HC Deb 16 July 1984 vol 64 cc126-44 10.49 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

We now come to the Church of England (General Synod) (Measures).

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

I beg leave to raise with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a point of order of which I have given notice to the Chair and of which, I believe, the Leader of the House is aware.

The House will see from the Order Paper that this instrument requires the Queen's consent, which is, of course, given on the advice of Ministers. The Queen's consent is normally associated with Government measures and, in that connection, would be taken for granted. However, it is from time to time made available to enable a debate to take place on something which is not a Government measure. But that occurs in circumstances where, if the proposal should eventually go through other stages, the Government would be in a position, were it contrary to Government policy, to prevent it at some stage from passing.

In these respects, I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this instrument is peculiar because it is, I take it, not a Government measure. Moreover, it emanates from an assembly in which, unlike this assembly, the Government enjoy neither a majority nor decisive influence. If the motion to be moved is passed by the House and the other place, the measure will be presented automatically for Royal Assent. In that sense, this is the last as well as the first opportunity that the House has for expressing an opinion on it and that the Government have of exercising any influence which they wish to bring to bear.

In those circumstances, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I submit that it might naturally be assumed from the Queen's consent being made available that the measure enjoys the Government's support and approval. If that is not the case, I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the Leader of the House that the Government owe it to the House to make it clear, before the debate commences, whether that is the case.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to help the House and express my appreciation to the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) for raising this point. To remove doubt, I confirm my understanding that the signification by a Privy Councillor of the Queen's consent to a motion does not necessarily imply the Government's support for the measure.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am obliged to the Lord Privy Seal for what he said. There was, however, a note of ambiguity in his remarks when he said that the signification does "riot necessarily" convey the Government's support. I believe that the House would assume from the exchange that has just occurred, and in the absence of any specific statement from the right hon. Gentleman, that this is not a measure to which the Government are a party or on which the Government, as a Government, have a view.

Mr. Biffen

indicated assent.

Mr. Powell

I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman's assent.

Mr. Biffen

I am happy to confirm that view.

Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.

10.52 pm
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Representing Church Commissioners (Sir William van Straubenzee)

I beg to move, That the Appointment of Bishops Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament. In the present circumstances, it is important for me to start by stressing what this Measure is not about. I draw upon the 188th report of the Ecclesiastical Committee reporting to both Houses of Parliament. On page 3 the Committee states: The Ecclesiastical Committee draw attention to the fact that the Measure in no way affects the legal position whereby all bishops are appointed by the Crown. What it does is to change the procedure that has to be followed for the purpose of carrying Crown's appointments into effect". I stress that this Measure is not concerned with sifting of names, the making up of lists, the presentation of names to the Prime Minister and the advice tendered to the Sovereign. All that takes place before this Measure starts to operate. That appointment having been made, rightly and respectfully vested in the Sovereign, we must consider the present procedure.

The present procedure is laid down by the Appointment of Bishops Act 1533. It is none the worse for being an old Act. It is one in a series, as many of my hon. Friends will remember, whereby the King in Parliament ousted the Pope. In 1534 the Act provided two methods by which a bishop might be elected. In the first, the Crown gives the dean and chapter licence to elect but couples it with a letter telling them whom to elect. In the second, the Crown issues letters patent to the archbishop of the province asking him to consecrate the chosen man.

The first method — the "election" method — is normally used for filling the diocesan bishoprics. There has never been a case in which the request to elect has been refused. That is not surprising. I am sure that hon. Members have read, among others, the evidence of Professor McClean, given to the Ecclesiastical Committee. It is a new and helpful innovation that such evidence is now available to all hon. Members before they reach a decision. What was brought out was that this system has never been a free election. It has always been controlled by the Crown, the Papacy, or both.

Until the House so enacted in the late 1960s—when the appropriate penalties were abolished—a refusing chapter was subject to the pains of praemunire, which I understand to be, although not personally, painful and unpleasant in terms of one's personal possessions. It is therefore not surprising that no dean and greater chapter refused the request of the Sovereign so to elect.

Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)

Were there occasions when the dean and chapter, before agreeing with the recommendation, satisfied themselves that the prospective bishop believed the tenets of the Christian belief?

Sir William van Straubenzee

Assuming for a moment that the dean and chapter were presented with a candidate whom they believed did not believe the tenets of the Christian faith, there is no example in all the years that I have surveyed in which any such dean and greater chapter have refused to elect such a man. If it is believed that this method of election is an effective defence against such a man, it has proved completely ineffective for a long time. Those who look upon it as a great bulwark and defence do not, it seems to me, have much to lean on.

I move to the second method set out in the Act. The 1534 Act simply says that the archbishop is to confirm the election. The truth is that if the dean and greater chapter refuse to act in the first place, the Crown would simply use the second method and say that the archbishop is to confirm the election. The Act does not lay down the procedures now followed. They are known to have existed in their present form at least by the reign of Charles II, but they have force only by way of prevention, and not by way of an Act of Parliament.

This measure abolishes election, and, to judge by certain current events, allows the more effective method to be used. The measure abolishes what I think, without the use of extreme language, I can call the farce of election. It leaves confirmation as the only method, and in that way—to make a serious point—it develops the historic thread, going back to the system of confirmation. At the same time, the Measure strengthens and improves it by setting out the procedures, removes it from a purely legal ceremony described in evidence which I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House have read, removes it from the substantial fees payable to the legal luminaries concerned, and removes it from a ceremony conducted by the vicar-general.

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

What would be the position if the archbishop refused to confirm under the letters patent?

Sir William van Straubenzee

The real strength in the archbishops of the two provinces, in the event of their ever being pushed to a point of being presented with elections which were wholly unacceptable, lies in the power of consecrating or not consecrating. The measure removes the appointment from a purely legal ceremony centred on the Vicar-General—who is a legal officer—and in which substantial fees are payable, to one conducted by the archbishop of the province, which is essentially a pastoral occasion, the details of which are set out in the Measure for all hon. Members to see. It still retains the historic thread of the confirmation, which is of great antiquity.

The House would not wish me to go in detail into every clause of the order, but the House expects any person introducing a measure such as this to at least—

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

It is important for my hon. Friend to make clear to the House in what circumstances he thinks that an archbishop might refuse to consecrate.

Sir William van Straubenzee

I do not think that I can be asked to speculate on the conditions on which so serious an occasion as the refusal to consecrate a man or, possibly in future a woman, might—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I have to keep the sexual options open. I cannot speculate, and cannot be reasonably expected to do so. It is true that up to now this has not happened, but in the event of real pressure for an unsuitable person—

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Name him.

Sir William van Straubenzee

—it is best for the archbishop not to consecrate. It is a very serious right that is vested in him. [Interruption.] I do not think that I can reasonably be asked to speculate as to names or as to the degree of participation. We must all hope, surely, that such a situation does not—

Several Hon. Members


Sir William van Straubenzee

Several of my hon. Friends are leaping up and down. There is plenty of time, and I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels).

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Will my hon. Friend try to explain to me the one point about which I am uncertain? [Interruption.] Suppose that, after the consecration in any particular diocese of a suffragan bishop, he transfers to a new diocese as a full bishop. Surely the archbishop would not then be able to stop the consecration from going ahead, because the man has already been consecrated, and one is left then only with the enthronement.

Sir William van Straubenzee

There is no question then, of course, of a consecration—that is perfectly true—but, with great respect to my hon. Friend, who follows these matters very carefully, the enthronement has no legal significance whatever. It is increasingly a ceremony of great importance to the diocese in question, because it is a ceremony of welcome, but in the legal order of matters it has no importance as such. I hope that I have answered my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. William Powell

Is not the reason why there has so far been no refusal of consecration that it is the act of election which actually vests the new diocesan with the powers which he is to exercise as diocesan? By abolishing election the archbishops will be put into the position of deciding whether or not the man should have the powers which the Crown wishes him to have.

Sir William van Straubenzee

I think that that is not necessarily the case. There has been historically—I go back many years — an occasion when, as is now generally known from the biographies and so on, which we can all read, the archbishops of the time seriously considered whether a man should be consecrated. They gave the matter very careful thought.

Several Hon. Members


Sir William van Straubenzee

We have plenty of time. I am simply saying that on that occasion, having given the matter careful thought, they did not decide to refuse or to withhold the right of consecration. [Interruption.] I am simply reporting to the House, I hope fairly, that it has never actually been witheld.

Several Hon. Members


Sir William van Straubenzee

There is a queue. I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend referred to "real" pressure and said that the archbishops "might" refuse. That is a most important phrase. What does it mean? Does it mean that the sort of pressure that was mounted against the Bishop of Durham—rightly, in my opinion—would be "real" pressure and would be accepted by the Archbishop of York as a suitable ground upon which to refuse to consecrate?

Sir William van Straubenzee

With respect, I think that this is an occasion on which we have to have trust in the men concerned as being persons of sufficient stature, and who, if faced, in circumstances which I profoundly hope would never occur—[Interruption.] I would regard it as a very sad day for the state and the Church of England. I am asked whether faced with a name that was totally unsuitable, they would actually refuse the right of consecration. I really do not think that in fairness I can be asked to seek to put clothing over this skeleton to any greater extent than I have done.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Is not election an act of authority cloaked in the appearance of democracy? Does that not conform with the ambiguity of many institutions in our constitution and should not be lightly dismissed as a mere farce?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for helping me with my argument. He does not often do that. He used the word "cloaked" in democracy. With his unerring eye, he has gone to the centre of the point. It is just cloaked.

Mr. Budgen

What is wrong with it?

Sir William van Straubenzee

What is wrong with it is that, if I might put it bluntly, it is a farce.

Mr. Budgen


Sir William van Straubenzee

Well, that might be the sort of democracy that appeals to my hon. Friend, but to most of us it is unacceptable. I am simply saying that it is better to rest on the second alternative of an ancient and honoured act, which is that of confirmation which this Measure, if the House so approves, as I trust it will, will develop and be introduced in the second half of the 20th century.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

There is one matter that puzzles me in clause 1(3), where it refers to before the consecration or, if there is no consecration, before the enthronement". Does the measure envisage the possibility of there not being consecration.

Sir William van Straubenzee

It must, because it is perfectly possible for a bishop who has been properly consecrated to be moved to another diocese. The present diocesan Bishop of Oxford was moved from another diocesan post. In the senior bishoprics that happens quite frequently. The measure must so provide. My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to explain the clauses briefly, because I think that the House will soon weary of my voice—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—even if I do not.

The clauses are explained in general terms on page 6 of the report. I hope that hon. Members see the wide terms of clause 1. I draw attention to the importance of the date for appointment being recorded — because it affects Parliament—as it determines the date on which those so appointed by formal appointment will be called to another place. I hope that clause 1(5) appeals to the majority who believe that all lawyers are grossly overpaid and which Excludes the prescription of a fee for any specific duty imposed on a legal officer by virtue of this Measure. This process, which I have ventured—I hope not unfairly — to summarise for the House, has been tolerated. It could be argued that, until now, there has been some form of safeguard, however shadowy, against a harmful appointment being made by an unfettered Prime Minister, yet, as I have shown, no chapter has refused to elect and archbishops have never refused to consecrate. However, it was still felt that there was a measure of long-stop.

The final objections were swept away in 1977 when the party leaders agreed to new arrangements for the appointment of bishops. I shall not go into them in detail, but they come into effect regardless of this Measure. The House knows that two names are submitted to the Prime Minister upon certain understandings. That happens before this Measure or the 1534 legislation comes into effect.

Sir John Wells (Maidstone)

I wish to ask my hon. Friend two questions. First, he referred to the 1977 understanding between the leaders of the parties. That is clearly like the usual channels, and a matter for the Patronage Secretary. It does not have the force of law. The gossip of three worthy gentlemen is not the force of law.

Secondly, my hon. Friend made great play of saving lawyers' fees. Is this the first of a new series of Measures which the Synod is bringing forward to save us humble people in the pews from paying fees to lawyers when a new rector or vicar is appointed?

Sir William van Straubenzee

Yes, provided I survive, I shall bring in a further measure with further relief in that respect. We must see how we get on. I must be careful, because we have a long way to go yet.

My hon. Friend and I were in the House during the period in question. He may recollect, as I certainly do, that all three party leaders took the consultation exceedingly seriously. I cannot believe that a Conservative Member could contemplate that the Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, would agree to such a change without the most careful thought and widespread consultation, which she certainly undertook. I willingly concede that the same applied to the leaders of the other parties.

This is a constitutional matter, which was carefully and thoughtfully considered by the leaders involved. It is in operation, but it works only before either the present law or, if the House approves it, this change in the law, comes into effect.

My final duty is to call the House's attention to the fact that this was carefully debated. The voting figures in the General Synod are set out in the report. They are overwhelming and show that the small number who opposed the Measure did so because they thought it should go further.

I am grateful for the fact that at such a late hour the House has turned out in such large numbers to consider a matter which some, though none of us, may consider to be a matter of detail. It will be greatly appreciated by the Church of England. I hope that on hearing my advocacy the House will feel on consideration that it is a matter to which it can give its approval.

11.19 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

The Second Church Estates Commissioner said several times during his speech that there is plenty of time. To the scandal of the House, there is not. More than one third of the time which our Standing Orders allow for discussing this measure has already elapsed, for we have, in our unwisdom, decided to treat measures which are sent to us by another assembly for a single consideration as though they were Statutory Instruments made by virtue of Acts passed by this House and another place. So I shall be as brief as I can.

It can come as no surprise to the authors of this measure that it seems unlikely to be welcomed whole-heartedly by the House this evening. Both formally and informally, the strong objections of instinct and of reason which were felt to such a Measure were conveyed in time to those who framed and passed it. I am not the only person in the Chamber to whom this appears to be an act of wanton vandalism—an act which illustrates the gulf between the General Synod and the ordinary feelings of the general public, and the gulf between the bureaucracy of the Church and the nature and historical sense of the Church of England.

Since at least the early middle ages, bishops in the Catholic Church have been elected by the chapter, whether it be a monastic or a secular chapter, of the cathedral church from which they take their names: but of course their appointment has been of deep interest to the lay authority. The relationship between the two processes was, and in a sense still is, an unsolved dilemma—the claim of the Church to elect freely its own and the claim of the lay authority that those displeasing or resistant to it should not be placed in positions of prominence.

At the English Reformation we solved this problem in a typically English way that has proved satisfactory for close upon five centuries. It was to combine the two methods side by side—to combine the congé d'élire under the Great Seal with the Letters Missive prescribing the required name. If any hon. Member believes that I am unserious in describing that as a solution, I remind the House that the solution by the Church of England of a much deeper, more painful, and ultimately insoluble conflict, was resolved in the Elizabethan prayer book by putting the two alternative interpretations side by side.

This measure would destroy that. It would destroy that settlement, if one wishes so to call it. It would wipe the memory of it from our statute book and uproot it from the history of the Church of England. So we naturally turn—and we have cause to be specially grateful for the work of the Ecclesiastical Committee and the evidence which it has laid before the House — to the reasons advanced for it. The professor who is vice-chairman of the House of Laity said: I think quite seriously the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit receives more attention in the church now than perhaps it did in times past. That is remakable statement in the year 1984—is it not?—that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is now taken more seriously than it has been at any time during the past four and a half centuries in the Church of England. The professor went on: I think people see this as offensive, frankly, that it should go on. I mean no jocularity, but for 450 years no transept has been struck by lightning during the continuance of a procedure whereby the Holy Spirit was invoked on the deliberations of dean and chapter who nevertheless had to obey the Letter Missive. I say that what is a ludicrous travesty is to pretend that after 450 years there is an illumination today which enables us to see absurdities where those who went before us saw only wisdom—a wisdom which is part of the wisdom which sustains the Church of England.

If that were all that there was in the measure, I should be content to treat it as a piece of frivolous meddling and request my colleagues to tell the Synod not to trouble the House with legislation of so little moment. Unfortunately, it is clear from the evidence submitted to the Ecclesiastical Committee that there is a very serious purpose and a very dangerous context to this measure. It is a purpose and a context which repudiates the sentence which the Second Church Commissioner quite rightly emphasised from the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, which said: the measure in no way affects the legal position whereby all bishops are appointed by the Crown. I must trouble the House with one other quotation—from the evidence of the Bishop of Rochester. It is his reference on page 11 to the change which had taken place. He said that the overriding feeling was that we wanted a practice that was consistent with the fact that Mr. Callaghan, when he was Prime Minister, and Mrs. Thatcher, when she was Leader of the Opposition, and the then Leader of the Liberal party agreed to a change of practice in the appointment of bishops—a far-reaching change, the first change really since 1533. It was the fact that elected representatives of the laity as well as the clergy were to take part in the nomination of those from whom the Prime Minister would make the recommendation to the Crown which so altered the balance as to show up what many have felt for a long time was the offensiveness of the Dean and Chapter's bogus election. So now we know what we are dealing with. The General Synod is saying, "We have an election of bishops now. We have a new sort of election of bishops, invented in 1977. We have an election carried out by elected representatives, lay and clerical. Therefore, as the Church of England is now in a non-bogus sense electing its bishops, let us sweep away the manner of election and appointment of bishops which was laid down in 1533."

This is not an end. This is a beginning. This is the General Synod saying to the House of Commons, "We now have an internal election in the Church of England which throws up the persons whom the Crown will have to appoint as bishops. Let us therefore acknowledge that we have gone far to reducing to unreality the proposition that patronage in the Church of England is lay and the bishops are nominated and appointed by the Crown."

So the anxiety—here it is in the evidence—to sweep away the historical form was prompted by the determination of the General Synod to carry the Church of England further and further towards a system of internal self-government.

It is possible to have an internally self-governed church in this country, but it will not be the national church, it will not be the Church of England. The church is the Church of England because of royal supremacy, because there is royal—and that is to say, lay—supremacy. It is for that reason that it is the church of the people and the church of the nation, and can never be converted into a mere sect or a private, self-managing corporation.

Therefore there is a symbolism and more than symbolism in the measure. I offer to the House the suggestion, and I believe that the House should offer to the General Synod the warning: "Do not imagine that you can destroy forms in the Church of England without also destroying substance. More than that, do not imagine that you can reduce to nugatory proportions the reality of the royal supremacy without undermining the foundations of the Church of England itself. Take heed what you do." I hope that the House will make it clear to the General Synod that the measure does not have its approval.

11.31 pm
Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)

The House has every right to discuss these matters. I strongly support the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr.Powell); the House should be the long stop, and it has proved wise in the past to have a long stop. The House must continue that role.

I am glad that so many hon. Members are present. That is usually the case when we have such debates, and long may it continue. The established Church cannot have it both ways and it would do well to heed what we say tonight.

It is not a question whether one is a member of the Anglican Church. It is the duty of Parliament to have a say in these matters. I must declare an interest. I was converted to the Anglican faith about 42 years ago. I am a diocesan reader in the Church of England and I love it very much. I want the link between the Church and the state to continue. It would be a sad day for the faith and for our Christian heritage if we lost that link.

It is no good the Synod or the Church saying that if Parliament decides on these matters and goes against their wishes, that will separate us even more. They cannot have it both ways.

Not much has been said about clause 1(4) which lays down what is required of an incoming archbishop or bishop. It says: On the occasion of the reception and recording of a nomination the person nominated shall do various things, including give his consent to be archbishop or bishop … take the oath of allegiance —that is an interesting requirement in the light of recent events— be vested with the spiritualities. It is important that the bishop or archbishop should know what is required of him. I remind the House of the scriptures, especially the first book of Timothy, chapter III, which spells out what is required of a bishop: This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine —that is an interesting requirement— no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; It is interesting to note that it goes to mention: Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. A requirement of a bishop is to hold to the faith. It continues: For they that have the office … and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. It is extremely important that we remember the conditions that were laid down in the original Church of what is required of a bishop.

There is a great unease among the members of the Church of England at what is taking place. They are disquieted and there is real concern. The Church needs to consider carefully what is required of an incoming bishop or archbishop.

I humbly suggest that there are two things that are required as we see in holy scripture. First, it is essential that the faith should be maintained. Any weakening of the faith in respect of the Virgin Birth and the ressurection is something which is as terrible to contemplate as the future of the Church of England. Secondly, we need bishops who have a pastoral vision. We need more and more pastors in the Church of England. I hope that that will be noted by the Synod.

Dr. Mawhinney

Peterborough will have the next bishop to be appointed, as the present bishop has announced his retirement. I understand that Peterborough is the next in line. Will my hon. Friend accept from me that in expressing the two things that are needed in the Church of England he has expressed clearly and succinctly my desire for the appointment of the new bishop and, I believe, the overwhelming desire of the majority of my constituents?

Sir Peter Mills

I agree with my hon. Friend. Appointments will have to be made for Peterborough, Exeter and Winchester. I hope that the Synod will listen to the House on these matters. It is extremely important that it should.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of making a short speech in this debate. These are crucial matters for the future of the Church of England and do not let anyone say that we should not be concerned with them. We must, and beware if we do not.

11.37 pm
Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) for reminding the House that, whatever our beliefs, we have a duty to examine this measure, which is to abolish things which are nearly as old as Westminster hall. The measure has been brought to us late at night with a minimum of information, although I pay tribute to the exposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee), for a scandalously short debate.

The Church of England has a new system of elected diocesan committees electing people to the Crown Appointments Commission, which makes the actual nomination. When the new system was introduced I remember the then Dean of St. Paul's writing to The Times on 8 November to say that a major weakness lay in the absence of rules laying down how the diocesan representatives would be selected. In the event, the non-synodical layman was eliminated and the diocesan representatives were reduced from five to four. Many will have noticed the letter that appeared in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph from the Rev. J. D. Brown, vicar of Westhampnett, Chichester, in which he stated: The ordinary clergy and laity"— he is speaking of the new system— in the dioceses have little say in the choice of their bishops, who are in danger of becoming a self-perpetuating clique. There have been earlier moves for the abolition of the congé d'élire from the time of Edward VI. In 1965, the measure was defeated by substantial majorities in the Church Assembly. This time, few voted against the Measure. But the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who was on the committee, may have been right when he suggested that the elect, the vanguard of the Church, find it offensive"— that is the system that it is proposed to abolish— not … the person in the pew. My experience in the Roman Catholic Church is that the voice of a synod, a national pastoral congress or something of the kind is not necessarily the voice of the people of God.

In committee, Mr. Pattinson put the hon. Member for Birkenhead in his place by using the words, "this sort of flummery". But when a peer is introduced in the other place, a Privy Councillor kisses hands with another "sort of flummery".

Are we being asked to do away with a mere legal formality? As my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, the penalty of Praemunire is not available, and has not been since 1967. But even when that penalty was available, not all canons or even deans felt intimidated. Although it has been said that someone nominated has never been turned down in such a way, I believe that in 1733 the Crown was forced to withdraw a nomination to the See of Gloucester as a result of the stand made by the dean and chapter. There are better known cases, of which hon. Members will be aware. However, I shall not detain the House by referring to them.

In conclusion, the form of election that it is proposed to abolish amounts to more than flummery. As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham it is not "a great bulwark". He called it "a shadowy safeguard", and so, indeed, it has usually proved to be, but who knows what, in unforseeable circumstances, a future dean and chapter might do? I submit that the case for abolition has not been made out.

11.42 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

In introducing this measure, my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) treated the House to his customary display of lucid exposition, but I thought that he treated the subject less seriously than it merited. Time and again he used the word "farce", and said that we were abolishing a farce.

However, we are debating something far more significant and important than a farce. We are talking about what has been called a shadowy safeguard. It is, nevertheless, a safeguard. Many of us are extremely concerned about many of the trends in the established Church of England. It is the established Church of England, and so long as it remains so, it is not only the right but the duty of hon. Members of all political persuasions and creeds to take an intelligent and constructive interest in the way in which it conducts its affairs. That is why I was particularly glad to hear the brief but extremely telling speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). He is a Roman Catholic, and we all know him to be a devout Christian and a man who takes his duties towards the established Church extremely seriously. That was borne out in a letter that he wrote to The Daily Telegraph about a fortnight ago.

It would be dishonest to pretend that we are not all conscious of recent events. All hon. Members who take an interest in such affairs will have been profoundly concerned by much of what was said by the Bishop-elect of Durham and those who took part in the debate as to whether he should be consecrated.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

He is extremely wise.

Mr. Cormack

He may be wise, but I do not believe that it is wrong for me or for any other hon. Member to ask whether a man is best equipped to convert and to lead—to be the pastor to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) referred—if he professes agnosticism on some of the main tenets of the Christian faith.

My hon. Friend, the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) may mutter about being "extremely wise", but he might be extremely wise if he listened for a moment or two. The service of consecration is much in our minds — the service of consecration which the Bishop of Durham and every other bishop has to go through. Although I noticed a new liturgy in York when the Bishop was consecrated, I prefer to take my stand from "The Book of Common Prayer". I confess that the debate that we had on the worship and doctrine Measure about 10 years ago was one of the best and most constructive debates in which I have taken part in the House of Commons.

When a bishop is consecrated according to "The Book of Common Prayer", he is asked: Be you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same? … Will you deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world …? He is also asked: Will you be faithful in ordaining, sending, or laying hands upon others? Is it surprising that a man, wise as a professor of theology perhaps, who expresses doubt as to the truth of the Virgin Birth and the fact of the Ressurection—and we have heard that—should be questioned about whether he is the sort of man best equipped to lead the Church of England in the dark and difficult days of the 1980s?

I may be asked what that has to do with this measure, but in the opinion of the House it has quite a lot to do with it. The whole manner and method of the appointment of bishops, the manner in which the leaders of our established Church of England are set upon their course of leadership is touched upon by this Measure.

It might be a trifling thing, and the abolition of a farce, but those of us who sit on the Ecclesiastical Committee are sometimes a little perturbed about the arrogance—I use the word advisedly and deliberately—of the Synod of the Church of England, when it comes to consider the role of Parliament because in effect it says, "If you question the wisdom of what we are doing in Synod, you are moving us towards disestablishment." That threat is implicit, time and again, in what is said to the Ecclesiastical Committee. Yet that committee, a unique body composed of Members of both Houses, has a duty, which we sometimes shirk for fear of a confrontation. I do not seek confrontation. I would not welcome it. I would be reluctant to disturb the delicate balance between Parliament and Synod.

Yet, a balance presupposes that there are two sides, and that one side should not always be up and the other down. I regret that there are friends in the Synod who treat Parliament as though it were a dead letter. I hope that, tonight, Parliament will show carefully and deliberately, but very determinedly, that it is not a dead letter—that those of us who are members of the Anglican Church, and others, are concerned, perturbed and worried. It may be the sweeping away of a measure 450 years old that has something of the semblance of a farce, but for many of us it is far more than that—it is the erosion of part of the delicate and precious fabric of the Elizabethan settlement. That is what it is all about.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

I took part in the worship and doctrine Measure debate, and I agree with my hon. Friend in his judgment of the importance of that debate. But one of the distressing features of the debate—and my hon. Friend and I were sitting on the Opposition Benches — was the appearance of the Government Chief Whip and the arrival of many hon. Members who had not attended the debate, when it came to the vote. While I am sure that the presence of no fewer than four members of the Whips Office is coincidental, I think that my hon. Friend will agree that this debate should be treated as being free from party—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are discussing the mechanics and procedures of election. If the hon. Gentleman follows this road, we shall get away from the debate.

Mr. Cormack

Of my charity, I assume no more than interest on the part of every hon. Member present. I was much reassured—as I am sure everyone was—by the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to the telling, important and apposite point raised by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell).

11.52 pm
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I feel somewhat modest in rising at this stage of the debate, following upon the remarks of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and on the lucid, cogent and racy speech of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who has sought to place this short debate in the context of the Church, the state, and the fact that we have an established Church whose Synod may take a different view from Parliament on its role.

I found the remarks of the right hon. Member for South Down most serious. He spoke of frivolous meddling and of bishops being appointed by the Crown, and he used the word "logic". As I listened to him, I thought of President Pompidou, some years ago" speaking in France, where there is a separation of church and state. When he was asked a question about the church, he said, "I am riot responsible for the church, thank God."

We in the House are responsible for the church to the extent that we have an established church. Hon. Members have made that point clear. It is nothing short of remarkable that, at this hour on a Monday night, we should be listening to a serious and enlightened debate on the making of minor and consequential amendments to sections 3 and 4 of the Appointment of Bishops Act 1533. I shall not take issue with the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) on whether the Act was passed in 1533 or 1534. It will be of interest to have a peep in the Commons Library and read the original Act, written in old English. We would come across the ancient Act with modem words inserted into it.

Even at this hour of the evening, I could intrigue the House with an interesting and novel description of how the Act was passed, but I shall decline from doing that.

Once this instrument is approved tonight, if it is approved, there will be a commingling of the old and the new text—there will be, so to speak, new wine in old bottles—and as an example of how quickly Parliament can act when it wishes, it is useful to remind ourselves that these changes were first proposed in the time of Lord John Russell's Administration.

I humbly suggest—I say "humbly" in view of the learned speeches to which we have listened tonight— that there is nothing in this measure that would have prevented a professor of theology from becoming the Bishop of Durham. Indeed, the Church missed its opportunity to impose a veto, for reasons of doctrinal purity, at the end of the last century. Now, the only refusal available to the dean and chapter would be on the ground that the bishop was not the man he said he was, not in theological but in physical terms. But even if that turned out to be the case, it would be too late to prevent his appointment. Even were the dean and chapter to fail in their duty and not elect, the appointment would go ahead pursuant to a letter patent rather than a letter missive.

There was some discussion earlier of the purpose of the consecration and the various ceremonies. Reference was made to parts of the ceremony for the election of a bishop, including the announcement, the consecration and the enthronement. Before those stages, however, comes the legal ceremony in which the validity of the election is confirmed in the court of the vicar general of the relevant province. Thus, even if there was no consecration, that would not prevent the election of a bishop.

Much has been said about the professor of theology who has risen to become the Bishop of Durham. The choice has been made and while this House takes, and expresses, an interest in such matters, I am sure that now that the Bishop of Durham has been elected, the House will follow his progress with interest and will be disposed to his success. I shall be content if he goes as far as one of his illustrious predecessors, Dr. Ramsay, who not only had the honour of confirming me into the Church, but of proceeding to the Archibishopric first of York and then of Canterbury.

The measure comes before the House with the overwhelming support of the General Synod legislative committee. I am sure that the General Synod will take into account the views of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and the strong feelings that other hon. Members have expressed on the various issues involved. It also comes with the support of the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity.

Being removed from the 1533 Act is the notional election by the dean and chapter, and the confirmation of the election, of the bishop or archibishop in the court of the vicar general of the relevant province. I often feel that it is pity that we cannot simply transmit that which is being repealed directly into the constitution of the Labour party. The system set forth in 1533 provided for the election of a bishop by a letter missive from the Crown. Those who gathered for the election, often numbering about 40, were obliged to nominate the person named in the missive, and if they failed to do so, the person was appointed by a letter patent.

As that provision is apparently redundant to the Church, it would be useful in assisting Labour hon. Members to be reselected, and I commend that procedure. Conservative hon. Members will see that my right hon. and hon. Friends are all here to support me. Older hands will recall the advice of a Leader of the House to a new hon. Member. "Those are my enemies on the Benches opposite," said the new hon. Member. "No," replied the Leader. "Those are your parliamentary colleagues opposite. Your enemies are behind and around you." I am in a fortunate position on these Benches tonight.

The debate is an unforeseen consequence of the Crown Appointments Commission and the vacancy in see committees. When the Church had little say in who its bishops might be — that right of appointment being reserved for the Crown—it may be that there was a sense of participation, albeit empty, which brought the clergy together and gave it a feeling of having a say in its affairs.

Since the system has changed since 1977, the procedures must change with it. The state has given an undertaking that no person will be appointed as a bishop who has not been nominated by the Church in that procedure. The hon. Member for Wokingham referred to the change in 1977. The cost to the Church, of the present procedures is 500 guineas per appointment. The hon. Gentleman not only touched on that point but struck fear into the ecclesiastical bar by suggesting that he had another measure in the pipeline. I cannot remember when the guinea ceased to be legal tender—if it has ever done so—but it must be many years since payments were made in guineas. Many years ago, when I was a freelance newspaper reporter, I was paid in guineas. We are witnessing nothing short of the dismantling of a certain legal bureaucracy within the Church which sprung from the workings of the 1533 Act and which has been enjoyed ever since by lawyers and bureaucrats.

Reference has been made in the committee to disgruntlement, dissatisfaction and disquiet in the Church about this form of non-election, especially as the Holy Spirit was invoked to give guidance in the choice. That dissatisfaction was amply revealed in the votes of those participating in the debate in the General Synod. Even when votes were cast — the hon. Member for Wokingham touched on this point — they were cast because the measure did not go sufficiently far. One day it will be interesting to learn why the measure did not go far enough and what additional reforms were felt to be required in an Act already 450 years old. I am hardly likely to find that out tonight or tomorrow. Suffice it to say that 43 deans and chapter have gone along with this measure, and therefore it must be considered as one that meets with their approval.

I congratulate the parliamentary draftsmen on so skilfully and artfully taking out sections 3 and 4 of the Appointment of Bishops Act as they relate to the dean and chapter of the cathedral of the vacant see and inserting a new text, in modern English, which has the effect of bringing those sections up to date but without in any way repealing the statute. As someone who sat through 59 sittings of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill and 150 hours of the Finance (No. 2) Bill, I commend the draftsmen for their brevity.

As I understand it, the full powers of the House and the other place will be limited by section 4(3), which declares: This Measure shall come into force on such day as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York may jointly appoint. I trust, however, that once the measure has the full approval of Parliament, those archbishops will not unduly delay its implementation. We are told that some five bishops per year are appointed in accordance with the 1533 statute, and that the figure may be as low as three. I should feel happier if the archbishops took note of the fact that the Opposition would welcome an early enactment of the measure, so that what has been described as the "flummery" of the old system is not prolonged unduly.

I am sure that it will give pleasure to hon. Members to know that the Labour party has no intention of dividing the House on this issue.

12.4 am

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) drew the attention of the House to a portion of holy scripture that Paul wrote to Timothy. There is a parallel passage in Titus, and one of the characteristics and qualifications of a bishop is Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) underlined a point that was in many of our minds about the recent election and consecration of the new Bishop of Durham.

The Church of England has declared itself on the mystery of the faith in its fine 39 Articles. I should like to put on record what those articles say about two important fundamentals of the Christian faith—the deity of our Saviour and his bodily resurrection. Article 2 says: Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man. The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men. Of the resurrection of Christ. article 4 says: Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day. There can be no clearer definition of the cardinal doctrines of the faith than those precious words. I say that as one who is not a member of the Church of England, as the House is aware. The Church of England has no jurisdiction where I come from, because the Church of Ireland was disestablished by the House.

The House has done well to put on record the sorrow of heart at an attack on the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and those important doctrines.

Those are matters that interest the whole nation and many nonconformists are anxious that the Church of England should retain those great distinctive doctrines of the Christian faith. I should like to speak further, but I am aware that many of my colleagues want to get to their feet, and I wish to hear the reply.

12.9 am

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

As always, the House should be extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee), as he introduces, year after year, yet more extraordinary effulgences from the Synod of the Church of England. However, the House should be even more grateful to the Ecclesiastical Committee, whose 188th report is before us because, as the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr.Powell) so rightly pointed out, the real nature of the Measure before us becomes very clear in the evidence given to that committee on 10 April.

Professor McClean gives three interesting reasons for this measure. The House might like to note the order in which those reasons were given. The first was, on page 7, that he regarded this method of election as "quite outmoded". That has been said about partiotism a thousand times over God knows how many years, and as soon as anybody starts talking about something being outmoded in the context of the Church of England. I reach for the spoons. There is no doubt that in the past few years the number of acts of vandalism committed by the Church of England in the holy name of fashion is extraordinary. I have only to refer my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham to a rather enjoyable debate that the House was good enough to allow the last Parliament over the massacre of the Prayer Book to make him see what I mean.

The second reason given for the proposed change was that it was wasteful of both time and money". That may be so, but it is interesting how much time and money are being spent on the Measure tonight, keeping us all up late at night, because of the sums of money that the Church of England regards as important. I am the last person to decry so outmoded an expression of value as 500 guineas. We regret the passing of the guinea, but it is interesting that the good professor is able to use the word "outmoded" and then, with a perfectly straight face, use guineas as a measure of expense. It must be clear that if we are considering a procedure that is both wasteful of time and money, we should ask ourselves whether the balance of expense is against those who are proposing this Measure, rather than against those who are opposing it.

The nub of the matter, and of the point raised by the right hon. Member for South Down, comes in the third reason. The method of election is, says the good professor, in some respects wrong in principle. What does he mean? Again, we must be indebted to the proceedings of the Ecclesiastical Committee. Under cross-examination from the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who has taken a consistent interest in these matters, on page 10, Mr. Pattinson among other things, finally comes clean over what is meant by that phrase. He says: The invocation of the Holy Spirit in relation to guidance for a choice where there was no choice struck people as offensive. In effect, Mr. Pattinson and Mr. McClean are talking about a church that derives its authority not from the historical Elizabethan compromise of 1559 and before but from within itself and from the democratic will of its members.

This is a view that is taken by the churchmen of all denominations other than the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Protestant denominations in the United States of America—that is their privilege. However, we have here a clear tendency for the Church of England to go that way.

The reason why I oppose the measure is clear. We are talking about evidence of a new explanation, in the 20th century as to the source from which the authority of the Church of England is derived. It is a question not of democracy but of authority. The right hon. Member for South Down put it much better that I can put it. He said clearly—and I agree with him—that the basis of the stability of the Church of England over the last 450 years or so has been the compromise between Church and state—the compromise about where authority comes from in the state, and the stream of authority to the Church, on the spiritual side, from the priesthood. That compromise was hard-won, it was elegant, and it has lasted. We are seeing here an attack on the basic authority of the Church of England. Whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham may say, it is simply not good enough to substitute the 1977 settlement for what was done in 1533.

If my hon. Friend agrees with me—and I suspect, sadly, that he does not — that this is a matter of authority, is it right to rely, for authority in the Church of England, exclusively on the recommendations of the report of a committee submitted to the Prime Minister? If that is the basis of the safeguards, surely this sort of matter becomes more important rather than less. Much as I respect my hon. Friend in every way, I cannot go down the path that he advocates, which is purely one of undermining the basis of the settlement and stability of the Church of England, which has been established ever since the 16th century.

12.16 am
Sir William van Straubenzee

The requirements of the House are such—and I make no complaint of it—that I have only single minutes in which to respond to the debate. Therefore, hon. Members in all parts of the House will, I hope, acquit me of discourtesy if I cannot in that time answer every point. The procedures of the House are not within my control; I am their prisoner.

No hon. Member of this House has heard me complain that there should be taking part in our debates those whose allegiance is not to the Church of England. No one has ever heard me make that complaint. It is a totally and absolutely proper exercise of the duties of hon. Members of this House—whatever their religious allegiances or lack of religious allegiances—to take part. I am the last to make any complaint about that.

Nobody has heard me complain or threaten that if the measure is not approved tonight, it will inevitably lead to the disestablishment of the Church of England. [Interruption.] That was put forward as an argument earlier, as though it were a threat. I must, with respect, deal with that alleged threat. I have never uttered it, it is not my view, and I take no exception whatever to a different point of view from mine being expressed, nor do I think that it is in any way an improper thing to do.

If there are—and plainly the debate reveals that there are—hon. Members who are anxious about the way in which the appointment of men to the bishoprics of the Church of England is working, this measure, with great respect, is not the method by which to express that anxiety, because it comes into operation only after that system has operated. For example, in the see of Durham, which has been referred to by some but not by me, the present systems operated. The Dean and Greater Chapter of Durham elected the present bishop of Durham. If the system gives the safeguards that some especially my hon. Friends, think that it gives, we can see from recent days that that is demonstrably not the case. If there be hon. Members who are anxious about the operation of the system, perhaps I might say that I am most willingly at their disposal as a channel to ensure that their anxieties are understood. I shall most willingly do so in the inquiry and the investigation that are afoot. It is important that the views of hon. Members are known and I am happy to be the channel through which those views are known.

I have done my best and I can do no more to commend the measure to the House. It would be regrettable if this House, having entrusted to the Synod since 1919 the delegated legislation, should, on a narrow point, refuse assent—but the matter must now be put to the free vote of this honourable House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 17, Noes 32.

Division No. 410] [12.21 am
Alton, David Rhodes James, Robert
Brooke, Mon Peter Taylor, John (Solihull)
Buck, Sir Antony Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Waller, Gary
Cope, John Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Crouch, David Wrigglesworth, Ian
Dover, Den
Garel-Jones, Tristan Tellers for the Ayes:
Hunt, David (Wirral) Sir William van Straubenzee and Mr. Christopher Murphy.
Lester, Jim
Neubert, Michael
Aitken, Jonathan Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Baldry, Anthony Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Beith, A. J. Nicholls, Patrick
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Norris, Steven
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Paisley, Rev Ian
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bruinvels, Peter Porter, Barry
Budgen, Nick Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Burt, Alistair Soames, Hon Nicholas
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Cash, William Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Cormack, Patrick Warren, Kenneth
Cranborne, Viscount Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Greenway, Harry Wood, Timothy
Hargreaves, Kenneth
Lightbown, David Tellers for the Noes:
Lilley, Peter Mr. William Powell and Mr. Jerry Wiggin.
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)

Question accordingly negatived.

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