Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Synodical Government (Amendment) Measure

6.49 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford rose to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I hope that this Measure and the subsequent Church of England (Pensions) Measure will not delay the House too long.

Your Lordships will be aware that the Church of England has a system of synodical government, which gives representatives of clergy and lay people a role with bishops in the government of the Church at all levels. Although those principles are long-standing, the actual system of synodical government came into being with the passage of the Synodical Government Measure in 1969 and was established in 1970.

About 20 years later, it was decided that the time was right to review the position and a review was conducted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, between 1993 and 1997. The report of that group concluded that there was overwhelming acceptance within the Church of the principles of synodical government and attachment to the general form that it took. In particular, the co-operation of representative clergy and laity with bishops in the Church was widely valued. The report affirmed the principles of openness, accountability and subsidiarity and sought to strengthen confidence in the operation of synodical government. Where the structures were working well, the report recommended that they should be left alone; but in other cases, there was evidence of over-bureaucracy and the stifling of individual responsibility or initiative. In those cases, the report made recommendations for change.

Consultation on the Bridge report revealed a number of divisions about its recommendations. It was therefore decided to give priority to a first-phase package of proposals that had extensive support among those consulted. It is essentially those uncontroversial proposals that form the basis of the Measure. They relate mainly to synodical government

10 Dec 2002 : Column 170

at parish level, where the Bridge report concluded that all was working well and that only minor changes were needed. Larger, more controversial, issues arising in relation to the General Synod will be dealt with subsequently.

The main proposals in the Measure—to be found in the schedule—provide for amendments to the church representation rules, made under the 1969 Measure, that make detailed provision for a number of matters relating to synodical structures. A number of those changes are intended to confer more flexibility or lighten Church structures. Examples include the reduction in the minimum size of diocesan synods from 150 to 120, new arrangements for calculating the number of lay representatives on parochial church councils and a power for another cleric to chair a PCC in the absence of the minister—if the minister, the PCC and the bishop give their consent.

Other changes affecting the position of PCCs include a new requirement that lay people aged 18 or over should have had their name on the electoral roll of a parish for at least six months before being eligible for election to its PCC or the deanery synod. That requirement—which is less onerous than the qualifying period of 12 months recommended by the Bridge report—is considered to be desirable protection against a sudden influx of new members with little previous involvement in parish life.

In addition to making changes to the church representation rules, the Measure also makes a number of other miscellaneous changes to legislation relating to Church life at diocesan level. Those include the lightening of certain committee structures—always welcome in the life of the Church—and an amendment to the functions of diocesan synods to enable them to approve the annual budget and accounts of the diocesan board of finance. The latter change reflects an increasing desire to enhance strategic management by bringing policy and finance together.

The changes to synodical government effected by the Measure may at first sight seem somewhat amorphous and modest in themselves. But taken together, they nevertheless represent a valuable and uncontentious first stage in the process of synodical reform and development, to which the Church stands committed. They have been passed by the General Synod and found expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee. I therefore commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Guildford.)

Lord Newby: My Lords, I declare an interest as a clergy spouse. We on these Benches support the measures. I have only two points to make. First, they once again represent the extreme deliberation—if not slowness—with which the Church of England deals with change. They are extremely modest and have taken a long time to reach this point. Secondly, the

10 Dec 2002 : Column 171

right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford mentioned the possibility of incomers flooding a PCC. The thought of entryism in the Church of England is a new concept to me. I suspect that for many clergymen and women, the thought of a lot of new people wanting to be on the PCC would be only too welcome a novelty. But I am sure that a period of six months will not deter people too much, so, as with the other proposals in the Measure, we will support it.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I welcome that contribution. We are discussing not membership of PCCs but attendance at annual meetings. There are occasions when contentious issues are around and a little campaigning goes on. The provision provides a little discipline.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Church of England (Pensions) Measure

6.56 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford rose to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, this Measure makes provision in essentially two main areas: the first relating to various powers of the Church of England Pensions Board and the second relating to a particular power of the Church Commissioners.

As regards the position of the pensions board, the Measure, first, amends its powers in relation to certain charitable funds that it has previously held on statutory trust for the benefit of its pensioners and their dependants. It does so by winding up those funds and transferring them to the general purposes fund established by the board in 1975. The Measure then gives that fund charitable purposes, which embrace all the former purposes of the funds added to it. The result of that will be to enhance the flexibility that the board enjoys to make discretionary charitable provision for its pensioners and others, as well as reducing administrative costs.

The Measure also widens the board's powers in relation to the provision of retirement housing for those who have served in the stipendiary ministry. Previously, where a couple housed by the board divorced after retirement, the board has been able to continue to house only its pensioner, not the pensioner's former spouse. The Measure gives it power to do so, enabling the board to be even-handed between them.

Those changes in relation to the powers of the Church of England Pensions Board—and another technical change clarifying responsibility for the costs of accruing pension rights in certain circumstances—are addressed in Clauses 1 to 4 of the Measure. The remaining clause, Clause 5, extends the lifespan of one of the powers of the Church Commissioners which was granted to them in 1997.

10 Dec 2002 : Column 172

If your Lordships dig deep into your memories, you may recall that the pensions Measure 1997 significantly altered the arrangements for the funding of clergy pensions. In particular, it limited the commissioners' pension liabilities to those arising from service before the end of 1997 and created a new and separate funded scheme into which dioceses—through funds raised from parishes—could pay clergy pension contributions in respect of service from the beginning of 1998. In support of those arrangements, it gave the commissioners power—but only until the end of 2004—both to give financial assistance to diocesan boards of finance and others in taking on the cost of paying those pension contributions and to spend capital in meeting their own pre-1998 pension liabilities.

It is the last of those powers that the Measure will alter by extending for a further period of seven years—from 1st January 2005—the commissioners' power to spend capital to pay their pre-1998 clergy pension liabilities. The reason for seeking that extension is that, because of the need to fund these liabilities, the commissioners' expenditure is likely to exceed their income by at least 30 million per annum for the foreseeable future. Without the continuation of the power to resort to capital to meet those liabilities, the commissioners would need to make substantial cuts in their discretionary expenditure or re-align their investment portfolio to generate higher income. Either course of action would damage the Church's long-term interests.

Your Lordships will be aware that there was one aspect of the Measure that initially gave cause for concern to the Ecclesiastical Committee. The difficulty that the committee identified in the form that the Measure originally took was that, in addition to providing for an initial extension of the power for seven years up to 2011, it provided for an indefinite number of further extensions after 2011, to be secured by a statutory instrument made by the General Synod and subject to annulment in Parliament. The Ecclesiastical Committee considered that to be inappropriate, taking the view that any further extension ought to be achieved not by statutory instrument but by means of a Measure.

I am glad to be able to reassure your Lordships that that point of concern has now, of course, been resolved. In the light of the views expressed by the Ecclesiastical Committee, the Measure was re-introduced to General Synod and amended by omitting the power to obtain further such extensions. As a result, further extensions of the commissioners' power will have to be achieved by Measure, as the Ecclesiastical Committee thought that they should be. The Church was willing to amend the Measure in that way because it did not consider any question of principle to be involved. Had the Church known the views of parliamentarians in that respect—which it did not—at the time when the Measure was being drafted, proper account would have been taken of them.

10 Dec 2002 : Column 173

The Measure, in the form in which it is before your Lordships' House, has accordingly been found expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee. I hope that your Lordships will now feel able to approve the Measure. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Guildford.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page