HL Deb 24 March 1964 vol 256 cc1136-9

3.10 p.m.

THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER rose to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Faculty Jurisdiction Measure 1964 be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, the Faculty Jurisdiction is that branch of the law which is exercised by the chancellor in the Consistory Court of a diocese, and it has four main purposes: first, to protect the interests of succeeding generations of parishioners, and the fabric and treasures of their parish church; secondly, to settle disputes between interested parties; thirdly, to ensure that nothing unsuitable is done in the church, and, fourthly, that nothing illegal is introduced.

The exercise of this jurisdiction has been largely regulated by the Faculty Jurisdiction Measure, 1938. The whole question of this jurisdiction was considered by a Commission of the Church Assembly which reported in 1959. That Commission recommended that the jurisdiction should in the main continue unchanged, but it suggested certain modifications. This Measure therefore repeals and replaces the Faculty Jurisdiction Measure, 1938, but it introduces certain new provisions, most of which were recommended by the Fees and Faculties Commission. The provisions of Clause 2, however, arise from recommendations made by another Commission under the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, which considered the whole complicated question of what should be done with churches which are redundant. Some attempt was made in the Church Assembly to achieve a more radical reform of the whole system, but the amendments to that end met with little support. Only amendments of detail were made and at no stage was there a division.

The principal changes in the existing law are, first, that Clause 1 contains provisions for dealing with aisles or other parts of parish churches which are in private ownership, the owners of which cannot be found or who have proliferated so that there are a number of them, or who have neglected to carry out repairs for seven years. It sometimes happens that the whole fabric of a church may be imperilled because the private owner of some part of it has not done his job in keeping it in repair. An incumbent or a parochial church council may therefore apply for a faculty vesting such parts of the church in the person or persons who own the remainder of the church and thus make it possible for the parochial church council to carry out the necessary repairs.

Clause 2, while providing for demolition in cases where either the building is a dangerous structure or it is necessary for the purposes of enlargement, rebuilding, replacement or repair, makes it impossible for a faculty to be granted for the demolition of a church solely on the grounds of redundancy. That is because we hope further Measures will be coming before us from the Bridges Commission which will deal with redundancy. However, this clause very much limits the existing powers of chancellors to give demolition orders for churches, and they have to carry out certain consultations even when it is permissible for them to do so.

Clause 3 provides for a faculty to be granted for the removal of a monument, notwithstanding the fact that the owner objects or cannot be found. Experience has shown that entirely desirable schemes of improvement in both churches and churchyards have been held up because the consent of one owner of a monument cannot be obtained. He would have the right to object and have the case heard, but his objection would not be conclusive.

Clauses 6 and 7 deal with two questions which affect modern church buildings. It is often the case that when a building is first erected in, say, a new housing area, either because it combines both church and hall, or because it is not suitable at that moment to become a parish church, such a building is only dedicated and not consecrated, and it does not come under faculty jurisdiction at all, so that the parish priest is free to furnish it in whatever way he thinks proper. Nevertheless, it may well happen that after a number of years that church will be consecrated and then there may be the trouble that certain things have to be taken out which may have endeared themselves to the people who worship in that church. The Measure, therefore, authorises a Bishop, in appropriate cases, to make an order bringing such buildings under faculty jurisdiction.

Next, for reasons of health the land which surrounds a new church in an urban area in these days cannot be used for burials, and it is therefore often not consecrated ground. The question has sometimes been raised whether or not it is within the faculty jurisdiction. The object of Clause 7 is to remove any doubt about this. It is obviously desirable that the ground around the church should be subject to faculty jurisdiction and that the chancellor should have some control over what is put on it.

The other provisions of the Measure are fully described in the Comments and Explanations submitted by the Legislative Committee of the Church Assembly, and they are printed as an Appendix to the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee. I hope, therefore, that I have said enough to satisfy your Lordships that this Measure is desirable and is one that should receive the Royal Assent.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.