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Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : Like one or two other hon. Members here tonight, I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. My feeling tonight is more than merely a rather uncomfortable one of deja vu. I agree very much with what was said by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I remind him of the additional point that the Standing Committee had 59 sittings--the record number, I believe, held by any Standing Committee for any Bill passed by the House--quite apart from the discussions that took place on the Floor of the House. No hon. Member for Northern Ireland was a member of that Committee and Northern Ireland issues were not discussed in any detail. It is astonishing that in the middle of the night we should be having a debate as short as one and a half hours to deal with matters of such substance.
Having watched the progress of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 over the past five years, I welcome the introduction of at least some of its provisions into Northern Ireland. Although judicial application of the code on the detention, treatment and questioning of prisoners has been inconsistent, by and large it has been of benefit to the innocent and can rarely be said to have helped the guilty to escape conviction. That is a beneficial advance. However, I agree with hon. Members from Northern Ireland that there is no sound basis for distinguishing between people who are being detained and questioned under the emergency provisions and those detained and questioned for ordinary crimes. They are all entitled to the same treatment. We do not set out to apply different standards to the way in which they are asked questions by the police.
I want to deal with two specific issues, both of which were mentioned in some detail earlier in the debate. The first relates to mouth swabs. I ask the Minister a simple question. Why is the mouth an intimate orifice in Liverpool, but not in Belfast? Why is the same person not subjected to the forcible removal of a sample from his mouth in Liverpool, but is subjected to it in Belfast? It is completely illogical. If the Government's real wish, as it
Column 167appears to be, is to legislate to permit the taking of intimate samples by force, they should say so and allow the matter to be debated honestly.
Clearly, the Government have decided to allow in Northern Ireland only the taking of an intimate sample by force. I would go further and ask the Minister whether the Government have considered the effect of article 3 of the European convention on human rights in this context. Is it not the case that the United Kingdom Government run a severe risk of forcible searches of an intimate orifice, such as the mouth, being regarded as degrading treatment by the European Court of Human Rights and, therefore, contrary to article 3? I hope that the Minister will tell the House that that point has been considered and what advice he has received.
Why do the Government feel that they need a provision to allow the forcible taking of oral swabs, as proposed in the order, at all? Do they not think that article 62(10) is sufficient? If a person is asked to give an intimate sample, as defined by the order and under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and refuses, the court can draw an inference of guilt from that very refusal. That is something that we have been practising in the courts of England and Wales since the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 received the Royal Assent and came into effect. Why is it not good enough simply to have the same provision in Northern Ireland?
The forcible taking of oral swabs is a hostage to fortune. It will be difficult for the police to operate. There will be accusations of unnecessary violence in the taking of samples and police officers will be injured in taking those samples while, in evidential terms, the Government will probably gain next to nothing.
My second detailed point relates to video links, a matter that has already been discussed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). There is a substantial difference between the permissible video- link evidence in England and Wales, and what is proposed in this order. In England and Wales the video link can be used only for the evidence of children under 14 in certain specified cases and--although I have not heard of a case in which it has been used as yet--in certain circumstances if a witness is outside the jurisdiction.
What seems to be envisaged now for Northern Ireland is that any witness who feels afraid may give his or her evidence by video link. But what is the test of fear to be? It is not even phrased as "well-founded fear". It seems an entirely subjective test. Judges will be entitled to allow evidence to be given by video even if a witness has genuine but ill-founded fear.
The immediacy of the court room is important. It is helpful to judges and to juries, where there is a jury, to see the witness's demeanour and reaction to questioning--the way in which the witness deals with the questions, and the pauses before an answer is given--but it simply will not be possible to have that immediacy if video links are used widely. Of course they are justified for children because of other emotional considerations, but it is important that we resist them where they are not necessary. We must remember that adult witnesses may be giving evidence of the minutiae of a case. It is difficult to deal with plans,
Column 168documents, computer data and so on when one is asking questions via a television camera of someone who may be remote.
In addition, I suspect that the use of video links, as envisaged in the order, would encourage the self-interested so-called "accomplice" or "supergrass", who may feel that he can gain personal advantage by giving false evidence and who will feel secure in doing so if the residual provisions of the order are brought into effect and he can give that evidence using a changed identity from a television studio in some distant part of the world. These provisions will not necessarily mean that the evidence will be more reliable. Indeed, there may be a significant temptation for the witness to give even less reliable evidence, but to seem more credible.
In the practicable circumstances of a court, it is not always as easy as some imagine to detect, even of a witness who is actually standing in the court, whether he is telling the truth or he is telling lies. It will be very much more difficult to detect the lies of someone who is merely a face on a television monitor, giving evidence in the comfort and security of a studio many miles away. Therefore, although I welcome the introduction of many of the protections--I agree with what was said earlier by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) in an intervention--I invite the Government to look closely at the two issues that I have raised. They may be the issues that will give rise to the controversies and the litigation by which this order will be judged.
Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) : Several specific points have been made in this debate. In view of the time, I shall not repeat them, but it is important to emphasise the underlying assumptions on which they were based. They were based on the need to balance giving the police necessary powers and protecting civil liberties--a balance that was referred to by many hon. Members this evening.
The Minister emphasised that the new powers must be used impartially and responsibly to protect civil liberties. In relation to Northern Ireland, that dimension is very important, particularly as concerns have been voiced about the operation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in England and Wales, in that in some senses it favours the police. That would be a specific problem in Northern Ireland because it is very important to keep the balance between the police and the public to ensure that they work closely together. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) stressed that, as PACE affects Northern Ireland, it is non-emergency legislation and is general criminal law. It is therefore very important that the balance between police powers and civil liberties is seen to be kept.
In that context, I wish to concentrate on a point that has not been emphasised so far. One of the important features of PACE is that it guarantees a suspect's right of access to legal advice. The Minister has already outlined the circumstances in which there would be a delay in access to a lawyer. He referred also to the nature of the limited range of serious arrestable offences when access would be allowed only on the authority of a superintendent. The guarantee of a suspect's right of access to legal advice is clearly a great improvement on the pre-PACE legislation,
Column 169and we welcome that. An important point in relation to PACE as it affects Northern Ireland is that the guarantee of legal advice is only of value if it is implemented.
The guarantee of legal advice in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was implemented through the setting up of 24-hour duty solicitor schemes under which anyone suspected, arrested and taken to a police station could obtain advice from the police duty solicitor. The important point about PACE in England and Wales is that part of the 1984 Act required--and "required" is an important word--the Law Society to establish police duty solicitor schemes.
Section 54 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 affecting England and Wales sets up legal advice, and another section establishes legal aid for persons at police stations. The Northern Ireland PACE establishes access to legal advice in section 59. It would be useful if the Minister could explain why legal aid for persons at police stations is missing from PACE Northern Ireland. Without that provision, we face the problem that the principle of legal advice is in the legislation but no mechanism with which to achieve it. Perhaps the Minister can explain in relation to that crucial and fundamental aspect of PACE how we can have the principle on the face of the legislation, but have no mechanism to achieve it.
Clearly there are difficulties in Northern Ireland and I do not want to under-estimate them. There are problems with the Law Society in Northern Ireland because it is not organised on a regional basis, as it is on the mainland. Smaller local associations would make it difficult to liaise. The demographic and geographic factors militate against a statutory scheme. However, there must be some kind of scheme or people may be entitled to legal advice but unable to get it.
I understand that there are only two experimental schemes working in that respect at present--one in Belfast and the other in Craigavon ; no doubt, hon. Members will correct me if I am wrong. There is no basis for a statutory scheme to operate on. It would be useful if the Minister could tell us what stage consultations on a statutory scheme have reached. It would be useful if he could clarify at the same time whether the statutory scheme would apply to people who go voluntarily to a police station as well as to those who have been arrested. I agreed with the comments made by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) about the need to clarify the definition of a designated centre. I understand that the RUC has not yet decided which police stations should be designated. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East suggested that every police station would be a designated station. That is not made clear in the explanation to the order. It would be useful to know that.
Solicitors in Northern Ireland may resist a duty solicitor scheme on the grounds that they have spent years building up a client base in a difficult environment and are not prepared to share it with a duty solicitor. It is crucial for the Minister to clarify that or there may be no chance to plan and inform people of the changes necessary to make the fundamental principle of PACE work. Since PACE was introduced in England and Wales, it has increased threefold the demand for legal advice services. I hope that the Minister has taken that into account and is planning for the increased demand for legal advice services. If he has not, then clearly the structure of advice available will not work effectively in Northern Ireland. We need to know the scale of the preparations
Column 170that the Minister has made. There is also the matter of finance. As we know, many solicitors in England and Wales find legal advice financially unattractive. It would be useful to know what provision the Minister has made to make that problem less crucial in Northern Ireland.
That is an important matter, because if one puts alongside inadequate legal advice the provisions about the right to silence, one finds that advice at the police station becomes even more important for a suspect. I am sure that the Minister is aware that solicitors on the mainland may well offer advice by telephone. That is a special problem in Northern Ireland, where a solicitor may need to go to a police station to advise a client specifically about the implications in court of the right to silence.
Perhaps the Minister will outline the practical implications of omitting section 60 of PACE in England and Wales from the Northern Ireland legislation. Without legal aid for people at police stations, suspects may well find it impossible to get legal advice, without which PACE in Northern Ireland is of limited value. If suspects are denied that fundamental right, and the right to remain silent, we are in a serious situation. As I said earlier, the protection of civil liberties and the granting of necessary powers do not need to be mutually exclusive. If the fundamental principle of PACE Northern Ireland is not implemented by this legislation, at best it is legislation of limited value and at worst it is meaningless. That point must be addressed.
We wholeheartedly support the need for proper, sensible policing practices and the police must be supported in that respect. As it stands, the legislation will potentially damage rather than enhance the principle and prospect of bringing the police and the public closer together.
Mr. Ian Stewart : In the time that is available I shall endeavour to respond to as many as possible of the points made in the debate. Some hon. Members have asked specific and technical questions of some detail and I shall respond in writing if I do not have time fully to reply to them now.
Mr. William Ross : Not for the first time, the Minister is following a long catalogue of Ministers who have stood at the Dispatch Box during the years that I have been here and said, "I will write to the hon. Gentleman." When they do, they simply respond to the point that the recipient of the letter has made, even though the interest in the subject goes much wider. When the Minister sends a letter will he cover all the unanswered points made by all those who took part in the debate?
I was glad to hear the general welcome from the Opposition, from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and from other hon. Members for the order.
I have been asked about the time that the order has taken. Although the Police and Criminal Evidence Act was enacted in 1984, it was not until 1986 that it was fully introduced in practice. We followed that with a careful examination of the way in which the PACE proposals would fit into the legal system of Northern Ireland which,
Column 171although closely comparable with that of England and Wales, is not precisely the same and, therefore, had to be considered in detail. Then a year ago we published the draft order, with the explanatory document. We felt that it was right to allow proper time for consultation, especially as a number of technical questions of the sort asked tonight were raised. Then, without further delay, we introduced the order. I have asked the RUC, through the police authority, to implement the provisions of the order with effect from the beginning of next year, which I am assured will be possible. In the interim, we shall be publishing the draft code. There will be time for consultation on that, so that the formal code can be issued before the matter is fully implemented next year.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) mentioned resources. The introduction of PACE was taken into account in the setting of the finances for the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the current financial year, and the necessary training of the personnel involved, which for general purposes covers most of those in the RUC and those with specific responsibilities, will take place in the later months of the year. Those who are involved, such as custody officers and inspectors, will, under the terms of the order, have new responsibilities. Up to now, they have had responsibilities of a different sort under the existing arrangements. More formal and specific responsibilities are being laid upon them, but they are not necessarily extra. That is a change very much for the better. After being so fragmented, the provisions are now more organised and formal. Inspectors, sergeants and ordinary members of the RUC believe that it will be a more effective system and one which they will be glad and ready to operate.
The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) said that the balance was important. I am glad that she picked up that point, because it is necessary to see the order not only as setting out the formal powers of the police to be used in the circumstances that have been described, but to ensure that the rights of a suspect and of the individual are fully recognised.
We will, of course, want to monitor the progress of the provisions. I assure the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who made a number of specific points, and other hon. Members who have spoken, that we will certainly want to see how, in practice, the measures in the order are implemented.
I agree with the hon. Member for Redcar that there should be proper access to a lawyer for a suspect who wants it, although they do not all wish to have such access, by any means. Many of them believe that they can do better on their own. However, for those who wish to have access to a lawyer, the number of solicitors readily available in Northern Ireland is much greater than was the case in England and Wales when PACE was introduced. I shall consider carefully the points that the hon. Member for Redcar made about that. It is not that Northern Ireland does not need a statutory scheme and that England and Wales do. In England and Wales there were special difficulties and, without legal aid provisions, there was a problem regarding ready access to a pool of solicitors. For that reason special provisions were made.
Column 172The hon. Member for Redcar also asked about the designation of police stations. I would expect one station in each division to be designated, perhaps more. The number of designated stations has not been settled at this stage, but obviously they must be available in all areas of the Province.
A number of hon. Members drew attention to the differences between the provisions of PACE for England and Wales and those of the order. The hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North and for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), among others, touched on that. The overwhelming body of the order is almost exactly parallel to the legislation for England and Wales, apart from such technical matters as are required to adjust for the differences between the two jurisdictions. There is room for a difference of opinion as to whether the televising of evidence from witnesses should be extended to those who may be in fear of intimidation. I accept that Opposition Members have doubts about that, and it will be for the courts and the judges to decide. We will try to ensure that, as far as possible, court room conditions are replicated.
Mr. McNamara : The Minister said that it will be for the courts to decide about the televising of evidence, but the order says that the regulations will be made by the Secretary of State. Who will do it--the Secretary of State or the courts?
Mr. Ian Stewart : The hon. Gentleman is referring to the extension of the televising arrangements to those outside Northern Ireland and those outside the United Kingdom. Those provisions are still some way off and there are no current proposals for their implementation. I was referring to the extension of the televising of evidence--it was described as a dangerous extension--to those witnesses in fear. Unfortunately, intimidation in Northern Ireland is a prevalent factor that must be taken into account. We have engaged in widespread consultation and it is the clear view of the Government that it is right to make that extension in the case of Northern Ireland. Other differences that have been mentioned are simply developments on the processes embodied in PACE. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East welcomed the extended power under part III of the order. That is an improvement on the position in England and Wales. The fact that reasons will not have to be given if they prejudice not only the particular investigation but other investigations offers a protection to the forces of law as suspects will not be alerted in ways that may make the proceedings in that or other cases difficult to follow up. Such developments represent an advance.
A different change relates to mouth swabs. The order describes them as non- intimate, whereas in the original PACE legislation they were described as intimate and therefore to be done only with the permission of the suspect. The main reason for the difference is that there has been significant improvement in DNA techniques since PACE. It is now possible to take swabs from the mouth, which can be of value for DNA purposes, without any great intrusion on the individual. They can be taken simply between the lip and the gum. It does not require force. The samples can be valuable, in comparison with other DNA evidence, as part of the case against suspects who may be guilty, or in establishing someone's innocence. That is an important part of the purpose behind the technique.
Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman will have to ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about that. When we considered the DNA provisions in the order for our purposes in the light of present scientific knowledge, we concluded that mouth swabs did not involve scraping or unwarranted intrusion into intimate orifices of the body and could be done simply and in a matter of seconds from between the lip and the gum and prove of value.
I do not have responsibility for these provisions in England and Wales, and I do not know when they will next be reviewed, but the same provisions may have been made in the original legislation-- It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business).
Question agreed to.
That the draft Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 15th June, be approved.
That the Clergy (Ordination) Measure, passed by the General Synod 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.
This is one of those occasions when the House is called upon to manifest the characteristics of a monastic order, rising to attend to spiritual exercises in the small hours. I congratulate the many colleagues here who have risen to the occasion. I am quite certain that they will receive a reward, although from a loftier source than the Patronage Secretary and the Whips.
The scope of the Measure is, in its narrow sense, quite limited and not very complicated, although the drafting of these Measures always looks a bit bewildering. Nor in any material sense is it very far-reaching. It will impinge directly on a comparatively small number of people, as I hope to show, but it has profound and much more far-reaching non-material implications, in that it deals with issues related to the nature and indissolubility of marriage ties. These are matters which are likely to be of considerable interest to millions of families and individuals, including many non-Anglicans. In 1986, the latest year for which there are statistics, of the 348,000 registered marriages in England and Wales, well over half were solemnised in religious ceremonies, and one third of them were in Church of England ceremonies. A majority of the public thus still regard marriage as having important religious implications. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear.".]
I shall explain the strict scope of the Measure before I consider wider and more controversial matters. Under existing canon law, there is an absolute bar against a man seeking ordination as a clergyman of the Church of England if he is married but has a previous spouse still living from an earlier marriage or if the partner to whom he is married has a previous partner living from an earlier marriage. I stress that the issue is not one of divorce alone. Divorce on its own is no bar in principle to a man seeking ordination as a clergyman in the Church of England, although in practice the circumstances of his divorce will be carefully scrutinised by selectors before he is recommended for ordination. It is only remarriage after divorce in the circumstances which I have described--of a previous spouse surviving--which activates the total bar to ordination.
The reason derives from the fundamental teaching of the New Testament, not only about divorce but about remarriage following divorce. The barrier I have referred to is at present absolute. It is provided for in section 9 of the Clergy (Ordination and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 1964, and neither a diocesan bishop nor either archbishop has any discretion to set it aside.
What is proposed in the Measure before the House is not that the absolute barrier of the earlier section 9 be abrogated or rescinded, but that under certain defined circumstances its full rigour should be capable of being waived or suspended, and that, at the final and sole discretion of one of the two archbishops, some exceptions to the rule should be allowed. This is a freehand summary
Column 175of what is provided for in section 1 of the measure. To present it in this way is not, I assure the House, a resort to weasel words or to mere casuistry or sophistry. This is not a back-door way of quietly plundering the old prohibition, while leaving it overtly intact.
If I may draw upon an analogy to make the point : it did not detract from, or impair the operation of, the law relating to capital punishment, in a bygone age when that penalty was still on the statute book, if the Home Secretary of the day recommended a reprieve in a particular instance, and Her Majesty exercised the royal prerogative of mercy. Indeed, if anything, the occasional reprieve served only to emphasise the mainstream rigour of the law. Nothing more far-reaching is being sought in the case of this Measure than a discretion for mercy, while leaving the hard core disqualification firmly on the statute book. The Archbishop of Canterbury has estimated that four or five cases per diocese may seek the dispensation --say, 240 altogether--and by no means all that number would secure it.
There are some individual cases in respect of which it would be the merest and crudest legalism not to be able to waive the absolute barrier against ordination. The Bishop of Guildford in another place cited one such case in which the potential candidate for ordination married a divorcee 15 years ago. His wife's first marriage was never consummated. When she had wanted the marriage dissolved, the lawyers advised her that it might be more straightforward to obtain a divorce than to seek a decree of nullity, so she took their advice and obtained a divorce. The man concerned is now married to a divorcee and automatically disbarred by law from consideration for ordination. Had his wife been advised differently by her lawyers she might have obtained a decree of nullity and her present husband would have faced no impediment to ordination.
Having considered this case, many right hon. and hon. Members attending this debate may feel that the case for allowing occasional exceptions to a solidly entrenched rule is almost self-evidently made, and that the Measure should be allowed to go through without hindrance. Alas, not all cases are as easy and straightforward as that.
Mr. Alison : There would be no moral turpitude in the marriage between the ordained clergyman and the lady concerned, and there would be no basis for any ecclesiastical proceedings against him. The objections arising from more complicated cases are, as right hon. and hon. Members will find, forcefully and succinctly set out in paragraph 5 of the Ecclesiastical Committee's report, the so-called red book, which right hon. and hon. Members will already have seen. The last of the listed objections in paragraph 5(iv) on page 3 relates to the absence from the Measure of criteria specifying the basis on which the discretion will be exercised. This has been satisfactorily dealt with, technically at least, by the provision, among the papers available in the Vote Office, of the Archbishop of Canterbury's statement about the criteria that the archbishops will use in exercising their occasional dispensation. In considering these criteria, an
Column 176individual who successfully secures the archbishops' dispensation is not thereby guaranteed automatic access to ordination. He merely ensures access to the normal selection procedure, and he may fall at that hurdle.
The third of the four objections, contrasting the dispensation to divorced lay people on remarriage in church with that proposed for divorced ordinands, looks at first sight a little far-fetched, in that like is not being compared with like. As the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in another place, the difficulty about divorced lay people being remarried in church is that each wedding service is meant to be a testimony to, and a proclamation of, the Christian doctrine of the indissolubility of, and the life-long commitment involved in, marriage, so that a second wedding proclamation, involving a divorcee, constitutes a glaring contradiction.
However, this Measure is concerned with ordination and not marriage, and the same contradiction is not implicit in the proposal to make exceptions for ordinands that are not strictly authorised for lay people seeking remarriage. However, at a deeper level, the third objection in the red book underpins and illuminates two objections, which address themselves to the necessity to give clear signals and to maintain standards, not excluding ideal standards.
Vital landmarks in our social life nationally are today in danger of being swept away by the swirling secular currents of casually contracted marriages and easy divorce. The objectors argue that the Church of England should stand against these currents, at whatever cost. It is almost as severe a contradiction as remarriage in church by divorced lay people when the incumbent solemnising the marriage of a young couple bids them pledge themselves to a view of, and a commitment to, a life-long partnership that he himself has already abrogated. That is why I confess that, had I been a member of the General Synod in 1987 when this Measure was voted on, I would have voted against it, on the grounds that the times were not propitious for sending out this signal about marriage, however meritorious the signal might be in itself. As I shall explain, I do not persist in that opposition now.
One further difficulty inherent in the Measure, which was considered at length by the Ecclesiastical Committee, is the manifest imbalance in the treatment at present applying to lay ordinands and that applying to ordained clergymen. For ordinands, there is the present absolute barrier against remarried divorce s being ordained which I have described. For a clergyman, divorce and remarriage do not in themselves and in principle constitute grounds for his being removed from his office or his living. He can be so removed by existing disciplinary procedures, but for that to occur there has to be some moral turpitude in his case in the divorce proceedings. Where divorce is secured on the modern ground of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, no moral turpitude need, by definition, occur.
The lot of the existing clergy is undoubtedly easier than the lot of the prospective clergy. The conclusion to be drawn from this imbalance will depend upon one's predispositions. Some will argue that the imbalance in favour of the existing clergy helps to make the case for occasional dispensation for prospective clergy. Others will argue that the real need is for a measure to make more rigorous procedures available to disbar existing clergy who have marriage breakdowns.
Column 177The General Synod of the Church of England, after an extended and agonising debate on the issue, decided by a substantial majority that the course of occasional dispensation rather than enhanced rigour against existing clergy was the most acceptable way forward.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : Is my right hon. Friend able to confirm to the House that at the time of the clergy ordination Measure of 1964 those who were then the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were in favour of the measure, and that there has been a dramatic change of mind on the part of the two right reverend prelates who presently hold the two offices?
Mr. Alison : I shall remind my hon. Friend of the course of history since then. There was the report by the Bishop of Lichfield's committee, which was subsequent to the 1964 Measure, on the nature of marriage and the problems arising for the Church of England on whether remarriage should be allowed in church, and on the imbalance between ordinands and clergy, which I have described. I think that the report of the Lichfield committee was the key factor in changing the attitudes of the present leadership of the Church of England. I hope that in presenting and expounding the case for the Measure I have not shown myself insensitive or unsympathetic to the misgivings expressed by the Ecclesiastical Committee and elsewhere by the minority who objected to the Measure. As I said earlier, I was potentially among its number. I now have no hesitation in fully commending the Measure to the House. I hope that the House will have concluded that the arguments for and against it are finely balanced, especially where an absolute bar would involve sheer legalism. That is reflected in the Ecclesiastical Committee's close vote. At a deeper constitutional level, I suggest that the House has no proper or justifiable grounds whatever for preventing the Measure from going forward for Royal Assent. The concordat between Church and State, which governs our proceedings and which is based on the Church of England Assembly Powers Act 1919, fully delegates responsibility for deciding domestic Church issues, such as the basis for ordaining its clergy, to the Church of England and its domestic machinery.
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. John Gummer) : When Parliament so delegated its powers to the Church--I take my right hon. Friend's view strongly on this issue--did it not provide that, on matters as delicate and important as those that come before us, a two-thirds majority was necessary? Is it not true that in this instance the Church did not give an opportunity for a two-thirds majority? Indeed, there was not a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity, which this place should be concerned about. Is it not true that the very people who decided whether there should be a two-thirds majority were those who were proposing this measure in the first place? Could it not be argued that this House has an important role in insisting that the protection of the minority, which it put upon the Church, should be followed and cared for on a matter so serious and important?
Mr. Alison : My right hon. Friend makes an important point. In the interests of brevity, perhaps all I should say is that the General Synod considered thoroughly and in great detail whether the Measure qualified for the two-thirds majority provision that applies to matters of
Column 178fundamental doctrine and concluded, through its proper machinery, that it was not called for. The chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, Lord Bridge--a distinguished Law Lord--on reading the constitution of the General Synod, concluded that it had properly decided that an absolute majority, not a two-thirds majority, was right.
Mr. Alison : I very much wish that the mere audio experience of words were sufficient to make a deep impression upon the conscious mind. If that were so, dulcet tones would always win arguments. However, that is not always the reality in debate. Lord Denning's speech was not of exemplary clarity and conviction.
The concordat between Church and state fully delegates responsibility for deciding these matters to the General Synod. As the Ecclesiastical Committee makes plain in paragraph 6 of its report, no wider implications arise which bear upon
"the constitutional rights of all Her Majesty's subjects." My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), in his speech in the Ecclesiastical Committee, summed up the position succinctly. He said :
"There are many Measures where it is absolutely right and in accordance with the constitutional rights of all Her Majesty's subjects (as section 3(3) says) that we should seek to have changed or sent back. Stipends of clergymen, rights of dismissal, pensions : all those are basic secular questions where our duty is clear, if the Church oversteps the reasonable grounds of equity. But this Measure is concerned solely with a matter of theology and I do not think it is my job to decide it is inexpedient to proceed."
Mr. Conal Gregory (York) : My right hon. Friend has referred several times to the Ecclesiastical Committee of which I believe he was a member during the examination of this Measure. The voting was extremely close--10 : 9. Will he advise the House on why he did not participate in that final decision, which would then have balanced the voting?
Mr. Alison : If my hon. Friend had followed the earlier part of my speech, he would have heard me say that, had I been a member of the General Synod in 1987 when it voted definitively on this matter, I would have voted against it. I also hold the view that the argument is very finely balanced and that the Church of England, in a matter of theology and doctrine, has an absolute right, through the powers that we have deliberately delegated to it, to reach through its proper procedures a conclusion by a majority. Provided that the interests of none of Her Majesty's subjects is in any way threatened, it is reasonable for the Church of England to expect that Royal Assent will follow.
Column 179My own position was fully expressed in the words uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton in the Ecclesiastical Committee. After literally years of deliberation, the Church of England has passed the Measure--which received a substantial majority in all its houses--to us, and it is our duty to pass it, without impediment, to Her Majesty for Royal Assent.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : It was worth waiting until 10 minutes past 2 o'clock this morning to hear the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) introduce the motion, because he showed a depth of humour that I did not think he possessed. If the right hon. Gentleman commended the Measure without any hesitation on his part, I only hope that I would be defended by him, if he thought that I was guilty. When the right hon. Gentleman said that we are in a way debating our beliefs about marriage, a number of Conservative Members gave a very loud "Hear, hear!" Before we all become too self-righteous, I remind the House of one of its recent decisions. It reformed the divorce laws to make divorce possible after a period of marriage shorter than the term of the average hire purchase agreement. Before we ask the Church of England to set standards, we should consider our own conduct.
The most powerful argument to be made in this debate was forcefully put in an intervention in the Ecclesiastical Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). Is it not unfair that priests who enjoy a freehold tenure can be divorced and remarry without losing their posts, whereas lay people who divorce and remarry are barred from ordination? If the argument were just about fairness, that imbalance should weigh heavily with the House. I am reminded of a comment by Aneurin Bevan--if he did not make it, he would have done so had he thought of it--after Neville Chamberlain had introduced one of his many measures. Aneurin Bevan commented that listening to the Prime Minister was like a trip round
Woolworth's--everything was in its place, and nothing was priced over sixpence. If one takes the view that in life everything has its place and nothing costs more than sixpence, my hon. Friend's intervention will carry weight. If one accepts that sometimes life is messy, and that in this instance, the freehold system should be defended because it is in itself important even though it is sometimes abused, one will not adopt the Woolworth view of life.
I hope that we shall not hear the argument this evening that the House has no right to intervene. My right hon. Friend--I call him that because in these matters, he is--almost made that point in his concluding remarks. He explained the balance of the arguments, commended the measure to the House, and said that it has no right to interfere. The House has every right to interfere until such time as it decides that certain matters need not come here from the General Synod for approval.
I hope that we shall not hear the disestablishment argument tonight. I voted against all the privatisation legislation that has come before the House and I shall continue to do so. I am against national institutions such
Column 180as the Church of England being handed over to the sect. We have a right to intervene, to judge and to weigh up--hence our debate tonight.
Let me underline a point made earlier in an intervention. On all major matters involving policy in the Church a two-thirds majority is required, but those gaining a ruling for such a majority must make an appeal to the people promoting the Measure : those who wish it to go through will decide whether a two-thirds majority is necessary. If we were debating not the Church but a building society, would we be happy for those who were changing--or rigging--the rules to decide that a simple majority was all that was required, rather than a two-thirds majority? I think not. Had there been a two-thirds majority in every House of Synod, we would hear much of that point in tonight's debate.
Let me take the argument a step further, and ask how the measure will work in practice. We have duties in respect of our constituents. We should consider how Church authorities have already behaved to the House, through its Ecclesiastical Committee, before the Measure had gone through. The voting was fine : the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) reminded us that it went through on a majority of one, the Second Church Estates Commissioner not having voted on that occasion.
Whether or not we agreed with that decision, we in Committee wanted to know what were the rules governing who should be given such exemption. Then, too, we were given a taste of the humour that was dominant throughout the right hon. Gentleman's introductory remarks tonight : he compared the position with that of someone allowed not to be hanged. We suggested that there should not merely be an agreement between the archbishops, because archbishops change--and they could change the rules after they had come into force. We wished to see the rules in the form of regulation when the Measure was introduced, but we have not seen them in that form tonight. The archbishops issued a note full of high-sounding phrases, but offering little guidance on who would get through and who would not. How will the rules work? When the Measure first came before the Ecclesiastical Committee, we were told that probably a couple of people would come forward for ordination. Then we started to get the letters--and then the archbishop told us that there were already nearly 200 on the stocks who might come forward. At least one bishop was so confident that we would rubber-stamp the measure that he sent someone through for ordination who could not possibly be ordained under the current law.
Let us make a comparison with the way in which the deserted wives of clergymen have been treated, and the assurances that they and their parishes have been given when acts of adultery have occurred. I am currently in correspondence with a clergy wife who was assured--as were the parish and the parochial church council--that the man would never again be given a living in the Church of England because of the way in which he had deserted his wife and four children and broken up another marriage. In one sense the bishops and archbishops have kept their word. He has not been offered another living ; he has already had two. I suggest that once the move gets under way flexibility will be introduced. I see some of my hon. Friends here tonight. I have received many letters about the Measure, but not one from a deserted divorced clergy wife recommending the measure. I have had many from wives who have married divorced clergy.