HL Deb 04 December 1952 vol 179 cc785-813

4.28 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I have been giving you, I hope at not too great length, some personal associations with the area concerning which I am speaking to-day. I want also to explain that I have to move this Motion in this way because there was no alternative to the process of laying a Scheme before Parliament as soon as it was ready; and not until then could recourse to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council be applied for. It meant that unless we raised the matter now in this House we should have had no opportunity of debating it until the decision had been made in the Judicial Committee, for the Parliamentary period of two calendar months would have expired while we were awaiting the decision of the Privy Council. There was no alternative.

I am particularly interested in Christ Church. It has a great history in its comparatively short life. It was built in the 'eighties of last century. It has a rather noble interior, especially if it were decorated properly. It has a very good Sunday school, with hundreds of children, a fine men's Bible class, a Girls' Friendly Society branch, a youth organisation, and the like. That was all done under good broad teaching of the Protestant type. But there is a sad story about it. There was appointed to this church, I think under some misapprehension of the then patron, who knew the Protestant tradition of the church, a clergyman who at once proceeded, apparently, to introduce very high—Anglo-Catholic, I think they are called—practices, many of which I believe are quite illegal. It was because this case was in my mind that I listened with particular interest to Her Gracious Majesty at the recent State Opening of Parliament. Her Majesty charmed all who were present by the way she took the Oath, the vow to maintain the Protestant faith. The Lord Chancellor carried the Oath, knelt and presented it, and it was delivered here in this House. But I must say that, in the case of Christ Church, Barton Hill, the results of this adoption of these anti-Protestant practices led to disaster, both in church membership and in all its institutions. They just disappeared. In consequence, the people of the whole neighbourhood were out of touch with the Church.

On the other hand, in raising this matter before your Lordships, I have to look at it from the point of view that there is still a very considerable population in the parish of Christ Church. The latest figure I should estimate at approximately 3,000. There are, perhaps, 100, 200 or 300 fewer in the parish of St. Lawrence. I feel that, if possible, before a church is destroyed, or churches are destroyed (and that is what I am praying against), we ought to make quite sure that the proper purpose of the Union of Benefices Measure is being fulfilled—that is, that although there may be quite necessary reorganisation and reconstruction, there will still be sufficient provision for what are so often referred to as the proper spiritual ministrations.

I myself have been down to the church and have already seen great changes taking place since the authority of the patron was restored by the Lord Bishop of Bristol. Here I would say to the Lord Bishop of Bristol how grateful I am to him for his courtesy in meeting me and discussing the matter some five or six months ago. I am greatly obliged to him for the way in which he approached the whole question. I have since been to Christ Church, I have met the people themselves and I have discussed the question with them—and they are a fine lot of people, struggling against adversity. I have been to a service with them. This is a church which seven years ago had practically no attendance. They were faced with a building which had been allowed to be completely neglected. Great holes were there in the roof. Seven years ago no provision was made for anything at all. What the people told me about the state of the church is almost indescribable.

But now, by their own efforts, and by the efforts of the patron of the living—that is, the Vicar of St. Luke's, who has put the whole of his stipend, with great good will, into the restoration of the church and the cause—much has been done. The church has been repaired. A lot more could be spent on decoration, but it is repaired. I saw a congregation of 120 people on a pouring wet Sabbath. I listened to a beautiful and dignified musical service from the church choir. It was very good. As an ex-First Lord of the Admiralty, I was pleased to find in that working-class area the choir being conducted by an ex-bandsman of the Royal Marines as well as the Precentor of Westminster Abbey conducts the choir there. I talked to the people on the church council and to the general congregation. They are a fine lot of working-class people: policemen, railwaymen, two or three war widows, the manager of a grocer's shop, shop assistants, all of them in the weekly wage-earner class, and solid enough in their belief in family religion to want to keep their church and to be able to worship in it, as they put it to me, "in the Protestant Faith," as they are entitled to do by law.

I am bound to say, in the presence of the right reverend Prelates, that these people feel that, however they may have failed or erred in the presentation of their case, in their condition they are almost helpless against this wealth of clerical machinery which is set up in the Church Statutes—the Union of Benefices Measures and the like—although they are capable of maintaining, and are willing to maintain, their church. I advised them personally in discussing the matter, and with the great support of the patron, that in dealing with these difficulties the Church of England must be free to reorganise. But, in view of the detailed proposals that were made and the populations that were left, it would be reasonable to say: "Let one of the two churches, Christ Church or St. Lawrence, be maintained." They were quite willing. The suggestion was put to the St. Lawrence folk, a very good folk indeed, but as their patron had already agreed it was no longer possible for them to do that; so they had to pursue, as they will pursue, their own objection before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I mention this matter only because I want to show the good faith of the people concerned, good church people who are quite willing to unite in one of the two churches. Even with their present populations, it would cater for a population of about 5,800.

What is going to happen under this Scheme? What is going to happen is clearly set out in its provisions. Here I may say I am indebted to the staff of the House for allowing me to-day to have a copy of it when I asked for it. The Scheme is going to arrange for the destruction or the sale of the site value of the church of Christ Church and of the vicarage; and the funds are then to be applied in two ways. The first is to increase the resources of Holy Trinity Church, which is about a mile from Christ Church and has seating accommodation for a population of between 7,000 and 10,000 (I am not quite sure of the actual figure), by £51 per annum. The rest of the money is to be devoted to the general purposes of the Church of England, Pastoral and Union of Benefices Measures—general purposes with which, of course, I have no quarrel at all.

I beg your Lordships to remember the facts. It is proposed to take two-thirds of the parish of St. Lawrence and put it into St. Gabriel's, and to include the remaining one-third in the parish of Holy Trinity. It is proposed to increase the Holy Trinity stipend or other funds by £51, taken from the people of Christ Church—and all the time 150 yards from Holy Trinity Church is the site, the resting place and the practice of St. Jude's Church, a high Anglo-Catholic church from which a curate recently transferred his allegiance from the English to the Roman Church. Here is an area which provides no population of any size at all for the maintenance of the church. The present total population of the parish is not above 350, and, as I say, it is only 150 yards from this other church. These other funds are now to be taken from Christ Church, but this church is to remain. This is a question of destruction of churches in this old City of Bristol, to which I owe so much, and I say, in the presence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, that he knows as well as I do how much we Bristolians owe to Bristol, and not least to his uncle the late Mr. J. H. Woodward, who, as the Chairman of the Bristol School Board some fifty-three or fifty-four years ago, was a sort of father in God to me.

Looking at the other proposals, I find a good many things with which to find fault—things that ought to be considered before you rob the working people of Christ Church and St. Lawrence parishes of their rights to have in the church in which they desire to worship the facilities and amenities which they at present owe to those who work hard for and subscribe to those churches. My poor old grandfather, a working; labourer, was a parishioner of St. Luke's. He was a Sunday school teacher there before Christ Church was built. He collected from house to house, week by week, month by month, for the erection of these buildings in the area of the parish in which he then lived. These things do not all come from endowments. To-day, in spite of my awkward, consciencious and Non-comformist views, I still pay nearly sixty pounds a year tithe to the Church of England. I know the history of the measures concerned with tithe. I know that we are paying compensation to the Church of England for the loss of their rights under the tithe legislation. The charge is upon me, but although a Non-comformist, I have never grumbled at it, provided it went towards efficient and adequate accommodation, so that Her Majesty's Oath in the Protestant Faith may be properly maintained and provided for. As a Non-comformist I should never hesitate to pay my tithe where it concerns the loyal carrying out of the Oath and the loyal preservation of the Protestant Faith.

Now let me take the populations of the other parishes. There is a very well attended church, with a minister—not a personal friend of mine, but one whom I know well and of whom I think highly, namely, the Reverend Mervyn Stockwood. The church is St. Matthew's, where there is a population of 14,000. It is contiguous to Christ Church parish—I shall be glad to be corrected if I am wrong.


I have the figures here. The population of St. Matthew's is 976.


I should say that that is a wholly inadequate estimate of the present figures. That is a very old figure which I do not accept for a moment. I am sure it is given in all good faith, but I think it is an old figure. I might point out that you are going to destroy Christ Church, with its 600 sittings and its very large population, for a parish contiguous to it with accommodation for little more than 300. I think it has been rightly claimed that it would be useful to detach a small portion of that parish and put it into St. Luke's or Christ Church, and make it even more workable still. With regard to the church of St. Lawrence, you are taking the great step of destroying a building occupying one of the most prominent positions of any church in Bristol, East—it is on the main Bristol to London road, on the Chippenham route. It is a very valuable site and it has, I think, nearly 600 seats. Two-thirds of it are being transferred to St. Gabriel's, which will bring that parish up to 600 to 1,000 or more, and the accommodation in the church is very much less than that at St. Lawrence's.

The manner in which the decisions are arrived at does not appeal to my sense of logic. If you take the reorganisation proposals for the centre of Bristol you will find that the same extraordinary things are happening. I have living at Clifton a sister whom I visit from time to time. I keep in touch with the neighbourhood. It was a sad sight to see the ruins of All Saints' Church, Clifton. I understand, however, that plans are afoot to rebuild that church. It will be the restoration of a church in the High Anglican tradition. I read with great interest a Bristol evening paper which was sent to me the other day and which contained the report of a brief interview with the Lord Bishop of Bristol. I appreciate a number of the points and difficulties which he there advanced and which the church has to counter—difficulties regarding the recruitment of clergy, and so on. He makes reference in that Press report to difficulties as between Protestant and Catholic traditional churches within the Church of England, and hopes that fairness is being exercised, but I am bound to say that we in our part of the City do not feel that such fairness is very apparent.

At any rate, if the plans go forward for the building of All Saints' Church, one more cross will be added to the burdens which the parishioners of Christ Church and St. Lawrence's have to bear. They have a fine church which I have attended from time to time and which provides excellent accommodation, as the present population of All Saints' is estimated at about 1,700. They have all kinds of amenities which are not otherwise available in these working-class districts. There are churches like St. Nicholas in the City, where services are still being carried on but only in the crypt. Surely it ought not to be necessary to take these drastic steps in this working-class area.

Now I will concede this to the people who have been engaged in the reorganisation of Bristol. From time to time all sorts of suggestions have been made about how the church reorganisation procedure would be affected by town planning, the movement of the population and the like. Of course, in all such matters it is essential that local and church authorities should keep in touch. I have been unable to discover, however, that any progress at all has been made towards reducing the number of parishioners in either St. Lawrence or Christ Church parishes. In fact, in the neighbouring parish of St. Luke's, which is the patron or Mother Church of Christ Church, they are contemplating the erection under the Town Planning Scheme of large numbers of flats, having tumbled to the idea, which some of us have advocated for a long time, that to provide good, healthy housing facilities which will enable a man to get to work without paying 10s. or 15s. a week in fares is a very good plan indeed. But there is no sign that there is to be any reduction of population in the Christ Church and St. Luke's area, or any good prospects that the accommodation will be maintained and improved.

If necessary, I could speak at much greater length on this matter, but I want to beg the Church authorities to try again. It is a pretty hard job to ask these working people to put their case over to a Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The normal way of proceeding is to brief counsel. I am perfectly well aware that they are able to appear in person, but that is a pretty tough job, and I do not suppose that they would be opposed only by clergymen. I should imagine that the people who are upholding official decisions will probably be very well represented legally. I should like to know that a lot of thought will be given to this matter with a view to ascertaining whether there cannot be a reasonable compromise. I should like also to hear the authorities of one of the churches say that it is essential, whichever church is saved, that the fine building in the Christ Church parish, which can be improved still further, giving a top and a bottom hall for Sunday school and general parish use, shall be maintained—and I think it will be maintained—and used for either parish.

I was much interested in a particular passage in the speech made by the Lord Bishop of Bristol at his Press conference. He said one or two things that I think were justified. He had something to say about faith being a very desirable thing, and he said that responsibility also ought to be maintained. I hope it will be recognised that responsibility has been shown by the parishioners of Christ Church. They have done a good job in the last six years, and done it in the teeth of difficulties. They have done it after being kept in complete uncertainty the whole time as to what was going to be done with them. They have done it after years of struggle, during which their building was always, so to speak, under sentence of death. In view of the way in which they have worked to bring the place to its present state, and with promises of advancement in the future, they are worthy of consideration. I think that more thought ought to be given to this matter before it goes to the Privy Council. That is why I have submitted this Motion. I feel so strongly about it that though I cannot possibly perform with the efficiency of learned counsel, if there is no other means of assisting the case presented to the Judicial Committee and if there is nothing to prevent my doing so, I will go there myself with the poor working-class people or their Member of Parliament and do what I can. Is there anything to prevent my doing that? Will the Church tell me? I am quite willing to take that course so that the case of these people may be heard, and heard effectively.

My Lords, I feel that the issues raised here are big ones, although the matter may seem to some people to be comparatively small. When I think what I owe to the Church of England (which I left as a young man) when I think what I owe to her as a Church; when I think what the Protestant preaching of the Word meant to me as a youth and how it kept me straight, then all the more strongly do I want to see some provision made for the people of that district now. It seems to me that that is what you are failing to do. That would be my answer to the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Bristol whose very reasonable references both to faith and responsibility I have mentioned. I would suggest to right reverend Prelates who are interested in this matter that they should read again Psalm LXXVII and see what it says at the beginning about despair. I implore them to recognise that, with trust in Divine guidance and the power which arises from sufficient faith, miracles may be worked, so that they can have their expansion in the suburbs and at the same time see that the facilities for worship by the working-class populations are maintained. If you have both faith and responsibility, this may be brought about. Will you do it? It is worth while. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That the Scheme for effecting the union of the benefices and parishes of Barton Hill, Saint Luke, and Barton Hill, Christ Church, in the diocese of Bristol, and for authorising the demolition and sale of the site and materials of Christ Church, Barton Hill, which was laid before Parliament on the 4th November, 1952, be not submitted to Her Majesty in Council.—(Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough.)

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I think you will agree that the noble Viscount who has moved this Motion has covered a rather wide field. He has not confined his attention to the question of the demolition of Christ Church, nor indeed to the whole union Scheme in which the demolition of Christ Church is included. He has gone on to consider another Scheme for the union of benefices of St. Lawrence and St. Gabriel. He has gone, indeed, still further, and considered the whole scheme of parochial reorganisation within the Diocese of Bristol. He has raised—I think I heard faint rumours of it—the old "No Popery" cry. We seem to have got rather a long way from what I understood was the subject to be brought before us to-day. I shall clearly have to approach it from a somewhat different standpoint. I have no personal contact with Christ Church, Barton Hill, as he has. I have no personal contact with the Diocese of Bristol. I will, before I finish, answer the question which the noble Viscount asked about bringing the matter before the Privy Council.

I should like first, however, to remind your Lordships what is the exact position in regard to the consideration of schemes of union of benefices by this House. I think I am right in saying that this is the first occasion on which any scheme for the union of benefices has been discussed in your Lordships' House. Normally, the procedure, as laid down by Parliament when Parliament gave approval to the Union of Benefices Measure, 1923, is that when a scheme has been approved by the Church Commissioners it is submitted to the Privy Council, and if no objection is urged then an Order in Council is issued creating the union. If any objection is urged the matter goes to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for consideration, and the Judicial Committee may then advise Her Majesty either to approve or dismiss the scheme, or to refer it back to the Commissioners for further consideration. That is the normal procedure as provided for by the will of Parliament when the Union of Benefices Measure was passed in 1923. Parliament does not come into the picture at all. I will, in a moment, give a reason or two to show why, in my judgment, it is not really profitable for these complicated issues to be discussed in Parliament, and it was, apparently, the will of Parliament when the Union of Benefices Measures was passed that they should not be.

There is, however, a particular provision in the Measure which directs that no scheme which includes a proposal for the demolition of a church shall go to the Privy Council until it has been laid before Parliament for two months. It is because this Scheme includes a proposal for the demolition of a church that the noble Viscount is able to bring his Motion before the House. If the Scheme had provided merely that the other church—St. Luke's—should be designated as a parish church, leaving Christ Church a chapel of ease, the Bishop would have had absolute and complete discretion to close that church if he had wished, without consulting anyone, and the matter would not have come before Parliament. I have not been able to discover why this particular regulation was inserted in the Union of Benefices Measure. Unions of benefices, then, normally do not come before Parliament, but they do, or may, come if there is any proposal for the demolition of a church. I think it is right to infer that when the Union of Benefices Measure was approved by Parliament it was recognised that Parliament is not concerned, and does not wish to be concerned, with all the complicated domestic arrangements which are necessary in any process for the reorganisation of pastoral spheres of work in the diocese. But Parliament is very much concerned if there is any question of the demolition of an ancient church of architectural or historical value.

I venture to suggest that in this case the question does not arise. As the noble Viscount has pointed out, Christ Church is a comparatively modern church, built in 1883. I have not seen it, but I am told that it is not of any great architectural importance.


My Lords, it may not be a picture of great architecture outside, but anybody who appreciates the true lines of English architecture and sees the inside of the church, with its gracious arches carrying the roofs of the two aisles, would love it, and would never forget its architecture.


I accept the noble Viscount's correction, but to those who advise me it is not a church of architectural interest. They do not have that love of the church which the noble Lord has. I think also that the church is not of any great historic value. It has great value to the noble Viscount, in that he was baptised there, but I do not think that one would necessarily say the fact that he was baptised there was by itself a necessity for preserving the church, if there were other grounds for demolishing it. In considering this question of demolition, it is worth noting that, if this church were demolished, there is no parishioner in that parish who would be more than half a mile distant from four other churches. I believe I am also right in saying that the demolition of the church would fit in with the plans of local authorities.

I now want to come to one point that I wish to submit to your Lordships. In moving this Motion, the noble Viscount is, in effect, asking your Lordships to constitute yourselves as a sort of court of appeal against what has been recommended by the diocesan authorities, after the most careful consideration, and subsequently approved by the Church Commissioners, after immense care and after consideration of all possible objections. The noble Viscount is asking you to decide (and if your Lordships have listened to his speech, you will know how many complicated issues are involved) that the Scheme must not go forward. He asks you to turn it down. I venture to ask your Lordships not to approve this Motion. I am certainly not asking you to approve the Scheme. I have not the knowledge of it which would justify my approving it, and certainly your Lordships have not that knowledge. All I am asking you to say is that you are quite willing to allow this Scheme, drawn up so carefully and approved by the Church Commissioners, to go to the Privy Council and, if your Lordships so desire, to the Judicial Committee, in accordance with the normal procedure which is laid down in the Union of Benefices Measure, which has already been approved by Parliament

With regard to the appeal to the Judicial Committee, perhaps I should explain that it is not necessarily a costly business. If an appeal is made to the Judicial Committee, the Church Commissioners will meet all their own charges, whether they win or lose; and if they win, they will not claim costs from the Petitioners. If the matter goes to the Judicial Committee there is no reason whatever why counsel should be employed. It is perfectly permissible for petitioners to appear in person, and they frequently do. Indeed, I heard not very long ago that an aggrieved patron presented his appeal in person to the Privy Council and won his case. If your Lordships allow this scheme to go forward to the Judicial Committee, the Petitioners will be able to appear. And may I venture to say here that they would be wise to ask the noble Viscount who has moved this Motion to go as one of their representatives to put forward their point of view. I can well see that the noble Viscount feels deeply about this whole matter. I cannot help feeling great sympathy for him, and if he went before the Judicial Committee I should not be at all surprised if he did not make an even stronger appeal to those who will determine the issue than he has done this afternoon.

I am not going to try to deal with the particular points which the noble Viscount has raised. I have not the knowledge to do so. And I venture to say to your Lordships that you have not a sufficient knowledge of all the facts in regard to this Scheme, or in regard to any of the other schemes which the noble Viscount has mentioned, to judge fairly. But my right reverend friend the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, formerly the Bishop of Bristol, is willing to deal with some of the many points which the noble Viscount has raised. I think that, before deciding to accept this Motion and turning down this Scheme, your Lordships ought to be willing to receive a good deal more information than you have. I am afraid that my right reverend friend would weary you beyond endurance if he tried to put before you all the facts of which account ought to be taken—about the areas of parishes and their populations, the size and positions of churches, the type of churchmanship and so on. I am sure that your Lordships have neither the time nor the desire to consider all this mass of detail. Nor should any noble Lord attempt to pass judgment on any scheme of union unless he has a full knowledge of the tremendously difficult problem which the Church is having to face to-day in regard to the organisation of our parochial life. I do not think the noble Viscount really understands the position in which we find ourselves to-day.

I should like the House to bear with me for a few moments while I suggest what is the problem in relation to which all these schemes for the union of benefices must be considered. There is an immense shortage of clergy to-day. There are 6,000 to 7,000 fewer clergy engaged in parochial work now than thirty years ago, and during this period a very large number of new parishes or conventional districts have come into being on the outskirts of large towns, where there are new housing areas, with populations of 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000. The Church has made a valiant struggle to build new churches or mission halls or hall churches in all these areas. It says a great deal for the vitality of the Church of England that we have achieved so much as we have done these last few years.

Lest any should suppose, because of this proposed demolition of two or three churches in Bristol, that that diocese is adopting a defeatist policy, may I tell your Lordships that within the last thirty years twenty new churches or mission churches have been built, at a cost of rather more than £270,000. That may seem nothing to your Lordships, accustomed to global figures and to dealing with the bottomless purse of the National Exchequer; but for Church people in this diocese to raise £270,000 for building new churches shows that the diocesan authorities are not adopting a defeatist policy and are concerned with the developing and strengthening of Church life throughout the diocese.

The position to-day is that there are far more parishes to be dealt with, but far fewer clergy. As a result, it is impossible any longer for every parish to have a clergyman of its own: there simply are not enough clergy to go round. On the other hand, in the large towns, where the population has gone out to new areas, there are a large number of old parishes from which people have almost entirely disappeared, and there are some country parishes with tiny populations. The Church authorities in every diocese have worked along what they believe to be the right lines. We have had to take the view that wherever there is a parish with a small population, that parish must be prepared to share its parson with the neighbouring parish, so that we shall have men to send to the places where they are needed. So it was that the Parochial Reorganisation Measure was passed. I had the honour of presenting that Measure to your Lordships' House some little time ago, and that lays down—I want to stress this—that in every diocese there shall be a planning committee which is to make a survey of the diocese, taking into account all the resources of money and manpower, and finding how the best possible provision can be made for the working of the Church in the diocese as a whole—and that does mean unions of benefices. The Parochial Reorganisation Measure provided the machinery for that purpose.

Of course, there is local opposition. You can never propose a plurality or union, or the demolition of a church, without finding that there is local oppo- sition. I am bound to say that, in my experience, it usually happens that when the whole background is explained, parochial church councils, if they do not welcome it, will at any rate acquiese in what is proposed as an inevitable necessity. The scheme under consideration to-day deals with just one part of the whole problem in Bristol. In that diocese there are 150,000 people in new housing areas, and only eight clergymen can be found to minister to them. We have to find the men and the money. In the area with which, mainly but not exclusively, the noble Viscount has dealt, there are eight parishes, each with a parish church entitled to a separate incumbent, to administer to a total population of 35,000, which will shortly be reduced to 25,000. Thus in the new housing areas of Bristol you have eight clergymen ministering to 150,000 people, and in the area under discussion to-day eight clergymen ministering to 25,000 people. Surely something must be done about it. We should have plenty of critics if we just sat still and said, "We cannot help it." In those two particular benefices, Christ Church and St. Lawrence, the population is under 6,000 (I think the noble Viscount gave an even lower figure than that), and it is a compact area. There are two churches and two clergymen. I venture to say that, in view of the whole problem, we cannot afford two churches and two clergymen for so small a body of people. So far as I could understand the noble Viscount—it was not quite clear, because the noble Viscount talked about so many other things—the alternative proposal for that area, in which there are four parishes with, according to my figures, a total population of about 9,000, is that there should be three churches and three clergymen.

I come now to my last point. I venture to say that your Lordships are not really in a position to judge between me and the noble Viscount, or to judge between the Scheme which comes up from the Commissioners and the alternative scheme which the noble Viscount has suggested. I do not think your Lordships have the complete and full knowledge to be able to do that. How much better that the matter should go to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council! It seems to me that that is the best, the fairest and the most convenient procedure. If it goes to the Judicial Committee, full inquiry will be made by people who have all the relevant facts put before them, and the representatives of the various parties concerned can go and plead their case.

I should like to assure the noble Viscount, and your Lordships generally, on behalf of the Bishop of Bristol, on behalf of the Diocesan Planning Committee and on behalf of the Church Commissioners, that there is no desire in any way whatsoever to prevent the fullest possible examination of the whole Scheme in relation to the whole area and in relation to the whole scheme of diocesan planning. This is a most complicated issue to judge fairly, and on which to have a complete and full knowledge of all the facts. I do not believe that your Lordships have that knowledge. I do not believe that you are prepared to give the time to the consideration of it which you ought to be willing to give if you are to form a clear and right judgment. I am quite sure that your Lordships may be satisfied that the diocesan authorities and the Church Commissioners are no less anxious even than the noble Viscount himself to do what is best for the diocese as a whole. All of us who are engaged in Church administration deplore the necessity for these unions and pluralities, the breaking up of old associations and the pulling down of churches. But to us it seems that they are necessary if the Church is to accommodate itself to the new and extraordinarily difficult situation in which we find ourselves placed.

This Scheme, carefully thought out by the diocesan authorities and approved by the Commissioners after most careful examination, would, in the normal course of events, have gone direct to the Privy Council. It is only because there is this question of the demolition of the church that it comes to your Lordships at all. I would suggest that you allow the matter to go forward according to the normal procedure. I can assure your Lordships that, in my judgment at any rate, that is the best way in which you will ensure, for all these complicated issues which are involved, a full and well-balanced consideration, and certainly adequate safeguards will be provided for the presentation of objections by any interested parties.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I could wish that this Prayer had been moved in another place, when I should have been exonerated from the duty of saying anything and it would be in the hands of far more competent members of the family. But it has arisen here, and I should like to say at the outset that I was deeply moved by what my noble friend said and by the obvious sincerity and feeling behind his speech. He and I are both Dissenters. He is only a Baptist, but I am a Congregationalist, or what is called a Brownist—Oliver Cromwell's set.

This is a Parliamentary question, and it is from a Parliamentary angle that I want to consider it for just a few moments. We have spent a good deal of time in the last two or three weeks considering controls, regulations and various Bills giving statutory authority to regulations. We have found at every turn that we could not do our duty properly because we had no machinery for examining judicially the details of the issues involved. Therefore I would remind your Lordships that this matter (which is a very old public difficulty) was tackled thirty years ago by The Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, whereby in a short Act of Parliament—I think of about seven sections—the duty of ruling on these matters, subject to Parliamentary control at certain points, was handed over to the newly formed church body. The right time to have said, "This is the wrong thing to do" was then, and a certain number of people did do so. In this House Lord Haldane and Lord Birkenhead rallied thirty members of the House to vote against that Bill. In the House of Commons sixteen Members, of whom I was one, voted against the Bill. I am not sure that we had a good case, but at any rate that was the time to raise the issue.

Now the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act makes it possible for the Church Commissioners to lay before the House what are called Measures, and not Bills. In due course they laid a Measure called the Union of Benefices Measure, which dealt with one of the most difficult issues, as I understand it, which faced the organisation of the various dioceses. That was the union of benefices and the distribution of clergy-power—if that term is permissible—to the best possible advantage. That is comparable in a way to the re-allocation of electoral borders which your Lordships very well understand.

The Union of Benefices Measure was brought before this House in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919. Now we have a Parliamentary control over these Measures when they are laid before us. That Parliamentary control consists in a close examination by what is called the Ecclesiastical Committee, some of the members of which are appointed by this House and some by the House of Commons. What did the Ecclesiastical Committee say about this Union of Benefices Measure? They said: The object of the Measure is to set up permanent machinery for carrying into effect the policy long ago approved by Parliament providing for union of benefices where economy of endowment or manpower or other reasons make such unions desirable. So it is clear that the Measure did authorise such a Scheme as has been laid before Parliament. This Union of Benefices Measure provided for an Affirmative Resolution for the authorisation of certain Schemes. That road leads also to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and not to this House. There is not the least doubt, therefore, that from the point of view of a Parliamentary technician ray noble friend is mistaken in raising this point in the full House, because we ourselves—there was no Division against it—have handed the power to another authority.

He had one reason only, and that was that in this union it is provided that the church shall be pulled down; and for some reason, in the Union of Benefices Measure there is a subsection which says that in such a case the Scheme must be laid before Parliament. I do not know, and the right reverend Prelate says he does not know, why that subsection was there. In fact, it was carried forward textually from earlier Acts of Parliament of 1860. What the reason then was I have no idea; but in any case it provided my noble friend with an opportunity for making his case. We have to consider whether this is the right place to deal with the question. He raised an important issue: How would it be possible for this matter to be discussed by this House? I remember what happened in the old days, when Sir Robert Williams or Sir Edward Beauchamp, who were Members of the House of Commons and interested in church affairs, would come into the Whip's Room and say, "I have a Church Measure." The Whips would say, "Will it take long? Mr. So-and-so is interested; can you square him? "There were astute ecclesiastical leaders in the Commons who were able to "square" people, and sometimes they got the Bill through. But it was a very unsatisfactory way of carrying on Parliamentary control so far as it ought to be exercised in Church affairs.

The other day in this House the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, told us that we were passing a regulation of the meaning of which he had not the faintest idea. He asked the Lord Chancellor to explain it; but the Lord Chancellor replied with charm and courteous evasiveness—if that word be permissible—and I am afraid we got no information. It is not really tolerable, when the Houses of Parliament have voluntarily, and in this last case without a Division, confided these things to a proper delegated authority—for which we on this side are always asking—that we should attempt to discuss them in detail in this House. Your Lordships may ask: What is the remedy? What can my noble friend do? Well, these schemes go forward on objection to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; and every argument that the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, has put forward to-day he could repeat before the Judicial Committee. I invite him to do so, and I suggest that that would be the most practical, the most Parliamentary, the neatest and the most proper way of dealing with the issue.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that this will not be regarded as a family squabble or dispute between members of this Front Bench. I remember that years ago, when we were in our youth and arguing for Socialism, my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough and other people used to have it said to them, as I did, that Socialism would reduce people to a dull, dead uniformity. But in saying that, I think they have not reckoned with the Socialists, otherwise they would not have put forward an argument of that kind.

I quite agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, that Lord Alexander is deeply moved upon the issues which he has put before your Lordships this afternoon. But, if I may say so with all respect, to ground his case more or less on the issue as between the Protestant and the Anglo-Catholic outlook or Low and High Church—call it what you will—is to make a profound mistake. What is more, I believe that in so doing he is doing a profound disservice to the cause which we both have at heart. I should not have intervened but for the fact that for five years I was a member of the Church Estates Committee, which, on behalf of the Church Commissioners, examines such proposals as these before they come before the Church Commissioners as a whole. I want to assure my noble friend, with all the sincerity that I can command, that the most detailed examination is given to the issues involved, and the utmost care is taken to see that all interests and views are fully considered. Never in the whole course of my five years on that Committee have I heard the issue of High versus Low Church raised in any discussion. I say that to my noble friend, speaking out of the fullness of my knowledge of the work on behalf of the Committee in the capacity I have mentioned (a task which was given to me as a Member of the House of Commons).

Now I wish to suggest to my noble friend that he should allow this proposal to take its normal course and have the issues considered by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It is out of loyalty to my colleagues and the Church Commissioners that I venture to speak. I am sure my noble friend would not in any way desire to reflect upon the capacity of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to give a considered, just, and proper decision on the issues involved. As has already been pointed out, it is a pure accident that because there is the demolition of a church involved the matter comes before your Lordships this afternoon. Let me conclude by assuring my noble friend—when I use the word "friend" it is used in all sincerity, for we have known each other for more years than I care to remember—that never in my experience has the issue that he has raised been even remotely referred to in the work of the Church Commissioners, The decisions arrived at are not due to any doctrinal differences; whether right or wrong, they are based purely and simply on the merits of the case. I am not going, indeed I am not competent, to discuss the issues involved in this particular case; it would be wrong for me to attempt to do so. But even if I did know the issues I should not venture to bring them before you, because, obviously, the final court of appeal in this matter should be the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

I urge your Lordships to let the matter go forward, because I know from my experience that every possible consideration will be given by the Church Commissioners to any objection which the people concerned may like to put forward. There will be no attempt to handicap or harass them on financial grounds, as has already been explained by the right reverend Prelate who preceded me. I want to assure my noble friend that this case comes before us in this way by a pure accident, and that everything involved has been fully considered before it has been recommended for the consideration of the Privy Council, as laid down under the Measure. I urge the noble Viscount not to press this Motion any further this afternoon.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to say anything when I came here this afternoon, but I have been so much impressed by what has been said by the right reverend Prelate that I feel that at least one noble Lord on this side of the House should add his plea to that of the noble Lord, Lord Burden, in saying that I do not honestly feel that we are in any way competent to judge this matter, and that it should go forward to the Judicial Committee. I am a sailor and I generally navigate by a chart. I am sure that before the Privy Council will be on the walls large maps in colour of the areas concerned, so that the extent of these parishes and the location of the churches can be seen. We cannot even begin to picture it to-day so, without wasting any more of your Lordships' time, I should like to add my plea that this matter should go forward in the usual way.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to say that I know I have no qualification whatever for intervening in this debate, because I know nothing of the details of the matter that has come before us, but by a pure accident it has come before us and I feel that I cannot let it pass without saying a few words. I feel great sympathy with the speech of the noble Viscount who moved this Motion. Your Lordships have a perfect right to judge this on principle, if not on detail. I know that a great deal of change of opinion has come about since we passed the Union of Benefices Measure. I know that the matter of the shortage of clergy is now being dealt with principally by plurality, rather than otherwise. Here is a case where the problem should be tackled by plurality, rather than by abolishing a parish altogether. On that principle, I am going to support the noble Viscount and hope that we shall be able to maintain these parishes as they are now. It is a vexed question, but if I am asked to vote on it I shall vote with the noble Viscount.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for only a very short time. In fact, after what has been so admirably put before us by the right reverend Prelate, it is hardly necessary for me to say anything. It so happens that I was Bishop of Bristol for thirteen years, and still there are problems of this sort in that city, as in many other cities at this time—pressing problems which I think the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, rather overlooked. One important problem is, of course, how to make adequate spiritual provision for the whole of a great city, not only for the older areas diminished in population at the centre of the city but for the great, ever-expanding, rapidly growing new areas on the perimeter of the city. We have been told by the right reverend Prelate that there are 150,000 people living in new housing areas on the outskirts of Bristol.

When I was Bishop of Bristol, I knew perfectly well that sooner or later this matter of reorganisation would have to be faced. I also knew that the particular area which is being discussed this afternoon was the area which we should first have to consider, because it is quite unjustifiable, in my judgment, that with a population of about 20,000 people, diminishing within a few years to 15,000, there should be six fully equipped parishes, each with its own parson, each with its own church and church buildings, while in the great new housing areas there is not enough provision made. I am in no sense responsible for the schemes that have been brought before the Church Commissioners and accepted by them. So far as I can understand, my recollection of the whole business is that the schemes proposed by the Bishop of Bristol and the reorganisation committee are the best possible in the circumstances.

I would only support as earnestly as I can the pleas that have been made by more than one speaker this afternoon, that the noble Viscount should not press this matter to a Division. It is surely obvious that we in this House, without seeing, as Lord Gifford has said, the plans and details of population, the position of the churches and all the various details which have been considered month after month (I was going to say "year after year") by the reorganisation committee in Bristol, cannot come to a right conclusion merely after an hour or two's debate. It would be an injustice to the Church in Bristol that, after a couple of hours' debate here this afternoon, uninformed, as some of the speakers have said we are, we should approve a Motion which would destroy the work that they have been trying to build up. If that work is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed by those who, at their leisure and with all the facts before them, can consider judicially the points put before them.

There are one or two points arising out of the noble Viscount's speech to which I ought to refer, particularly with regard to Christ Church itself. He says that it is now a very flourishing church. Yes; the average Evensong congregation is about 100, The average Evensong congregation of St. Luke's Church, with which it is proposed to combine Christ Church, is about 150. It would make greatly for the strengthening of church life in Bristol if those two were merged. That is the conclusion to which the Vicar of St. Luke's, who is the patron of Christ Church, has come. At one time he was opposed to any suggestion of a union of the two benefices or the demolition of Christ Church, but I have before me a letter which he, Mr. Bevan, the Vicar of St. Luke's, with which Christ Church is to be amalgamated, wrote to the Bishop of Bristol in August of last year. He wrote: I hereby formally suspend my right to present to Christ Church, Barton Hill"— he gives up his right as patron— in view of the facts and figures put forward by the Report of your Commission and by the recommendations of the Reorganisation Committee. Whatever decisions you and they feel called upon to put forward will not receive any further opposition but will be accepted by me. Those who know how vehemently at one time Mr. Bevan was opposed to the schemes that were being put forward will realise that that is a very great change on his part; that he, knowing all the circumstances, is prepared to accept what has been decided upon by the pastoral committee and by the Church Commissioners.

I have one or two rather small points to deal with before I sit down. The noble Viscount spoke about one extremely Anglo-Catholic Church. It is quite true that there is the church of St. Jude, with a small population, one Anglo-Catholic church in all that area. The whole of the other churches in that area are what the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, would call "Protestant," but are what I should call "Evangelical." There is this one little church for those who desire a different form of church workship—and only one. While I was Bishop of Bristol, a church of that kind, an Anglo-Catholic church neighbouring on St. Jude's, was closed by my order and has since been demolished. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!

The only other point I want to deal with is this. I could not quite gather what Lord Alexander had in his mind in regard to the union of either Christ Church or St. Luke's and St. Lawrence's across the road. I would point out that for all practical purposes that is really impossible. There is a tremendously busy thoroughfare which runs right through the heart of East Bristol and which divides the two parishes and churches. Anyone who has done any parochial work knows perfectly well that a thoroughfare of this kind is just as effective in keeping people on one side or the other as is a river without any bridges.


May I just point out to the right reverend Prelate that in fact the proposals under the two Schemes mean that one-third of the St. Lawrence's population, which is on the same side of the road as Christ Church parish, is to be handed over to Holy Trinity, a church which is on the other side of the road. I do not quite understand the logic of that answer.


I have had all these papers put before me, but I have not been able to grasp them fully because I have not been connected with this Scheme all the time. Surely, if that is the answer of one who has had the papers before him all the time, it is even more applicable in regard to your Lordships' House. Finally, I should like to thank the noble Viscount very cordially for his charming reference to my uncle, who I believe gave him his first job in life. I appeal to him not to press this Motion to a Division. If he decides to do so, then I ask the House to divide against his Motion.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, it seems, at any rate, that the weight of the argument of those who have taken part gives me a very poor opportunity to look with confidence to the Division Lobby. In spite of the appeals of my noble friends on this side of the House, I shall not move one jot or tittle from the allegiance to the case I have submitted to your Lordships. If I do not proceed to a Division, it simply means that I have to keep the way open for the next stage in the fight, because on this matter there ought to be a fight. I have addressed myself in the main this afternoon to the representatives of this great national Church, to ask them to reconsider the matter and to try to come to a reasonable compromise.

I would say to the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of St. Edmunds-bury and Ipswich, that I know it is difficult for noble Lords who have had no opportunity of referring to these matters, except to look up in the Printed Paper Office of your Lordships' House a typewritten copy of the Scheme (that is the only provision that is made), to come to any judgment or to know about the detailed figures. It is astonishing to me that the right reverend Prelate who has replied for the Church should not know more about the details himself. He was exceedingly frank about it, and I pay tribute to him for his complete frankness. I say that, on the facts and figures as I know them—and I have inspected them and as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Gloucester knows, I know Bristol very well indeed—the figures will not bear examination in regard to some of the things which have been said. The suggestion of the Lord Bishop of Gloucester that the figures of population are to be revised by so much in xyears does not stand up any longer, because we have contacted the city planning authorities and they do not propose any such thing.


These figures are supplied by the civic authorities.


I am quite sure about what my contact has passed on to me. On the figures given to me, four parishes out of the five contain 16,000 population. There are four churches at present—St. Gabriel's, seating 380, St. Lawrence's, seating 600, St. Luke's, seating 500, and Christ Church, seating 650. It is proposed to destroy the two largest of those four, leaving a population of 16,000 with two churches, the total accommodation of which will be just over 800. That is a different picture altogether. If it is suggested that I am being remiss, or perhaps undiplomatic, in referring to the issue in this matter as between the Evangelicals (I like that term quite a lot) and high Anglo-Catholics, I must say that in all my discussions I found the Lord Bishop of Bristol very fair. But he says in his interview: In the first stage of the consideration or reorganisation proposals, the Committee was accused of being unfair to Evangelical churches. Now the reverse was being said. So apparently the issue was there. He said that he thought a pretty fair balance was being preserved, and he went on to say: Of the churches under consideration for amalgamation four were Evangelical, three Catholic by tradition, and he goes on to give some assurances to some of the churches. He had been exceedingly fair in all these things.

My complaint is, first, that we are going to extinguish, not what I claim to be a flourishing cause at the moment but a cause which is in the course of being resuscitated literally after having been killed by Anglo-Catholic practices. These brave people need support and they should have support. That is the first case that I make. The second case is that in regard to the decision to carry out any necessary reorganisation and union of benefices measures, which I agree have to be tackled, I would remind the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, that I admitted in my opening remarks that the matter has to be settled. All I ask is that you should have a little more faith in what can be done. I believe it can be done, but that you will not get out of your difficulties by leaving 4,000 or 5,000 of the poorest working-class people to be cared for by a plurality of ministry, with inadequate accommodation and insufficient provision of amenities. It is because I want a reconsideration of that question that I wanted the Church authorities to look again at the idea that we should amalgamate St. Lawrence's and Christ Church, and so destroy only one church and not two. I think it might very well be done.

Now as regards the other personal matter, I am much obliged to the right reverend Prelate for the way he put the question of the patron, the Reverend J. S. Bevan. I talked to the church people in the area about this matter. They knew about it. Of course, Mr. Bevan was in a poor state of health at the end of five years of deprivation of rights in regard to the matter. The church was first closed in 1945 or 1946, with no patronage rights allowed, and for five years a long struggle was carried on, until the Lord Bishop of Bristol, in open conference, reversed the decision and allowed the rights to be exercised. I think that was the reason for Mr. Bevan's health suffering and giving way. But, believe me, the people in the parish and in the church councils have no doubt where they stand in this matter. In the circumstances, I propose, if it meets with the view of the right reverend Prelates who have engaged in the debate, not to press the Motion to a Division. I do so, however, on the understanding that this matter will be considered. The people down there feel that they have not been sufficiently considered. In any case, I shall be free, as I understand from the right reverend Prelate who led for the Church in the matter, to accompany my friends if they want to go to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and state a case. If that is so, I shall then know where I am, and I will accept the plea that we in your Lordships' House are not sufficiently informed to come to a decision this evening.


My Lords, I will try to answer the noble Viscount's question, but it is a little difficult. I have consulted the representative of the Church Commissioners, who is here, and he says that he sees no reason why the noble Viscount should not go with the representatives of the parish, if they invite him to represent them as petitioner. I do not see any reason myself why the noble Viscount should not go; but I cannot tell him what the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council may say.


I am only making my claim. I am interpreting the usual practice to be that those who oppose before the time is up for sending in notice of opposition have the right to appear before the Judicial Committee. In one sense, at any rate, I have already opposed—I have opposed here in your Lordships' House. We shall see whether that puts me in order. If it does not, then I must try some other method.


Nothing would please me more than that the noble Viscount should go before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and say to the members of that body what he has said to this House. My only contention, with all due respect, was that your Lordships in this House were not really a competent body to act as a sort of appellate body or committee unless you were prepared to give a great deal more time than an hour and a half to considering all the complicated issues which are involved. The noble Viscount will have far more than an hour and a half to do whatever he wants to do if he appears before the Judicial Committee, and I very much hope that he will do so. There is nothing which I or any one else more desires than that a right, fair and proper decision shall be reached in regard to all these complicated matters. I am not ignorant of a number of matters which I did not deal with in my speech, as the noble Viscount rather seemed to suggest. I did not bring those matters to your Lordships' notice, because I did not want to weary the House with a mass of detail. I wanted to say only what I deemed was necessary in support of my submission that—your Lordships not having knowledge of all the details—the matter had better be left to the Privy Council.


I must compliment the right reverend Prelate on his diplomacy. No doubt he is a first rate diplomat. But for these poor people of whom I have been speaking these matters are much more difficult, and I want to see that they get a fair show. I shall go to the Judicial Committee, therefore, to help them—for I understand now that I have a right to do so. I now beg leave to withdraw my Motion, only repeating that I shall do my best to put a full and most detailed case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.