|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn 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 Measure stems from the recommendations of the Archbishops' Commission on the Organisation of the Church of England, chaired by Bishop Michael Turnbull (now Bishop of Durham) which reported in 1995. The commission examined the central structures of the Church against the background of the then financial difficulties facing the Church Commissioners but from which the commissioners have now happily recovered. The commission found that there had been a significant loss of confidence in the Church's national organisations which were characterised by fragmentation of effort and a committee-bound culture. Turnbull identified the fact that there was no focal point where responsibility lay for enabling the Church to deal with the opportunities and challenges facing it at the end of the 20th century.
As a result, the Turnbull Commission recommended the establishment of a national council to provide such a focal point coupled with the reform of the organisation of the Church Commissioners, and a redistribution of responsibilities between the commissioners and the proposed council. It also recommended the creation of a unified staff capability to serve all the national Church bodies.
These recommendations were debated in the General Synod and have also been the subject of widespread consultation within the Church, which has included debate in every diocese. There has also been consultation with members of this House and of the other place and individual Church Commissioners of both Church and state.
In the Measure now before us, the original proposals of the Turnbull Commission have been substantially modified in the light of those consultations and, as a result, we have taken particular care to ensure that the proposals do not disturb the existing partnership of Church and state. In particular, Clauses 2 and 5 of the Measure seek to preserve the existing trustee functions of the commissioners, with the current arrangements for accountability to Parliament. Clause 7 and Schedule 4 strengthen and clarify the balance of Church and state in the composition of the commissioners. Clause 8 highlights the fundamental duty of the commissioners to continue to manage their assets, having particular regard to the making of additional provision for the ministry of the Church in parishes where that assistance is most required.
In order that the council and the Church Commissioners will be able to assure themselves that expenditure is compatible with the purposes of the commissioners' trust (in particular for the making of additional provision for the cure of souls in poor parishes), the Measure provides in Clause 2 that the Archbishops' Council shall determine the application of sums made over by the commissioners in accordance with mutually agreed plans should either the council or the commissioners so request. This meets one of the main parliamentary concerns expressed about the
In order to meet other concerns, the balance of Church and state in the composition of the commissioners has been maintained in the Measure by the provision of six state commissioners and 27 other commissioners. This represents a reduction of 62 on the present number of commissioners. The accountability to Parliament is also maintained and, indeed, strengthened by the appointment of a statutory audit committee with a duty to report to the "state" commissioners on any matter relating to the functions of the commissioners which causes the committee "grave concern".
Clause 5 of the Measure refers to the allocation of the commissioners' functions. The Measure provides that they are to retain their functions in respect of asset management and support for bishops and cathedrals, while any proposal to transfer any of their other functions to the council (including, most importantly, their quasi-judicial functions under the Pastoral Measure 1983) may be effected after only consultation with the Prime Minister and the commissioners and with the agreement of the General Synod. Any such proposal must then be laid before Parliament and, where it relates to the Pastoral Measure or allied functions under the Dioceses Measure 1978, will be subject to debate and the approval of both Houses. Any other proposal will be the subject of the negative instrument procedure.
In the General Synod debates and in the dioceses there has been much concern about accountability both of the new Archbishops' Council and of the Church Commissioners. What I have already said about the commissioners will, I hope, reassure your Lordships of the accountability of that body. As regards the Archbishops' Council, Schedule 1 of the Measure provides that it will have a majority of elected members. The Archbishops have the power to appoint up to six people to the council but the General Synod will have to approve such appointments and, in addition, the council will require the approval of the General Synod and of the dioceses in order to achieve anything at all. It needs to be emphasised that the autonomy of the dioceses is unaffected by this legislation.
In the council there will be a careful balance between bishops, clergy and laity and one of the benefits of the provision for appointed members is that this will give the archbishops the scope of finding committed churchmen with the necessary expertise, skills and interests for the essential work of the council, from outside the membership of the synod. The Measure, at Clause 4(1), also requires regular reporting to the synod with regard to the work and proceedings of the council.
I hope I have said enough to indicate to your Lordships the carefully balanced nature of the legislation before the House. It offers many benefits for the Church: the creation of an Archbishops' Council which will provide a focal point for policy and strategic thinking among the national organisations of the Church; the bringing together of the responsibility for finance and policy issues which, at the moment, are separate; the creation of a stronger partnership between
I am sure that it will not have escaped your Lordships that the Ecclesiastical Committee, after questioning the synod witnesses (of which I was privileged to be one) came to the conclusion that the Measure provides appropriate mechanisms for the delicate relationship between the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops' Council, especially with regard to maintaining, through the commissioners, an independent element in decision-making at the central level, subject to parliamentary accountability.
The General Synod gave final approval to the Measure with large majorities in all three Houses. The Ecclesiastical Committee has also resolved that the Measure is expedient. I trust that tonight this House will approve it. It is vital as we approach the millennium that the work and witness of the Church throughout this land should be supported by effective and accountable national institutions. In my submission, this Measure assists us in achieving that goal. I commend the Measure to the House.
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 Blackburn.)
Lord Newby: My Lords, I believe that I can speak in this debate from a unique vantage point. Yesterday my wife was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England and I have spent the past two years living during the week in London, where I have had the benefit of hearing the wisdom of the right reverend Prelates, and my weekends at the theological college in Oxford where I have heard the concerns of students who have been extremely anxious about how their bishops view them. That has been a somewhat eccentric, if not bizarre, view of the Church of England which I am relieved to say now comes to the end as my wife has taken up a curacy in the Southwark diocese.
The Church, like every other national institution, is faced with huge challenges and pressure for change. Everyone must realise that change in the Church is peculiarly difficult, often, but not always, for very good reasons. Having been present at an exceptionally impressive ordination service yesterday in Southwark Cathedral, I know only too well how the Church, in many cases, is able to marry what in that case was an essentially unchanged ceremony with the, for many people, difficult relative innovation of women priests.
On these Benches, we take extremely seriously the concept of subsidiarity. But it seems to me, from my somewhat bizarre vantage point, that the Church of England has sometimes taken that principle so far as
The basic reason for this Measure is the Church Commissioners' losses on the Stock Exchange. That has not been in any way concealed. There are other better reasons for such a reorganisation but it is extremely doubtful whether they would have come into play without that particular trigger. As one of the young rebels in the Church of England in the early 1960s, I know how difficult it is to get the Church to move without a small explosive charge to set it off. I believe that those losses on the Stock Exchange were the same explosive charge which was necessary. It has set it off and we have had the Turnbull report.
I am rather dubious about some aspects of the report, in particular the playing down of the rural deanery and the Rural Deanery Synod. I remember that the right reverend Prelate the present Lord Bishop of Chichester wrote a paper which I published in those days of the 1960s in which he urged that the rural deanery was in fact the right size both historically and pastorally for the diocese. That is a case that I should be quite prepared to argue in your Lordships' House or elsewhere but I admit that it would be a red herring.
But what is not a red herring, which came out in the meeting of the Ecclesiastical Committee, when it considered the Measure, is the need to see that such losses do not occur again, at least for the same reasons. A lot of nonsense has been talked about Church Commissioners having now restored the losses that were made. They have done nothing of the sort. They have made gains during one period which they can offset against the losses they made in another. But they cannot bring the funds up to the level at which they could have been today if those losses had not been made. I have every confidence in them and in particular in my old friend, schoolfellow and colleague, Sir Michael Coleman, in his difficult task.
But the Church must have its safeguards. That point arose in the Ecclesiastical Committee on a question from the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, on page 21 of the 211th report when the right reverend Prelate commented on the way money might have been diverted at a later stage when the Church Commissioners had handed it over to the Archbishops' Council.
I have some experience of that. The first bishop under whom I served as a clergyman was a great man and a saint. I say that not just because he ordained me, which is obviously proof of it; not just because when I was
His actions clearly were in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. But they were not the way in which you can organise an institution like the Church, which must try to do the impossible: to serve God and Mammon. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, who, I am sorry to say, is not taking part in the debate tonight, summed it up in the Ecclesiastical Committee when he said:
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I thank the two noble Lords who have participated in the debate. It is a great pleasure to think of the wife of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, being ordained deacon in the cathedral where I was ordained deacon 36 years ago this month. I also ask the noble Lord to convey my congratulations to her. I hope that she will be as happy in ministry as I have been.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, raised a number of points. We could go on for a very long time talking about the Church Commissioners and how there is a rolling cycle of good and bad and profit and loss. However, the fact remains that the commissioners have acted most responsibly during the past few years. Indeed, they are showing considerable confidence at the present time and we hope that that will continue.
I am sorry to have to correct the noble Lord, but the reference to "rural deaneries" and "deanery synods" is to be found in the report of the working party of the Bridge Committee of which I happen to be the vice-chairman. I should like to stress in your Lordships' House that it did not propose the abolition of rural deaneries. It sought to give dioceses the opportunity to decide if that was the kind of infrastructure that they wished to have as far as concerns the deanery synod. However, as the noble Lord hinted, that is a matter for another day and another place.