HL Deb 18 February 1964 vol 255 cc761-3

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion, which also stands in my name. By the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure, 1956, the property of the parochial church council is, generally speaking, vested in the diocesan authority. It can be acquired only with the consent of the diocesan authority, and certain transactions, such as selling and leasing, also require the consent of that body; but subject to these safeguards, parochial church councils remain managing trustees. In many parishes both funds and real property are held by incumbents, by churchwardens or by incumbent and churchwardens acting together. There are three reasons why it has been thought desirable that the position with regard to these latter trusts—that is, those in the hands of incumbents or of incumbent and churchwardens—should be brought into line with that relating to those of parochial church councils.

In the first place, there are legal difficulties, in that the churchwardens or the incumbent and churchwardens are not a corporation, and, strictly speaking, whenever there is a new incumbent or a new churchwarden there should be a new appointment with a transfer of the trust property. In practice, such an instrument is rarely executed, and difficulties can, and do, occur if and when real property comes to be sold. In the second place, the absence of adequate supervision causes trusts not uncommonly to be wrongly administered or even lost sight of altogether. But the immediate reason for bringing this measure forward is the Charities Act, 1960. It is proposed to seek exception from registration under Section 4 of that Act for all charities which are vested in a diocesan authority, and it would be greatly advantageous to all concerned if the charities vested in incumbents as churchwardens could be included in any excepting regulation which may be passed.

The object of this Measure is, therefore, to place trusts in the hands of incumbents and churchwardens upon the same footing as those already held by diocesan authorities for parochial church councils. The diocesan authority will then become a little more than a Custodian Trustee, while responsibility for management will remain in the hands of those who are at present managing the trust. The Measure provides that property does not vest automatically on the passing of the Measure, but on a vesting declaration made by the diocesan authority. It is the duty of the trustees to inform the diocesan authority of trusts covered by the Measure, but there are provisions to meet the case where the diocesan authority becomes aware of the existence of trusts of which it has not been otherwise notified. The opportunity is given to the trustees, the incumbents and the Charity Commissioners, to make representations, and subject to them the diocesan authority can make a vesting declaration which may apply to more than one item of property or more than one body of trustees, thus, it is hoped, considerably reducing the expenses.

I must tell your Lordships that this Measure had a difficult passage through the Assembly, and was given final approval, on a Division, by 265 votes to 102 votes. I think it is fair to say that a good deal of the opposition resulted from a failure properly to understand the somewhat complicated provisions of the Measure. The Measure has been drafted and dealt with throughout in close consultation with the Charity Commissioners, and has been favourably reported upon by the Ecclesiastical Committee. I trust, therefore, that your Lordships will be prepared to pass the necessary Resolution. I beg to move.

Moved, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 this House do direct that the Incumbents and Churchwardens (Trusts) Measure 1964 be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Leicester.)


My Lords, might I be allowed to ask the right reverend Prelate one question? I can understand their difficulties in some of the circumstances he has described, but who is responsible to-day, under the Union of Benefices Measure, for sites which are now vacant, churches having been pulled down, sometimes in main shopping theatres, where the capital value is great, but apparently not yet disposed of? Who are the trustees? It cannot surely in this case be the incumbent or the churchwardens of the particular parishes concerned. Who deals with this matter, once those parishes have been abolished?


My Lords, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the Church Commissioners are the really responsible body. I would not profess to speak about the subtleties of each situation, but I know myself, in dealing with vacant sites in my own diocese, that it is the Church Commissioners who act as the final umpire.


Perhaps the right reverend Prelate will send me confirmation of that.


My Lords, may I ask the right reverend Prelate a question? The Church Assembly has decided that women should be admitted. May I ask him why, in the middle of the twentieth century, they are to be admitted only in a subordinate manner? I should like to know the answer.


My Lords, that question seems a long way removed from the Motion, but if an answer is required I have no doubt that the custom and practice of large sections of Christendom is the place to which the noble Lady should look for a explanation.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.