Twentieth Century

Despite the increasing diversity of Britain’s religious minorities in the first half of the 20th century, the Church of England retained a dominant and influential position. During this time Parliament continued to adapt the Church to changing needs and circumstances.

Welsh disestablishment

In 1914 an Act was passed ending the Church’s position as the official church in Wales. As with Irish disestablishment, this measure recognised the minority position of the Anglican Church of Wales among the Welsh population, where nonconformity accounted for nearly 80 per cent of worshippers.  

Church self-government

By the early 20th century the established Church had begun to press for power to regulate its own affairs rather than be subject to Parliament. One problem was that Parliament now contained many MPs who were not Anglicans and were often unsympathetic to the Church’s view.  

Another was that insufficient time was given to discussing Church matters. Only slow progress was made but in 1919 the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act established procedures – still in force – to allow the Church a greater degree of self-regulation.  

A new Church Assembly - from 1970 known as the General Synod - was set up with power to adopt measures which would then have the advantage of a much shortened form of scrutiny in Parliament.

Concerns arose about these procedures in 1927 and 1928 when Parliament rejected the Church Assembly’s proposed revision of the 1662 Prayer Book. The Church nevertheless sanctioned its optional use despite having failed to gain parliamentary authority for it.   


Unlike the Anglican Church the Church of Scotland has enjoyed a long tradition of self-regulation in its affairs. Confusion about its legal relationship to the state was clarified by a law passed in1921.

The Church of Scotland was acknowledged as Scotland’s national church, though almost entirely independent of state or parliamentary control on religious issues or appointments.

A multi-faith society

The growth of non-Christian faith communities in Britain since the 1950s has led Parliament to broaden its focus to meet the needs of a wide and changing society. 

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