I beg to move,
That the Prayer Book (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, 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.
It was properly said, in another place, that this Measure if passed, would produce absolutely no difference in what was seen by an observer to be going on in any Church of England. It is perhaps not surprising that it was passed by the Church Assembly by very considerable majorities. I would like to put before the House the five points with which the Measure deals.
First, it is to enable days of special observance to be prescribed by Convocation for a particular province or by the ordinary within the place of which he is the ordinary. That is to say, days of special observance in addition to those which are provided already in the Book of Common Prayer. It is conceivable, for instance, that it might be thought desirable in Chichester that St. Richard might have a day of special observance. In that case, it could be done under this Measure.
The second reason for the introduction of the Measure is to provide for the possibility of a dispensation being granted from the holding of morning and evening prayer in a particular church. Under the Measure, it will be possible for this to be done by the bishop if he is satisfied that there is a good reason. There might easily be a good reason—if, for instance, there has been a plurality or a union of benefices; there might be several churches to be served by one priest and it might not be convenient to do it always in accordance with the existing law in all the churches by the one priest.
It is, therefore, thought right that where the bishop sees good reason to make the change, he may dispense the priest from reading matins and evening prayer in a parish church. Before he does this, however, he must consult the parochial church council of the parish. For this purpose, consultation can mean consultation with two members of that church council who have been nominated specially for the purpose.
Thirdly, it is intended to make an amendment to the Holy Communion rubrics. This amendment I put before the House as a measure of liberation, because at present it is at the discretion of the priest to refuse admission to Holy Communion if he considers that this would cause scandal. Under the Measure, before refusing admission to Holy Communion, he must first report the matter to the ordinary, whose orders must be followed on the subject, and only in the case of grave and immediate scandal to the congregation may he take it upon himself to refuse admission. Without doubt, this is a liberating proposal with which, I am sure, the House would wish to agree.
The fourth proposal is to make legal the use of leavened and unleavened bread in the Holy Communion. Wafers have, in fact, been used for 100 years or so, far more often for convenience than for doctrinal reasons. It is intended to make that use legal.
Lastly, it is intended to extend the right, at present confined to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the Schools of Westminster, Winchester and Eton, to have their services in Latin should they so desire, to all universities and to places of religious and sound learning. I imagine that in these egalitarian days few people would take exception to the extension of this right to those places of learning. There is no compulsion whatever. It is merely that a right is being conferred upon them to put them on the same level of status, in a linguistic matter, with the older universities.
The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) has moved the Measure with his customary courtesy and charm, and I do not think that there is anything here to which anyone can take exception.
I am moved to speak merely because of a discrepancy which appears between the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee and the Measure itself with regard to the provision, to which the hon. and learned Member has referred, and that is the liberalisation, as the hon. and learned Member quite rightly said, the restriction of the power of the priest to refuse to admit people to Holy Communion. Paragraph 6 of the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee says that
The new rubric appears to require the minister to admit the offender to Holy Communion and then to take the instructions of his bishop.
This implies that the Ecclesiastical Committee was not quite certain what it did in fact do. It would not have used the phrase "appears to require the minister" if it had required the minister to do precisely that.
I can quite see, referring to the actual provisions of the rubric, which are in Clause 3(1) of the Measure, that there is a certain amount of doubt. It says that he, the minister,
shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary of the place, and therein obey his order and direction, but so as not to refuse the Sacrament to any person until in accordance with such order and direction he shall have called him and advertised him that in any wise he presumes not to come to the Lord's Table".
What I am not quite clear about is this. Obviously, in a case of grave and open scandal the priest, and the priest alone, decides whether to admit or not to admit a person to Holy Communion, but where it is a case of something which has built up over some considerable time and the priest is not absolutely certain whether or not to do it, and he reports the matter to the ordinary, who, presumably, is the bishop, then does he or does he not refuse to admit to Holy Communion at that point?
This, I think, is very important, because if he does not, if he still has discretion to say "No", the liberalisation to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred does not, in fact, occur at all. It is rather important to know precisely what we are doing particularly as it appears that the Ecclesiastical Committee was not absolutely certain what it was doing, or it would not have used this curious form of words "appears to require". I agree it is a minor point, but I think it might be cleared up, and I personally would be obliged if the hon. and learned Gentleman would deal with it.
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk): for raising this point, to clear up any doubt there may be on the subject. For my own part I can only say that on reading this Measure I had no doubt whatever that it is not its intention that the priest shall act unless the ordinary has given him orders so to act. The only case in which he can act on his own initiative is where there is clear and immediate scandal to the congregation. I admit that the words in the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee give ground for saying there may have been doubt in the Committee's mind. All I can say is that there is no doubt in my mind on the subject whatever. I think that it is exactly as I have stated.