HL Deb 18 February 1965 vol 263 cc651-76

4.47 p.m.

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY rose to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Pray Book (Alternative and other Services) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent. The right reverend Primate said: My Lords, this Measure comes to Parliament from the Church Assembly, where it was passed by very large majorities—Bishops: Ayes, 30; Noes, none; Clergy: Ayes, 200; Noes, one; Laity: Ayes, 203; Noes, 11. I believe it to be a Measure which is long overdue, and of great importance if the Church of England is to carry out its tasks now and in the coming years.

It is not only the Church of England which is interested in this Measure and its outcome, for our Church is one of the world-wide family of Churches of the Anglican Communion, and in nearly all of the Anglican Churches overseas Prayer Book Revision has been accomplished, in some cases recently and in others some while ago. The Church of England, however, has not statutorily revised its Prayer Book for 200 years and without this Measure, it lacks the power to revise it.

The context of this Measure is, indeed, even wider than purely Anglican concern. Movements for the reform and renewal of public worship are widespread in Christendom. The Church of Rome is very far from being static in this matter, and in our own Church those who are working at liturgical reforms are co-operating with members of the Free Churches in the sharing of ideas and projects. I believe, my Lords, that, in passing this Measure, Parliament will be doing a service to Christendom.

Now, anyone familiar with the modern history of the Church of England, established by law and ruled by the Act of Uniformity, knows that the problem of revising the Prayer Book and the problem of law and order have been linked together. This Measure deals with both problems. First, it enables a limited—indeed, a very modest—degree of autonomy to the Convocations and the House of Laity to sanction new forms of worship by two-thirds majorities for limited experimental periods. I will speak presently about the limits of the powers which will be conferred. At the moment, I remind your Lordships that the Commission on Church and State, under the chairmanship of the late Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, in 1935, recommended a substantially larger degree of autonomy within the Establishment. The present proposals, a good deal more modest, are based upon the Report of the Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir Walter Moberly, which reported to the Church Assembly in 1952. I recall that on that Commission, from which the proposals are essentially derived, there were two Members of your Lordships' House, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and they participated in the framing of the policy.

Secondly, the Measure makes clear the meaning of the term "lawful authority" in the Declaration made by a clergyman promising to use the form in the said Book prescribed, and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority". It is notorious that these last words are of uncertain meaning. This Measure makes it clear that "lawful authority" will be deemed to belong to the services of the Book of Common Prayer and to such services as are sanctioned or covered by the various clauses of the Measure. The moral gain from the removal of this ambiguity will be immense.

Let me now say a word or two about law and order in the Church. It is well known that considerable departures from the law take place in the parish churches and cathedrals. The departures from the law are of many different kinds. There are many small deviations from the text and the rubrics of the Prayer Book, probably familiar in most parish churches and, I believe, welcomed by the laity with little consciousness of illegality, though illegality there certainly is. Then in some parish churches (and I believe a diminishing number) there are deviations which most Churchmen would deplore as wildly eccentric and outside the doctrinal standards of our Church. There is also a considerable use of whole forms of service which are illegal and yet familiar and widely welcomed. For instance, in the Crypt Chapel here in the Palace of Westminster the christenings of the children of Members of Parliament commonly follow the Baptism Service of the 1928 Prayer Book, a service much used also in parish churches, as is the Marriage Service from the same Book.

I will give one more instance—one that is very recent and vivid in our minds. None of us, I think, was not moved greatly by the funeral service of Sir Winston Churchill. It was a State Funeral in a metropolitan Church, but the form of service differed not a little from what the Act of Uniformity prescribes. I think I have said enough to illustrate how various are the kinds of widespread deviations from the law of public worship.

And how can there come about reasonable order in public worship, and reality in the declaration by the clergyman that he will follow "lawful authority"? I believe that there are several things required. One need is that there should be greater flexibility and variety in what is deemed to be lawful and the ways in which it can be lawful. This Measure provides that. Another need is that this flexibility and variety should have clearly defined limits. The Measure provides that. Another need is that there be means for revising forms of worship. The Measure provides that. Another need is that in all changes there must be full consultation with the laity. The Measure provides that. Another need is that for serious matters of discipline, when good will has failed to solve them, there should be workable Church Courts. A Measure which your Lordships passed not long ago provides that.

But, my Lords, in a spiritual society order and unity are created not by law alone, but by something more spiritually compelling than laws and courts—namely, a spirit of good will and common loyalty. Here I am sure that, whatever else may be said about our Church of England, one thing at least is certain in its recent history and present tendency: that partisan spirit is far less, and that new and creative ways of co-operation are replacing what used to be partisan conflicts. This Measure can serve these ends. It can enable more flexibility; it can make law clear and unambiguous; and it can help to give good will its chance.

I say something now about the several clauses of the Measure. Clauses 1, 2 and 3 together concern the main procedure for reform and change in public worship. Clause 1 gives to the Convocations and the House of Laity power to sanction by two-thirds majorities a service alternative to one of the Prayer Book services for a period of seven years, which may be followed by one further period of seven years. Clause 2 refers to preliminary experiments in selected parishes for two years, and makes it clear that the total period in which alternative services may be provided for any particular Prayer Book service does not exceed sixteen years. Clause 3 lays down that changes made under either of the first two clauses in the services of a particular parish church require the consent of the laity.

These three clauses together provide a pattern for experimental changes. The procedure will lawfully be applicable to any of the services in the Prayer Book. The Measure is likely to be used at first to sanction much which is already familiar and generally desired so as to lessen the gap between law and current practice. It is also likely to be used for entirely new experimental changes. If anyone fears lest there be a spate of reckless experiments, I should judge that the requirement of two-thirds majorities is far more likely to give a conservative tendency to what is done. If controversial matters arise, the requirements of two-thirds majorities ensure that they will be solved only by considerable consent and in conformity with the doctrine of our Church.

It may be asked what will happen when the period of lawful experiments under the Measure comes to an end. It will then be possible to judge as to what new forms of service have proved worthy of continuance and what forms of service need again to be modified, or perhaps abandoned. As the law stands at present, it would be necessary, when the periods for experiment were exhausted, to introduce any new services in a Schedule attached to a Measure. But perhaps by that time Church and State may together have discovered some new means of legislating for future needs.

I pass to the next group of clauses. Clause 4 refers to services on occasions for which the Prayer Book makes no provision and states what are the powers of the Convocations and the Bishop in relation to such services. For instance, in my own diocese I use services for consecrating a new church, for instituting an incumbent to go to a benefice, or for blessing a stained glass window, and for many particular occasions. Other Bishops do the same. Such services are not in the Prayer Book. The Measure defines their mode of authorisation and their relation to "lawful authority."

Clause 5 permits the minister to make and use variations which are not of substantial importance in any form of service prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer".

I would explain that this clause concerning minor variations was not asked for by the clergy; it was asked for, insistently, by the laity in the Church Assembly. The intention of this clause may be made clear by a glance at earlier history. It was ruled by the Privy Council in the case of Martin v. Maconochie in 1886 thus: It is not open to a minister of the Church to draw a distinction in acts which are a departure from or violation of the rubric, between those which are important and those which appear to be trivial. This rigidity of the law means that it is as culpable to alter the psalms or the lessons to meet some urgent circumstances, or to change some archaic phrase in a prayer to meet the needs of a particular congregation, or to introduce a collect in a central part of the service dealing with some sudden national crisis, as it is to alter the whole structure of a service. It is the laity who have made it clear that they do not desire this rigidity. Hence this clause.

Clause 6 allows the minister to use forms of service considered suitable by him for occasions for which the Prayer Book makes no provision. Here again, it was the laity who specially desired to have this Clause 1n order that the Measure might cover every aspect of legality. We can think of many circumstances for which this power of the minister can hardly be questioned: mission services, services for children, local commemorations, and memorial services such as we attend from time to time. Again the power is controlled against abuse. For, my Lords, Clause 7, which follows, requires that questions about the use of the last two clauses, if they arise, be referred to the Bishop for guidance and advice. But if any grave issues of discipline arise, nothing here prescribed will be in the way of taking the matter to the Ecclesiastical Courts. The Measure is so framed that it is impossible for the Bishop to constitute himself an arbiter of a judicial matter when recourse to the courts is proper.

Finally, there comes Clause 8 which, as I said earlier, relates all the provisions of the Measure to "lawful authority", leaving its scope and content without ambiguity. I have said something of the relation of the Measure to law and order, as this is inevitably of concern both to Parliament and to the Church. But even far greater is the desire for enabling of reforms in public worship, so that the worship of God in our parish churches may be as worthy as we can make it, and intelligible to the people of our time, and likely to draw more of them to share in it.

If the Measure receives the Royal Assent, we can picture a period in which many changes and experiments already happening, and already welcomed, can go on happening with no slur of illegality and when new experiments are made and tested. I think it is unlikely that we shall see a proliferation of varieties, as I know enough of the conservatism of our ecclesiastical bodies—a conservatism which, personally, I regret—to think that the opposite danger of too little boldness is more likely. But this Measure will enable flexibility and order and good will.

I ask, my Lords, what might be the alternatives? When the Church brought a whole Revised Prayer Book to Parliament, the Measure was accepted in your Lordships' House but rejected in another place. There is no wish for a repetition of that procedure. Indeed, within our Church we have come to think that the right way of reform in worship is not by the construction all at once of a new Prayer Book, but the method of piecemeal change and experiment. What alternatives are there, then? I do not think that any noble Lord who might be hesitant about conceding to the Church the very modest powers bestowed in this Measure would really want to see Parliament itself wrestling with the task of revising forms of worship. If per impossibile we could picture Parliament so acting, your Lordships could be sure that we on this Bench would keep you up for many all-night sittings wrestling into the small hours with rubrics, collects, versions of psalms, and the like, and our friends in another place would keep that weary body similary engaged. No, my Lords, the passing of this Measure will be an act of mutual trust between Parliament and the Church, enabling the Church, in ways far too long delayed, to serve far better God and the people at a time when no one who tries to serve God and the people can go on standing still. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, the Prayer Book (Alternative and other Services) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, as the most reverend Primate has said, this is a Measure of great importance. It is, I think, the most important Ecclesiastical Measure that has come before Parliament since at least the 'twenties. I am sure the House is grateful to the most reverend Primate for the clear and full exposition that he has given of the contents of this Measure, and of the purposes it is intended to fulfil. We should not, of course, be in any way inhibited in what we say by the in terrorem arguments of the alternative of a series of all-night sittings should this Measure by rejected. But perhaps I should begin by saying two things. First, I am expressing and seeking to express only a personal view. I think it is probably right that, when a Measure of this magnitude and importance comes before this House, your Lordships should express personal views and, if they have some doubts, express those, too. I am sure the most reverend Primate would prefer that, rather than to have the matter dealt with perhaps rather speedily.

Secondly, I should like to say this in order to allay any apprehensions that may exist. In speaking from this Box, where speeches in relation to Ecclesiastical Measures have been made on previous occasions, I should like to make it clear that the mantle of the late Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who was held in such high esteem in all quarters of this House, has not descended upon me. The first occasion on which I heard any debate in Parliament was when, as a young man, I was sitting in the public gallery and heard the Prayer Book debate. That aroused much controversy, and feelings ran high. I hope that this Measure will not produce that controversy or those feelings. It should be appreciated that if this Measure is approved, Parliament will be divesting itself of a very large measure, if not really in substance, of real control with regard to the forms of service used in the Established Church.

The Act of Uniformity, passed in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, as its Title suggests, was directed to securing the uniformity of services in churches by prescribing the forms in the Book of Common Prayer. One result, if this Measure is passed—and I think we must face this—is that that uniformity, prescribed by law, which may not be existent everywhere at the present time through the illegality to which the most reverend Primate referred, will, in fact, disappear.

My Lords, a great deal of time, some 300 years, have passed since that Act of Uniformity was enacted, and although there are many, I do not doubt, who would wish to see no change made, such is their affection and liking for the services to which they have been accustomed, I myself feel that the case for revision, subject to adequate safeguards of the forms of service prescribed so long ago, is overwhelming. It will be possible under the Measure—I recognise this—to have forms of service authorised as alternatives to all the forms of service in the Book of Common Prayer, and possible to use those alternative forms for not more than fourteen years after they have first been authorised; so it is not impossible that the Book of Common Prayer as we know it now may, in fact, go generally out of use for so long a period as fourteen years.

None the less, I think the case for giving the powers contained in the first three clauses of this Measure has been wholly made out. The case for revision, subject to adequate safeguards, is, I think, overwhelming; and I believe the safeguards so far as the provision of alternative forms of service are concerned are adequate. Before an alternative form of service can be used, it has to be approved by both Convocations in the same terms and with not less than a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, and also by the House of Laity.

Furthermore, I regard it as most important that neither the alternative form or forms, as the case may be, approved by both Convocations, nor the draft forms approved for preliminary trial, can be used in a church without the approval of the parochial church council or other appropriate body being first obtained. I regard that as most important, and for the reasons I have given I think that the first three clauses of this Bill are eminently desirable. I have no comment to make with regard to Clause 4. I think the case for giving lawful authority to forms of service approved by the Convocations for use on occasions not provided for in the Prayer Book is also right.

But I must confess that I do feel some doubts about Clause 5. That gives a minister power in his discretion to make and to use variations which are not of "substantial importance", not only in the form of service prescribed by the Common Prayer Book but also in the forms of service authorised for use under this Measure by the Convocations. The most reverend Primate made some observations about the phrase "lawful authority". I do not want to embark on a discussion of the contents of that phrase. He went on to say that there have been considerable departures from the law and that there is certainly illegality. The most reverend Primate then says that this Measure gave flexibility and variety. He said that this flexibility and variety should have clearly defined limits and that this Measure provided for them; that at all steps consultation with the laity should take place, and that the Measure provided for that. But I must confess I cannot find any precise limits to the power of the minister under Clause 5, nor can I find that the exercise of that power can be taken only after full consultation with the laity, for that clause gives him power to make and to use variations which are not of "substantial importance" in any form of service.

Clause 7 requires such variations to be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, or indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England. My anxiety is about how this will work in practice. The power to give variation under Clause 5 is a permanent power. It does not cease to be exercisable at the end of fourteen years. The fact that there are breaches of the law now does not, to my mind, establish any case for the giving of power to any minister to make such variations as often as he wishes, without consultation with anyone. I say "without consultation with anyone" because he is not required to get anyone's consent before he varies a prescribed or authorised form of service. Although the consent of the parochial church council is required for the use of an alternative form authorised by the Convocations, he does not require anyone's consent before he varies the service. The only words of limitation in Clause 5 are that variations must not be of "substantial importance."

I think that is a very vague phrase indeed. What exactly does it mean? You might have very extensive departures from the forms prescribed or authorised, and yet it could be said that they were not of "substantial importance". You might have some prayer the omission of which could not be regarded as indicative of any departure from the doctrine of the Church. I do not know whether that would be of "substantial importance". But if you have an extensive departure, is that to be regarded as "substantial"? Is the word "substantial" to be construed as equivalent to "extensive"? I do not think it is at all clear or precise. I wish to emphasise that the minister is, in the first place, the sole judge of whether the variation is of "substantial importance". If, after he has made a variation and uses it, a question arises as to its propriety, it can be referred to the Bishop for his pastoral guidance and advice, but there is no obligation imposed by the Measure on the minister to take that advice.

The power to institute proceedings under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure, 1963, is preserved, but I do not know—and perhaps the most reverend Primate will tell us—whether failure to take such advice would be ground for proceedings under that Measure. I do not suppose, however, that there would be any reference to the Bishop or under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure except in the most serious cases. So the position, if I have understood it correctly, appears to be that though the use of forms of service alternative to those prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer is subject to adequate safeguards, the value of those safeguards is much diminished by a minister's power to vary the forms so long as he considers the variations not of "substantial importance". I do not think this is really very satisfactory.

And I note, in passing, that although Clause 8 defines what is to be meant in the future by the expression "by lawful authority", and it says that "The forms of Service which are authorised by this Measure" or authority set out in Section 10 shall be forms "which are ordered by lawful authority within the meaning of" the 1865 Act, there is no provision for saying that the variation made by the minister under an exercise of his power under Clause 5 is by "lawful authority". I think that omission—perhaps it is merely a drafting matter, but it may be more than that—is not wholly satisfactory.

While I have felt it right to draw attention to these matters, I should not think it right to invite your Lordships to reject this Measure, or indeed to postpone its consideration. I have stressed these points because I hope that the most reverend Primate can give your Lordships the most definite assurance that he and the right reverend Prelates will keep very close watch on how this power given to ministers under Clause 5 is in fact operated, and give an assurance, too, that should he find too extensive use is being made of this power he will not hesitate to bring before your Lordships an amending Measure. I must confess that I should have been much happier if the consent of the Bishop and of the parochial church council, or perhaps of the parochial church council alone, was required before the minister could, of his own, vary the form of service prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer or authorised by the Convocations and the House of Laity after, no doubt, the most full consideration by those bodies.

We cannot amend this Measure; we have either to accept it or reject it, and, despite my doubts on this particular matter, for the reasons I have given, and because I think really the far more important part of this Measure is contained in the first three clauses, I am in favour of supporting it.


My Lords, the House will understand, I hope, the absence of any speaker from the Government Front Bench to-day. We are under the impression that is the appropriate practice on an occasion of this kind. I am sure that noble Lords will not draw from this fact any particular theological conclusions, and I am sure they will not read into it any lack of religious interest, of profound respect for the Established Church, or of genuine interest in its continued welfare.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, there are two or three questions that I should like to put to the most reverend Primate, and perhaps he will be good enough to answer them in the course of his reply to the debate. Like my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne, I do not propose to invite the House to reject this Motion. As the most reverend Primate has already observed, I was a member of the Moberly Commission, together with the right reverend Prelate who sits behind the most reverend Primate, and we did subscribe to the basic principles contained in this Measure by which I feel myself fully bound. But that does not mean I am entirely happy about it. As many of your Lordships know, I personally am more content with the services contained in the Book of Common Prayer, and I have no desire to see them departed from.

Nevertheless, I recognise the arguments which have been advanced throughout the whole of this century for widening the scope of our worship; and I think many noble Lords will recall that that was fully recognised in 1927 and 1928. And had it not been for the fact that the revisions which were then proposed to Parliament contained what were considered to be differences of doctrine, and departure from the existing doctrine of the Church of England, they would have been acceptable to those who then opposed the Measures.

I recognise that in approving the Measure now before us we are laying it once again in the hands of Convocations and the House of Laity to introduce authorised Services for our worship in our Church which may, in the opinion of some of us, depart from the true doctrine of the Church of England. Nevertheless, for my part I feel that the time has come when we have to accept that risk, relying upon the assurances contained in the Measure that nothing authorised will be contrary to the principles and doctrine of the Church of England, and upon the good will and the integrity (upon which I am, indeed, very happy to rely) of the Bench of Bishops to ensure that those provisions are carried out.

The first question I should like to put to the most reverend Primate is a very simple one, and I am sure he will have no difficulty in "hitting it for six" with the greatest of ease. It arises under the provisions of Clause 2. I have no recollection of any suggestion to the Moberly Commission that there should be a preliminary trial of draft forms of services, and I think that is a new proposal which has crept into the series of proposals since we considered the matter some twelve to thirteen years ago.

What I am not clear about is the period for which these draft forms of service may legally remain in existence. Subsection (2) (i) of Clause 2 provides a period of two years from the date of the first use of that draft. Then there is an understandable provision in subsection (2) (ii) to meet the occasion of the draft form of service being substituted for another one. But then in subsection (2) (iii) we have a further period of fourteen years from the date of the first approval under Section one of this Measure of a form of Service alternative to the form of Service to which the draft relates. It seems to me that if under Clause 1 a form of service is approved, that form of service should hold the field, and that the draft form of service to which the form of service which has been passed under Clause 1 is an alternative should be withdrawn. I should be grateful if we could have some enlightenment as to what exactly is the meaning of the provisions contained in that clause.

The second point which I should like to ask the most reverend Primate relates to Clause 5 to which my noble friend has already drawn special attention. As the most reverend Primate indicated, this again is an introduction into the proposals which was not foreseen by the Moberly Commission and which we did not consider at that time. To me, it conveys a deep ground of apprehension, as there seems to be no limit to the variations which a minister may personally introduce of his own volition, save only the exceedingly vague proviso that they are not to be of substantial importance.

I wonder if I may give an instance? Fairly recently, I was attending Matins in a church in the Diocese of Gloucester. I think that that part of the service was being conducted by a curate and not by the incumbent himself. But when we came to the appropriate place in the service for prayers for the Royal Family, they were completely ignored and there was substituted instead a prayer for the recovery of a certain American actor, whose illness was attracting great attention in the public Press at that time. I have no objection to praying for the recovery of the American actor, whom I do not know but who I believe did recover—I do not know if it was as a result of the prayers or not—but I feel rather strongly about the substitution of that particular prayer for a prayer for the Royal Family. I wonder whether or not the most reverend Primate would consider that that was an alteration of "substantial importance". There are many similar occasions one can easily visualise.

As I understand it, and as I see it, the real difficulty is that the variations which are in fact made by a minister—.I give ministers absolutely full credit for acting with the utmost integrity and sincerity—are not considered by them to be of "substantial importance". Your Lordships may recall the debate we had not long ago when I ventured to argue against the passing of the Vestments Measure, and I ventured to stress the grave importance which some of us attached to the wearing of vestments in the Church. But the most reverend Primate in his reply made it abundantly clear that he attached No 1mportance, no significance, no serious distinction at all, to that particular matter. I quote that as just an example of the difference which may well arise between two perfectly sincere and genuine people as to what in fact, in connection with our affairs in the Church of England, does or does not amount to a matter of "substantial importance".

The third point upon which I would seek assurance from the most reverend Primate is the question of law and order. Can he really give us an assurance—which I do not think we ever received in 1927 or 1928—that, in the event of these Measures coming into operation, the Bench of Bishops will really ensure that order is maintained throughout their dioceses among the ministers of the Church of England? I know that at the time the argument against the giving of any such assurance was the impracticability of its being carried out owing to the admittedly chaotic and anarchical state of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measures. But now that those have been revised and brought up to date, and have been put into a form in which it is intended, certainly by the Assembly, that they should be available for use for the maintenance of law and order in the Church, may we have an assurance that in the event of need they will be used, and that discipline will be brought back into the Church of England?

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, it was my intention to make a speech of probably ten minutes or a quarter of an hour to your Lordships on this most important Measure, to which I take great objection. I do not propose to do so, however, because of an eloquent statement made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, which expressed many of my fears and concerns, particularly in regard to the lack of safeguards in Clauses 5, 6 and 7. Secondly, I have, unfortunately—I anticipated that this Measure would be debated much earlier—a most pressing engagement which I have to fulfil. But, in this connection, I want to warn the most reverend Primate that if there are to be many further introductions of Measures such as this I am quite prepared to give the Parliamentary time that is necessary to object to them.

I particularly want to ask one question. I am concerned about the variations which will be tolerated. I think we are entitled to know what variations will be tolerated. After all, this is a State Church. I speak as a Free Churchman, as a Unitarian. A variation has been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. That is only a minor variation; but in certain connections there is one which people may think rather outside the scope of this Measure.

I am concerned about far more important doctrinal matters. What variations and what tolerations would be allowed so far as the Communion Service is concerned? This seems to me of paramount importance; and I think that we are entitled to an explanation from the Bench of Bishops as to what variations in the Communion Service are going to be tolerated. This is fundamental to the fact that the Church of England is a Protestant Church. Anything which I consider is going to accept the doctrine of trans-substantiation I shall oppose with all the power and strength at my command. It is one of those questions about which I feel strongly. As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, has said, in a speech far more competent than I can make, particularly in his legal explanations, we are entitled to an assurance as laymen—for my part, as a Free Churchman—and as Members of your Lordships' House to some explanation of the variations it is proposed to tolerate in the Communion Service.

There are other weaknesses in Clauses 5, 6 and 7, which are all correlated. First of all, there has to be objection from the laity; then the matter goes to the Bishop. But how long is it before it gets to the final arbiters of the Church of England doctrine, the Convocation? It could be quite a long time. Therefore, as I say, I agree with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. I cannot express my fears anything like as ably as he has done. This Measure is drafted very loosely indeed. We cannot amend it. On this cardinal principle, this Article of Faith, I think we are entitled to know what variations are to be allowed so far as the Communion Service is concerned.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for many minutes, but I should like to make a few comments on this tremendously important Measure. First of all, I think it is of some interest to note the difference in atmosphere and attitude now compared with those great debates which took place in 1927 and 1928. The most reverend Primate said that on that occasion the Measure which proposed a completely Revised Prayer Book, which was deposited then, was approved in your Lordships' House and rejected in another place. But I think it is of interest to note that on that occasion there were no fewer than 26 speeches from Members of this House, spreading over three days, and that in fact 88 noble Lords eventually opposed that Measure, my father being one of them. I do not propose to follow in my noble father's footsteps, although, coming originally from East Anglia, which is known as a Low Church area, it is perhaps not surprising that he and other noble Lords from that area, including no less a person than the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich, and another right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Worcester, voted against the Measure.

There are one or two questions I should like to raise on this matter, perhaps rather more by way of support of what has already been said. First of all, I would seek some assurance from the most reverend Primate, in the way the noble Lord, Lord Hobson has, as to what kind of alternative forms of service might be in mind. Would they in fact be those forms which are already to be found in the Deposited Prayer Book of 1928? In that case, would they be considered as having already been approved by Convocation, or would such forms of service have to come up again for approval under the terms of this Measure?

The second point I should like to emphasise is that which was taken up by my noble friend Lord Brentford. I must say that I fail to see the logic or the correctness of allowing a draft form of service, which is experimental for two years only in the first place, to remain in being for perhaps sixteen years. I understand that that is the intention of Clause 2 (2) and 2 (3). I am not too sure whether those draft forms of service are to remain in force all through that period.


My Lords, as this is a particular point of fact, perhaps I may be allowed to interrupt the noble Lord, just to clarify it. The two clauses together provide that there may be a preliminary trial for two years in a selected parish, and that that form of service which has been thus tried may subsequently be adopted for a period of seven years, and for a further period of seven years. In each case a specific decision will be made. In fact it will mean that the matter will be reviewed three times: originally; at the beginning of the first seven years, and at the beginning of the second seven years. But the total run must not exceed sixteen years.


My Lords, will the most reverend Primate permit me to put one further point? Under Clause 2 (2) (ii) (the sixteen-year provision) it does not appear that there is any reference back to the authorising authorities, and therefore the laity will never have an opportunity of commenting upon the form of service authorised as it was authorised in draft and subsequently carried on into the sixteen-year period.


Perhaps I might answer the noble Viscount now. The laity will have opportunity of authorising the two-year trial. The laity will have opportunity of authorising, if they will, the first seven-year period. The laity will be consulted again, and it will require a two-thirds majority of them to authorise the seven-year period. At the exhaustion of the sixteen years, as the law now stands, any further steps about these or any other services will require a Measure, again with the concurrence of the laity.


I am grateful to the most reverend Primate for explaining that approval would be needed on three occasions in this case. But I am still not altogether sure in my own mind whether it will be possible for there to be in force an alternative form of service and a draft which is alternative to that alternative.


It is possible for those two things to be in existence simultaneously. It would be possible for there to be a form of service generally authorised in all churches for a seven-year period, and at the same time for another form to be tried in selected parishes for a two-year investigation.


I am most grateful for that explanation. I am not sure (I am speaking entirely personally) that I should consider it altogether satisfactory that there might be two alternatives to the regular form to be found in the Book of Common Prayer: one an authorised alternative, and the other an authorised draft alternative.

The second point relates to Clause 8, which refers to the "lawful authority". In view of the considerable confusion among congregations which can be found nowadays when alternative forms of service are in use—often, as the most reverend Primate has agreed, illegally—it would be a great help if, when these alternative forms are authorised (and they will be placed in the parish church using them, and will have to be printed, since they will not be in the Prayer Book), one could have on the form of service, at the bottom, a notice saying that it is a form of service ordered by "lawful authority". Many people would feel much easier in their minds if that could be done by administrative action.

We know that there are substantial variations. One practice which is quite prevalent in the part of the world in which I live, the North-East, is the Sung Eucharist. That is not according to the form of the Book of Common Prayer. I do not object to other people going to Sung Eucharist, but it is not a form that happens to appeal to me. But, there again, if that form is to be used, it is most important that it should be made quite clear that it is a form of service ordered by lawful authority.

Finally, I would reinforce the remarks made by my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne about Clause 5 and the so-called variations which could be entirely at the discretion of the minister. I believe that it would be most desirable if consultation with the parochial church council could be carried out, and perhaps some instruction to that effect might be given.

That is all I have to say, my Lords. I support this Measure. I am sure it is necessary, if only to avoid confusion which exists at this moment in some of our churches. I am quite sure that it will have the effect of bringing some form of service more up to date and more in tune with the modern mind, especially in regard to the young, and perhaps of bringing more people into our churches than are to be found there to-day.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, the most reverend Primate will no doubt be replying in some detail to the points raised by your Lordships. I am anxious to say a word or two on the broad pastoral issue lying behind that liberty of action and of worship which the Church is seeking—that broad pastoral issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred in his closing sentence. I want to view this issue mainly from the point of view of the man in the pew, or even the man now in the street and very rarely in the pew. A very long time has passed since the Prayer Book as we now have it, and know it, and love it, was written, and a great change has come over the nation in the intervening centuries. Its members have passed into a world of science, of automation, of technological development; and in so passing their thought forms have changed and their language has changed almost beyond recognition.

Only a few decades ago, speeches in this House or in another place could be bestrewn with classical allusions and quotations, and it could be assumed that they would be understood by the majority of the Members. So, also, in regard to allusions to Scripture. A fairly thorough knowledge could be taken for granted on the part of most educated men. But he would be a rash man who made such an assumption to-day. The background of our thought-forms, the vocabulary that we use, are largely different from those employed by our forbears half a century ago—not to say three or four centuries ago.

The bearing of this on the matter of the services used in church is, I think, immediate and urgent. I am not arguing that it is essential to use the language of the market-place in the liturgy of the Church. There may be an element of the awe-full, of the numinous, of mystery, rightly conveyed by language which is distinctly other than that of to-day's newspaper. Even the use of "Thou" and "Thee", instead of "You" may do something to convey this sense. But I am saying that to assume in our liturgical forms a background knowledge which the average man or woman in the pew does not possess is to shut our eyes to reality and to lay ourselves open to the charge of being out of touch with life as it is. I hope your Lordships will allow me to illustrate this very briefly.

Many of those who come to our churches for marriage have only a slight idea of the Church and of its ways; nor is their knowledge of the Bible extensive. I doubt, therefore, whether it helps to begin a prayer in that service with an invocation to the "God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob", or to allude, as it were in passing, to the way in which God sent His blessing "upon Abraham and Sarah to their great comfort", together with liberal allusions to Adam and Eve, of whom the pair at the chancel steps have but the haziest knowledge. To use such language is, I think, to drive a wedge between religion and reality.

It is important that, at the most intimate and joyful moments of human life and experience, the services should echo the occasion. Let me illustrate again. Every year thousands of women, often accompanied by their husbands, come to thank God for the gift of a child. When I worked in a depressed down-town area in the 1930s, I used to think it was unfortunate, to say the least, that the little service I used with the mother, and sometimes with her husband, was not simpler and more joyful than the one I was supposed to use. Nor could I think it other than unfortunate that the Psalm set for that occasion included the words: I was sore troubled; I said in my heart 'AD men are liars'. One could go on, if time allowed, to bring other instances more weighty than these to illustrate my thesis. One could refer to the Baptism Service or to that of Holy Communion. But I hope that I have made my point, that liturgy is a living thing. It must be warm and expressive of the development and movement of a people. It must never be allowed to petrify and harden like lava which was once hot and moving but is now dead and cold and hard. If that happens, then there is a rift between Church and people. If that happens, then the clergy have in their hands a blunted sword. If that happens, a man may find his access to God impeded.

For some four years, until in recent days pressure of work compelled me to resign from it, I was Chairman of the Liturgical Commission. In that Commission we wrestled with just such problems as those on which I have been touching to-day. During those years and in the years immediately preceding them, the Liturgical Commission produced draft services which sought to bear in mind the needs of a new age, which sought to incorporate the discoveries of recent liturgical scholarship, while at the same time they sought to be true to the verities of the Christian revelation which never change from age to age. These services are not perfect; no one would pretend that they are. Indeed, we cannot tell just now to what extent they will meet the needs of our people until we try them out in different parishes, experiment with them, improve upon them, shorten them here or repatch them there. Hence, there is the need for a period of experimentation and for draft forms.

But I believe that, as the result of the work of some considerable period of years on the part of the Liturgical Commission, we now have in our hands a considerable body of material worthy of just such experimentation. It will call for wise handling in the years ahead. It will call for open-mindedness and willingness for change on the part both of clergy and of people. But just as, in other parts of the Anglican Communion, liturgical research and down-to-earth experimentation have issued in worship more lively and more relevant, so I believe there awaits us a hope of considerable renewal when we have the authority to put into use the services which are now on the liturgical assembly-line.

With these considerations in mind, and viewing the matter from the standpoint of the man in the pew and of the clergyman who ministers to him, I would express the hope that your Lordships will give a welcome to the Measure before us.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful for this debate, for the criticisms which have been made, and for the freedom with which noble Lords have sincerely expressed their minds; and, also, for the great good will expressed by noble Lords even in moments when they were being critical. To the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, let me express my gratitude for his support for the main proposals of the Measure. I would say a word about his apprehensions concerning Clause 5. What I say may not satisfy his legal conscience, but I ask him to understand the great complexity of the matter.

Small variants that can be made by the minister are immense in number and occasion, and they are in my judgment inevitable if there is to be any common sense in the behaviour of clergymen; and I believe that that is a quality in clergymen which noble Lords would desire. For instance, an incumbent in a parish in County Durham on some special occasion may have a church full of people from the mining community who do not normally go to church. Perhaps some of them have never been to church before. It is a statutory service and the incumbent is bound by law. The chief prayer of the day begins, "Prevent us, O Lord." The incumbent exercises his judgment by substituting, "Go before us, O Lord" for "Prevent us, O Lord." I could give, perhaps, a couple of dozen of like illustrations where common sense dictates minor illegalities.

The framers of the Measure were very perplexed indeed by this. My own inclination would have been not to have Clause 5 at all, and to attempt to appeal to what I believe lawyers sometimes call the de minimis principle. On the other hand, it was the laity in our bodies who ardently desired this clause, because they wanted both that the clergyman should be able to make small alterations according to the dictates of common sense and also that it should be clear that he was not breaking the law in so doing. Hence this clause. The noble and learned Viscount feels it to be imperfect law. I feel that the substance of the matter is an inevitable matter of common sense. But let me assure the noble and learned Viscount that if this Clause 5 were seen to be used for the importing into public worship of matters of a kind other, in quality or quantity, than what it is designed to cover, certainly it would be the business of the Church to look into the need for amending legislation.

Now may I come to the questions put by my noble friend Lord Brentford? His first question concerned the operation of Clauses 1 and 2 in relation to a test for two years in certain parishes, and the certain test period of seven years. I believe that I answered that question in the course of an interruption which I made.


If the most reverend Primate will permit me, I think he said, in the course of that interruption, that the laity would have an opportunity of considering and passing the draft form of service, but Clause 2 (1) of the Measure states: For the purpose of giving a preliminary trial to a form of Service which is under consideration by the Convocations of Canterbury and York with a view to approval being given thereto under section one of this Measure, a draft of the said form of Service, approved by the Convocations of Canterbury and York, may, … be used … ", and so on. It does not say anything about the House of Laity having any authority over the matter at that stage.


My Lords, the House of Laity have been brought in at the initial stage, and at that stage the laity are consulted through the necessity of reference to a particular parish. That is clear. In one respect it is the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity who are brought into operation: in another respect it is the Convocations plus reference to the laity in the parish. But on neither occasion are the laity exempted from their rights under the Measure.

The second question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, was in respect of variations of no substantial importance, under Clause 5. He asked: is it or is it not a variation of substantial importance to substitute for the prayers for the Sovereign and the Royal Family a prayer for an American actor? My answer is that it will be the business of the Alternative Services Measure, in its operation, to make this clear within the form of service. The service in the Book of Common Prayer certainly would make that illegal. The rubrics in an alternative service ought to, and I hope will, make it clear which of the prayers in the last part of the service are obligatory, which are optional and how much space there is for additions to be introduced by the minister. I would say that a properly constructed service would itself, by its rubrics, answer the noble Viscount's point.

The third question—and a much bigger one—asked by the noble Viscount was: Will the Bishops guarantee that there is law and order? Here, I can say sincerely that, with law brought up to date so that norms of up-to-date law in public worship do exist, and with orders that are up to date and workable, it is the intention of the Bishops and the clergy, and of the laity working with them, that there shall be lawful authority observed and obeyed. But I would add that the bringing about of that involves the operation together both of law and of pastoral care and of good will.

Then, noble Lords asked, in effect: Please tell us what forms of service are going to be authorised under the Measure. I think it is proper to say that this debate is not about particular forms of service but about whether certain powers should be given to the ecclesiastical bodies, by two-thirds majorities of Bishops and clergy and laity, to authorise forms of service. With such conditions, I think it is inconceivable that services will be authorised contrary to those of the doctrine of our Church. There is certainly No 1ntention of doing so. Then there was the particular question: What will be the status of services in the 1928 Book which are at present used with (if I may use such a phrase) the quasi-authority of that Book? To that question a perfectly plain answer will be given. Services under the 1928 Book will have no sanction whatsoever unless they are selected to be given explicit authority under this Measure. I hope that that is clear.

My Lords, I believe that I have answered the various questions asked in the course of the debate, and your Lordships will have heard from the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York how urgently and ardently this Measure is desired for the fulfilment of the Church's practical work in the country. Does the noble Lord wish to say something?


My Lords, I did not wish to interrupt the most reverend Primate, but it was merely on the administration point, of making it quite clear that services will. be printed by lawful authority. I wondered whether the most reverend Primate would like to comment on that suggestion.


My Lords, I do not think there is the slightest intention ever to do otherwise, and I myself attach the utmost importance to using the opportunity of this Measure to make it quite plain what has authority and what has not.

My Lords, it is gratifying that no noble Lord appears anxious to ask the House to divide, and the fact that that is so is, I feel, an indication that, despite a great variety of conviction and conscience, and despite a number of critical points which have been made, the atmosphere of good will in matters of religion has increased enormously, both within our Church and far more widely. For that we are profoundly grateful; and by passing this Measure your Lordships' House will, I think, have given a service to those great ends.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.