HL Deb 20 March 1984 vol 449 cc1107-8

2.56 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the role of the clergy and politics, in the light of the comment made on 3rd March 1984 by the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

No, my Lords; my honourable friend was speaking in a purely personal capacity.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. May I disarm him by saying that I am not speaking now as the defence spokesman but as a spokesman on ecclesiastical affairs, having, on entering your Lordships' House, tried to avoid confusion by not taking the title of "Lord Bishop"? Is the Minister really surprised that, when he refers to matters of Church and state, the country as a whole should regard the Under-Secretary of State's comments as being those of a member of the Government? Would he also accept that the stricture that clergy should not involve themselves in politics could be seen as a restriction upon the role of the right reverend Prelates and other clergy in this House in their task of conveying to the country the concern not only of the Church but of the nation on matters of cardinal importance?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having treated this matter in what I feel is a suitably light-hearted vein. As for what he says about the position of the right reverend Prelates, I have noticed that I am not alone among some of my colleagues in sometimes disagreeing with the views of right reverend Prelates. Nevertheless, I would stand up to the last for their right to express their views in this House and indeed outside.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that life for him and other spokesmen of Her Majesty's Government, and indeed for spokesmen of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, would be much duller were it not for occasional clerical competition? Even the activities of certain bishops sometimes have encouraging results in other places.

Viscount Whitelaw

Yes, my Lords, I would agree with the right reverend Prelate. One of the advantages I have found in this House is that it is possible to reply to the views of the right reverend Prelates, which is not always possible on other occasions.

Lord Kinnaird

My Lords, would the noble Viscount not agree, first, that the Under-Secretary of State might have been speaking with his tongue in his cheek? Secondly, would he not agree that, if we all kept our tongues there, life would be rather less tedious?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I did not ask my honourable friend in what way he was speaking. I merely read the words that he had said, and I hope that they have been treated in a suitable manner this afternoon.

Lord Soper

My Lords, would the Government not be inclined to agree that when this particular criticism is raised it has much more to do with Left-wing politics than politics in general, and that the objection that the clergy should not be involved in politics is generally assumed to mean that they would be all right if they were Right-wing but, if they indulge in Left-wing politics, that is suspicious and probably dubious?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, as I suppose it would be considered that I was in the main a Right-wing politician, whether that would be right or wrong, I have noticed from time to time that right reverend Prelates and other ministers of religion have not always been slow to criticise me. I have taken it in good part and sometimes I have benefited from their criticism, and I hope that I shall continue to do so.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, should we not continue to enjoy the benefit of clergy in political matters?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I frequently agree with the noble and learned Lord, and I certainly agree with him in that.

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