I rise to resume the debate on this Measure which was adjourned in the early hours of Wednesday morning last. I am, I think, expressing the views of all hon. Members who are interested in this subject, whatever view they take, in saying how grateful we are to the Leader of the House for having allowed this Measure to come forward at a convenient hour today and provide sufficient time for it to be fully debated.
I need not recapitulate the explanation given by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot), who moved the Motion on Tuesday last, because I imagine that the general scope of the Measure is familiar to hon. Members. It is, perhaps, more important that I should deal with the two weighty speeches in opposition to the Measure made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr).
The House will be aware that this Measure seeks to reform our ecclesiastical courts—that is, the courts which exist to deal, on the one hand, with conduct cases, cases of unbecoming conduct on the part of a clergyman of the Church of England or of neglect of duty, and secondly, the other class of cases called reserve cases, which concern matters of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial.
A number of Measures which come from the Church Assembly pass through this House with little or no discussion because they are uncontroversial, but this Measure is an important one because the ecclesiastical courts are part of the judicial system of the country. They are, and always have been, the Queen's courts. The judges are the Queen's judges. The decisions in those courts are reported in the Law Reports and form part of the law of the land. In that sense, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Church of England is of a different order from that of domestic tribunals dealing with matters arising in other denominations.
I should like at the outset to suggest how the House should, in general, approach matters coming from the Church Assembly. It should, I suggest, be impressed by the fact the Measure was carried through the Church Assembly without a division. No vote was taken on any amendment. As the House knows, the Measure is the result of several years' careful work and discussion stemming from a Report, generally known as the Lloyd-Jacob Report, published in 1954 or 1955, followed by a Committee which eventually produced this Measure.
The Measure was then fully debated in the Church Assembly, was given general approval and was considered in detail. A number of amendments were presented. Some were accepted, none was pressed to a division and, eventually, the Measure was given general approval without dissent. I imagine, therefore, that the House would prima facie take the view that if the Measure has that degree of approval in the Church Assembly a clear case must be made out to invite this House to reject it. By the terms of the enabling Act, this House merely has the right either to reject or to accept the Measure. We have no power of amendment.
My view is that the House has two functions. In a case in which there is evidence of a strong minority opinion in the Church of England, this House clearly has a duty to ensure that that minority's rights and opinion have not been disregarded. The House has a general duty to protect any minority opinion.
During recent weeks, I have received, as, no doubt, other hon. Members have done, a number of letters from constituents objecting to this Measure. I have considered very carefully all those letters and circulars I have received. I am conscious that there is genuine concern in certain quarters of the Church about some of the provisions of this Measure. Of the two speeches which we have heard in opposition to it, one was by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, who is a Methodist, and the other was by an Anglican, a member of the Church of England although representing a Church of Ireland constituency.
In so far as opposition to the Measure comes from within the Church, one is entitled to take the view that however sympathetic one may be to some of the arguments which have been advanced, it is unfortunate that those in the Church who oppose the Measure did not take their opposition to a division so that the strength of the minority opinion might be tested. It is a disadvantage to the House of Commons if minority opinion fairs to test its own strength in the Church Assembly and then asks this House to reject a Measure which has been passed without a vote by the Church Assembly. On the other hand, this House must also have regard to the opinions quite legitimately and so well expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, who is not a member of the Church of England but who is a Methodist and, therefore, had no opportunity of putting his views before the Church Assembly.
The reason why this House must consider the Measure carefully is because hon. Members have contended that it raises major constitutional issues. I assent to the view that a Measure could be passed with unanimity in the Church Assembly which raises such constitutional issues affecting the rights of Her Majesty's subjects that the House of Commons should intervene. Therefore, it is proper that we should consider the grounds on which this opposition is based, which involves consideration of the merits.
The first and, chief objection by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West to the Measure was that it removes the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final court of appeal in what are called reserved cases: that is, ecclesiastical matters involving doctrine, ritual or ceremonial. While I have the greatest possible respect, as, I am sure, we all have, for the impartiality and wisdom of the Judicial Committee, there is no magic in that court being the final court of appeal in ecclesiastical matters. Nor is there any historical justification for its retention. The jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee dates only from about 1832. Incidentally, as was pointed out last week, there has not been any appeal in a matter of ecclesiastical doctrine for over fifty years.
I am coming to that.
The origin of the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee is derived from the fact that the Sovereign is the fount of all justice in ecclesiastical and in civil cases, and has been since the Conquest and before. Therefore, there has always been that constitutional right of appeal to the Sovereign. Prior to 1832, however, the Sovereign delegated responsibility for advice on these matters to a specially-constituted court of delegates appointed ad hoc for the occasion. The provisions in this Measure amount to a reversion to a previous state of affairs, because it is proposed that a commission of review should be set up to deal with any case that arises. As I have said, there have been no cases for fifty years.
The constitution of the court as proposed in the Measure is that it should consist of three Lords of Appeal in Ordinary being communicant members of the Church of England and two bishops being members of their Lordships' House. Thus constituted, the court would seem to be a very appropriate court to which the Crown should delegate supreme responsibility in these matters.
It was said by my hon. Friend that one ought to have complete confidence in the integrity of the judiciary—as we all have. But there is another element to be considered. It is important also in matters of this kind that the ultimate court of appeal should be one of special competence to try matters of this kind. Whereas in the days of the Court of Delegates it was assumed that those adjudicating would be members of the Church of England, there were instances in the last century, of ecclesiastical appeals to the Judicial Committee, when some of the judges sitting had no special ecclesiastical qualification.
Whether my hon. Friend likes it or not, in some quarters that was a matter of grave concern, and if it is still a matter of concern to some members of the Church, it does not seem to me entirely unreasonable that this new court should be substituted in which all members will be suitably qualified. There will be the further guarantee that, because of the predominance of the lay or judicial members, the judicial aspects of the tribunal will predominate over the spiritual elements.
If I myself had been drafting the Measure with a completely free hand, I should not have drafted it in this way and constituted the court exactly as it has been constituted. Nevertheless, I find it very difficult to believe that this modification in the constitution of the ultimate court of appeal is a sufficient ground to justify this House in rejecting a Measure which, as we all acknowledge, is overdue, and which contains a large number of clauses upon which there is complete agreement.
I want to say one other thing in reply to my hon. Friend on this subject. He seemed to suggest that this provision in the Measure was something which might make it more difficult to produce that rapprochement or reunion between the Church of England and some Nonconformist bodies which is devoutly desired by a great many members of both professions. In saying that, I am quite sure from the inquiries I have made that my hon. Friend was not speaking for the consensus of Methodist opinion in this country. [Hon. Members: "Oh".] I am quite sure that a change of this kind would be far more likely to facilitate reunion than the reverse.
Having said that in regard to the jurisdiction of the Privy Council, may I—
The specific point was this. It has been put forward in certain quarters as an obstacle to reunion that the supreme court having ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the affairs of the Church of England is Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. To what extent that view is important or valid I do not know. All I am saying is that it is not generally felt that the particular change introduced by this Measure is likely to be an obstacle to reunion. On the contrary, in many quarters it is felt that it may well remove an obstacle.
I now pass to the other issue which was raised by both my hon. Friend and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South.
I certainly will deal with that, although I really had not thought it necessary to do so.
The argument which was put forward was that, since under this Measure the commission of review to be appointed by Her Majesty is to include three Lords of Appeal being communicant members of the Church of England, one or two consequences may follow. One is that we may find a situation in which there are not three Lords of Appeal who are communicant members of the Church of England. So, as it was said, this Measure may limit and restrict the discretion of the Crown in all future appointments of Lords of Appeal. Personally, I believe that that is the merest pedantry. We shall no doubt hear what the Attorney-General has to say on the point. But I do not believe for a moment that this is a serious contention. I do not believe that it can influence or limit in any way the appointment of future Lords of Appeal.
My reason is as follows. Knowing the comparative rarity with which this commission will ever sit, it is easy to imagine that if the situation arises in which the court has to be constituted and there are not three Lords of Appeal who are communicant members of the Church of England, then some ad hoc provision could be made by simply selecting other senior members of the judicial bench with the appropriate qualification. But I do not really believe that this highly attenuated argument is really sufficiently strong to justify the rejection of this Measure.
Did my hon. Friend, the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) mean by that that in certain circumstances an appointment to the judicial bench might depend upon the religious convictions of the person proposed to be appointed?
No, Sir. I mean exactly the opposite. I do not think that the provisions of this Measure will in any way affect any judicial appointment. That is my view, and I hope that it is generally accepted.
My hon. Friend dealt with the case where three communicant members of the Church of England could not be found on the appropriate judicial bench, and he then said that there would have to be some arrangement by which such a person could be appointed.
No, Sir. To be more specific, let us suppose that a situation arose in which there were not three communicant members of the Church of England sitting in the House of Lords as Lords of Appeal. It would not be a very difficult matter to find somebody in the court of appeal to act as a substitute. Provisions could be made to legalise that. This contingency is so unlikely to happen that if this is the ground on which criticism to the Measure is based it exposes the weakness of the opposition being made.
I prefer to pass on to deal with what I think is a more serious and, perhaps, more generally accepted criticism. That is, it is said that this Measure retains what is generally called the bishops' veto. For many years—between 50 and 100—no prosecutions against a clergyman has been able to take place without the bishops' approval. The reason for this is that, unfortunately, there is a wide disparity between the strict letter of the law of the Church of England and the practice that obtains in most Churches. The Church of England is governed by the Act of Uniformity approved by this House in 1662. This prescribes that certain set forms of worship and no other shall be used in every parish church.
It is well known that as a generally accepted mutter of convenience there are variations and departures in practically every church in the land. The singing of one of the prescribed psalms may be technically illegal. Thus, every clergyman in the country is exposed to purely frivolous and vexatious prosecutions unless the bishops' veto is retained. That veto has existed and this Measure would retain it. Opponents of the Measure are opposing it on the ground that the bishops' veto may be abused.
I make three observations on this. First, this veto was accepted and endorsed and embraced without a division by the Church Assembly itself—bishops, clergy and laity. Secondly, it is designed to prevent frivolous and vexatious prosecutions. Thirdly, it is said, by those who have written to one and have sent circulars, that it is difficult to justify, and there may be technical objections to it. These are academic and hypothetical objections. In practice, it works well. I have not heard any suggestion, for the last thirty or forty years, at any rate, of a single specific case in which it has been even contended that any bishop in the land has exercised this veto wrongly, or dishonestly, or unreasonably, or in a way that could be criticised or censured.
The veto exists for the protection of the clergy against what would otherwise lead to chaotic litigation. Furthermore, I suggest that, in the middle of the twentieth century, it would be most unseemly if we were to contemplate any return to the situation in which technical irregularities of an incumbent were treated in the quasi-criminal atmosphere that existed in the nineteenth century. That seems contrary to me, contrary to the spirit of our society and something that we should all deplore these days.
One knows that the Church of England has its difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, said that the Church of England wanted to claim the benefits of establishment but was not prepared to pay the price for it. I dispute that. Part of the price for the establishment which the Church pays, and willingly pays, is its readiness to submit Measures of this kind, because they affect the whole body of Her Majesty's subjects, to the judgment to this House. It does so willingly, and confidently, believing in the good sense of this House.
I believe that we should be serving the cause of peace in the Church of England and, I hope, peace with other Churches of the Christian faith, if we adopt this Measure.
As other hon. Members have done, I had to consider carefully whether, as a Free Churchman, it is fitting that I should participate in this debate. I came to the conclusion, after full consideration and after examining the precedents as far as I was able, that I have a duty to do so. Firstly, I think that it is accepted that, while the Church of England is the national church by law established, it has to come to this House on the very kind of matter with which we are now concerned. Therefore, Parliament is involved and not, I suggest, only those hon. Members who happen to be members of the Church of England. This concerns all hon. Members while the Church continues to keep its present status in relation to the State.
Secondly, I felt constrained to speak because I have had a number of communications on this matter both from churches and individuals in my constituency who are gravely concerned about certain proposals in the Measure and have asked me to express their apprehensions in the House. I cannot think that it would be right for me to disfranchise, as it were, my constituents in this matter merely because they happen to be represented at this time by a Free Churchman and not by a member of the Church of England.
I therefore think it right that I should intervene, although I hope that what I say will be expressed in the fullness of Christian charity in dealing with the matters we all want to see satisfactorily settled—those of us who come within the membership of the whole Christian Church.
My constituents are concerned about two matters to which reference has been made in the debate. I do not want to repeat the considerable, weighty and lengthy arguments that have been adduced to the House on these two matters—the abolition of the appeal to the Privy Council and the retention of the bishops' veto. I think that probably nearly everything that can be said about them has already been said.
The retention of the bishops' veto is, I think, a matter of greater concern to my constituents than the appeal to the Privy
Council, and I want to mention two aspects because I do not think that the case was quite correctly stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) when he commended the the Measure to the House. I am anxious, as I am sure that all hon. Members are anxious, to understand exactly what is involved in this Measure, and I would like to be clear on these two points. First, my hon. Friend said:
On the question of the bishops' veto I am going to say that this in no way alters the present position in reserved cases. It is a minor extension recommended by the Lloyd Jacob Commission…if we were to take the grave step of withholding consent to this Measure we should not get rid of the bishops' veto. The status quo which includes the bishops' veto in reserved cases would still remain."—[Official Report, 9th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1163.]
My understanding is that this Measure does not maintain the status quo but very considerably alters the status of the bishops in this matter. If I am correctly advised, I do not think that it is accurate to say that the status quo will still remain. It is, of course, a retention in the sense that in the 1874 Act the bishops have the right of veto. But they are able to exercise that right only with full publication of what they are doing and why they are doing it, whereas in this Measure the right of veto would be entirely a private matter and the bishop would be under no obligation to impart anything but his decision to anyone at all.
If I am right on that point it is not, in regard to the bishops' veto, a matter of retaining the status quo but, if I may say so, of considerably enlarging the position of the bishop in a way which I think would not commend itself to a great many people.
I think it only fair to say that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) is wrong. The fact is that there is one of a large number of isolated instances in which the bishop is required to give his reasons. There are all the other relevant particulars embodied in this Measure in which the bishop is under no obligation to state his reasons at all.
As I understand the intervention, the hon. Gentleman is saying that I am partly right, but not completely right. I am wrong in some circumstances and I am right in others.
My authority in this matter is an eminent member of the legal profession who sits in another place and, as I know, has made a great study of ecclesiastical matters. He is an honoured and distinguished member of the Church of England. I am not a lawyer, and I am certainly not inclined to quarrel with lawyers. I take the point which has been made. But even on that point I gather that the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) agrees that I am right in part, but not wholly, and that in some circumstances the status quo is not being maintained but that a new position is being brought about.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) has seen the letter in The Times today from the Bishop of Chester, who probably knows as much about this Measure and its background and details as any person. He says that if this House were to reject the Measure we should not be getting rid of the bishops' veto, but we should be "back where we are now, with the veto in full force." That is the view of the Bishop of Chester.
Yes, where we are now, with the veto in full force and, at any rate in some circumstances, the bishop, if he exercises the veto, under an obligation to give reasons in public why he has exercised it. The obligation would be removed if this Measure is passed today. Therefore, it is not correct to say that it is merely a question of maintaining the status quo. It is altering the status quo, I suggest, in a material particular and in a way in which many people think it undesirable that it should be altered.
I come or to the second point which I wish to make about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, who commended the Measure to the House. That is in regard to the Lloyd-Jacob Commission. I suggest that, here again, it is not correct to say that this Measure is in line with the recommendation on this point of this Lloyd-Jacob Commission. The Commission said that the full inquiry on the decision whether the case should be tried or not should be made by a body which is more widely representative of the Church than the bishop of the diocese where the case has arisen. If the Church had accepted that recommendation, made by a Commission which had been set up by the Church, in my opinion all the criticism and the difficulty on this point which is likely to arise would have been avoided.
I do not think that we can look at this Measure except in the context of the fact that in the Church there is a great disregard of the law—there has been for a very long time past—on the part of a great many leading members of the Church as well as the ordinary clergy in the parishes. A large number of men in the Church who, in every other matter, would be people most scrupulous in the observance of every duty and obligation that came upon them, seem to take the view that if they happened to disagree with an obligation that the law affecting the Church imposes on them, they have no obligation to observe it and that it is, in fact, their duty not to observe it and, as it were, almost to make a merit of the fact that they are not observing it.
This is a matter which causes great concern and distress to many Christian people inside and outside the Church of England. I look with a great deal of apprehension, as do a number of Churches and constituents of mine, on any proposal likely to make it more easy for this kind of thing to happen. It has been said during the debate that a great deal of the law by which clergymen are bound is antiquated, unduly restrictive and not in accordance with modern thought and ideas.
I am quite willing to believe that that may be the case. But surely the remedy is for the Church to come to Parliament and to bring its law into line with what would be appropriate at the present time, rather than to perpetuate and extend a system in which it is to be made easier and not more difficult for the law to be disregarded and flouted. That is the wrong remedy.
I am coming to that in a moment, if my hon. Friend will bear with me.
Before I leave this point I am bound to say that it is a cause of offence to a great many loyal Christians in the country, inside and outside the fellowship of the Church of England, that in so many ways the law of the land is being flouted and disregarded by those whose duty it should be to observe the law in all particulars.
I happen to hold the view—I ask hon. Members to consider this point—that so far as possible matters affecting the Church—not only the Church of England—we have this problem in other Christian churches in the land—should to the utmost extent possible be carried with the good will and active approval of the largest possible numbers of members of the Church. It is not right, for instance, that the Church should be looked upon as merely a House, such as this House, in which the majority think it proper to "steamroller" through its legislation and to impose its will upon the minority whether the minority likes it or not.
As a Free Churchman who has had something to do with the conduct and the management of affairs in my own Church, and who, on various occasions, has presided over committees and councils, may I say that my efforts have always been to avoid bringing matters to a vote at all. Where there is a difference of opinion it is better, if possible, to adjourn the matter for a time so that people may think more about it. In such matters of this kind I would almost lean over backwards before giving my support to carry through a Measure which would be burdensome and grievous to the conscience and judgment of a large number of people with whom I might not agree, but whose conscience and judgment, nevertheless, as members of the Body of Christ, are entitled to be respected.
That, of course, is not to say that one would take the view that no action should be taken by the Church because a mere handful of people disagree with it. I would suggest that Churches should conduct their affairs with a view, as far as possible, by the exercise of patience, tolerance and restraint, to carrying the great body of their members with them.
It seems to me—I am coming now to the point to which my hon. Friend referred—that this is where the Church has been making a mistake in the policies that it pursues. He referred to the great Prayer Book debates in 1927 and 1928. It is a fact that the Church at that time could have achieved 95 per cent. of what it wanted, without any difficulty, without any controversy, and without any hardship to the consciences of its members. But it pursued a course on two occasions of throwing away the whole because it could not carry 5 per cent. That is what the Church is doing at this moment in regard to this Measure.
We are all put today in the intolerable position of having before us a Measure with which, I think, all of us agree as to 95 per cent. of it. But we are put in the position that the Church through being obstinate—I do not use the word unkindly—about these two matters, which are difficult and burdensome to a substantial section of the members of the Church is introducing a matter of controversy when it could achieve 95 per cent. of its Measure, and all that really matters for the purpose of its future government, without causing this difficulty and disaster.
If the main purpose of the Measure is to deal with a situation that has not once arisen for fifty years, the only logic of that position must be that there can be no great urgency or importance about the Measure. That seems to me to be a singularly weak argument on that point.
Of course I am not. I thought that I made it clear that a mere handful of people could not hold up the whole Church. Surely my hon. Friend is not saying that in regard to the Prayer Book. A majority of Members voted against it on two occasions.
I still adhere to my point that in Church matters there is everything to be gained by tolerance, restraint, moderation, and paying a great deal of attention to the consciences and judgments of people whom we may regard as reactionary or misguided, but who are, nevertheless, entitled to be heard and considered in the fellowship of the Church of Jesus Christ.
As a Free Churchman I must say this, and I think that I shall probably carry most of the House with me, at any rate on this point. I regard it as quite intolerable from the Church's point of view that the Church should have to come to this House and submit its Measures to the kind of debate upon which we are forced by the circumstances of the case to engage ourselves in at this time.
I regard it as wholly wrong in the case of a spiritual and supernatural society that that society should be compelled to accept appointments by political persons of the main figures in its ministry, and should be compelled to come to this House in regard to matters of ceremony, doctrine and ritual. I can think of few assemblies that are less fitted to undertake duties and responsibilities of this kind than the House of Commons. I would personally hope that for the sake of the Church this situation may be drastically changed at an early date.
Let me explain my position clearly in this matter. I would not, as a Free Churchman, lift a finger to impose a separation of the Church from the State upon an unwilling and reluctant Church. While the Church wishes to maintain its present relationship with the State, I would not regard it right for me as a Free Churchman, to impose by any action or word of mine disestablishment upon it.
I shall, of course, endeavour, as I always endeavour, to keep strictly within the bounds of order. All that I was endeavouring to suggest to the House, and I shall not pursue the point at any length, was that there might be good reasons for not passing this Measure, for the reason that some other Measure would be more appropriate to accomplish the purpose and the best interests which the Church itself has at heart. But in view of what you have been good enough to say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall not pursue the matter further.
I should like to say a word about one point which the hon. Member for Islington, East made. He questioned the statement made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) as to the effect of these proposals upon the possibility of reunion between the Church of England and the Methodist Church and possibly other Free Church bodies. I am absolutely confident that there will have to be a much more drastic separation of Church and State than this Measure envisages before there will be any possibility of union of the Church either with the Methodists or any other Free Church bodies. I do not believe, stated at the best, that this Measure makes reunion more easy. I am inclined on the other hand, to take the view of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West that it makes it more difficult.
Before I close I should like to say this word, which, I hope, will not be misunderstood. I have been interested for many years in the ecumenical movement, and I rejoice beyond measure at the enormous improvement in church relations which I have seen in the last twenty or twenty-five years. I should be reluctant to do anything that could adversely affect that great movement of the spirit, as I see it, within the Christian bodies of this country and of the world. I should hate to think that I had said anything this afternoon that would be regarded as unfair, or which would cause any distress or grief to any of my hon. Friends in this House, in the Church of England, or in any of the other Churches.
I would very much hope that my hon. Friend, who commended the Measure to the House, might even now consider the wisdom of withdrawing it, in view of the criticisms that were made in another place, the criticisms that some of us, with great reluctance, have been compelled to make in this House, and in view of the not inconsiderable body of objection to this Measure within the Church of England itself. It would be a mistake, I think, to underestimate either the number of people in the Church of England who are opposed to this Measure or the strength of their objection and opposition.
I cannot think but that the Church would gain in credit by recognising that it might be wise to withdraw this Measure, to withdraw these two particular matters which are a source of offence to so many, and to bring the Measure back with those two proposals amended in a form which would enable the Measure to be commended to practically everybody within the Church itself and practically everybody in this House.
It will be a very great pity if we were compelled, at the end of the day, to vote on this matter. If we are, I shall be compelled to vote against, but I shall do so with great reluctance and with a heavy heart.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) did not need to apologise as a Baptist for taking part in this discussion. No one in this House has suggested that it is not the right of Parliament, constitutionally and legally, to reject any Assembly Measure. It is the right of any hon. Member, elected to represent his constituents by voice and by vote, to express his views. That, I think, imposes on him as an individual and on the House as a whole a very solemn responsibility not to do it lightly and not to act with a lack of thought or lack of the wisdom which we all have to address to these matters.
The hon. Member got into some difficulty with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, over discussing Establishment. This places one in a little difficulty, because it was clear from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) that although it is perfectly true that nothing in this Measure deals with Establishment at the background of the debate has been the feeling about Establishment. I am not suggesting that hon. Members have put it as crudely as this, but it appears to me that there is liable to be a certain feeling that, "We do not like the Established Church and, when the Church is put into the position of having to come to this House to get its Measures, we shall give them hell; that will teach them to have second thoughts about Establishment". I think that is a fair commentary on what the hon. Member was saying.
I should like to make clear where my views are on Establishment. I should not want to sit up late at night in order to preserve the Established Church. The Anglican Church over many parts of the world is disestablished and in many parts of this country it is disestablished. No one suggests that it loses in its quality of life as a Church from the fact that it is disestablished. I think it true, however, that although in many ways life would be easier for the Church if it were disestablished and life in many ways would be less humiliating, at the same time it would be a less charitable body and would be demonstrating less effectively to the country and to the world great quality and the great contribution that it can make to spiritual life by the fact that it is a body of people with very varying views and outlooks who try to live together in peace and harmony.
I want to underline that point. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), looking at these things from across the Irish Channel, gave an unfair picture of the Church of England He gave a picture of the Church of England as being dominated and controlled by a small clique of people who have grasped power and who are using power in order to develop their heretical and lawless behaviour.
Yes. The hon. Member said:
This Measure will inevitably work against it. It is a Measure produced by a party within the Church, and it will eventually divide both the Church…and the Christian people of the nation at a time when we are seeking unity.
A little earlier he said:
…there are many in this Church and in others…who would be deterred if they were to see the bishop elevated into being something like a petty tyrant."—[Official Report, 9th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1182.]
I think that is an unfair picture of the Church of England.
As I see the Church of England there are two extremes in it. At one extreme there are people upon whom loyalty and consistency are obligations which weigh with them very lightly, who do not behave with a due regard to the feeling, the corporate feeling of the Church. At the other extreme there is an equally small and extreme body of people who are utterly intolerant and try to rivet the Church down to a most rigid and fundamental interpretation of legalism which to the great body of the Church is quite intolerable.
Between those two wings over the great body of the Church there is not this feeling of friction, tension and hostility which has been presented to this House. They are people—whether High Church or Low Church, modernist or traditionalist, whether they like ritual or do not like ritual—who have a very real and determined desire to live together in charity and peace with each other, to share each others' pulpits and meet together at the altar in communion and they form the concerted body of the Church. I think this Measure reflects the views of those people and the great body in the Church of England.
It is not true to say that this Measure has been pushed through by some kind of conspiracy. I mention my own experience. I read about this Measure in its early days in the one way which the majority of British people can learn of the Establishment, in the columns of The Times. I discovered in the summary given in The Times certain things about it which I disliked. I wrote to the Secretary of the Church Assembly about them. Those points were carefully and courteously considered and, in the end, after full consideration, amendments were made in the light of what I had said. Therefore, I think it quite unfair to suggest that there has been a rigidity and unwillingness to consider constructive criticism.
Of course there are things which not everyone likes, but there come a stage in any society when one has to make a final decision. I think the best body to make that decision is the Church Assembly, a democratically elected body representative of the Church. One may challenge whether it is a really representative body. Hon. Members may look at their own consciences and their constituencies. They can look at their own trade union branches. I think they would have difficulty in putting their hands on their hearts and saying that every decision taken by every assembly and congress is truly representative of everyone. Of course, in these matters democracy never works perfectly, but we get a rough and ready approximation to the feelings of the people.
This is a reasonable attempt to put the affairs of the Church on the judicial side in order. The question was put by the hon. Member for Wimbledon, "Why don't you get rid of some of the difficulties about enforcing the law rigidly and put your house in order?". This is part of the operation of putting one's house in order. We are at the beginning of an extensive period of reform. There are all sorts of canons to come in future which will be part of that operation. It makes it terribly difficult for the Church to put its affairs in order if it is in fear the whole time that whenever a major reform comes up it will be obstructed and prevented from going through and if more and more say, "I searched my conscience and thought a lot about it and unhappily I shall have to oppose it." If that is the price of Establishment, it means that the whole nature of Establishment must be examined. I should not worry about that very much, but I think that the country as well as the Church would lose something by persistent moves towards disestablishment.
There are occasions on which the Church Assembly may have acted hastily, in which there may have been a very close division of opinion within the Assembly, or in which there may have been a disregard of some fundamental principle of natural justice on which our whole system of law and good order in this country depends. Theoretically, all these things may happen. I do not think that anybody can say that they have happened in a Measure which was passed without a division in all three houses of the Assembly, and which went to another place and was passed there without a Division. It is difficult to say that that is the type of Measure which is so grossly improper that the House must reject it.
Two points have arisen. The first concerns the Judicial Committee, and I would make only this comment: the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South claimed that the public, the ordinary common man in the street, felt very strongly on this point. If the hon. and gallant Member stops one in three in any street in any town and puts the question, for example to the milkman, "What do you think of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and its exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction?", I think that he will get rather a forthright answer. This is a very subtle lawyer's point.
What is behind it is the real point that it is extraordinarily difficult to interpret spiritual things and matters of doctrine in terms of judicial, legal reasoning. This does not apply only in the case of establishment. There is no need for my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) to nod his head wisely and to say, "Disestablish". But this does not only affect established churches. I should like to give an illustration of that. A relation of mine was counsel in the famous case which was brought by the Wee Frees against the main body of the Free Church when they wanted to unite with the United Presbyterians in Scotland about sixty years ago. We had the extraordinary position of a subtle-minded agnostic Hegelian like Haldane trying to argue with the House of Lords about whether the Westminster Confession was Arminian. This is not the kind of field in which our judicial system, in spite of its many advantages, works well. Therefore, in matters of interpretation of doctrine it is desirable to have an interpretation by persons who have some knowledge of the matter. The example which I gave illustrates the danger which can occur if we rely only on a secular tribunal.
Another point concerns the bishops' veto. There have been attempts to frighten us and to paint a picture of an earnest orthodox legal churchman being threatened by a ritualistic-minded incumbent brandishing candles at him and dousing him with holy water, while the bishop will not interfere to protect him. But that is not the position at all. In point of fact the illegalities which the hon. Member for Wimbledon denounced so ferociously are taking place in almost every parish and in almost every church in this land. Take the Athanasian Creed. I wonder in how many churches the Athanasian Creed is said on all the feast days on which, according to the Prayer Book Rubric, which is part of the Act of Uniformity, it must be said. Look at the exhortation to come to Holy Communion good, forthright, straight stuff which must be said, but in how many evangelical churches is that said every Sunday? Manifestly, is it not.
We had a letter today from an incumbent from Cornwall on the subject of the northward position. I once heard a story of a priest with very High Church principles who went specially to take a celebration in a low church. With the courtesy and consideration which most members of the Church of England show each other, he said, "I do not want to offend the faithful in this congregation. I do not want to shock them by taking up an eastward position. I will take up a northward position". After the service was over the vicar's warden went for him in the vestry and said, "We do not want any of your infernal ritual here. We trust the congregation. We do not get round the table to look at them to see the way in which they arc behaving. We expect our incumbent to worship with them and to trust them by turning his back on them". That is a true story, and it shows the fantastic ideas of what is and what is not permitted and what is and what is not legal.
The real picture of the working of the bishop's veto is not that of an intolerant, irresponsible incumbent forcing things on his congregation. It is that of the ordinary, decent, sincere incumbent who has his church officers behind him, who has talked to his parochial church council and who has worked out a system of worship which is acceptable to them and from which they derive strength and comfort. But he is open at any time to be the victim of persecution and threats from people who are not concerned in this matter and who are liable to use this kind of thing as an instrument of controversy and perhaps of malice.
It is in that situation that the bishop, who is, after all, pastorally responsible for his diocese, must consider the position. The bishop is not a glorified Chief Whip, as the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, seemed to imply. He is there as the father of his diocese, pastorally responsible for it and wanting to avoid scandal, and upon him is placed the responsibility of bringing the parties together and trying to reach a settlement. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, with the respect which I have for his great sincerity and deep piety, that in his attitude on this matter of the bishop's veto he is on the side of intolerance and persecution and not on the side of freedom and tolerance in Christian charity.
I intervene at this stage in case I may be of some assistance to the House in matters which are to some extent legal. I do not, of course, speak on behalf of the Government either to recommend or to oppose this Measure which is be ore the House. This is a Measure when is entirely for all hon. Members, and for each of them separately, to consider. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black), who said that whether one is a member of the Church of England or not one ought still to make up one's mind about this Measure, is perfectly correct. We must all consider this as a matter of whether we are prepared to allow this Measure to pass or whether we feel that it must be opposed.
There are some controversial matters which partake of the law and of jurisdiction, and as these matters are within my daily duties it would perhaps assist the House if I said a word or two on this Measure, although I commend to the House much more the spirit of the speech of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and other speeches which looked to the spiritualities behind the Measure, at what the conclusion may be and at what the effect may be on the Church of England as a whole and all its members.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) that this is a Third Reading debate. Parliament his delegated to the Church Assembly the task of promoting Measures of this kind, and the Church Assembly has promoted this Measure with infinite labour and care. We now have to look at the Measure broadly and generally and at all its provisions. We must see whether, even though there may be some objection able points in it, we think that the Measure as a whole is acceptable, or whether those parts which anybody might find objectionable are so objectionable that they must lead to a vote against the whole of the Measure. This is the position which we find ourselves in frequently on Third Reading, when there may be matters that we would have wished to have amended in Committee but when, nevertheless, despite objections which we would have liked to have proved in Committee, we are prepared to accept the Measure as a whole. We do not have the Committee stage of this Measure. We have not had the opportunity of dealing with it. Therefore, we can approach it only upon the basis of deciding whether the Measure as a whole ought to be passed.
The object of the Measure is the recasting of the ecclesiastical courts and of their whole methods of working. It was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon that it was unnecessary to reform the courts themselves while the law of the Church to a great extent required putting in order, but one must start with one of them. It is known that substantial consideration is now being given to the reform of the canon law and many other matters. It must be a matter of choice whether the law of the Church is reformed first and unsatisfactory courts left to enforce it, or whether it is not more sensible to reform the courts first, so that there is the machinery to enforce the law, and then to reform the law generally.
I thought that I made it clear that I was in favour of the reform of the courts and that I accepted 95 per cent. of the Bill. It is only on the two points that have created difficulty that I have hesitation.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I am sure that is right. All the speeches we have had in the debate so fax have shown that there is a realisation that the reform of the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England is a very necessary measure which ought to be put in hand as soon as possible.
I had the experience of appearing in the Bryn Thomas case under the 1892 Act. I was very impressed as a result of that experience with the necessity for a substantial reform in such cases and of the legislation affecting the courts dealing with them. Therefore, we come back to the question whether there are features of this Measure which hon. Members find so objectionable that they think that the whole of the Measure, which combines very many useful, proper and necessary provisions, must be rejected.
May I therefore deal shortly, purely from the legal point of view, with some of the questions which have been raised on these two points, first of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and, secondly, of the bishop's veto?
What I think the Hause has to do is to compare the position of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and its powers as they have existed up to the present time with the proposal for a Commission of Review under the Great Seal which is contained in the Measure, the Commission to be composed of three Lords of Appeal and two either archbishops or bishops.
I hope I shall try to deal with most of the points which have been raised. To a great extent, the re-introduction of the bishops into the supreme court of appeal in ecclesiastical matters is a reversion to the historical situation. It is worth looking at the historical situation. From the Conquest until 1533 it was not the position that appeals were to the Crown. They were usually to Rome, with the consent of the Crown. This was the position until the Act of Henry VIII. From 1533 until 1876 bishops were either part of the Court of Delegates or of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. During the period from 1840 to 1876, while there was a statutory requirement that at least one bishop should be a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council when sitting on ecclesiastical matters, research shows that this requirement was observed in only about 50 per cent. of the cases. Nevertheless, until 1876 the position was that bishops did compose part of the membership either of the Court of Delegates or of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
I am afraid that my knowledge is not detailed, but such inquiries as I have made and such information as I have show that judges, civilians and bishops sat with regularity throughout the whole period from 1533 down to 1833, though there were periods when the Court of Delegates did not operate very much because the Court of High Commission was being used under the Prerogative. Nevertheless, the idea of the Court of Delegates was that it should include bishops, as with the Judicial Committee. Therefore, it is only since 1876 that the position has been that the supreme court of appeal in ecclesiastical matters has not included bishops. It has included three assessors who were either one of the archbishops or one of four other bishops who were nominated. Therefore, the difference involved in introducing the bishops into the Commission of Review at present is that they become again, as they were before 1876, members of the court instead of being assessors, as they have been since 1876.
As to the position of the Lords of Appeal, it is correct to say, I think, that the introduction of the provision that they should be communicant members of the Church of England is new, in the sense that it has never been part of the statute law before, although in the days prior at any rate to 1833 no such provision was necessary, because the judiciary always were members of the Church of England in any event because of the Test Act and other matters, and it was not necessary to have any other statutory provision.
Therefore, between 1840 and 1876 the problem never really arose, because I think that during that period the vast majority of the Lords of Appeal were members of the Church of England. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) raised doubts about whether there would be sufficient Lords of Appeal available to staff a Commission of Review with three members present. My hon. and gallant Friend raised the further doubt whether it might not be necessary for the Crown to make a particular appointment of a Lord of Appeal in order to keep up the numbers of those who were communicant members of the Church of England. I should have thought that these matters at present and in the foreseeable future are not very probable.
The present position is that there are nine active Lords of Appeal. Admittedly, two of them are Scotsmen and there may be a presumption against their being members of the Church of England, though they still can be. In addition to those nine active Lords of Appeal, there are the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chief Justice and sometimes, though not at present, the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, who are also Lords of Appeal. In addition, there are the retired Lords of Appeal, who at present include Lord Goddard, Lord Simonds, Lord Tucker and Lord Oaksey.
Therefore, the pool from which communicant members of the Church of England can be drawn is at the present moment pretty extensive. If one ever reached the situation in which the nine practising Lords of Appeal, plus the two or three ex officio members, plus the retired members, were not likely within their numbers to include at least three communicant members of the Church of England, I should have thought that the Church of England and its position in the States as a whole would have reached a situation in which much more radical measures would be necessary than adjusting the supreme appellate court. The hon. Member for Islington East (Mr. Fletcher) said that if that situation were reached it could be dealt with by legislation, but I should have thought that it would be much more likely that there would be disestablishment if only such a tiny proportion of the Lords of Appeal were members of the Church of England.
I do not know that. I considered whether I ought to obtain that information, but I did not think that it was right to embark upon personalities in inquiries. It is thought that there is an ample pool at present and that there is likely to be that ample pool in the foreseeable future.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman sure that there is a definition in the words "communicant members of the Church of England" that can be tested, or are we to assume that anyone with an income of more than£1,000 a year is a member of the Church of England?
The right hon. Member's last assumption would be very ill-founded. The members of the various Churches which form our community have all types of incomes. I am merely saying in the distant future, there may be a situation in which the availability of Lords of Appeal who are communicant members of the Church of England may become a question, but I would not have thought that that is likely in the immediate or for seeable future.
Another objection which has been raised is about whether previous decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should or should not be binding. The Measure provides that they shall not be binding on the Commission of Review, which is to be set up, in matters of ritual, doctrine and ceremonial. That does not mean to say, what I apprehend will be the position, that the previous decisions of the Judicial Committee will not be of high persuasive authority regarding issues before the Commission of Review. I think that the Commission of Review would certainly treat the previous decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as of very high persuasive authority indeed; but they would not be absolutely bound to follow them.
The courts have found themselves in difficulties when two courts seemed to have contradicted each other. They must then resolve the matter and, in such cases, they cannot be bound by either. It is not necessary that the Measure should provide whether or not these decisions should be binding. When one is considering the setting up of a new Commission of Review for a new purpose, on a new basis and with new hopes, so that it will be able to make a new approach to these difficult matters of doctrine, ceremonial and ritual, it would be right not to make previous decisions binding, providing that those previous decisions are of higher persuasive authority.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has itself said about one of its own previous decisions that, while it was fully sensible of the weight to be attached to previous decisions, their Lordships were, at the same time bound to examine the reasons upon which the decisions rested and to give effect to their own view of the law. Thus, even the Judicial Committee has thought that it was entitled to go behind the reasons on which previous decisions were based.
Speaking for myself, I take the view that they will remain the law of the land until they have been reversed by a subsequent decision of the Commission of Review or by legislation which alters them. It does not mean that they cease to be the law of the land. It means that if the same point comes up and it is necessary to give the matter reconsideration in new litigation, they do not have to be followed, though they are of high persuasive authority.
It may be that some people will think that a decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was wrong and that it should not be allowed to stand. To that extent, the Law may be in doubt as to whether or not it should stand. If the general opinion of the ecclesiastical lawyers is that a decision of the Judicial Committee is plainly right, then there will not, of course, be any likelihood that it will be reversed on a subsequent hearing.
Surely the absurdity of the whole procedure of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in matters of this kind is shown by a statement made by their Lordships in 1870, in an appeal against a charge of heresy—of heretical opinions—when they said:
These prosecutions are in the nature of criminal proceedings and it is necessary that there should be precision and distinctness in the accusation.
Is it not impossible for there to be precision and distinctness on such a matter?
I am not sure, but I hope that in judicial proceedings there would be a good deal of precision and distinctness and that even on matters of ritual, doctrine and ceremonial people who need to know exactly what the position is will be able to find it out by going to the courts.
Is it not perfectly clear from that exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and the Attorney-General how important it is that in deciding questions of doctrine and ritual it should not be people who are emotionally involved who should be deciding these matters but, rather, lawyers who can bring a detached mind to the proceedings?
That intervention brings me to my next point. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) for having again this afternoon led me on to the next matter I wish to discuss. Six Commissions have sat on this subject since 1883, prior to the time of the Lloyd-Jacob Commission. All of them recommended that the Judicial Committee should cease to be the final court of appeal in ecclesiastical matters and that some other court was necessary. The general basis on which they came to this decision is probably best summed up in the following words from the Report of the 1906 Commission, which included not only the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Davidson, but also the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Alverstone:
A Court dealing with matters of conscience and religion must, above all others rest on moral authority if its judgments are to be effective. As thousands of the clergy, with strong lay support, refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee, its judgments cannot practically be enforced.
Those who most desire to repress irregularities are those who have most to gain by the substitution of an effective tribunal for a Count which, because it is powerless, encourages rather than represses disorder".
This was the basis on which the 1906 Commission, among others, made its Report. It is the fundamental approach on which it has been decided by the Church Assembly and those who have considered this matter as to whether or not one should remit this subject to the lay judges, many of whom may not appreciate—and the hon. Member for Widnes mentioned this—the very important and deep doctrinal and ceremonial difficulties that are involved in their decisions.
It is a fairly frequent experience that matters of judicial decision are remitted to judges who have had long experience in matters of this kind. Perhaps this is not a very exact analogy, but on the whole the commercial courts of this country are staffed by judges who have experience in commercial matters. This is wise in many respects, provided that the experience of the judge is not likely to involve him in becoming embroiled in the incidents of the dispute. I think that we can trust the Lords of Appeal to be able to be sufficiently detached and to approach these matters with proper detachment, even though they are to some extent implicated by being communicant members of the Church of England.
The recent history of decisions by the Judicial Committee does not show it in recent years to have been a very active bulwark of the law of the Church of England. It last decided a case on doctrine, ritual and ceremonial in 1892. The last conduct cases concerned Archdeacon Wakeford in 1921 and the Rector of Stiffkey in 1912. As to faculty cases, there has been no appeal to it since 1928. It will still retain the power to decide faculty cases not involving doctrine, ritual or ceremonial. It has, therefore, not played a very active part in these matters in the last 70 years or so.
The bishop's veto has caused very many hon. Members anxiety, and has been the foundation upon which they have thought that this Measure should be opposed on that ground alone. Trying to strike a balance, it is fair to say that some people might take the view that there are already sufficient safeguards in the Measure; first of all, in conduct cases, by providing that an examiner shall see whether there is a case to answer and, secondly, in matters of doctrine, ritual and ceremonial, by providing for an inquiry by the Committee of Convocation—again, to see whether there is a case to answer.
The arguments on the other side may be put as being, first of all, that all discipline Acts and Measures since 1840 have preserved the bishops' right of veto in, if he thinks fit, both conduct and reserved cases. Dealing with the point discussed just now by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, about whether, having exercised his veto, the bishop has to state his reasons for exercising it, the position under the 1840 Act—which covers doctrine, ritual and ceremonial—is that he does not have to state any reason at all. He simply has the veto, and that position would be continued in this Measure.
Under the 1874 Act, however, which covers ritual and ceremonial only, the bishop has to state his reasons for exercising his veto. The 1874 Act is an optional alternative to the 1840 Act in matters of ritual and ceremonial only. In 1874 it was considered that a more efficient procedure was wanted for ritual and ceremonial cases. That was why the Act was passed. It provided for a quicker and, in many ways, a harsher operation of the judicial process, but it was so harsh that six clergymen were sent to prison, and public opinion almost immediately turned against the use of that Act, and it has never been used since 1881.
The position, therefore, is that while the present Measure would remove the necessity for a bishop to state his reasons in ritual and ceremonial cases under the 1874 Act, that situation has never arisen since 1881. This Measure, therefore, assimilates the whole position to what it was under the 1840 Act, which deals with doctrine, ritual and ceremonial together.
The second argument advanced in favour of the bishops' veto is that it is not unusual in the civil law to have some initial filter to prevent proceedings being taken. This is particularly so when the mischief is known but there is considerable difficulty in defining the exact circumstances in which prosecutions ought to take place, and also when, by enforcing the strict letter of the law, oppression might be caused to those against whom proceedings may be taken.
In those cases, it is quite normal for Acts of Parliament to contain a provision that no proceedings are to be brought without the consent of, for instance, the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General. One of the more recant Measures was that dealing with "horror comics". It was very difficult to define what a "horror comic" was, so it was thought right that no one should launch proceedings without preliminary consent.
A similar preliminary discretion is not unusual in the professions. The letter from the six lawyers dealt with schoolmasters and doctors. As far as I know, there is no professional body to deal with unprofessional conduct of schoolmasters, but in the medical profession the position is that the President of the General Medical Council can, and often does, stop complaints at their very first stage without even referring them to the Penal Cases Committee, which conducts a preliminary investigation similar to that provided for in the Measure. There, we have another example of a preliminary right to stop proceedings at the very beginning.
Finally, it has been said that the veto is necessary in order to give an opportunity for reconciliation and discussion before any body within the Church is allowed to embark on the bitterness of litigation.
I respectfully submit that the real approach to this problem is that it is not a technical question, as a matter of law or practice of whether it is in accordance with our usual standards—there are examples either way in the ordinary law. The real question is whether individual hon. Members consider that bishops will use this power responsibly, fairly, sensibly and properly for the benefit of the church, or whether they think that the bishops will use the power to stifle proper litigation and prevent the enforcement of the law within the church.
If hon. Members take the second view, they are perfectly justified in saying that the continuation of the bishops' veto is objectionable. If, on the other hand, they think that up to now the bishops have used the veto sensibly and for the benefit of the Church, and without trying to stifle proper investigation of complaints and enforcement of discipline in the Church, and will so use it in the future, I suggest that that view should lead them to support the Measure.
I am sorry to have detained the House for so long. I only intervened in order to try to assist in getting precise some of the issues raised about the Judicial Committee and the bishops' veto. I do not speak on behalf of or against the Measure; it is entirely a matter for all Members of the House.
I take the view in regard to this Measure and its progress through the House which was generally stated in, if I may say so, most admirable terms by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). He said that he had received some letters from constituents on this Measure. Although I have not received any letters from my constituents, I had an interview, at his request, with the bishop of the diocese in which my constituency is situated.
It was then brought home to me—I had almost forgotten it—that as early as 1945 I had an interview with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, who explained to me, a Non-conformist, that he was engaged with the Church Assembly in a general revision of Canon Law, and rather hinted to me that, if he succeeded in getting his Measures through, they might come before Parliament at an early date. I understand that these discussions are still going on, and I gather from The Times newspaper that they are likely to go on for some considerable time yet. We must not conduct this discussion today without realising that this Measure is part of a number of issues that will be brought before this House at some time in the future.
I am quite sure that all who listened to him will be grateful to the right hon. and learned Attorney-General for the way in which he has explained the history of the matter. Apart from that, we have had a good many dogmatic statements. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) snapped at one hon. Member, "You're wrong," without giving any reason why that hon. Member should be thought to be wrong, or more wrong than my hon. Friend himself. However, from the learned Attorney-General we have had the history given, as far as one could judge, quite impartially. I share the view ex- pressed by Sir Cyril Norwood than there are two faiths held by people in this country, one a faith that is a revelation for all time, quite unalterable, and another faith which is progressive and widening as the knowledge of men widens.
When we think that the Canon Law and the whole of the matters that we have been discussing this afternoon date back in their present form to as long ago as 1604, that is, before Newton or Darwin had considerably widened men's knowledge about the universe and man's part in it, is is very difficult indeed to imagine what can be a proper court to deal with accusations of heresy. Nobody now imagines that anyone would think of prosecuting Colenso for heresy or that the Church Assembly really did very much good in 1868 in devoting almost entirely its whole discussions to what Colenso thought about the first two chapters of Genesis.
The difficulty that confronts us is that we have to deal with procedures that were instituted for the mental and spiritual outlook of 1604 and that we try to apply them to the circumstances of today. I think it is a great pity that we in this House should have to consider whether we are going to pass or reject the considered views of the Church Assembly. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) said, "Why did not the minority divide against the majority?" Well, of course, that is a mere House of Commons trick, and I am sorry to see an effort made to apply it to spiritual affairs.
I take the view of the hon. Member for Wimbledon, that in these matters, no matter in which particular Church those who belong to a Church may be, we know that at the same Communion, that at any discussions with regard to the business of the Church, men of very widely differing views are taking part whose real unity consists in the spiritual truths which they accept and they are very loth to say anything that might be a cause of offence to any member of the Church who does not quite hold the same views as they do on some remote theological point.
May I interrupt my right hon. Friend? I have the greatest sympathy with what he is now saying on this point, but when he accuses me of a trick, this really is not quite fair. There have frequently been divisions and votes in perfect charity and good temper within the Church Assembly, and there were divisions on that crucial debate on the revision of the Prayer Book in the Assembly. That was one of the arguments used in this House for rejecting the Book.
My hon. Friend did bring it up as a reason for accepting this Measure, that it was not divided against in the Church Assembly.
We are sometimes asked in our constituencies why we gave a certain vote. It is always very convenient to say, "As a matter of fact, there was not a vote on that issue" or, "I did not vote", or, "If there was a Division I did not vote in it". That is what I call a Parliamentary trick. I am not insinuating that my hon. Friend was trying to do anything underhand in the House, but we are faced with this difficulty. I say this for myself. I do not believe that the Church is co-terminus with the State. It has not been since 1688. The disaster of 1662 abides with us still, but I do not believe that the Church and the State are co-terminus. I believe in the gathered Church, that is, in a group of people who for spiritual reasons form themselves into a Church without any support from the State other than the preservation of the property that they have managed to acquire.
Therefore, that being so, I do not think it would be right of me to cast a vote on this Measure if a vote is called. The Church Assembly, as far as I am concerned, is the church meeting of the Church of England. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will realise what I mean by that. He is a Baptist. I was brought up a Congregationalist and we both believe in the congregational system of church government. I regard the Church Assembly as the congregational voice of the Church of England in this country.
I would object to anyone from outside coming into my Church and telling me how that Church should be governed. If I accept that for myself I am certainly not going to invade that position for the Church of England. As far as I am concerned, I am thankful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving us the history of the matter. I am bound to say that I think we ought to leave the Church of England's internal differences to the Church itself and the less those of us who are not in the Church of England say about it the more likely we are to bring about a general understanding that we hope will eventually lead to a wider reunion of the Churches than has yet been contemplated.
I intervene in this debate with some trepidation because, unlike a number of other hon. Members who have taken part in it, I am neither a member of the Church Assembly nor of the Ecclesiastical Committee of this House. I am not conscious of having taken part in a debate of this kind before, but I have played some part in the British Council of Churches, and I sat with the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) on a commission not many years ago. I reinforced my knowledge by reading all the debates in the Church Assembly and the Report of the Lloyd-Jacob Commission.
I hope that I may be forgiven for a personal word at this juncture because I think it has a bearing on the views that I wish to express. I was brought up in the low church and, as a consequence of my upbringing and my education in these matters, when I was first made aware of some of the controversies with which we are here concerned I felt suspicious of what was going on. Since I have read the debates and, in particular, the views expressed by the Lloyd-Jacob Commission I am bound to say that the views with which I started to investigate the subject have been drastically altered, largely because I find that this really is not a subject fit for legislation at all.
One of the chief objections of those who have told us that they intend to vote against this Measure is the change from the right of Appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. We had two powerful speeches the other night advancing objections to that change. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) took the view that it would be a
great pity to abandon that particular court because
…it is one of the few remaining bulwarks we have, ensuring that the law is preserved and recognised in the Established Church."—[Official Report, 9th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1168.]
The other objector, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), took precisely the opposite ground. He took the view that the law was consistently flouted.
Far from its being a bulwark for the preservation of the law, it was in his view a valueless instrument. That is endorsed by an extract from the 1906 Report quoted in the Lloyd-Jacob Commission Report where it is said that
…many, if not most, of the things pronounced unlawful by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council have become of general usage…
It seems strange to me that those who dislike the innovations of the modern day in the Church should be so keen to preserve the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in this context, knowing perfectly well that it is ineffective in the rôle they assign to it.
One cannot at one and the same time insist upon preserving a dam against illegal practices and then complain of flood damage by illegal reforms which have got over the dam. The fact, as has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, is that the law is not being upheld. This is part of the answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South when he complains that the judgments of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the past are no longer to have the same force under the new arrangements. If they contradict each other and have not had the effectiveness which some hon. Members wish they had, what is the point of lamenting their passing? The truth is that the Judicial Committee does not command the confidence of those who wish to see the maintenance of the law respected.
Mention has been made of the question whether it would be right to alter the system of enforcing the law first, or to deal with the changes in Canon Law and then alter the methods of enforcement. I think that the right method is to tackle the courts first so as to make quite certain that when changes in Canon Law are make there will be effective means to try to see that they are observed.
I turn now to the objections voiced on the qualifications of the Lords of Appeal. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West complained of the risk of their being "emotionally involved". I hope that the hon. Member will not mind my saying that I take strong exception to the suggestion that a Lord of Appeal known to be a communicant member of the Church is ''emotionally involved" to that degree. It is a reflection on the judgment of such Lords of Appeal to say that they would not be able to do their job properly because they would be emotionally involved. There are a number of instances, and the Attorney-General told us of one, where it has been thought wise for judges experienced in a particular field of the law to be concerned with it primarily. Here I would have much more respect for those who interpret ecclesiastical law if I knew that they were experienced in that phase of life.
The question of confidence is one of the utmost importance and I should like to reinforce this view by quoting once more a paragraph to which the Attorney-General referred and which I think strengthens the point which I wish to make. It is said in the 1906 report that
A Court dealing with matters of conscience and religion must, above all others, rest on moral authority if its judgments are to be effective. As thousands of clergy with strong lay support refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee, its judgments cannot practically be enforced".
That is why it has been thought proper to come forward with proposals to amend the law in this respect.
I quote from the view of the Lloyd-Jacob Commission that
To make new provisions for the trial of offences against the law, considerable sections of which are no longer observed and in addition are contrary to the mind of the Church as expressed in its practice, is sheer waste of time. To expect the ecclesiastical courts to administer such a law, is to require them to make decisions that are either contemptible or ridiculous'.
There is much truth in the suggestion that because there is no confidence in the present system of maintaining the law, lawlessness is encouraged.
I believe that those who dislike departure from uniformity in current practice should take encouragement from the fact that a system of courts which commands confidence may very well reduce the amount of diversion which is going on at present. This question of the qualification of the Lords of Appeal has been linked with the aptitude of Members of this House to play a part in this sphere. It is said that if communicant members of the Court of Appeal are necessary in this field then the question arises of what conditions are to be applied to Members of Parliament in order that the same principles shall apply.
The day may come when the make-up of this House is thought unsuitable for the rôle now discharged by it and the Church some day may well take the view that it is no longer willing to be influenced by or to be subordinate to Parliament. I, for one, would very much regret it if that day ever came, but I do not think that the analogy which has been voiced in this connection is strictly relevant here. Parliament has decided in its wisdom that what has been colloquially called the committee stage of such matters shall be dealt with by the Church Assembly. There is no reason why in our wisdom we should not say that certain courts are best designed to discharge functions in respect of the Church if they are composed of Law Lords who are communicant members of the Church. Whether we are members of the Church of England or not, we might well take the view that it is in the interest of the Church of England that such courts should prevail; and this need not carry with it the doctrine that we ourselves some day may have to follow the qualifications which are called in aid for other people.
I do not want to deal with the question of the effect upon establishment, except to say that the emphasis so far has been placed on the effect of establishment on the Church. I want to emphasise the effect of establishment on the State. I think that it will suffer grievously if after all these years the close association between Church and State no longer exists.
I turn now to the bishops' veto. I suspect that the reason why the Lloyd-Jacob Commission drew a distinction between the rôles of the bishops in respect of ceremonial and ritual, on the one hand, and in respect of doctrine on the other was that it knew quite well, as we all know, that the law is persistently flouted in terms of ceremonial and ritual.
Therefore, it wanted the bishops' veto so long as this disparity between law and practice existed, to prevent the self-evidently impossible situation which would be created if people in the field of ritual and ceremonial continually invoked the law. "But", it said, "we do not wish the same position to be set up for the bishops in respect of doctrine." I am sorry that the Church Assembly took the view that it did on this matter. I am sorry because of the fears that the decision of the Church Assembly has aroused in many minds—notably the well-informed citizens who wrote yesterday to The Times and who were answered today by the Bishop of Chester.
I am sorry, therefore, that these suspicions are aroused. But it is purely on suspicion that these criticisms have been voiced and these fears have been referred to. No evidence has been adduced that bishops have abused their powers, or got into collusion with parsons who are under criticism; that has never been adduced as a reason for not wishing the bishops to continue with the same kind of discretion as they have done in the past. I do not doubt that these fears, which have been voiced not only here but in the Church Assembly, will be borne in mind by the bishops when they come to exercise these discretions, because I hope that this House will pass this Measure.
I think, therefore, that the test of the wisdom of the Church Assembly in this respect will be found in the manner in which the opportunities open to the bishops are used. I hope they will take note of the comments that have been made in this respect when they come to use their discretion.
This debate is the forerunner of what I imagine will be much more crucial debates in the future when the question of the Canon Law comes to be revised. I am a little disappointed that so much of the thread running through the contributions to this debate indicates a feeling that it will be no bad thing if disestablishment eventually emerges. I am sorry about that, but this is not the opportunity to dwell on that at any length. At any rate, I think we delude ourselves in this House if we regard ourselves as omnipotent when it comes to differences of opinion between Church and State.
Nor do I believe that these matters of doctrine are susceptible to legal processes. In what I regard as this very wise Report of a Commission of which Mr. Speaker was a distinguished member, the following passage occurs:
An ecclesiastical court in the Church of England can play only a limited part in the correction of unsound doctrine.
In any case the circumstances in which the Church of England carries on its mission make proceedings in an ecclesiastical court a remedy for dealing with unsound doctrine one which should be resorted to only as an extreme measure.
It is becoming platitudinous to say that wherever one looks today change is in the air. There is change in racial predominance, in educational opportunity, in the acceptance of tradition. Challenge is everywhere. Notions which were accepted for years are now questioned. Ideas on divorce are being challenged; the virtue of chastity is being challenged; the rôle of the laity in the Church is being challenged—indeed, the interpretation of Christ's teaching as well.
In those circumstances, I do not think we would be right to cling to the old restrictions, which fundamentally is the idea lying behind some of the criticisms that have been made of the changes here proposed. I believe that the strings between Church and State should be made of elastic. The trees that survive the storms are those which bend. The rigid ones break.
In recommending this Measure—and I hope the House will pass it—I conclude by reading one last, and not long, extract from the Lloyd-Jacob Report which sums up so much of the attitude which I think should be displayed in dealing with these matters. It says:
Law is necessary to the life of the Church as we believe the divine law to be inherent in the being of God. But the law must not be imposed on the Church from outside; it must spring from its own inner determination. It must knit into one all that is positive in the various traditions and schools of thought in the Church. In obedience to such a law, bishops, clergy, and laity will find their service of God and His Church more fruitful and more enduring.
I offer a few remarks in this debate with the greatest reluctance and diffidence. The question before the House is whether the House should approve certain proposals which the Church of England asks us to approve in connection with the administration of its affairs.
The duty of coming to a decision on that question lies equally on all Members of the House of Commons. We do not evade that responsibility or obligation by taking no part either in voting or in speaking, because abstinence in such a connection is itself a positive act since it may influence the result one way or the other. I have absolutely no criterion which will enable me to decide aye of no the Question which is before the House today. I know that there is a long history of religions and constitutional struggle lying behind these questions, going back many hundreds of years, and so it would be wrong of me to say that I have no interest in the matter. An academic interest, a constitutional interest, perhaps, but these do not enable me to decide what is right or wrong in the administration or the administrative law of the Established Church of which I am not a member.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) quoted from a Report which said that the law of the Church of England ought to be worked out from inside the Church and ought not to be influenced by outside direction or imposition. I can understand that. It is even a stronger case if we say that a fortiori it ought not to be influenced or affected by the people who have no personal interest and no constitutional interest in it, and that they have absolutely no right whatever to interfere in matters with which they are not concerned and on which they are totally incompetent to judge.
That is the situation in which I find myself. I am called upon by the law of the country as it stands to offer advice, or an opinion, or at the very least a hope, on questions on which I am utterly unqualified to judge and on which, if I had an opinion, which I have not, the opinion would be totally valueless and would be rejected with contempt by all those people to whom these matters are vitally important.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman,
but he is going a little far. We are not debating the right of the House to take action. What we are debating is the Motion,
That the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.
We are debating whether we should pass that.
I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was not endeavouring to express any opinion at all, one way or the other, about all the controversies which lie behind the disputed question of the Established Church. I recognise that that would be out of order, although it might be a question upon which I could form more definite opinions than I can upon the one which is now before the House. If I am out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall not proceed for a moment, but I submit that it is in order to explain the difficulty which I and other Members of the House who are not members of the Established Church feel in performing the duty which is constitutionally laid upon us by the present situation.
I quite agree that it would not be right to go beyond that and say whether, when or how the present position should or should not be altered. But it cannot be irrelevant in considering the question which is before the House to point out that if every Member of the House of Commons were to vote upon it, one way or another, at the end of the day a question vitally important for the Church of England could be decided by a majority of votes of people who did not belong to it and were not affected one way or the other. I was pointing to the anomaly. It is a difficult one.
It might be said that one could resolve the dilemma by abstaining, by not coming, by not speaking and by not voting. I have already explained why I do not think that that resolves the dilemma at all. There is another reason why the dilemma is not resolved. I have responsibilities to a constituency. If I abstain altogether, offering no comment and no vote, my constituency is disfranchised. There may be many people in my constituency who have a strong view one way and many others who have a strong view the other way. They have a right to look to their Member of Parliament to represent them in the House of Commons in deciding questions which only Parliament can decide. But which way?
I suppose that there are in my constituency, as there are in the House of Commons, many people who are not merely not members of the Established Church but not members of any Church. I do not know how many agnostics or atheists there are in my constituency, but I am sure that there are some. Suppose that I were to endeavour to assess the consensus of opinion in my constituency and, without reference to any opinions of mine, if I had any, to express that consensus and vote in accordance with it in the House of Commons. That would be no more satisfactory. Indeed, it would be even more anomalous than if Members of Parliament acted on these matters without reference to their constituencies. We are here dealing, as a matter of law, with something which imposes by the will of Parliament, with or without the backing of constituents, a system of law binding only on those who are members of the Established Church.
It cannot be said that this situation does not involve us all in great embarrassment. I feel this embarrassment. Something was said a few minutes ago about matters which are not before us now but which may soon be before us. In the mid-1930s, there was such an occasion, I think, in regard to the Book of Common Prayer, and it is suggested that even that question may come again either before this Parliament or the next. Something was said also about alterations to the Canon Law on which, somehow or other, the House of Commons is, for these purposes at least, the final authority.
It is a totally anomalous situation. I do not imagine that anyone who has, as I believe many people have, the real good of an established faith at heart can really think it tolerable for ever to submit that faith—which, after all, is a personal matter, a matter of what men and women believe, what they believe in common, and what acts of worship they perform in common—to law made by a sovereign authority which has within it a majority having no interest in the matter at all.
I am sorry if it is not clear. My point is that the present situation is anomalous. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman were to ask me how I would deal with this anomalous situation, I could give him an answer, but Mr. Deputy-Speaker would stop me before I got it out. All I am dealing with at present is the anomaly itself, and our rules of order prevent my offering an answer. What I ask the House to do is to realise that the Question now before it raises the anomaly in the acutest possible form.
For the first time since I have been in the House listening to a speech by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) he has cleared my mind. I say that particularly since it followed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers). Until now, all the speakers who have taken part, including the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, with his great legal knowledge, have had either legal knowledge or theological expertise. For a few minutes, I shall try to show the way in which I, as an ordinary man in the pew, have tried to work out the answer to the problem which faces the majority of hon. Members in dealing with the Measure before us.
The questions which we, the unknown, have to ask ourselves are three. First, what is the relationship between the Church Assembly and this House? Second, why is this Measure now brought forward? Third, what should be the action of the House tonight?
What is the relationship between Parliament and the Church Assembly in regard to this Measure? The Attorney-General, in what I thought was a most convincing speech, said that the House delegated to the Church Assembly the responsibility of preparing and presenting to the House Measures of this kind. None the less, although we delegate that responsibility, we have not delegated our responsibility to vote upon and put these Measures into law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury quoted words in the Lloyd-Jacob Report which say that in a true Church the law must spring from the bishops, the clergy, and the laity. This raises a great difficulty for us because it would, surely, be wrong to expect any clergyman to submit to the authority of laymen, who may not even be of his own faith, the detail of what he should or should not accept in his beliefs and practices. Nevertheless, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said, we have this responsibility thrust upon us, and, after very careful thought and struggle, I have come to the conclusion that this House must do what the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) suggested, seek to look after the position of the minorities. That has been the duty of this House again and again, and I believe that in this Measure we have a perfect opportunity to do so again.
I deprecate the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover and, I may be right in saying, my hon. Friend the Member for Bebbington (Sir H. Oakshott), who suggested, in the most subtle and diplomatic way, that if the House rejects this Measure it will lead almost overwhelmingly to an urging for disestablishment. It is wrong that we should have a pistol held at our heads and that it should be said, "Here is a Measure. You have to be the rubber stamp, otherwise we walk out." I do not believe that that is right. I believe that it would be for the worse both for the State and for the Church if disestablishment took place.
We all know that this Measure is the first of a number of important revisions which will take place in the Canon Law, particularly the ones in future which will reflect on doctrine, ritual and the practices in the Church. This Measure deals with ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and I should have thought that this House, as, so to speak, a lay body in its rôle of protecting the minorities, has a quite clear position which it could take up. I have no knowledge of ecclesiastical jurisdiction except, first, that I have found since the beginning of this debate that each Sunday I break the ecclesiastical law by reading the lesson in church and, secondly, because I once met a Dean of Arches at a cocktail party.
Why is this Measure brought forward now? It is the first of many. I think that the other Measures which will come forward particularly fall into the category of the quotation from the Lloyd-Jacob Report which my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury made. I think that in the future discussions which take place concerning ritual and the practices in the Church, we should rely very much on the Church Assembly and accept all the views which it puts forward, because I do not think it right that this House should have responsibility for these details. It is, therefore, most disappointing that the Church Assembly has not taken this opportunity to remove the doubts in the minds of the minorities in the Low Church about the bishops' veto and the appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. After the speech of the Attorney-General and others, the latter point ceases to worry me, but I still feel that the bishops' veto which we are re-enshrining—admittedly it exists, but we are re-enshrining it in new law—is something that we should not be asked to accept by the Church Assembly.
As an ingenue, I cannot. But this is what is so important, and this is where the argument falls down. It is in the very legislation which we shall see over the next five or six years, in the new laws concerning ritual, where I believe the bishops' veto could be used against the interests of the minority in the Church. That is why I think it so particularly disappointing that we have bean asked to accept this Measure. We do not have the opportunity of amending; we have only the opportunity of accepting or rejecting.
In conclusion, may I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover. First, he has sensed the real strength of opinion among many of us in the House who speak for a minority, possibly, of our constituents, but we are speaking for our constituents. I have heard only from constituents who have asked me to oppose this Measure and it is because they came to see me and persuaded me to take an interest in it that I have done any homework at all, shabby though it may be. Will not my hon. Friend have the grace this evening to withdraw this Measure—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—take it back to the Church Assembly and ask it, as an act of Christian understanding of the difficulties of a minority, to re-present it to us with a tiny alteration which merely says that, instead of the bishops' veto, there will be the committee or another more simply produced committee? I think that that is something which we have a right to ask because, as the Attorney-General said, this is a Third Reading debate, but the people making the law have not had the opportunity of listening to our points of view on Second Reading, during the Committee stage, and so on.
The second thing that I would ask my hon. Friend to do is to persuade those in the Church Assembly and to use his great influence with the Leader of the House to see that when future Measures like this come up, this House has an opportunity of taking note of, say, the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, before this report goes back to the Church Assembly so that it has some idea of how our minds are working.
If my hon. Friend will give an undertaking to accept the latter proposition, I will abstain. If, however, he cannot give such an undertaking, I regret that, with the greatest reluctance, I shall have to vote against this Measure and, with even more reluctance, feel that, because I do not think there are sufficient safeguards for the minority, I shall have to look with some hostility on further Measures of this type which we know will be presented.
I would begin by saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain On) that, although I sympathise with a great deal that they have said, I hope very much that they will not force a Division against this Measure.
I first became aware that this Measure was likely to come before us when I received the letter which I think a great many, if not all, hon. Members received from the two archbishops which was sent out in July last year. It warned us that in the coming years we should have a number of very important Measures coming before us. On the back of the letter there was a very short passage about the ecclesiastical courts, with which this Measure is mainly concerned.
Like some other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I was brought up in what by modern standards was a very low church manner. As a boy, I was probably horribly bigoted about it, but as I have become older I have become more generous towards those who prefer other forms of worship. A great deal of the ceremonial which I meet in churches today means nothing whatever to me, but I do not want to deny it to those who are perfectly happy with it.
However, it is not made easier for us to pass this Measure by the outrageous indiscipline prevailing in the Church at the moment and the flouting of Parliament's decisions. I do not want to enter into an argument about establishment and disestablishment. Indeed, I think that it would be out of order to attempt to do so. I was immensely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) that when he introduced the Measure he did not use as an argument for it the threat that unless we passed it, disestablishment would be hurled at us. The only person who has used that argument has been the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), and I interrupted him while he was making it.
The hon. Member for Barking suggested very strongly that disestablishment was bound to become a major demand unless we passed this Measure. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West that it is insufferable that as Members of Parliament we should have pistols put to our heads. It is not those who have taken the greatest possible trouble in preparation of their speeches introducing or supporting the Measure who have been holding pistols to our heads. I deeply deplore the observations of the hon. Member for Barking the other night when he held that pistol.
I will give way in a moment. The Church of England is a most remarkable body. The fact that it can embrace the hon. Member and me is quite something. Obviously, there are as many shades of opinion inside the Church of England as there are inside the House of Commons. I would be the last to deny the hon. Member the right to say what he genuinely believed, but I say to him with all the sincerity that I can muster that he is very much mistaken if he believes that he is making the case for this Measure by saying that unless we pass it we will have disestablishment thrown at us.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) about the Church of England in general. Indeed, I have often compared it, as a typically English institution, with the Labour Party—in its comprehensiveness embracing many different points of view, but with an underlying unity among all of us. None the less, I hope that he will not misinterpret what I said the other night. It was not meant as a threat, I said exactly the opposite. If the hon. Member reads Hansard carefully, he will see that I said that the Archbishop had warned that a "major snub" from Parliament to the Church would, or might, precipitate disestablishment. I said that I did not know whether this Measure was sufficiently important for that.
At the same time, we have to remember what the Archbishop of Canterbury himself said in the address he gave at his enthronement at Canterbury. He made the address on 27th June, 1961. I have the report from The Times. It is only in indirect speech, but it should be quoted. The report says:
Here in England the Church and the State were linked together, and they used that link in serving the community. But in that service and in rendering to God the things that were God's, they asked for a greater freedom in the ordering and in the urgent revising of their forms of worship. If the link of Church and State were broken, it would not be they who asked for this freedom who broke it, but those—if there be such—who denied that freedom to them.
I must confess that there be such, because I am one of them.
I am not prepared to give absolute freedom to the Church in anything, any more than I am prepared to give absolute freedom to any citizen in this country. The Church must be governed and, as long as it is established, it must be governed by Parliament. I know that this is an argument for disestablishment and that those who want disestablishment use it. I know that there are others who, with me, are not prepared to give the Church complete freedom such as the Archbishop of Canterbury asked for.
To be honest, the only knowledge I have of that is more Episcopalian than Presbyterian, and I would prefer not to be diverted into that argument if I may be excused.
Nevertheless, having said all that I have said, I still think that we ought to pass this Measure. In offering my support, I should like to say that if the Church wants to get this reform of Canon Law—and Heaven knows that it is necessary—if it wants to get a readiness by Parliament to help it to bring about those reforms, I beg the Church, with everything with which I have to beg, to try to get some discipline into itself to show that if we give the sort of things which the Church is asking from us—the right to hold experimental types of services—we shall get obedience when the Canon Law has been amended.
This is the appalling thing that makes it so difficult for some of us to support this Measure. I am prepared to do so if the Church is prepared to play its part, but as a churchman I cannot tolerate the gross indiscipline in ritual, and so on, throughout the Church. In saying that, I hope that no one will think that I am anti-ritualist. As a soldier I believe that there are certain ceremonial drills for which there are suitable uniforms. If there are to be ceremonial drills in Church, let us get them laid down.
This Measure is worthy provided that there is a willingness throughout the clergy, particularly the clergy, to obey whatever rules there are in the Church. So long as there are those rules and they are grossly disobeyed, the sort of court which might be set up does not matter very much if nothing is brought before it. This is the issue before us tonight. Do we think that the new court would be effective if it were used? I believe that it would.
We always have good debates when we discuss Church matters, and this debate has come up to the high standard which we expected of it. It has been characterised by a sincerity of purpose and a wish by all Members who have spoken, whether they have been for or against the Measure, to do what they believe to be best in the national interest, and that is also in the interests of the Established Church.
That all views do not agree is natural and is also healthy. The Church Assembly—and I should like later to say a word about the relationship between the Church Assembly and the Church of England—will undoubtedly profit from the discussion that has taken place on this Measure. By our very nature, we may be inclined in the Church Assembly to take a rather narrower view than we ought. And I am sure that the discussion that has taken place in this House will have brought to light views from which the Church Assembly will profit in its efforts, when the time comes, to put forward proposals to bring the law of worship more into line with current thought and practice.
Most valuable contributions have been made by Members who are not members of the Church of England, and it is right that this should be so. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) seemed to think that contributions from those who were not members of the Church of England were regarded by Anglicans as an unwarrantable intrusion. Let me assure him that nothing could be further from the truth and that these contributions, whether they are with us or against us, are welcomed for the sincerity with which they have been expressed.
I also thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General for his intervention on the legal aspects of these matters in which I find myself singularly naked. My right hon. and learned Friend helped me, and, I believe, helped the whole House considerably.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) took me to task on two scores. First, for what I said about the bishops' veto. My hon. Friend is wrong, in that under the 1840 Act which covers cases of doctrine, ritual and ceremonial, the bishops' veto is absolute and he need not publish his reasons. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, all cases today are taken under the 1840 Act, so I hope that my hon. Friend will acquit me of misleading the House.
I certainly would not wish to accuse my hon. Friend of having misled the House. What I said, if I might remind him of it, was correct. It might have been of very limited application. I agree, in view of what has been said, but I said that in the 1874 Act the bishops have a right of veto, but under that Act they were only able to exercise that right with full publication of what they were doing and why they were doing it, and that is correct.
That is true under the 1874 Act, but that is not the Act that is being used. Cases taken today come under the 1840 Act. My hon. Friend and I took different points from the Lloyd-Jacob's Report, but neither contradicts the other.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) suggested that the Church Assembly was not representative of the Church of England, and he went on to argue that it was therefore unfitted as a body to which should been trusted the preparation and the detailed scrutiny of Measures such as this.
I do not think that I went on to say any such thing. If my hon. Friend looks at what I said, he will see that I was merely dealing with the argument that this Measure came from the Church of England. I said that, because of the unrepresentative nature of the Church Assembly, one must distinguish between Measures coming from the Church of England and Measures coming from the Church Assembly.
I should have thought that for all practical purposes they were one and the same thing, since for better or worse Parliament has laid this task on the Church Assembly. I suggest to my hon. Friend, however, that his original premise was a false one.
Any baptised member of the Church of England, not even a communicant member, over 17 years of age, who wishes to do so can be on the electoral roll, provided he is not a member of any religious organisation which is not in communion with the Church of England. The basic franchise, therefore, is as broad as it can be. It is those on the electoral roll who elect the diocesan representatives, who in turn elect the members of the Church Assembly, and election to the Assembly is by proportional representation.
From experience of the Church Assembly, I express the firm view that all shades of the ecclesiastical spectrum are represented there. There is only one respect in which the Church Assembly may not be representative of the Church of England, and that is a respect which applies to this House of Commons as well. It is that membership is of necessity confined to those whose personal circumstances enable them to give up the time to be members. This is a matter which is always under review, but it is difficult to see a solution.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West drew attention to the advantages which accrue to the Church from establishment. This is undoubtedly true, but it is a two-way traffic, and there are immense advantages to the State in having an established Church. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) was wrong in suggesting that I threatened that disestablishment would follow the rejection of this Measure, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H Legge-Bourke) for having come to my defence, since I was particularly careful not to make such a suggestion.
That will emerge during the course of my speech.
I was sorry that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West felt that the abandoning of the Privy Council as a court of appeal would be a bar to reunion with the Non-conformists. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the position of the Church of Scotland which is an established Church and is certainly not subject to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and, judging from my knowledge of Scottish history, would never wish to be.
This debate has followed very much the lines which I forecast in my opening speech, the main issues raised being the bishops' veto and the replacement of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) gave wise counsel on this matter.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South suggested that the replacement of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by an Appeal Court on which will sit two bishops and three Lords of Appeal was dangerous. He drew a picture of the possibility that there would not be sufficient Lords of Appeal unless the Crown introduced a religious test. This was dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, and I cannot think that this situation would ever arise in practice.
The Lords of Appeal entitled to sit under the Measure are defined in the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876. They number 22 Lords of Appeal at the moment, and I cannot conceive of the situation arising where less than three of them would be communicant members of the Church of England. I therefore suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that his fears are groundless in practice.
Hon. Members may think, as did the Church Assembly, that it is reasonable that where the matters being considered are spiritual matters, those who sit in judgment on them should be expected to have some background knowledge of those things on which they are called to judge. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) and the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) seemed to me to put this in its proper perspective.
As to the retention of the bishops' veto, this House will not get rid of the bishops' veto by rejecting this Measure. The clergy are subject to legal sanctions which do not apply to the generality of the public at large. It is right, therefore, that the clergy should have all proper safeguards against frivolous and malicious prosecutions. The House may think that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) put the matter in its right perspective when he pointed out that the bishop, in exercising his veto, was exercising a pastoral function. I would put it that he is exercising an emollient function, for the better ordering of Church life.
I know that extreme evangelical opinion fears that some bishops who tend to be High Church will exercise the veto in a way unwarrantably to defend High Church practices. I myself tend to be Low Church, having been baptised a Presbyterian. I am therefore sensitive to evangelical opinion. I do not think that it can be said that the bishops have abused the veto—and in this respect the veto in the proposed Measure remains unaltered in respect of doctrine, ritual and ceremonial. It follows from the light of experience gamed that we have no reason to think that the bishops will exercise it wrongly in the future.
It would be only right to add that the bishops did not seek the inclusion of the veto. It was felt in the Church Assembly that this was a proper safeguard for the clergy which ought to be continued in the bishops' hands. I therefore suggest to the House that the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament was right when it reported to us that this Measure was expedient and ought to proceed, and I hope that we shall now feel it proper to pass the Motion.
|Division No. 165.]||AYES||[6.41 p.m.|
|Allason, James||Hayman, F. H.||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Hendry, Forbes||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Hiley, Joseph||Parker, John|
|Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||Partridge, E.|
|Balniel, Lord||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Hirst, Geoffrey||Peel, John|
|Barnett, Guy||Hobson, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Percival, Ian|
|Batsford, Brian||Hocking, Philip N.||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Hornby, R. P.||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P.||Pott, Percivall|
|Biffen, John||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Pym, Francis|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Hunter, A. E.||Ramsden, James|
|Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Hurd, Sir Anthony||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Braine, Bernard||Iremonger, T. L.||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Brewis, John||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Rhodes, H.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Rippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Bullard, Denys||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Russell, Ronald|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Kenyon, Clifford||Sharples, Richard|
|Butler,Rt.Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden)||Kerans, Cdr, J. S.||Short, Edward|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||King, Dr. Horace||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher|
|Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mitcham)||Kirk, Peter||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Kitson, Timothy||Speir, Rupert|
|Chataway, Christopher||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Leather, Sir Edwin||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Cooke, Robert||Leavey, J. A.||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Cooper, A. E.||Leburn, Gilmour||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Costain, A. P.||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Talbot, John E.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Lindsay, Sir Martin||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Litchfield, Capt. John||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'str, Moss Side)|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.||Longden, Gilbert||Temple, John M.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lubbock, Eric||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Driberg, Tom||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thomas, Peter (Conway)|
|du Cann, Edward||MacArthur, Ian||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Eden, Sir John||McInnes, James||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McLaren, Martin||Turner, Colin|
|Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Finlay, Graeme||Maddan, Martin||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Fletcher, Eric||Maitland, Sir John||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Marshall, Sir Douglas||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Freeth, Denzil||Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Whitelaw, William|
|Galbraith Hon. T. G. D.||Mawby, Ray||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Gardner, Edward||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Miscampbell, Norman||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Woollam, John|
|Grosvenor, Lord Robert||Moyle, Arthur||Worsley, Marcus|
|Gurden, Harold||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael||Sir H. Oakshott and|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard||Mr. MacColl.|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Aitken, Sir William||Darling, George||Gunter, Ray|
|Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central)||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Bell, Ronald||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hilton, A. V.|
|Bence, Cyril||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Benson, Sir George||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Fernyhough, E.||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Blackburn, F.||Finch, Harold||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H.W. (Leics, S.W.)||Gammans, Lady||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Gourlay, Harry||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Cordle, John||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Maginnis, John E.|
|Dalyell, Tam||Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.||Manuel, Archie|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Redhead, E. C.||Watkins, Tudor|
|Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Whitlock, William|
|Mills, Stratton||Sorensen, R. W.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Oliver, G. H.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Swingler, Stephen||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Woof, Robert|
|Pavitt, Laurence||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Pentland, Norman||Wade, Donald||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Randall, Harry||Wainwright, Edwin||Mr. G Thomas and Capt. Orr.|