HL Deb 09 July 1924 vol 58 cc338-48

My Lords, I beg to move, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly Powers Act, 1919, thi3 House do direct that the Diocese of Southwell (Division) Measure, 1923, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. A very natural question that might arise in the minds of some of those present is why it is that after only forty years of life a Motion should be made to divide this diocese. It is but, forty years since the diocese of Southwell was formed out of the diocese of Lichfield, taking the County of Derby, and out of the diocese of Lincoln, taking the County of Nottingham. The answer to that question is twofold.

First, I am quite confident that the diocese would never have been formed if there had been a Church Assembly, or a body who could scrutinise the proposal, at that time. It was a hurried measure and resulted in this extraordinary position: that instead of creating a small diocese, one of the largest dioceses in England was created—the whole County of Derby and the whole County of Nottingham, with a tremendous area including five hundred parishes—and the attempt to fuse those two Counties has, from the time of the inception of this diocese, to a great extent failed. The only corporate body, in addition to the Church, which has tried to unite the two Counties is the celebrated regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, but from the ecclesiastical point of view it has been found from the time of Dr. Ridding to be almost impossible. It is not necessary for me, perhaps, to enlarge on the fact—because I think everyone here will understand what it means—but it is the case that in my diocese I take in some of the great suburbs of Manchester, I take in the great suburbs of Sheffield, I go right under the eaves of Lincoln Cathedral and down to Melton Mowbray. We have a population now of 1,450,000.

The second reason is that the growth of the diocese and of the population has been immense and is now becoming still greater. The great South Yorkshire coalfield and the Derbyshire coalfield is sweeping across Nottinghamshire and is gradually taking in that famous spot, the Dukeries, and now eight pit villages are rising in that one County with all the problems which surround an incoming population of from fifty to sixty thousand. That is the problem which I am having to face at the present moment. A few years ago I determined to visit every parish thoroughly, to invite into the Church the clergy, the congregation and the wardens, and to address them, ask them questions, and to go thoroughly into the whole life of the parish. It took me exactly four years to go from parish to parish to do all the work, and, by the time I had got half way through, those I had seen first were grumbling that they never saw their Bishop. Our proposal, therefore, is to create two dioceses exactly conterminous with the Counties of Nottingham and Derby, thus preserving all the County feeling in each area. Fortunately, the problem is simple, because in each County there are 250 benefices, and while in Derby there is a population of 750,000, in Nottingham there is a population of 700,000, rapidly increasing.

I will not go into further details, but there is one word which needs to be added at the present juncture. A great and significant change is taking place in the Church of England. From these Benches, a few nights ago, some words were uttered somewhat belittling the weight to be given to the Church Assembly and all the councils which have been created under the Church of England Assembly Powers Act. But you cannot uproot tradition and prejudice in a day, or expect all the results of the Act to burst into life immediately. We have too long spoon-fed the Church of England members, and taught them to leave everything to the parson, the wardens and the squire. We have made a great beginning, and already brought reforms into the Church, whilst in many parishes there is new life coming in through the parochial councils and the new councils formed in the diocese. You may say that 140,000 signatures on the electoral roll in my diocese is not the ideal, but it is a good beginning, and to have, after three years' work, 9,000 councils is a tremendous advance on the whole question of Church life and Church administration.

Why do I say this? I say this because, whether we like it or not, administrative work is increasing at every turn. As with the county councils, so with ecclesiastical work. Our administrative work in dioceses is twenty times what it was a few years ago. Dilapidation measures, patronage boards, Union of Benefices Act and various things, besides the great work of the Central Board of Finance, mean that a Bishop, though he cannot, of course, himself carry out the details, ought to be in the "know" of all these great administrative works. And if so, then two counties is a ridiculous size of a diocese to ask the Bishop to administer and to oversee. I trust I have said enough to show that we are not unwise in asking for consent to this Resolution. I would only add that from the beginning, through the two Diocesan Conferences and the other conferences which have been held, there has been perfect unanimity. Even that arch-critic, the Bishop of Durham, said he could not oppose this proposal. Therefore, I trust that, without any likely criticism of a hostile kind, we may come to a unanimous decision upon this Resolution.

Moved, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly Powers Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Diocese of Southwell (Division) Measure, 1923, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.—(The, Lord Bishop of Southwell.)


My Lords, I do not rise to offer any opposition to this Measure, but to give expression to an opinion with which, if your Lordships will give me one or two moments of your patience, I think I shall have your sympathy. The division of the diocese is, I believe, entirely right. The proposed Measure seems to me to meet the case admirably, but it has one most serious defect. Concealed within the apparently innocent Clause 4 of the Measure is a provision that the Bishopric of Derby, the diocese about to be created, shall be under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I raise no sort of objection to that statement, but it ought to be followed by the statement that the Bishop of Southwell shall return to the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York. I beg you to believe that this is not a revival of the secular controversies between the two Archbishops which would lead your Lordships to exclaim: "A plague on both your houses." It is a matter of real importance just in so far as the Church of England ought in some measure to carry on history and reflect in its present life the historical associations out of which it comes.

For centuries the association between this diocese of Southwell, as it will now be with Derby removed from it, and not only the Province but the diocese and Archbishops of York, has been close and continuous. Indeed, it was only interrupted something like eighty years ago. It so happened that the archdeaconry of Nottingham, which was then an archdeaconry of the diocese of York, was transferred to the diocese of Lincoln. At that time the state of things in the Church of England was such that nobody much cared—I doubt whether a great many people care very much now—to what Province they belonged. Convocation had been suspended and, by an act of oversight which I greatly deplore, my predecessor at that time raised no difficulty about the loss of his archdeaconry to the Province of Canterbury. It therefore happened that when, a little over thirty years ago, Nottinghamshire was added to Derbyshire to make the diocese of Southwell, the archdeaconry of Nottingham, which is really the County of Nottingham, then technically in the Province of Canterbury, remained there. But there was every hope that when Nottinghamshire was set free from its entangling alliance with Derbyshire it would return to the allegiance to which it belonged by the ties of centuries.

The connection between Southwell, its Minster and its diocese and the Province of York is, as I have said, singularly close and continuous, and the case for the restoration of Southwell to its proper Province is, historically speaking, overwhelming—there is no other phrase that should be used. Not only was Nottingham an archdeaconry in the diocese of York but, more than that, my predecessors largely built Southwell Minster, endowed its prebends, and took the greatest-possible interest in it. The house in which my right rev. brother is now living was built, or at least its foundations were built, by one of my predecessors. Three of them, I think, are buried there. And with the exception, possibly, of York Minster, there is no church in this country that is more associated with the Archbishop of York than the Minster of Southwell.

There are other reasons which make it difficult for me to understand why this return has not taken place when the new diocese was able to make it. There may have been affinities acquired of recent years with the Midlands, but I venture to say that there are still equally strong and effective affinities with the North of England. I will go further and say that, in my judgment, the character, the language, the type of the people of Nottinghamshire are much more akin to Yorkshire than they are to the Midlands. I have failed to understand for what reason this provision has not been made in this Measure. There are vague hopes extended that possibly, later on, some further subdivision might result in the addition of Southwell, with one of two other dioceses, to the Province of York, but meanwhile the hiatus remains, and the wrong done to historical association is grievous.

You may be surprised that, having said all this, I should not at once proceed to move that this House do not request His Majesty to give his Assent to this Measure. But I am reluctant, for this one reason, to prevent, or even delay, the formation of a diocese which is urgently needed and in regard to which, as I have said, I am in most hearty sympathy with those who promoted it. Our procedure does not admit of any Amendment. Moreover, I must accept the consequences of my own misdeeds. I ought to have called the attention of your Lordships' Ecclesiastical Committee to this defect in the Measure, as I have done in the Church Assembly, but, in the pressure of other business, the time passed, and I neglected to do so. But, in any case, I doubt very much whether asking the King not to give His Assent to this Measure would be the best way of bringing home to the diocese of Southwell the wrong which it has committed. If a mother opens the door of her own home to a daughter to return, and the daughter is unwilling to do so, I do not think that much gain results from the mother attempting to exercise any compulsion.

But in view of the future and in view of the past, I should like to put it on record that the Archbishop of York of this present time, when this Measure was submitted to the King, did in his place in Parliament, as he has done in the Church Assembly, record his protest against what, I think, is a very great wrong to the principle of historical continuity. I make my protest more in sorrow than in anger, but I cannot but add that my sorrow is deep and real, and I think I owe it to a long line of predecessors to give expression to it in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, in supporting this Measure I think, perhaps, I owe it to the House rather than to my own consistency to call attention to the difference between the erection of this new Bishopric and the division of the diocese of Winchester, which I criticised only a few days ago. I have jotted down some half-dozen points in which this Measure appears to me totally different from the Measure for the division of the diocese of Winchester. The view I explained to your Lordships the other day was that we need as few Bishops as possible. To-day, there are 98 archdeacons in England, I believe, and 38 Bishops—an interesting comparison. That view of mine does not for a moment rule out every increase of the Episcopate where it has made good, and this scheme will, so far as I can judge, certainly do no injury to the Church of England. I put the whole interest of the Church of England above the question of issues which relate only to one diocese. Secondly, this proposed new Bishopric does not spoil, it even consolidates, County feeling. Thirdly, it gives the new Bishop and the old a fine area of work and does not offend Archbishop Benson's dictum on the strong centre that every Bishopric should represent in the life of the whole Church.

In the next place, my right rev. brother the Bishop of Southwell said nothing at all corresponding to such words as were heard from the Bishop of Winchester the other evening when he said that he proceeded on foot from village to village, but was only able to go through a comparatively small part of the great diocese of Peterborough. We have heard no arguments to-night about discarding the ordinary methods of transit. Whereas the division of the diocese of Winchester was properly criticised in the Church Assembly and a very considerable and very representative minority was opposed to that division, in this case—I have just looked it up—few words were said, and the Church Assembly immediately endorsed the views expressed just now to your Lordships' House by the Bishop of Southwell. Your Lordships will discriminate between ill-digested schemes on the one hand and this scheme, so admirable, on the other hand. Here is no case of a scheme being commended to the House because good men have been working industriously for many years and can provide nothing better. That, of course, is a testimony to their goodness and to their industry; all honour to them. This is a scheme which commends itself on its own merits. It is well drawn as a scheme, and no one finds any fault with it.

I confess that I do not sympathise with all that my right rev. brother has said about the electoral rolls, because I cannot yet believe that they represent the deliberate mind of the Church. It is, of course, most unfortunate, as the words of the most rev. Prelate, the Archibishop of York, would lead some of us to reflect, that in this House there are no means of amending any Measure, however glaring may be some of the faults in it. But setting those points aside, I very much hope that your Lordships will approve of the Measure that is now before you, and will see that I am not inconsistent and that there is a clear-cut distinction between this Measure and the one that I ventured to question before your Lordships' House last week.


My Lords, I am struck by the ingenuity with which the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, having made one speech against the Winchester Measure, has taken this opportunity to make another speech in opposition to the same Measure and that at a time when the sponsors of the Winchester Measure are not present in the House and have no means of coming here to meet the indirect arguments of the right rev. Prelate. I will not follow his bad example because on the next occasion when the Winchester Measure comes up for discussion I hope to be allowed to say a few words to your Lordships on that point. I will only say that I do not think the right rev. Prelate is justified in the comparison which he has thought fit to make between the two Measures much to the disadvantage of the other.

My main purpose in rising is to say a word about what was said by the most rev. Prelate, the Archbishop of York. I am not so unwise as to intervene in a dispute between the Province of York and the Province of Canterbury. He would, indeed, be a bold man who set himself between the croziers of the two Archbishop; I only want to say this. As something has been said, I think most unfairly, in another debate against the Ecclesiastical Committee of the two Houses, of which I am Chairman, I want to make it perfectly clear that the point which the most rev. Prelate has raised to-day was in no way raised before that Committee. Not a whisper of any such question reached the ears of the Committee, nor was the matter even mentioned. That being so—I can see that the most rev. Prelate assents to that statement—I need say no more than this, that I am sure it is still open to him, if this Measure receives the Royal Assent, to raise the point by means of another Measure which he might bring before the Church Assembly.


My Lords, I listened with much sympathy to what was said by the most rev. Prelate. No doubt in this Measure historical considerations have been largely disregarded and a great change has been made. But five years ago your Lordships thought fit (and I then, unlike the most rev. Prelate, urged your Lordships as much against it as I could) to pass a Bill which deprived you of all effective power of controlling questions of policy that were concerned with the kind of Measure to which the most rev. Prelate referred. Your Lordships abdicated your functions and transferred them to a body called the National Assembly of the Church of England, and on such a footing that if that Assembly sent up Measures for your assent you could not amend them; you could do nothing but assent to or reject them.

The effect of that was this. No doubt there may be questions arising of such a character as to move the House to reject a Measure, but if the matter is purely domestic then, by the legislation of 1919, it has passed out of our hands. The Enabling Act was given a very wide scope. It enabled the National Assembly to disregard Statutes and everything else. The question as to whether this Bishopric belongs to the Province of York or the Province of Canterbury is essentially one of those matters with which your Lordships allowed the National Assembly to deal. It has done so. We cannot amend the Measure. We can only affect it in this way, that if the most rev. Prelate brings a Measure forward to re-transfer the Bishopric to the Province of York we can agree to it. But, as I say, we cannot amend the Measure. So it is that your Lordships find yourselves in a position of powerlessness.

I am not going to repeat the observations that I made last week, nor am I going to repeat the observations of the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Norwich on the somewhat exiguous extent to which the voters represent the Church. Your Lordships have made the situation and there is only one way in which we can treat it, and that is to regard it as a domestic matter to be decided by the Church. The National Assembly has, after all, decided it and the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament has not dissented from it. Therefore, I cannot see that your Lordships can do anything else but assent to it.


My Lords, after the observations that have fallen from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack it is only right that one should call attention in a sentence to another side of the case. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and, I must say, one or two right rev. Prelates, seem to take every opportunity which comes before your Lordships' House for carrying out what is, after all, the express decision of Parliament—namely, the Enabling Act—in order to do their best to undermine the confidence of the country in that Act. That indirect method of attacking what Parliament has already decided upon is a very unfortunate course to pursue, and it makes it absolutely necessary for those of us who voted for the Enabling Act to point out, in one sentence, that what confronted the country and the Church before that Act was passed was a natural paralysis of all reformative legislation for the Church of England.

For years many, of whom I am one, watched with growing dismay year after year pass, admitted abuse after abuse brought before Parliament, and nothing done. Everything failed. The Church was absolutely paralysed, and, then, after a great effort by a great public act—and, I may say, an act of faith—Parliament passed the Enabling Act, and under that Act great reforms have already been carried out, and many more will be carried out. I deplore the practice of trying to undermine the confidence of the country before that Act has been thoroughly tried, and I would respectfully suggest not only to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, for whom I have the greatest possible respect, but also to certain right rev. Prelates who sit opposite, that they might do their utmost not to undermine the Act but to make it work.


My Lords, I should like to say one word in reference to what the noble Marquess has said. As he knows, I was associated from the start with the movement which eventuated in the Enabling Act, and even in the old days there was some difference between the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and myself as to whether that Measure should be enacted or not. But that stage has gone by. The Act has come into operation, and has operated in a most beneficent manner. It has given a vitalising force to the Church which she could not have under the old conditions. I remember—and of this the noble Marquess will be cognisant—when we were in the other House together, how often we tried to get measures of Church reform considered, and never succeeded. It was in order to give the Church a power of passing Measures necessary for its life and organisation that the Enabling Act was passed. I think that it is lamentable that right rev. Prelates, knowing what the Church has done and what the Church's wants were, should, under these conditions, come here not in the ordinary way to deal with what the Assembly has done but to attempt to undermine the Act itself. I hope that process will not be continued when future Measures come forward.

On Question, Motion agreed to.