HL Deb 11 November 1969 vol 305 cc523-6

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, as I hope to escape the fate of Mr. Cammell. I have, with your Lordships' permission, to refer the following matter to the House. The House will have noted that there has recently been laid before Parliament the Crown Office (Writs of Summons) Rules, which prescribe a new form of writ of summons to the House to be issued to Lords Spiritual on the summoning of a new Parliament. This means that someone has instigated some change in the form of the writ of summons, and, as all students of your Lordships' Standing Orders will at once recognise, this immediately activates Standing Order No. 6, which is in the following terms: If there be any difference in the form or style of the writs from the ancient, it is to be examined how it came to pass". I have always been curious as to the history which might lie behind the making of this Standing Order, and owing to the learning and industry of the learned Clerks at the Table I am in a position to tell your Lordships that in 1620 Lord North found that his writ of summons was not in the usual form. An appalling thing had happened: the words, "right trusty and well-beloved" had been omitted. Your Lordships' House, seized with the importance of the occasion, at once referred the claim to the Committee for Privileges, and after an investigation of the matter it was discovered that the miscreant was Mr. Richard Cammell, a clerk in the Office of the Petty Bag. He was at once brought before the House and, in spite of an abject confession of guilt and expression of remorse made when he threw himself on his knees before your Lordships' House to beg for indulgence, it was not to be, and he was at once removed to the Fleet Prison. Fortunately for him, on a subsequent petition to your Lordships' House your Lordships were indulgent, and he was released. However, it was clearly a sensitive subject, because in the Roll of Standing Orders 1664–1715 what is now Standing Order No. 6 appears in a rather longer form; namely: If there be any difference in the form or style of the writs from the ancient, it is to be examined how it came to pass and a strict course for punishing the time past, and future amendment". The responsibility for issuing writs of summons is mine, and I do not wish either to incur strict punishment or to have to mend my ways. So I will, if I may, briefly explain to the House what the change in the Bishops' writs is, and why it has been made.

The change consists solely in the omission of the traditional "Praemunientes clause", which commands the Bishop to "forewarn" the Dean and Chapter of his Cathedral and the Archdeacons and clergy of his diocese that they are to be present (either in person or by their elected representatives) at the place appointed for the meeting of the new Parliament. This command has not been acted on for over 600 years. Those more familiar than I am with mediæval constitutional history will be aware that in the very early days of Parliament the King wished to summon the clergy to Parliament through the Bishops as something like a separate estate for the purpose of making them vote taxes. The clergy resisted, and in the end a compromise was reached whereby, on the King's authority, the Archbishops summoned the clergy to the Convocations, where the necessary business was transacted. But the old form persisted in the Parliamentary writ issued to Bishops.

Those who have gone into the matter thoroughly and are entitled to speak with authority are all satisfied that the authority for summoning the clergy to Convocation does not stem from the Parliamentary writ. Indeed, it could not do so now that many diocesan Bishops receive no such writ. The Praemunientes clause has therefore long been obsolete, but its anachronistic nature was obscured as long as the Convocations were invariably summoned at the same time as a new Parliament. With the passing of the Church of England Convocations Act 1966, that is no longer the case; and when the Bill for that Act was before this House my noble friend Lord Stonham adverted to the possibility of its involving some amendment to Bishops' writs, which, in their current form, can do nothing but cause confusion. The Rules recently laid before the House make the necessary amendment. I should perhaps add that I have had the benefit of the advice of the most reverend Primates, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, both of whom have agreed that the time has now come to make this change. I hope that your Lordships will be satisfied with this explanation and that I may escape the fate of Mr. Cammell.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall be grateful if, as one of the Lords Spiritual, I may be allowed to express a welcome to this Order in Council, first because it seems to me to remove for all time any lingering fear that the clergy might have of a separate summons to Parliament for the purpose of voting taxes. At any time that has rather a nasty ring to it, but particularly so at this moment. On a somewhat more serious note, I am grateful for this Order in Council because writs in their old form rather tended to obscure the real purpose that lies behind Convocation and the real purpose of its existence. It is now clearly rooted and expressed in the Church of England Convocation Act 1966.

I felt that as a representative of the Lords Spiritual I should thank the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack for making possible this valuable and long overdue change.


My Lords, it was with a sense of relief, if slightly stunned, that we listened to the Statement of my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack. If there is anyone who doubts the spirit of red hot technical revolution in this Government he is now aware that my noble and learned friend is active at all times. We are very relieved that he will not suffer the fate of the unfortunate Mr. Cammell.