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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates
Compensation Bill [Lords]

Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Greg Pope
Bell, Sir Stuart (Second Church Estates Commissioner)
Blackman, Liz (Erewash) (Lab)
Boswell, Mr. Tim (Daventry) (Con)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral, South) (Lab)
Cormack, Sir Patrick (South Staffordshire) (Con)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Duddridge, James (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Hughes, Simon (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD)
Mountford, Kali (Colne Valley) (Lab)
Mudie, Mr. George (Leeds, East) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Andy (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op)
Selous, Andrew (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)
Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
Webb, Steve (Northavon) (LD)
Dr. Griffiths, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 27 June 2006

[Mr. Greg Pope in the Chair]

Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2006

4.30 pm
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure.
Sir Stuart Bell: Although the miscellaneous provisions Measure is the more technical of the two Measures before the Committee today, I hope I need not detain hon. Members long in considering it. Its purpose is the worthy one of making modest and uncontentious changes to various aspects of ecclesiastical law.
The substantial—some would say excessive—body of law that regulates the Church of England is complex and, like secular law, from time to time needs to be corrected or brought up to date. As part of that process the General Synod employs miscellaneous provisions Measures to make amendments to Church legislation that do not merit free-standing legislation. This Measure is the latest in the series.
Given their nature, miscellaneous provisions Measures generally represent a somewhat amorphous mixture of technical material, united essentially only by the common characteristic of being uncontroversial. This Measure is no exception, but as with most such Measures, there are some common themes in its contents, in terms of improving processes, giving greater flexibility and clarifying or harmonising problematic provisions. A number of the changes inthe Measure are designed to improve the procedures of the Church's national institutions. Thus, for example, the Measure will amend the General Synod's constitution so as to allow the introduction of electronic voting in its debates and remove restrictions on the number of persons the Archbishops, as its presidents, can appoint as chairmen of debates.
The Measure will also streamline aspects of the Church Commissioners' procedures. For example, it will simplify the requirements for the application of the proceeds of sale of parsonages, so as to remove the unnecessary circulation of funds. It will also alter aspects of the commissioners' functions relating to pastoral reorganisation under the Pastoral Measure 1983, without detracting from the rights of interested parties, in various ways which will produce cost savings.
Further cost savings will flow for parishes from a new provision under which land appropriated by a scheme for ecclesiastical purposes of a parish will vest automatically in the diocesan board of finance on trust for the parochial church council.
Those are all examples of provisions in the Measure streamlining procedures. Other provisions are intended to confer greater flexibility. Thus, for example, the Church Commissioners cannot at the moment take advantage of legislative provisions under which companies and charitable corporations can execute documents under the signatures of two directors or trustees. Changes made to the Church Commissioners Measure 1947 will, among other things, allow them to do so.
The Measure will also widen the powers of the commissioners with regard to Farnham Castle—a former see house of the diocese of Guildford, which is now the only property in the commissioners' ownership subject to a statutory prohibition against disposal. The Measure will bring the commissioners' powers in relation to Farnham broadly into line with their powers in relation to other former see houses, by allowing them to sell or otherwise dispose of it, subject to safeguards to protect the historical and architectural significance of the property in perpetuity.
Finally, the Measure will make amendments to a large number of Acts of Parliament—my own favourite is the Weeds Act 1959, about which we shall no doubt hear a lot in our proceedings—in each case with the agreement of the Government Department in question. The statutory provisions concerned principally relate to requirements that notices be served on the commissioners in relation to proposals to deal with benefice property or glebe land. The changes are designed to ensure that property issues are dealt with at the appropriate level, which does not need to be nationally. They will therefore again produce administrative savings at the centre as well as in the dioceses, which will no longer need to correspond with the commissioners about such matters.
I hope these necessarily brief examples of some of the Measure's provisions will show that beneath its dry and technical complexity lies the laudable aim of making the Church's legal processes as effective as possible, at national, diocesan and parish levels. The Measure has of course been found expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee, some of whose members I am pleased to see are with us today, and has been approved in another place. I have no difficulty in commending the Measure to the Committee.
Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The hon. Gentleman rightly says that a number of members of this Committee are also members of the Ecclesiastical Committee, so we have already examined the Measures and deemed them expedient. The hon. Gentleman will forgive my ignorance, but can he clarify for my benefit why we are going through them again, given that Members of both Houses have unanimously deemed them expedient? I hesitate to use the word “modernisation” in present company, but is there any scope for the Modernisation Committee to consider whether the process can be streamlined so that we do not have to consider such Measures twice?
Sir Stuart Bell: I can reveal some secrets to the hon. Gentleman. Last week I was at No.10 Downing Street with proposals to modify the Church of England (Assembly) Powers Act 1919. I left the same document at Lambeth palace. We are looking to see whether—under a possible new Prime Minister and a new Administration—we can introduce proposals that will streamline the Church’s legislative process without removing powers from Parliament. It is vital that Parliament should have the last say in such matters. I can tell the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) that if we reach the stage of having to vote on women bishops, that matter will certainly be taken on the Floor of the House.
4.37 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), who speaks eloquently on behalf of the Church Commissioners. I do not think that he or anyone else realises that this is a most historic day for the Church of England because we are being presided over by a Pope. I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Pope.
I will not attempt to repeat what the hon. Gentleman—in this context an hon. Friend—said, because he has already outlined some of the major features of the Measure, but I would like to say something in response to the intervention of the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb). We in this country have an established Church. I happen to believe that that is a very good thing. The fact that every man, woman and child, whatever his or her faith or belief, lives within a parish of the Church of England and is entitled to the services of the Church of England is something rather special. The Church brings a real and important dimension to our great national occasions. Therefore, if we ever came to debate the disestablishment of the Church of England, whether on the side of the angels or not, I would always be on the side of establishment rather than disestablishment. There is of course a perfectly reasonable and responsible case for that course even though I personally reject it. But so long as we have an established Church, it is important that Parliament should have the last say.
I do not, however, believe that Parliament should have the first say. As somebody who served through 10 rather long and somewhat tedious years on the General Synod, and who last year decided without any great reluctance not to seek re-election, I nevertheless believe that it is right that the synod should have the first say. The synod should decide what Measures it wishes to introduce without any shackles or interference. Once those Measures have been introduced, they come to the Ecclesiastical Committee, which is one of the very few Committees consisting of Members of both Houses, and it is the duty of that Committee to look carefully at the Measures the synod sends it, as it has looked carefully at both the Measures before us today.
The Ecclesiastical Committee has no power to reject or amend. It can only deem whether a Measure is expedient. If the Committee deems it expedient, the Measure comes before both Houses of Parliament. If it does not, the Measure goes back to the synod, which can then decide whether to re-present it or to redraft it, or whatever it wishes.
During my 36 years in this place—for 35 of which I have served on the Ecclesiastical Committee—Measures introduced by the Church of England have on occasion been contentious. One thinks of the Churchwardens Measure 2001, in respect of which the House played an important and constructive part, and of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, where, as a result of what the Ecclesiastical Committee said, safeguards were built into the Church of England’s legislation to protect traditionalists: the Act of Synod. So there is a very real role for the Ecclesiastical Committee and for this House.
Having received the Ecclesiastical Committee’s report and having seen that synod passed the Measures with, I think, one dissentient in the House of Laity, and that the Ecclesiastical Committee deemed them expedient after briefly examining witnesses, we are now asked to allow them to pass into law. On this occasion, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that I hope that the Measures will get a fair wind. I hope there will be no need to divide. I hope that the Measures will go forward to join that already considerable body of Church law which they will have the advantage of tidying up somewhat. That is good.
I was a little concerned when the hon. Member for Middlesbrough used the words “modernisation” and “streamlining”, particularly following a conversation in Downing street, but we will let that pass for the moment.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): As members of the Committee know, the hon. Gentleman and I have a difference of opinion over the subject of women bishops, but I respect him and all his work on the Ecclesiastical Committee and we have shared many a time together in the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship. I, too, welcome the Measures, but there is something that I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman. Clause 8 allows for article 5(4) of the Standing Orders to be amended to introduce electronic voting into the synod. The hon. Gentleman says that he wholeheartedly supports the Measure. Is he keen to see that happening in the synod, and would he like in due course to see it to happening here?
Sir Patrick Cormack: I would most certainly not like to see electronic voting happening here. I would resist any such move. But we are dealing with the synod. I have already said that it is for the synod to regulate its own affairs, and I do not believe that because it has electronic voting, we should have to have it—any more than I believe that because it has a weird system of proportional election, we should have that.
I hope you will allow me to digress briefly, Mr. Pope. I believe that, just as every person on the lay electoral roll is entitled to vote for us, every person on a Church electoral roll should be allowed to vote for those who put their names forward for the synod. I also believe that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) and I are at one on that. I must not digress further, Mr. Pope. Thank you for your indulgence.
I hope that the Measures will proceed smoothly following our deliberations today.
4.43 pm
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