HL Deb 09 December 1920 vol 39 cc16-20

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY rose to move to resolve—

That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Convocations of the Clergy Measure, 1920, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.

The most rev. Primate said: My Lords, I wish to say a very few words of explanation to remind those of your Lordships who may have forgotten the details of the procedure we are now following. We are taking at this moment the first step to give effect in Parliament to the Act which was passed exactly a year ago. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill I spoke of it then as being a measure to enable the Church of England to do its work more speedily and better. That is exactly what we shall be beginning to do by passing this Resolution, if the Resolution is similarly passed in the House of Commons, and the Royal Assent, as will then doubtless be the case, is given.

I would remind your Lordships that the constitutional facts of the procedure as laid down in the Act of Parliament are these. An Assembly of Bishops, clergy, and laity is given authority to act in a particular way. When it desires a measure to become law the Assembly, which is a preponderatingly lay body, must first pass that measure through its own Assembly. The National Assembly consists of 291 clergy and 356 laymen, so that it can in no sense be called a preponderatingly clerical body. If that Assembly passes a Bill through its own ranks the Bill is sent, by what is called the Legislative Committee of the Assembly, to the Ecclesiastical Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. That Ecclesiastical Committee consists of fifteen noble Lords appointed from this House by the Lord Chancellor, and fifteen members of the House of Commons appointed by the Speaker. That body now exists and has the advantage of having as chairman the noble Viscount, Lord Cave. To that body the measure which has passed through the Assembly has to be transmitted, and so in this case the Bill has been transmitted. According to the Act of Parliament— After considering the measure, the Ecclesiastical Committee shall draft a Report thereon to Parliament stating the nature and legal effect of the measure and its views as to the expediency thereof, especially with relation to the constitutional rights of all His Majesty's subjects. The Ecclesiastical Committee shall communicate its Report in draft to the Legislative Committee, but shall not present it to Parliament until the Legislative Committee signify its desire that it should be so presented. The draft Report agreed to by the Ecclesiastical Committee was, in accordance with the Act, duly sent to the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly of the Church of England. That body considered it and returned it to the Ecclesiastical Committee, with the request that further proceedings should be taken and it should go forward. The Report accordingly lies upon the Table of your Lordships' House and has been circulated to all your Lordships.

The Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee upon what was called the Convocations of the Clergy Measure, 1920—the particular Bill which I am now asking your Lordships to assent to by Resolution of this House—says — The Ecclesiastical Committee are of opinion that the Measure carries out t he object required and is a necessary antecedent to the further action contemplated by the Church Assembly under the powers derived from the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, and accordingly they are of opinion that the Measure is expedient. They consider that, inasmuch as the Measure only affects the representation of the Clergy in their own Home, it does not infringe the Constitutional Rights of any of His Majesty's subjects. That Report is now before your Lordships, and in accordance with what the Act of Parliament provides I proceed to move my Resolution. The provision in the Act is this— When the Ecclesiastical Committee shall have reported to Parliament on any measure submitted by the Legislative Committee, the Report, together with the text of such measure, shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament forthwith. … and thereupon, on a Resolution being passed by each House of Parliament directing that such measure in the form laid before Parliament should be presented to His Majesty, such measure shall be presented to His Majesty, and shall have the force and effect of an Act of Parliament on the Royal Assent being signified thereto in the same manner as to Acts of Parliament. I have mentioned those facts in detail, because this is the first time that, the new procedure laid down by the Act of last year has been put into operation, and it is important, I think, to show that we have punctiliously, and with the utmost care, followed all the steps laid down, and that everything has been done in accordance with the rules which we were told to follow. It now rests simply with your Lordships to give, as I hope you will, assent to the Resolution asking that, His Majesty's Assent be given to the Bill.

I wish to say a single word about what it is that you are being asked to assent to—what it is that the Bill provides. The position is this. For a number of years past there has been a great deal of controversy and a good deal of anxiety felt as to the proper mode of reforming the Lower House of Convocation. The Lower House of Convocation dates back to very early days of English history—to days earlier than Parliament itself it might be contended—practically in the form in which it exists to-day, although the conditions of the Church at the time when the constitution of the Lower House was decided upon were very different from the circumstances of the Church to-day. There has been a long and widely-felt anxiety that the parochial clergy should be more adequately, and in a better manner, represented in the Lower House, but to bring that about has been felt to be an exceedingly difficult matter constitutionally. If, on the one hand, Convocation attempted by itself to make its reform, or if, as is sometimes urged, the Archbishop of the Province were by his own fiat to attempt to make the reform, there are many who would challenge the Act as being somewhat unconstitutional because the thing had been done without the direct and official cognizance of Parliament. On the other hand, if Parliament had done it without Convocation, there are not a few who would say that the constitutional rights of Convocation, which have never been interfered with by Parliament from the time when, Convocation already existing, Parliament first sat, would seem to be interfered with in an unconstitutional manner if Parliament were to enact, without the concurrence or co-operation of Convocation, the changes which we desire.

In these circumstances it has long been felt that what was required was a declaratory Act by Parliament that Convocation has the right to make its own arrangements for its own internal management, but that it should not be done by Convocation without the knowledge and concurrence of Parliament. The Bill therefore is of the simplest possible kind and consists really of one clause, which is as follows— It is hereby declared that the Convocation of each of the said Provinces has power, with His Majesty's Royal Assent and Licence, to make, promulge and execute Canons for the amendment of the constitution of the Lower House thereof. Your Lordships are aware that a Canon cannot be made by Convocation without the Royal Assent having been procured for doing it, and thus a check is placed upon the action of Convocation, which can only be put into operation in this formal and official way by the Royal Licence giving it that authority. If any one can see objection to the Bill on its merits I shall be very much surprised. If any one can challenge the constitutional steps which, in accordance with the law, and in order to proceed with regularity, extreme punctilio, and absolute regard to all the provisions laid down, we have taken I shall also be surprised. I am following exactly what the Act of Parliament describes in moving the Resolution in the words which I do; they are practically taken from the Act of Parliament. I move that this House do direct that the Convocations of the Clergy Measure, 1920, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. I hope I have made the matter clear to your Lordships; I thought it desirable to do it on this first occasion in order to show that we are acting with the greatest care and are following the rules laid down.

Moved to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Convocations of the Clergy Measure, 1920, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)


My Lords, as the duty devolved upon me to nominate members from your Lordships' House to serve upon this Committee I conceived it to be my duty not only to inquire into the merits of the Bill proposed but to consider the regularity of the measure having regard to the terms of the Act, and also to consider whether the Resolution was in accordance with the terms of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919. Upon both those points I entertain not the slightest doubt that the most rev. Primate is on very safe ground when he challenges criticism to the constitutionality of this measure.


My Lords, as Chairman of the Committee appointed to examine on behalf of both Houses of Parliament measures of this kind, perhaps I may be allowed to say that we did very carefully examine this measure before steps were taken to pass it into law. It appeared to us that both the Act of Parliament and the Constitution of the Church of England had been very carefully held in view, and this measure exactly carries out the directions given in Article 17 of the Constitution. We therefore saw no reason whatever why it should not be presented to your Lordships' House for confirmation.

On Question, Motion agreed to.