HL Deb 22 July 1941 vol 119 cc912-6

THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON moved to resolve. That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Diocesan Reorganisation Committees Measure, 1941, be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name, I must give a brief account of the Measure to which it refers. Last week your Lordships were discussing the problems of reconstruction, and the Minister of Works and Buildings said, among other things, that damaged areas must be re-planned as a whole, that the planning must begin now, that there must be planning control, and that the future carrying out of plans must not be prejudiced by intermediate uncontrolled action. The Measure applies those precise principles to the particular problem which confronts the Church by reason of the extensive destruction which has been done to churches and other ecclesiastical property.

I need not enlarge upon that problem. In London and other great cities, there are whole districts in which hardly a church remains untouched. It is neither possible nor desirable that every destroyed church should be rebuilt just as it was and where it was. Conditions have changed, old needs have disappeared, new needs have been created, and in many parts of our great cities there were before the war too many separate parishes and too many churches. It is clear that where there has been destruction there must be consideration of these areas as a whole and a considered policy before rebuilding is begun. That would be so in any case, but it is made even more necessary by the passing of the War Damage Act. Under Section 39 of that Act, in respect of buildings used for charitable or ecclesiastical purposes the payment by way of compensation is entirely at the discretion of the War Damage Commission. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said on the Second Reading that in the case of religious bodies it might be possible to provide payments by way of compensation which need not be applied for replacing exactly what had been destroyed or for rebuilding on the same site. He was clearly thinking, as the Chairman of the War Damage Commission is now thinking, not in terms of separate isolated claims made by parish after parish, but in terms of claims correlated in a general rebuilding plan for a particular area. It follows that there must be in each diocese a responsible and authorised body which can survey separate parochial claims, see them in relation to one another and to a general plan, and deal on behalf of all the parishes with the War Damage Commission.

Accordingly, this Measure provides that in every diocese there shall be a diocesan reorganisation committee with two main functions. The first—I put it generally—is to act on behalf of the parishes in presenting and negotiating claims for compensation, in receiving payments made by the War Damage Commission and in allocating such payments, after consultation with the parishes and subject to any conditions made by the War Damage Commission. The second function is to do the planning which is necessary preliminary to the negotiation of such claims. These committees arc charged with the duty' of making recommendations in respect of what I may call reconstruction areas for the rearrangement of pastoral supervision, including recommendations for the alteration of parochial boundaries, the holding of benefices in plurality, the union and disunion of benefices, the re-allocation of endowments and so forth. That may sound a large order, but there is no kind of doubt that in many damaged and devastated areas the replanning will have to be very extensive and thorough.

I would ask your Lordships, however, to note two things. The first is that in making recommendations, these committees must by the Measure consult as far as possible with the incumbents, patrons and parochial church councils of the parishes concerned. Secondly, these committees have power only to recommend. So far as this Measure goes, their recommendations can be put into effect only by using the existing machinery of the Union of Benefices Measures, and so forth, with the multiplicity of safeguards which that machinery contains. It may well be that the Church Assembly will later on be moved to invent some more expeditious machinery for use in these devastated areas, so that they may be set going on their reorganised plan as rapidly as possible after the war; but so far as this Measure goes, there are no new powers of that kind at all. The Measure gives power only to plan and to recommend.

To that I must add one exception. The Measure does give power in certain cases to delay action for the time being. Lord Reith's principle that the future carrying out of plans must not be prejudiced by intermediate action applies very strongly here. The reorganisation of devastated areas from the Church point of view would be prejudiced if in the meantime, and outside any considered plan, destroyed churches were to be rebuilt by private enterprise or fresh freeholds were to be created. The Measure therefore provides that, if a committee recommends that a damaged church shall not be restored pending further consideration, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners may, at the request of the Bishop, make an order deferring the restoration of that church for a period not exceeding five years, and while the order is in force the church shall not be restored without the consent of the Bishop. Similarly, if where such an order has been issued the living falls vacant, no presentation of a clerk to fill the benefice shall be made without the consent of the Bishop for a term of five years from the date of the Measure. There are similar provisions about the rebuilding of parsonage houses. It will be seen that this power of delay—that is to say, the power to delay for five years in certain areas the rebuilding of a church, or the creation of a fresh freehold by appointing a fresh incumbent to a vacant living—is necessary to keep the way clear for such reorganisation and replanning as may in the end be decided upon; but those delaying provisions are entirely temporary and do not extend beyond that period of five years.

That, I think, covers the main provisions of the Measure. I hope it may be agreed that it is a wise and necessary Measure, and that we are doing in regard to Church property what must be done on a wider scale for the nation as a whole. I need only add that in the Church Assembly the necessity for such a Measure was at once recognised, that it was passed through all its stages in one session as a matter of the greatest urgency, that the points of criticism were, I think I may say, all met by agreed amendments between the movers of the Measure and the critics, and that in the end the Measure received final approval with no dissentient voice at all. The Ecclesiastical Committee regards the Measure as expedient, and is of opinion that it should become law. I therefore beg to move the Motion which stands in my name.

Moved to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Diocesan Reorganisation Committees Measure, 1941, be presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Bishop of London.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.