§ 7.32 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Rochester rose to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.
§ The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, the first Measure which I have to ask your Lordships' House to agree to present for the Royal Assent is the Measure which the General Synod passed unanimously in all three of its Houses, which the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament took only three lines in which to declare expedient, and which 191 another place has already resolved, without a vote, should be presented to Her Majesty.
§ I now have the responsibility of asking your Lordships to concur. I am glad to be doing that during the week in which the concern of the Church of England for urban priority areas was declared afresh at a memorable service in Westminster Abbey. Clause 1 does not increase the powers of the Church Commissioners; it merely updates them so that a Measure that became law in 1954 to deal, in the main, with the post-war situation can, 34 years later, be amended so that the commissioners may assist the dioceses with finance for church buildings in any area where social or economic changes have taken place.
As the rector of a new town parish in the 1950s, and as the bishop of a dioscese where I have dedicated 25 new church buildings since 1961, I can testify at first hand to the importance of the existing powers of the commissioners to aid new housing areas and also to what that help has meant in many hard pressed parishes faced with an urgent need for a new building. But those powers have only been exercised in areas of recent housing development which the 1954 measure defined as:
the provision of new dwellings after 1st April 1945".
That definition has been blunted by the passage of time, and Clause 1 of the new Measure substitutes a new definition which limits eligible housing developments in any area where social or economic changes have taken place during the 25 years prior to the application being made.
§ Clause 1(2) is a transitional provision to cover applications already in hand. Clause 2 gives powers to the commissioners to make grants or loans for church buildings in any areas, both town and country, where social changes demand additional provision. Clause 2(2) continues certain provisions of the earlier measure, including that of converting or adapting existing buildings, while Clause 2(3) makes possible the extension of the powers to cover buildings that are shared with another denomination under the Sharing of Church Buildings Measure 1970.
§ The other main purpose of the Measure is to allow the Church Commissioners to make payments to the Church Urban Fund. Clause 3 sets forth the manner in which grants or loans may be made to that fund, which has been set up to provide the necessary financial mechanism to target financial assistance from the Church to urban priority areas. The fund is appealing to the Church for £18 million to support expenditure of £1 million per annum in real terms. It is a major project to which all 43 dioceses in England are pledged, and it is hoped that it will make a valuable contribution to urban renewal by helping people to plan and implement ways of meeting their own spiritual, social and economic needs.
§ The Church Commissioners hope to contribute £1 million per annum and are confident that they can do that without prejudicing their existing commitments or their basic object, which is, of course, the financial support of the clergy, both those who are in full-time parochial work and those who no longer carry that responsibility.192
§ The Measure is the natural development of the commissioners' historic role of helping the clergy in town and country, in new housing areas and in historic places and, pre-eminently, in poor parishes. I have been proud to be a Church Commissioner for over 27 years. I commend the Measure to your Lordships and ask you to concur with the other place.
§ Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Rochester.)
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I rise as a fellow Church Commissioner, not to support the right reverend Prelate, because he does not need it, or to explain the Measure, because he has already done so, but because nearly 20 years ago when I worked on the Bench opposite it fell to me to welcome the right reverend Prelate to your Lordships' House and to congratulate him on his maiden speech. I thought that I might take it upon myself tonight, because this is one of his two swan songs, to thank him on your Lordships' behalf for his contributions to our debate over those 20 years, to wish him well in his retirement, and to say that, although we cannot look forward to hearing him again, we very much look forward to meeting him in those parts of the House to which he will still have access, not least the Bishops' Bar.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, from these Benches I should like to echo the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is my colleague on the Ecclesiastical Committee, and to wish the right reverend Prelate a happy and successful retirement. I talked to him the other day about what he was going to do in his retirement and he said that he was going to be much busier when retired than he has been as a servant of your Lordships' House. I think that we have all benefited from the right reverend Prelate's contributions, not least from the clarity with which he has expounded various measures which have come before your Lordships' House. If I may say so, we appreciate the common man's language which the right reverend Prelate has used.
Turning to the assistance for priority areas Measure, we wholeheartedly support the conclusions of the report, Faith in the City, and we are very glad to welcome the Measure. As the right reverend Prelate said, it occasioned very little debate in the Ecclesiastical Committee when it was discussed. There has been some public debate about the urban fund and I should like to reassure the right reverend Prelate from these Benches that that fund has our full support. We believe that it is a proper use for the funds of the Church Commissioners and we believe that it will give an opportunity for the Christian gospel to be presented in a proper manner to the inner cities. We certainly welcome that.
I do not see that there can be any argument about the use of church buildings; as the right reverend Prelate said, times have moved on. Clearly, there are buildings which need to be reconverted and other buildings which need to be renovated. In short, from these Benches I welcome the Measure. The right reverend Prelate was right to say that it caused no 193 problem in the Ecclesiastical Committee in deeming it expedient and I understand that it caused no problem in the other place.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has explained the content of this Measure very clearly. It would perhaps hardly be appropriate that I as a member of the United Reformed Church should speak in any detail about its contents. The Measure is concerned with the Church of England and its welcome intention to strengthen its presence in priority areas. Perhaps I may briefly anticipate the next Measure which we are to discuss, which enables the Church of England to make provision for co-operation with other churches. I greatly welcome such co-operation.
However, I rise principally to associate my noble friends and myself with the expression of good wishes to the right reverend Prelate and with the wish that he should have a happy retirement. I am particularly glad to have the opportunity to do so since when I was at school the right reverend Prelate, although not of course in his present capacity, was at that time the captain of monitors. As a consequence, I have always stood in considerable awe of him and since coming to your Lordships' House I have always been a little apprehensive lest he should take offence at something I may say and give me a monitor's detention.
The right reverend Prelate's contributions to this House over many years have been considerable, significant and much appreciated. He will be greatly missed among us and we all wish him well.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, as the only Cross-Bencher present, I am sure that the Cross-Benches would also like to associate themselves with the good wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and other noble Lords who have spoken to the right reverend Prelate on his retirement. Of course, he counts as a Cross-Bencher and we shall always think of him as such.
The Lord Bishop of Rochester
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all the noble Lords who have so kindly responded to the Motion which I have moved tonight. I appreciate very much my noble friend Lord Sandford's remarks; as he said, 19 years ago he was sitting on the other side when he welcomed me to the House. I am also very grateful to the spokesmen for both the Opposition parties and the Cross-Benches who have associated themselves with what he so kindly said. I have a memory that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, was very seldom in monitor's detention and I do not see him qualifying for it again.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for his support for the Church urban fund and because he went out of his way to say that he regarded this as a proper use for the Church Commissioners' money. We appreciate that very much indeed. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, speaking as a member of the United Reformed Church, saw in this Measure a move by the Church of England which he could welcome and 194 support. I shall value his support in the next Motion which I have to move in a few minutes. I commend the Motion to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.