Ecclesiastical Committee Contents



1. The Legislative Committee of the General Synod, to which two Measures entitled respectively the Vacancies in Suffragan Sees and Other Ecclesiastical Offices Measure and the Crown Benefices (Parish Representatives) Measure have been referred, has the honour to submit those Measures to the Ecclesiastical Committee with these Comments and Explanations.

Background to the two Measures

2. In May 2007 the General Synod received, from a group established at its request in 2005 and chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, a report entitled Talent and Calling - A review of the law and practice regarding appointments to the offices of suffragan bishop, dean, archdeacon and residentiary canon (GS 1650) ('The Pilling Report'). That report contained a number of recommendations relating to the appointment of suffragan bishops and other appointments made by the Crown.

3. Shortly before the Pilling Report was due to be debated by the Synod the Government published its green paper, The Governance of Britain (Cm 7170) which contained a wide range of proposals for constitutional change. These included the proposal that the Prime Minister should no longer exercise choice in recommending appointments to senior ecclesiastical posts. The Church would in future be asked to forward one name which the Prime Minister would convey to Her Majesty in relation to diocesan bishop appointments. The Government also committed itself to discussing with the Church how changes could be made in relation to cathedral, parish and other Crown appointments so that the Prime Minister no longer played an active role in the selection of individual candidates.

4. On 9 July 2007 the Synod debated the Pilling Report. Noting the proposals contained in The Governance of Britain that touched on some of the same subject matter, the Synod passed a resolution welcoming the prospect of the Church achieving 'the decisive voice in the appointment of bishops' (for which the Synod had voted in 1974), endorsed the recommendations contained in the Pilling Report and invited the Archbishops to oversee the necessary consequential discussions with the Government and to report back in February 2008.

5. In October 2007 the Archbishops issued a consultation paper setting out their thoughts on a possible way forward in the light of the Synod's resolution of 9 July and inviting comments from around the Church. In January 2008 the Archbishops published their report to the Synod following on from that consultation (GS 1680). In it they made a number of recommendations.

6. These included recommendations that legislation should be introduced to -
(a)replace the requirement in the Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 for two names to be presented to the Sovereign with a requirement to submit one name;
(b)change the position as regards the Crown's right to appoint in cases where the patronage is not normally in its gift but falls to be exercised by it because either (i) the patronage belongs to a diocesan see which is vacant at the material time or (ii) the previous holder of the vacant office (or the holder of the office to whom the relevant patronage belongs) has been appointed a diocesan bishop;
(c)extend to Crown benefices the normal rights of veto enjoyed by the two parish representatives under the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986.

7. In February 2008 the Synod approved the recommendations contained in the Archbishops' report, including the recommendations referred to above.

Appointment of suffragan bishops

8. The particular background with regard to recommendation (a) is as follows. Use was made of the Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 to appoint suffragan bishops during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries but it then fell into desuetude until Gladstone revived the practice of appointing suffragan bishops in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Although the Act requires the names of two candidates to be presented to the Sovereign, for more than a hundred years the invariable practice has been for the Prime Minister to advise the Sovereign to appoint the first of the two names. In the light of the Government's indication that it wished only one name to be submitted for appointments to archbishoprics and other diocesan sees, the view was taken that it would be curious if, following that change, it continued to be necessary to submit two names for suffragan vacancies.

9. The policy, adopted by the Synod, of removing the requirement for two names was also made against the background of more developed and transparent procedures for selecting suffragan bishops that have resulted from the Pilling Report. The new selection process involves interviews and a greater degree of openness. The Synod took the view that the law should be brought more closely into line with the reality of where the choice is exercised. It also saw a clear advantage in the law regarding the appointment of suffragans not being out of line with the new arrangements for the nomination of diocesan bishops (which now involve just one name being forwarded to the Prime Minister).

Exercise by the Crown of patronage not normally in its gift

10. There are two types of situation covered by recommendation (b) referred to above. The first relates to the position during the vacancy of a diocesan see. Where a diocesan see is vacant, the patronage that belongs to the see - and which would normally be exercisable by the diocesan bishop - is exercisable by the Crown instead. The patronage exercisable by the Crown in these circumstances is known as the Crown's sede vacante patronage. The Crown's right arises because during a vacancy in a diocesan see the Crown is the Guardian of the Temporalities of the see, the rights of patronage belonging to the see being among those temporalities. (In fact, as a result of legislation dating from 1943[1] which provided for the making of schemes vesting the endowments and other property of diocesan sees in the Church Commissioners, the rights of patronage belonging to such a see are now the only temporalities that remain.)

11. There is, however, a well-developed practice whereby the Crown allows the relevant suffragan or 'acting' bishop in a diocese where the see is vacant to make the choice as to how the sede vacante patronage should be exercised. Once the suffragan or 'acting' bishop has identified the priest whom he wishes to be presented to a vacant benefice or other office, the Crown is informed of the identity of the priest in question and the necessary paperwork is prepared in the Cabinet Office and the Crown Office. The Crown's role in relation to the exercise of its sede vacante patronage has therefore become purely formal, the decisions being taken in the diocese.

12. In approving recommendation (b), the Synod took the view that there should be greater transparency in the process involved in the exercise of the Crown's sede vacante patronage so that it was clear where the real choice was actually made. It therefore agreed that legislation should be introduced which would provide for the statutory delegation by the Crown of its sede vacante patronage to a suffragan or 'acting' bishop in a diocese where the see was vacant. That would effectively put on a statutory footing the existing practice referred to above and would remove the need for the purely formal involvement of the Cabinet Office and the Crown Office in producing the necessary paperwork (including Letters Patent) to give effect to the appointment. Instead the suffragan or 'acting' bishop would be able to execute a document presenting a priest to a vacant benefice or other office on behalf of the Crown.

13. The second situation addressed by recommendation (b) is that whereby the Crown (by virtue of the Royal Prerogative) has the right to present to a benefice or other office which is not normally in its gift because the previous holder of that benefice or office - or the holder of an office to whom the relevant patronage belongs - has been appointed a diocesan bishop. Where a priest is appointed a diocesan bishop all his existing preferment is automatically vacated by what is known as 'cession'. The Crown's rights to exercise patronage in the circumstances just described are therefore referred to as the Crown's rights in relation to (or upon) cession. In fact such circumstances arise only rarely as most diocesan bishops are, when appointed, translated from other sees (most commonly suffragan sees) rather than being appointed directly from among archdeacons or members of cathedral chapters or from parochial ministry.

14. The Pilling Group considered the question of the Crown's rights in relation to cession. It noted that instances were relatively rare, only two recent cases being identified. In its report it said that it was "unable to think of any good reason" for the Crown retaining the right to appoint in either of these circumstances which it regarded as an "unnecessary and unhelpful" anomaly.[2] The report concluded, "[w]e therefore recommend (as the Howick Commission did in 1964) that the Crown's right to appoint to an office vacated by the office-holder becoming a diocesan bishop be abolished, and that instead the appointment should be made by the person or body who would otherwise have made it."

15. The Archbishops' Report to the General Synod proposed implementing that recommendation. The Synod endorsed the Archbishops' proposal.

Crown benefices - appointment of lay representatives

16. Parochial appointments are governed by the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986. That Measure gave parochial church councils the right to appoint two lay representatives whose approval has to be obtained by the patron before making an offer to a particular priest to present him to a benefice. That provision applies in cases where the patron is the bishop, a private individual, a patronage society or other body of trustees, or an institution (such as an Oxbridge college). It does not, however, apply where the patronage of a benefice is exercisable by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister or by the Lord Chancellor (acting in the name of the Crown), or by the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall. (These benefices are referred to collectively in the 1986 Measure as 'Crown benefices'). Crown benefices make up about 8% of parochial appointments.

17. In their report to the General Synod, the Archbishops expressed the view that continuing to exempt Crown benefices from the provisions which allow the appointment of lay representatives "would be difficult to justify given the principles set out in the Green Paper [sc. The Governance of Britain]". Their report also noted that in the consultation the Archbishops had conducted there had been "a wide measure of agreement" that the 1986 Measure should be amended to give parish representatives in Crown benefices the same rights that apply in all other benefices. Accordingly, the Archbishops recommended that legislation should be introduced to extend to Crown benefices the normal rights of parish representatives in the appointment process. The General Synod endorsed that recommendation.

Consultation with the Crown etc.

18. Prior to the introduction of the two Measures the Ministry of Justice was consulted as to what was proposed. The department indicated on behalf of the Crown that it was content with the content of the draft Measures.

19. The two Royal Duchies were also consulted about what was proposed in so far as it related to them (in their case only the Crown Benefices (Parish Representatives) Measure). Both Duchies stated that they were content with the content of the legislation.

20. Immediately prior to the First Consideration stage in the General Synod, The Queen's consent was signified to the two draft Measures. In respect of the Crown Benefices (Parish Representatives) Measure, the Prince of Wales's consent was signified.

Proceedings in the General Synod

21. Both Measures were introduced into the Synod for First Consideration in July 2008. They were received positively by the Synod and committed to a Revision Committee. They received detailed scrutiny from the Revision Committee and then from the Synod at the Revision Stage in February 2009. The process of revision resulted in a small number of amendments being made to both Measures but these were all of a technical or drafting nature and did not result in any alteration to the policy of either Measure.

22. A small number of further technical, drafting amendments were made to both Measures at the Final Drafting stage which was taken at the July 2009 group of sessions of the Synod. The Final Approval stage immediately followed when both Measures received overwhelming majorities in all three Houses.

23. The voting on each of the Measures at the end of the Final Approval stage was as follows -

The Vacancies in Suffragan Sees and Other Ecclesiastical Offices Measure
In favour

The Crown Benefices (Parish Representatives) Measure
In favour


The Vacancies in Suffragan Sees and Other Ecclesiastical Offices Measure


24. Section 1 modifies the effect of section 1 of the Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 so that the requirement there for two persons to be presented to Her Majesty for appointment to a suffragan see is to be read as if it required only one person to be presented. Other references in section 1 of the 1534 Act to the two persons are to be read as if they referred to the one person so presented.

25. The effect of section 1 is, therefore, that when a diocesan bishop wishes to petition Her Majesty to appoint a suffragan bishop for his diocese he will no longer need to put forward a second name in addition to the name of the candidate he wishes to be appointed.

26. No amendments were proposed to this section either in the Revision Committee or in full Synod at the Revision Stage and none was made.


27. Section 2 provides for the delegation to a suffragan or other bishop (the "relevant bishop") of the Crown's right, when there is a vacancy in see, to appoint to offices normally in the patronage of a diocesan bishop (i.e. it provides for delegation of the exercise of the Crown's sede vacante patronage).

28. The delegation is automatic unless the Crown gives notice to the contrary in relation to a particular vacancy in see.

29. The section makes detailed provision for indentifying the "relevant bishop". Where a diocese has a standing scheme of delegation of episcopal functions (for example, on an area basis to suffragan bishops), the suffragan or assistant bishop who would, but for the vacancy in see, have exercised the patronage in question will be the "relevant bishop". Where there is no such person - because there is not such a delegation in operation in relation to the diocese (or the relevant part of the diocese) - the "relevant bishop" will be the bishop to whom episcopal functions (including the function of giving institution to benefices) has been delegated in connection with the vacancy in see. Once a new diocesan has been appointed following a vacancy in see, the "relevant bishop" is the new diocesan.

Matters raised before the Revision Committee and the General Synod

30. The Revision Committee received a submission proposing that it would give greater transparency if the Crown's rights in relation to vacancies in see were either abolished or transferred outright to the "relevant bishop". The Revision Committee was advised that the effect of adopting that proposal would be that the Crown would lose its position as Guardian of the Temporalities (a position which flows from the Sovereign's position as Patron and Protector of the Church). This was because the rights of patronage belonging to a see are the only temporalities of sees that remain (see paragraph 9 above). If the Crown's rights in relation to the patronage belonging to vacant sees were to be abolished or transferred outright then there would no longer be any temporalities for it to protect.

31. Irrespective of any merit such a development might in principle be thought to have, the Committee doubted that this was a change which should be made in a Measure intended to give effect to such narrow policy objectives. The Committee was advised, furthermore, that such a change would have significant wider implications. When a diocesan bishop has been elected, confirmed and consecrated, he sues for the temporalities of his see out of the Sovereign's hands by doing homage. If the Crown's position as Guardian of the Temporalities were to cease because there were no surviving temporalities, that would remove the basis for new bishops doing homage.

32. The Committee took into account the clear intention of The Governance of Britain - as well as of the Archbishops' own recommendations to the Synod - that the changes proposed in relation to Crown appointments in the Church of England should not result in any fundamental alteration in the relationship between the Crown and the Church (a policy position which had been confirmed in correspondence from the Ministry of Justice).

33. The Committee accordingly concluded that the Measure should not be amended so as to abolish the Crown's sede vacante rights of patronage.

34. The Revision Committee was advised of the need for some amendment to the definition of "relevant bishop" in section 2(4)(a). The proposed amendments were of a purely technical, drafting nature and were agreed by the Committee.

35. No amendments were proposed at the Revision Stage in full Synod. Some further drafting amendments (again of a purely technical nature) were made to the definition of "relevant bishop" at the Final Drafting stage.

36. Section 3 abolishes to the Crown's right to present to a vacant ecclesiastical office that is not normally in its gift in circumstances where the previous holder of the office - or the holder of an office to whom the relevant patronage belongs - has been appointed a diocesan bishop. (For further details about this right see paragraph 12 above.)

37. No amendments were proposed to this section either in the Revision Committee or in full Synod at the Revision Stage and none was made.


38. Section 4 provides for the citation, commencement and territorial extent of the Measure.

39. No amendments were proposed to this section either in the Revision Committee or in full Synod at the Revision Stage and none was made.

1   Episcopal Endowments and Stipends Measure 1943. Back

2   Paragraph 8.8.6. Back

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