Ecclesiastical Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

The Rt Reverend Dr Thomas Frederick Butler, The Venerable George Howe, The Rt Worshipful Timothy Briden, The Reverend Alexander McGregor, Dr Colin Podmore and Mr William Fittall

25 NOVEMBER 2009

  Q1  Chairman: Perhaps you could start by introducing your team and then we can discuss how we will proceed.

  Bishop of Southwark: Well, from my right-hand side, the Rt Worshipful Timothy Briden, who is the Vicar-General of the Canterbury Province, the Venerable George Howe, Archdeacon of Westmorland, and the Reverend Alexander McGregor, who is the Deputy Legal Adviser. I am Bishop Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, Mr William Fittall, who is the Secretary General of the Archbishops' Council, and Dr Colin Podmore, who is the Secretary to the Dioceses Commission.

  Q2Chairman: Can I thank you all, first of all, for being with us and thank you, even at this stage, for the great help we have had from the explanatory notes you have provided. Perhaps the best thing would be for us to start taking the three Measures one by one, starting with the Miscellaneous Provisions Measure, and perhaps you might like to choose somebody to say what lies behind that.

  Bishop of Southwark: I think I will have to ask one of my colleagues to introduce that one.

  Mr Fittall: Well, as you know, the General Synod does from time to time, usually once in each five-year period, look at what are always, we hope, rather minor and uncontentious matters of the law which need some tidying up, and what you have before you here is a short Measure that deals with the matters which are described in the explanatory note. I do not believe that any of them were contentious in the Synod and, as you will see from the voting figures at paragraph 16, the Measure passed by 185 votes to one at the final approval, but obviously, if there are any points of detail that you want to ask us on, then we will do our best to respond. I think it is a collection of really quite small adjustments and none of them is of the sort of significance that is covered in the other two Measures that you may want to quiz us on in more detail.

Chairman: Rather than my identifying the provisions here which seem to be more important than the others, the right thing would be to ask whether there are any members of the Committee who would like to ask any questions in relation to the Miscellaneous Provisions Measure.

  Q3  Lord Elton: I would like to know, as a matter of interest and procedure, whether any soundings have been taken with the Ministry of Justice as to the likely reaction to your request that they should disapply regulations in certain cases? I am talking about clause 10(3).

  Mr McGregor: Yes, we have spoken to the Coroners' Department of the Ministry of Justice about this and, in principle, they are amenable to dealing with situations where there is dual control by way of making legislative reform orders so that that is not necessary and, when we have talked to them about other various matters, they have indicated that they would be amenable to that in other contexts too, so this would seem to be of a piece with the general policy view which has been expressed to us by that Department in the Ministry of Justice.

  Q4  Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I declare an interest in having an indirect link with Westminster Abbey. We have touched on Royal Peculiars before. The relationship to cathedrals, does this in any way overlap with the particular, peculiar positions of Royal Peculiars, so to speak?

  Mr McGregor: No, this will not impinge upon the Abbey or St George's.

  Q5  Chairman: The provisions which struck me, as being the more important were, firstly, clause 1 dealing with the transfer of powers from the Commissioners to the Diocesan Board of Finance. It seems perfectly sensible. Are there any comments on that? I cannot see any difficulty arising. Then the election of members to the Archbishops' Council—any questions on that? Then, finally, that curious discovery that the Church of England does not exist—as a corporate body, at any rate—but again these are all miscellaneous provisions, all of which seem to be very sensible. Are there any further questions that anybody would like to ask?

  Mr Fittall: I think it would be fair to say in relation to clause 9, gifts to the Church of England, that we have always found a way of ensuring that these do go to proper charitable purposes, but this will remove a certain amount of paperwork when these sorts of gifts appear.

  Q6  Baroness Massey of Darwen: I have a very simple question. Why was one person voting against?

  Mr Fittall: Those with long experience of the General Synod, and I have only been its Secretary General for the last seven years, I think would testify to the fact that very often there will be one or two people who put their hand up against almost anything that is there, not that they have got any particular objection.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: So it is nothing substantial.

  Q7  Chairman: Can we then move to the second of the two Measures before us, the Vacancies in Suffragan Sees Measure. We can take this with, as I understand it, the third Measure because we have only got one set of explanatory notes. That is the position, is it?

  Bishop of Southwark: If I may just introduce briefly those two Measures, they are two Measures that inaugurate really quite narrow changes, but what they are doing is regularising practices which have been followed for some time. Neither was at all contentious in Synod, as can be seen by the voting figures in paragraph 22, but they do touch on the historic relationship between Church and State, so, although they are limited deliberately in effect, they are of significance. They have to be seen in the context of the long-term trends of giving the Church the decisive say in the full range of its appointments rather than the final decision being managed from Downing Street by those supporting the Prime Minister in that role of advising the Crown. In particular, this legislation flows partly from a Church initiative, the Pilling Report, and partly from Her Majesty's Government initiative of July 2007 to reduce the role of the Royal Prerogative not just in Church appointments, but more generally. The most significant change to come from that Government Green Paper of July 2007 was the then Prime Minister's decision that in future he would recommend to the Crown the Church's first choice for diocesan bishop appointments, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and that, in itself, did not require legislation, and these two Measures do not affect that. These two small Measures deliver changes that do require legislation and they concern the appointment of suffragan bishops and the role of parish representatives in Crown livings, and they address arrangements that now would, arguably, be somewhat anomalous, given the wider changes that have been ushered in by the Green Paper, but, as I say, they are essentially regularising practices which in fact have been followed by Church and State for some time.

Chairman: I think we all understand that and are very grateful. Once again, perhaps we could start with suffragan bishops. Are there any questions on that?

  Q8  Mr Swayne: If you have been doing it anyway, why do you need the change?

  Mr Fittall: I think it is important to take each of these in turn. In relation to suffragan bishops, the reality is that for more than a century the Crown has always accepted the first name that has been put forward. Nevertheless, it is the case that, as a matter of form, two names do have to go forward, so, although this is not going to make a change in reality because the Prime Minister has always, since the 19th Century, recommended the first name, it does mean that we have to put forward two names and, as our processes become more transparent, (we have interview processes and so on), having this formal requirement, which does not really have any substantial value, is becoming increasingly difficult. Also, in relation to the delegation to a suffragan or area bishop of the Crown's right to appoint while there is a vacancy in the diocesan see, that, in practice, is done at the moment and this would be formalising it. There are one or two things in these provisions, particularly when we come on to the final Measure, the Crown Benefices Measure, where there is a change of substance. We will, for the first time, be giving the parish representatives effectively the right of veto in relation to the appointment to a living. Now, in practice, it is not a big difference because the Crown already always endeavours to find agreement, and it is exceptionally rare, I think, and in modern times it has hardly ever happened, that somebody has been appointed despite the wishes of the two parish representatives. Nevertheless, this does create a new right. There is one other area—and it is a particularly arcane one—section 3 of the Suffragan Sees Measure, which is a genuine change and it is a small and technical one. This is the circumstance in which a vacancy is created as a result of the Crown making somebody a diocesan bishop. To take an example, a few years ago the Dean of Derby was appointed Bishop of Gloucester. Now, the Crown does not normally appoint to the Deanery of Derby, but, because the vacancy arose through the appointment to Gloucester, that became a Crown appointment. Now, it is an oddity and it happens very rarely. A Church Committee recommended that should be changed about 45 years ago and we have finally, as part of this package, done it and we have consulted those in Government and everybody was entirely happy with it. There are the one or two changes of substance but, by and large, it is regularising what we have been doing for quite a long time.

  Q9  Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: On the Prime Minister, who, as we all know, has abandoned the Crown Prerogative, was this discussed with the Leaders of the opposition parties?

  Mr Fittall: Well, I cannot say what consultations the Prime Minister and his staff may have had with the other parties. There were consultations with the Church before the announcement in July 2007 was made. It was of course a Green Paper from the Government and there was a statement made both in the Commons and the Lords on the day of the Green Paper.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: But, if we agreed to it, it is agreed for ever, whatever a future Prime Minister might think. In other words, it is possible that a future Prime Minister might want to reassert the Prerogative.

Mr Swayne: Quite.

  Q10  Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: We are abandoning something quite big here.

  Mr Fittall: Well, I think it is important to distinguish two things. One is the Prerogative in relation to diocesan bishops and the Crown deaneries. Now, that is not directly affected by the legislation you have before you and that was the more significant area. I have to say, on the day the statement was made, neither of the two opposition parties made any comment on what was proposed and I am not aware that there is any opposition. Certainly, so far as the Church is concerned, the move, in many respects, gives the Church what it asked for back in the 1970s which was the decisive voice in the choice. Obviously it would, in principle, be open to a future Government to take a different view on those matters. But, so far as suffragan bishops and these parochial appointments are concerned, our view is that, although we are doing them in consequence of those changes and they are logical in the light of that, we would argue that these are sensible changes, irrespective of what future changes there might be for cathedral or diocesan bishops.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: But it is absolutely certain—

  Q11  Chairman: As I understand it, the changes in relation to suffragans, you say, stand on their own feet, although they can be said to be supportive of the decision taken by the Prime Minister?

  Mr Fittall: Yes.

  Bishop of Southwark: We deliberately framed the legislation in a narrow way so as not to open up the wider questions. As diocesan Bishop of Southwark, in my 11 years there, I have nominated three suffragan bishops. In each case following the pattern, I have produced two names, but in each case, as for the past 100 years, the Prime Minister has automatically chosen the first name, so there will be no difference there, except, as William says, increasingly we are getting more transparent in our appointments system and we feel it becomes increasingly difficult signalling to a second candidate that his name has been submitted when there is in fact no possibility of his being appointed, so, in a sense, although this makes no practical change, it does better fit our transparent processes.

  Q12  Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: The reason I raise this, and I accept the fact that you have reassured me about diocesan appointments and deaneries, is that we are going to live in a rather controversial period in the Church of England and it is true that in the past 40, 50 or so years people have not raised a problem of suffragan appointments, but we are going to live in a hotter climate and of course we traditionally have the position of preserving you from the sort of controversy that could occur. It has been accepted, I accept, for many decades that bishops can appoint their own suffragans, but, I assure you, it is going to be a bit like Lebanon in the future and I am just making sure that you have thought of that.

  Bishop of Southwark: If I may, one of the ways in which our pattern of appointments has become more transparent is that a diocesan bishop now has to appoint an advisory committee to actually advise him on advertising, on short-listing candidates and on producing, therefore, the preferred candidate. So, if anything, a diocesan bishop is far more constrained now than has been the case in the past and I think there is the opportunity for people to make their voices heard.

  Q13  Mr Swayne: Well, can I answer the question that was asked earlier? No, there has not been any consultation and, secondly, as the Leader of the Opposition's Parliamentary Private Secretary, I did ask him about this today and he is not content that this should be done. In answer to the points that have been made, first, whilst two names have always been presented and the Prime Minister has chosen the first name, that does not mean that the choice was automatic. Secondly, with respect to the transparency of appointments, I fail to understand the difficulty if you have been through a selection process and an interview process and you have come up with a name and presumably someone who came close to it. I just do not accept that there is some difficulty in presenting the second name.

  Mr Fittall: If I could just comment on the history of this, this is about suffragan bishops. The Suffragan Bishops Act was passed in 1534, but suffragan bishops died out in the Church of England by the following century and there were no suffragan bishops in the Church of England until Mr Gladstone revived them in 1870. Within a very few years of that, certainly by the end of the 19th Century, it had become a convention that the Prime Minister accepted the first name, but nobody went to the trouble of amending the Tudor legislation, so it is actually since the 19th Century in relation to suffragan bishops. There is quite a different set of arguments about diocesan bishops, I do accept that, and I think that may lie behind some of the comments that have been made, but that is not what this legislation is about; it is only about suffragan bishops.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Could I say, the point I made is that we are looking at a different future than has existed for a very long time and the Leader of the Opposition is quite entitled, bearing this in mind this and of course we, as guardians of the situation, have to bear this in mind. Basically, in the late 19th Century, as you know, they balanced the ticket, Anglo-Catholic here, another there, and there was quite a complex system, as anyone who knows any Church history knows about, so my colleague on the Committee is raising a legitimate point, and just quoting that it had not occurred until 1870 is not entirely relevant.

  Q14  Mr Marsden: This is really from the point of view of clarity and not least in view of the remarks which have been made about transparency, but the nature of the responsibilities of a suffragan bishop and possibly even the qualities required by a suffragan bishop may vary from those required for a diocesan bishop and, therefore, if we are going to sign off on what seems to be a perfectly logical change, it would be interesting to know what discussion there was in General Synod as to the distinctiveness of the appointment of suffragan bishops and the process, and the Bishop of Southwark has referred to the need to have a committee that advises. It would just be quite helpful to know whether in fact those factors were taken into account, given that you now want to formalise a process which has been going on for some time.

  Bishop of Southwark: Yes, I think the mood of Synod in the debates, and those questions have been raised, is that it is likely to become less automatic for diocesan bishops to be appointed from the ranks of suffragan bishops, and we already are beginning to see that, partly because of the processes being more transparent. It is far more possible for somebody who, let us say, is a dean of a cathedral or indeed a parish priest to be appointed straight as a diocesan bishop rather than serving his time as a suffragan bishop, which has the implication that a suffragan bishop is likely perhaps to serve longer as a suffragan bishop than might have been the case in the past. They certainly are different responsibilities and, I have to say, there are different responsibilities in different dioceses regarding suffragan bishops, depending on whether it is an area system or not.

  Q15  Lord Judd: I must say, my Lord Chairman, what I find interesting is this concept of a second name going forward. If the process is becoming increasingly transparent and, therefore, the weight of authority is behind the first name that goes forward, what is the basis on which the second name goes forward? Does the second candidate know that their name is going forward? It seems to me a rather humiliating experience for somebody to go through just as a formality. If, in fact, the way it is being handled is that it is all geared to one candidate going forward, I do not myself, as an Anglican, find it very enhancing to belong to a church that goes through such a caper.

  Bishop of Southwark: If I may say, Chairman, of the three suffragan bishops I have nominated, with the first two the second name did not know that his name was included for that very reason. The third one, the latest one, as we began to get more transparent, did know and it was not helpful because it naturally disturbs a person's ministry.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: It might be helpful to say I have just been a member of the Bishop's Advisory Committee in Liverpool for the appointment of the Bishop of Warrington and I was extremely impressed by the openness of the process and by the hugely wide consultation. Everyone in the diocese was free to write in, we had a complete analysis of all the comments that were made and it fed very directly into the discussions as to who should be appointed, what kind of person we were looking for. I have to say, I did not find it all helpful that we did, at that stage, have to tell our second choice that he was a second choice because there was a very, very clear first choice and the first choice is now happily installed as of last month, and I do think that this is a very sensible Measure to rectify what in fact has been the practice for 30 years or so.

  Q16  Mr Swayne: Is not the obvious answer, if that is the problem, not to inform the person who came second that their name is going forward, as has been the case in the past? It seems to have worked adequately then.

  Mr Fittall: Perhaps I could just comment on the different procedures between suffragan and diocesan because I think this may help. If somebody is being considered as a diocesan bishop, which is not touched on by this Measure, that is considered by the Crown Nominations Commission and people do not know they are being considered. They are not interviewed and it is entirely secret and, therefore, the question of the two names is in a very different context there. As the Bishop of Southwark has said, it was the case, frankly, years ago that in relation to suffragan appointments people often did not know because the bishop had a wide measure of latitude in terms which were not standard. But we have moved away from that and we have moved to a system where for suffragan appointments there is a much more open process. So this difficulty does immediately arise because you have got people who have been seen, who have been interviewed, you know that the first name that has emerged is the one that is going to come through and yet you have to go through this rather artificial procedure. So I think the arguments in relation to suffragans and diocesans are really rather different and it is only the former that we are dealing with today.

  Q17  David Taylor: I think this is a question, Chairman, to the Bishop of Southwark. Is it commonly the case that someone who is the second name on a particular appointment is the second name again, again and again on future appointments, always the bridesmaid and never the bride, or does it tend to be that, once they have served their time as a second name and never been called, they will quite quickly appear as a first name in the near future?

  Bishop of Southwark: I really am not in a position to reply to that because in the past nobody knew who the second name was, except the diocesan bishop concerned, so it might be that somebody was the second name in several dioceses, but we would not have known. As things become more transparent, we perhaps might know and I am not sure whether that is happening or not, it might be so. We are a very `flat' organisation with 8,000 (stipendiary) parish priests and perhaps 110 bishops and 111 archdeacons, so we do not have a kind of normal career ladder that other organisations have, so it does not necessarily follow that, because somebody has been considered seriously for a senior appointment in one diocese, his name would come up again.

Robert Key: My Lord Chairman, unfortunately, until a few minutes ago, I was not aware that the Leader of the Opposition was seeking to make an issue of this proposal. If I had known, as a member of the General Synod, the Synod of the Diocese of Salisbury and the Council of Salisbury Cathedral and as a regular member of the Church of England, I would have sought to explain to the Leader of the Opposition that the Church of England has been struggling for many years with a lot of extraordinary rules and laws, including the Suffragan Bishops Act of 1534, which have made the Church of England look rather ridiculous. Having sat through the debates on this in the General Synod and observed the process throughout which has ended with this proposal, I am convinced that it has been taken very seriously by all the representatives of each house of the Synod and that it would really not be helpful to seek to oppose this proposal for no good reason other than, if it ain't bust, don't fix it because we can fudge it. You cannot go on fudging these things decade after decade, century after century. And, when the Church of England seeks to move into the 21st Century to take account of new human resources methods, issues and legislation, it is not helpful, frankly, for the Leader of the Opposition to take this particular view. So I regret that I did not know that this was the Leader of the Opposition's position because I would have asked to see him to explain. Therefore, I find it hard to agree with my honourable friend for my neighbouring constituency, although a different diocese, on this particular issue and I certainly support this Measure.

Chairman: Could I just say that I do not think it has been suggested that the Leader of the Opposition has expressed any sort of view on the particular Measure before us, but it is on the much wider question of diocesans.

  Q18  Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Perhaps I could say a word in favour of the Leader of the Opposition, and he certainly has not consulted me! The Church of England, and I will not give you a history lesson on this, has existed on the basis of compromise. Mr Gladstone was a case in point, but he balanced the ticket. The Church itself has gone democratic and, as you will know, when there are great divisions in an institution, and I mentioned Lebanon and I could mention Northern Ireland, there is always tension when democracy or a general feeling works and, therefore, I am not going to vote against this or anything, but the business of balancing the ticket is terribly important in the decade that is going to lie ahead.

  Bishop of Southwark: If I may just say, my Lord Chairman, and it may not be helpful, I was appointed Bishop of Willesden by Margaret Thatcher, Bishop of Leicester by John Major and Bishop of Southwark by Tony Blair, so I do not think political factors very often impinge on these appointments.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Well, they do not, unless the Prime Minister happens to be a believer. That creates bigger problems.

  Q19  Chairman: I think it is probably time we moved on to the third Measure. But before we do so I ought to say, since the discussion has been very much about second names being put forward, that I once allowed my name to be put forward as the second name not, I may say, as a diocesan bishop, but on the strict understanding that I would not be appointed. That seemed to work, though not very transparent, you may feel! Perhaps we can move on to the third of our Measures, which is the Crown Benefices Measure.

  Bishop of Southwark: That, my Lord Chairman, makes provision for the appointment of lay parish representatives of Crown benefices to approve the selection of incumbents. In other words, it gives them the same rights as lay representatives of all other patrons have already, but it is a departure. In fact, I understand that mostly it has been the custom in recent years for those making the appointments to consult with lay parish representatives and indeed ask for two names to be nominated, so, in a sense, it is regularising the way that Downing Street have operated in the last few years, but it puts them in the same position as the lay parish representatives of any other benefice. What it does not do is give the diocesan bishop any kind of veto, which he does have over other benefices, so it does not affect the right of the diocesan bishop, but it gives lay parish representatives more rights in the appointment.

Chairman: That does truly seem to be uncontroversial, but can anybody think of a question on that? No, so I think you have persuaded us on that. If there are no final questions anybody would like to ask, I would like to thank you, Bishop, and all of your colleagues for all the help you have given us on this occasion.

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