Orders of the Day — Prayer Book (Miscellaneous Provisions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd August 1965.

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Photo of Sir Peter Kirk Sir Peter Kirk , Saffron Walden 12:00 am, 2nd August 1965

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.