§ THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH rose to move to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Church Schools (Assistance by Church Commissioners) Measure, 1957, be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It had been the intention of the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, to move this Motion, but unfortunately he is confined to the house by a not infrequent malady, a heavy cold, and he has asked me to deputise in his name.
§ The object of this Measure is to enable the Church Commissioners to pay to the Central Board of Finance of the Church of England a sum not exceeding £1 million during the next twenty-five years. This might be done at the rate of £40,000 a year. The sum is to be expended by the Central Board by way of grants or loans for the improvement and extension of the buildings of Church of England secondary schools and by way of loans 172 only for the improvement or extension of the buildings of Church of England primary schools.
§ The initiative in this matter came from the Church Assembly. I do not think I need explain the whole educational policy of the Church of England in order to show the circumstances in which this initiative was taken. I will say only this. The Church of England has from the earliest days played, at first an exclusive, and always a very large, part in the education of the nation, and still does so. It is utterly beyond our power to provide that every Church of England child shall be in a Church of England aided school, for this would mean providing Church schools for something like 70 per cent. of the children of the nation. In any case, we are concerned not merely with Church of England children. We have always seen it as our duty to give as good a training in Christian religion as can be achieved to every child member of the State. We combine with the State, the teachers and the Free Churches to secure the teaching of the Bible and of the Faith contained in an agreed syllabus, believing that here is an opening full of great Christian possibilities. We value our own schools, both controlled and aided, especially the aided, where we have the fullest freedom to give a Christian education according to the beliefs of the Church of England.
§ The 1944 Act was a settlement. It gave the Church full freedom to provide as many schools as it had funds for. The Minister of Education at that time and successive Ministers have encouraged us to do our utmost in this respect. One Minister even came to a representative meeting to challenge us to do our part in providing our aided schools better and quicker. Our plans, as part of the development plans required by the 1944 Act, were put forward a good while ago. With every year that passes the cost of carrying them out increases. Once a local authority have made their plans for their area, the thing is settled for all time. At that stage the Church has to say what it will provide, and the decision, once made, is irretrievable.
§ For years dioceses have been raising funds, amid all the other crying needs of these days, for aided schools. They will have to go on doing so. Great figures are involved. The Church's school 173 buildings now are worth something like £200 million. To complete our modest plan, it is calculated that the cost over the next twenty-five years to the Church will be in the order of £14¾ million. After taking into account available assets, in the way of invested funds, it is estimated that a capital sum of some £3 million of new money will have to be found during this period. Of this sum, £2 million can probably be raised within the dioceses, leaving £1 million to be found from central sources. The only central body in a position to provide a sum of this magnitude is the Church Commissioners, and the Church Assembly therefore requested them to prepare a Measure to enable them to do so.
§ In the debate on this proposal there was some opposition from members who questioned the necessity for retaining aided schools and who thought that it was a mistaken policy to spend money on them in view of other urgent needs. Another group objected to the use of the Church Commissioners' money for purposes other than the provision of stipends and pensions for the clergy. Both patties were fully heard in the course of a long debate but failed to convince the Assembly. The resolution was passed with a considerable majority and the request made to the Church Commissioners.
§ The Church Commissioners themselves were neutral in the matter, though willing to make this provision if the Church Assembly desired them so to do. The Measure was prepared and introduced into the Assembly in the Autumn Session of 1956. On the motion for general approval, there again was opposition on the ground that the Church Commissioners' funds ought not to be used in this way. A division was taken at the request of certain members of the House of Laity, who were anxious that members of the House of Clergy should express their separate opinion. The result of the division showed clear majorities in all three Houses in favour of general approval. The Measure passed through its remaining stages without substantial amendment and without any further division.
§ There I should like to end. The thing is simple. In a matter of great importance in the work of the Church, the Church Commissioners are willing to look favour 174 ably on this request of the Church Assembly, having due regard to other demands upon their funds. But the group which opposed the use of the Church Commissioners' funds for this purpose, being unwilling to accept the Assembly's verdict, have stated their intention of pursuing their objection by issuing a circular addressed to Members of Parliament. I do not know whether copies have reached Members of your Lordships' House, but that letter contains a fundamental misconception, to which I feel I ought to refer.
Their objection can be shortly stated, and clearly, if not so shortly, answered. They say that the funds of the Church Commissioners are charitable moneys held in trust for the maintenance of the clergy. That statement is only partly true. If your Lordships will glance at Clause 1 of the Measure, you will see that these payments are to be made out of the General Fund of the Commissioners. The General Fund of the Church Commissioners is to a large extent derived from the Common Fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The object of that Common Fund, laid down by Section 67 of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act, 1840, and still binding to-day, is:
The cure of souls in parishes where such assistance is most required, in such manner as shall, by the like authority, be deemed most conducive to the effectiveness of the Established Church.
§ The true beneficiaries, therefore, are the souls of the parishioners and not the clergy, although the most direct way of providing for the cure of souls is by providing living agents, especially by providing stipends for the clergy. For this reason the Commissioners have from the earliest days used the greater part of the income from the General Fund for augmenting the stipends of the clergy. Their policy is to allocate to stipends and pensions, by way of permanent charges on the Fund, as much of their secured annual income as seems prudent, having regard to the hardship which would be caused if grants once made could not be maintained. To ensure this there must be an annual surplus, not committed to any recurring charge at the disposal of the Commissioners. This surplus is distributed annually. Part goes to reinvestment to reinforce the security on which clergy stipends and 175 pensions rest. The remainder can and does go into once-for-all grants for urgent causes connected with the cure of souls.
§ Naturally, the Commissioners receive many requests for assistance from this General Fund. Many of these are for objects which are clearly outside the definition of the Act of 1840. Occasionally an object is suggested which would not be an improper use of the General Fund but about the strict legality of which there might be some doubt. Such was the case with the New Housing Areas (Church Buildings) Measure, 1954, and such is the case with the present Measure. Both Church buildings and Church schools exist for the benefit of the souls of the parishioners, but in the absence of any decision of the courts there might be some doubt in the matter. To remove all doubt a Measure was thought to be desirable and it would, furthermore, provide the opportunity for ascertaining the mind of the Church Assembly and of Parliament.
§ It remains for me to add that the Commissioners have decided that if this Measure is passed the money to be provided shall for the time being be found at the expense of sums now being devoted to church buildings in new housing areas. Next year, £40,000 will go into one kind of Church building (an aided school), instead of another (a Church or Church hall) both being equally devoted to the cure of souls. No money will be diverted from clerical stipends at all. I apologise for taking up so much of your Lordships' time, but since there has been some opposition to this Measure, and since it is being brought to the notice of Members of Parliament by a militant group, I thought it necessary to explain the position. This is an enabling Measure. It empowers the Church Commissioners to use a named, very small, portion of their annual surplus for this particular Church cause if they find it suitable to do so. The Church Assembly wish them to have this discretionary power. I hope your Lordships will give it to them. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Church Schools (Assistance by Church Commissioners) Measure, 1957, 176 be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Norwich.)
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I speak in this sense not as Leader of the Opposition but as an individual very much interested in the Measure which is laid before Parliament, and we are greatly indebted to the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich for the manner in which he has introduced it and for the clear explanation he has given of its origin and its object. I say that I speak personally. I speak as a strong Protestant Nonconformist, with a sufficient vintage in my age to remember the controversy from 1902 until, say, 1914—a long and bitter controversy—and the results of the Balfour Act of 1902. I speak with some experience, having been an official of the local education authority from 1903 onwards in a county area set up to deal for the first time, in general, with the education of a county. Therefore I am tremendously interested.
I would say that the historical achievement referred to by the right reverend Prelate—that is. that Church schools and halls now show, probably, a value of £200 million—would seem to indicate that they have been pretty careful in conserving in permanent buildings the grants-in-aid under the Balfour Act, and that the public funds thus voted to one particular Church in the State (there is another one, as well) have not been mis-spent. But I should like to say to the right reverend Prelate—and I speak now not as the Leader of the Opposition in this House, nor even as a Member of the House, but as the Pesident of the United Kingdom Protestant Churches—that I have observed in the last quarter of a century a great change in Free Church opinion. There is far less of the old, almost violent, agitation against the Church as a State Church. What they are more anxious about now is that they should be able to support everything which brings a sense of Protestant unity in the State, and that as long as the Church of England maintains the basic Protestant faith of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, perhaps incomparable in their length, breadth and depth (I had to learn about them in Sunday School, and later in Bible Class, many years ago) then I think the clamour 177 for disestablishment will recede further and further.
I look at this Measure, therefore, in the light of this changed influence, and what I think is the true desire of all who are sincere Protestants in faith: that is, that in the present circumstances of the requirements of education in the country, it is a great voluntary act to try to find from the accumulated funds of the Church of England sums that will enable school places to be provided, in face of a growing claim because of secondary education expansion and because of the state of the population, with the minimum cost to the State and to the advantage, in general, to which the right reverend Prelate has referred. I thought it might be as well—as I say, I speak entirely for myself on this matter and not for my colleagues—to make my position quite plain and why I should not dream of opposing this Measure which has been laid before the House. And I hope that when it comes to the actual religious portion of the instruction to be given in the schools thus provided, the true Protestant faith will also be soundly maintained.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.