HL Deb 11 November 1971 vol 325 cc470-2

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales that they, having been informed of the purport of the Benefices Measure, have consented to place their interests, so far as they are concerned on behalf of the Crown and the Duchy of Cornwall, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Measure.


My Lords I beg to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Benefices Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent. This Measure extends already existing powers to meet a new and developing situation in the life of the Church of England. Under the Benefices Act 1898, a Bishop has the power—a discretionary power—to refuse to institute to a benefice a clergyman who may be presented to him by a patron if that clergyman has not completed three years from the date of his ordination. This power is to be exercised by the Bishop in order to protect a parish from having appointed to that parish a clergyman who may not have the necessary experience. Of course, up to recent years the norm of the ministry of the Church of England was clergymen who were full-time employed in parochial work, but in recent years—and it will be so in the future—a number of men have been ordained who have had either little or no parochial experience; that is to say, the worker priests. There are also those priests to whom we refer as exercising a supplemental ministry; that is to say, they are earning their living in some secular employment, but are able to render very valuable ministry in their spare time, in the evenings and at weekends. This type of ministry is likely to increase in future years when people have more leisure. It is a very valuable ministry and it is of great help to overworked parochial clergy. But as the law now stands, a clergyman might exercise such a supplemental ministry for a number of years and then be offered a benefice by a patron, and the Bishop would not have any power to refuse to institute him, even if the Bishop was persuaded that that particular clergyman had not the experience and the pastoral opportunity that was provided by exercising a ministry in a parish. Therefore the Benefices Measure extends this existing power to give to a Bishop discretionary power to refuse to institute to a benefice, if he thinks it right, a clergyman who has not had any parochial experience or who has less than three years' experience as a full-time parochial minister. I stress that this is a discretionary power. There is an appeal to the Archbishop of the Province if it is thought that the Bishop has acted in an irresponsible way. This Measure passed through the Church Assembly and the General Synod without any dispute and without any Division being called. It has been adjudged expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee, and therefore I trust that this House will give affirmative agreement to the Motion.

Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Benefices Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Chester.)


My Lords, may I ask the right reverend Prelate one question? He has explained to the House that the difficulty of the Church is that there is a shortage of experienced men and that men are not qualified because they have not worked in an area for a certain time. Can he explain why it is that the Church uses the services of very experienced deaconesses who have all the qualifications that he has described, yet refuse to ordain them?


My Lords, the matter of the ordination of women to the priesthood is a living issue in the Church. The Lambeth Conference considered it sympathetically in 1968 and the Anglican Consultative Council earlier this year also gave the matter favourable consideration. It is a matter of debate and controversy in the Church; but the noble Baroness may rest assured that this matter is a very living issue in the life of the Church and that it is likely to be considered during the coming year, since I understand the Anglican Consultative Council desires an answer by the end of 1972 from the Church of England.


My Lords, does the right reverend Prelate realise that I am really being practical in this matter and that the country finds it difficult to understand the Church's professions of race equality in the light of its sex discrimination in this matter?


My Lords, according to our statistics of church attendances, women are the more religious sex; and according to our criminal statistics they arc the less wicked.


My Lords, having myself been chairman of a commission on the whole question of the ordination of women to the priesthood, I have a good deal of understanding and sympathy with the points of view expressed by both noble Baronesses. They will understand that there is a great deal of prejudice in this matter and that that prejudice has to be overcome in order that we may steadily go forward, as I believe we shall, in the way in which the noble Baronesses suggest.


My Lords, is the right reverend Prelate aware that the Church is dragging its feet in this matter, and that by the time it decides there will be nobody in the churches to preach to?


My Lords, I cannot accept the argument that the noble Baroness puts forward in that way. I can assure her that this is very much a living issue and one to which the Church will be giving its attention in great detail in the near future.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.