HC Deb 07 November 1961 vol 648 cc792-3
Q1. Mr. Thorpe

asked the Prime Minister whether he will introduce legislation to alter the system of appointment of bishops, in order to ensure free elections.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

No, Sir.

Mr. Thorpe

Would the Prime Minister agree that it is somewhat odd that a dean and chapiter are told that they have the right to elect a bishop, and by the next post they are told whom they must elect and that the man selected has been chosen by the Prime Minister, who need not even be a Christian? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the time has come to loose his old on the bishops' apron strings and to allow free elections by the dean and chapter?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The formalities of this go back to the Act of 1534. In this problem it would be wiser to see what the Church of England itself thinks. I understand that the Church Assembly is today considering whether it should request the archbishops to appoint a commission to consider the method of appointment to ecclesiastical offices. I much prefer to see whether that commission is appointed and what its views may be.

Mr. G. Thomas

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that there are people who believe that if the Church of England wants her complete freedom the best way to have it is by disestablishment, as in Wales?

The Prime Minister

No doubt that aspect of the problem will be in the minds of all concerned.

Mr. Fletcher

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that the laity as well as the clergy have a great interest in this matter and that the present system has worked reasonably well for a long time? Will he also bear in mind that, whereas consultation is one thing, there is no reason to suppose that a new system of election of bishops will be likely to produce any better results than the present one?

The Prime Minister

Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, consultation is carried on in every possible way we can make it effective. Meanwhile, I have been in communication with the new Archbishop of Canterbury. I have great confidence in his wisdom and knowledge, and I think that it would be much better to wait to see what the Church Assembly decides to do and to take into consideration any recommendation that any of its committees might make.