HL Deb 30 April 1929 vol 74 cc271-8

THE EARL OF SELBORNE moved to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Westminster Abbey Measure, 1929, be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the last Measure which I have to present is the Westminster Abbey Measure. This Measure only concerns Westminster Abbey and its Dean and Chapter. From the comments and explanations which are in your Lordships' hands you will see that the object of the Measure is to provide for the reapportionment of the annual income of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster which has already been dealt with by a previous Act of Parliament—the Westminster Abbey Act, 1888. A scheme of the Ecclesiastical Commis- sioners thereunder was ratified by Order in Council of the same year. All the property of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster was transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in consideration of an annual money payment of £20,000. This £20,000 was apportioned by the scheme of 1888 in certain ways, and it is proposed now to take power to vary that apportionment.

If your Lordships approve of this Measure and it becomes law, then it will be possible to bring in new schemes for the apportionment of this £20,000. Every scheme so brought in must be submitted to His Majesty the King as Visitor of the Abbey for approval, and it must afterwards be confirmed by an Order in Council. So there is very elaborate procedure beginning with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and ending with the Privy Council. Instead of the apportionment being stereotyped as it is now it can be varied from time to time in the manner I have described. The particular reason why reapportionment is desired is that the apportionment of 1888 has become exceedingly inconvenient. Owing to the great fall in the value of money, the great increase of rates and taxes and the incessant demands of hospitality, the amounts available for the stipends of the Dean and Canons are insufficient, although I would remind your Lordships that one canonry is in suspense. It is proposed by this Measure to end that suspense and abolish it altogether. Further, owing to the much greater demand for beautiful and elaborate services and the increase in the scale of wages payable, the amount available for the maintenance of the services and other expenses is also insufficient.

While in all those respects the money at the disposal of the Dean and Chapter has become insufficient, in one respect their resources have been very greatly increased. The late Dean of Westminster, Bishop Ryle, who was well known to your Lordships, formerly as a member of this House and afterwards as Dean, with the assistance of The Times made an appeal to the public for a very large sum for the upkeep and maintenance of the fabric of Westminster Abbey. In response they received, I believe, no less than £180,000, which has been invested and brings in about £9,000 a year, I think, which is devoted entirely to the upkeep of the fabric. This sum is at present found sufficient, and therefore there is no need for the comparatively small sum which was apportioned to the upkeep of the fabric in the apportionment of the £20,000 already referred to. It is proposed if this Measure passes—and, as the Ecclesiastical Committee point out, there has been no concealment of the intention—to move for a scheme which will enable at any rate part of the old fabric fund to be reapportioned for the uses which I have suggested and which have become urgent. This Measure has been very carefully considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee. They say that it does not prejudicially affect the rights of His Majesty's subjects and they are of opinion that it should become law. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Westminster Abbey Measure, 1929, be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Earl of Selborne.)


My Lords, the noble Earl, in moving this Resolution, talked about the reapportionment and variation of these funds, which is really a euphemism for diversion, because the Ecclesiastical Commissioners allowed, out of the £20,000 that was mentioned, £3,250 to the fabric fund. This Measure is founded on a report which is extremely candid—so candid that I propose to read a passage from it. Paragraph 4 says:— In recent years a new fund has boon collected by the late Dean Ryle with the assistance of The Times newspaper, for the repair of the fabric and for that purpose only. This fund produces an income of about £9,000 a year. It appears, therefore, that at present a total sum of £12,250 per annum is thus available for the repair of the fabric, and that so large a sum may not in fact be required for this purpose. It is therefore desired that some portion of the old fabric fund, created by the scheme of 1888, should be available to meet deficiencies in the stipends of the Dean and Canons and the general expenses of the Abbey. As time goes on and the weather eats more into the fabric, more money will be required. Your Lordships must remember that there are tremendous upheavals going on all over London which may seriously affect the Abbey, so that the rights of His Majesty's subjects may be very prejudicially affected by the diver- sion of this sum of money. We are not told whether this money is to be taken year by year for the payment of canons or for other purposes, even if the £12,250 were required in any year to be used for the fabric and for the fabric only. Accordingly I ask your Lordships not to accept this Motion.


My Lords, I need not tell your Lordships that I do not rise to address the House in the usual capacity in which I appear, I am afraid too frequently, at this box, but I have the honour to be, in common with my noble friend who is sitting on the Bench opposite (Lord Muir Mackenzie) an office-holder of the City of Westminster, and in that capacity I have been made familiar with this Measure for some weeks is past. I venture to hope that my noble friend who has just addressed us will not persist in his opposition to the Measure. There is, I believe, no question that the fabric of Westminster Abbey will be adequately looked after by the money which is now in the hands of the Dean by reason of the fund which was collected under the late Dean and which is now known as Dean Ryle's Fund. A very large sum was then collected and the money is sufficient, as we are informed, to maintain the Abbey. In this criticism my noble friend, if I may venture to say so, has really left out of account the great need that exists to supplement the income devoted to the expenditure to which my noble friend Lord Selborne has referred.

It is, indeed, extremely difficult in these days for the Church of England to meet the expenses which its ministers are obliged to incur. As we know, the case of the parochial clergy is in a degree a pitiable one, but even among what are called the higher clergy the difficulty is felt, and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, with the obligations that are thrown upon them, are really very underpaid. They have to maintain, of course, a certain dignity and a certain hospitality, and above all they have to live in London. These high ministers in the Church of England are not men of no importance. They are picked men, just as the Bench of Bishops are picked men. They are the best that the Church of England can produce, and that they should not be adequately paid, that they should not even be paid more than is really grossly insufficient is a standing shame on the country. That is the case.

Then the Dean, having thought the matter out very carefully and having taken counsel with others, comes to the Church Assembly and says: "We find that we have enough money for the fabric and there is this tremendous need to pay the Dean and Chapter enough, and also for certain other purposes of the great Abbey of Westminster, and we ask the Assembly to enable us to divert"—I do not shrink from the noble Viscount's word—"to divert part of the sum which would otherwise go to the fabric for this purpose." It seems to me a reasonable request. The Assembly, having considered it, have agreed, and now they come to your Lordships' House and the House of Commons asking that their decision shall be confirmed. I must say that, when one thinks of the enormous significance of Westminster Abbey, its position not only of national but of worldwide importance, we should be able to pay the Dean and Chapter sufficient to live upon. It would be impossible to appoint a Dean of Westminster unless he had private funds. That is a standing shame. I hope that my noble friend will not persist in his resistance to this Measure.


My Lords, after the appeal which my noble friend has just made I shall not think of persisting, but I would suggest that a better way to pay these clergy higher salaries is also by public subscription, instead of by diversion.


My Lords, I should like, though only for a moment, to commend this Resolution, because I am specially interested in this Measure, not only as Chairman of the Assembly but also as Chairman of the very laborious Commission which the Assembly appointed some years ago to investigate the circumstances of all the cathedrals and collegiate churches in England. I happen to be Chairman of that Commission, and also Chairman of the Sub-Commission which investigated with the greatest possible scrutiny and care the circumstances of Westminster Abbey, and I am almost glad that Lord Bertie of Thame raised this point, because I think it enables those who care for the Abbey to meet it in the way in which the noble Marquess has done. I should like it to be understood most clearly that the last thing which by this Measure it is desired to do is to divert money needed for the fabric towards meeting the expenses of the maintenance of the Abbey and the stipends of its officials. All that is desired is to vary the scheme of l888 by a Measure having the force of a Statute—it is necessary to do that, the scheme of 1888 being confirmed by Statute—so as to enable the Abbey to meet the new circumstances which have arisen since 1888.

The first of those circumstances is that the claim for the fabric has been met in another way. It is, I venture to think, the very first principle of those who care for our cathedrals that the first charge should be for the upkeep of the fabric of the Abbey, and that nothing should be allowed to interfere with that; but there is now what is bound to be quite sufficient provision not only from year to year, but also in the way of what is not needed for one year being carried over to another year to meet special emergencies. I think your Lordships may therefore take it for granted that the needs of the fabric are fully met by that fund. As to danger to the stone, I think a better way of securing the fabric of the Abbey against destruction would be for your Lordships to pay particular attention to the erection of the proposed electric power station at Battersea, which is more likely to make demands upon the public purse, not only for the maintenance of the fabric of the Abbey but also of the Houses of Parliament, than any other cause.

The second reason has been the fall in the value of money, the increase in rates, and the increased expenses which have to be met not only by the Dean and Canons but by the whole staff, and the wages of the lesser ministers, if I may so describe them, who take part in the services. All that is asked is that the arrangements made in 1888 should now be varied by schemes approved by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, so as to enable money fixed definitely in 1888 for the fabric to be used as occasion arises for those other purposes. The Sub-Commission of which I have spoken most heartily endorse the argument enforced by the difficulty of the Dean and Canons to meet the expenses incidental to their positions, and the same need of further help which arises in regard to all those who take part in the maintenance and services of one of the greatest centres of our national life.


My Lords, it would seem almost indecorous for me to say a word after the speech of the most rev. Primate, but I think that in what has been said about the Measure too much emphasis has been laid upon the power which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and others will have to allocate money towards the stipends of the Dean and Canons. It is necessary to bear in mind that they will also have power to enable things to be carried out in the Abbey in the way in which public opinion now demands that they should be done, with great dignity and solemnity and fitness and wider acceptability to the people at large. They ought to be, and if this Measure passes will be, in a position to get a scheme prepared which shall allow them to spend adequately on those great services which are looked for not only for London alone, or for Westminster alone, or for this country alone, but for our Dominions overseas as well, and provide for the great work which, contrasting the dignity of 1929 with that of 1388, now devolves and will increasingly devolve upon the Abbey and those who minister in it. Therefore I am particularly anxious that it should be understood that in passing schemes for modfication of schemes which exist, we have in mind not only the paying of adequate stipends but also the carrying on of the great work which the Abbey does for the nation and the Church.


My Lords, as the noble Lord opposite mentioned that there is a constitutional point in the case of this Measure, I should like to inform the House that the point was very particularly and carefully considered in the Ecclesiastical Committee, and that that Committee had no difficulty in arriving at a unanimous conclusion in the sense which they have described in their Report.

On Question, Motion agreed to.