§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, I think that is an invitation to come back from the market place to church. I wish to go as far as I possibly can in performing the normal courtesies of thanking the noble Lord who has introduced a most interesting subject for debate. I can sincerely thank him for the gentle and understanding spirit in which he introduced his Motion, and for all the mollifying sweetmeats with which he sugared the pill that he has prepared for the Church of England as at present by law established. I must say that I found it difficult to contemplate with pleasure the debate which we knew lay ahead of us in the particular circumstances of this discussion in the church and the nation. In fact, thinking about it almost spoiled for me (and this is a serious thing for a Cambridge man to say) the associations of the word "Grantchester" for ever. We all know thatThings are done you'd not believeAt Madingley on Christmas Eve.But Grantchester ah! Grantchester,There's peace and holy quiet there"—507 but not much peace and holy quiet for the Church of England as it hopes to go forward to a leisured discussion of this Report, Church and State, because before we even have a chance to start our little private quarrel we must have at any rate a public discussion. I think Rupert Brooke, referring to Lord Byron, said:Still in the dawnlit waters coolHis ghostly Lordship swims his pool.Lord Grantchester, not content with that, has dived in at the deep end, and made us all dive in, too.
We from these Benches fully understand that this is in no sense a Party Motion, although I should imagine that perhaps in his subconscious mind the noble Lord was not unaware of the contribution of some of his great predecessors in the Liberal Party to matters of this sort. It was just 100 years ago that the Church of Ireland, as it was then called, was disestablished under the ægis of Mr. Gladstone. I am told that the Archbishop of Armagh for many years had as part of his furniture in his house a table inscribed as follows:Round this table Mr. Gladstone with his Ministers plotted the destruction of the Irish Church.It became rather an embarrassment to him in recent years, particularly as the Church of Ireland did rather well under disestablishment, and I believe that it has been discreetly covered with a table cloth. Then, of course, 50 years later the Welsh Church was disestablished. I can well imagine that the noble Lord might have thought that Gladstone-Lloyd George-Grantchester would make a nice sequence of episodes to go alongside the disestablishment of these three Churches.
Coming to the Commission which has been sitting, I want to safeguard myself and the time and energies of the House from getting too deeply involved in the Report itself and its various recommendations. It has been an arduous although a stimulating experience to be a member of this Commission for four years that have only just ended. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with this document will know the kind of membership which was recruited by the most reverend Primate for this Report. It contained, I think, a good cross-section of opinion, having on it two professors, 508 two Members of Parliament, a judge, two bishops and a number of younger members, including some who have already been mentioned, and who were known in advance to take a very radical view on these matters. Their findings have been set out, I think most people agree, with considerable charm and clarity, because there was one hand which was responsible for the writing of the Report. That, as I think is well known, was the hand of the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Owen Chadwick, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge and one of our leading Church historians. I do not think there can be any doubt in anybody's mind that considerable experience, talent and understanding were brought together for the production of this Report.
Almost all the matters dealt with in the noble Lord's Motion this afternoon are discussed at length, and not always with unanimous agreement, in the Report which the Church is about to consider. We have ourselves in the Report unanimously requested that the Church should be released by the State from having to bring questions of worship and doctrine to Parliament. So on that point, at least, there is an area of agreement between the Commission's findings and the desires of the noble Lord. We have made many proposals for a larger Church element in the appointment of the senior officers of the Church, although, as is well known, there is a difference of opinion as to the way in which this can best be carried forward. As the noble Lord particularly drew attention to the finding of one group of commissioners that the Prime Minister should still in some way be associated with that appointment, I need only say that the reason behind that was that many on the Commission felt that we could not (so to speak) monopolise the Queen without also including the right that the Sovereign has to be advised by her principal Minister.
With regard to law, I do not want to debate the details of Lord Grantchester's Motion, because I do not think that is really the point at issue this afternoon; but as all that he says will be recorded in the columns of Hansard, if no one says anything on the other side it might be thought that no answers were possible. The noble Lord proposes in, if I may say so, a rather cavalier way that the 509 law of the Church should cease to be the law of the land. There are many matters where the Church would welcome a greater freedom from full Statute implication in the framing of the Church's laws. May I give one example that perhaps will make the point clearer? At present half the people in this country who get married do so in the Church of England, and it is an immemorial custom in our own country that that is a valid marriage. The minute you make the kind of separation which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, thinks can be wished on the country and the Church in almost a casual moment, that immediately becomes impossible, and no couple in future could be married in church without visiting a registry office also.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the right reverend Prelate, but is that quite so? The priest who conducts the marriage is acting for the registrar and is authorised to do so in churches of the Church of England. I should propose that those same provisions apply to marriages in any church that applies for the dual role and is so approved.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, would the Church of England then be in any worse position than the ordinary Free Churches of this country?
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, may I take the second question first? I think the answer is, "No, it would not be in any worse position". It would be in a different position from the position it has been in from time immemorial, and therefore the burden of proof would rest with those who wished to make the change.
With regard to Lord Grantchester's interruption, I can only say that there are many permutations and combinations that could be worked out if such a development took place. I gave it just as an example of something that noble Lords may think is a purely theoretical and not very interesting matter, but it is something that would affect a large number of ordinary people at an important stage in their lives.
With regard to an Address to the Crown asking for permission to bring in this Bill, I will allow myself only one personal word, and that is that it would 510 seem a very inappropriate moment for such an Address to be made to the Crown, in that we have only just had a very great event in the life of our country: the opening of the General Synod, in which Her Majesty took a solemn and impressive part. I can hardly imagine a moment when such a suggestion would make less appeal to members of the Church of England generally than at this particular time. Debate will go on in the Church of England and, no doubt, far beyond it. We do not want to anticipate in this House the detail of that debate. I would just mention, however, that if the formulation of opinion in the Commission was in any way typical of what is going to happen in the Church as a whole, it would appear that the desire of the Church is likely to be for evolution, rather than revolution, in this particular matter of its relationship with the State. Of 17 members, 14 were in favour of certain modifications as between Church and State. Three were in favour of Lord Grantchester's line of complete disestablishment.
All we ask at this moment from your Lordships' House is that we should be allowed to look at this matter quietly for ourselves, probably for a year or 18 months, before anything is thought suitable for bringing to Parliament. There is a case for some continuing relationship between Church and State, as well as a case for considerable modification of that relationship. That is clear to many of us who have been studying the matter in detail for several years. Some people speak as though we have now moved into a position where the Church of England is a very effete and unimportant part of national life. It is no part of my case this afternoon to resist the challenges which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has put before us. It is no part of my case to suggest that everything in the garden is lovely and that we can claim innocence from many of the faults which he outlined before your Lordships this afternoon. But, on the other side, there is still a tremendous link between large numbers of our people and the Church of England.
If your Lordships are typical members of the British community, there is a likelihood that at least half of you were married at a Church of England altar and about two-thirds of you were baptised at an Anglican font; and when 511 it comes to your funeral there is a strong likelihood that it will be conducted by a Church of England clergyman. I do not suggest that these ritual links are by any means the most important part of the work and witness of the Church, but they are very important if you are discussing the rightness or wrongness of some continuing association between the Church and the State.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but would the right reverend Prelate also apply the same argument to the majority of people in prison, and in Her Majesty's Forces, who also registered automatically as members of the Church of England?
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, I think that, so far as I understood the question, up the word "automatically" I would accept it. There is the famous case, your Lordships may remember, when a former Archbishop of Canterbury was visiting Maidstone Gaol and he asked the prisoners at the church service how many had been choir boys. Nearly all of them put up their hands. That was very much misunderstood; because while it is true that most prisoners had been choir boys, it was not true that most choir boys became prisoners. That was commonly misunderstood.
I do not think this is the occasion to debate in further intimate detail the actual proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, or those of the Commission, but I should like to end by reminding your Lordships of the wider background against which, sooner or later, these matters will have to be discussed and decided. They were all brought to expression in the debates that took place at the time of the French Revolution, when there was a strong development in European society towards complete separation between Churches and States, and when the other side of that matter was put with tremendous force by Edmund Burke.
When one reads Edmund Burke on the Establishment, of course one comes across all kinds of remarks and statements that are ludicrously funny from the point of view of modern life. He says, for instance (I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham will not 512 mind being used as an example), that the people of England are well content for the Bishop of Durham to receive £10,000 a year, even though he does not keep as many dogs and horses as other noble Lords. But, when one has gone beyond those anachronistic points, one comes to see that he is putting before his readers something which is still, I believe, immensely true; and that is the fact, or at any rate the faith, that the development of our society can be rooted in the past and at the same time move forward into the present and a true preparation for the future.
The roots in the past are obvious. One has only to look at a chess board to be reminded of your Lordships' House. One will see on either side of the throne the bishops standing there. The only difference is that, in some way or other, the Liberal Members of this House occupy seats which on the chess board would be shared by the bishops, and we seem to have settled down permanently on this side of the House. But that only illustrates pictorially the tremendous history that lies behind all our arrangements. It is very kind of the noble Lord, Lord Granchester, to allow in his suggested Bill that those of us who are at present privileged to be in your Lordships' House should be allowed to stay here: we very much appreciate that thought on his part. But I would just remind your Lordships that we were here first: it is really rather decent of us to allow him to retain his seat.
But, my Lords, we know very well that we have a lot of deep thinking to do in our Church. Do let us have our private quarrel first; and then, when we have that settled, we shall be delighted to come along and once more take up your Lordships' time.
§ 4.14 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to start by reiterating the request made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, not to press his Motion. Sitting, as I do, on the General Synod, diocesan synod, deanery synod and parochial church council, I say: let us have an opportunity of debating this document, Church and State, before we come to any conclusions such as the noble Lord would like us to spring to to-day. I personally have always been against 513 severing the link between the Church of England and the State. In this, I do not know whether I am in a majority or a minority of the General Synod. But I am convinced that I have the support of the very large number of the members of the Church of England who are not interested in Church politics or in getting themselves elected on to committees, Synods, or any form of Church government, and who take no particular interest in what the people who have been elected are up to.
Those are the people who give generously when it is necessary to preserve their church and the fabric of their parish. They do not attend very regularly, but are most interested to try to see that they obtain a good man as their parson, and a suitable wife. They do not show very much interest in Church activities outside their own parish, but as individuals, of course, they frequently are attached to various forms of good work. Such people, in fact, regard what "they"— meaning, the diocese, et cetera—are up to with some degree of suspicion. These people are not a figment of my imagination. They are referred to in similar tones in paragraph 102 of the Report of the Archbishops' Commission.
The people I am speaking about, the majority of the Church of England, have always had Parliament as their ultimate safeguard of their rights and wishes. So long as the Church is established, Parliament has always been a kind of long-stop or goalkeeper. If anything particularly outrageous to their views or conscience is afoot, Members of Parliament hear about it from their constituents, and if the country becomes sufficiently worked up then Parliament can call a halt for reconsideration. This will rarely happen, of course, because the Church is extremely skilled and conscientious in its public relations with everybody. But it can happen, and disestablishment would mean that the ultimate safeguard of these non-vocal people would have gone. Religion can breed fanaticism, even today, and it could be that the General Synod was captured by extreme elements who would think it their duty to impose their ideas upon others. Some people say that Parliament, being to a considerable extent a non-Christian body, is not a fit body to exercise these ultimate powers. But, on this analogy, there are very few 514 subjects on which Parliament could be considered to be qualified. In fact, the less actual interest in the subject, the more likely to be the quality of the considered judgment.
Some people say it is intolerable that the appointment of Bishops should be conducted as it is at present. I take precisely the opposite view. There is far more consultation with all bodies of the Church than there could ever be under any other system, because the people who have to actuate the mechanisms know the kind of charges that can be levelled against them. They take the utmost care over every step they make in this direction. If I had to appoint the Chief Rabbi, I would go to the most tremendous efforts to take every conceivable form of sounding before I dared put a foot forward in that way. And that is what happens at the moment. The consultations have even been increased in recent years, with the setting up of the Vacancies in Sees Committee. If any clergyman should find it intolerable for his name to be put forward by a possibly agnostic Prime Minister, then the remedy is obvious: he can always withdraw. But up to date I have never heard of such a withdrawal.
The alternative of election by some Synod would be most distasteful, leading to lobbying and all sorts of things. An indirect election by an electoral college would, I think, he just as bad, if not worse, because there would be tremendous efforts and jockeying to try to fill the body of the electoral college. On the whole, the present system gives us pretty good Bishops and provides a very good variety—one has only to look on the left to see that—and extreme personalities do have a chance, which I believe under the committee system they would not do.
I suppose it could be argued (and I think the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was arguing the point) that it would be easier to join up with some of the Free Churches if there were no link with the State. Why, I have never really understood until now; but I believe that in this debate I have found the clue. There is such a great misconception of the type of link that I believe the whole thing is completely misconceived. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, who had a friend who had some idea that the Church was supported by the taxpayer 515 in some way. In practice, of course, the situation is precisely the reverse. It is the Church that, in spending large sums of money in contributions towards the provision of Church schools is propping up the State. There are many other misconceptions of that sort.
Some Churchmen—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is one of them—talk as if the very existence of different paths to God is a reproach to Christianity. But all faiths have their different sects. Islam certainly has: they have their puritan sects and various others, and the Buddhists and the Hindus take many different paths towards their ultimate God. The various denominations of the Christian faith tend to reflect the different outlook and life of their adherents, and if to secure ecumenical unity the Church of England had to conform in its daily outlook to others, then the silent majority would be most unhappy. To take practical but very extreme examples, if in order to secure a union with some particular Free Church it was necessary for the Church of England to adopt the rather extreme attitude to alcohol, smoking and gambling that some of the Churches tend to adopt, then the silent majority of the Church of England would just not conform. Again, if, in order to facilitate union with the Church of Rome, the Church of England was expected to adopt Roman ideas of authority, celibacy of the clergy and birth control, then again the silent majority of the Church of England would just not conform.
Is it really worth while to create a disestablishment in order to create a de jure union that was not in fact a de facto union? We can all co-operate without legal union, but I believe that establishment is very largely a bogey, and that it is much better to lay the bogey by instruction and innovation rather than to sacrifice establishment in order to satisfy the ill-founded fancies of some other people.
Some churchmen feel frustrated by what they think might be the attitude of Parliament towards change in the form of their services. I have never seen force in that argument. Parliament will not stand in the way of any changes that do not affront a large number of Church of England people—the non-vocal majority. 516 In the ordinary way the Church is much too sensible to put forward proposals of this sort which would so outrage the main body as to force people to go to Parliament for protection, and if they were so lacking in judgment then they would deserve to run foul of Parliament.
I have come to the conclusion that the main forces of disestablishment are false hopes and false fears. There is no doubt that we are passing through a phase of agnosticism and inattendance at religious services, and it is tempting for some people to think that if one could only "jazz it up" a bit people would be more sympathetic. It is tempting for others to think that if only we could unite all the Churches there would be a great religious revival, and that all this would be possible if we could get rid of Parliamentary control. Do not believe it, my Lords. I certainly do not. To my mind it would be most foolish to change the status of a link with the Church and the State in Britain. It would give comfort to the organised militant pagans who have done so much to encourage mockery of all Christian values, and it would remove the ultimate safeguards of people who are not in fact represented in the pyramid of committees and Synods which have been set up in the search for Church democracy.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his arguments. I disagree so profoundly with every single point he put forward that I would take up too much of your Lordships' time if I were to deal with all his points, because I could not choose between them.
My noble friend Lord Grantchester has said that this cannot be a Party matter. Nor is it. Yet it is fitting that this topic should be raised from the Liberal Benches. Although, contrary to what I read recently in the papers, the disestablishment of the Church of England has never been, and is not, part of the policy of the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party has always had an interest in disestablishment, partly because a Non-Conformist conscience never roars so loudly as when it suspects (in this case rightly) that it is being done down, and partly because the Liberal Party has 517 always been suspicious of cant and inimical to privilege. But, fitting as it is that this subject should have been raised from these Benches, and grateful as I am to my noble friend for raising it, I could have wished that it had come from elsewhere—to be precise, from the Front Bench immediately in front of me, and that it had been moved by the most reverend the Primate of All England.
As a Liberal legislator I must admit that while I think that disestablishment of the Church of England would be a good thing, it is far down the list of my priorities. But as a member of the inferior clergy of the Church of England it is fairly high on my list of priorities. That is why I wish that this proposal had come from the Church of England and, in view of the timing and the necessity for debate in the Church, of which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has so rightly reminded us, why I still hope that it can come from that quarter before very long.
This afternoon I should like to look at one or two of the ways in which the Establishment works. It is never easy to probe behind the smokescreen which surrounds the workings of the Church at its higher levels. The agendas and decisions of the Bishops' meetings are the best kept secrets in British public life, although whether this is because Bishops are supernaturally discreet or because these matters are, as my father used to say about masonic secrets, of such a nature that no one can remember them, is not entirely apparent. But occasionally we can probe behind the screen and you and I, my Lords, who rub shoulder to lawn-shoulder with at least one Bishop every Sitting day, have a unique opportunity to do so.
There have been two occasions in the recent past when the vote of the Bishops Bench was of extraordinary interest—the Division on the Rhodesian Sanctions Order and the Division on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill—the Bill dealing with East African Asians. It is fair to say that on both those occasions the leaders of the Church of England were more or less united, and united with the leaders of the other Christian Churches in this country as to the right course to take. It is also right and fair to say 518 that they spoke up with very considerable courage, and none of your Lordships who were in the House at the time, whether you agreed or not, will, I think, easily forget the courageous and eloquent speech of the most reverend Primate on the occasion of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. But there was a considerable difference in the voting figures on those two occasions. On Rhodesian sanctions no fewer than 18 of the Bishops' Bench voted. On the Kenyan Asians Bill only three.
Why was this? Was it because there was no hope of affecting the issue in the latter case? Far from it. If all the Bishops had voted, and if the noble Lord, Lord Macleod of Fuinary, had cast his vote with his voice, it is possible, indeed probable, that that Bill would have been defeated, to the greater honour of your Lordships' House and of England and for the avoidance of much human misery. The noble Lord, Lord Macleod of Fuinary, can of course be forgiven if, in casting his first vote in your Lordships' House, he naturally assumed that if he followed into the Lobby the Leaders of the Party he had so long supported and adorned he would find himself voting for the principles of good faith and the brotherhood of man which he believed it represented. It is sad to see simple faith so quickly shattered. But at least he was there.
Where were the Bishops? It may be that the coincidence of Church Assembly or Convocation or a Bishops' meeting accounts to a certain extent for the disparity of the numbers on the two occasions. Or even the fact that one vote was at 7 p.m. and the other at 3 a.m. It may be that all Bishops had Confirmations on the night in question, and I should be the first to admit that Bishops are grossly overworked. But it is difficult to think of a more valuable initiation for a young person into adult Christian life than to have his Confirmation postponed because his father in God is casting a vote for justice and humanity.
My Lords, may I intervene? The noble Lord has picked out two causes particularly dear to his heart. But those are not the only things of interest to Bishops in this House. Would he read out the voting record of the Bishops on all the other issues?
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, the vote of the Bishops on other issues is of interest, no doubt, but what I am pointing out is its disparity on these two occasions, when the Leaders of the Church were agreed, and fairly strongly. There was a difference in the vote on the two occasions, and I am going on to explain why this should be.
My Lords, the leaders of the Church were not agreed on Rhodesian sanctions. I have spoken to quite a number who opposed them.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, 18 Bishops went into the Lobby for the Government and no Bishops against the Government on that occasion. It may be that there were other high priorities why the Bishops were not there. One Bishop told me that he was seeing someone whose whole career was at stake, and that is a real priority and a real problem, although of course there were several tens of thousands of people whose careers were at stake that night. Another Bishop asked me whether I wanted to see the mediæval power of the Church in politics revived. My answer is that that power should either be abolished—which I favour and this Motion favours—or used. To have power for good which you do not use is in itself evil. But that question can hardly have given expression to the real motive of that Bishop, because he found himself in the Lobby on Rhodesian sanctions.
But none of these were the real reasons, except perhaps in individual cases; and I am sure that there were individual cases. On the whole the real reason, I believe, was one that was allowed discreetly to be known, and that was that it is permissible for the Church to use her power to support the Government of the day but not permissible for her to use her power against the Government of the day, particularly if there is any likelihood that she might succeed. And that, my Lords, is the negation of the whole theory of Establishment. It is death to the idea of the Church as the conscience of the nation. And it is, if I may say so, pathetic.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord by what authority he makes that statement?
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, it was allowed to be understood. Would the most reverend Primate deny that it was the case?
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I intervene entirely to deny the proposition the noble Lord is adducing. We who sit on these Benches vote according to our judgment and conscience, which may sometimes be for and sometimes against the Government of the day. I know no other principle than that which directs our action.
THE LORD BISHOP OF DURHAM
My Lords, I would intervene to say that I would find it absolutely intolerable to be told how to vote in this House, either for the Government or against. It would be a complete denial of Christian reason or conscience.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, Christian reason or conscience is, in the case of the Bishops of the Establishment, quite rightly and obviously governed by the fact of Establishment. If they approve of Establishment, they must obviously do their best to see that Establishment continues, and Establishment must be one of the things which governs the conscience of Bishops. It would be wrong if it did not.
My Lords, is the noble Lord associating Establishment with the Government of the day? Because there is the difference of chalk from cheese.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I am saying that there would be a very considerable constitutional crisis if the Government of the day was defeated on an important matter in your Lordships' House, and not only by your Lordships' House but on an issue in which the Bishops' Bench came out wholeheartedly against the Government of the day. I am saying that the Bench of Bishops is aware of this.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, well might Bishop Gore exclaim that:The Church of England is an ingeniously devised instrumentality for defeating the objects it is supposed to promote".521 Nor does the Church gain anything from this kind of attitude. In making her own laws she is compelled either to deny her own opinions, which she believes to be guided by the Holy Spirit, or to resort to unworthy subterfuge to avoid the veto of Home Office lawyers. I refer particularly to the proposed canons on the seal of the confessional and the marriage of unbaptised persons. Their story is fully and fairly told in paragraphs 188 to 210 of the Report on Church and State, and I will not go further into the matter except to say that the question as to whether the proposed canon on the marriage of unbaptised persons is a good or a bad one is irrelevant.
The Church so long as it is established will neither be free to be the conscience of the nation, nor will it be free to run its own affairs. In both cases it makes itself a laughing stock—a fact which it is powerless to conceal and which only the total and understandable disinterest of the majority of Christians with the postures of all the official Churches stops from being a scandal.
But the problem runs deeper than this. I believe that the whole concept of Establishment is wrong. It is based on the idea of a Christian society. It is clear that Britain is no longer a Christian society. What is more important, I think, is that there can be no such thing. Christianity is a personal affirmation. It is the affirmation of the individual that "Jesus is Lord". A body of people who all make that affirmation, such as a Church, can be called a Christian body; but as soon as one person in a social entity does not make that affirmation it cannot rightly be called "Christian". It can behave in a Christian manner, it should behave in a moral manner, but to call it "Christian" is again to fudge the issue and lead to the ambiguities and compromises which are the concomitants of Establishment.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, would the noble Lord hold, therefore, that a school in which there was one member of the Jewish community could not be called a Christian school?
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, yes, I would, certainly. I think it is sound theology, but it may not be as good sociology. Nor do I believe 522 that the posture of the Church as part of the authority of the nation is a fitting one. It is not necessary to regret the Constantinian Revolution or to lead a retreat to the catacombs to deplore, with W. H. Auden, that:Christian agape has now declined into a late lunch with Constantine".The Church is not greater than its master, and it must take on the morphe tou doulou, the shape of a slave.Not of the princes and prelates with periwigged charioteersRiding triumphantly laurelled to lap the fat of the yearsRather the scarred, the rejected, the men hemmed in with the spearsIt is probable indeed that to regard ourselves as a Christian country has a counter-productive effect. It leads us to believe that to be a decent citizen is the same as being a Christian, whereas the truth is nearer to the position stated by Father Raymond Raynes when he said that:Christianity based oil the best traits of the English character is exactly wrong.It leads also to what Dean Inge called,prophylatic religion whereby many people get a mild dose of Christianity earlier in life which prevents them geting it badly later on.Nor, indeed, even if it were becoming, would an Establishment posture be particularly appropriate at this moment. Along with all other Churches the figures for baptisms, confirmations and ordinations in the Church of England continue to fall at a rate which must be alarming to all those who defend the Establishment, since it is a corollary of the Establishment that the Church must have enough strength to maintain the role of a National Church. It is the ordination figures which have given so much worry until recently, but now it looks as if that worry, at least, will be removed, since financial forecasts make it probable that the Church will not be able to employ even the manpower that it has. This will also mean that a greater and greater proportion of time and money will be spent on the upkeep and fabric of the churches. My noble friend Lord Grantchester has made a virtue of the fact that he is not calling for disendowment. I, on the other hand, regret this. Disendowment might halt the decline of the Ministry from being priests, pastors and prophets into being museum keepers—soon of the only free museums in the State.
523 My Lords, I do not anticipate that my noble friend will succeed in his endeavours, although I hope that he does. But there is one special point that I should like to raise; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare mentioned, it is one of which I have given him notice. The point concerns the disability for clergy of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland to sit in the House of Commons. Here, at least, I hope that I shall carry with me my brethren on the opposite Benches. Whatever the reasons for the original disabilities, my Lords, I do not believe that there is any reason for the State to perpetuate them. They are not merely tied up with the Establishment, or Roman Catholic priests would not be debarred. It is not a ban on religious ministers as such, or the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, would never have been a Member of Parliament. It does not apply to the Upper House, as witness the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, O.S.B., the noble Lord, Lord McLeod of Fuinary, the noble Lord, Lord Fisher of Lambeth, and myself. It is certainly not because the State thinks that clergy should not be involved in politics, or we should not have the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, as a Minister in the Government. Whether the Churches wish their clergy to sit in Parliament is another matter, and is up to them. But there is no reason left for the State to impose such a ban; and I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has not been able to give me a slight vestige of hope in this matter.
My Lords, I am sorry if I have given offence by anything that I have said in this speech. I shall await with interest the proper explanation of the difference in the two votes to which I have called attention. I hope that if I have given any offence it will not be allowed in any way to cloud the conviction that I have and the reasons that I have given for it, that the Establishment is not a good thing. It is an anomaly. It gives rise to anomalies. It is a nuisance to the State. It is a disaster to the Church, and I hope that it will not last very much longer.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD FLETCHER
My Lords, it will be for others than myself to say whether the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, 524 has given offence, and as I notice that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester is to speak later in the debate, I prefer to leave it to him to deal with what I regarded as the more extreme and rather offensive remarks of the noble Lord. I am bound to say that I share very much the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke.
This Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is quite obviously inspired by the recent Report of the Owen Chadwick Commission Church and State, and more particularly by the Memorandum of Dissent by Miss Valerie Pitt in that Report.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this Motion was on the Order Paper long before this Report came out?
§ LORD FLETCHER
My Lords, I was aware of that; but having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I still think that a great deal of his speech was inspired by much that is in the Report, and particularly in the Memorandum of Dissent of Miss Valerie Pitt. My excuse for intervening in this debate is that I happen to have been a member of an earlier Commission on Church and State, appointed by the most reverend Primate's predecessor, which reported in 1952, and which, if I may say so with all modesty, had among its members some who were no less distinguished than the members of the Owen Chadwick Commission. A number of them were, at one time or another, Members of your Lordships' House: I refer in particular to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, to the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and to Bishop Charles-Edwards, who was until recently Bishop of Worcester. The 1952 Commission was under the chairmanship of Sir Walter Moberley.
I hope that when this latest Report comes to be considered by the Synod and by diocesan bodies, they will not overlook the arguments and the recommendations of the earlier Report of 1952. I have recently re-read that Report, with which I had something to do and, if again I may say so with all modesty, I greatly prefer both the arguments and the conclusions in that Report to those in the Report of the Commission of which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester was such a distinguished member.
525 To my mind, the relevant considerations have not changed very much since then. In so far as they have changed since 1952, they have made the case for disestablishment much weaker. The Moberley Commission reached a conclusion at page 17 from which I will read only one sentence. After an elaborate examination of the arguments both ways, we said:The Establishment is of great benefit to the nation and affords great opportunities to the Church. The Church has a strong prima facie obligation to use, and not to abandon, these opportunities.The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was a naked and undisguised plea for the disestablishment of the Church of England. If ever there was a case for this House to consider the disestablishment of the Church of England it was in 1928 or 1929, 40 years ago, when Parliament threw out the Prayer Book Measures, and when there was, one must admit, a deep sense of humiliation and of suffering, genuinely felt, not throughout the Church as a whole, but by a great number of the leaders of the Churches.
The situation has changed profoundly since 1929, and in particular since 1952. Any arguments for disestablishment that could have been used at those dates are much less persuasive now. What has happened since then? During the interval, there has been a succession of Measures approved by Parliament to give to the Church of England ever-increasing measures of autonomy, with the result that the links between the Church and State have become so attenuated as to be almost minimal in their significance.
One recalls the vast succession of Measures passed by the Church Assembly, presented to Parliament, passed either without debate or with but little criticism, giving the Church exactly what they wanted with regard to the Prayer Book, to Liturgy, to vestments, and to the Holy Table, and not least, as the Moberley Committee itself recommended, giving the Church of England, for the first time, complete autonomy in matters of ecclesiastical discipline. The ultimate appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which, in those days, was regarded as objectionable, has been removed at the request of the Church. The history of the last forty 526 years shows that Parliament has consistently acquiesced in the wishes of the Church of England to regulate its own affairs. I myself have taken part in a number of debates in another place when Measures have come before that House for approval. I would observe that on no occasion that I can remember has there been any substantial criticism of the merits of a particular Measure. The concern of the Lower House—and I have no doubt it is equally the concern of this House—has chiefly been directed to see whether the mind of the Church has been completely made up on the point at issue, and whether there is any considerable minority opinion that could possibly be offended as a result of majority decisions in the Church Assembly.
The Owen Chadwick Commission puts forward three reasons for suggesting some modification of the present arrangement. I think basically the Owen Chadwick Commission's Report is against disestablishment, as was the Moberley Coin, mission. But it does draw attention to matters in which it says that there might well be some further diminution of the links between Church and State. I profoundly disagree with all of them, but they are worth examination. In the first place, it is said that there is still some objection felt in some Church quarters, but not all Church quarters, about the fact that Measures have to come before Parliament at all. Here again, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said, Parliament frequently has to deal with matters on which it is not particularly expert. Professor Norman Sykes, afterwards Dean of Winchester, once said that the history of the 19th and early 20th centuries shows that it has often been the function, subsequently applauded, of Parliamentto retard, and perhaps even frustrate, the designs of particular churchmen and clergy towards alterations which were in advance of the general parity of opinion.I believe it is precisely the same situation to-day. I regard the very limited measure of veto or control which Parliament still exercises over ecclesiastical Measures is not unlike the delaying power which this House exercises over Bills that come from another place, and is to be regarded in precisely the same light.
Then it is said that the system of the appointment of Bishops by the Crown, on 527 the recommendation of the Prime Minister, is a cause of offence in some quarters. My experience, from a reasonably wide circle of those who are members of the Church of England, clergy and lay, is that this alleged grievance is not very generally felt. My experience is that a predominant number of members of the Church of England are quite content with the present system. First of all, as other noble Lords have said, it works extremely well in practice. No one has doubted that. Secondly, everybody who has considered the matter knows, and others ought to know, that appointments are only made after a vast amount of consultation by the Appointments Secretary to the Prime Minister—consultations not only with the diocese concerned, but with the province, with other ecclesiastical bodies concerned, with the laity, and with all authorities directly concerned with the appointment. I do not think there could be any more painstaking examination, particularly now that we have the Vacancy-in-See Committee set up, as a result of the recommendations of the Howick Commission, to give advice on the needs of the particular diocese. Therefore, there really can be no complaint about the amount of consultation with all interested authorities in Church and State that takes place before a recommendation is made by the Prime Minister to the Crown.
As other noble Lords have said, experience has also shown—which is probably the case—that some of the most notable and significant appointments in recent years, controversial at the time, would hardly have been possible under any other system. One only has to mention such names as Hensley Henson, Charles Gore, George Bell and (dare I say it?) Bishop Barnes, to doubt whether any of them could have been appointed under any other system. I go further. It is said by some opponents of the present system that however well it works in practice, it is all wrong in theory that the Prime Minister, or the State, should have anything to do with the appointment of Bishops. There I profoundly disagree. I think it is as right to-day as it ever has been. It always has been the case that the State, acting through the Prime Minister, has a vital interest, on behalf of the nation, to secure the best possible 528 appointments to the Episcopal Bench. After all, as the Owen Chadwick Commission says, the State is also one of God's instruments. I take the view that the State is vitally interested in securing the best possible appointments to the Episcopal Bench, and for this reason, if for no other reason, that a Bishop, when appointed, is not merely the president of his particular diocese, he has a national position. He occupies a position in the life of the nation which is one of influence and responsibility. What he says is listened to by a circle beyond those for whom he has a particular and direct spiritual responsibility. Therefore, I would be against any change in the present system of appointment of Bishops.
Another argument put forward for disestablishment is that it is an objection, or a hindrance, to reunion. As the most reverend Primate knows, I am entirely dedicated to the ecumenical movement. I do not believe that the present links between the Church and the State are any hindrance to reunion. If I recall rightly, when the proposal for union with the Methodists was contemplated recently, that proposal was supported by a majority of the Methodists, notwithstanding the existing arrangements between Church and State.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, in the interests of accuracy, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt and say that the Anglican-Methodist Report emphasised that the Methodist Church would not accept the present State link unless it was considerably modified?
§ LORD FLETCHER
My Lords, I am obliged to the most reverend Primate. I think it flows from what he said that the observations of the Methodist Union were somewhat ambiguous. But at any rate they voted in favour of the proposed scheme of reunion put forward at that time. My own view about the Ecumenical Movement and reunion is that, whereas there might be some difficulties about it for a long period of time to come, I do not think the cause of reunion would be in any way accelerated by the disestablishment of the Church of England. On the contrary, I fear that if the Church of England were disestablished it would lose a great deal of the allegiance which it 529 now attracts; and that some part of that allegiance would go to the Church of Rome, while another part would go to the Free Churches. I think that a large part of the strength of the Church of England lies in the fact that it is a national church.
Here may I say, with great respect to the right reverend Prelates, the Bishop of Leicester and the Bishop of Chester, both of whom were members of the Commission, that I feel they did less than justice and laid too little emphasis on the feelings of that large, generally diffused, inarticulate, perhaps amorphous, body of citizens, who though not churchgoers assent to Christianity. The Commission tended to make assumptions with which I do not agree. They tended to assume that all Christians go to church. That is not necessarily the case, any more than it is the case that everybody who goes to church is a Christian.
Tim LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will not think that any lack of emphasis in the final Report was brought about by a lack of desire on the part of some members of the Commission to emphasise those matters.
§ LORD FLETCHER
My Lords, I welcome that intervention. I would emphasise for the consideration of the Synod and other bodies when they come to consider the Reports that, whereas the Moberley Commission was unanimous, the recent Report seems to me to be riddled with dissent. I am bound to say that I entirely share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that in the minds of a great many citizens in this country what is meant by the Establishment, and what is significant in the Establishment, is not so much the method by which bishops are appointed or the machinery by which Measures become law, but the fact that every citizen has the Common Law right—and has had it for centuries—to take his children to be baptised in the parish church; the Common Law right to be married in his parish church; the probability, particularly if he lives in the country, that he will be buried in the churchyard.
On top of that, there is the fact that he knows, and often claims and exercises, the right to ask the parish priest to go and see him and give him advice and 530 guidance in times of emergency, with the corresponding right and duty of the parish priest of the Church of England, unlike a Minister of any other denomination, to visit every house in his parish. Those are the elements in the grass roots of our national life which, in the minds of a great many people, constitute the essentials of the Establishment; and they are some of the things which would go if the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, were carried.
I have trespassed too long on your Lordships' time, but may I say this in conclusion? I was a little doubtful about something which fell from the lips of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. A situation might arise, though I hope it never will, in which the Church of England felt obliged—because it thought it could not otherwise carry out its spiritual duties—to come to Parliament and ask for disestablishment. If ever that day arises, and I hope it never will, I shall be against it.
But what I find really intolerable is that if this Motion were carried the State would be appearing to take the initiative in saying to the Church of England, "Go away and be disestablished. We do not want any further links with the Church of England. We wish a complete severance", and to be saying this at a time when one has no method of knowing what is the mind of the Church of England on this matter. The Report has been published only very recently. There is no reason to believe that it will be approved, either by the Synod or by members of the Church of England throughout the country, and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has no reason to make that assumption.
Therefore, on any basis it seems to me premature, if not preposterous, to suggest that the State should come and tell the Church that the State wants to disestablish the Church. If that day arose, I think the situation would justify what Dr. Dollinger said many years ago:…the disestablishment of the Church of England would be a shock to the Nations throughout the World because it would be taken as the British people's deliberate repudiation of a continuous Christian tradition.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, I consulted with the Librarian and we found that there has not been a debate on disestablishment of the Church of England 531 for over a hundred years. I do not quite know how the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is going to work that out. I think he said that earlier it was merely a case of Gladstone bickering, not initiating a debate.
§ LORD STRANGE
Then there has never been one. So that this is a historic occasion, not perhaps for us sitting here to-day, but for the future when the history of this epoch is written.
I rather wish that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester could go on with what he said. I rather wish that the clock of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, had stuck at ten minutes to three and that we were not having this debate to-day. I am very nervous about speaking on the subject, but I feel that I should speak because one takes one's Oath and one is supposed to speak about what one thinks really important. I have private religious beliefs, which I hold very strongly, and I have possessed them for 23 years. I feel that they make a very big difference to this debate, so I feel impelled to give them.
I am hardly ever nervous about making a speech, but I shall be very nervous about speaking on this subject. In fact, I shall be a very cautious cat walking on very hot bricks, for what I say is difficult. But as a Member of your Lordships' House I feel that I should say it. Nor can I promise to be particularly brief, because I am not really speaking to your Lordships; I am speaking to Hansard—not to Hansard of to-day, but Hansard of twenty years ahead. I apologise if I appear to be nervous. The last time I was nervous was four years ago, when I was asked to propose a toast at a wedding reception in the Hyde Park Hotel, which was packed for the occasion. The toastmaster rose and said, "Your Highnesses, your Graces, my Lords, ladies and gentlemen. We shall now cut the cake." So I quietly went back to wait. Later on he began again: "Your Highnesses, your Graces, my Lords, ladies and gentlemen. The toast 532 is 'The Bride'." The next thing for I heard was "Look the other way"—"I was to take a photograph"—"Please don't"—"Look, dear"—"I was talking"—"Please, now please!"—Then, flash! My wife was there to share the day, and I went absolutely white in the face—a thing I do not often do. I shall probably do that as I am speaking to-day, my Lords.
I think I would start by saying that it I am sitting in a beautiful cathedral (of which we have many in this country), listening to some marvellously spiritual man, with a lovely voice, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, reading the 1662 Prayer Book in its beautiful English, and hearing a lovely choir singing, I half shut my eyes and see it all as a great tapestry hanging from the hammer beams to the pavement of the floor. I see this tapestry woven with devotion right back through the centuries, with every thread put in with love, kindness and enormous faith. I see in it the tarnished threads of gold which have been the philosophies of very good men and very clever men in past centuries. I look at this tapestry and wonder sometimes: will it stand for ever?
My Lords, 23 years ago I was sitting in an ordinary church while the sermon was going on, thinking about this tapestry, and at that time, or just before then, professional philosophy or official philosophy had given up using metaphysical concepts. I thought of all the young people coming up in the world who would look at the tapestry and not believe the philosophies; who could not believe them without metaphysical concepts. At that moment during the sermon I wondered whether I was going to go on believing the philosophies. During a sermon you can always take out a Bible—it is quite a correct thing to do; it looks as if you are reading the text to make quite sure what it says. So I took cut my Prayer Book and I looked at what I do not think should be called a creed, actully, but which is attributed to St. Athenatius though I believe it was constructed many years after his death. It is a sort of dog's dinner philosophy, and I wondered how long I could go on saying, "This is the Christian faith". I wondered very much whether I would finish by saying, "Those who do not believe will be cast into fire eternally", or, I think it is, "will be damned eternally"—or, anyway, they 533 are not being given any chance unless they believe this thing, which is very difficult for even educated persons to understand.
As I was going out of the church the padre smiled at me as we shook hands and said, "I see you were following the sermon". I said, "Yes, it was very interesting". Liar! I had not listened to a word of it—not a word. Was I a traitor, too? I went outside, and I wondered, "Are you a traitor?" I had, I assumed, been baptised in a decent basin provided by the parish, and I had, I know, been confirmed. Was I turning against the whole thing? It worried me a bit. Then I thought it was not exactly being a traitor; what I was doing was just bad taste. It was like suddenly thinking that able-bodied women should open doors for themselves. But when I got home I thought: "This is not fair. It is not fair to my church, it is not fair to me. What on earth do I know about the Church? Do I know the early history? Do I know anything about it?" I came to the conclusion that I knew nothing about its history at all. That night I wrote to my library, which was a fairly extensive library, and a few days later, having taken the manuscript of the book I was writing and dumped it in a cardboard box, I had a whole pile of books porcupined with bits of paper stuck in here and there as indices. Then I got on my typewriter, and finally I formed a very private idea, which I have never thought of telling anybody (that is why I am so amazed I am telling your Lordships of it to-day) of what my views on the early church were.
I began at B.C.6, which seems to be the birth of Christ. I think a very pardonable mistake was made in calculating the census date, but I think B.C.6 is correct. I was interested to know that for a long time Haley's Cornet was attributed to be the star, but now I think it is accepted that it would be Kepler's transit of Venus and Saturn, which occurred in B.C.6. I was interested, but not surprised, to know that Christmas Day was fixed in the year 350, to coincide with the feast of December 25, which was an old feast. I was not surprised particularly: I was trying to be unbiased; I was trying to know what I was believing in. Then I fixed that I would try to get a picture of the Christian era from B.C.6 to the fall of 534 Jerusalem, and I got a picture which I think was historically accurate.
I got a picture of a marvellous, religious race; the only spiritual race in the world with spiritual kings and spiritual aristocracy, who had lost the colossal faith that they had when Abraham sacrificed his son and who were now split into desperately opposed sections which would not speak to each other but inveterately hated the Roman rule—a nation which for the first time was very unsure of itself, what was going to happen to it. I found that there were a lot of lay preachers through the whole of my period coming out of the desert. You might say that the Holy Land was a sort of Hyde Park, the Marble Arch end, but with an audience who all knew their Bible, chapter and verse. Some of these were historical characters. I was interested to know that the Jews really did expect a Messiah—partially, I thought, by a bit of choosey stuff with their prophets, taking a paragraph here and there, and also to a great extent by wishful thinking. I realised that while the ordinary people obviously, as we would say to-day, not 23 years ago, hoped for a Moshe Dayan to come in, the religious sect did expect a new prophet. I think that is definitely true, and there is historical evidence that they questioned some of the lay preachers coming in. John the Baptist, who is an historical character, for instance, was questioned to see whether his views were heretical or not, or if he was indeed the Messiah who was expected.
My Lords, I went on with the history. I was particularly interested in the lay preachers coming in from the desert, and one thing which interested me—and, after all, it is now 23 years ago that I learned this; I have a reasonable memory—was that about six years after the Crucifixion a speaker came in, who I do not think has got an historical name, who collected such an enormous crowd that the Governor told the troops to disperse it. The troops were not fond of the Jews, they killed a lot of people in dispersing the crowd, and the prisoners they took were executed. Pilate was recalled to Rome; and from that date on the rest of its history is legendary.
I went on to the terrible end of Jerusalem, to the terrible siege—with the desert seething with false prophets. One such was Jesus of Arlam with his 535 "Gospel of the Four Winds of Jerusalem". Another was John of Escala, an agitator, who was a terrible man. Throughout the siege he raised people to attack the different sects, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and so on. It was a terrible siege; the city was packed and there was practically no food. The defending guards had to loot in order to get enough strength to fight against the invaders. The Romans were tough with those who escaped; they cut off the hands of the women and crucified the men. One Jew who was being crucified burst open with the amount of gold that he had swallowed. And when they got into Jerusalem, the Bedouin auxiliaries disembowelled the survivors. The story of Jerusalem at that time is a terrible one; with the temples on fire and with John of Escala leading a terrible last rush through the flames to the Temple. I think that was the end of the cycle.
My Lords, I was rather surprised that there was no historical evidence of Jesus of Nazareth. It is all right, my Lords; I am a Christian—it will be all right! There is actually a reference in Josephus whose history covered this period; but the early Churches agree that the account of Jesus of Nazareth was an insertion by some Christian scribe who was called, I think, Justus of Tiberies. He was a Galilean and he wrote a chronicle during the whole time. It is said that there is no mention in it of Jesus of Nazareth; but his chronicle was destroyed in the Middle Ages, and no one really knows. One would have thought that the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, would have made some reference to Rome of the Crucifixion; but there is no reference.
I had to think this subject over for quite a long time, because I have always felt that Christianity was right. Then I started to study the arrival of the Gospels. I think I am correct in saying that St. Matthew's was the first of the Gospels. It was written down, I believe, about twenty years after the death of Christ. I "mugged" this up about 23 years ago, so there is no difficulty about memory; one can remember what one likes. The point I wish to make to your Lordships is that I believe that a lot of the Gospels is direct reportage, and I accept them as the truth. I thought that I would never say this to anybody, but I must say it in 536 this House, because it is a picture of a different form of thought about Christianity that I have and I daresay a lot of other people have. I accept it because I believe it is true.
I do not know that I believe that it is quite as true as the tapestry that I have described, with the golden threads. I did a lot of work, without getting very far, into the secret sects of the early Church, to find out how the early Church was formed. I can give my views quite simply by saying that it seems that the best part of the teaching is based on the interview with Nicodemus, which sounds absolutely true and direct reportage. I think it is given by St. John, who wrote his Gospel when he was an old man.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. We always listen to him with great interest and I know that he is giving a most sincere account of how his views were formed; but I was wondering whether he would realise that this debate is about the disestablishment of the Church of England. I hope that perhaps before his voice gives out he will give us his views on that subject.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, I should be only too pleased to do so. The trouble is that what I am trying to explain is very difficult to explain and I do not see how I can do it without giving this preamble. I will stop immediately I see an eyelid blink. I feel that this interview with Nicodemus is the most important thing in the Bible. Nicodemus was an historical character, an old man. The question was how to inherit eternal life. And he said, "Re-birth!" When the Christian Church was being formed, they decided that the way to re-birth was by the suppression of the Devil, the Devil being a perfect symbol of the hereditary instincts, half man, half beast. There were two ways to re-birth: one, suppression; and one, recognition—know yourself!
I came to the conclusion that I myself should practise recognition; because during the last century the Church attacked Darwin—and the Church lost. And they turned more to the tapestry than they had done. I felt that the Christian teaching of "know yourself!" was made very comprehensible in those days. I started to make a study of it myself; and 537 I have been studying it since then, for over twenty years. The Christian teaching of "know yourself!" should be taught to-day, because I believe that everybody can understand it. I believe that it works and that it brings results; and this has not been so with the "suppression" teaching which has continued almost through time.
Clearly, the teaching of "Christian, know yourself!" agrees completely with modern science, so far as we have got. I think that science agrees with this rebirth theory. If you know your hereditary instincts, know them well and understand them, then they have no power over you. Life is nearly completely automatic; we are nearly completely automatic. To gain free will we must know why we are automatic. If we know why we are automatic, if we understand why, then we can gain a degree of free will which has never been possessed by any form of life on this earth.
What I am saying is easily contradicted, but I believe that it is true. This is what the Church of the future should be teaching to children in school; it is basic Christianity. I know that I am speaking too much; but this is important and I must try to give one example—
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I do think that the attention of the House should be drawn to Standing Order No. 27.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, this has been a most interesting and for some of us a most helpful discussion this afternoon. So far as I am concerned, it has helped me greatly to clear my mind on the difficult and complex subjects that we have been discussing.
The matters that we have been debating this afternoon are the very foundation and basis of the Church of England, and whatever we may consider to be their present usefulness they ought not to be modified or changed without clue and searching examination. That I trust, in this House and elsewhere, these proposals will receive.
My noble friend's Motion asks us to consider whether the Church of England should continue to be established. That, 538 I think, involves the question of the status of establishment. The Report itself gives considerable space to the various phases through which establishment may pass and the various aspects of the Church which may be described as being within the Establishment. I think one of the things that your Lordships have to decide is at what stage along the road to change you can say that the Church is no longer established.
My Lords, the draft Measure adopted by the Archbishops' Commission goes a long way and gives the General Synod unrestricted control of the forms of worship without the veto of Parliament, to which such strong objection has sometimes been taken in the past; but it is restricted to forms of worship.
There are other, far-reaching changes. The position of the Crown is changed; the selection and appointment of bishops has also changed—in fact it has been completely altered. On that matter I am entirely in support of my noble friend Lord Hawke, and the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher. I think the present method of selecting bishops has justified itself in the character and status of those who have been chosen for that great office. Though I myself would desire to see no change there, one reads through the Report of the Archbishops' Commission, and indeed other literature on the subject, and not infrequently comes across criticism of the method of appointing bishops.
It has always seemed to me that that criticism is based upon a measure of ignorance of the way in which this House conducts its business and the part which the bishops take in our deliberations. I am sure that much of the criticism of the present arrangements for selecting and appointing bishops arises from the fact that those who make it have no real experience of the subject. We in this House can correct that.
Are these changes which I have endeavoured to enumerate in themselves sufficient to meet the objections of some of those who have advocated disestablishment, or indeed of those other Churches who have looked upon the Establishment as an obstacle to unity? Are these changes which are suggested and adopted by the Archbishops' Commission sufficient to bring about that result? They 539 are changes which would certainly not satisfy my noble friend. He would make the General Synod the governing body of the Church, with power to modify the Church law without the intervention of Parliament at any stage. That recommendation is limited to forms of worship; it does not extend beyond that.
I think that what I have said has shown that when the contest (if it is to be a contest) for disestablishment takes place, the opposition will come not so much from the Establishment as it exists to-day, but from the Establishment as it is modified by a recommendation of the Archbishops' Commission. It will not be so easy to ensure that establishment, in the eyes of those who believe in it, does not go too far.
My Lords, sooner or later we shall have to choose between these two alternatives. We cannot do that this afternoon. The Report of the Archbishops' Commission must come before Parliament in some way, and it must be fully and adequately debated outside Parliament before we see it. The Church must then decide how far it is necessary for it to go along the road to disestablishment, or indeed whether it is necessary for it to go that way at all.
May I turn for a moment to another and different matter. When this momentous—and it is momentous—decision is taken, I hope the authorities will not, as indeed I am sure they will not, forget the sentiments of the man in the pew or the man on the parochial church council. My noble friend Lord Hawke very appropriately described these men as "the silent majority". The silent majority are an important force in the life of the Church. On the whole, I think that they approve of the Establishment. They feel that the links with which the State is bound to the Church give the Church an authority which it would not otherwise possess. Therefore, I hope that the views of that element of church people will be taken fully into account. The Archbishops' Commission deals very fairly with them. My noble friend was about to read us a passage I think from paragraph 102. I hope that my noble friend will also look at paragraph 217, which contains an admirable piece of writing on the subject of the silent majority.
540 That is all I desire to say. I will perhaps repeat the congratulations to my noble friend for the very careful and adequate manner in which he has presented his case. I trust that when the time comes the old foundations of the Establishment on which the Church very largely rests will remain intact and will not be ruthlessly modified or destroyed.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, it had been my intention to sit on the sidelines in this debate and listen to the Church of England trying to solve problems to which the Church of Scotland had found a solution half a century ago. But on reflection this seemed to me to be a rather self-satisfied and selfish kind of attitude, and so I venture to intervene in the hope that what I say may be helpful. It certainly is not meant to be critical, for conditions of history, geography and anthropology are so very different, the one kingdom to the other, as my noble friend Lord Aberdare pointed out, quoting that eminent and famous Scot, William Ewart Gladstone.
Compared with the Church of Scotland, the Church of England over recent centuries has been remarkably free of schism. For centuries we in Scotland have been rent asunder. It is as one of those schismatics that I venture to speak, for I was born, as the Scots phrase goes, a son of the manse—and a Free Kirk manse at that!—where we gloried in the great schism of 1843 called The Disruption. If memory serves me right, more than half the ministers left the Established Church of their fathers at that time to form the Free Kirk. They left their manses, their homes—and many had large families—to build new churches and new manses. My Lords, the reason for all this was patronage, the power of the State in the Church. This great disruption of 1843 was the culmination of a series of schisms going back over 150 years or more. Soon after this, however, the concept of reunion of the Presbyterian Churches in Scotland grew, and by the end of the century the main streams of the dissenting Presbyterians were all reunited into the powerful and more numerous United Free Church of Scotland, standing up against the Established Church. The desire for complete reunion grew, but there remained the one great 541 stumbling block, the relation of Church and State. It is on this point that I venture to advise your Lordships to-day.
To obtain this freedom, freedom without disestablishment, an Act of Parliament was essential. There was no question among the people of Scotland that this freedom was desirable, but the people as a whole took no steps through Parliament to give effect to it. It was realised that the first move had to come from the Church of Scotland itself—a Church of diverse elements, though, I must add, nothing like so diverse as the Church of England. It took time, my Lords—nearly a quarter of a century—for the Church of Scotland to realise her position and to ask Parliament for the necessary Act. That this Act became law without opposition and without further schisms was due to the canny manner in which the leaders of the Church of Scotland set about it, and to the fact that Parliament and public opinion stayed right out of the matter at those stages. And so, my Lords, my advice to you to-day is that, no matter how desirable are the objectives of this Motion, this is a matter on which the Church of England herself should make the going, and certainly not Parliament.
I had the privilege of being present in Westminster Abbey at the inauguration of the General Synod, and it seems to me that if the General Synod means anything, it is that from now on the diversities of this great Church can be recognised and can express themselves. When you adopt a democratic course there are, of course, dangers and perils, but on the whole, provided that you give time for reflection and consideration and care, in Church affairs at any rate, you will come up in the end with the right answer. It was more than a privilege to be present in Westminster Abbey that day, and I say that deliberately. It was indeed for me a very great spiritual experience. My conclusion in the whole matter is that the Church and her leaders can go forward to reform with confidence and that we who are not of the Church of England should leave the Church to decide her own destiny, without interference by the State or by Parliament.
§ 5.45 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP or CHESTER
My Lords, this has been a most interesting 542 and valuable debate. We must express our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for the way in which he introduced his Motion; for the charity, courtesy and calmness of his approach and for the expressions of opinion to which his Motion has given rise. As I am the last to speak from this Bench perhaps I may claim the privilege of commenting on one or two of the speeches that we have heard. I should first of all like to express our extreme gratitude for the two speeches we have heard from the Front Benches. The speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, were extremely understanding and sympathetic. I know that they will be greatly appreciated by members of the Church of England, who will find them very encouraging and helpful.
On behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and myself, I must demur slightly to the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, who suggested that we had minimised the influence and importance of the general Christian character of this country, which cannot be measured necessarily by attendances in places of public worship. We were, I think, the leaders of the Commission in emphasising the importance of that matter. We feel that here the sociological survey at the end of the Report is of great importance. This is one of the factors that the right reverend Prelate and I, and others, felt was of first importance.
I shall hope to comment on one or two matters in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, but I have been challenged to comment on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and to answer the question whether the Bench of Bishops have been offended by it. My Lords, I do not know all the criteria accepted by those who have the responsibility of advising the Prime Minister as to who should be made Bishops; but one should certainly be that a Bishop should have a broad back. If he has not acquired one by the time he becomes a Bishop, he very soon acquires one afterwards. I can assure you that no one would have been offended by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont.
At the same time, I think that we are saddened by the fact that Lord Beaumont 543 should devote so much of his enthusiasm and his passion to matters which, I can assure him, are quite illusory. For instance, he raised the canard of the Bishops' secret meetings—this conclave of scheming prelates who are up to no good in thinking out things for the Church of England. It is perfectly natural that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury should, from time to time, wish to consult in private with his fellow Bishops about matters of concern to their pastoral ministry. Nothing more than that happens; and if Lord Beaumont has these ideas, I can only exclaim, if only he knew the truth! The noble Lord has suggested that the Bishops measure the way in which they vote by some directive from above. Again I can assure him that no such directive is ever issued; and if it were, no Bishop would measure his vote by such instruction.
The noble Lord raised the question of the curious differences that there are occasionally in the numbers of Bishops voting one way or the other. Again I can assure him that there is a perfectly simple and practical explanation. Sometimes matters of great moment arise in this House at a time when the Bishops have to be in London, as, for instance, at the General Synod or at Bishops' meetings; therefore it is natural and easy for them to be present in your Lordships' House and to vote. There are other occasions on which matters of great importance arise when it is virtually impossible for a Bishop to be present. We are the only Members of this House who are here by virtue of the fact that we have another office to perform. The Order Paper often gives very short notice of some important matter. The noble Lord thinks that we ought to down tools in our dioceses and at whatever cost come up to London in order to vote. I think that others of us would have a different idea, both of our pastoral responsibility and of the courtesy we owe towards those in our charge; and we would hesitate long, for instance, in disappointing thirty or forty young people over their confirmation simply because we have to come to London. Many of us live three or four hours away from this House, and although we would wish to come here to vote, often we have to leave before a vote is taken in order that we can be at home to do our work.
544 The main illusion which I sensed in the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, was that he feels that the ills of the religious life of this nation can be changed by changing circumstances: that if we disestablish the Church of England, then we shall have gone a long way to putting right many of the things which those who care for the religious life of the country regret at the present time. I believe this to be an illusion. I do not think that we can put these things right merely by changing circumstances. I do not believe that the establishment or disestablishment of the Church would be a vital factor in putting right many of those matters about which the noble Lord rightly feels so strongly.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I wonder whether I may thank the right reverend Prelate for the ex-extremely eirenic way in which he has replied to my remarks. I should like to make it perfectly clear that I did not at any time suggest that there was any kind of directive to the Bishops, or that they would pay any attention to it, if there were. That was not the implication at all.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord.
There has been an air of unreality about this debate by reason of its timing. This has meant that there have been occasional references to the Church and State Report, which is in fact not mentioned in the noble Lord's Motion and, indeed, is not a document which is in any formal way before the House. Difficulty has arisen because we have moved from the terms of the Motion to the various aspects of the Report and then back again.
I do not propose to refer in detail to the Church and State Report, except to comment on two points which have been made from time to time in the debate. First, a good deal of capital has been made by stressing the divergencies which arose on the Commission. But that is not the proper interpretation of the mind of the Commission. There were seventeen members of the Commission. One of them, Mr. van Straubenzee, was unable to sign because he accepted Government office before the final signing of the Report. Three members signed a minority or dissenting Report. All the 545 others were agreed about the desirability of obtaining freedom in matters of liturgy and doctrine. They were all agreed that there ought to be some modification in the procedure by which Bishops and other chief ministers are appointed; and the only major disagreement was the way in which that particular issue ought to be approached. So there was not any kind of major disagreement within the Commission.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, took me to task for signing the Report of a Commission so many members of which had expressed the view that if establishment continued, it would make reunion difficult or impossible. I do not know why he singled me out for this particular honour because my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leicester was also a signatory of that part of the Report. Possibly the noble Lord did not like to challenge two Lords Spiritual at one time. I must, however, point out to him that he is quoting one opinion of a certain part of the Commission which was in a minority, whereas my right reverend friend and I, and others, signed the Report because we are convinced, as has been said by other noble Lords, that establishment is not by any means the greatest barrier to the reunion of Christendom and it is not necessarily an impenetrable one.
As your Lordships have been reminded, the Church of England is itself much concerned about the nature of the Establishment and about some of the consequences which flow from it. There are some members of the Church of England who would agree with the noble Lord in seeking disestablishment. There are others—and I would judge them to be a very large majority of the Church of England—who, while not believing that disestablishment would be right, believe it is essential that there should be considerable modification in the relationships of Church and State.
It was because of the concern within the Church itself about the consequences of the links between the Church and the State that in 1965 the Archbishops appointed this Commission. It took that Commission five years of intensive work to elucidate all the issues. Their Report was published in December of last year, and it will be debated in the General Synod in a month's time. The Church 546 generally will need a considerable period of time to digest its contents and to come to a common mind about the right course of action for the future. I cannot think that Parliament will want to decide what should be done until it has heard the views of the constitutional assemblies of the Church. I feel sure that this House will hesitate before reaching a decision of such far-reaching consequences both for the Church and the State as is contained in the noble Lord's Motion, after a short debate of a few hours. I hope therefore that at the end of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will see fit to withdraw his Motion. He may be confident that his views and all that has been said in this debate will have made a valuable contribution to the thinking and discussion which must be devoted to the subject in the coming months.
The Motion before the House is concerned more with the means by which the Church of England should be disestablished than with the desirability of disestablishment itself. Should it ever be thought desirable that the Church should be disestablished, then I think it would generally be agreed that the Motion suggests a reasonable basis for discussion on the means whereby the process should be carried out. But first, the Church and the State, acting in concert, have to decide whether or not disestablishment is desirable. That is the first area of debate. It is a controversial and a complicated issue. It is not one upon which, I would suggest, we can decide this afternoon.
For myself, if I were persuaded that for the greater well-being of either the Church or the State, it was desirable that the special relationships between them in this country should be dissolved, I would unhesitatingly add my voice to those who advocate disestablishment. There are some who hold that the sanctions which establishment places upon the Church are a hindrance to the fulfilment of its mission: they consider it improper that the State should have a voice in the way the Church conducts its business; they hold that establishment gives to the Church of England a false sense of values, a spurious sense of its own importance, a folie de grandeur. They believe that the Church would be healthier and more effective if such privileges as accrue to the Church of England by virtue of establishment were to be removed.
547 Again, there are those who from the angle of the State think that the time has come for the long and close relationship of Church and State to be dissolved. They hold that this would be a realistic appreciation of the present state of affairs. They would say that religion no longer, for good or ill, occupies a decisive place in men's thought and action. So they would contend that the Establishment represents an age that is past, and we had better get rid of it as part of the general tidying-up process of ridding ourselves of archaic attitudes and institutions.
I can respect such points of view. But I believe them to be mistaken. Of course one can envisage circumstances in which it might be desirable to seek disestablishment. If the State were to withhold from the Church the means by which it could reasonably carry on its business with despatch and efficiency; if the Church were demonstrably to show that it had departed from the principles of the settlement between Church and State or of the tolerance by which it can as a national Church serve the whole nation if there were to be a clear case that the Church of England had ceased to be the Church of the people or England a Christian nation in essence, then there would be grounds for disestablishment.
But, my Lords, I do not believe that such conditions exist. On the other hand, to force the issue of disestablishment at this juncture would in my view do great harm. I take but two illustrations. On the side of the Church we are reaching the end of a long period of administrative reform. This has meant that for the past half century at least the Church has been looking at itself—looking inwards—concerned about its own discipline and its own structures. This has given the public the image of a body interested only in itself, obsessed with ecclesiastical minutiæ. We are moving out of this necessary but misleading period of our activity. We are now looking forward to being able to serve the nation. But if at this moment the Church is forced back to involve itself in the vast constitutional, administrative, legislative and financial problems which disestablishment would involve, then again for the next ten years the Church will be diverted from its primary function of service to the community, back to 548 the frustrating task of house-keeping and internal organisation.
From the point of view of the State, I believe that disestablishment would bring great loss. In this country Church and State have grown up together, forming the weft and woof of the fabric of our society. However straightforward the legislative process might be, it would not be easy to disentangle these two elements of our national life without creating many rents and tears. Admittedly there have been times when the influence of the Church of England has not been what it should have been. But, by and large, I venture to claim that many of the influences and attitudes in our national life of which we are most proud are the result of the imprint of the civilising power of Christianity over many centuries. Should disestablishment come, the harm would be not so much in the often-repeated expectation that it would be interpreted as a national apostasy, but that the subtle checks and balances of the spiritual against the material would no longer be present, and, if not immediately, after a time, the State would be the poorer because there was no longer as a part of its structure the reminder of the eternal verities to which we are all responsible.
I am all the more fortified in my convictions when I remember the strong reforming influences which are at work in Christendom at the present time, and in particular in the Church of England. There have, it is true, been times when the Church of England has taken improper advantage of its privileged position; it has been arrogant towards other Christian Churches; it has not unreasonably evoked the irritation and opposition of other Christian communions. This unhappy state of affairs has almost completely disappeared. The establishment of the Church of England is no longer, so far as I can judge, a major cause of resentment among non-Anglican Christians. It is not, of itself, I believe, the most serious barrier in the way of reunion; indeed, many Free Churchmen value the formal relationship of some kind between Church and State. But if the Church and State Commission are right in their assertion that this country is becoming not so much more secular but less denominational, then as we look forward to the future it may be that the Establishment will in the process of time 549 become less Anglican and more representative of all Christian bodies.
My Lords, this country has a genius for developing and re-moulding institutions which were formed under very different historical circumstances, so that they become up-to-date and relevant servants of the present time. Parliament, the Administration, the Judiciary, the Crown have all been able to adjust themselves to modern needs. How much the poorer we would have been had we scrapped them! What lessons we learnt when we tried to do so!
It is my conviction that the relationship between Church and State in this country, which we call the Establishment, is in like manner capable of reform to the benefit of both partners. Over the centuries that process has been at work. There is urgent need for reforms and in due time doubtless your Lordships' House will have opportunity to deliberate upon them. If such reforms can be effected without a wholesale dismantling of the structure, such as Lord Grantchester's Motion suggests, it will, I believe, be to the advantage both of Church and of State.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, it is far more important for the House to have heard the speech of the right reverend Prelate who has just sat down than to hear mine, and therefore I am glad to take second place to him. It has been said that it is over a hundred years since we debated this subject in your Lordships' House, but I can remember since early boyhood having heard the arguments, pro and con. I should like to consider first what we should lose if Disestablishment were to come to pass. The State Church performs functions apart from those which it performs purely as a Church, and particularly while we are still happy enough to enjoy a Royal Sovereign. If there were no State Church, what would happen in the case of a Coronation ceremony? Who would choose which Church was to celebrate that Coronation? There are many other public functions which involve a religious ceremony and where it is important that we should have a State Church.
A great deal has been said about the anachronism of State interference in the business of the Church. The noble Lord, 550 Lord Beswick, complained of the financial support of the Church by the State.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, may I just say I complained of nothing of the kind. I quoted that as evidence of the lack of understanding and informedness of certain Members of your Lordships' House.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord. I can only say lo anybody who complains of that, that the State is very ready to support financially many things in this world, some of which are definitely opposed to us politically. I do not think it is wrong that it should support its own Church. Some consider it an extraordinary anachronism to have right reverend Prelates appointed by the Crown, with the advice of the Prime Minister. That may be so, and perhaps it is something which will be altered in the future. I do not think it any more of an anachronism than the fact that the Prime Minister should advise the Queen as to who should receive honours at the New Year, or on Her Birthday. Many of those things are matters about which the Prime Minister can have little knowledge and has to get advice from other quarters. But the result always seems to be right, so why should it not be so with the Bishops?
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, also mentioned the embargo on the clergy from standing as Members of Parliament. Personally, I think this is quite right. The Church is not a political body and it does not want to involve itself in Party politics.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, if that be so, may I ask the noble Lord why the right reverend Prelates are here today?
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I was coming to that. I have sat in your Lordships' House for 18 years now, and I have never known one occasion when any Lord Spiritual has intervened in any debate which had not something to do with ethical considerations.
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? As one who has been here for 23 years, I have heard a number of good speeches from the Benches of the right reverend Prelates.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I, too, have heard many such speeches. I should like to say how happy I was to hear the speech of the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester. I do not know how many of your Lordships have read his book: What is Right With the Church of England. I found it an extremely encouraging book. Anybody who believes that there is anything wrong with the Church—and one hears a good deal of that nowadays—should read that book and see how much more is right with it than is wrong with it.
There are other little items such as Baptism, birth certificates and various things like that, which are tied up with an Established Church. It would be a great loss for us to lose them. The noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, said that the Church wishes to regulate its own affairs. Very rightly too, and may it continue to do so more and more. He also said that the system works well in practice, but is wrong in theory. I should say that the logical conclusion from that was that the theory was wrong. If a system works well and the theory is contrary to it, surely it is the theory that is wrong and not the system.
I have had some experience of a country where there is no Established Church—the United States. The confussion that exists there is indescribable. It is the happy hunting ground of innumerable strange sects which have sprung up, many of which can hardly be described as Christian at all: Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many others. They all come from there; and why? It is because there is no central, official Church to lead the way. That is not the only reason, of course. I realise that their extraordinary variety in national descent is another reason for it. None the less, it is important that we should have a central, guiding, official Church. I believe strongly in the teachings of our Church, and I feel that we should lose a great deal, particularly in our schools, and on the radio, too, if we were to make it no longer the English Established Church.
§ 6.17 p.m.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, I speak as a Parliamentarian to-day—the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, invited me to do so—and I speak also as a Roman Catholic, because I want to, and 552 nobody has asked me to do so. I have noticed during this debate that nearly every speaker was a member of the Church of England, paying tribute to his Church and expressing the view that anything that would harm it would not receive his support. The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chester, said that if he were convinced that Disestablishment would not harm the Church of England he would support it. I think he used those words. In my position as a Parliamentarian, and as a Roman Catholic, I would go even further and say that unless it was shown to be advantageous to the Church of England I would not vote for it. That is my position, and I should like to dwell a little on the experience of my life and the impact of the Church of England upon it.
Shortly after Her present Majesty came to the Throne, one of her first tasks was to make an Order in Council in some sense or other disestablishing me. The position was this. Two of the smallest parishes in England were Oare and Culbone. They have been combined, and it is the custom for the landlord of Oare—the Lorna Doone parish—to appoint one incumbent, and then for the landlord of the Ashley Coombe estate, which I owned, the other. But because I was a Roman Catholic I was debarred from doing this, and I was debarred in the most courteous manner that one could imagine. People said, "Of course, you cannot appoint an incumbent", and I agreed with them, for I did not cherish the idea—as I am sure, from what he said, the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, would not have done had he been asked to choose the Chief Rabbi. I was confident of my incompetence to handle the matter. But they said, "You may choose who will do so. You may choose the Bishop of Bath and Wells, or your neighbouring landowner". So, in a sense, they gave me the power to exercise a little active disestablishment of my own, and I disestablished my neighbouring landlord and appointed the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
The incumbent who followed soon called upon me, and he said, "You must have a horse. You cannot get about Exmoor without a horse". I am a horseman, but in those days I was living in a rather frugal manner and thought I could 553 not afford a horse. Mr. Taylor took me more or less by the hand to a horsecoper of the honest sort. He said, "This cob is an animal which I would buy if I could afford it, and you must buy it." I bought it, and the animal was with us for twenty years. It taught all my family to ride; it taught some forty Continental mothers' helps, students, who came to us two by two and year by year—and when I say, "taught" them, it did. We put the girls on the horse, separately of course, told them to hang on to the saddle and not the reins, and patted the animal on the back and said, "Go". That was the only instruction we gave this remarkable animal; and we put it down, to the grief of the family, twenty years later.
Mr. Taylor, on departure, presented me with a large crucifix because he was not sure that his successors would appreciate it. His successor, a Mr. Brunskill, was approached by me one day. I said, "I am desperate for an assistant shepherd. Can you help me?". Twenty-four hours later the most suitable of men called upon me, after I had spent many a long day wondering how I could obtain such a man.
I must continue a little these experiences because they amount to a graciousness and courtesy which is unique. I was very ill in Algiers after an accident—a very short time; I recovered quickly. But during my illness the Church of England padre called upon me and, as he was a subscriber to the Catholic Truth Society, he poured in suitable literature for a Catholic. When the Catholic chaplin called upon me he gave me some theological works—I am interested in these matters—by Protestant writers, including a woman writer (I think Underhill was the name) and said, "These will be good for you." They had some of the best theological writers going at that time.
I will continue with another two examples. The most reverend Primate, Archbishop Lord Fisher, was sitting beside me on the Cross-Benches one day before an important debate took place. I suppose because he was sitting there he must have ceased to be Primate; he had retired. I said to him in regard to that debate, "There is going to be a Division. Have you any views?" "Well," he said, "I don't know very much about 554 it, bat I tend to be on the side of the Establishment in such cases. It is odd and inconsistent because I am, in my position of history, a protestor." In this rather gracious way he seemed to intimate that I was a member of the Establishment, and he a dissident.
Finally, the last of these examples. On my wedding day I introduced to my wife a distant kinswoman of mine who had married late in life. She had been conned and proposed to by a great many and she knew hundreds of people in this country. Having been introduced, she pointed to my father and said to my newly wedded wife, "You have married the nicest father-in-law in London." And that was true. My father was a Protestant; it is my mother who was a Catholic. So in this way I have been intimately associated with the courtesies of life far and near at the hands of members of the Church of England.
I should like to continue briefly a short account of professional life. I was a professional soldier. I joined the Rifle Brigade and was with them for 27 years. The number of officers who were Catholics was very small; among the men, 10 per cent. were Catholics. During that time I was what is called not necessarily a good but a conspicuously practising Catholic. From time to time I used to go off daily to Mass on my bicycle. Everybody knew I was a Catholic. I have never suffered the slightest discourtesy or handicap in my career. If I am not a field marshal it is entirely my own fault. My brother officer, "Frankie Festing", Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, an equally conspicuous Catholic, has found no difficulty in reaching the top.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, will the noble Earl allow me to interrupt? I am very sorry to do so, but I interrupted his colleague the noble Lord, Lord Strange, on this point. Although we are enjoying his reminiscences, and particularly the tribute he is paying to the Church of England, we are in fact engaged in a discussion on the disestablishment of the Church of England, and I hope the noble Earl may be able to stick to this particular point of the Motion.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, I am extremely grateful that my noble friend Lord Strange is not the only one interrupted for irrelevancy, and I apologise. I will discontinue my illustrations as they have no bearing, apparently, on the point. But I will sum up my position again by saying that I would not vote for disestablishment in this House unless it were shown basically that it was advantageous to the Church of England. The course of this debate has shown, I think beyond question, that the great majority of speakers think it would not be to the advantage of the Church of England; and I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, would wish to urge anything that conspicuously harmed the Church of England. Therefore, although he invited me to join in this debate, my hope is that he will recognise the feeling of the House and withdraw his Motion, not with reluctance but from the heart.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, I am sorry to extend this debate because I recognise that my name is not on the official list, or even the unofficial list. But I intimated some days ago that I wished to speak, and unfortunately through some error my name is not on the list. But I feel that it is incumbent on me to say a few words, first because I think nearly all the speakers to-day have been members of the Church of England—one or two may not have been, but most have been—and therefore, surely, it would be appropriate if one who is not a member of the Church of England, but a Free Churchman, added just a few words to what has been said.
I also want to speak on this subject because I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for putting down this Motion, although I hope he will withdraw it, for this would be not the best time or place to vote on such a serious issue. I fully appreciate that the Bishops of the Church of England, and indeed all the members of that venerable Church, wish for more time to discuss the Report and the recommendations of their Commission. They are quite entitled to do so, and I hope that in the next year or 18 months they will clarify their minds, and perhaps in course of time come to some considered consensus of opinion on what they think should be the best development 556 of the Anglican Church in its relationship to the State in the days to come.
I am sure the Prelates will appreciate that this Commission was an Anglican Commission, and that there are others interested in this matter apart from Anglicans—I as a Free Churchman, and others who are members of no Church but sit in this House; obviously they are involved in the whole question of the future relation of Church and State.
I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has been doing to-day is to anticipate the inevitable. I have not the slightest doubt that just as there have been substantial modifications to the authority of the Church in relationship to the State in the last few centuries, so in course of time we shall reach the stage when the present close alliance of Church and State will cease altogether. That is why I say that the noble Lord has been merely anticipating the inevitable.
Also, of course, he has been emulating Henry VIII, because the discussion at that time was about the disestablishment of the Catholic Church. All of us—or almost all of us—here now agree that that Church should be disestablished so far as this country is concerned. That was more or less settled at the time of the Reformation. Therefore the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is merely logically proceeding further along the road, for if it was right and proper in distant time to decide that the Roman Catholic Church should not have the authority that it had at that time, then surely it is altogether appropriate and right that we should at least consider whether the residual authority of the Church of England should not also come to an end.
When we look back at the course of history we have to realise that the Church of England had very great power in the past and that that power has considerably declined. Even the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester quite rightly said, in reply to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that the Bishops were here first. And that is perfectly true. We know full well that at one time abbots and bishops—ecclesiastics—often outnumbered Lords Temporal in the determination of the affairs of our State. That remained the position for a long time. 557 Gradually the power of the Church became restricted and limited, and gradually it gave up some of its authority and power, until to-day of course it is in a position very different from that of its predecessors some centuries ago. There has been a retreat on the part of ecclesiastical authority, and I am sure the right reverend Prelates who are here, and other Prelates of the Church of England—and indeed the Church of England as a whole—agree that that has been good. There is an altogether different climate from that of years ago.
I would remind the House also of the 17th century, when great conflict took place in this country over the right of individuals to worship as they pleased and to form their own particular Churches. The existence of the Congregational Church and other independent Churches reminds us to this very day of the intense trouble that occurred in that century as between Christians, on the one hand, who did not want to be identified with the Church of England and those, on the other hand, who were not only pleased to be so identified but insisted that others also should be so identified. This is why there are still numbers of churches in this country called "meeting houses". They are not only Quaker, but Congregational and Unitarian, and they remind us of the time when no Nonconformist or dissenter could worship save in a meeting house. I remind the right reverend Prelates and the House of this fact (which of course is common history to anyone who knows a little of the past) merely to suggest that here to-day we are discussing the possibility of a further logical development of what already has taken place.
Therefore we have the right reverend Prelates here to-day in some force; and in greater force on other occasions. I welcome their presence, for whatever their predecessors may have been or may have done (and I say this without any sense of patronage or superficial flattery), I deeply appreciate the contributions made by the Prelates since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House. They belong to no Party—and quite rightly so. I am sure they make up their minds quite freely; but again and again they have given enlightened influence to this House, and indeed to the country as a whole. Therefore whatever I say is 558 in no sense out of hostility to the Prelates, whose presence, I repeat, I deeply appreciate.
But, my Lords, the fact is that they are here this evening, sitting as representatives of a privileged Church. The mere fact that Prayers are said daily by one of the Prelates is a reminder of the fact that evidently, if not exclusively, there is a preferential medium for petitioning the Almighty, which must be preserved by members of the Church of England. This is but one symbol of much else one could mention, and which one would have mentioned had the hour not been relatively late, of the many privileges the Church of England still possesses. True, it has given up many past privileges. To-day only some 26 Prelates sit in this House, compared with many more who once sat here. This is in itself a contraction. Then, of course, the many recommendations that the Commission appear to be making, and others are making, regarding the future relationship of the Church of England to the State all indicate a moving away from the previous autocracy and authoritarianism with which the Church at one time was identified.
All this is to the good, but it still remains for us to ask ourselves two questions. The first is why it is that the Church of England should be the only ecclesiastical body recognised by the State. I ask that question because, in the first place, we know now that although a large number of people go to church to be married, or to have their relatives buried, they do so quite nominally, and not because they have any deep and profound conviction. I am sure that the right reverend Prelates recognise this. This is done because it is the thing to do. In my own area, for instance, there are two parish churches. Large numbers of people go to one or the other to get married. I have talked to some of these people and asked them what they thought about marriage and about the Church of England. They were utterly unconcerned about it: it was just the thing to do. This may have some value in it. What I am suggesting is that one must not assume that because there may be numerically a slightly larger number of people belonging to the Church of England, or getting married or baptised or confirmed or buried through Church of England 559 channels, therefore that illustrates the much greater influence, and possibly much greater significance, of the Church.
When we come to what are sometimes called "committed Christians"—those who profoundly believe in the Creeds or the faith they are called upon to recite—then, I venture to suggest, we must recognise that there are at least as many Christians who are not members of the Church of England to-day as those who are members. Also one has to recognise that large numbers of people in this country are religiously minded without being specifically Christian. Some would say that, of course, of some members of the Church of England, including some Bishops.
As to what Christianity is, sometimes it is extremely ambiguous. I am reminded, for instance, of how the great and noble Archbishop Temple, in his undergraduate days, considered not only joining the Church of England but becoming a priest. He therefore approached his Bishop. The Bishop discovered that the young Temple had some slight doubts about the Virgin birth, and told him to go away and pray over it very carefully. He did, and, fortunately for the Church of England, and for the Archbishop, when he returned he confessed that he really believed in the Virgin birth. Had it not been so, he would never have been the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I mention that, my Lords, only to illustrate that there is some dubiety as to what exactly a Christian is. But, be that as it may, there are certainly large numbers here—Jews, Hindus, Pakistanis, Moslems, and indeed Humanists (because some of the noblest people in this country, and some in this House, are Humanists)—who have their own faith. It may not be a theological faith but it is very near to at least the ethical aspects of the Christian faith. We have to recognise this.
Therefore, I come back to my first question, and ask why should it be assumed that the Church of England is the only body officially to represent Christians and religious people in this country. When the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, in a speech which impressed me very much indeed, argues—and indeed when the noble Lord, Lord Somers, argues in the same way—that if 560 the Church were disestablished the country would suffer very gravely, that may be so. But what a reflection that is implicitly on those who are not members of the Church of England! Have the Congregationalists, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Quakers not had, and do they not still have, a profound influence on our national life? They are not established. Does anyone suggest that if the Church of England were disestablished, therefore, its spiritual power would decline? On the contrary, some members of the Church of England believe differently—that it would grow in strength and power and influence, precisely because in modern times it will have become free and independent to bear its witness.
Therefore, I see no reason why we should not anticipate the Church of England becoming the Episcopal Church in England, not of England. It is not altogether to the advantage of the Christian faith that only the Church of England should be identified with England. In fact, there are branches of other denominations all over the world doing wonderful work. There is the Episcopalian Church in America which is akin to the Anglican Church, but does not call itself Church of England. It calls itself Episcopalian; it believes in the episcopacy, for which a great deal can be said. I see no reason why in days to come the Church of England should not anticipate being the Episcopalian Church in England, with the Episcopalian Churches in other parts of the world.
Further, surely the members of the Church of England itself, whether the laity or the episcopacy, will recognise that in these days, when much is being done to draw together the sundered portions of Christendom, when the ecumenical movement is holding sway, when the World Council of Churches and the British Council of Churches now have within them all kinds of Protestant churches, when not even the Church of England has any kind of priority, it is as well at least to consider in a charitable way whether Christian faith in this country would not gain enormously if there were the same sense of equality among all kinds of Christian bodies as already exists in spirit and in fact inside the British Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.
561 That being so, I will not burden the House further by dealing with other matters that I should love to deal with. I merely say this in conclusion. I ask that the Motion that has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, to-day should not be dismissed out of hand. He has, I think, performed a very useful service in reminding us of a deep and profound issue. I hope that he will withdraw the Motion, so that time can be spent by the Church in debating the proposals of a great Commission, and so that, generally speaking, we can consider the matter in a way we have not done for some years. But in the end, we have to come to the issue as to whether there should be a privileged Church, representing a minority of the people. Although it has performed great service to mankind and still can perform great service, should it have that position of privilege which is denied to others? Surely that can have only one democratic answer: that just as we have repudiated the divine right of kings, just as we have gradually, steadily but surely, limited the power of spiritual or secular autocracy, so that to-day we have a greater sense of equality and indeed of democracy in our midst, so also in the days to come these things must apply to the Church itself. All the difficulties that have been raised as to who should crown the Monarch and so on are quite subordinate; these can be settled in a quite charitable fashion. What we are, I think, needing to do in the days to come is to recognise for its own sake that the Church of England should be a free church, and in so doing exercise its power far more profoundly than it is doing even to-day.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very preliminary discussion, if I may so call it, because I certainly never expected a decision today on a matter of this complexity. I think that is clear from the wording of the Motion.
I was glad to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester explain that he did not consider that Establishment was the greatest barrier to reunion. I never said that it was; it is only one of them. I was very glad to hear him speak of the pressures for reform.
562 According to the noble Lords, Lord Fletcher and Lord Somers, Parliament should be very concerned on behalf of members of the Church of England; but no one, until the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, suggested any such responsibility to the members of other communions, Roman Catholics and Nonconformists. One can only wonder why there should be this distinction.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, has indicated that a year and a half may be taken up in a full consideration of the matters raised in the Report Church and State. I hope that consideration of this Report will take place in the wider setting of the changed thinking in other communions, both here and in other countries, to which a response should be apparent. Having said that, I agree that it is right to wait, in the hope that not too long will elapse before the most reverend Primate returns with the results of these deliberations in the General Synod and in the other bodies who will be considering this matter, for the leadership we need is dependent upon their decisions. Then it may be appropriate for the provisions of a Bill to give effect to their conclusions or to what Parliament may feel necessary. May I, as it were, leave it, as the last Government said of their application to join the Common Market, as a matter which remains on the table for future consideration. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.