§ THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY rose to move, "That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House 152 do direct that the Union of Benefices Measure, 1921, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent." His Grace said: My Lords, the object of my Motion is to obtain the Royal Assent to a Measure passed under the provisions of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, asking for the prolongation for two years of the existing Act for the union of benefices, which comes to an end at the close of the present year. The point of the matter is that the subject is now being considered afresh by the National Assembly. The National Assembly Committee wants time for elaborating certain proposed changes in the Act, and in order to do that they must ask for the postponement of the termination of the existing Act, which would otherwise take place automatically at the end of this year. The Ecclesiastical Committee of your Lordships' House has agreed to report that the Measure amending the Act should now be placed before the House for the Royal Assent. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Union of Benefices Measure, 1921, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. (The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)
My Lords, I de not propose to take a Division upon this Question, but I wish to call the attention of the House to the assurances given to us that this Measure does not contravene the undertaking given when the Church of England Assembly Act was passed, that nothing should be done to interfere with the civil rights of any of His Majesty's subjects I have before me a Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee to which the most rev Primate has referred, and in the last paragraph they say that they consider that—Inasmuch as the only effect of the measure it to prolong for a period the operation of the existing Act of Parliament, the present position in relation to the constitutional rights of His Majesty': subjects remains unaltered.That is a proposition which I entirely challenge. The Union of Benefices Act is not an Act to carry out a mere ecclesiastical arrangement. It is an Act whirl interferes with an absolute civil right, the right of patrons. I am not concerne[...]whether it is right or wrong, but Parliament, as a matter of fact, has taken away 153 certain rights of patrons up to a date in 1921, and the object of this proposal is to extend that interference with their civil right for two years more. Whether it is right or wrong it is clearly an interference with civil rights which we were assured should not be interfered with under this Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act.
I comment upon this because this is not the first time the civil rights of the people of this country have been interfered with by action promoted by the new Church Council. The right of appointing Churchwardens was pre-eminently a right vested in all the ratepayers of the parish. A sort of compromise was arrived at in this Church body. First of all, they wanted to turn over the appointment of churchwardens entirely to the parish councils, but, as a compromise, they said: "Let us unite the parish council with the vestry, and let the joint body vote." That was a clear interference with the civil rights of the parishioners, as parishioners, and not as members of the Church of England. However, that was passed by this Ecclesiastical Committee which was supposed to safeguard the civil rights of the public, and now we have this instance, in which they extend for two years an interference with the civil rights of patrons, and tell us that it does not matter because it is only an extension of what was done by Act of Parliament. It is true it was done by an Act of Parliament, but if you want to extend a civil Act of Parliament you ought to extend it by another civil Act of Parliament, and not by this machinery. I have made my protest, and I shall not divide.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I merely want to ask, purely as a matter of curiosity, "Why is not this an interference with civil rights?" I notice that the statement of the noble Lord that it did constitute such an interference was received with something like derision opposite.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
No, it was a mistake. The protest was for a quite different reason to that indicated by the noble and learned Lord.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Then I imagine it will be accepted that it is a fact that this is an interference with a civil right—a civil right which may not be popular, but which undoubtedly exists. I am a little astonished to find that this Committee should have reported that no interference is effected when, in fact, you are, in the result, going to create for a new period of two years what is a distinct interference with a right which, whether it ought to exist or riot, is in fact existing and is protected by the law.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
My noble and learned friend a little misunderstood the nature of the opposition that.I expressed to the noble Lord opposite. It is a mistake to say that legislation by the Church Assembly under the Assembly Act, is not to interfere with the civil rights of His Majesty's subjects. It must interfere, and does interfere for a time. What the Committee have a duty to do is to report whether or not it does interfere with the constitutional rights of any of His Majesty's subjects. It may interfere, but Parliament is to be told if it does interfere.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
That is, I think, a mistake in the Report—a very slight mistake. I was going to explain that I think it is a very slight and immaterial mistake in the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee. In a sense it does interfere, but the very legislation contemplates that the Church Assembly may prolong an Act of Parliament, and this is only prolonging an Act of Parliament.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.