§ Order for Second Reading read.
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was to enable the church to become her own insurer against loss by fire through the agency of Queen Anne's Bounty Board. By an Act of 1871, every incumbent was bound to insure his buildings jointly in his own name and in that of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, and all the money paid in the case of loss by fire passed through the hands of Queen Anne's Bounty Board, as agents. The present Bill proposed to lay upon the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty the additional duty of themselves insuring all the buildings attached to benefices in England. The result would be greater economy and simplicity of management, and the profits would go into the pockets of the incumbents instead of the shareholders of the insurance offices. The premiums 1914 would be reduced from 1s. 6d. to Is., and would be recoverable in the same way as tenths, and, being a debt upon the incumbent, there would never be any lapse of policies. Queen Anne's Bounty Board, a few weeks ago, passed a resolution approving the Bill, and were good enough to nominate a committee to consider the various clauses. Select Committees of both Houses had also approved it, and a similar Bill introduced into the House of Lords in 1872 passed, he believed, the third reading. The Lower House of Convocation had approved it. In addition to this expression of opinion, he had received more than 100 letters in favour of the Bill from rural Deans in all parts of England and Wales. Under these circumstances, it might be asked why the principle of the Bill, approved as it was in so many quarters, and by so many authorities, had not already found its way into the Statute Book? Well, he hardly liked to state the explanation which forced itself upon his mind. There was an active opposition to the Bill on the part of the private insurance companies, who, very naturally, objected to the bread being taken out of their mouths. He found that there were no fewer than 40 directors of insurance companies in that House. He did not, however, believe for a moment that these Gentlemen were actuated by any unworthy motives. Indeed, one of the hon. Members, whose name was on the back of the Bill, was director of an insurance office, and there were other insurance directors who would support the Bill. Still, the fact was as he had stated it. It was said by some who objected to the Bill—"Do you really mean to insist upon compelling all incumbents, whether they wish it or not, to insure in a particular office?" His answer to that was that the compulsion came from the Act of 1871, to which the present Bill was intended, in some sort, to be a relief Act. But there was no hardship in the compulsory clause if the clergy themselves desired it; and he could assure them that even the clergy did not resent an obligation which compelled them to pay 1s. instead of 1s. 6d. Others contended that it would be detracting from the dignity of Queen Anne's Bounty Board to make them an insurance company; but the Act of 1871 made them insurance agents for every incumbent. Again, it was said that the 1915 trust fund of Queen Anne's Bounty ought not to be used for other purposes than those for which it was originally intended; but this argument also fell to the ground, inasmuch as Acts of Parliament had been passed over and over again, authorizing the application of the money in the hands of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty to other than its original purposes. Moreover, the Governors were only enabled to lend the money in their hands on an absolutely safe security—namely, the security of the future premiums. Great companies— the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the Wesleyans, and other large bodies—did not go to private insurance companies; they insured themselves. If the Church of England required an Act of Parliament to enable it to do this with Queen Anne's Bounty, it was because it was the Established Church of England. According to a Return of 1872, 10,000 glebe houses were insured for £10,000,000, at 1s. 6d. per £100. That produced an income of £7,500. During the whole time the Act had been in operation, there had only been an annual loss of £520; so that a profit of almost £7,000 had gone into the pockets of private insurance companies, instead of being kept, as it would have been under the scheme proposed by the Bill, for the benefit of the insurers themselves. He challenged the insurance offices to show any substantial error in these figures. In the whole diocese of Lichfield for the last 10 years there had not been a single fire in a single glebe house. The expenses under this Bill, it was calculated, would amount to no more than £450 a-year, and the advantages to be gained by it were that it would secure the rights of patrons, maintain the freehold buildings of the Church safe from loss by fire, afford mitigation of the harsh requirements of the Act of 1871 in regard to insurance, and effect a pecuniary saving to every single incumbent in England.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Leighton.)
§ MR. MONK
said, he had seldom met with a Bill bristling with so many objectionable features as the one of which the second reading had just been moved. The hon. Member said the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty approved the 1916 principle involved; but he (Mr. Monk) had reason to believe that there were considerable differences of opinion on the part of that body as to whether it was desirable that the Bill should pass or not. What the hon. Member proposed was to compel all clergymen who had insured, or who ought to have insured, their glebe houses and other buildings connected with their benefices in an insurance office, to insure with the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty. Of course, it was not only desirable, but necessary that these buildings should be insured; but it had not been shown to his satisfaction that Queen Anne's Bounty Board should be converted into a gigantic insurance office. As the hon. Member had stated that there were 40 hon. Members of that House directors of insurance companies, he (Mr. Monk) might say for himself that he was in no way connected with any insurance office, that he had received no communication from any insurance office in regard to this Bill, and that his opposition to it arose simply from his desire to consider what was best for the interests of the Church. The title of the Bill was a complete misnomer. It was simply a measure to convert the Corporation of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty into a gigantic insurance company with unlimited liability. And what, he would ask, was the constitution of that ancient Board? It consisted of some 600 members, including all the Bishops, all the Judges, all the Privy Council, all Queen's Counsel, the Lord Mayor of London, and the Mayors of all the corporate towns in the country, as well as the Lords Lieutenant of the counties. The duty of the Corporation was to apply the first fruits and tenths, which were handed over to it by the Act of 1704, towards the augmentation of small livings. Its functions were very clearly defined by that Act; but it was open to doubt whether the constitution of the Board was a good one or not. Indeed, a Committee of that House which sat in 1868, and which was presided over by Mr. Bouverie, strongly recommended that the constitution of the Board should be altered, and that the number of Governors should be considerably reduced. But, be that as it might, was it not, he would ask, almost absurd to suppose that the Bishops and Archbishops could afford time 1917 to manage a great insurance office in addition to the episcopal duties which now weighed so heavily upon them? He understood the hon. Gentleman to say that those Prelates who formed the chief acting committee of the Board had stood sponsors to his Bill; but he was convinced that that could not be to any great extent the case. It was, no doubt, he might add, very desirable that the Clergy should have a mutual insurance fund; and, when notice was given of the Bill, he thought that was the object which it was intended to effect. Had it been so, there would have been no more cordial supporter of the measure than himself; but when he found it proposed to convert the Board into an insurance office with unlimited liability, then he felt bound to oppose the scheme. Let him suppose that in some one year a great many of the buildings in question were destroyed by fire, on what resources did the hon. Gentleman propose to rely for the payment of the amount of the insurances? Was that amount to come out of the fund which was already appropriated to the augmentation of small livings, or to be taken out of the pockets of the Archbishops, Bishops, and other members of the governing body? Those were questions to which he should be glad to have some answer. He also wished to point out that evidence had been given before the Committee, to which he had referred, to the effect that it would be desirable to amalgamate the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England. That being so, he failed to see the advantage of giving fresh life to the former Board by converting it into an insurance company. He should further like to know whether those right rev. Prelates whom it was proposed by the Bill to make directors of an insurance office were to become builders also under its operation? He put that question, because it would be seen that, according to Clause 7, whenever an ecclesiastical building was damaged or destroyed by fire, the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty would have to pay the amount for which it was insured, unless they elected to replace the building or make good the damage. Again, who, he would ask, were to manage the new episcopal insurance office? Would any increase of staff be necessary? On these points the hon. 1918 Gentleman had given the House no information. While, therefore, he was willing to admit that it would be a great advantage to the Clergy that they only, out of all the members of the community, should be enabled to insure their houses at the rate of 1s. per cent instead of 1s. 6d., there were, he thought, objections to the Bill so strong that he felt bound to oppose the second reading. He had been informed that a deputation had waited on the Government in connection with the subject, and that it had received a not unfavourable reply from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But how, he should like to know, could the right hon. Gentleman support a Bill which was brought forward as the present was, without any evidence to show that Queen Anne's Bounty Board might with safety be converted into an insurance office? He could not sit down without referring to Clause 18, which would permit such an office if it were established to shut up shop whenever it pleased, and discontinue its business. If it suffered some great loss, upon whom was that loss ultimately to fall—the poor Clergy, who had insured their houses, or the Governors of the Charity? He begged, in conclusion, believing that the Bill was calculated to do a great injustice by interfering with funds which were now distributed in a manner greatly to the advantage of the Church, to move that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Monk.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE,
as a Governor of Queen Anne's Bounty, wished to enter his protest against that Corporation being diverted from operations to which its attention was legitimately directed, in order that it might become one of the most gigantic and exclusive insurance companies at present in existence. The Bill, he might add, was not promoted by the members of the Corporation, nor did they profess to become its sponsors in the slightest degree. It behoved the House, therefore, to scan its provisions with the greatest care. If the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty desired to become an immense insurance association, by all 1919 means let them do so; but let not a step, taken at the instance of a private Member, which, so far as he could make out, had received from them no recognition, be sanctioned by the House of Commons. The Bill, moreover, not only proposed to convert the Corporation into a great insurance office, but into a building society without any limit whatever. Surely these were not functions the discharge of which could properly be undertaken by the trustees of a fund which was specially intended to be devoted to the augmentation of small livings? Besides, who could tell whether the Corporation would continue to exist any considerable length of time. Under these circumstances, he felt called upon emphatically to endorse the views which had been expressed with respect to the Bill by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk). He hoped sincerely the House would hear no more of it after that evening.
§ MR. RODWELL
said, he would not have taken part in the discussion had not strong representations been made to him by several ecclesiastical authorities in the county which he had the 'honour to represent in favour of the Bill, in which they took a great interest. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), as well as his hon. and learned Friend who had just sat down, had, he thought, wandered very much from the real point at issue. Their main objection to the proposed scheme seemed to be that under its operation the funds of Queen Anne's Bounty were likely to be pledged to something in the shape of unlimited liability. Now, the answer to that objection was, that the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty were parties to the Bill. It was a measure which could scarcely be brought forward without their sanction, and he presumed, indeed, that it was introduced to the notice of the House at their suggestion. His hon. and learned Friend, who said he was a Governor of the Bounty—and who, he supposed, held that position on much the same title as he did himself—would, he was sure, hardly seriously tell the House that he had any authority to speak on behalf of the Corporation; so the House would, he hoped, not attach much weight to what had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend in his ornamental capacity as Governor. The hon. Member for Gloucester complained 1920 that the Bill would compel the Clergy to insure against their will; but they were now by law bound to secure Church property against fire, to the satisfaction of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty. A considerable saving would be effected, he might add, if the scheme now proposed were sanctioned by Parliament, and a very great amount of trouble and vexation spared to incumbents in connection with those insurances. At present they were obliged every year to produce the receipts given for the premiums which they had paid, as well as to answer certain questions twice a-year at the period of visitation. All the inconvenience and annoyance to which they were thus subjected would, however, be removed if the Queen Anne's Bounty Corporation were to take the whole matter into their own hands. The Governors of that Corporation were the special guardians of ecclesiastical benefices; and, looking at the advantages of the proposed scheme as a sort of domestic arrangement between them and the Clergy, some much stronger arguments than he had heard that evening must, he thought, be urged against the Bill before the House would consent to reject it on the second reading. But, it was asked, should the funds in the hands of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty be exhausted by the claims which might be made upon them under the Bill, what, then, was to become of the Bounty and of the purpose to which it ought to be devoted—the augmentation of small livings? Now, if the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) would turn to the 9th clause of the Bill, he would find it provided that—The Governors shall keep a separate account of all moneys received by them in respect of fire insurances and of the fund arising there-from, and such fund shall he called 'The Fire Insurance Fund,' and in case such fund shall at any time be insufficient to answer the immediate requirements thereon, the Governors shall he at liberty to lend at the rate of four pounds per cent per annum on the security of the premium fund any moneys in their hands belonging to their common fund"—until the premiums paid on account of the fire insurance fund amounted to a sufficient sum to fill up the gap which would thus be created. It was also argued, in opposition to the Bill, that the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty had not the necessary machinery to carry out its provisions. The fact, however, 1921 was that there were Surveyors appointed under the Dilapidations Act who went round, periodically, the different dioceses, and who could, without difficulty, supply the Governors with all the information which would be required for the purposes of the Bill, and which was asked for by those very Governors who had by a majority approved the scheme. They were aware how great an advantage it would be to the Clergy—many of whom were driven to such straits that the saving of every sixpence became to them a matter of importance—to be enabled to curtail their yearly expenditure, even to the small extent which the Bill proposed. He hoped, therefore, the House would not, by rejecting the Bill, refuse to grant to the Clergy the slight relief which it would afford.
§ MR. WHITWELL
said, he should give his cordial support to the Bill. It was, he thought, but right that the Clergy, who were unable to form themselves into a mutual association, except through the instrumentality of the Queen Anne's Bounty Corporation, should be secured the same privileges in that respect as were enjoyed by all other classes of the community. The disestablished Church of Ireland had lately entered into an arrangement by which it would be enabled to insure all its property against fire at the rate of 1s. per cent, and the House was, he contended, bound to take every legitimate precaution for the purpose of having the Church property in England so secured that there might be as little risk as possible that its value would be diminished. It would be a great boon to the Clergy if that could be done by means of insurance without the expense which insurance in the ordinary way involved. He might mention that since the question had been mooted, an offer had been made by the agent of other insurance societies to take those insurances at the rate of 1s. 1d. per cent, so that the Queen Anne's Bounty Corporation would not be running any great risk if the proposal before the House were adopted. In his opinion, it was not only an advantageous proposal in many respects, but also a safe one.
THE CHANCELLOB OF THE EXCHEQUER
wished to say a few words before the discussion closed. He had had the advantage of having seen, a few days before, some gentlemen who were interested in the passing of the Bill, and had 1922 informed them that he would look into the subject to which it related. He quite concurred with the promoters of the measure in thinking that it was desirable, if possible, to find some means of facilitating the insurance of parsonages. It was highly important that the property of the Church should be properly insured, and the law provided that those buildings should be insured. There were, at the same time, some difficulties in the way of enforcing the law, which operated more inconveniently to the Church than possibly would be the case under an improved system. Now, the Bill proposed that that new system should be brought into operation through the agency of Queen Anne's Bounty Board; and the proposal was supported by the argument that the Governors of that Bounty were already, to a certain extent, charged with the matter, inasmuch as to them was assigned the duty of seeing that ecclesiastical buildings were properly insured. There was, therefore, in the Bill a good deal which, at the first glance, appeared to be attractive; but, on the other hand, it contained much which was, he thought, deserving of serious consideration. It was a serious thing to grant a monopoly such as it proposed to confer. It was a serious thing to call upon a body possessing funds applicable to one purpose, to undertake a trading business—which an insurance business was—which might probably involve some risk to those funds. It was also a questionable point whether it was safe or right to lay down in the Bill a fixed and low rate of insurance, such as that which was named in it. Then there was Clause 18, which enabled the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, if they deemed it desirable, to discontinue the business of insurance. All these were matters which, in his opinion, required very careful consideration. There was, besides, another point to which he wished briefly to advert, and with respect to which he did not think the House had been sufficiently informed. As matters stood, hon. Members had no means of knowing how far the Governors themselves were willing to undertake the duties which would be imposed upon them by the Bill. Under these circumstances, the course which he felt disposed to recommend the House to adopt was to assent to the second reading, on the understanding that the 1923 Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, by whom the points which he had mentioned would be carefully inquired into, and evidence taken both as to the ability and the willingness of Queen Anne's Bounty Board to become insurers of Church property. He should be sorry to see a measure absolutely rejected on the second reading, the intention of which was obviously so good, and which was capable of conferring so much benefit on the Clergy; but, at the same time, unless the course which he had indicated was taken, he should have some reluctance in voting for the second reading; for, in his opinion, a Committee of the Whole House would not be able to deal with the question satisfactorily, or to settle it as it ought to be settled.
§ MR. MUNDELLA,
as one who had practical experience of insurance offices for many years, and who was not in the slightest degree interested in the particular branch of fire insurance to which the Bill related, hoped he would not be charged with being actuated by any personal motives in opposing the Bill. If the Clergy could form a mutual insurance office, let them do so by all means; but he could assure the House that the scheme proposed by the Bill was regarded by actuaries as one of the wildest possible. He would, therefore, strongly recommend the hon. Gentleman who had moved the second reading of the Bill to accept the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to assent to its being referred to a Select Committee.
said, he was entirely in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if he thought the Bill ought to be sent before a Select Committee, he should accept that suggestion. He would only add that he had never insinuated that any hon. Member in opposing the Bill was actuated by interested motives.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.
§ And, on April 2, Committee nominated as follows:—Earl PERCY, Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGES-SEN, Mr. RODWELL, Mr. MONK, Mr. BIRLEY, Mr. WHITWELL, Mr. COWPER, Mr. HARDCASTLE, Sir THOMAS ACLAND, Mr. COTTON, Sir SYDNEY WATERLOW, Mr. FRESHFIELD, Mr. ROWLEY 1924 HILL, Mr. WAIT, Mr. M'LAGAN, Mr. HALL, and Mr. STANLEY LEIGHTON:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.