Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does not the Measure go beyond the recommendations of the Select Committee?

Mr. Bell: The Measure incorporates the Select Committee's proposals, but it derives from the report of the Bishop of Durham.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead for his work as Chairman of the Select Committee. His consistency and firmness of purpose, and the clarity with which his Committee framed its recommendations, have been a source of enlightenment and encouragement to the Church and to me. My right hon. Friend is not with us tonight, because he has an engagement in Leeds as Minister for Welfare Reform.

The Measure provides that the Archbishops Council shall determine the application of sums made over by the Church Commissioners in accordance with mutually

18 Jun 1998 : Column 588

agreed plans should the council or the commissioners so request. That means that the council and the Church Commissioners will be able to assure themselves that expenditure is compatible with the purposes of the commissioners' trust, in particular for the making of additional provision for the cure of souls in poor parishes. That is in clause 8.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Will the hon. Gentleman's and his successors' answerability to the House on such matters be affected by the transfer of responsibility?

Mr. Bell: The right hon. Gentleman has anticipated my remarks. I shall deal with that point shortly.

Clause 8 meets one of the main parliamentary concerns on the Turnbull report by ensuring that the commissioners retain ultimate control over how their income is spent. The other concerns of parliamentarians were that the balance of Church and state in the composition of the commissioners should be maintained, and that the accountability to Parliament for functions bestowed by Parliament should be protected.

The balance of Church and state in the composition of the commissioners has been maintained. The Measure provides for six state commissioners and 27 other commissioners. The accountability to Parliament has also been maintained. Indeed, that accountability has been strengthened by the appointment of a statutory audit committee with a duty to report to the state commissioners on any matter relating to the functions and business of the commissioners which causes the audit committee grave concern. That may be found in schedule 4(4)(c)(e).

The Measure provides that the commissioners are to retain their functions in respect of asset management and support for bishops and cathedrals, although any proposal to transfer any of their other functions to the council--including, most importantly, their quasi-judicial functions under the Pastoral Measure 1983--may be effected only after consultation with the Prime Minister and the commissioners, and with the agreement of the General Synod.

Any such proposal must then be laid before Parliament, and, if relating to the Pastoral Measure or allied functions under the Dioceses Measure 1978, will be subject to debate and the approval of both Houses. Any other proposal is subject to the negative procedure. That provision may be found in clause 5. There has been much concern in the Church about accountability, both to the new Archbishops Council and of the Church Commissioners. I hope that what I have already said about the commissioners will reassure right hon. and hon. Members that there will be sufficient accountability.

The Archbishops Council will have a majority of elected members. That provision is to be found in schedule 1. The archbishops will be able to appoint up to six people to the council, but the General Synod will have to approve such appointments. The Archbishops Council will require the approval of the General Synod and of the diocese in order to achieve anything at all. The autonomy of the dioceses is unaffected by the reforms.

On the council, there is a careful balance among bishops, clergy and laity. One of the benefits of the provision for appointed members is the opportunity to ensure that the necessary expertise, skills, and interests

18 Jun 1998 : Column 589

are properly represented. There must also be regular reporting to the Synod on the work and proceedings of the council. That provision is to be found in clause 4(1).

I hope that what I have said shows the carefully balanced nature of the package before the House. The package offers many benefits to the Church. Those include the creation of the Archbishops Council, which will provide a focal point for policy and strategic thinking among the Church's national organisations. In particular, it will bring together financial and policy responsibility, which are currently separate. It will create a stronger partnership, which will evolve, between bodies that work nationally on the Church's behalf. There will be greater clarity and transparency over the apportionment of central costs and the allocation of central support. Dioceses, and through them deaneries and parishes, will be brought more effectively into decision making at the national level. The Church will thereby be helped better to respond to the challenges of mission.

When the Measure was considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee, a major concern that was evident in the questions of witnesses from the Synod was the relationship between the Archbishops Council and the Church Commissioners, and, in particular, the desire to maintain through the commissioners an independent element in decision making at the central level, subject, of course, to parliamentary accountability--the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). It will be seen from the committee's report that it believes that the Measure secures that objective. Members of the committee were satisfied that the Measure provides appropriate mechanisms for the various issues to be satisfactorily resolved.

The General Synod gave final approval to the Measure, with large majorities in all three houses. They may not read like football scores from the World cup, but they are significant none the less: bishops, ayes 36, noes 0; clergy, ayes 181, noes 11; laity, ayes, 175, noes 27. The Ecclesiastical Committee has also resolved that the Measure is expedient. I hope that the House will approve it.

The work and witness of the Church throughout this land should be supported by effective and accountable national institutions. This Measure should help deliver them.

8.55 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): It was very good to see the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) moving the motion--and from the Front Bench. That underlines the fact that he is a member of Her Majesty's Government. His sitting on the Front Bench exemplifies the very proper link between Church and state.

I should begin by declaring two interests, and by stating my position in this debate. My interests are that, since 1995, I have been an elected member of the General Synod, of which the hon. Member for Middlesbrough is an ex-officio member. Since 1971, I have been a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee, to which I was appointed very shortly after being elected to the House 28 years ago today. So, I have reasonably long experience of Church legislation.

My position--I must be honest with all Members--is that I was not wildly enthusiastic when the Turnbull report was first unveiled. As the hon. Member for

18 Jun 1998 : Column 590

Middlesbrough said, the Turnbull commission was established in the wake of what one might almost call a crisis of management in the Church of England. There was great disquiet over the management of assets, and it was felt necessary to appoint a commission to look into the form and structure of the Church of England.

The commission came up with proposals which went far beyond the initial cause for concern. My initial reaction was that there was a danger that the Church was becoming too involved in introspection. I was not persuaded that all the far-reaching changes were necessary, or that they would improve the standing or enhance the mission of the established Church.

I stress that I speak as a very strong believer in the virtues of establishment. I know that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough is entirely in accord with me on that. It is important that we maintain our national established Church. I think that it is of inestimable value that every man, woman and child in England lives in a parish of the Church of England and is entitled to the ministrations of the incumbent and to the services of the Church. I should hate to see that change.

Arch-romantic that I tend to be, I am strongly wedded to the idea of a national Church. I am an unrepentant traditional Anglican, and I have been greatly concerned for a long time by the diminished influence of the Church in many areas and in many aspects of our national life.

It seems to me that that diminution in influence has coincided with the advent of synodical government and the abandoning of our traditional liturgy, which themselves coincided with a seeming reluctance on the part of Church leaders at all levels to enunciate as unequivocally and clearly as I would like some of the unchanging verities of the Church. I happen to think that the average man and woman expects those in positions of moral authority to give clear and unambiguous guidance on the great issues of one's personal life, and to comment--perfectly legitimately--on great issues of state. I have never criticised bishops for talking about political issues, although I have sometimes hoped that they would stick more closely to religious issues.

Tonight, I want to put aside and not emphasise my initial fears and prejudices--we all have prejudices--because I willingly acknowledge that the Measure before us is in many ways different from, and better than, the original proposals of Turnbull. In that spirit, I welcome it, and I am glad to add my voice to that of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough in commending it to the House. However, my endorsement is based on the hope that our two archbishops will be able, through their new council, to renew their authority and to give that clearer guidance about which I spoke, because it is renewal that the Church of England needs as we approach a series of significant Christian anniversaries.

We all have the millennium very much in mind, and it is important to take every opportunity to stress exactly what the millennium is about and what is at its heart--the commemoration of 2,000 years of Christianity. However, there are other anniversaries: 2008 is the 450th anniversary of the Elizabethan settlement; and 2012 is the 300th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which gave us a liturgy the like of which no other Church in the world is privileged to enjoy. With the new institutions that we are being asked to approve this evening, the aim must be to reach out, to touch and

18 Jun 1998 : Column 591

to influence the lives and the conduct of those who are growing up in as great an ignorance of the Christian message as those to whom Wesley and Wilberforce reached out more than 200 years ago.

That is a great and a daunting task, so I trust that the Archbishops Council will not spend too much time on further restructuring and reorganisation. However, I hope that it will give careful consideration to making Synod more what it ought to be--the true representative voice of the Anglican in the pew.

The reason for my saying that, and for my slightly critical earlier comments about Synod, is a simple one: I do not believe that General Synod is really representative of the ordinary Anglican in the pew. I believe that for one reason above all others: there is a very small electorate. I should like everyone who is on the electoral roll of any church in the Church of England to be eligible to vote for his or her synodical representative. That would bring a new interest and a new legitimacy to General Synod, and it is a matter which I hope the Archbishops Council will consider.

I trust that the hon. Gentleman, whom I am pleased to call a friend in every circumstance other than the parliamentary, will use his influence to persuade the council to look into that issue. It is important and it needs to be addressed early. I hope too that he will forgive me for making those comments rather than merely following him. He gave us a lucid and admirable exposition of the Measure and outlined its provisions, so I am merely highlighting a few points.

Next Section

IndexHome Page