Orders of the Day — Church of England (National Assembly Measure)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1968.

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Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31st October]. That the Prayer Book (Further 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—[Mr. van Straubenzee.]

Question again proposed.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

May I remind the House that hon. Members who spoke in the earlier part of the debate may not speak again tonight?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I think that the hon. Gentleman spoke in the last debate. If he was speaking when the Measure was "talked out", then, with the willing concurrence of the Chair, he has the Floor.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

I wish to raise a simple point of order. You said, Mr. Speaker, that Members who had spoken in the previous part of the debate would not be allowed to speak again. I hope that with your concurrence we may ask for the leave of the House to do so on this occasion, as I understand that an assurance may be given by the supporters of the Measure which its opponents, of whom I am one, may wish politely to accept.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I would hope that the House would not give the hon. Gentleman leave to speak again. If the hon. Gentleman reads Erskine May, he will find the sort of occasion on which the House gives leave to an hon. Member to speak again, but such an occasion is very rare. I know that many hon. Members would like to have the opportunity of speaking again by leave of the House. If the hon. Gentleman asks for it, the House may give it, but I would hope that it would not.

8.35 p.m.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

I have studied all that was said about the Measure on 31st October and since then I have had the opportunity to discuss with the clergy of the Diocese of Ely who have livings in my constituency and with the Bishop of Ely who was present some of the more important Church Measures and other ecclesiastical matters coming before us, particularly this Measure.

The point with which I deal tonight was not then mentioned in the way in which it was raised with me, but before I come to that I should like to ask the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), who, I imagine, will reply to the debate, some questions. May I express my sympathy with him in that, owing to the sudden hurry of business, he was not able to be present on the last occasion; nor was I. My question arises out of Clause 2(1). I have been studying the Act of Uniformity, 1662. Section 1(4) of the Measure says: The saying or singing of Morning or Evening Prayer"— by a layman is the implication— … shall, for the purposes of section 1 of the Act of Uniformity 1662 … be deemed to be a reading by the Minister of the parish.". Section 1 of the Act also provides for services to be conducted by Ministers.

However, Clause 2(1) of the Measure says: Notwithstanding section 10 of the Act of Uniformity 1662 … a lay person specially authorised by the Bishop … may distribute the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to the people. I am prepared to stretch a point now and again as to the meaning of words, but to say that notwithstanding Section 10 a layman may do that and to compare it with what Section 10 of the Act says, is stretching the meaning of words a very long way.

Section 10 says: And no person whatsoever shall thenceforth"— this is after St. Bartholomew's Day, 1662— be capable to be admitted to any parsonage … nor"— and these are the operative words— presume to consecrate and administer the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper before such time as he shall be ordained preist … To say that a layman may now distribute the holy sacrament, notwithstanding Section 10, seems to be stretching the meaning of words too far. Although I do not for a moment suggest that the need does not arise where a layman should be authorised to do this very thing, the right way to do that is to amend the Act of Uniformity, 1662, and not do it by Measure. That is the only point I wish to make on Clause 2 of the Measure.

I turn now to the Clause which caused the main controversy on the previous occasion. It is one which I discussed with the clergy in the Isle of Ely not so long ago. It is the question of godparents. I am not proposing to re-enter the legalistic wrangle which took place here on 31st October. That is not the point. The point I wish to put, and which I discussed with the clergy in my constituency, is this. The Church of England is alleged now to be bringing its various rules up to date and to make what rules it has enforceable. I know that what is now happening over godparents and what is being put into this Measure about that is desirable but where it is thought desirable to amend the rule over godparents this is already being done. That Clause in the Measure will really make no difference at all in the places where it is likely to be operative in future, because that is already being done there.

What disturbs some of us is this. If the Church of England is, as I believe rightly, trying to bring its rules and regulations up to date, to put it in a secular manner, it seems to me very important that whatever changes it makes shall at least be capable of enforcement. Clause 3 of the Measure is not enforceable. It may express desirability, it may express what is happening, but it cannot be enforced. Because it is already happening one has to ask oneself, is it really necessary to have this Clause 3 in this Measure at all?

One of the great difficulties, which we realised on several occasions on 31st October, about these measures is, that this House has no right to amend them. We have to accept a Measure in toto or not at all. I put this very question to the clergy in my constituency and I asked, "Do you feel the need to bring this in, in a way which does not make it enforceable, would justify throwing out the whole Measure?" The impression I got was that the majority said, "Yes."

This is not, of course, consistent with the voting in the Church Assembly on this matter. We have the record in the Report from the Ecclesiastical Committee at the top of page 5. The House of Bishops voted, Ayes 23, Noes nil; the House of Clergy, Ayes 141, Noes 6; the House of Laity, Ayes 119, Noes 52. So this Measure certainly has strong support in the Church Assembly, and yet one feels, when one talks to one's own clergy about it, that they are not entirely in tune with what the Church Assembly has done.

I suppose it would not be right for me to go into the methods by which the Church Assembly is brought together, or to do into the question of its composition, but perhaps I may be allowed to make this passing comment. I have for long felt that one of the great difficulties about the whole Church Assembly procedure is that there is not enough contact with the parishes, and diocesan representatives in the parishes are not frequently enough in communication with the parochial church councils, of which they do not have to be members though they normally are. Therefore, one consideration to bear in mind is that, whatever the Church Assembly may do, it should not automatically be thought that that represents the views of the people in the parishes generally.

I do not dispute that the Church Assembly thinks the Measure desirable, but to me the most impressive part of the discussion I had with the clergy in the Isle of Ely the other day was this, that after going into all these matters we came back to the hard, brutal facts which they had to face today in the world around them, and what I found most fascinating was that their interest in tackling the problems in the world, and which they have to face, is more important to them than this sort of tinkering about with legal amendments of the rules, and particularly if the rules cannot be enforced.

Of course, were the clergy to flout what is proposed in this Measure, then certain aspects of flouting might involve the clergy themselves in the operation of the Church Discipline Measure. However, I should think that very few instances, under these Clauses of this Measure, would fall into that category.

We all yearn to see the Church of England, and, indeed, all the demoninations, respected by the people, and to be seen to be efficiently organised and capable of running their own affairs. We all know that there are many weak links, but it seems to me very regrettable that, after all the time that has been spent on these sorts of matters, at the end we finish with Parliament being asked to approve something which is incapable of enforcement.

For that reason I am, very regrettably, opposed to the Measure. I am conscious that we should not make things more difficult for the Church of England, but if the rank and file of the Church of England were brought into closer communication with those who are trying to improve matters, they would find that members of the Church of England, or indeed Christians anywhere, are not interested in matters of this sort. They are interested in how well men live their lives and how they can in their own lives help the world to live at peace. These are things which matter far more, and for that reason I resist the Measure.

8.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Brigg

I will not weary the House by again traversing all the points raised by this Measure which, in spite of the modesty of his opening remarks in the previous debate on the subject, was done with such excellence in my absence by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee).

I shall refer to the point on which there was some difficulty in the minds of hon. Members, and I must also reply to the points put by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). The hon. Gentleman is a very direct man; had he been tackling the subject dealt with by Clause 2 he would have done so in a much more direct manner. Whether it would have held water in a court of law, I am not prepared to say, but he is not a Parliamentary draftsman, and I can assure him that Clause 2, indirect, circuitous, serpentine as he may feel it to be, is merely machinery to achieve an end which has the sympathy of the great majority of the active members of the Church of England.

There was on the previous occasion much difficulty on Clause 3. The hon. Gentleman asks whether it is necessary. Yes, it is necessary. Although the things now allowed by the Clause have, in practice, been done for a long time, they have been done under pain of reasonably dire sanctions. If a thing is done in practice, it is surely better for it to be done legally, and that is precisely the purpose of the Clause.

The meaning of the word "confirmed", in Clause 3, caused difficulty in the minds of hon. Members on the previous occasion. The House will remember that the Clause introduces a new rubric into the Ministration of Public Baptism of Infants, and lays down that godparents shall be persons who have been baptised and confirmed. Since the last occasion on which this Measure was discussed, I have taken the advice of the lawyers who advise the Church. They have expressed the clear view that the meaning of the word is "confirmed in the Church of England".

Clause 3(1) substitutes a new rubric at the beginning of the Public Baptism of Infants service in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Its meaning must be interpreted in that context. Therefore, surely it is reasonable to assume that, when the Prayer Book speaks of "confirmation", it means confirmation in accordance with the order in that book. This confirmation comes just after the baptism services and is separated from them only by the Catechism. Furthermore, there are other references in the Prayer Book to "confirmation" which can only have the meaning that I have just attributed to it.

At the end of the public baptism service itself, the godparents are told to take care that the child be brought to the bishop to be confirmed by him. That must mean confirmed in the Church of England by a bishop of that Church.

I realise that the Ecclesiastical Committee has reported that the meaning is not altogether clear having regard to the rites of other Churches. Some hon. Members have been troubled about it. However, I am authorised to say that the Church of England will act upon the advice which it has received from its lawyers. I have now reported that to the House, and I am confident that there is no intention of discriminating between Churches of other denominations. In the atmosphere of increasing good will between Churches, now that there is an express power to dispense with the requirements of confirmation it is reasonable to expect the exercise of Christian charity to be more prevalent than before. Indeed, the Ecclesiastical Committee said that this power should enable any difficulty to be surmounted.

When the Measure was last before the House, doubt was expressed about whether the Clause constituted a relaxation of the present law as stated by the Legislative Committee of the Church Assembly. However, I have reason to believe that it is now generally agreed by right hon. and hon. Members that the requirements of the present Baptism Rubric and of Canon 29 of the Canons of 1603 are that there must be three godparents who are communicants. It is to be hoped that it is now generally agreed that these requirements are relaxed by the Clause under discussion. I have just referred to the relaxation part of it, which is the power given to the minister to dispense with the requirement of confirmation if he so desires.

As for there being no sanction for that, surely this is not the real point. There can be no sanction for the exercise of a discretion. He is given a discretion. If he exercises it one way or the other, he cannot possibly be sanctioned in any way. I cannot see that that is a reason why it should not be incorporated in the Measure that he should have this discretion.

However, in the debate on the Measure in the Church Assembly, at the stage of final approval there was an assurance by the Bishop of Chester, who spoke in his capacity as Chairman of the newly-created Canon LAW Revision Commission. That Commission is charged with keeping under constant scrutiny the revised Code of Canons. He gave the assurance that the question of the qualification of godparents would at an early date be considered in the light of the developing relationship between the Church of England and other Christian communions. His words were: I will give my personal assurance that, as soon as the way forward is clearer, this Commission will consider the point that is raised in the amendment of the House of Laity. He said, later: I would repeat the assurance that this matter will have immediate attention in the Canon Law Commission.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

On the question of sanctions, I had in mind that no sanction can be brought to bear on a godparent who fails to carry out a godparent's duty.

Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Brigg

That is true. That has always been and, I suppose, always will be the case, but I submit that is nothing to do with this Measure. It has always been there and is not altered by the Measure.

The Canon Law Revision Committee has only recently begun its deliberations, but already the question of the qualification of godparents has been given preliminary consideration. Of course, it will bring forward its own suggestions as soon as possible.

I hope that the House will understand that I have only made this statement after very careful consideration and with full authority. I trust that the House will now be able to say that this Measure should be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal approval.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

On a point of order. May I ask the leave of the House to speak again?

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

I must remind the hon. Member of the remarks made by Mr. Speaker, deprecating a submission by an hon. Member on the right to speak on a second occasion. The quotation for this can be found in Erskine May on page 445. If the hon. Member insists, I must put it to the House. However, I must, once again, deprecate his move to do this.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

Further to that point of order. You may realise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is not with any desire to oppose the Measure, although I was one of its opponents. I would also point out that on the earlier part of this adjourned debate the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) was allowed to speak again, in effect by the permission of the opponents of the Measure.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

I cannot recall what happened on that occasion. I am not sure that the facts are correct, anyhow. The hon. Member does not stand in the same relationship to this Measure as the hon. Member for Wokingham did on that occasion. Therefore, I hope that he will not persist.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Prayer Book (Further 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.