My hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) when introducing such Measures as these usually adopts the attitude of an angel bringing manna from Heaven. But to-day he has displayed rather the subtlety of a serpent, in that he so obviously has indulged in what is always in the Law Courts the last refuge of the destitute, namely, reliance on his eloquence by way of reply. He will forgive me if I say at once that his egg to-day is singularly related to the curate's egg—it is good in parts. I wonder how many Members of this House realise that at this late hour, on this day, we are being asked, without practically any Debate at all, to assent to a great constitutional change. If hon. Members will kindly glance at the Order Paper, I do not believe there is one present who has not had the privilege of being a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee, as I have, who will realise that under these very ordinary words is being brought up the whole subject of the parson's freehold. I do not wish for one moment to debate the question of the parson's freehold. That is a matter which must be done on some future occasion, but I, for one, will have nothing whatsoever to do in this House with the passing of legislation in this form unless it is fully explained.
It has been truly said that Parliament can do anything except turn a man into woman. There is one other thing which it cannot do, and that is amend a Measure brought down from the Church Assembly. However much one may sympathise with parts of this Measure it is absolutely farcical that this House should have it presented to it on the basis of take-it-or-leave-it. I have not the slightest intention of dividing the House today, because it would be wrong. This is a far too serious matter for a Division in which the numbers would be so small. But I trust that when I have concluded what I have to say the hon. Member will withdraw his Motion and let us have a far more full and perhaps illuminating Debate on another day. What does this Measure propose to do? As I have said, part of it is excellent. Anybody who goes round the bombed areas in London or the town with which I am closely associated, professionally, Liverpool, must realise the amount of damage which has been done by enemy action.
In these cases it is farcical to say that when a man's vicarage has been destroyed he shall be put into a place where no facilities exist for carrying on his holy calling. Everyone will be agreed on that. But what happens? Under this Act there is a reorganisation scheme which brings in not merely bombed areas but areas adjacent thereto. The result is that any vicar who himself has not been bombed out can, whether he likes it or not, be brought into the reorganised area and deprived of his rights. Does the House realise that there are no fewer than 4,000 Anglican priests, most of them young men, serving their country in the Forces of the Crown, many of them men who have got their first incumbencies, and this legislation, without any reference to the men serving overseas, deliberately takes their fundamental rights away? I will be no party to such an outrage as that, and I trust the hon. Member will take this Measure back and present it to the House in a form in which we can give it our hearty assent. The Ecclesiastical Committee have to consider before they come here or to another place the Measures submitted to them, and Section 3 of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, says:
The Ecclesiastical Committee shall thereupon consider the Measure so committed to it and may at any time during such consideration call for assistance.
(3) After considering the Measure, the Ecclesiastical Committee shall draft a report thereon to Parliament stating the nature and legal effect of the Measure and its views as to the expediency thereof, especially with relation to the constitutional rights of all His Majesty's subjects.
Does this report protect the constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects? Paragraph 4 says:
Inevitably such reorganisations involve widespread interference with the existing constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects of
parishioners, incumbents, patrons and others. After considering the Measure the Committee are satisfied that proper regard has been paid to these rights and provision made for compensation in appropriate cases. But the Committee feel it their duty to call attention to one case of interference with the existing rights of certain of His Majesty's subjects and the method proposed in the Measure for providing compensation for such interference. Under the Measure certain incumbents of benefices through no default on their part will be deprived of their constitutional and legal right for life to income arising from endowments attached to the benefice. After careful thought the Committee have come to the conclusion that the provisions for compensation may be relied upon to provide that the compensation shall be not less than the fair value of the incumbent's life interest in such endowments of which he is to be deprived.
The Bill in its present form is nothing more or less than a constitutional outrage. I have been a Member of the House for many years. I was not a Member when the Enabling Act was passed. A most fatal mistake was made by Parliament at that time. It did not reserve the right to this House to deal with these Bills in Committee. A Bill of this importance cannot be dealt with, as the Education Bill is being dealt with, Clause by Clause, word by word, comma by comma. I feel that I should not be doing my duty if I did not protest with all the vehemence I am able to express against what the Committee themselves admit to be a violation of the rights of incumbents, patrons and others being forced through this House by means of a Prayer without our being given an opportunity to alter a single Clause.
I have too much respect for the hon. Member to press a Division at this hour, but I hope he will withdraw the Prayer and persuade the Church Assembly to do what every Member of the House would welcome, namely, to introduce a Measure dealing solely with the cases of bombed-out areas and making some arrangements by which existing incumbents will not be deprived of the consequences of the Measure without as much as a "by your leave." If such a Measure were introduced it would have the approval of every Member who is anxious in these difficult times to do all he can to help the Church of England in the work which it is so vital they should do.
When my hon. and learned Friend says that compensation shall not be less than the incumbent's life interest, will he say how that compares with the yearly stipend which the holder of the benefice would have if he had continued in the benefice?
Perhaps my hon. Friend will put that question to the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). It is not my point. My point is that, as far as I read this Measure, a priest or vicar serving overseas will find himself deprived of his existing rights without being asked in the Church Assembly or here whether he approves the change.
My hon. and learned Friend made some quotations from the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, of which he is a member. I wish that he had read one further paragraph. It is this:
In the opinion of the Committee the Measure is urgently needed, and therefore, having called attention to the matter just referred to, they are of opinion that the Measure is expedient.
I could have understood much better the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) had it not been for the careful provision that is made in the Church of England Assembly Act, 1919, that in the case of any Measures passed by the Church Assembly, the Ecclesiastical Committee of the two Houses should consider whether it affected the constitutional rights of any of His Majesty's subjects. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) has pointed out, this matter has been gone into in a judicial spirit by this Committee, and it recommends to the House that the Measure should be approved. I rise to draw attention to the value of the work of the Ecclesiastical Committee. In the case of a great deal of legislation it has been found necessary for this House to give delegated power to other authorities. The power to legislate in the case of legislation dealing with the Church of England has been delegated to the Church Assembly. When a Measure has been passed it is submitted to this House for approval or disapproval.
When the hon. and learned Gentleman said there was something peculiarly wrong in this House not undertaking to examine these Bills in detail in Committee, the same thing occurs in the case of a number of Regulations as, for example, the Regu- lations under the Unemployment Act, 1935. What does so clearly distinguish the case of ecclesiastical Measures of this kind from the other delegated legislation which is enacted by Government Departments and by the Executive in general, is that there is no Committee of this House which subjects other delegated legislation to a careful scrutiny to ensure that the constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects are not unduly infringed.
I am fully aware of that. My hon. and learned Friend should bear in mind that all Committees of this House have only the power to make recommendations to this House. I have said on a previous occasion that the only exception to that Rule is the Kitchen Committee, which is an executive committee. I want to point out to my hon. and learned Friend that, in the case of the Church Assembly Act, this House has been at pains to ensure that Measures passed by the Church Assembly shall be carefully scrutinised by a body set up to do that work. I very much regret that, in the case of so many Statutes passed by this House, similar provision has not been made to ensure that the exercise of delegated legislation by Government Departments is subjected to most careful and impartial scrutiny.
The House has here the advantage of this Report from the Ecclesiastical Committee which, after looking into the matter, and no doubt after having the advantage of hearing criticisms of the Measure from my hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken, advises that, in the opinion of that Committee, the Measure is urgently needed and, having called attention to the matter which is referred to there, is of opinion that the Measure is expedient. I have drawn attention to the careful protection of the constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects under the Church of England Assembly Act, 1919, and I now desire to support the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) in commending this Measure to the House.
Unlike my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) I cannot agree that there is any objection to bringing forward this matter at what he calls this late hour, and the fact that there is only a thin House has nothing to do with it. It is our duty to be here if the Measure is one in which we are interested as Members of Parliament. I agree that the Ecclesiastical Committee of both Houses is fulfilling an extremely useful purpose. If a Measure passed by the Church Assembly were presented to Parliament it might easily slip through without having the attention of Members drawn to its proposals. The Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee is very well and very clearly phrased, and shows shortly and succinctly what the Measure is about. I do not agree with the expression "shift-age" which was used, but perhaps that was an oversight on the part of the hon. Member.
I wondered whether the report was using Basic English. The Measure may be, and in fact it is intended to be in certain cases of need, a Measure of expropriation, and therefore it does interfere with the rights of the King's lieges. It seems that it is a necessary Measure, and on those grounds alone we should not strongly object to it, but it is right that we should give it careful examination, as careful as we can with the knowledge we have at our disposal. I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) who I hope will be replying, one question. It is on the question of compensation for incumbents who are dispossessed or not appointed, or have lost their freeholds. It seems to me on reading the Measure that the provisions for compensation are not quite adequate, or may not be. As the hon. and learned Member for Warrington has said, we cannot amend it, but I would like to ask the hon. Member for Central Leeds, whether he is sure that Clause 15 covers full compensation or whether the compensation may be at the discretion of the Diocesan Reorganisation Committee, partial compensation only. With these words I beg leave to support the Motion.
May I begin by expressing my thanks and gratitude to my hon. and learned Friend for enabling this brief Debate to take place on an extremely important Measure. It was from no discourtesy to the House that I introduced it formally, but usually the House is not much interested in these Measures, and I thought it would suit their convenience much better if I replied to comments and objections they might choose to raise. My hon. and learned Friend objected to certain portions or certain aspects of this Measure. He regarded it as a constitutional outrage and thought it was especially wicked that we should proceed with this outrage in the absence of a considerable number of people affected by the problem. As to constitutional rights he must read what the Ecclesiastical Committee has to say on the matter. It says quite openly that inevitably constitutional rights of His Majesty's subjects are interfered with on a large scale when we come to reconstitute these bombed areas.
They go on to say that the Committee are satisfied that proper regard has been paid to constitutional rights and provision made for compensation in appropriate cases. As regards absence overseas, that is really equally valid as an argument in relation to all our soldiers now overseas. There are all sorts of rights that will inevitably be very considerably varied and interfered with in any large scale scheme to reconstruct these bombed areas. That is inevitable. I think I shall have the House with me in suggesting that our soldiers overseas would much rather that we frankly faced this problem for them and did our best for them in their absence instead of waiting until they come back and then saying, "Sorry, we did not dare do anything at all. We have waited until we knew what you wanted." We know what the mass of these people want, and for my part, second to the duty of this House in doing all it can to win the war, I suggest is the duty of doing all it can to make the condition of this country satisfactory for the soldiers when they come back.
Then with regard to the dispossessed incumbent very special regard was paid to his position. The ordinary layman who has been bombed out of his occupation will come back to find his premises gone, all the good will of his occupation vanished, the population he served dis- tributed somewhere else; he will have nothing whatever other than war damage compensation. The incumbent, by this Measure, has preserved a large amount of the rights to which he was entitled. My hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) asked, on that point, whether Clause 15 adequately provided for their full compensation. It was admittedly one of the most difficult problems we had in all this reconstruction business. Everybody sympathises with the dispossessed incumbent. Everybody wanted to do the best that could be done for him, but the precise method was one of great complexity. There was a suggestion that he should be guaranteed the endowments of the benefice. That broke down simply because the endowments are often grossly inadequate: in some cases they are quite a small portion of the amounts the incumbent is actually receiving; and to base compensation on that might well be quite unfair; and, anyhow, not a good measure of the compensation that should be paid. What the Measure actually does say is that he shall be given compensation such as the diocesan reorganisation committee or, on appeal, the special committee, may determine to be fair and equitable, regard being had to the income which the incumbent will lose, the expenses to fall upon him, and other things.
Yes, there is an appeal to the Special Committee. Also, the amount of compensation will be stated in the reorganisation scheme. The scheme is subject to all sorts of examinations, all sorts of consents, including the approval of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who have no direct interest in local controversies or anything of that kind. Subsequently, it is open to appeal to a Committee specially set up to deal with disputes under this Measure. Finally, if that is not enough, the scheme has to be laid before this House, and can be objected to by Prayer, if anybody chooses.
Another fact about these cases that impressed us every time we examined them was that it was impossible to talk of an ordinary, average case, because each case is likely to differ very markedly from the rest. In most cases an incumbent is likely to go straight into a reconstructed benefice in a reorganisation area. Very possibly that benefice will have an increased income. It may be a less income. If it is a less income he will be entitled to claim compensation.
Not necessarily. The reasonable solution might be the exact difference, it might be more, and it might be less. There will be young incumbents, who may go to better incumbencies, and old incumbents, who may be on the age of retirement, whom it would be unkind to put into a new area. The cases of difficulty will be few, probably even rare. Every time this was examined, and it was examined a large number of times, those who examined it were driven back to the conclusion that you could only treat each case on its merits and place the problem in the hands of a fair and impartial committee. May I just emphasise the conclusion to which my right hon. Friend, who supported the Measure, referred? The concluding paragraph in the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee states:
In the opinion of the Committee, the Measure is urgently needed. Having called attention to the matters just referred to, we are of opinion that the Measure is expedient.
Whatever may be the objections to it, and I believe myself that it is one of the best Measures the Assembly has produced for us, there can be no doubt that we ought to get ready, not only in the State but in the Church, to have the blitzed areas in a condition as forward as possible for proper rehabilitation. If I had the leisure, I should like to quote a great many authorities about that, but I might perhaps refer to a sentence in the last King's Speech, where we were told:
You will be invited to pass legislation conferring special powers for the re-development of areas, which, by reason of enemy action, overcrowding or otherwise, need to be re-planned as a whole.
With this Measure, the Church will be able to play its part in that reconstruction. Without it, it would have no adequate power at all to do it. Indeed, I think
that if the Assembly had not provided this legislation, the Home Office would have had to do it. Perhaps I might refer to the Committee on War Damaged Premises—
Let me just conclude that point. Without this Measure, the Home Secretary would have had to give us, instead of a Statute of 57 Clauses and two Schedules, probably a Bill of six Clauses to be implemented by a vast mass of Regulations. I suggest that, so far from being a subject of criticism, this Measure is one on which the Assembly deserves our very hearty thanks. It has presented to this House the first major Statute in which the House has had to deal with physical reconstruction of blitzed areas. It has faced desolation and tried to use it as an opportunity. May I conclude by saying that we owe a special word of thanks to the Bishop of London, who was, so to speak, the minister in charge of this legislation, from the earliest stage of its construction and during its passage through the Assembly? In fact, I have never seen more masterly conduct of an exceedingly complex Bill, and I have often wished that, instead of adorning a bench in another place, he was helping with the work of the Bench on my left.
The Church Assembly represents the Church in general, but, in this Measure, every incumbent within an area to be declared an ecclesiastical reorganisation area will be advised of the proposed order and be able to make his representation upon it. When it comes to the detailed schemes, equally every incumbent affected by the schemes will be consulted. When these incumbents are overseas, it may not always be possible that that consultation will be complete, though in many cases they will be able to have the scheme sent to them and be able to make their criticisms. Anyhow, it is their right to be consulted in so far as it is possible.
You cannot distinguish incumbents who are going to be affected by this Measure from all the other incumbents, because they will not be known until reorganisation areas are decided upon. It is not until you decide that a certain area needs reconstruction that you know whom to consult. The people consulted were the clergy as a whole.