§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, this is a Bill which was supported by members of all Parties in the House of Commons and passed its Third Reading there without any opposition. It also received support from the Government in the Standing Committee, because the Home Office proposed Amendments which, although they had no effect so far as the substance of the Bill was concerned, made a material improvement in the form of the Bill. The object of the measure is to remove the disqualification which is imposed on ministers of religion by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882, by which they are prevented from becoming borough 204 councillors. It is curious that no such disqualification is imposed on them becoming county councillors or district councillors, and in a great many cases it has been found that the presence of ministers of religion on these bodies has been extremely advantageous. It has enabled them to deal with matters in which ministers of religion have special interest and special knowledge.
I do not think I am putting the case too highly when I say that under the existing condition of things this disqualification is not only anomalous but really mischievous. It is not fair to the ministers of religion themselves, and it is not fair to the electors, because it hampers and restricts their freedom of choice. Just as the presence of ministers has been of great advantage to county councils and district councils, so also will their presence be of great advantage in borough councils, particularly with the enormously increased scope of matters which are now referred to these councils, such as health, education, and sanitation. I need add only one or two words in order to show how, in two cases where they are not prevented from becoming borough councillors, their presence has been of great advantage. Curiously enough in the borough councils of Oxford and Cambridge, owing to 205 their local Acts, ministers of religion are able to sit, and I have the authority of friends of mine who know what is happening in these boroughs for saying that they have greatly benefited by the presence of ministers of religion. On one occasion the Mayor of Cambridge was a minister of religion. In these circumstances I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Danesfort.)
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of this measure. If it had been one to enable beneficed clergy to sit in Parliament it would have been a totally different matter, because no beneficed clergy would have the time to attend the regular sittings of the House, of Commons. It is difficult enough for those who are Bishops to attend regularly the sittings of this House, where the hours are much less. But this Bill deals with a totally different matter. It deals with clergy sitting on borough councils. For some time the clergy in many cases have taken an active part on boards of guardians, 206 but if boards of guardians are abolished in the future the work they have done there will come to an end. Through this measure they will be able to continue that work, at any rate in part, on borough councils, and by that means they will possibly strengthen these councils, especially those in small boroughs where at times it is difficult to obtain disinterested representatives. But far more important than that, they will be able to give to these councils some special knowledge which they have gained in the course of their ordinary work. I hope your Lordships will pass this measure.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.