HL Deb 21 January 1964 vol 254 cc849-53

5.3 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the change proposed by this Bill is so comparatively small that it may seem rather like taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. But the present position is established by an Act of Parliament, so a further Act is required for its alteration.

First, I think it would be helpful if I were to remind your Lordships of the history and position of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Though the established Church North of the Border is, of course, the Church of Scotland, the Episcopal Church is in full Communion with the Church of England and is an independent and self-governing Province of the world-wide Anglican Church. In the year 1690, because the Scottish bishops were not prepared to recognise William of Orange as King, the Episcopal Church was virtually outlawed, its adherents were persecuted, and its order and traditions were carried on only through great faith and courage on the part of its members. For example, in 1746 no fewer than 46 Episcopal churches and chapels were burnt by the order of a personage who is commonly known North of the Border as "Butcher" Cumberland. Such was the position for a century, till the death of the Young Pretender in 1788, after which the Episcopal Church felt able to pay allegiance to the House of Hanover. Not all had, however, been darkness during that century. In 1786 the leaders of the Episcopal Church in the North American Colonies came to England seeking to have a bishop ordained. Owing to the relations then prevailing, they found this to be impossible, so they came North; and thus the first bishop of the Episcopal Church of North America was ordained in an upper room in Aberdeen.

However, in 1792 the penal laws against the Church were repealed, though a number of disabilities remained. For instance, no clergyman of the Episcopal Church might officiate in England. The Episcopal Church (Scotland) Act, 1864, exactly 100 years ago, went further to remove the remaining disabilities, and provided, among other things, that a minister of the Episcopal Church might officiate in England not more than once in three months without receiving formal approval from the bishop of the English diocese concerned. That is the legal position to-day, and that is the position which this Bill seeks to amend, and for the reason which I shall now explain.

As many of your Lordships are aware, the Church of England has been revising its canons for some fifteen years and desires shortly to seek the Royal Assent to a number of revised canons that are being promulgated. One of these seeks to regularise and extend the number of occasions on which a minister may officiate in a place of worship other than the one to which he is licensed by the Archbishop concerned. The present position, governed by two nineteenth-century judgments, permits such ministrations on exceptional occasions, which I understand has until now been interpreted in England as meaning not more than one Sunday in three months; in other words, the same as is allowed by the Episcopal Church (Scotland) Act, 1864. What is now desired, and is proposed in the new canon of the Church of England, is that such ministrations should be allowed for a period of not more than seven days within three months. This canon would apply to clergymen ordained by a bishop of any Province of the Anglican Communion, but it would, of course, contravene Section 6 of the Act of 1864, which I have already mentioned. Clause I of my Bill, therefore, seeks to repeal that section of the 1864 Act and to put ministers of the Episcopal Church on the same ground as those of all other Provinces of the Anglican Communion so far as officiating in England is concerned.

My Lords, I do not think I need argue the merits of this proposal at length. There may, of course, be some who hold that Scotsmen are already quite sufficiently prone to airing their views in England, and that any further licence to do so should be resisted. But I believe that, on the whole, it will be agreed that in this day and age any opportunity to hear new voices and new views should be welcomed, whether in the Church or any other sphere of life, and I cannot think that in this matter your Lordships would wish the Scottish clergy to be at a disadvantage compared with their brethren from the Episcopal Churches of North America, Africa, Australia or anywhere else in the world. This measure, if agreed to, will not, I venture to think, result in an invasion of English pulpits by the hordes from the North. It has the support of the Church of England and the bishops of the Episcopal Church of Scotland; and the Scottish Office, I understand, have no objection to raise. So I commend the Bill to your Lordships in the hope and belief that you will give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read a, —(Lord Polwarth.)

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has so adequately covered the ground which is represented in his Bill that there is little for me to add. However, it falls to me to express, on behalf of the Church of England, its welcome to the provisions in this Bill, and, so far as I am entitled to do on behalf of those of us who sit on these Benches, to say how glad we are that this Bill is being introduced and to express our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth.

This Bill sounds an echo from a bygone age and tells us of this quaint disability which is a relic of political tensions and religious struggles which are now forgotten and past. Nevertheless, I think your Lordships will agree that it is undesirable that these things should continue in this day and age. It had at one time been thought`-that this disability was something which had come back from times nearer to our own and represented some of the struggles of the last century which had arisen as a result of the Tractarian movement. But as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has pointed out, that is not the case. The reasons for this Bill go back far beyond that period to the days when the Hanoverians had come to the Throne and the Episcopal Church was suspect for its Jacobite tendencies, and therefore the Episcopalians of Scotland were subjected to very severe penal disabilities, both under an Act of the Parliament of Scotland and under two Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

By 1792 it was recognised that the clergy of the Church of Scotland were well attached to his Majesty's person, family and Government", and therefore the process of removing the disabilities began. It was first of all done in an Act of 1792, and then an Act of 1864 removed further disabilities. But this one small disability still remains, that whereas any other clergyman of the Anglican Communion may in each quarter act in the Church of England for one week without the permission of the bishop, a clergyman of the Episcopal Church of Scotland may thus act for only one day in the quarter.

We in the Church of England are revising our canons and we wish to place the clergy of the Episcopal Church of Scotland on the same footing as any other Anglican clergyman coming into England and wishing so to act. We feel therefore that this disability should be sent to that limbo where all outworn political struggles and religious tensions should be consigned. We hope that this House will agree to place the clergy of the Episcopal Church of Scotland on an equal level with their fellow clergy of the Anglican Communion, and we hope therefore that this Bill may become law.


My Lords, I think I should be detaining your Lordships unduly if I kept you for more than two minutes after the most excellent way in which the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, presented this Bill to us and explained the political and religious background of facts, and the way in which he has been supported by the right reverend Prelate, with whom it has been a pleasure for some of us to work in connection with the reform of the canons. Therefore, for this reason, and because I am a member of the Ecclesiastic Committee appointed by your Lordships, I wanted to rise as one from these Benches to say how good it is to see this long overdue reform brought before us. I hope this Bill will not only get its Second Reading now but speed its way to Royal Assent.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.