HC Deb 12 June 1986 vol 99 cc642-59

Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, having been signified.

10.36 pm
Sir William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I beg to move, That the Patronage (Benefices) 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 I must first declare a personal interest, in that I am the patron of a living. The House well knows that such matters can no longer be passed for any financial consideration—quite rightly—and have not been for many years, so I have no financial interest to declare. Nevertheless, I wish the House to be aware of my personal interest.

At this hour, I think that the House would like me to explain the Measure, but not at inordinate length. The Measure is very different from that which originally saw the light of day some years ago and which, as some of us here recall, excited considerable opposition and anxiety. It sought, in whole or in part, to abolish patronage.

I think that it was wise for there to be a period of consultation and reconsideration. What is now before us is a very different Measure. It retains the right of patronage, although it makes what I believe are several improvements in the law which I shall describe briefly.

The House has the advantage in these matters of the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the legislative Committee of the General Synod and, in recent years, the verbatim report of the proceedings before the Ecclesiastical Committee which, painstakingly, as with other measures, studied this measure and decided to report to both Houses that it was expedient.

The measure has four purposes, the first of which is to establish certainty. I hope that this purpose was secured by expert approval. Part I, schedule I, to the measure provides for a register and lays down careful regulations about how that register should he established. The provisions concerning the register deal with the right to appeal and other measures which, I am sure, the House would not wish me to spell out in detail.

At present there is no central register. I hope that all hon. Members would agree that it is beneficial to those in parishes, to the diocesan bishops and to patrons that there should be a conclusive register.

The second purpose of the Measure is to confirm and put in legislative form the collegiality and partnership which is now the accepted pratice, in most cases, when appointments are being considered. Over the years I have been responsible for one parish, then for a parish with another joined to it and lastly responsible for a parish with colleagues in a joint patronage. We would never have considered it possible to proceed without careful consultations with the laity of the parishes concerned. We carried out such consultation at all stages. Hon. Members will be aware of certain rights which are given to parochial church councils.

Part II of the measure provides, in legislative form, for the provision of collegiality, consultation and partnership when dealing with the appointment of the new incumbent. If some hon. Members are rather concerned at the unnecessary elaboration of those arrangements, may I say that it is possible, if there is consent on all sides, to dispose of those arrangements. It is necessary to have such provisions in the cases—I hope they are few—when a person is disposed not to operate the provisions. It is right for the House to make sure that those rights are enshrined in law. I attach considerable importance to the third purpose of the Bill. I find it offensive that, in the 1980s, there should be only two classes of persons, Roman Catholics and Jews, who are specifically identified as persons who may not exercise right of presentation. We all understand the historical reasons for this, but I do not think it accords with the attitudes of the 20th century. I shall be happy to see that go. In precisely the same way as I as an Anglican would not expect to play an effective and active role in the appointment to some position of importance in another church, it is not unreasonable that the person concerned, who will exercise his right of patronage, shall be able to say that he is a communicant member, as defined, of the Church of England.

I make it clear that the person concerned does not lose the right of patronage. It is the question of the presentation at the time in question, so if it were, for example, in a family—this is real to me in my family—it would at a later stage, or as the case might be. I hope that the House will feel that it accords far more with the general approach and attitudes of the present day that this narrow discrimination should be eliminated. Nevertheless, there should be a requirement for the person exercising the right of presentation to be a communicant member of the church to which he or she is appointing somebody of great importance to the active congregation concerned.

Sir John Page (Harrow, West)

Having served with my hon. Friend on the Ecclesiastical Committee, I should know what he means by the term "presentation". But will he explain it?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I was seeking to distinguish, but doubtless very inadequately, between the fact that a patron remains a patron, whether or not there is a vacancy, and that a person who is not a communicant member of the Church of England remains a patron regardless of that fact. If there comes a vacancy and either he or she has to exercise that right, that is the moment at which they have to say that they are a communicant member of the Church. Do I properly explain that?

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

In those circumstances, does the bishop have more power or less in the right to a presentation where the patron is not a communicant member of the Church of England, so that the bishop would be the one to nominate the incumbant?

Sir William van Straubenzee

No, Sir, I think not. The position of the bishop is the same in both circumstances, so he has neither more nor less power. A right is invested in the patron who is not a communicant member to nominate one who is. That nomination is a matter for the patron concerned, and has nothing to do with the bishop. I hope that my hon. Friend feels that that is a satisfactory answer. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend is nodding his assent.

It is inevitable that when we start on an operation such as this there will be considerable number of anomalies in the law that need bringing up to date. I can illustrate this. It is because it is correctly no longer possible, nor has it been by a decision of Parliament made many years ago, for an advowson to be bought or sold, so equally it is no longer appropriate for certain rights to be associated with property that can be bought and sold, and to which is attached an advowson, because the advowson no longer has any financial importance, nor would the House feel that it should. Such matters are dealt with in the fourth purpose of the measure.

I feel sure that the House appreciates that the Ecclesiastical Committee, to my certain knowledge because I am a member of it, looked at this matter most exhaustively and carefully and decided to report to Parliament that the Measure is expedient. I have the figures but I will not bore the House by reciting them. It was overwhelmingly approved. I see that the voting figures record only four House of Clergy against, and no voting against in the House of Bishops or the House of Laity by the General Synod.

I hope that the House will feel that I have trodden a middle course between treating the House merely as a rubber stamp — which I would never do, because it certainly is not a rubber stamp far Church legislation and I hope never will be—and taking too long. I commend the Measure to the House.

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

Firstly, may I dispose of a procedural point which is also in a sense a constitutional point, that was first established some two years ago, I think, in connection with the Appointment of Bishops Measure. It is that we were privileged to have with us for a short time at the commencement of the debate the chairman of the Conservative party. He was in dinner dress in order to signify the Queen's consent to our entering upon these proceedings. It is, of course, upon the advice of the Government that the Queen's consent is given and that was intimated by the distinguished source from which the message was conveyed to us this evening.

I place on record again as was done emphatically two years ago, the fact that no Government approval of the Measure, no espousal of the Measure by the Government, is implied in their providing the assistance to the House of the Queen's consent to our entering upon the matter. It is merely the means by which the Government facilitate the consideration by the House of Measures that come to it from the General Synod. There is no party issue or Government interest, and I assume that the Government would certainly not intend in any way to use their influence for or against such a Measure. In this context, the Government, as the Government, are very properly neutral.

One major matter arises from this measure and it was dealt with faithfully by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee). It is the change in the religious qualifications for the excercise of the function of patronage. Hitherto, that exercise has been forbidden exclusively to Roman Catholics and to Jews. I see no reason why either a Roman Catholic or a Jew could not exercise the lay functions of a lay patron in the filling of a living with as much consideration and as much wisdom and propriety as anyone else. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Wokingham that this was an invidious limitation and it was high time that it was removed. The Synod has not proceeded by way of removing that limitation. It has not proceeded to enfranchise in the matter Jews and Roman Catholics. On the contrary, it has disfranchised everbody except Anglicans who have taken communion according to the rites of the Church of England or the rites of a church in communion with the Church of England within the preceding 12 months. A religious test of that nature has been imposed upon the exercise of a function of patronage.

The Ecclestiastical Committee was clearly horrified by the possibility that an indulgence which everybody would wish to be extended to a lay patron who was a Roman Catholic or a Jew should be exercised, heaven forfend, by a Methodist or a Baptist. I stop there for a moment to invite the House to contemplate the horrific consequences of a lay patron who happened to be a Baptist actually proceeding to exercise the functions of patronage. But that was not all, because further horrors were envisaged by the Ecclesiastical Committee to the effect that it might be a Mohammedan, a Hindu or a athiest who, but for the provisions in the Measure, could exercise the functions of a patron.

There is an important issue at stake here. We are dealing with the functions of lay patrons, who may be, by the process of acquisition of the advowsons, of any religion or of none, and the Synod of the Church of England has told the House that it is its wish that that function should be limited to those who are confessionally members of the Church of England. That was candidly brought out by the hon. Member for Wokingham, who said that in exactly the same way—I noted his words, because I do not agree that the way is exactly the same — he as an Anglican would not expect to exercise a function in making appointments in any other church. Indeed not, but we are dealing with the Church of England, which is the established church of this land—the church which is the possession of all who inhabit England. Therefore, the considerations that should apply to the exclusion of persons who are not Anglicans from the exercise of the rights of patronage are different from those which would apply in the private and interior arrangements of any other church or sect.

Indeed, the Bill—admittedly on a small scale—is an example of the tendency, which I fear is implicit in many of the procedures of the General Synod, to approximate the Church of England to a sect and, to that extent, to deprive it of the character of universality in the realm of England, which is one of its characteristic and beneficent marks.

It is not right to impose a confessional test upon the exercise of the right of ownership of this hereditament of the patronage or advowson. If we do that, we raise several questions. This is not the only or the most important context in which advice may be given, or steps may be taken, in relation to appointments in the Church of England by persons who are not necessarily members of the church. Will we be told that it is the view of the General Synod that all those who are responsible for acting to make appointments in the Church of England should be communicant members of the Church of England? That would be a decisive declaration that the Church of England had become a sect, and had ceased to be the national church under the headship of the Crown in Parliament.

There are wide and far-reaching implications in this apparently minor adjustment in the qualifications for the exercise of the right of patronage. That departure and its implications should be signalised on the occasion of this measure, so that we shall not be told in future—I am afraid that it is becoming a characteristic of the proceedings of the General Synod in regard to Parliament that a small encroachment is made and is then claimed as a precedent — that we have created a precedent for saying that, in other respects, appointments and steps leading to them in the Church of England may be made only by persons, and advice may be offered only by persons who are communicant members of the Church of England.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. Does not his arguement imply that there is a defect in the current practice of the Church of England, which when someone seeks membership requires that person to renounce membership of other Christian churches by formal statement before being admitted into the Church of England? That is inconsistent with the principle of universality or national church that he was expounding.

Mr. Powell

The hon. Gentleman has told me something of which I was unaware. I was unaware that any such act of renunciation was required of parents who bring a child for baptism, or even of those who present themselves for the first time to receive holy communion in the Anglican church. It may or may not be that the hon. Member is well informed. I am not aware that there is such exclusivity in the nature of membership of the Church of England in such a deed of renunciation that has to be made before a person resident in England can exercise his legal right to the ministrations of the Church of England.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Adults seeking membership to the church who belong to other parts of the church are asked to accept the 39 articles. Given what some of those articles say, it may well cover the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I am much obliged.

11 pm

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

I wish to associate myself with the central theme of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that we have on all occasions to assert in the House that the Church of England is a national, not a sectional, church. We must on all occasions that we can articulate the primacy of the Crown in Parliament in the regulation of the affairs of the Church of England. The Church of England is not a sectional church. It can never be so. If it ever wishes to become so, it will simply fall apart into its own individual elements, and it will count for nothing in the country.

For myself, I find it impossible to oppose the measure. However, in saying that, I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) that in my opinion it is a quite unnecessary measure. As we have been told, it has had a long period of gestation. On several occasions in its gestation. its final form has been very uncertain. It has veered one way and then another way. Fortunately, as has been pointed out, what we now have is a sensible measure. In its gestation, I think it had every prospect of being a very foolish measure but sense has prevailed.

Nevertheless, over this long period of gestation, a considerable amount of time has been taken up first in Convocation—that shows how old it is—then in Synod and in various committees, trying to work out what would be the best method of securing a general patronage law for the Church of England. I am not aware of any evidence at present which shows that such a measure is necessary. I am not aware of any substantial abuse of existing procedures which compels changes to be made. It would have been a very good thing if Convocation and then Synod had decided to leave well alone, but they chose not to.

I assert further that in all these synodical discussions and committees involving people travelling up to London no doubt from all over the country, considerable sums of money have been spent over the years. That money would have been much better spent within the Church of England in securing a wider number of clergy and deploying that clergy in parishes throughout the country.

The fundamental of the Church of England is that it is a parochial church. All its strength lies within its parishes, and not within a synod, a committee or even within a diocese as a diocese. The particular character of the Church of England lies within the parochial ministry.

I for one—and I know that I am not alone—would wish that all the resources of the Church be devoted to parochial church life and to the preparation and training of the clergy to ensure that the clergy is available, and not to the running of the General Synod, the staffing of the General Synod, the running of its committees and so on.

Mr. Simon Hughes

We understand the issue about the cost of administering any body as large as the Church of England. However, I trust that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is great merit in national debate, both temporal and spiritual, and for the Church to be seen to come together to pronounce on matters of importance to the nation. Since the synods back to Whitby and even further, there has been great merit in the Church coming together to seek a common mind. When it does so, as it did recently on the matter of the Sunday trading with almost total unaminity, it has a substantial effect on the affairs of this place and of the nation. Surely we should not renounce that.

Mr. Powell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am aware that in the Church of England there are different traditions and groups of people who attach different degrees of importance to various elements within it. I speak as the son of a clergyman. It is 50 years since he was ordained and he has spent 44 years in the same parish. He finds the idea of the national Synod simply preposterous. Not everyone takes that view, but some do — and they should not be ignored. It is not just one obscure country clergyman who takes that view, but vey many.

One danger within the Church of England is that those in the synod had come to believe that the synod is the only thing that matters. One of the very great dangers is for example, that episcopal promotion is now almost entirely granted to those who take part in the affairs of the synod——

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

It always was.

Mr. Powell

I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is here, and it is appropriate that he should seek to intervene, albeit from a sedentary position. However, he is not correct—it has not always been the case. Many of the greatest pastors of the Church of England have played no part in the convocational synodical discussions.

The greatest danger that threatens parochial life in the Church of England is the way in which episcopal patronage is being exercised. In the days when there were far many more lay patrons, there was an opportunity for independence—for the parson's freehold to grant the independence — which meant that everything was not dependent on the one fountain, which was the bishop of the diocese, and increasingly area bishops within diocese; yet they have no authority in law to exercise the functions that they are increasingly delegated.

Some 40 per cent. of patrons are bishops, but in rural England where parishes are increasingly doubled, trebled and quadrupled—even five, six and seven parishes are put together, as has happened in east Anglia and many other parts of the country — invariably there are different patrons, and then the patronage actually conies to be exercised by the bishop of the diocese. Therefore, although in 40 per cent. the patron is actually the bishop, he is really exercising the patronage in a great many more cases.

It goes one step further. One of the major changes in the Church of Englnd in the past generation has been that the clergy no longer stay in their parishes for a measurable length of time. In any parish church in the country one can see the long incumbancies through the 18th, 19th and early 20th century— but for the post-war era, they are for only three, four or five years. There are parishes close to the parish that my father has he d for nearly five decades where there have been 11 changes of incumbant during that time. Bishops are the very people who are sending a man to one parish and then moving him on, and then on again. It means that it is impossible to establish the stability in the parish that holds together the community of the Church of England, which is the very strengh of the church in the parish.

Bishops are not exercising their patronage in a way which is necessarily in the best interests of the parishes, and that concerns me more than anything else. They are entitled to make a judgment, of course, and their resources may not be as adequate as they would wish. One of the depressing features in the Church of England in the past generation has been that the quality of the men who come forward for ordination has not always been as high as in earlier times. I revert again to the case of my father, about which I have personal knowledge. He held a parish in Oxfordshire just before the second world war and he was the only clergyman in the rural deanery who was not a doctor. It is inconceivable now that there could be a rural deanery in which a dozen or more clergymen were all doctors of divinity, music or whatever. The decline in the clergy is there for all to see, and the Church of England has declined with it.

Beyond that, the feature of the measure which worries me are the circumstances in which the bishop of the diocese comes into conflict — perhaps an unspoken conflict, but a real one—with the wishes of the parish when it comes to the appointment of a new incumbent. The old battles between the lay patron and the incumbent that were taken up in Victorian novels in the time of Lady Catherine de Bourg have passed, and we find now that patronage is increasingly exercised by the bishops.

In the parish in which I live new incumbents have been twice appointed in the past decade by the bishop of the diocese, and on each occasion contrary to the wishes of the parochial church council. I have not the slightest doubt that on each occasion the bishop of the diocese had good reason for wanting to make the appointment, but on each occasion his wishes clashed with those of the parochial church council.

What are we left with when that happens in rural England? The parish is told, "If you do not have this man, it is likely that your parish will be joined with another and the prospective clergyman will live in a vicarage or rectory some three, four or five miles away and not in the vicarage or rectory of the community." When that happens, the people feel that they are under an obligation to take what is on offer.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend is saying, but is it not fair to say that under the measure the lay representatives of the parochial church council will be involved in the selection of the new incumbent and will have a veto over the appointment? Does the measure not say that? It does not set out how the representatives will be chosen, whether they will be mandated and how they will operate, and I think it should, but I think it says that the representations of the parochial church council will have an involvement.

Mr. Powell

My hon. Friend is right, but beyond that there is something more subtle. Let us suppose that they exercise their veto and the bishop of the diocese says, "There is nobody else who I can offer you"? There may then be another prolonged vacancy. If there is a prolonged vacancy, especially in a small parish, it is likely that the congregation will begin to fall apart. Members of the congregation will drift off to other churches. Long vacancies are bad, especially in small parishes, and they must be avoided. If the issue is pushed to the point of veto, there is a danger that the parish will end up with nothing. That is what worries many parishes as they face ever changing circumstances with new clergymen being appointed to them.

I was brought up to believe in the principle that if it is not necessary to change, there should be no change. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham that in this instance I cannot find the evidence upon which we should make changes. Accordingly, I think that it would be better to leave things as they are. Having said that, I think that with the important constitutional provisos which the right hon. Member for South Down has articulated and which I fully support, it would not be right to oppose the measure.

11.15 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Many hon. Members will be in considerable sympathy with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. William Powell). However, I had difficulty trying to relate what he said to the measure before us. He made some good points, but others were really a cry to understand how the Church of England has declined in they way it has. I fear that it will take more than an hour and a half of parliamentary time to reverse that decline.

Before the debate bagan, I would have put all the money I have on it being an uncontroversial debate. That may be a sign of my frail judgment, or it may be a sign of how interesting this place is—that debates can take off and get a momentum of their own.

I have put aside what I wanted to say. Instead, I shall address myself to the main point made by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). He knows—other hon. Members may not — that on the issue of whether the Church of England should remain a national church, he and I stand shoulder to shoulder. I am destressed at the tendency of the Church to move itself to a sect and to have that cosiness that comes with it.

There is a point of difference between the right hon. Gentleman and I this evening, because I support the Measure. I maintain, as the right hon. Gentleman does, that the Church is a national church and has a mission to the whole nation. Regarding the internal runnings of the Church, we must take on board the difference between the present position and that which existed 100 or 200 years ago. At that time, it was acceptable for a national church to allow other people, apart from the two categories outlined by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, to appoint clergy to livings in the Church of England, when few people in other parts of the Church held that privilege.

Today, it is possible to argue that we should have the exclusive right to appoint people to livings in the Church of England— in other words, practising communicants of that part of the Church — and at the same time maintain that we have a mission to the nation and oppose the Synod when it, as it often does, goes down the path of trying to move the Church to the status of a sect.

The hon. Member for Corby believes that the Synod is a waste of time and resources. When the next elections for the Synod are held, it may be possible for people who hold that view to try to get elected. Then they could try to lessen the number of Synod meetings. If one looks at other parts of the Anglican communion, one sees that Synods do not have to meet three times a year. I sympathise with those who want to see, in certain circumstances stronger leadership from the bishops. I sympathise when they say that they are often bogged down in activities and with committees of the General Synod.

I accept the inconsistencies. I do not put that stronger in the line I take.

Conservative Members expressed their agreement, facially, when the point was made that we are against bishops possessing more power of appointment. As a libertarian, part of me supports that line. As a church which believes in the apostolic succession and obviously gives a certain command to the bishops in the governing of the Church, I feel that to some extent it is overshadowed by the Synod.

I put aside the points I wanted to make to argue with the main point put by the right hon. Member for South Down. As so often happens in these debates, the answers that one gives are not always as neat as one would wish. I recall a statement made by Aneurin Bevan in the Chamber after listening to the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. He said, that it was like a trip around Woolworth — everything was in place and nothing was priced over sixpence. In this life, it is difficult to get everything in place and have nothing priced over sixpence.

Given the circumstances in which the Church finds itself and given that the Church would be better to spend less of its time reforming its internal arrangements, I do not think that on this issue it has done a bad job. I said that I thought that this would be an uncontroversial measure. I notice that, with some sense of timing, the Vote Office today published the women deacons Measure. I thought that I would he able to say that this Measure would be passed peacefully. I do not think that that will happen with the second Measure. Indeed, I am not sure even about this one now

11.20 pm
Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester. East)

I must declare an interest as a current member of the General Synod. I greatly enjoy serving on it, and it is not surprising that I do not find it a waste of time. It might be an expensive body to run, but so far I do not think that I have charged my local diocesan synod too much, if anything. I must declare also that I have voted on this measure in the past, both on the Guildford diocesan synod and in my local Dorking deanery synod. I am also a member of the board of patrons in the diocese. That does not mean that I agree with everything in the Measure. We are talking about the established Church of England, which is the property of its people and of the Crown. It is only right that such a Measure should come before the House, because there are 11,500 benefices, 28 per cent. of which are in the hands of individual patrons.

I am concerned that the bishops seem to have more and more power. But I make no critcism of the bishops. There is much to be commended in the historical role of a patron. The village life, with the patron in his personal pew and certain responsibilities, is to be admired. Patrons have a historical right to appoint those people whom they believe to be best suited to their benefice.

Under clause 8 a registered patron must be a communicant of the Church of England. I believe that, as long as a person is not an atheist, he should have the right to act as a registered patron. I regret that a representative has to be found to stand in for him if he is not a communicant of the Church.

The restrictions imposed in the Measure are understandable, but an existing patron—I hope that my hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner will explain this to me—experiences no such restriction. It is true that many patrons have held their positions for years, but I believe that they should be allowed to continue as patrons. Many churches in Leicester villages are still in tha hands of patrons. One patron has five churches under his command.

As for the registration of patrons, any diocesan handbook lists them and their names are found also in Crockfords. The facts are there already. I cannot unerstand why it is necessary to register patrons when they are already registered. Under the Measure, a patron who cannot make the necessary declaration will not be able to exercise that important right to present. With the united benefices that now exist, his role becomes even more important.

I am especially concerned about the patron's representative. He may be a church warden, who cannot serve as one of the two lay representatives. I am afraid that the patron's representative may on many occasions, be a bishop. That seems to be taking power away from the communicants and giving more power to the bishops. We admire bishops for what they have to do but I do not want to see a magic circle, with the bishop's favoured people coming forward. Indeed, I believe that, to a large extent, the patron understands the communicants and the residents of the parish far more than the bishop. The bishop is far more concerned with issues other than local parochial matters.

The votes in the synod, before I became a member, made it clear that all members or the laity voted in favour of the Measure. The vote was 121 to nil. Only four of the 138 clergy voted against it. I would say, "They would, wouldn't they". It is interesting, having been a member of the synod for eight months, to see how certain members of the clergy perform in front o their bishops, obviously in the hope of preferment in the long run. Some are commendably independent. However, it is almost a closed shop and it seems that the people being promoted and getting new benefices tend to be those who are most supportive of the bishop. I welcome independence in the Church of England, but I am a little worried about that.

There are not enough people coming forward to the Ministry and it is important to get the right kind of people. It is a calling and in controversial questions recently it was clear that, unfortunately, some parents of prospective clergy are deterring their sons from coming forward. It is a calling but there is, of course, a financial increment involved. It is a sad fact but it is necessary because clergy must be able to survive.

The patronage Measures are getting more complex and confusing. I rather like the Trollope way of church life. There was a bit of mystery. Certain favoured people came forward, but I want to ensure that the traditionalists are brought forward for presentation. I know that this measure retains the right of patronage and I know that consultation of the laity will still exist. However, I want the laity to be independent of bishops. I want them to work with the bishops but it is the church wardens who know what is best for their parish. The church wardens, in conjunction with the patron, can decide the future of that church.

Members on both sides of the House agree that a long interregnum is a serious matter. It can damage the future of the Church and these matters have to be speedily resolved. The Average wait for a new incumbent seems to be about eight months, sometimes longer. That is too long. Therefore, we must speed up the way in which incumbants are selected.

The historical relationship is important. The role of the bishop would be purely in a consultative capacity. Sometimes the bishops do not get on with the patrons. The bishop may be new to the diocese and the patron and his family may have been their for centuries. The bishop must pay far more attention to the views of the patron.

The rights to presentation must be carefully monitored, as they must be when the church warden is given the role of presentation. The universities, the Lord Chancellor and representatives of the Crown have a number of rights as patrons. It seems that anyone cm be a patron. There is nothing wrong with that; but who is really representative of the Church? Most of the patrons I know have a total interest in the church of England. However, some patrons are the exception and do not wish to get involved in the running of the Church and that is why the Measure has been brought forward. It is right that we should have the Measure for them but not as a general rule. The patron must be a believer, but he must get on well with the church wardens. He will appoint them as the parish representatives, but both of them must listen to what the paraochial church council would like.

Clause 14 gives the power to the bishops to appoint a priest to the benefice. I would much prefer to see more emphasis put on clause 15, with the patron appointing his personal choice. However, clause 15 provides for the approval of the bishop. We should consider that because we must maintain the independence of mind which some patrons have had and which has preserved the Church of England from the modern laissez-faire approach, which is more Socialist than Christian.

We must also consider the role of the archbishop. Sometimes difficulties arise, and the archbishop must review the position. I hope that the need to introduce an archbishop to resolve a disagreement never arises. Existing patrons must be allowed to continue their good work.

The measure is complex, and having heard some of my colleagues speak I am tempted to wonder why it is necessary. Indeed, has not the Church of England been getting along nicely? We should encourage more people into the ministry so that we have a wider selection of candidates. The number of people applying for the Advisory Council for the Church's Ministry has so deteriorated that the Church should develop its skills in promoting itself in the market and encouraging more believers to come forward.

Clause 8, on the exercise and rights of presentation, should be noted with interest. The appointment of today's clergy is important to preserve the impartiality of the Church of England and the Christian faith which needs guidance, our help and prayers. We must ensure that the right type of people properly represent the Church. If the wrong people are appointed now, they could be bishops in 20 years' time, and where would the Church of England be then?

11.31 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

All those interested in this matter, and certainly all those who are members of the Church of England by admission, baptism or confirmation, will agree with the last point made by the hon. Member for Leicester. East (Mr. Bruinvels). He may not always get such cross-party support.

The substantive issue is how one manages — I am fully aware that it is not only within the lot of men and women to manage—the advancement of the ministry within the Church, and how one seeks by every measure possible to increase the number of people able to give full-time ministry to the Christian gospel in this land. We are doing pretty badly regarding the number of those who are full-time ministers and the number who believe in the Christian faith.

Two colleagues from the House—who in this context and I hope on other occasions the Official Report will permit me to call my hon. Friends, although they are not party colleagues— the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Bury, North (Mr. Bury), and I were in the Anglican church in the Alexandra township outside Johannesburg in South Africa a week and a half ago. We were reminded of the enthusiasm and commitment to the Church and gospel there, despite the most horrendous adversity. Between apparently 75 and 80 per cent. of the 27 million population of South Africa still proclaim their belief and adherence to Christianity—as a result in large parts of the missionary work of the past few centuries. When one compares that with the level of Christian adherence here—there is another debate about the link between the Christian belief and the political system——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I am anxious to be tolerant, but the hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the measure before the House.

Mr. Hughes

My point is that we have a challenge to meet because our ability to bring ministers into the Church is certainly more limited and increasingly insufficient to meet the needs of Britain.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) introduced the debate with his customary efficiency and expertise, for which the House will be grateful. I shall deal in turn with each of the four matters to which he alluded.

The first purpose was to establish certainty. It was the simple administrative matter of providing that a record be kept of patrons thoughout the Church. Everyone would welcome that.

The report that was supplied to the House by the Ecclesiastical Committee noted that the matter before the House is the only major area of the law of the Church of England in which, since 1945 there has not been a Measure designed to modernise and update the law. Clearly, the measure is also a technical matter. We are told that part of the fourth purpose of the measures is to amend and repeal 35 statutes which go back to the 16th century. It would consolidate the law. I hope that everyone will benefit from a measure that makes the law in this area much clearer. It would be specifically more useful where people were looking for the names and the lists of patrons.

The second and third expressed purposes are the most crucial. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has said that the debate has centred upon certain important issues, despite the breadth of the measure. The second purpose was described in the opening speech as having the intention of affirming collegiality and partnership. Without going into the history of the matter in detail, the report from the Ecclesiastical Committee confirms that the debate on this subject has had a long history in the Church, dating back for decades.

For many years. the Church went in a different direction.

In the mid-1970s the Synod voted on the system of patronage that it had inherited. It came close to carrying an amendment calling for the abolition of patronage. The amendment was carried in the houses of clergy and laity and was lost only in the House of Bishops, because of a tied vote.

I started to consider the matter from the premise that patronage and, thereby the ability of lay people to appoint clergy irrespective of the lay person's position of seniority in the Church, was something that we should do away with. However, I realised that when the Church was divided on the issue it was more important for the Church to achieve unity. The Church has done that. According to the figures available to us only a total of four votes were cast against the Measure in the three Houses as a whole.

I take the view—I respect those of others, as I know do all Members of the House—that when the Church of England takes a clear view, then the House should seek to interfere with that with the greatest reluctance. But the more controversial a matter might be in the Synod and in its result, the more right it is that we should examine it in the House. I say that without betraying my views on the much more controversial subject of the principle of the relationship between the House and the Church of England. That discussion is not for now.

I believe that, given that the Church has found great unity in seeking the right direction and change, we must support the principle of a partnership between the patron, the bishop and the local people. That must be the right way to reconcile the conflicting interests that the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) and others have regarded as often important and useful. Clearly, it is important not to have regular occurrences of a situation in which a bishop proposes for a living someone who the local people find unacceptable. That situation does not make for a good community or relationship between pastoral leadership and congregation.

Occasionally, it is right for a bishop to press the congregation further than they would wish to go. I was somewhat perturbed by one argument put forward by the hon. Member for Corby, which seemed to suggest his lack of conviction in the competence and wisdom of bishops in their appointments. I do not wish to engage now in that debate, other than to refer to it. However, if that is his concern and the bishops are thought not to be sensitive, that should teach us something about the advice given and the methods by which the bishops should properly have a clear view and understanding of the pastoral needs of his diocese. He should be well equipped to make appointments according to its needs and the changing situations. I hope that there is no suggestion within the Church that people are losing confidence in the ability of the episcopate to make those crucial decisions.

The solution proposed combines the wisdom and authority of the bishops with the ability of the people to participate. Being a Liberal, I mischievously thought that it would be wrong — having decided originally as my premise that the patronage system should disappear, but believing in community politics— not to allow the local community to have as much say as possible. I feel that I have now found my rightful position in party political terms—inasmuch as they can ever apply to matters of this sort—by believing that it is right to maintain this partnership.

Another matter that has clearly troubled the House is that of the third purpose—credibility. How appropriate is it for appointments to be made by patrons who are not either Christians or members of the Church of England? I am unhappy that a patron who is neither a Christian nor a communicant member of the Church of England, nor of a church in relationship in communion terms with the Church of England, should have the right to pass that over to somebody of the same designation.

Somebody of a totally different faith, with no particular interest in this inherited right as a patron, might not show any care in the nomination of the member of clergy in question. Such a person might nominate the first candidate who happened, by that definition, to be qualified. In such cases, I should prefer the patronage entitlement to revert to the bishop, rather than have it rest with the nominee of the patron, the patron being a person who might not be a Christian, but alone a member of the Church of England.

A linked question is whether it is right for a patron who is not a member of the Church of England to have the right of patronage. That issue was explored by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) when he spoke of the relationship between the universality or nationality of the Church and the denominations of the other churches.

The Gospel makes it clear that there is one Church, one faith and one Lord. I am not a denominationalist, although I accept that people have chosen to group themselves into denominations mainly because of the feelings and practices with which they feel comfortable. Having agreed, for the unity of the Church, to maintain the role of patrons, we should not seek to disqualify patrons from exercising that patronage if they assert and affirm the one true Christian faith.

I hope, in those circumstances, that they will show equal concern, as Christians, for spiritual leadership in the Church. They have a responsibility, though it may not be to the Church of their denomination, to exercise their activities with great care.

I support this instrument because it has been required by the Church for a long time. It will allow progress to be made along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Wokingham. I hope, above all that in considering the views of this House, the Church will be encouraged to strive even harder to meet the desperate need that still exists in Britain for more people to be called into the ministry of the Church. I hope, too, that the ministry will be ever more empowered to do le work that, more now than ever, we need the Church to perform.

11.44 pm
Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

This is my first opportunity to pay a warm and generous tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) on the manner in which he presented the Measure and for the opportunity, which I count as a great privilege, to serve with him on the Ecclesiastical Committee for seven years.

I should like to relate my speech to the 191st report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, which concerns the matter under debate. I do not accept that the Measure has been a waste of time and energy. It is an important and reforming Measure, and the last in a long line to appear before the Ecclesiastical Committee. It has a major role to play in the future life and work of the Church, especially pastoral care.

I expressed my support for the Measure when the Committee studied it diligently. It embodies some 35 measures that go back four centuries. Clause 1 establishes a register. That is important for credibility. It will be open for the public to examine it. The Measure comes at a historic time for the Church of England. It is established and wide, but I am glad that it still encompasses the evangelical traditions that I hold so dear. The Church's credibility has been tarnished. but the Measure corrects that.

The General Synod considered the Measure and voted as follows: the House of Bishops, 15 Ayes and no Noes, the House of Clergy, 134 Ayes and four Noes and the House of Laity 121 Ayes and no Noes.

The measure has received considerable debate within the Synod in an attempt to produce that which is good and that which will stand the test of time. When the measure came before the Ecclesiastical Committee I and other members of the Committee—they have spoken with so much knowledge tonight—considered it in great detail. II am delighted to say that the measure in not just the best we could do but I unashamedly hold the view that it is a good and reforming measure. The measure will bring with it credibility and in that spirit I wholeheartedly support the measure.

In ecclesiastical terms I must get used to describing the measure as expedient. That was the view of the Synod. In simple terms I wish the measure God's speed. I am quitely confident that it will prove to be a considerable blessing to the Church and the work it undertakes. Some of the criticisms which have been made about patronage do not appear to have anything to do with the measure which is before us.

My simple and perhaps puritanical view is that there is no greater calling on any man than to be called of God. That being so, I am sure that such men will be called and that they will restore this nation to the Christian faith which it sadly appears to have left. This is one of the most important measures dealt with in the Ecclesiastic Committee. I commend it to the House and pray for its assent.

11.51 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I apoligise for leaving the House for a short time. I find it fascinating that, under this Measure, a patron may be simple-minded but still a communicant member of the Church of England. People are excommunicated automatically only if they are definitely insane. Those who are simple-minded are acceptable communicants of the Church and are able to present someone to a living, but those who are in total possession of their faculties but who practise a different faith are not able to do so. I point out the fascination of that situation to the House. I agree with the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) on this matter.

The measure is unclear about the role of the laity. It does say that parochial church councils should be represented when considering an appointment and that its representatives should have a veto over an appointment. It does not say how those representatives will be appointed, whether they are to be mandated or whether they report back to the Church council. Effectively the veto lies with the church council and I agree with that. Such lay involvement should relate to the whole of the parochial church councils.

When the laity have not been involved, or to a small degree only, with appointments, some such appointments are disasterous because the laity of the Church have not accepted the individual because he is incompatible with them. I hope that, one day, the Synod will consider the role of archbishops and bishops when instituting people to livings.

There was a remarkable story of Canon Newell Long, who was appointed by a patron to the living of St. Aidan's, Birmingham, but the then Bishop of Birmingham, Ernest Barnes, refused to institute on the grounds of his Tractarian views, and there was an enormous battle between the Church and the Bishop of Birmingham. Eventually, the Archbishop of the day instituted the priest in Lambeth chapel, but still the bishop refused to recognise or accept the priest. It was a painful and sad situation, to. which the Synod never faced up.

Under this measure, the Synod could have picked up such matters, because there are still occasions when bishops say that if a certain person is appointed, they are not sure that they could institute them. These matters do not come out in the open very much, but they exist, and it is tiresome, wrong and dangerous that they do, and something should be done about it. I hope that the Synod will one day face up to this question, which is even more important than the one with which we have dealt this evening.

11.57 pm
Sir William van Straubenzee

With the leave of the House, I shall reply to what has been a most helpful debate. The House will acquit me if I do so briefly because it will realise that if the House is to come to a decision tonight, which I sense is the general wish, I have to do so within a general constraint of time, according to our Standing Orders.

I am obliged to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been good enough to take part in the debate. If my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) will look closely at clause 11, he will see how the lay representatives operate, and he will see that they are representatives and not delegates. That is a difference of which we in this House are rather specially conscious because we pride ourselves on being not delegates but representatives. I hope that when he studies clause 11 my hon. Friend will feel that there is a good deal in it for the lay representation.

Rightly, the House has concerned itself with the point initially raised by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), which concerns the exercise of the right of patronage by a patron who is not a communicant member of the Church of England. I make clear the difference between the ownership of the patronage, on the one hand, and the exercise of the right in any particular vacancy, on the other. I hope and believe that this is not a narrow point.

The right hon. Member used the word "ownership" —I made a careful note of this—and said that it would lapse if the patron was not a communicant member of the Church of England. That is an uncharacteristic slip on his part. for we know him to be an exact person in the use of his words. The ownership continues, if necessary, from generation to generation. This is part of the historical nature of the Church of England as it is constituted, and as I approve of it, although not all would do so. I accept that there comes a point when such a person has to exercise in the vacancy concerned his or her right of presentation, and this is what is set out in the Measure. I realise that there have been some doubts about this.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that these are matters of judgment, but I should be relucant, in such an eventuality, to see such a right revert to the bishop. However, I recognise that these are matters of judgment. I much prefer the right of the patron concerned to appoint a representative who is a communicant member of the Church.

I warmly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) and other hon. Members that the role of the lay patron in the Church of England is immensely important. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Once again I have to record my personal interest, but my hon. Friend the Member for Corby knows about that. The role of a lay patron can be important and often is important, and for that reason I want to strengthen the role. I want to ensure that it can be ascertained without peradventure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) made a most helpful speech, but I do not think that the register in Crockfords is by any means complete. It is interesting to note that the register will eventually be completed and this in itself will strengthen the role of the lay patron. The other provisions of the Measure also help.

The lay patron is often a person with local knowledge, and is sometimes a bastion against a diocesan bishop who may want to move a man who, as the phrase goes, "has problems." The diocesan bishop may want to move such a person to a parish for reasons which may be quite right from his point of view but which are not helpful from the point of view of parochial life in the parish concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby and I are united in anything that will strengthen, as this Measure does, the position of the private patron.

We all listened with great interest and respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby, who told us about the long years of devoted service given to one parish by his father. It brought back to mind, although not from personal recollection, my grandfather's grandfather in my village who was the rector of his parish for 51 years. It was his proud boast that he could drink any gentleman in his county under the table. That is a measure of hospitality that I try hard to maintain. Long service has much to commend it, but equally I see the great benefit nowadays of a proper period of service and then an equal period of splendid service in another parish.

I hope that I have answered the main points raised. The fact that I have not answered at greater length will be understood by the House. Hon. Members will appreciate my problem and will acquit me of discourtesy. I warmly commend the Measure to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Patronage (Benefices) 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.

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