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Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, the issues before us are complex, and I do not intend to rehearse them all. Nor shall I raise some of the points of detail that I would question in the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, and in what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about education. That can be left for another time.

I am glad that the Motion refers to the whole of the United Kingdom. My fellow Scot, the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, will, doubtless, be aware of the Act of Parliament that set up the re-united Church of Scotland in 1929. I do not know how long it took to draft, but it walks the establishment tightrope carefully. It reserves patronage to the Kirk itself, thus placating the demands of the former United Free Church, while maintaining the historic place of the Kirk in the life of the nation. Technically, at least, the Kirk relies on that Act for that place.

That view goes back to Calvin's understanding of,

Noble Lords must excuse the non-inclusive language of that era. Calvin said that,

    "one aspect is spiritual...the second is political".

Thus, the Church has a positive duty to the state, and those words were echoed later in the 16th century by the Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker. It is a view that, with deep gratitude, I saw reflected throughout my childhood in Scotland, albeit from the perspective of an Episcopalian.

No church needs establishment for its existence. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, that I fear no one except God and, perhaps, my chaplain. Although one could argue for the possibility of separating powers while retaining establishment, it would be difficult in practice, as many of the speeches made this afternoon demonstrated. So, what is the case in favour?

First, I acknowledge many anomalies and widespread misconceptions. Following on from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, I should say that one irritating anomaly that is increasingly resented by parish communities is the crazy scenario in which the Government get more from churches from VAT on church repairs than they pay out through English Heritage. That situation is not confined to the Church of England, although it bears the brunt of the burden. Many congregations are

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expected to maintain the national architectural heritage single-handedly, and many regard the Church-state link in that instance as being distinctly one-sided in its benefits.

The repeated assertions by Roman Catholic journalists of the absolute need for disestablishment are misconceived. They forget conveniently the long history of sometimes rather dubious Church-state concordats concluded by the Vatican and the fact that the president of France, no less, still nominates bishops for Alsace-Lorraine. As in so many other things, life is more complex than it seems.

My fundamental point concerns the need for a religious point of reference in the nation. It is of abiding significance in our increasingly pluralist society. As a member of the Select Committee on Religious Offences, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that his words on the blasphemy law are carefully noted; I concur with them. However, I do not believe that the agenda that often lies behind Motions of this kind adequately reflects the spiritual flavour of post-modern Britain. I am thinking of world events since 11th September, which make Europe's sometimes aimless and cynical way of relating to and adapting her cultural and political history look somewhat tired. Religion is back on the worldwide agenda; it is back in the market-place. It may be more individualised than before, but that is a characteristic of many other aspects of modern life. The whole business of joining and signing up and passive membership is as aspect of political life, as well as ecclesiastical life.

I know that many leaders of other Churches and faith communities value establishment as an important point of spiritual reference. I am led to believe that that is the position of the Chief Rabbi. When we talk to other faith leaders, we find that many of them hold the view that one cannot be a defender of all faiths in the abstract and general; in order to understand other faiths, one must be secure in defending one's own. There is no inevitability about the post-Enlightenment, secularist agenda. Increasingly, the post-modern world views religious and spiritual issues in a way that must be taken seriously and requires specific but inclusive embodiment, not merely vague recognition.

The position argued strongly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham in the context of a pluralist society would not be so argued by, for example, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford. As the Church of England, we are not clinging on to privilege, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, I speak from a perspective that is as far away from Barchester as is imaginable. The model of establishment that I set before your Lordships' House is sometimes called an inclusive particularity. There are examples of that growing and developing in many places, from the way in which schools are run to local chaplaincies, civic and other. In Christian terms, it was demonstrated in a high profile way at the funeral of the Queen Mother,

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although I suspect that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal and other Welsh Peers will have noted the absence of a voice from Wales.

Such an inclusive particularity is something, rather than nothing. It can invite and encourage other voices in partnership into a responsibility to articulate what Calvin called,

    "the twofold government in man"

in which the spiritual lives side by side with the political, perhaps even enjoying facing head-on the tensions that such a recognition may, from time to time, involve.

5.17 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, my noble friend's Motion has given rise to an outstanding debate. I hope that other speakers will forgive me if, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, I pay particular tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. I do so with pleasure for his subtle and thoughtful speech today and with regret as it will be the last occasion on which he will speak from the Bishops' Bench. I feel that regret all the more strongly because, for the past 20 years at least, he has been a personal friend.

The relationship between Church and state has been a major issue throughout Europe ever since Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire in the reign of Constantine, 1,800 years ago. That relationship has, sometimes, been stormy. In particular, the Middle Ages were a period of conflict between the temporal power of kings and the spiritual power of the Pope, a conflict symbolised in England by the battle between Henry II and Becket.

After the Reformation, there was a profound change, and, in England at least, Church and state became symbiotic. The established Church supported the established government except in 1688 when the Church withdrew its support from James II because he showed an intent to withdraw his support from the Church. In return, the government supported the established Church by protecting it against the other Churches and by giving its members certain special rights. We are concerned with two relationships: that between the state and the established Church and that between the established Church and the unestablished Churches and, increasingly, other faiths.

I shall consider the second of those relationships first. The Church of England has lost almost all the legal rights and privileges that were once closed to members of other churches and faiths. Members of the Church of England long ago lost the exclusive right to vote, stand for election or hold public office. Indeed, no longer would anyone raise an eyebrow at the fact that the leaders of both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties are Roman Catholics, as are my noble friends the leader and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in your Lordships' House. The Prime Minister himself is married to a Catholic and sends his children to a Catholic school.

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Again, members of the Church of England have long since lost the exclusive right of admission to Oxford and Cambridge. The Church of England has lost its right to levy a tax on agricultural property in the form of a tithe, perhaps its most important right and certainly its most unpopular one.

Therefore the relationship between the Church of England and other denominations and faiths is now largely one of equality. The Church of England does not claim exclusive access to truth and, in matters of legal rights and privileges, the Church of England claims for its members no priority over members of other faiths and those with no religious faith. So the state no longer supports the established Church against the other Churches or faiths because the Church of England no longer seeks or requires it to do so. Thus, that part of the symbiotic relationship has ceased to exist.

If the established Church is no longer seen as a bulwark of the state against other denominations, what is the justification for maintaining the special relationship between the state and the Church of England? I have to say that I believe that there is none. In that I must part company with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood. Our objection is not that establishment links religion with public life, but that in doing so it creates a special relationship between the state and one denomination of one faith.

It is not enough to say that the Church of England acts in some sense as a trustee for other sects or faiths. That suggestion is, I believe, very questionable. I also disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, that the Church of England is the only Church which looks after the whole community. When in the 1980s I was a parliamentary candidate in Kensington, in the very poor wards of North Kensington I found that the Roman Catholics and the Methodists were at least as concerned with the whole community as was the Church of England. I have in mind in particular two remarkable Roman Catholic priests who will be well known to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham because he was then the Bishop of Kensington, Father Michael Hollings and Father Oliver McTernan.

The Church of Ireland has of course long since been disestablished. It was disestablished by a Liberal government under Gladstone. The Church of Wales was disestablished by a Liberal government under Asquith. Indeed, that disestablishment was the first Act passed without the consent of your Lordships' House under the Parliament Act 1911. I accept that the circumstances of the Church of England are different.

In Ireland and, to some extent, in Wales, the established Church was the Church of a small minority and thus seen by most inhabitants as alien to their personal religious concerns. Certainly in Ireland, although not in Wales, it was an object of positive hostility. Of course that is not the case in England today. In England, many people who are not members of the Church of England regard it, as I do, with great respect and totally without hostility. One could say

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that in many ways it is one of the best-loved institutions in the country. But that is not enough to justify the continuance of the establishment.

Disestablishment, the treatment of Churches and faiths as equals, would involve the repeal of the Act of Settlement and that part of the Bill of Rights which excludes Roman Catholics from the throne. No longer is it acceptable to limit the descent of the Crown to Protestants or to remove from the throne a sovereign who converts to Roman Catholicism or marries a Catholic. I believe that the Act of Settlement should go, even without disestablishment.

Repeal of the Act of Settlement would not exclude a Coronation. As matters stand, a Coronation is not a legal requirement. King Edward VIII was a king of England although he was never crowned as such. The form of the Coronation would be a matter for the sovereign who was to be crowned, although I should say that I believe that the Coronation oath should not be used in the anti-Catholic form specified by the Accession Declaration Act 1910, which was itself an improvement on the rabidly anti-Catholic form prescribed by the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement.

Disestablishment inevitably would mean the removal of the reserved places for bishops in your Lordships' House, even if 40 per cent of the bishops were female. I have to say that this would be a cause of real regret. If there is one group within your Lordships' House with whom we on these Benches agree across a wide range of issues, it is the bishops. I remember in particular the powerful and convincing report of the Church of England, Faith in the City. On personal grounds, too, I should like to see the bishops still in their places. However, I do not think that the Church of England should be the only Church that is represented here and I do not think that a compromise would be acceptable. That could leave us with a smaller number of bishops and add official representatives of other Churches and other faiths.

Disestablishment would remove the right of the state to interfere in the affairs of the Church of England. Once again I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham that this needs to be done. No longer should it be necessary for Church measures to obtain the approval of Parliament. The Church of England should be free to choose its own bishops and the next Archbishop of Canterbury surely should be the last to be appointed with the imprimatur of 10 Downing Street.

I believe that establishment now confers little benefit either on the Church itself or on the state. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I do not believe that disestablishment will lead to any destruction of or damage to faith, any more than did 75 years of communist rule destroy faith in Russia. The presence of the bishops in your Lordships' House does confer a benefit because of the quality of their contributions to our debates, but it remains an anomaly that I do not believe either can or should be retained in a reformed second Chamber.

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In 1789 the Congress of the United States of America passed the first 10 amendments to its constitution, those amendments now being known as the Bill of Rights. The first words of the first amendment state:

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

On that occasion, I believe that Congress got it right.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am sure that we would all agree that we have had an informative, thoughtful debate with some eximious speeches, among which I rank the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham very highly. On behalf of these Benches, I too should like to wish him a very happy retirement.

I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, on opening up this time-honoured subject to reveal its modern facets and relevance. The often turbulent relationship between Church and state has bestrode our British history like a Colossus and the history of Europe too—or Christendom, as it was once known. It has been a dominant theme since Constantine adopted the Christian religion, through the medieval centuries of the empire and the papacy, into the Reformation era and our own times.

It has been my impression that the issue of the constitutional separation of Church and state has been comparatively dormant since the disestablishment of the Church in Wales—with the assistance of the Parliament Act and the Great War—apart from odd queries about the inability of a monarch to marry a Roman Catholic or the appropriateness of prime ministerial influence on episcopal appointments, to which the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, devoted his speech. But it may well be that the issue is due for an awakening, primarily because we have become a multi-faith as well as a multi-cultural society. Some of the non-Christian faiths now practised in the United Kingdom have strong adherents and have influence outside the synagogue, the mosque and the temple. One has only to listen to "Thought for the Day" on Radio 4 to realise the diversity of faiths in this country and to understand why His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is reputed to favour the title of "Defender of Faiths" rather than "the Faith".

Those of your Lordships who have been following the progress of the Education Bill through the House will be well aware of the prominence of the faith school concept and the controversy surrounding it. I made my personal position clear at Second Reading when I said that having accepted Roman Catholic and Church of England schools within the maintained system since 1944, I could not see how we would deny similar support to schools of other religions if there was community and parental demand for them. Of course such tolerance might present problems but we have to trust the intrinsic goodness of the faiths concerned to ameliorate any difficulties that might arise. Of course,

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there are those who are opposed to all such schools, who would turn the clock back if they could. They are secular statists and I respect their view.

Constitutional change is very much in the wind. This may be yet another reason for debating this subject today. There have been numerous references to the current issue which is close to our hearts—that is, the place of the right reverend Prelates in a reformed House of Lords. They have occupied their Bench to the right of the Throne since the 13th century, if not earlier, but I note that more than half of the 1,101 respondents to the Government's White Paper thought that there should be no bishops in the new House. An even greater percentage thought that there should be no Law Lords either. None of us appears to be very secure in this place.

Be that as it may, we shall undoubtedly hear demands for places for representatives of other faiths. The report of my noble friend Lord Wakeham has already set the ball rolling. The Government's White Paper reduces the numbers on the Bishops' Benches to 16 but leaves the representation of other faiths to the appointments commission.

I have mentioned the presence of the right reverend Prelates in the House because it reflects the constitutional affinity between the Church of England and the state. We do not have Roman Catholic prelates or prelates from Scotland or Wales—they have their own ecclesiastical arrangements—although some regret their absence. Indeed, they may come to us in the reformed House.

It does not seem to me that any of the issues raised in the debate call for a radical change in the relationship between Church and state. We appear quite capable of handling most of these issues within our present constitutional framework. Even to deal with the problem of the law of blasphemy we have set up our own Select Committee. I take a very conservative view—with a small "c"—of constitutional change. It should of course be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, otherwise it upsets people and tends to create disorder.

Church and state have been separate in the American constitution from its early days. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Morgan and Lord Goodhart, for their comments in relation to that. But the danger of the state on its own, without its religious dowry or spiritual heritage, is that it becomes over mighty and develops its own secular, and possibly abhorrent, philosophy of power. There have been many instances of that happening in Europe. That would be far removed from the essentially religious idea of service which is part of our democratic heritage. That was stressed by Her Majesty in her Jubilee Address, a point echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.

At the same time, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King in the 1960s, when he said:

    "The church must be reminded that it is not the master or servant of the State but rather the conscience of the state".

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Some believe that the Church has not exercised its conscience sufficiently; others that it has occasionally overplayed its role, as my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell reminded us. On the whole, I believe that its record, though not perfect, is to be highly commended.

What we all want to know at the end of the debate is whether the Government have changed their position since 27th July 2000 when—to repeat what was said by the noble Lord who opened the debate and what appears in Hansard—the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, said that,

    "the Government would not contemplate disestablishment of the Church of England unless the Church itself wished it".—[Official Report, 27/7/00; col. 571.]

As far as I can see, there is no evidence that the Church or, indeed, other faiths wish it to be disestablished, a point implied very strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I hope that we shall receive an unequivocal and authoritative answer from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the question of where the Government now stand.

5.37 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, we have had an excellent debate today, for which the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart. There have been many distinguished contributions. Let me, too, say from these Benches that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham will be as much missed on leaving your Lordships' House as he has been appreciated within it.

Perhaps surprisingly there does not appear to have been a full-scale debate on disestablishment of the Church of England in this House or the other place for some years. The debate has provided an opportunity to expound the case against establishment in greater detail, and the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan, Lord Lester, Lord Morgan and Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, have taken that opportunity forcefully. Other noble Lords and right reverend Prelates, however, have argued just as strongly for the retention of the Church's established status. The Government recognise the strengths of deeply-held convictions on both sides.

On the one hand, it is said to be wrong for any one denomination to be given precedence in a society that is characterised both as multi-faith and increasingly secular. Opponents of establishment also find it indefensible that the appointment of bishops and archbishops is not exclusively for the Church and they find it unfair that one denomination has guaranteed seats in your Lordships' House.

On the other hand, it is argued that, far from enabling the Church to bask in privilege, its established status gives the Church a responsibility to the whole community. The nation as a whole benefits from the close connection between Church and state which ensures a voice for moral and ethical issues in public life, and all members of the community, of any faith or none, have a claim on the pastoral services offered by the Church.

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I am sure that most, perhaps all, noble Lords, whatever their views on the issues before us, would recognise the long tradition of inclusive service to the nation which characterises the Church of England. The Church provides pastoral cover for the whole of England. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, emphasised that point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also argued that many who belong to other faiths and denominations welcome establishment; it is said that they share many values with the Church of England and find in establishment support for their own priorities about human life and the human condition. Establishment is said to preserve a link between religion, morality and power. The Chief Rabbi, Dr Sacks, for example, defended establishment on these grounds in his Reith lectures in 1991. He argued that disestablishment would be a significant retreat from the notion that we share any values and beliefs at all.

I propose now to explain why the Government are not persuaded that it would be right in current circumstances to favour the separation of Church and state.

First, it would be an enormously complex undertaking to pull out the threads of the established status of the Church of England without damaging the tapestry of the constitution. I develop the metaphor of the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Durham, of the constitutional "weave". Establishment has had centuries to embed itself in our laws, customs and consciousness. Constitutionally, the Queen in Parliament is the highest authority in the land, in matters ecclesiastical as well as civil. Disestablishment of the Church would necessitate revisiting laws and procedures governing important areas of the nation's business, including the Bill of Rights, the Coronation Oath Act 1688, the Act of Settlement 1701, the Union with Scotland Act 1706, the Union with Ireland Act 1800, the Accession Declaration Act 1910 and the Regency Act 1937. There could also be implications for the legislation of Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty is Queen.

In his notable contribution, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel spelled out his concerns about the legislative implications. He reminded your Lordships that it took Lloyd George seven years to disestablish the Welsh Church; but whether that was because of a dislike for the Welsh bishops or for more fundamental reasons is not for me to opine. In fact, Lloyd George's Bill was introduced in 1912, received Royal Assent in 1914 and was brought into force on 31st March 1920—so, on a conservative estimate, the process did take seven years, although the suspension of the Act in 1914 was probably due as much to the First World War as to difficulties in achieving disestablishment.

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