Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am advised that the noble Lord is entitled to speak, but briefly.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I shall be very brief. I am a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee. I was not planning to speak in this debate but the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, has reminded us that this deprives people of life and liberty. What has brought me to my feet are the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. The Ecclesiastical Committee is there to protect the rights of the citizens. There are weaknesses in the system. We should listen to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said. It is terribly important. They are a minority of individuals but we must pay attention to their interests. They lose their houses, their jobs; they lose everything.

Laws must be drafted absolutely correctly. We do not want any of the matters to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, referred. More care should be given by the Church and by everyone else because, above all, we Christians are concerned about individuals. That is all I want to say.

9 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: I echo the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. I spoke only briefly during the committee's consideration of the Measure. The right reverend Prelate may recall that I expressed some anxiety about hard worked priests. There are many of them. One might have one priest representing and serving six, seven or eight parishes. There could be enormous pressures and that could easily be the subject of a malicious complaint.

I was satisfied that the Measure was unlikely to uphold a malicious complaint or draconian action quite unfairly being taken in such cases. However, it leads me to say that I hope that consideration can be given to the point advanced by my noble friend this evening and on previous occasions. There must be

21 May 2003 : Column 926

some change, both to provide the flexibility to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, referred in terms of the legislative perfection of measures of this kind, and to ensure that in the 21st century the clergy are not denied natural justice by a refusal of adequate representation.

9.1 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we have been debating the appropriateness of the Ecclesiastical Committee at least as much as the appropriateness of the Clergy Discipline Measure. I have one or two points to make on that. There are problems about the concept of the "representativeness" of the Ecclesiastical Committee, which is drawn from Members of both Houses. The Ecclesiastical Committee should operate its powers with the maximum of restraint.

As regards membership, I was one of those who was absent from the last meeting of the Ecclesiastical Committee, which happened to coincide with a meeting of the joint Standing Committee on the EU convention. I felt it was my duty, as someone who follows European matters, to attend that committee.

Perhaps I may tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that the committee, on what many of us thought was an important issue from the outset, failed to start on two occasions for lack of a quorum. It struggled for several months to manage a quorum and to get any notice whatever. Noble Lords can imagine the sour feelings that some of us had when, all of a sudden, the political editor of the Sun arrived and it was splashed all over the newspapers that the world and British sovereignty was coming to an end when some of us had struggled for several months to try to attract the attention of both Houses and the press.

There are always problems about the weight of business on different committees in this House. I suspect that we will struggle particularly with Members of another place to get them to attend in the strength which has been suggested would be appropriate.

We have, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said at the outset, a Measure before us which has received a long and careful scrutiny. It had had nearly 10 years consideration—and six years with the Synod—before it came to us. I have visited Synod on a number of occasions. I was struck by the greater seriousness of its debates than I sometimes witness in another place, although not of course in this Chamber.

The balance of opinion on the Ecclesiastical Committee should be as far as possible to give Synod the benefit of the doubt, although quite properly it should consider whether there are holes in the proposed Measures. We recognise that some delicate issues are addressed. What is proposed is a backstop power which ideally will be used only on the rarest of occasions.

I have a little difficulty with the proposition advanced on behalf of Amicus by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, that there should be full employment rights for the clergy on the same basis as all others, just

21 May 2003 : Column 927

as I have struggled in my own professional life with the argument about whether university teachers—and, indeed, schoolteachers—should have full employment rights on the same principle as everyone else. As teachers, we have a special care for our students that requires higher standards of conduct. Similarly, members of the clergy have a special care, duty and obligation in the way in which they match their private to their public lives that unavoidably demands higher standards of them than of others.

We also recognise the intense pressures of contemporary life both on members of the clergy themselves and, as one or two noble Lords have said, from a tabloid press that is always looking for scurrilous allegations and willing to listen to malicious complaints. As the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, said, they are often entirely unsubstantiated but nevertheless must be answered. One recognises the difficulty for the Church as a hierarchy in handling those situations.

The Measure has got the balance right. It applies to the whole of the Church, from top to bottom; it sets out a careful balance of measures and of discipline; and it attempts to provide a balance of fairness to both sides. On that basis, I welcome the Measure.

9.6 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and the noble Lords, Lord Pilkington and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, have all been much concerned with the Ecclesiastical Committee and its size. That reminds me of the saying that the world is run by the people who turn up. Perhaps that is what we have heard tonight. For myself, I shall confine my comments to the question of the Measure.

We on these Benches support this Measure, which fills a vacuum in the current employment arrangements for clergy. I am grateful for the clear exposition given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester in moving the Motion now before us. Indeed, I should like to take this opportunity to thank him and his team for the articulate and helpful assistance that they gave the Ecclesiastical Committee during our two meetings on the Measure. As a member of that Committee—an interest I now declare—I know that I for one benefited enormously from the help that they gave us, both orally and in writing. I join with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, in that commendation.

In view of what has already been said by the right reverend Prelate and others, and in view of the exhaustive explanatory material published with the Ecclesiastical Committee's report, I shall not detain your Lordships long, but I should like to offer the House a few reasons why the Measure deserves our wholehearted support.

First, it offers clergy a well-thought-through and comprehensive scheme for professional discipline, which current arrangements simply do not provide. Every profession needs a fair, intelligible and

21 May 2003 : Column 928

accessible scheme for the regulation of professional conduct, which is what the Measure will offer. Under its provisions, which will apply to all clergy, frivolous and unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct can be swiftly considered and set aside. As we have heard, alleged misconduct of a more serious character can be fairly and properly determined.

Where adjudication is required, that will be performed by an independent tribunal, operating in much the same way as an employment tribunal. That must be right. I was interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, speak so eloquently in expressing her reservations and yet, at the end, welcome the Measure as a step in the right direction.

Secondly, the whole system lays great emphasis on conciliation and proceeding by consent. That is another feature that we find attractive. Thirdly, I draw the House's attention to the meticulous way in which the Measure has been prepared and in which the Synod considered disciplinary practices elsewhere. As a result, this Measure now offers to Church of England clergy the kind of disciplinary scheme which is taken for granted by most other professions in the United Kingdom; and, indeed, which is enjoyed by their fellow clergy in many other provinces of the Anglican Communion. This is another reason why we support the Measure.

The Measure has been a long time in the making. As we have heard, it is now some six years since the Synod's working party first reported. It has been thoroughly scrutinised by the Synod, with the equivalent of Committee, Report, and Third Reading stages. It has been overwhelmingly approved by the Synod's three houses. It has been found expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. We on these Benches see great merit in these proposals, and wish them well. We agree that they should be presented for Royal Assent.

9.11 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, both expected and unexpected—the latter were, none the less, welcome—and to all who have attended the debate.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for her interest. However, if I may presume to say so, there were times during her speech when she appeared to be ill served by her brief. It seemed to me that those who produced it had not read the Measure with the utmost care and had certainly not attended the debates in order really to understand the issues involved.

I do not believe that the Archbishop's list, which is described and given statutory basis in the Measure, or the preceding Archbishop's list and its predecessor, the caution list, have been open for about 20 years to the kinds of critique described by those who produced the noble Baroness's brief—a brief from which she distanced herself at points. The bishops regard it as absolutely straightforward that we, too, are brought clearly within the ambit of the measure.

21 May 2003 : Column 929

The move that brings retired and other clergy within the ambit of clergy discipline seemed to the Synod to be proper, granted that in any diocese—or at least in some, such as mine and, I suspect, Hereford—hundreds of retired clergy function week by week as clergy. A structure that did not include them within the clergy discipline Measure would be bizarre. As Amicus and many others have long been asking, this Measure gives to clergy who are licensed but not beneficed the same disciplinary structure, and, therefore, the same safeguards as are available to the beneficed clergy.

I was also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for his response in relation to the character of our particular calling. He reasonably used an analogy with his own. It did not seem to the Synod, nor to me, that the issues would be well served were we simply to look to the general range of employment tribunals. The issues would not be well served; the clergy would not be well served; and the public would not be well served. Amicus representatives among Synod members had ample opportunity to make their case to the Synod. However, it needs to be said that, to a very large extent, they did not persuade the Synod.

Clearly the questions raised about the Ecclesiastical Committee by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, are neither matters for us this evening, nor for me, to comment on in any detail. There is an issue about the situation in which an error of drafting in a Measure is widely agreed to be such, both by the Church's representatives and by the Ecclesiastical Committee. However, I very much doubt whether that would be worth the huge effort involved in seeking to review the whole process. Goodness knows which cans of worms might be opened for Parliament and for the Church were such an attempt to be made. I should imagine that all sides would think a great many times before setting out on such a path.

The question of the size of the committee received an appropriate response from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. The comparison between the two matters seemed rather significant. I am very grateful for the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. I am also grateful for his chairmanship, as, I am sure, are the members of the Ecclesiastical Committee and the representatives of the Synod.

It is important to take up one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. I will not respond to the other points, because they relate to how Parliament wishes to do its business—though it would doubtless consult the Church. The noble Lord commented on the presence of the Second Church Estates Commissioner as a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee—one commissioner, not, as I felt he was suggesting, more than one. Presumably, that is a

21 May 2003 : Column 930

parliamentary question rather than a Church matter. At present, there is one member of the Ecclesiastical Committee appointed by one of the Houses of Parliament who is also a member of the Synod, and in the past there have been more than one. In that respect, those members have two bites of the cherry. That is the case for one distinguished Member of another place at present.

I welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. His point that the committee exists to protect the rights of the citizen is of profound validity. But, given what the noble Lord has said this evening and at other times, it is important to state that the citizen—whom I take the Ecclesiastical Committee to be required to have in mind—is not only the cleric but the public. As with other codes of professional discipline, the aim of the Measure and the intensive process over the years has been to hold as carefully as possible in tension the rights of the range of individuals involved—both clergy and public. It is among the particularly difficult responsibilities of a bishop daily, and under the Measure, to hold the two in appropriate tension.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said that we wanted none of the things that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, referred to—I think that I quote him correctly. However, it is important for the record to say that the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, referred to the absence of the word "archbishop" from a clause. We highly regret that absence.

That gives me an opportunity to assure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in response to his first point, that the representatives of the Synod have taken seriously the points made by the committee that are recorded on pages 2 and 3 of the report. I have no doubt that those points will be clearly considered over the next years of implementation, or through miscellaneous provisions Measures, to see how they can be approached.

I take note of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. Of course we are concerned to respect natural justice and I believe that that is safely in place. To some extent the noble Lord retracted his point about rural clergy, who are to be considered and defended just as carefully, along with their parishioners, as any other sort of clergy and parishioners. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for her attention to this matter.

Finally, I thank all members of the committee, its staff and our own staff, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for his skilled chairmanship.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty minutes past nine o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page