HL Deb 22 November 1926 vol 65 cc725-9

My Lords, I rise to move to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Episcopal Pensions Measure, 1926, be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent. Your Lordships will remember that this Measure comes before you under rather peculiar circumstances. Many months ago the Assembly passed a Measure which contained what is now before your Lordships in this Measure but also contained another matter altogether, with regard to a mode of dividing or allocating Bishops' incomes, which was criticised in this House and elsewhere as affecting the problems of Income Tax. In these circumstances the Measure, as proposed at that time, was withdrawn. The Measure now before your Lordships contains only that portion of the original Measure to which, as far as I understand, no exception whatever is taken.

It is a matter which presses urgently for settlement and I believe that its settlement is demanded in the interests of fairness and justice, both to the Bishops and to the dioceses over which Bishops preside. Your Lordships are aware that under the existing law peculiar conditions subsist. A Bishop who retires is entitled to a pension. If he retires with the proper consents, the consent of the Crown and of the Archbishop, he may then ask for, or rather claim, a pension which may be either £2,000 or one-third of his present income, whichever is the larger. That was enacted about sixty years ago at a time when the Bishops' incomes were virtually the same throughout England and amounted in the ordinary case to £5,000 a year. At that time any Bishop holding his £5,000 a year, if he retired under proper sanctions, might demand either one-third of that £5,000, or £2,000, whichever was the larger amount. The reason for the choice was that they were not all precisely £5,000—I am speaking in general terms.

Of late years Bishops have nearly always abstained from claiming the larger amount to which they are legally entitled and have contented themselves with a much smaller sum. But even that sum, in order that they may have it, has to be deducted not from any public sources but from the income of the successor whose income is mulcted in that amount. It is impossible to imagine a system with regard to episcopal govern- ment and arrangement which is more harmful than that. It puts the incoming Bishop in the extremest difficulty of having to work a diocese on a totally inadequate income if, say, £1,200 or£1,500 is taken out of his income as it at present stands. Even if it be only £800 the diocese suffers and the outgoing Bishop is in the most difficult and invidious position with regard to his successor. Think, for a moment, what would be thought of that system if it were applied to the Judicial Bench, if, when a new Judge was appointed, the pension of his predecessor were taken out of his salary. That is precisely what happens under the law as it -now stands with regard to episcopal pensions.

For a long time it has been felt that this is simply intolerable, and this Measure is drafted so as to bring it to an end. What will happen under this Measure is that the Bishops will receive a much more modest pension, the amount of which is specified in the Measure—from £800 upwards to that of an Archbishop, which is a somewhat larger amount. They will receive that on resignation under the proper consents, but in the provision of that fund, instead of mulcting the successor in the see, the money will be raised by an annual charge upon all the Bishops of England, who will pay into a common fund for these pension purposes. They will pay annually by amounts which are properly specified, and they will do it in lieu of paying certain first fruit charges which are at present rather of archaeological than practical interest. They will be saved that, and they will give instead a somewhat larger amount to the annual payment required from each towards the common fund out of which the pensions will be paid. In order to steady the system, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are responsible for making good any default, if such there be, in the fund thus raised, so that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners shall make up the deficiency, and the fund shall be available for the pensions of the Bishops in the way proposed. There will be this advantage, that every Bishop will know where he stands in these matters, and no Bishop will be put in the position of having to work his diocese on a sum far short of what it ought to be because he is paying the money to his predecessor. This will relieve the outgoing and incoming Bishops from an exceedingly painful and difficult position one towards the other.

So far as I know, no one has raised any objection to this Measure, either in the Assembly or elsewhere. This portion, therefore, of the original Measure that is now before your Lordships comes here, so far as I know, absolutely unopposed. The criticised portion of the previous Measure having now disappeared, this comes before you with the simple purpose which I have described. Your Lordships will find that the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament is in favour of passing the Measure for the purposes which I mention, and I venture without hesitation to ask your Lordships to pass the Resolution asking that the Royal Assent be given to it.

Moved to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Episcopal Pensions Measure, 1926, be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)


My Lords, I rise to express my full agreement with what the most rev. Primate has said. He has put his finger on the vice of the existing system, which is that such pension as there may be is taken out of what is payable to the incoming Bishop. The result is that the incoming Bishop—and the same would be true of an Archbishop in another degree—is placed in an extremely hard position. The cost of administering a diocese is very great, the cost of travelling alone is very great, and it is obvious that an incoming Bishop may be reduced almost to indigence. He has to live in a decent house, although it is a very much smaller house than he used to live in, and he has a certain amount of expense which he cannot avoid. Therefore it is now proposed that the amount of pension to the outgoing Bishops should be borne by the Bishops generally instead of one man in particular. I think that is quite right, and I hope this proposal will be assented to.


My Lords, I think this Measure ought not to pass without its being made clear to the House what a great sacrifice the present Archbishops and Bishops are making. As the law now stands, they would be entitled, when they are past work, to receive a very large pension, instead of which they are content to receive a much smaller pension, to which during the period of their episcopate, they are partially to contribute.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.