House of Commons
|Session 2006 - 07|
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Public Bill Committee Debates
Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chris Shaw, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 23 October 2007
[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]
Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure
That the Committee has considered the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure (HC 998).
This is the first time that I have had the opportunity to address you in the Chair, Miss Begg. It is a great pleasure to do so. You may be happy to know that we do not have a great deal of Church legislation and it may be some time before we have such an occasion again.
As Members will see from the length of this Measure and the contents pages, it is a substantial piece of legislation covering many aspects of the life of the Church of England. In fact, we believe that this is the longest piece of Church legislation to come to Parliament since the 1980s. However, the common thread, whichif I may mix my metaphorsruns as a river through the whole of it, covering the eight parts and seven schedules, is that it will help the Church of England to carry out its mission effectively in the 21st century.
The Measure has received overwhelming support from the General Synoda majority of 250 was in favour, with one againstand, if we may continue with the metaphors, it had a thoroughly good canter through the Ecclesiastical Committee. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Salisbury leading for the Opposition, because he played a part in that Committees meeting. I hope that this Committee will also feel able to give the Measure its support this morning.
The Measure originated in a review set up in 2000 into the working of two major pieces of existing Church legislation: the Dioceses Measure 1978, the contents of which are very much as its name suggestsit deals with various aspects of dioceses and diocesan reorganisationand the Pastoral Measure 1983, which includes the processes for making changes to parishes and parish structures and closing churches that are no longer needed for public worship.
The object of the review was
to ensure flexible and cost effective procedures which fully meet changing pastoral and mission needs.
The Church, like any other major organisation, cannot be immune from change around it and within it; it needs to be in a position to respond to that change. In the words of our former Prime Minister, there is always a time to move on. [Interruption.] I thought that that might raise a cheer. However, the review carried out all its work on the basis that, if the Church is to fulfil its task effectively, its legislation must safeguard and support the core institutions that it has inherited. Here, I have very much in mind the parish, the parish priest, the diocese and the bishop, which are all cornerstones
The Synod fully supported the underlying principles that I outlined a moment ago, even though the detail of the legislation received a great deal more in the way of careful scrutiny, accompanied by further consultation, before it reached the form in which it arrived at the Ecclesiastical Committee for onward approval by this Committee.
I mentioned the word form. The Ecclesiastical Committee noted that a consolidated Measure might have been the more appropriate way of incorporating the reviews recommendations into existing Measures, and the Church concurs. The Synod recognises that the Measure before us leaves some existing legislation in a heavily amended form. Following the passage of this Measure before the Committee, it is the intention of the Church to create a consolidated Measure. I am grateful to the Church house legal staff who, in the meantime, for ease of reference, have produced a revised text of the Pastoral Measure 1983 showing all the amendments. They plan to make that widely available.
Turning to the provisions of the Measure, I am sure that the Committee would not thank me if I kept its members here for several hours with a detailed explanation of every part. It might be a tale for them to tell their grandchildren, and mightily bored they would be. Fortunately, the material accompanying the Ecclesiastical Committees report already provides a reasonably full account. Today I will simply outline some of the most important provisions.
Part I lays down the general principle that anyone who has functions under the Measure must have due regard to the furtherance of the Churchs mission. However, the Measure explicitly gives a wide meaning to the mission of the Church, to cover the totality of that missionpastoral, evangelistic, social and ecumenicalmirroring, by the way, the wording of earlier Measures, which is reflected in the present Measure.
Part II deals with the provincial and diocesan structure of the Church. One major feature of the new process is a new dioceses commission, which will have a proactive role, both in reviewing the current structure and in bringing forward changes for consideration. The commission will also receive any proposals for changes, if considered appropriate, from the bishops of individual dioceses.
Part III deals with the procedure for making pastoral schemes and orders and pastoral church building schemes. Linking Part IV with Part II, we can see a number of changes to the procedures under the 1983 Measure. Those changes do away with the rather discouraging expression redundant church. They are supported by a new and more flexible set of provisions for the relevant diocesan bodies. Currently, there are two diocesan bodies. The first is the Council for the Care of Churches, which deals primarily with the buildings that the Church uses for public worship, but also has a role in the church closure process. The second is the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, which has a role later in the closure process. The Measure replaces both with a new body, the church
Part V deals with mission initiatives. Many such initiatives are working to good effect all over the country, but some new forms of mission initiative are required to meet todays changing conditions. If such an initiative wishes to operate within the Church of England, it is essential that it accepts the bishops authority and also that it complements and co-operates with, rather than undermines, the parishes and their clergy. The Measure aims to ensure this by giving the bishop power to authorise an initiative by a bishops mission order, which would include a series of provisions dealing with the particular mission initiative. The Measure sets out a process of overseeing and reviewing the initiative and providing it with the necessary support and guidance.
The House of Bishops is also required to produce a code of practice on this part of the Measure. The hon. Member for Salisbury raised that matter on the Ecclesiastical Committee. A draft of that code has been produced and was made available to the Ecclesiastical Committee. The remaining parts of and schedules to the Measure are miscellaneous in character, and I need not detain the Committee in taking right hon. and hon. Members through them. You will be pleased to know, Miss Begg, that I have embarked on a lightning tour of a very significant piece of Church legislation, which will help the Church to carry out its work into the new century. As I said earlier, the Synod endorsed the Measure with but a single dissenting vote, the Ecclesiastical Committee was able to report that it was expedient, and it went through its stages in the other place yesterday. I invite this Committee to help it on its way to the statute book.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Miss Begg, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I declare my interest as a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Synod, the General Synod of the Church of England and the Ecclesiastical Committee. I can honestly say that this enormous piece of legislation has received careful scrutiny at every level, from parish through to Synod. It represents seven years work, and there has been a lot of painful decision making and controversy, which has all been fully debated, catalogued, recorded, and considered by the revision committee of the Synod. Questions have also been raised in the Ecclesiastical Committee, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough mentioned.
There is no doubt that the Measure is a huge piece of work. We should bear it in mind that, in the end, it
I would like to explore the process by which the Measure has come before the House. Does the hon. Gentleman know the last time a Measure was taken in a Standing Committee rather than on the Floor of the House? It is perfectly permissible to do this under Standing Order No. 118, but the Library assures me that the practice is rare. In Library fact sheet L10, Church of England Measures, states:
In the Commons, less important Measures have occasionally been referred to standing committee...This is permissible under SO No 118, although this practice is rare.
Here we have an enormous body of legislation, the result of seven years of work, which has been scrutinised thoroughly, and suddenly we find that instead of being taken on the Floor of the House, it is in a Delegated Legislation Committee. Could the hon. Gentleman explain why the decision was taken to follow this procedure, who took the decision and what criteria were applied? I expect that there are perfectly reasonable answers, but I think that it is important that we know.
In the Church of England at the moment, there is a great discussion about the nature of the established Church and of the scrutiny and approval of synodical measures. At a time when the Government themselves are, as a result of the Prime Ministers announcement in July, reconsidering how he exercises his patronage over the appointment of senior members of the Church of England, including archbishops and bishops, and at a time when the Government are also scrutinising their own patronagefor example, the Lord Chancellor has the gift of more than 800 livings in the Church of England, including nearly all those in the Channel Islands, for historical reasonsI contend that it is important to consider whether we have got it right. We need to ask ourselves whether we need the Ecclesiastical Committee at all in this day and age. It is archaic and anachronistic. I am proud to be a member of the Committee because it does a useful job, but do we really need it in the 21st century, given that it was cobbled together as a way through in the 19th century, when the first attempts were made to enfranchise the established Church of England?
I do not expect that the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer that significant question now, but I flag it up because it is important, particularly in light of the way in which this enormous piece of legislation has come to the Committee. Even though it is uncontroversial now that the decisions have been taken, we still have an opportunity to consider whether this is the right way forward. I am a strong supporter of the established Church and I think it important for both Church and state that the relationship continues more or less as it is, but I wonder whether both Houses of Parliament are handling such measures in the right way and whether
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Miss Begg. Like the others who have spoken, I am a first-timer under your chairmanship.
Unlike the hon. Member for Salisbury, I have always been a supporter of the disestablishment of the Church of England, and I am a member of the disestablished Church. I hope that before long we will make sure that disestablishment happens in England, as it wisely happened in Wales, under a great Liberal Administration, and, before that, in Ireland. Until then, we have to deal with the business. It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman suggests thatgiven that the Prime Minister has made the welcome announcement that he will renounce his right and that of his successors to nominate to the monarch, and make decisions about, the individuals who would be bishopswe should look at the wider ramifications. I welcome that initiative and look forward to its taking effectit was a nonsense for Prime Ministers who were not Anglicans or had no particular Christian faith to be able to nominate people to lead the Church. The Church itself will therefore soon be electing its own bishops in England as it has donesubject, I guess, to formal appointment by the monarchvery satisfactorily in Wales and other parts of the world for many years. That is a good thing.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the future of the Ecclesiastical Committeea Committee on which I also serve. That is at the moment the only sensible way to check that the work that the Church has to send to Parliament to be decided is in good order. I endorse the question whether the Committee is the right place to consider this Measure. It is here because it is not controversial, not because it is not important. Logically, if the test were importance, the Measure would have been considered on the Floor of the House, although not because it would have had the crowds flocking in. It is probably not surprising that there are not serried ranks of people in the Public Gallery who have come here especially for this event.
In the earlier procedures in the Synod, there was one person who voted against. They should be named. I do not know who they were, but they are a brave individual and it would be intriguing to know what their opposition wasperhaps they just wanted to make their mark.
Regarding the broad compass of the Measure, the second and third parts are the most important, although the first part is often where things get hung up because it is procedural. The Church is about care, pastoral work and mission. Those are its principal dutieslooking after people and preaching the gospel. Dioceses are simply an administrative mechanism, important though they are historically and in our communities. It is really the pastoral and mission issues, therefore, that should prevail in the consideration of the Measure.
I want to pay tribute to the fantastic pastoral work done by ministers in the Church in my constituency, just over the bridge in the Diocese of SouthwarkNorth Southwark and Bermondsey in the borough of Southwark. A huge amount of excellent work is done not just by the Anglican Church but by the other Churches. They really support and help the communitynot just their own members but far beyond thatin a way that cannot be quantified.
In my part of the world, the Church is growing, not shrinking; the numbers are increasing, not diminishing; and the Anglican Church, like all the other Churches, has seen significant growth in numbers of people attending in recent years. That is largely, though not entirely, due to two things. The first is immigration in the last quarter of a century, particularly from places such as west Africa, from where great numbers of people have come into the Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, as well as into the black-led Churches. The second is the fact that the Church has been more outward-looking and has realised that it will not get people in by having them sitting in pews, facing in the same direction in an unwelcoming, under-heated building at an inconvenient time of day, and that it has to reach out to people, as politicians know we have to do.
The Church of England has taken great initiatives such as the Alpha course. I commend a really positive attitude to pastoral work and to mission work in the Church. Graham Cray, who is one of the authors of this piece of work, knows about that, together with the other authors of the report, and does it well.
If we are really going to do mission work, the one thing missing hereit would have been controversial if it were included, but I hope that it will come soon whether it is controversial or notis the fact that the Church of England must finish the work of allowing women to occupy posts at all levels in the Church.
I was one of the supporters in this place of allowing women to become priests. My sister-in-law was one of the first women to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England. It is now time for there to be women bishops and, potentially, archbishops in the Church. Women have added fantastically, as we all knew they would, and have completely changed the nature of the resource available to lead the pastoral mission work of the Church.
The Measure is not only about ordained people; it is about lay people. Lay people have a hugely important role in every part of the Church and they should be commended. The Measure makes their role more important.
I want to comment on the organisation of dioceses. The Measure allows a more flexible approach to diocesan boundaries, appointments of suffragan bishops and areas for suffragan bishops. Although I understand that, I would like to issue a word of caution. Southwark diocese was created in 1905 out of the Winchester diocese. It was created because of the growth in the number of people in south London and it was an appropriate response. Its boundaries were later changed to include the Croydon area, which was then brought into the Southwark diocese. There is a need for that responsiveness to the changing population. If todays figures are right, and we have a population of 71 million in the next 25 or 50 years, the Church needs
In Scotland, as you will know, Miss Begg, and in England, local authority changes have often not been terribly well received by ordinary people. The politicians may think that the changes are great, but ordinary people do not like their county suddenly disappearing or being chopped in two or having edges cut off it. I give a warning that we should think of changing diocesan boundaries only if there is overwhelming logic and overwhelming support for doing so.
The same does not apply to areas for suffragan bishops below the diocesan bishop, where pragmatic changes might mean that the division of responsibility in a diocese has to be organised. We have in Southwark suffragan bishops of Woolwich, of Kingston and of CroydonI have probably forgotten one. They do a particularly good job and there is a logic about the boroughs that they represent. They could be more flexibly changed, but diocesan boundaries are pretty key building blocks that are not usually the barrier to, or a difficulty in, the ministry of the Church. They also contain the centrally important building of the Churchthe main mother church of the diocese.
I am privileged to be the MP for the Anglican cathedral of Southwark, as well as St. Georges Roman Catholic cathedral, serving the archdiocese of Southwark. I know how good a job they do as mother churches of the diocese. Creating new ones and getting rid of old ones is not something that should be done lightly.
Robert Key: I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about continuity. I represent a constituency thatunder the same namehas sent a Member of Parliament to Westminster ever since 1265, so you would expect me to endorse it, Miss Begg.
Of course, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, dioceses have to be flexible. For someone who is not a member of the Church of EnglandI mean this genuinelyto have such a deep grasp of these issues is very good. However, I am sure that he would also agree with me that, just as we need continuity and identity with a diocese and a cathedral, his argument is the best possible reason why we should continue to have a first-past-the-post electoral system for the House.
Simon Hughes: You will not allow me, Miss Begg, to go far down that road, however new you may be in chairing us. Just to correct the record, I am baptised and confirmed into the Church in Wales, which is why I am a disestablished Anglican. However, I am a member, on the electoral roll, of an Anglican church in London, so I use and worship in an established Church even though I am by nature a formally disestablished Anglican.
The point of continuity of parliamentarians and constituencies and people in their diocese has a logical parallel and the hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that outside this room I think there may be common ground between us. There could be a fair
Just as a postscript, Members of Parliament for Southwark have existed since the same time as those for Salisbury, and I believe that I am the 435th. That reminds us of the transitory nature of our job, although for many years there used to be two Members per constituency, so the numbers clock up quite quickly.
I realise that colleagues are not here because they have no better way of spending their morning, so I will move on to a couple of other points. I want to flag up a question. The Second Church Estates Commissioner may not know the answer, but I would be grateful if he provided it either now or as soon as possible. One of the issues about mission and pastoral work that comes up regularly is that, to save money, the Church of England has fairly significant interregnums when an incumbent or a priest who is in charge retires or moves to another post. I would be grateful to know what the shortest and longest period permitted is, and what the average is. I understand that one needs due time to make the right choice, but long periods without leadership are not healthy and I want the Church to understand that it must try hard to make the periods as short as is practically possible, compatible with all the moving around, proper consultation and so on.
It is a good idea that the Church is going down the road of having more people who are not the stipendiariesnot the freeholdersand are not being given the title, with more people being appointed priests in charge and so on, on a contractual basis. I believe that is a good thing, but I would like to know what the policy of the Church iswhether it is intended that more people will be given contractual periods of appointments with priests in charge and the like, rather than being rectors or vicars who are obviously locked into the parish for as long as they wish to stay.
I do not know at what rate churches are being made redundant, although the proposal provides for more flexibility. May I make another plea? On Sunday, I went to an impressive event at which St. Judes churchwhich is located on St. Georges road, on the right-hand side of the road between the Elephant and Castle and here, nearly opposite the Imperial War museumwas brought back into use. It was built in 1900, but stopped being an Anglican church and was made redundant in 1980. The church has had various intermittent uses, but it was re-opened this Sunday by a congregation from the New Testament Church of God, which is a black-led Church. A very impressive woman minister, whom I have known for many years, has led the work and it was hugely well supported.
I am not convinced that every time the Church of England thinks that it might have to make a church building redundant, particularly in urban Britain, it formally engages with all the other local Church communities to see whether they have a use for it. In London, there are many black-led Churches and other free Churchescharismatic Churches, Pentecostal Churches and so onthat have huge congregations but worship for many years in rather inappropriate surroundings on old industrial estates and so on. It would be better for many of them if they were in the church building that is redundant and empty round the
One thing that is referred to in the Measure is a more flexible form of ministry. I assume, although I have not studied all the small print sufficiently to know the answer, that that will allow more flexible forms of ministry with Christian Churches of other denominations too. I welcome that. Some of the best church buildings and the most effective ways in which the Church can do its job is when denominations are seen to be working together on one site, under one roof. I have always wanted all churches in my borough to adopt a sign that says not, This is an Anglican churchor a Roman Catholic church or a United Reform churchbut rather This is the Christian church and, in small letters underneath, Anglican. The important thing is that it is a church, not that it is Anglican, or Methodist. The Church is what unites the Christian Church. I hope that we can therefore get to an approach whereby the Measure will allow, wherever possible, such collaborative working, not only on the same site but between Churches in a group and so on across the denominations.
Finally, we had a bit of a row in our diocese of Southwark because our beloved bishop decided that he was going to get rid of the local ministry. There was a scheme for members of the community who wanted to be ordained but might not have gone through formal education after leaving school. Two friends of mine, one who did painting and decorating and one who was an engineer in the bus garage in south London, became excellent ordained members of the Church through that route.
The scheme was abolished, with much opposition in the diocesan synod and more widely. It has been replaced by the general all-encompassing non-stipendiary ministry scheme, whereby people can train for ordained ministry. I am not in a position to judge whether, on balance, we can get as good a system under the new regime. I had words with the Bishop of Southwark about it and in the end he was not to be moved. He is a man of firm convictions and was not persuaded, and he went ahead with his proposal.
I hope that the new scheme will encourage and enable people who might not have done A-levels, gone to university or got a degree, if they feel a call to be ministers in the Church, to be fully participative ministers. They add huge value. They often relate better to their local communities by virtue of having come from those communities and, a bit like people doing access degrees at university, they may be put off by the more formal educational process that going to theological college would imply. There is a very good scheme run in Southwark for Southwark and neighbouring dioceses by a former head of my office in the House of Commons, Nick Townsend, based out of
This is clearly a positive Measure: it opens lots of doors, it is widely supported, it is not controversial and it gives the Church great hope. I hope that the result will be that we have many more people in the Church, many more members of the Church, a much bigger Church and that the signs of growth that many of us see will be replicated throughout the land.
The message is never the problem in Christianity: the message is absolutely always the thing that brings people to Christ and to the Church. The problem has often been the organisation and the fact that we have been too hidebound, too conservative, too stuck in our ways, too establishment and have put people off.
I hope that the Church realises that eventually being a disestablished Church is the way forward and that, on the way there, the more outreach there is, the more outgoing and more broadly based the Church is, the better it will do and the better Gods kingdom will be served here in this country.
Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey and for Salisbury for the way in which they put their points and for the pertinence of those points.
If I may, I shall work backwards on the questions asked by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. On his last point about selection, there is nothing about selection or training of ministers in the Measure. That is a matter for the House of Bishops. However, he makes a good point that the Church would no doubt wish to consider.
I shall ask Church house to give a proper response on interregnums and on contractual appointments. On the hon. Gentlemans other points, the new body will be able to take some of the things that he mentioned into account and we look forward to the hon. Gentlemans future participation in these matters in the same way as he has participated in the past.
Briefly, on the wider question of the disestablished Church, the Prime Minister made a point in his report about modifying the way in which we choose bishops. He also made a clear statement that the Church of England is, by law, established. That is the first clear statement that we have had that there will be no change in the established Church. Until now, we have always had a statement saying that the Government would leave it to the Church and the Church has always said that it leaves the matter to the Governmentand the matter has always been in abeyance. The Prime Ministers statement made it clear that the Church of England will stay established.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey for mentioning Lloyd George, who made a name for himself in the House on the disestablishment of the Church of Wales. However, having made his name, he left the disestablishment issue and the Church was not disestablished for another 20 years. Thats history for you.
The hon. Gentleman made two other important points. He mentioned the Diocese of Southwark; he is right in the sense that dioceses should not be interfered with in terms of size and the rest of it. There has been some discussion on this matter and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no hidden hit list or blueprint for abolishing dioceses behind the Measure. Indeed, the Measure could be used to increase rather than reduce the number of dioceses, if that seemed appropriate.
The new Dioceses Commissions first duty will be to keep the provincial and diocesan structure of the Church under review, which will enable it to form its own views of what changes, if any, are needed as well as to consider any changes proposed by bishops in respect of the individual dioceses concerned.
Simon Hughes: There is often merit, although sometimes people think otherwise, in having dioceses big enough to include both urban and rural communities, like Leeds and Ripon and Southwark. Only-rural and only-urban dioceses may have advantages, but probably they are not as good mixes and as good places for the Church to see how the other half lives.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned working with other Church communities. Subsections 47(5) and (6) provide for consultation with other religious organisations, in relation to the bishop making a bishops mission order. We are keen, where we can, to include non-Christian religious organisations in our various discussions. We make it clear that we are happy to work with other Churches where possible.
On the question of women bishops, which the hon. Gentleman touched on and which also relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Salisbury, if we were debating women bishops now, it would be on the Floor of the House of Commons. This measure does not go into the question of women bishops, but it is one that we are all aware of and which the Church is dealing with.
I turn now to the points made by the hon. Member for Salisbury, who went through the various stages of the Measure before it reached this stage and his own participation. At the end of these proceedings, when
The hon. Member for Salisbury referred to the Ecclesiastical Committee and whether we needed one. He will be happy to know that I advised the present Prime Minister that, while the Ecclesiastical Committee may have many defects and flaws, as it goes back to legislation of 1919, to change it is not really an exercise that would engage the attention of Parliament for three to four years. In view of the fact that we have very little Church legislation, it is not a measure that we should pursue. Therefore, the Ecclesiastical Committee will be with us for some time.
On the question of the decision to take this matter before the Committee, it was my decision, on the basis that it was non-controversial. The procedure is perfectly proper. We could have taken it on the Floor of the House, but the Church is obviously very keen, given the seven years that have passed since the Measure was first mooted in a review, that it receives Royal Assent at the end of this parliamentary Session. We would hope that, with the Committees consent, this would come to the Floor of the House and then on to Royal Assent on 30 October.
To find parliamentary time, even in a rather scant parliamentary schedule, is difficult and it was not the intention or the wish of the Church to hold this up. I can repeat the point that I made earlier: matters that are controversial would be taken on the Floor of the House. I think that I have covered all of the points that have been raised. If I have omitted any, I shall be happy to respond.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure (HC 998).
Committee rose at thirteen minutes past Eleven oclock.
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