Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs Written Evidence

Evidence submitted by the Department for Constitutional Affairs in response to questions from the Committee



  1.  Historically, the ecclesiastical patronage of the Lord Chancellor is part of the patronage of the Crown. The poorest livings were passed to the Lord Chancellor in the 14th Century (those worth less than 20 marks) and in the 1530's (those less than £20). The Crown retained those livings that were worth more than the amount mentioned above.

  2.  The consultation paper, "Constitutional Reform: reforming the office of Lord Chancellor" (CP 13/03) was published in September 2003. The paper described the Lord Chancellor's patronage (paragraphs 34-41) and suggested three possible options for the transfer of the Lord Chancellor's power. These were for it to:

    —  transfer to another Minister of the Crown, such as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs;

    —  revert to the Crown, with the Prime Minister advising the Queen or;

    —  transfer to the Church, whether to the relevant Bishop, Archbishop or board of patronage.

How important is the future of the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage function to the existing, varied system of patronage?

  3.  The two major ways that ecclesiastical patronage is exercised across nearly 8,000 livings in England are by the Archbishops and Bishops and by private patronage. It is difficult to give an accurate breakdown of figures. The sharp increase in the last 20 years or so of parish reorganisation means that many more benefices (approximately two-thirds) now share patronage between two or more parties.

  4.  We know that the Bishops and Archbishops exercise patronage for around 49% of the total. But we do not know precisely how many of these are sole patronage and how many are shared. We also know that private patrons, including colleges and universities, patronage trusts and private individuals, are involved in over a third of all patronage but again cannot confirm the proportion of these that are sole or shared. The Lord Chancellor either exercises patronage solely or shares ecclesiastical patronage for approximately 442 parish livings and 12 cathedral canonries in England.

  5.  Although the benefices where the Lord Chancellor appoints only make up 5.5% of English livings, it is part of a system of varied patronage which helps maintain a variety of Church traditions. It also serves a practical purpose in that it helps to ensure that clergy who may not suit their own Bishop's churchmanship have an alternative route to help them find a new post.

How does the exercise of ecclesiastical patronage by the Lord Chancellor work in practice, and how does it differ from the way other patrons exercise their powers?

  6.  Since 1964, the patronage rights of both the Lord Chancellor and Her Majesty The Queen have been dealt with through officials based in Number 10.

  7.  Essentially all patrons perform the same tasks under the Pastoral Measure 1983 and the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986.

  8.  The method of appointment is set out in the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986. The benefices where patronage (or any share in the patronage) is vested in the Crown, the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall or the Lord Chancellor are exempt from the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986. However, despite not being bound by it, the Appointments Office works collaboratively within the spirit of the Measure with the respective parishes (and for cathedral canonries, the cathedrals). The Assistant Ecclesiastical Secretary (AES) advises the Lord Chancellor on all his ecclesiastical appointments after due consultation with the Bishops, parishes and dioceses concerned.

  9.  Where the Crown or the Lord Chancellor is patron, the Appointments Office is notified either by the outgoing incumbent, the Bishop or the Diocesan Registrar that a vacancy has arisen or will soon arise.

  10.  If it is a straightforward appointment without any reorganisation, the AES then writes to the outgoing incumbent and the secretary of the Parochial Church Council (PCC) about the procedures for dealing with the appointment. The PCC prepares a statement describing the needs, conditions and traditions of that parish. The parish or Bishop may request a meeting to exchange views on this statement.

  11.  The AES routinely interviews clergy looking for new positions and holds a database of clergy who are actively seeking a move of around 200-250 at any one time, although the names held on the AES files are more numerous. These names come from a wide variety of sources, including the Clergy Appointments Adviser to the Archbishops; Bishops, deans and other senior clergy; institutions such as theological colleges and universities and other knowledgeable sources. The AES uses the database to identify suitable candidates for vacancies as they arise. The Bishop and others may also volunteer the names of potential candidates. The AES and the Bishop correspond about the candidates identified and between them decide on their suitability.

  12.  The AES will then approach the preferred candidate to gauge his or her interest. If the response is positive the AES then writes to the candidate, the parish representatives and the Bishop informing them that the person is under consideration. The onus is then on the candidate to contact the parish representatives to arrange a parish visit. The candidate also contacts the Bishop to arrange a meeting with him.

  13.  Once these visits have taken place, the respective parties decide whether or not they would welcome the appointment. Where there is a positive and unanimous agreement from all concerned, a recommendation is submitted to the Lord Chancellor together with a Fiat that the Lord Chancellor offers the appointment to the successful candidate if he is content.

  14.  Where there is not a positive and unanimous response, that candidacy does not proceed any further. The AES informs the various parties and the next candidate is approached. This process continues until the appointment is made. While neither the Bishop nor the parish has a formal veto on an appointment, appointments are not made unless all parties give a positive response.

  15.  In the case of Crown benefices, the process is the same as for Lord Chancellor except that the AES recommends to the Prime Minister who in turn recommends to The Queen. As a matter of course Crown and Lord Chancellor benefice vacancies are not usually advertised, though is has been tried with a mixed response.

  16.  In the case of other patrons, when a post becomes available the patron will have nine months to fill it otherwise it lapses to the Archbishop of that Province. The Diocesan Bishop formally notifies the designated officer and Registrar of the Diocese, who in turn notifies the patron. The patron must make a written declaration that he or she is a communicant of the Anglican Church or appoint an alternative who is willing to make that declaration.

  17.  Within four weeks of receiving notice, the PCC is required to prepare a statement describing the needs, conditions, and traditions of that parish. The parish, Bishop, and patron, or their representatives, then meet to exchange views on this statement. This meeting also elects two PCC members to co-ordinate the selection of a new incumbent. In a multi-living parish, each PCC can elect two members unless there are more than four parishes, and then a compromise has to be reached between agreed representatives of each parish. In addition, the parish or patron can request a written statement from the Bishop on the wider needs of the Church and Diocese. The patron may decide to advertise the vacancy in the Church Times or The Church of England Newspaper, or to circulate it through the Clergy Appointments Office. In many cases a wide spectrum of knowledgeable clergy and societies are consulted on suitable people who might be considered. Potential candidates are interviewed and meetings held with all interested parties until the patron is satisfied that a clear candidate has presented himself or herself.

  18.  The patron cannot offer the benefice without the approval of the Bishop and the PCC. On receiving acceptance of an offer from a priest, the patron sends notice to the Bishop presenting the priest to him for admission to the benefice. The Bishop in turn consults the PCC and if all are agreed the Bishop institutes the new incumbent of the benefice. In all of the above, where the Bishop is patron, these processes follow the same rules but tend to take less time.

  19.  In addition to the appointments work, the (AES) advises the Lord Chancellor on issues associated with matters relating to major changes of pastoral reorganisation, and to the parsonage houses in the livings in his patronage.

Which of the three Government options for the future of the Lord Chancellor's Ecclesiastical Patronage function is preferable? Are there other options that the Government has not considered?

  20.  The Government plans to announce proposals for the reform of the office of Lord Chancellor next month. This will include its decisions on the future of the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage.

  21.  The summaries of responses to the Consultation Document will be published later this month. Responses were mixed. The majority of benefices chose not to respond (more than two thirds). Of the responses received 44% wanted the patronage to revert to the Crown, 7% to another Minister and 43% opted for the Church. Other respondents proposed alternatives to whom the right of patronage could be passed; these included the Provincial Episcopal Visitors or the Dean and Chapter.

  22.  The Lord Chancellor exercises his patronage on behalf of the Crown. The Government's view is that once the office of Lord Chancellor is ended, this patronage should only be exercised through or on the advice of a Minister, or it should transfer to the Established Church. It did not therefore propose transferring this patronage to any other office, or to other current or potential patrons. The decision on who in the future should exercise the Lord Chancellor's patronage is an important one which should lie with Ministers and not one to be made on a parish-by-parish basis.

If the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage responsibilities were transferred to the Church, who should assume them? Would such a change be seen as a step towards disestablishment of the Church?

  23.  If the decision were to transfer the patronage of the Lord Chancellor's benefices to the Church, the clear preference from respondents to the consultation paper preferring the Church option is for it to pass to the Bishops.

  24.  The established nature of the Church of England is not based solely on the patronage exercised by the Lord Chancellor. The Government has not yet decided its preferred course in relation to the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage. However, the options described in the Consultation Document are not intended to affect the fundamental status of the Church of England. In making this decision, ministers will have in mind its possible impact on that status.

Department for Constitutional Affairs

January 2004

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