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Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am grateful for an opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate. I should first apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), who is unable to be here as he is under doctors' orders. I am sure that he would entirely endorse my point, which is that we are extremely grateful, not only for the clarity of the exposition by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), but for the amazingly thorough work of the Ecclesiastical Committee; not being a member of the Committee, I can express my gratitude to it for that.
I do not have a pecuniary interest in the matter, of course, but I have a personal interest in that my brother is a parish priest in the Church of England. I take a close interest in the way in which the Anglican Church operates at all levels, and I have in the past observed, at a distance, misconduct proceedings.
The Measure is extremely timely, perhaps even overdue. Those of us who are practising members of the Church of England understand that this has long been an area of concern to many Church people, and perhaps to some outside it. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Measure establishes beyond peradventure that the civil standard of proof must be the basis of judgments made in future misconduct proceedings.
I have had the benefit of reading the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, including the very thorough interrogation of representatives from the Synod. I also commend the work of the Synod, which is comprehensive, imaginative and sensitive. Indeed, if Members of Parliament had equally sensitive and humane guidance on the way in which we operate, perhaps we would be rather better at ensuring that we all work positively and constructively to the same agenda.
When reading the documents, one occasionally wonders what is being got at. My heart rose when I saw that the report contained a section on fashion. Those of us who are practising members of the Church of England are often confused when we go to a church that we do not know as well as our own and witness very different fashions in clerical garb. When I came to read the detail, however, I found that it was nothing to do with that at all. That is unfortunate, because some guidance on fashion for incumbents would not go amiss. One sometimes gets the feeling that anything goes these days, and happy-clappy priestsperhaps they would not want to be called thatcan look somewhat absurd.
Mr. Tyler: There is nothing wrong with them, but I am sometimes disconcerted by their choice of garb. The hon. Gentleman is a very distinguished member of a very distinguished ecclesiastical family, and when he speaks he may wish to give some description of the different garb that can be used in church and the confusion that it can cause.
At several points, the papers contain a considerable degree of distilled wisdom. They are a good read, extraordinarily, if rather long for those of us who have other preoccupations. I like, for example, the definition of good discipline as
We are indebted to all those who have been involved in the process, but that should not disguise the fact that this is not really a proper matter for Parliament any longer. Although I pay due attention to and respect the work of hon. Members, including several who are present, on the Measure, it is extraordinarily anomalous to subject only one Church among many to such scrutiny. The House can scarcely pretend to be made up predominantly of members of that Churchor perhaps any Christian Churchand should not therefore be given such a responsibility.
Although I agree with our Committee's conclusions, and respect the work of the Synod, I look forward to the time when we can say that it is a matter not for us but for the Church and its effective self-discipline.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I warmly support the Clergy Discipline Measure and wish it well. I do not criticise the absence of many members of the Ecclesiastical Committee because their work is done when they present their report to the House. I shall revert to that point.
The report is outstanding. The 218th report of the Ecclesiastical Committee should be much more widely available and I should like the Church of England to consider putting its evidence on its website. It should be freely available, although, at £12.50 the report is the best value for money that can currently be obtained from the Stationery Office. I warmly recommend it for wider reading in the Church of England.
The supplementary material is especially valuable. The "Draft Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy" begins with a remarkable theological reflection by Francis Bridger. He points out that, whatever the law in the Church of England, it depends on a cluster of concepts about covenant, agape and virtue. He explains that in such a way that even a layman like me can understand it. At the end of his section, he states:
Clause 24 deals with penalties and is the most serious part of the Measure. Prohibition and removal from office are the most serious penalties. Priests can be subject to rumours, vexatious complaints and gossip. Even if they are innocent and have gone through the new process, a priest and his or her family may find it impossible to continue their ministry in the parish because of the amount of gossip and malicious rumour.
The report compares other professions with the clergyI commend the Synod for going into such detail in its work over some nine yearsand it compared tribunal procedures, including standard of proof, in other professions and occupations such as those of accountants, architects, barristers, dentists, doctors, Lloyd's insurers, nurses, midwives, health visitors, pharmacists, police, solicitors and veterinary surgeons. Synod reached conclusions that informed the decision on the way in which to proceed. My problem with that is that there are some matters that none of those professions has in common with clergy. The most obvious is housing.
Low income demands some benefits, which have traditionally been offered in housing. Sometimes the freehold was part of the deal. Nowadays, approximately two out of five clergy are not beneficiaries of freehold. If somebody is prohibited or removed from office under the disciplinary procedures, what happens to the housing? What is the time scale for leaving the property? Is any assistance provided? We are not considering veterinary surgeons and solicitors but people on clerics' salaries. If we are not careful, we could impose a double penalty.
What is the position on pensions? In some professions, people who lose their jobs for disciplinary reasons also lose the right to their pension. Is that the case under the Measure? I read the documents from cover to cover but I found no mention of that in the interrogation by the Ecclesiastical Committee or the notes.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner referred to complaints about doctrine, ritual and ceremonial. I understand that the bishops made a sensible recommendation to put that on one side and deal with disciplinary matters first. However, I understand that another committee will sit and present doctrinal discipline proposals some time. What stage have we reached on that?
I had always been content to trust the Ecclesiastical Committee to do its work and present us with reports. Last night, a debate on the Clergy Discipline Measure took place in another place. I was worried to read that several of their lordships questioned the efficacy of the Ecclesiastical Committee. Lord Brightman asked about its size and recommended that it should be cut from 30 to 15 Members of Parliament. Only five of the 15 Members of this House who are entitled to attend went to both evidence sessions that the Ecclesiastical Committee held. Lord Brightman said:
Having said that, I look forward to hearing some answers from the Second Church Estates Commissioner, and I repeat that I wish the Measure well. I am absolutely confidenthaving checked with my bishop before I spoke that he, too, was contentthat these provisions will rapidly pass into the everyday business of the Church of England.