united benefice. In many cases it will turn out that a curate will be wanted, and it would certainly seem desirable rather than pull down a parsonage house to see whether it could not be allotted to the curate. But apart from that there is, as your Lordships know, in a very large number of parishes a great need for some house or some group of rooms which can be turned to the benefit of the parish, where you could put a small library or where in some way or other you could provide a place where people could meet; and in many cases it would be found desirable to turn the unused parsonage house to that purpose. I hope, therefore—without moving an Amendment—that the right rev. Prelate will consider whether it would be desirable to introduce some provision of that kind, or at any rate whether he would give some assurance that as far as he is concerned a case of that kind will be considered.

Similarly in Clause 8 it is provided that a scheme shall, if more than one church be left standing, determine which church shall be the parish church, but if only one church be left standing it should be the parish church of the united parish. I was glad to hear the right rev. Prelate observe that he thought it highly unlikely that any church would be pulled down. I earnestly trust that churches will not be pulled down. One has that feeling most strongly, of course, in a case where the church is of antiquity, or of architectural value. In fact, if you can say it is of reasonable antiquity—that is to say, more than two and a-half or three centuries old—it is certain to have some architectural value. One cannot have a church as old as the fifteenth century or the middle of the sixteenth century without its having an architectural value of some kind. But apart from that, even if the church has no great architectural value, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred there will be some useful local purpose to which it can be turned. I hope, therefore, that the case of pulling down a church will in practice not arise at all. There are already far too few places in our country parishes to which people can resort. There is too little social intercourse, and too little done to provide places where such intercourse can go on. Consequently I would express the hope that some provision will be made in the case of an unused church—by that I mean where there is not even an occasional service—and that some method will be devised of retaining the church in that case for whatever local public purpose may be proved to be most serviceable. I can only say, in conclusion, that I am sure that the improvements and simplifications of method which the Bill contains will be found very useful, and I earnestly trust, it may carry out what the right rev. Prelate desires.


My Lords, I am very sensible of the importance of the business which is to follow this debate; therefore I shall not detain the House for a moment longer than I can help. But I speak in connection with this subject as a patron of various livings, and I am not sufficiently satisfied with the statement of the right rev. Prelate to feel justified in allowing this Bill to be read a second time altogether sub silentio. I know of cases where great hardship and injustice might be done to patrons unless some alteration, some amendment, is made in the Bill; and I will give a case in point before I sit down. May I add that I am perfectly sensible of the poverty of many of the clergy at the present time, and I dare say I would go as far as any member of your Lordships' House in trying to improve their position in that respect.

The right rev. Prelate spoke of the position of the patrons under this Bill. But what is their position under the machinery which is provided in the Bill? I am sorry to say that I did not hear the debate last year, but I will not go over the ground of the machinery further than to say this—that three commissioners are to be appointed. One is to be the Bishop of the diocese, or the Bishops if the livings are in two separate dioceses; then there is to be the patron, and the third is to be appointed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and is to be chairman of the commission. As far, therefore, as the position of the patrons is concerned, the representative of the patron will always be in a minority, the representatives of the Church will always be in a majority. That is part of the Bill. I have read it carefully and submitted it to a draftsman, and I am speaking with his information also before me.

In Clause 3 a whole variety of drastic regulations are to be made; and then we come to Clause 4, which says— The Bishop receiving a report under this Act— The Commissioners are to report to him when they have made their inquiry and decided upon the course they are about to recommend— shall cause the same, or a copy thereof, to be transmitted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who shall, if the report shall recommend a union, and if the Bishop of the diocese or the Bishops of the dioceses affected shall signify in writing his or their approval of the report, but not otherwise, cause to be prepared a scheme. I venture to think that the words "but not otherwise" ought to be included as regards the patrons. The onus probandi for the necessity and the justice of the changes that might be recommended would then be thrown upon those who proposed to make them—namely, the representatives of the Church, and I do not think that that is too much to suggest as an alteration in the Bill when we come to Committee.

I said just now that I would give a case. I know of one, and it is this. There are two parishes now adjoining. I may say that they were parishes both belonging to myself. One of them during my time was extra-parochial altogether. The other was a parish with a very good living and a very old church. The time came when I thought it was desirable that the means of religious worship and education should be provided in the parish which originally was extra-parochial altogether, and there I built a small church and a school, and not only that but I endowed a living, and there it is at the present moment. I nominated for it a clergyman, and I believe he has always given complete satisfaction from that day to this. The adjoining parish contains a church of the old-fashioned description, which was much more common in my younger days than it is now. It was a very good living, and I took upon myself to restore the church, almost entirely at my own expense, and to erect a new parsonage. In those circumstances, suppose a report was presented by somebody or other to the commissioners asking for an inquiry, and suppose a recommendation was made that a considerable portion of the income of one living should be taken away to be given to the other. Am I not to have any voice whatever in the matter? It is true that I may make representations, but I am appealing to a tribunal on which, as I have said, the patron is always in a minority.

In these circumstances I do not think I am making an unfair or wrong suggestion if I say that when we come to consider the Bill in Committee I think it would be only fair and right that, if the patron objects in the first instance, his objection should hold good, and that it shall then rest upon those who wish to make the change, and think it right, to prove their own case, instead of leaving the patron to fight his own case, as I say, against a majority, who if they chose to do so could always be in a position to refuse his request.


My Lords, the points which the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin has raised are exactly points which can well be dealt with in Committee. I venture to think that if the noble Viscount had been able to hear the debate last year, or if he had read the report of what then took place, he would have found that these points were really dealt with then. Perhaps the noble Viscount will look at the report of last year's debate, and see whether those points were dealt with. If they were not, then he can raise them again in Committee, if necessary. I do not understand what he means by saying that the patron will always be in a minority. There are to be three representatives on the commission—one of the patron, one of the Bishop, and one of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He is in a minority in this sense, that one man must always be in a minority if there are three people.


I said that the representative of the patron would be in a minority because the representatives of the Church would always be in a majority on the commission.


I am afraid that I do not even now quite understand the noble Viscount's contention. What does he mean by representatives of the Church? The Church is represented as to one part by the patron, as to another by the Bishop, and as to the third part by the Ecclesiastical Commissioner. Of course, one man must be in a minority if there are three, but as far as I can judge in no other sense will the representative of the patron be in a minority. If I have missed the point, I hope that the noble Viscount will bring it forward in Committee. I venture to think that Lord Chaplin does to some extent judge of these cases by imagining that parishes generally are as fortunately circumstanced as those of which he is patron; that is to say, parishes in which the patron takes a personal interest in its I affairs and is ready not only to show generosity but to take an active part in the management of the parish. The difficulty that arises is in cases where the patron really cares nothing about the parish, and there are in England an enormous number of patrons who are perhaps absent from the country, perhaps men who care nothing for any of these things and who will not disturb themselves to take any interest in these matters, but who are allowed to be here represented and indeed to over-ride, if need be—by the merely ignorant and perhaps even selfish opposition of a patron—the public interests, against the whole parishioners and ecclesiastical life of the neighbourhood and the wishes of the diocese. It has sometimes happened that the patron has been able to prevent good things being done which everybody else desired, but that was not in the least the kind of case of which the noble Viscount spoke. It is, however, a case with which many of us have to do.

As one greatly interested in the Bill, I can say for certain that if the noble Viscount will place on the Notice Paper any Amendment of the clause which will bring out the point he suggests, not only will it be carefully considered but we should be anxious to meet him if it were possible. As things now stand, I believe that the point has already been met, and that he will find that is so on looking into it carefully. I am absolutely sure on the general question that the Bill is necessary. I speak from a wide and long experience not merely of a diocese but of a province as a whole. The Bill is really needed for facilitating unions of tiny parishes where enormous difficulties arise from local feeling or from apathy which it is desirable in the public interest should be overridden after proper inquiry, with adequate means given to all concerned to express their vews. I hope, in the public interest, and in the interest of the Church and of the nation, that this Bill will be read a second time.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words about the Bill. As the right rev. Prelate has pointed out, the Bill was carefully considered, not only in principle but in detail, by the House of Laymen of the province of Canterbury. It was unanimously accepted and adopted by that house in its present form. The objection which has been raised by the noble Viscount (Lord Chaplin) comes to this. He desires that the patron should have a veto. That any patron should exercise his veto would really put an end to what is the object and desire of the Bill —namely, the union of these small benefices.


No, no; not put an end.


Well, have a veto. I think it would be undesirable that the patron should be allowed a veto of that kind. As it is, I should like the Bill to be further simplified as regards machinery and provision. If we look at the particular clause to which the noble Viscount called attention I really do not think there is any question of what he calls the "patron's interest" being overlooked in any way. You have commissioners consisting of three persons—the representative of the Bishop, the representative of the patron, and one who has to act really in a judicial capacity and as chairman—namely, the representative of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. There is no real reason whatever why the representative of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should side with the Bishop as against the patron, and there is not the slightest suggestion that I can see that the interests of the patron should in any way be overlooked under the commission which the Bill proposes to constitute for the purpose of carrying out its provisions.

As regards the question raised by my noble friend Lord Bryce, I agree with him that protection should be given against the demolition of fabrics, particularly fabrics of interest which are being used as churches. I think the right rev. Prelate pointed out that there is not—and I certainly did not find in the terms of the Bill itself—any suggestion that the fabrics, either of the churches or of the old parsonage houses, should in any way be pulled down. The question of their utilisation is another matter. This may raise certain questions of difficulty which I need not discuss now. If further provision is required in the Bill in order to make sure that no fabric of any historic interest shall be interfered with, I feel certain that the right rev. Prelate would not object to the introduction of a provision of that kind.

I think the right rev. Prelate was right when he put the main case for the Bill on the question of the efficiency of the spiritual life of the Church. I think that many of our benefices are too small, and there is a danger because the clergymen in some country parishes have not sufficient to do. I have always opposed any move- ment in the direction of reducing the size of our parishes, holding a strong opinion that the larger the parish and the greater the responsibilities the more likely are you to have a competent clergyman and good administration. I think that this is a very important point as regards the spiritual life and service of the Church. As regards the adequate pay of the clergyman, that subject was discussed only a few days ago in your Lordships' House, and it is extremely important that these very small benefices (many of them with inadequate remuneration for educated men) should join together where possible in order that you may have an adequate salary combined with adequate work. By that means you will get the most efficient service. I do not wish to say more now, but I heartily hope that a Second Reading will be given to this Bill and that the measure may pass into an Act during the present session.


My Lords, I have been asked—and I will do it almost in a sentence—to state that the Government readily assent to the principle of the Bill introduced by the right rev. Prelate. Even I have been a patron long enough to appreciate the present practice, which does not make it possible to effect the union of parishes where it is desirable in many cases that that union should be effected. As your Lordships know, the present practice is that where the assent of the patron is procured the Bishop makes a representation which, in the last resort, goes to the most rev. Primate. In many cases, where neither the population nor the resources of parishes are large enough to maintain two rectors, it has been found impracticable to obtain the consent of the patron. This Bill deals with that case, and I sincerely trust that your Lordships will not only give it a Second Reading but will send it, with or without amendment, to another place, where I hope its career may be more fortunate than it was last year.

I may, perhaps, make one suggestion which the right rev. Prelate may think it useful to consider before the Committee stage. I have not had time to examine the Bill as attentively as I could have desired from the point of view of the Committee, but I think the method of selecting one of the commissioners which is adopted in favour of the patron is perhaps capable of some slight objection. I observe that the Bill as drafted at present proposes that one of the commissioners should be nominated by the patron, or, where there are two patrons, by the patrons jointly. It is obvious that in the ordinary case there would be two patrons, and it is also obvious that the interests of the patrons would not always be convergent. I rather suspect they would be divergent, and perhaps the right rev. Prelate will consider it worth while to consider whether this is a convenient or likely to be a smooth method of selecting that commissioner.

There is one further point only to which I should like to refer. The right rev. Prelate assured your Lordships that the Bill provides for an appeal. It is quite true that Clause 5 contains a reference to an appeal, but I do not detect the machinery in the Bill that makes the appeal effective, and I rather think there is a considerable hiatus which should be corrected before the Committee stage if it is desired to maintain the appeal. I throw out the suggestion that, having regard to the very great care taken in appointing commissioners and insisting on obtaining the sanction of the Bishop, and to the further reference to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, it might not be adequate if in dealing with that. stage of the matter the subsisting decision of the most rev. Primate were not maintained to enable him without the formality of an appeal to consider all the papers in the case. Perhaps the right rev. Prelate will be good enough to consider these points before the Committee stage.

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

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