HL Deb 22 July 1930 vol 78 cc691-716

THE LORD BISHOP OF MANCHESTER rose to move to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Pluralities Measure, 1930, be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent. The right rev. Prelate said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Paper. In doing so I hope not to tax the patience of your Lordships for more than a very few moments, but I think it is due to your Lordships that I should explain the reasons why this Measure is presented to you. Most of the Statutes about pluralities in the past have been in the direction of their restriction. In the days before the Reformation both King and Pope rewarded their friends by giving them more than one benefice in different parts of the country. In the reign of King Henry VIII the first effort was made to restrict that abuse, but without complete success. It came to my knowledge when I was Bishop of Truro that within the last hundred years a clergyman held two benefices in Cornwall some forty miles apart and another in Norfolk, and actually resided in London.

Acts of Parliament have been passed since then at various dates further to restrict the holding of two benefices at the same time by the same person. One of those restrictions, the one that we desire to remove to-day, was that one of the two benefices so held should be of an annual value of not more than £200. Happily in this day there need be no benefice in the Church of England which is less than £200 a year. Consequently, in the ordinary way pluralities would cease. But I venture to suggest to your Lordships that there are some cases in which it is wise that plurality should remain. We are very anxious in these days of shortage that the most should be made of the man power of the Church. We are very anxious that every clergyman should be paid a reasonable wage for his day's work, and the clergy themselves are very anxious that they should do a reasonable day's work for their pay.

I think a case can easily be made out for the holding together of certain benefices. By a Measure of the Church Assembly, to which the Royal Assent has been given, it is possible to make a permanent arrangement so that two benefices that might otherwise be held in plurality are united. For some years the Union of Benefices Measure has been operating. But the Union of Benefices Measure contemplates a position in which two parishes are permanently united. There are, however, places where the permanent union is not the most advisable policy and certainly is frequently not a very popular one. May I be allowed to illustrate? There are sonic parishes, especially those in the neighbourhood of our great centres of population, which are at present small enough to be held in plurality with a neighbouring parish. But as the population widens out into the suburbs as the effect of Bills such as the one we have just had before us comes into existence, those parishes tend to grow. I have in mind more than one illustration. I can think of two tiny parishes in Essex, each with a population of 300 or 400 people, but I imagine that in ten years those places will be great centres of population. It would be a great advantage if parishes like that could be held in plurality.

There is another case. Sometimes owing to the health or the age of particular incumbents a union of parishes cannot now take place and plurality with a neighbouring parish would be of advantage if it could be provided. There is still another illustration. In some of our great towns where parishes are gradually decreasing in population owing to legislation of the kind we have just been considering, it would be of advantage sometimes, I think, instead of setting one man in each parish to do his work in the loneliness which in a slum sometimes becomes very oppressive, to make one strong centre and to work two or three parishes from that centre. Those are some of the reasons at least—I believe them to be good ones, and I hope I have convinced your Lordships that they are good—why the Measure has been presented to you for recommendation for the Royal Assent.

May I spend a moment in describing the Measure? The first part of it removes the limit of £200 per annum and inserts instead a limit of £400 per annum. The population restriction that existed in earlier Pluralities Acts if not already gone really goes with this removal of the financial restriction. Owing to the change in the value of money and owing to the fact that we have been all too slow in paying the parish priest a better wage than he got in days gone by, I think you will agree with me that this particular part of the Measure is worthy of approval. The other half of the Measure goes a step further and does, indeed, break some new ground. It provides that it shall be within the competence of the Commission appointed under the Union of Benefices Measure, when they make their recommendations, instead of recommending that a union shall immediately take place to recommend a plurality, and in this case the restrictions as to value, distance, and number go. If the Union of Benefices Commission so recommends it seemed best that the procedure afterwards should be the normal procedure in the case of pluralities.

May I remind your Lordships of what that involves, because I am anxious to show that the Measure tries as best it can and in the most businesslike way possible to safeguard all concerned? No union of benefice proceedings involving any parish can be initiated unless the Bishop is satisfied, and unless he satisfies the Ecclesiastical Commissioners that there is a prima facie ease for union. Upon the Commission which, When that is done, considers the case, each parish is represented by a nominee appointed jointly by the parochial church council and the patron. If they recommend a plurality, the ordinary procedure by which a plurality comes into existence involves the consent of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the consent of the Bishop, the consent of each patron, and the consent of the most rev. Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the case of the union of benefices, neither the patron nor the Archbishop comes in. We have been asked why, in this particular Measure, we do not follow the procedure of the Union of Benefices Measure but that of pluralities? Mainly because it is a plurality. We think that every interest is properly safeguarded, and that the Union of Benefices Measure would involve an ultimate appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, entailing time and expense; but mainly because—and this is the point I should like to emphasise—we find from working experience that the people of the parish do not look with a very kindly eye upon the Union of Benefices Measure.

I am not at all surprised at it. If we lived in an ideal world we might do without it, but we are trying to face a difficult situation, and we are trying to face it in a way which shall meet, as far as possible, the minds of all concerned. A very large number of parishes, when a union is suggested, ask: "May we not have something in the nature of a trial trip? May we not be allowed to see how it works before the thing is finally and definitely done? "This Measure actually proposes that. It gives to the Union of Benefices Commission the opportunity of acceding to the request made not infrequently by parishes that an experiment may be made—an experiment which may perhaps ultimately lead to a union, but which in sonic cases will lead to the end of that plurality, and to the two parishes going on with their life as they have gone on in the past.

That is the Measure. There has been a difference of opinion, I think, as to whether the safeguards in it are sufficient. I have tried to point out to the House that they are quite as sufficient as we could well make them, and the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, which appears to have given very careful consideration to the matter, believes that the Measure might go forward. Bearing in mind the distinction between a plurality and a union of benefices, bearing in mind that this is a temporary expedient which can come to an end, we think that the protection of the Commissioners is sufficient, and the Ecclesiastical Committee tell us that the Measure does not prejudicially affect the rights of His Majesty's subjects, and that it is expedi- ent that it be allowed to proceed. May I say in closing that as a working Bishop who desires more than anything else to be on good terms with his clergy and his parochial church councils, and who is conceited enough to believe that he is on good terms with them, I venture to think that this little Measure—it is a small one and will not operate in a large number of cases—is a real help, will make for the peace and comfort of the Church, and will enable us to go on in our work a little more effectively than we are going on at present. I hope your Lordships will agree to it. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in accordance with the Church Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Pluralities Measure, 1930, be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Manchester.)


My Lords, I am exceedingly sorry that I cannot coincide with the views just expressed by the right rev. Prelate. I do feel very much that this Measure puts before us some of the difficulties in the present method of conducting the affairs of the Church Assembly in this respect. An important Measure of this kind, which deals not merely with the rights of the Bishops but with the rights of the laity, comes before us in such a manner that we cannot do other than pass it or reject it. I have every reason to believe that, if it were possible to amend this Measure, we could have done by a very small Amendment all that we feel ought to have been done in the Measure in regard to the rights of the laity, without in any way decreasing the powers that are to be given under this Measure to the Archbishop as the final judge of the matter.

In the first place, may I say to the right rev. Prelate and those who sponsor this Bill, that I think they are rather going back in the history of the Church? He admitted that pluralities were not desirable. Surely they are not only not desirable but it has been the aim and object of the Church and the State for centuries past to prevent pluralities, and to prevent either bishoprics or deaneries or livings being held in plurality by any one man. It is quite true, and no one knows it better than I do, and no one deplores it more than I do, that there is a great shortage of clergy at the present time in the Church, but I venture to think the better way of dealing with that would be to increase the supply of the clergy, and to take steps, which I think could be taken, to bring a larger body of men into the Church rather than to do what my right rev. friend admitted was the case, pass an unpopular Measure, or a Measure which would enable more of these unpopular pluralities to take place.

The right rev. Prelate knows quite well—indeed I am quite sure the whole Bench of Bishops know—that so far as the laity are concerned they have always been prepared to say there is not one case under the Union of Benefices Act, or, I think, under the Pluralities Act, where the laity of the two parishes really desired the union to take place. It is a pis aller and nothing more. I have known some important cases. In the parish where I live there was a demand to unite two benefices. I had the privilege of being one of the Commissioners appointed for the purpose of considering the matter. Perhaps your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that the proposal was thrown out. I think the church bells of both parishes were rung to celebrate the fact that they were to be allowed to retain their own parishes and their own clergy.

The right rev. Prelate referred to a speech which he made in the Church Assembly. He seemed really to have had at the back of his mind something further than the mere amalgamation of two parishes for a temporary purpose. He quoted in the Church Assembly, with approval, a suggestion of a Committee that there should be colleges of clergy to deal with groups of parishes where there seemed to be suitable areas. That is distinctly opposed to the pariochial system of the Church of England. Under the provisions of this Measure, not merely the proposal which the right rev. Prelate put before us, temporarily to amalgamate or to hold in plurality two adjacent or conveniently placed livings, can be given effect to, but there is no limit whatever as to the number of parishes. Quite possibly, if there was a Bishop who was himself the patron of a considerable number of parishes in one of our great towns, he could—and I think my right rev. friend admits that it is not impossible—amalgamate the whole of them under the system of pluralities, and erect there, as is suggested in the Committee's report, a college of clergy to run two, three, four or five parishes. That is totally opposed to the parochial system of the Church of England, and I do appeal to right rev. Prelates opposite, who have far more experience than I could possibly imagine members of the House of Laity to have of the devotion of people to their parochial system, to realise the importance of retaining the parochial system.

It does seem to me at this period of the twentieth century to bring forward a proposal to make it easier to do what the State has always disliked, is a retrograde proceeding. It is common knowledge that the drafting of this Bill is very largely the work of Sir Lewis Dibdin, a man for whom, as a lawyer, I have the very greatest respect. In speaking in the Church Assembly, in the same House in which the right rev. Prelate spoke, he admitted there were drawbacks to plurality, of which the first was that nothing could be done in the way of taking away income. Of course that could be done under the Union of Benefices Measure. He went so far as to say that incomes of a thousand a year would of course he permitted. That is true under the provisions of this Measure. Consequently it was impossible in this Measure to deal with the surplus house of the two parishes. Both houses, he said, must be left in the hands of the pluralist.

Then this curious remark was made by Sir Lewis Dibdin:— To talk about plurality when there was a union in the air unsettled people altogether. People were in favour of plurality because they said it would last only for a few years and they would then get their own parson back again. That statement was made to the Church Assembly by one who had a great deal to do—who at all events was on the Committee—with proposing this Measure and trying to get it passed. Then the Measure came before your Lordships own Ecclesiastical Committee. The right rev. Prelate has told us that the Committee reported in its favour. That is perfectly true. They reported finally that— …bearing in mind the distinction … between a permanent union of benefices and a temporary plurality, [they] consider that the protection of parishioners under the Measure is sufficient, and that the Measure does not prejudicially affect the rights of His Majesty's subjects. They are of opinion that it is expedient that the Measure be allowed to proceed. But look at the Report itself. A more half-hearted Report recommending a Measure for your Lordships' House have never seen.

It quotes the Acts of Parliament relating to the holding of benefices, and it goes on to say, as the right rev. Prelate said, that the restrictions as to area are to be swept away, that the limit of income is to be swept away. The Report also states:— The Committee note that this constitutes a serious extension of the power to hold benefices in plurality which can only be justified on the ground of the existing shortage of clergy, and, even so, subject to proper safeguards. That is not a very cheerful Report in favour of this Measure—it "can only be justified on the ground of the existing shortage of clergy!" I venture to ask right rev. Prelates opposite whether they cannot take some other steps to deal with the shortage of clergy, rather than deal with it in this way which the Ecclesiastical Committee clearly do not like, although they are prepared to let the Measure go through.

They go on to say that— their attention has been drawn to the fact that the safeguards provided under the Measure are less than those in a case where a union of benefices is proposed. Further, they think it right to call the attention of Parliament to the fact, which has been mentioned by the right rev. Prelate, that the result of the proposal will be to sweep away the right of the parishioners to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. If we could amend the Measure I feel sure that the Bench of Bishops would allow it to be amended in that direction. There is ample means of arranging plurality under the existing law. There is the Act of 1919—the Union of Benefices Act—and then there is what I may call the codifying Measure passed by the Church Assembly in 1923. In spite of those two enactments the Assembly think it desirable to pot forward this further Measure after the Union of Benefices Measure has been in operation only seven years.

Under the Union of Benefices Act, if it is proposed that two benefices should be united, there is a full inquiry by Commissioners. I need not trouble your Lordships with the appointment of those Commissioners. They are appointed to give the fairest—I agree the fairest possible—hearing to the parishes concerned. The hearing takes place, and if an order is made for the union then any aggrieved parishioner has the right, which I believe has been his from time immemorial, to appeal to His Majesty's Privy Council. One knows that such appeals take place, appeals in considerable numbers. I have made inquiries of the Judicial Department here, and I find they are not at all unusual. I find that the dislike in parishes of these unions is so great that, even when the Commissioners have reported in favour of them, appeals do take place and are occasionally allowed by the Privy Council. In one of these appeals, not very long ago, the Lord Chancellor of the day was sitting and an old churchwarden came to give evidence. I mention this case as showing the reason why people are so opposed to these unions. This churchwarden gave certain not very strong reasons, and at last the Lord Chancellor, sitting as Chairman of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, said: "We want to get at the bottom of this. Is there any further reason why you object? "The old man said: "Yes, sir. Us doesn't like them." There is a great deal in that. "Us" do not want our parish mixed up with another parish, and "us" do not like having to go a mile or two in order to see our new clergyman, instead of having our own clergyman at our own door.

Under this Measure, not content with the ordinary powers in regard to plurality, the Church Assembly desires to revoke the practice of the Union of Benefices Act, and to give to the Commissioners the right of saying: "Very well, we have heard all that the various parties have said. We will not make a union, but we will order plurality." It is all very well to say that plurality is a temporary measure, but when two, or even three or four benefices have been held in plurality for the lifetime of a vicar, it becomes more difficult to separate them again, particularly if the shortage of clergy should continue or should even get worse. I can well imagine if the shortage continues the right rev. Prelate coming and saying: "Well, we must continue plurality. We cannot find another clergyman to reinstate the church and the vicarage in the old parish which was united in this way." I think it is a very great pity to utilise the machinery under the Union of Benefices Act—machinery which provides for appeal to the Privy Council—and then that you should, as it were, sheer off to one side and say: "We will give an additional power to the Commissioners. Instead of a union we will have plurality." In that case there will be no appeal, none whatever. If the Archbishop of Canterbury makes an order confirming the decision of the Commissioners, that is final.

It does not appear, of course, on the face of the Measure that the right of appeal to the Privy Council is taken away, but I am quite sure that the right rev. Prelate will admit that that is the fact. This being the position, the question arises: What should we do in regard to this Measure? I feel very strongly that it is a pity that the Measure was brought forward. It slipped through the other House without any debate whatever. It was taken late at night and no debate took place. It now comes before your Lordships, and we are faced with the very grave difficulty that we cannot amend it. We have either to let it go through as it stands or throw it out. That, of course, is a very grave difficulty, and a very grave responsibility rests upon your Lordships' House, because I feel very strongly that your Lordships would be desirous of putting in the right of appeal to the Privy Council. To do so, however, would be to destroy the Measure. All I can say is that I do not feel personally that I ought to take the responsibility of dividing against the Measure with the view of throwing it out. I do, therefore, earnestly ask their Lordships on the Bench of Bishops—I do not suppose this was done intentionally—when they are dealing with matters of this kind in future which really affect the rights of the laity and the constitution of the courts of the laity, they will do their utmost, while promoting Measures which they believe to be in the spiritual interest of the Church, to see that the rights of the laity, which have been theirs for centuries, are preserved to them.


My Lords, like one of the noble Lords who addressed your Lordships a few moments ago, I do not propose to take up much of your Lordships' time in saying anything about the Measure that is now before you for consideration, but perhaps, as Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, your Lordships will allow me to make one or two brief remarks. The Pluralities Measure came before the Ecclesiastical Committee early this year, and I can assure your Lordships that we spent a very considerable amount of time considering its details. Subsequently a small Sub-Committee was appointed to prepare a report, which was ultimately laid before a later meeting of the full Committee and was accepted by what I may, I think, describe as an overwhelming majority.

I do not know whether the House is aware of the duties and responsibilities of the Ecclesiastical Committee. It is not charged with the duty of deciding upon the merits or demerits of any Measure that is sent to it from the Legislative Committee of the Church Assembly. All it has to do is to examine the Measure with a view to reporting to Parliament upon its legal and general aspects, and upon its expediency, taking into consideration the constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects. I said a moment ago that it was not part of our duty to consider the merits or demerits of any Measure submitted to us for consideration, and obviously I cannot come down to your Lordships' House and argue either one way or the other, for or against a Measure, but I think I shall be representing the feeling, at any rate, of the majority which approved this Measure proceeding to Parliament, and I certainly represent my own, when I say that there were two points which had a great influence upon the decision of the majority.

The first was the fact that the Measure is only a temporary one, that pluralities cannot be established permanently, as they can under the Union of Benefices Act but are bound to come to an end with the death or resignation of the incumbent who has been given charge of two or three parishes, and then the position will have to be reviewed de novo. The second consideration was that, owing to the dearth of clergy at the present moment, it follows that unless something of the kind proposed in the Measure is done in future, certain parishes would have to do without the spiritual advice and help of a clergyman. In those circumstances the majority felt that this Measure should be allowed to proceed to Parliament, and, while I understand that it is not the desire of those who oppose the Measure to proceed to a Division, I felt bound to say these few words in favour of the Measure being passed into law.


My Lords, I also was a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee, but I took a view that was not that of the Chairman or of the majority. I am sorry to say that I am still unrepentant, and I venture to put before your Lordships some considerations showing the objections to the proposal which has been made and to suggest to your Lordships that this Measure ought not to pass into law without further protection being given to the interests of the parishioners, which, I think, have been seriously overlooked in the proposals that are put forward. The powers that are taken of granting licences in plurality in this particular way are extremely farreaching. I doubt whether such powers have ever existed before—certainly, I should think, not since before the time of Henry VIII. The power to license in plurality which is given by Clause 2 of this Measure would, so far as power is concerned, enable any number of parishes, without any restriction of size, population, income or distance, to be held by one beneficed clergyman.

It would be perfectly possible, with the powers that are given to the authorities under this Measure, for the whole of the City of London and of the parishes therein to be held under one incumbent. All the parishes in a rural deanery might be held under one incumbent. A rural parish in Kent might be held by an incumbent in the Diocese of Durham. I do not say that such provisions as those are likely to be made, but these are very large powers and they are entirely contrary to the whole stream of legislation up to the present moment. Legislation in 1830 recognised that it was desirable to restrain pluralities, and no plurality was allowed to be held of more than two livings within a distance of ten miles, with a further condition as to population. In 1850 it was decided that it was necessary to restrain still further a spiritual adviser from holding pluralities, and the livings that coull be held were limited to two, one of which must not be at more than £100 a year, and the two livings must be within three miles of one another. In 1885 that restriction was found to be a little too severe, and it was made applicable to two livings within four miles of one another, one of which was not to be of more than £200; and that is the provision at the present moment. This will show your Lordships how large these new powers are and what they mean.

I should have thought that the essence of the Church of England system, apart from its parochial organisation and dealing merely with the financial point of view, is that the endowments of the Church are, in substance, parochial endowments. Tithes, parsonage, glebe, and one may include the parish church, are all provided, and in many cases they were provided by pious donors in the past for the purpose of enabling parishioners in a parish to enjoy the spiritual services of their own minister in that parish. Apart from the endowment of tithe, there are innumerable instances at present of past benefactors having increased the endowments for the special purpose of enabling the parish to enjoy the services of a parish priest. Unless there is some express provision in the deed of gift or deed of trust—a very unusual provision, because the contrary would not ordinarily be contemplated—that the trust is given on the terms that the incumbent of the benefice shall reside in the parish, those endowments are available now and under the plurality system they can be diverted and will be diverted, for a purpose which, I venture to suggest, is quite different from that which is intended.

In those circumstances what protection has been given to the parish under the existing system for the union of parishes? The formalities, the inquiry and so on, are the same as will be provided here, but at a union of parishes, once the Commissioners have reported for the union, a scheme is prepared by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and they have power to deal with many questions that will arise and, amongst other things, with a matter which is ignored in this Measure—namely, the power to provide for the spiritual services that shall be granted to the particular parishes concerned. You take away the incumbent of one parish, you give the benefice to a person living elsewhere, and the scheme provides that the Commissioners, if they think fit, shall provide for assistant clergy, where the assistant clergy shall live, and 'now much money shall be paid them and so on. There is no such power under this Measure at all. Now when that report is being prepared under the union of benefices scheme it is submitted to the parochial church council, who have an opportunity of considering the proposals made. They can object to the Bishop and they have the power ultimately of appealing to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That protection is not here at all, and I venture to think it really is a very serious invasion of the rights of the parishioners, that they have no recourse at all to some independent body to protect their rights.

The Measure makes the most careful provision for protecting the patron. A plurality cannot go through without the consent of the patron. Speaking for myself, I have very little interest in the rights of the patron. I venture to think that the rights of the parishioners are much more important. While the rights of the patron are carefully preserved in this Measure, the rights of the parishioners, I venture to think, are ignored. It is said that this proposal is really after all only in the nature of a temporary expedient. It adopts the old excuse, "After all, it is only 'a little one," and it is suggested that serving merely a temporary purpose it is unnecessary to give any further protection. Is it true that a provision of this kind is of this fleeting character? I venture to think not. When an incumbent is licensed to hold one of these pluralities—three, four or five parishes—he becomes the incumbent of the parishes, and he is entitled to hold these livings for his life. He obtains the "parson's freehold," as it is called. He holds precisely by the same tenure as if he were still incumbent of a single parish. What does that mean? It means that if a plurality of this kind, of three to four parishes, is entrusted to a young and energetic incumbent, say of thirty-five years, the plurality will last for the lifetime of that incumbent, probably for another thirty-five years or more.

Is that a trifling matter for the parishioners? I venture to think that so far as most parishioners are concerned, if you say that this is going to exist for the rest of their lifetime, or for a generation, that is all that they are interested in, and it does not make much difference to them to say that it will come to an end at the end of this indefinite time. This provision is less elastic than the provision for the union of parishes, because you cannot get rid of an incumbent who holds in plurality as long as he lives, unless you make him a Bishop or promote him in some way. On the contrary, so far as a union of parishes is concerned, if that change of circumstances to which the right rev. Prelate referred were to arise, exactly the same process can be gone through and the parishes disunited. You have an easy remedy so far as the union of parishes is concerned, but not in the case where a licence for a plurality has been issued.

I venture to think that your Lordships should, if you can, give further protection to the laity and to the parishioners. This is not merely a question of Church organisation, but of interfering with rights which are very dear to the parishioners of a particular parish. I venture to suggest that the same protection ought to be given as is given in the case of a union of parishes—namely, an appeal to the Judicial Committee. It is said that an appeal is expensive. That happens to be a mistake. No costs are awarded, I am credibly informed, in those cases. They can be fought by representatives in person, and indeed I am informed that in one of the last cases before the Judicial Committee, where the appeal was successful, it was fought successfully by the lady secretary of the parochial church council concerned. It is a simple matter and does not cost much.

Is it necessary to have an appeal? I have enquired into the figures in relation to these appeals, and since the Union of Benefices Measure was first introduced in 1919, by special Statute, there have been thirty-seven appeals, of which eight, or something over 20 per cent., have been successful. That is quite a large percentage and not very much different from the percentage of appeals which are successful in the Courts of Law. It shows, I venture to think, in spite of all these reports, in spite of the inquiry, in spite of the report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and their consent, and the consent of the Bishops, in 20 per cent. of the cases appealed the Judicial Committee have felt compelled to allow the appeals. I venture to think there is no reason for withdrawing from the parishioners this very reasonable protection, of in the long run coming to an independent judicial body to have it determined whether what I venture to call constitutional rights—though they are not enforceable in a Court of Law—should be interfered with—the ordinary interest of the parishioners to have their own parish priest, and the endowments of the parish devoted to the purposes for which they were given, shall be maintained. I hope your Lordships will agree that that right should be maintained and be capable of being enforced before an independent judicial body. I hope this Measure will be withdrawn, in order that some such protection may be put into it.


I know your Lordships are very anxious to get on to other business, and I regret very much that by my intervention, however reluctantly, I am delaying the debate, but I feel very strongly about this matter.


I am postponing my Question with regard to India.


This Measure and the discussion upon it really do bear out the fears which I expressed in this House when the Enabling Bill was passed. I pointed out at the time that although there might be very good reason for Measures being passed without amendment—not owing to their merits, or because they had been examined before they came here, but owing to the fact that Parliamentary business in another place did not permit of their being got through if an Amendment was moved or they were properly considered—it was giving very large power to the Church. So long as these Measures were confined to what one might call the domestic housekeeping of the Church, or the arranging of their business, there was not very much reason to object to their being presented and passed without much consideration; but Lord Clarendon stated quite correctly the position of the Ecclesiastical Committee. The Ecclesiastical Committee do not advise your Lordships on the merits of the Measure; they merely advise your Lordships as to whether it is infringing some constitutional principle. And I dare say that many of your Lordships less familiar with their duties may be misled by the concluding sentence that "it is expedient that the Measure be allowed to proceed." It merely means that it is expedient that it should proceed in the sense that it is not held to conflict with any constitutional principle.

I rose merely for one purpose, and that was to suggest that I think it would be in the interests of the House if there were some other examination dealing with the merits of these Measures before they came before the House as a whole—if they were referred to some Select Committee to consider and to advise your Lordships upon, in the way in which we do with Special Orders which are contentious, or matters of that sort, which very often you can pass without discussion, but which members of your Lordships' House do like to be advised upon as to the merits before they come before you. The speech which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, has just made shows the difficulty. He has given many grave reasons against this Measure. We cannot examine them in the full House without a prolonged debate and a great deal of contention on one side or the other.

I am not for a moment going to make any proposals now, or indeed to make any proposals at any other time. And I ought to say at once that I am only expressing my own opinion as a member of your Lordships' House, not any opinion on behalf of the Government. But if the noble Viscount opposite who raised this question should feel inclined at some future time to put down a Motion for considering whether there might not be some examination of these Measures on their merits before they come to your Lordships' House, I believe it would make many of your Lordships very much easier in passing them; and it ought not really to cause any fear to the right rev. Prelates if they feel that their Measures can stand that examination. I only interposed to make that suggestion, because I do feel strongly that we are put in a difficulty in being asked to pass these Measures under the present procedure.


My Lords, I do not propose to discuss the very important suggestion that the noble Earl has just made. That would require a great deal of discussion, and only after a proper Motion had been submitted to your Lordships. But I do want to make a few remarks on the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and the noble and learned Lord behind me. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, alluded to the objection which has been felt for a very long time to the abuse of pluralities, and he quite correctly reminded your Lordships of the different steps that have been taken to regulate the holding of pluralities; but I think he went a great deal too far when he suggested that in an ideal condition of things every separate parish would have its separate incumbent. It is quite true, as he said, that neighbouring parishes dislike each other, and that the union of benefices is unpopular; but it is not only a question of the shortage of clergy, which we hope is only temporary, but there are some parishes so small that they are not an honest life's work for any man, and it is very bad for a young clergyman to be put into a parish where there is really no proper work for him to do. And in those cases those parishes ought certainly to be joined together, either permanently or temporarily.

I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me if I remind him and the House that he is a very distinguished member of the Church Assembly, and his guidance and his advice will always be welcomed there. But he did not come, unless my recollection deceives me, when this Measure was before the Church Assembly. If he had come and made the points there which he has made here to-night I am perfectly certain they would have been received with the greatest respect and attention. Perhaps he was not able to come, but he has some very effective friends in that Assembly, who could have put the points just as well as himself. And we have many distinguished lawyers in the Church Assembly. Not one of them put the point which he put or which the noble and learned Lord behind me put.

Now let me come to the objections of the noble and learned Lord behind me. He has described to your Lordships the procedure under the Union of Benefices Measure. He has told you how carefully the Commission is appointed which deals with any such proposal—a very strong Commission, a very carefully selected Commission, on which all interests are represented. He has told your Lordships quite candidly that, if it comes to a question of pluralities, the interests of the patrons are wholly safeguarded. So we can put the patrons aside; there is no dispute about them. But, says the noble and learned Lord, the interests of the parishioners are ignored. But is that so? This proposal for a plurality cannot come into being at all unless recommended by the Commission, and the parishioners are represented on the Commission jointly with the patrons. And it is only when a Commission, appointed under the Union of Benefices Measure, comes to the conclusion—almost always at the suggestion of the parishioners, so I am informed—that a temporary union is preferable to a permanent union, that this Measure will come into force at all.

And there is no question about taking away the right of appeal to the Privy Council. There never has been a right of appeal to the Privy Council in the case of pluralities. The only right of appeal in the case of pluralities is when the Archbishop refuses the plurality. Then there is an appeal to the Privy Council, and that appeal is preserved. All that this Measure does is that when the Commission, so carefully appointed and so representative, comes to the conclusion that in the particular case a plurality is better than a permanent union, then it brings into operation the machinery of the Pluralities Acts and those Pluralities Acts have never allowed an appeal to the Privy Council except in the one case I have mentioned. Therefore I hope the noble and learned Lord will allow me to say it is not strictly accurate to say that anything has been taken away from His Majesty's subjects which they now possess. And can it really be suggested that the Archbishop, with his great sense of responsibility, with his great experience in these matters, would allow any such grotesque collection of parishes as has been suggested by the noble and learned Lord? The fact is, this is an extremely simple and little Measure, born entirely out of the experience of the Union of Benefices Measure, and born also, so I am informed, out of the wishes of parishioners, who say: "Do not let us make a permanent union, but give us the opportunity of seeing how a temporary union would work." I think no case has been made out for refusing assent to this Measure.


My Lords, the last thing I wish to do is to detain you at this hour, even although I gather we shall not have the privilege of listening to the words which would have been spoken by the noble Viscount (Lord Burnham), who has a Motion down on the Paper. I wish to say at once that I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, for saying that, in spite of his strong objections to this Measure, he did not feel disposed to ask your Lordships to reject it. I am most grateful to him for that measure of considerateness. When he made an impressive appeal to the Bench of Bishops not to forget the rights of the laity in these matters of legislation, I could not help thinking that he forgot that these Measures do not come before this House from the Bench of Bishops. They come from the Church Assembly in which the laity are fully represented and of which they form the largest part. I feel certain that the representatives of the laity in the Church Assembly are not only well qualified to look after the safeguarding of toe laity, but are sent there for the very purpose of doing so.

I do not propose to discuss the method of legislation which ensues from the passing of the Enabling Act some years ago, except to say that I am very grateful to the noble Earl and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, for the speeches they have made and for the sign they have given of the care they bestow on Measures of this kind. I am always very loth that it should be regarded as a matter of course that these Measures should quickly and easily pass through your Lordships' House or the other House of Parliament. I always feel grateful to any noble Lords who speak and who show that the care and thought are bestowed upon these Measures which the responsibility of your Lordships' House requires.

May I deal as briefly as I can with the objections which have been urged by the two noble Lords who have spoken against this Measure? It is indeed impossible at the end of a discussion of this kind to enter into the whole question of the usefulness or otherwise of a union of benefices. Plainly, this particular Measure merely carries out in a small but useful way the policy which has already been endorsed by the Church and by Parliament in favour of the union of benefices throughout the country. It becomes necessary, not because we wish to undermine the parochial system of the Church of England, but because we must maintain it, and, unless steps of this kind are taken now, it becomes exceedingly difficult to see how the parochial system which we all value so greatly can possibly be maintained. The diminution of the number of clergy is such that, although I hope it is being repaired, within the next ten years it will become exceedingly difficult to find the men who can man the existing parishes in England. After the next ten years I venture to think that the already existing difficulty in finding men to undertake the immense number of small benefices will have become even greater. It is necessary, therefore, in order that the parochial system should be maintained, that steps of this kind should be taken.

But it is more than that, as I think my noble friend Lord Selborne has just pointed out. It is not merely a question of maintaining the parochial system; it is a question of maintaining it in efficiency. You cannot get the best use out of your man-power or make the best gifts of your men available for the parishes unless you not only provide a man with a parish but provide him with sufficient work for an energetic man to do, and with sufficient pay to prevent him being worn and harassed by perpetual financial embarrassment. In case after case all over the country you cannot really get the best out of a man by giving him full work and relieving him from the harassing embarrassment of financial anxiety, unless you combine certain benefices together. The result of such combination is that it does ensure that the men who are entrusted with the cure of souls have enough work to call out the best that is in them and put it at the disposal of their people.

Once again it is a question of the distribution of the available man-power. How can we justify the existence at the present time of great parishes, especially in the north of England, consisting of 10,000, 15,000 or even 20,000 people, where the incumbent is working single-handed, while in other parts of the country, particularly in the south and west, you have clergy crowded into a short space, within a mile or so of one another, and dealing only with the most exiguous population? It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord has said, that these unions, rendered necessary by the conditions of the time in which we are living, are not always popular with the people concerned. I have had to deal with a great number of them and I would say that I always meet the churchwardens and others who are full of objections to these proposals by saying to them quite genuinely: "If I were you, if I lived in your village, if I had the traditional estimate which you have of the village next door to you, I should be entirely upon your side. Your view is necessarily local and parochial and has the characteristics of the local and parochial point of view." But I go on to say: "I venture to think that if you were in my place and had to deal with these matters from the point of view of the interest of the whole Church, and of its spiritual needs rather than the purely neighbourly views of two respective parishes, you would agree with me." And very often I am able to persuade perhaps more effectually than Commissions are able to persuade those who are objecting.

But I want to say, while showing my respect for the noble Viscount and for the able way in which he put the matter, that we cannot go back upon this question, provided it is properly guarded, of endeavouring where it is reasonable and possible to secure a better distribution of our man-power in order that the parochial system of the Church of England may be sustained and not go to pieces under the exigencies of the present time. That is usually done, as you know, by the union of the benefices permanently. But this other method of a temporary union by plurality under certain conditions is always open. The proceedings are very simple. A proposal is made through the Bishop to the Archbishop of Canterbury for a dispensation permitting a plurality. It is a right, as I may remind your Lordships, which belongs to my office by legislative inheritance from His Holiness the Pope, who exercised these eights for many centuries until the sixteenth century. I do not think any quarrel has been made with the provision in this Measure for extending the existing procedure in regard to pluralities by merely altering the limit of one benefice from £200 to £400.

It has been found in the course of proceedings under the Union of Benefices Measure that there is often a very great preference on the part of parishioners for a temporary union by way of plurality rather than for a permanent union of the two benefices. It is on the basis of that experience that this Measure comes before your Lordships' House and has attracted the amount of attention which it is attracting now. It has been found by these Commissions very frequently and for many reasons, oven apart from the preference of the parishioners, that it would be better to have a temporary plurality than a permanent union. When the Union of Benefices Commission is working it is not limited by any of the restraints which are put by law upon pluralities. It can, if it likes, consider the possibility of uniting two or more benefices or of setting aside the limits of population or of income. What is desired now is that if it is thought well that the combination of the parishes shall be temporary rather than permanent, the report of the Commissioners should not be bound in that case by restrictions which are not imposed upon it if it proposes a permanent union.

The noble and learned Lord drew a most terrifying picture of the possibility, under the Measure, of the whole of the benefices in the London Diocese being united under a single incumbent, even for a time, but there are cases in regard to all legislation where you only have to say that it will not work if the world goes mad, and that is all that can be said about the noble and learned Lord's terrifying picture. Nobody in his senses is likely, after examining the whole matter carefully on the spot, after having had it sifted by a responsible Commission, after having had it considered by the Ecclesiastical Commission, and, if I may humbly say so, in the case of plurality, after having been considered by a presumably sane Archbishop of Canterbury—nobody in his senses is likely to bring about the enormities of which the noble and learned Lord has spoken.

I fully acknowledge his point that when an extension of the permission for pluralities is given the rights of the parishioners ought to be very specially and carefully safeguarded. That is what the Measure has sought to do, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Sel- borne. In point of fact, the safeguards are really very considerable. There must be established a prima facie case for some combination of the parishes before a Commission will be appointed under the process which is permitted by the Union of Benefices Measure. After that prima facie case has been established, the Commission meets on the spot, and hears every kind of local inquiry. Anyone can give evidence. The evidence is not restricted to the parochial church council or to the patron. Any parishioner can claim the right to give his evidence. Therefore there is ample opportunity for the parishioners to be heard. Not only is that so, but on the Commission responsible for the report there is a representative of the parochial church council and of the patron combined, the two interests most specially concerned with the particular parish. But that is not all. In the case of proceedings on pluralities, there is further the necessity of the patron himself giving his approval, which is not required in the case of a permanent union, and the approval of the Bishop and ultimately of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is perfectly true, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out, that if you are having a permanent union of benefices there is still an appeal on the part of any parishioner to the King in Council to be heard by the Judicial Committee. That is true, but such an appeal, in the case of plurality, has never been in the hands of the parishioners. There is an appeal under the present process from the clerk against the Archbishop if be withholds the dispensation for plurality, but there has never been an appeal from the parishioners in the case of pluralities. They have no locus standi at all, and it is because the limit and range of plurality is being extended under this Measure that these further safeguards are given to the parishioners, and a locus standi is furnished to them which they never had before. And the only reason why an appeal to the Judicial Committee in these cases is not confirmed—it is not taken away because they never had it—is that it seemed to be really unnecessary that there should be an elaborate appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to consider what is, after all, a temporary provision, lasting during the lifetime of the incumbent.

If I may add one further word, do not forget that the origin of this Measure is due to the experience in these Union of Benefices Commissions that this is the course which is most often approved by the parishioners rather than any form of permanent union. The Ecclesiastical Committee has explained its procedure through the mouth of its Chairman. The noble Viscount said its Report was very unenthusiastic. The Ecclesiastical Committee does not indulge in enthusiasm in the Reports which it submits to this House, and I hope it never will. What the Report does show by its guarded language is precisely that all the points which have been, if I may say so, so ably put by the noble and learned Lord were considered in the Ecclesiastical Committee, and that, having considered them, the Committee came to the conclusion, as the advisers of the House, that none of the constitutional rights upon which the noble and learned Lord dwelt were really affected by this Measure. I should not have spoken at this length if it had not seemed to me to be only right that I should show this respect to the able speeches made by the noble Viscount and the noble and learned Lord, and I hope, after the explanation given, that your Lordships will be pleased to permit this Measure to go forward for the Royal Assent.

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