HL Deb 22 January 1987 vol 483 cc1091-111

7.15 p.m.

Lord Sudeley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their attitude to the report by the Prayer Book Society entitled Theological Colleges and the Book of Common Prayer: A Survey.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

I am bringing forward this debate in response to an invitation from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made in the House of Lords on the 11th April 1984. Speaking then for the Government on my Prayer Book (Protection) Bill, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that he would like to say to his noble friend that he should put down Motions from time to time as and when he felt that the situation demanded it.

This debate is concerned specifically with the report published by the Prayer Book Society entitled Theological Colleges and the Book of Common Prayer: A Survey. The Government Whips' Office has pointed out that it would not be easy to draft a Question on theological colleges because they are independent educational institutions over which the Government have little or no control. But I hope that this difficulty has been overcome so far as is possible by the way that the Question has been drafted. On the issue of this debate, over which there is strong feeling in the country at large, it will be interesting to see whether the Government will disclaim responsibility and say that formally they have no answer. Whatever may be the position of the Government in Parliament, I hope that Parliament itself will feel that a debate of this kind is much needed to give an airing to the way in which a public promise has been made by the Church of England to Parliament over the teaching and use of the Prayer Book in theological colleges and how this promise has unfortunately not been followed through.

In response to the success in both Houses of Parliament of my Prayer Book (Protection) Bill in 1981, the House of Bishops passed a series of resolutions. One of those resolutions noted the information given by the chairman of ACCM to the General Synod in February 1981 regarding the use of the Prayer Book in theological colleges and asked governing bodies and principals to pay attention to the matter of securing the use of the Prayer Book and the Alternative Service Book in teaching and in worship.

When I reintroduced my Prayer Book (Protection) Bill in the House of Lords in 1984 the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said that after the debate in this House in 1981, the bishops had taken stock of the position, and after serious discussion had passed Motions showing awareness of the feeling of this House.

The third Motion was the one to which I have just referred, which notes the information given to the General Synod in February 1981 regarding the use of the Prayer Book in theological colleges and asks governing bodies and principals to pay attention to the matter with a view to securing the use of both the Book of Common Prayer and the Alternative Service Book in teaching and in worship. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury continued by saying that on the question of the theological colleges the bishops had gone further than their resolution stated. Through their inspectors they now required that the Book of Common Prayer should remain in use in teaching and in worship.

What evidence do we have that the Church of England has failed in its promise to Parliament over the Prayer Book in theological colleges? On Good Friday of 1986 The Times published a letter from Professor Basil Mitchell, a member of the Doctrine Commission and former Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at Oxford; Miss Rachel Trickett, Principal of St Hugh's College, Oxford; Dr Derek Brewer, Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge; and Professor Mary Hesse, Professor of the Philosophy of Science, at Cambridge. The authors of this letter began by mentioning the bishops' resolution of 1981 to which I have referred. They went on to say that they felt that over a period of years it had been proper to refrain from comment, not wishing to cast doubt on the seriousness of the assurances given in 1981 and being concerned to allow for time during which improvements might occur. The authors of the letter continued: It is our impression that the position of the Prayer Book in the parishes, and in theological colleges is almost as parlous as it ever was. Young priests are still arriving in the parishes with little or no experience of the Prayer Book". In other words, priests cannot lead the kind of worship under the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974. Moderate though this letter was in tone, no reply has been received to the nub of its complaint.

There is then the survey which is the subject of the debate. The two authors of the survey, Professor David Martin of the London School of Economics, who over the years has done so much for the Prayer Book, and Dr. Roger Homan of the Brighton Polytechnic deserve our thanks and congratulations. Since I expect that all noble Lords participating in the debate have a copy of the survey, I shall not run through its contents in detail but make just two quotations from leading passages. On page 9 the survey says: The outstanding finding is the limited extent to which the Prayer Book is used in college worship and the displacement of this by the Alternative Service Book. In both offices and in Holy Communion students found themselves using Alternative Service Book more frequently than the Prayer Book. For Holy Communion some 60 per cent. of respondents worshipped according to the Prayer Book seldom or never; the corresponding figure for the Alternative Service Book Rite A was 1.2 per cent.". In summing up Professor Martin states: We can see now what lies behind earlier and rather bland statements to the effect that the colleges 'use' the Prayer Book. They do; but most of them don't 'use' it much. The Prayer Book is the Disuse of the Anglican colleges. Students may easily be ignorant of the Prayer Book, particularly the Eucharist; they have little chance of being ignorant of Rite A in the ASB.".

The survey is a quantitative assessment, and so I think that it is worth adding a word or two about the quality of the students' returns, which though not included in the report are described by Dr. Homan in the autumn 1986 issue of the Prayer Book Society's journal Faith And Heritage. The returns there described are not without their own individual form of arrogance. One student, for example, said: Let's get rid of the interim.". Another student said: How marvellous it is to worship without having to rely on the dictionary for every other word.". A further student said: If the God of worship is alive today it is an insult to worship Him in the language of the past".

How has the survey been received? No one in authority has attempted to refute its claims as to the current situation, and leaders in the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper accept the justice of the case that the survey makes. The leader in the Church Times for 25th April said: If the gentle advice given by the House of Bishops has not been heeded the time seems to have come for college principals to be reminded of their duties more forcibly. And if the evidence assembled by Professor Martin is correct, his conclusions about the colleges appear to be unassailable.". The leader in the Church of England Newspaper for 11th April stated: It is impossible not to entertain sympathy with Professor Martin's position … We welcome the continued campaigning by Professor Martin and his colleagues in the Prayer Book Society.".

Let me examine why the bishops' resolution of 1981 with regard to theological colleges has not been implemented. First, there is the attitude of theological colleges which believe their status to be somewhat autonomous. The survey was undertaken with the cognisance of the chairman of ACCM, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. He was happy for it to be undertaken, and most of his critical comments were embodied in the questionnaire. Nevertheless, the survey met with a corporate resistance from officials at the colleges which could only have the effect of frustrating in some degree the attempt to obtain precise information. To quote a particular instance, the principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, wrote to Dr. Homan: We decided not to take up the Prayer Book Society's questionnaire … because we do not like even the remote possibility of being used as statistical information in a political debate".

Theological colleges have claimed that they respond to students' preferences, but to put the matter in the words of a letter to me by Professor Martin: In no other respect do theological colleges abdicate their role or hand over their responsibilities as guardians of the formation of Anglican tradition to student opinion. This is treated as justification for allowing their ignorance to continue. One might think that student choice would be more meaningful if formed after proper exposure to Prayer Book worship".

There is then the attitude of the bishops. Time and the survey have disclosed how the bishops have shown a failure of will to implement their own resolution of 1981. I shall give one or two instances of how that has happened. The survey speaks of how one bishop told a theological college not to take too much notice of the House of Bishops' resolution of 1981. Another bishop has written in his diocesan gazette: Theological colleges are after all communities of adult worshippers who should have basically the same rights of self-determination as parochial congregations". On a more general level the failure of will on the part of the bishops is only too plain from the evidence of the survey.

For the bishops, theological colleges need not be autonomous bodies which it is possible for them only to exhort and not to compel. The bishops, through ACCM, have a relationship to the theological colleges, and ACCM is accountable separately to the House of Bishops and to the General Synod. The bishops, through their selectors, and occasionally independently of them, choose whom they will accept for ordination. The bishops are heavily represented on ACCM and its various committees, and most of them serve on the governing bodies of theological colleges in their dioceses or are closely associated with them.

Generally it may be said, to quote from a letter to me from the secretary-general of the Synod on the relationship or loose affiliation between the bishops of theological colleges: over the years the bishops have established the position that candidates for ordination are required to attend theological colleges which the bishops recognise; and a college is recognised only if it complies with the bishops' requirements in terms of the contents of its courses, the organisation of its life, etc. Each college is regularly inspected by inspectors appointed by the House of Bishops and the inspectors' reports are circulated to all the diocesan bishops. If the bishops, in the light of a report by their inspectors, ask a college to make some change or adjustment and the college declines to comply, then—if all possibility of agreement has been exhausted—the bishops have as their ultimate sanction the right to withdraw recognition … The practical effect would be that the college would have to close because it would not receive any more candidates from the bishops".

Finally, over the position of the Prayer Book in theological colleges, a word should be said about the effectiveness of bishops' inspections, which were mentioned in this House in 1984 by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. From the evidence of the Prayer Book Society's survey we must ask why the inspections have not achieved what they should. Part of the difficulty may be the slowness with which the inspections operate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle told me that the inspections cover only three colleges a year and so only about half of the colleges could have been covered since 1984. There is the problem of the reports of the bishops' inspectors being confidential to the House of Bishops and to the governing bodies of the theological colleges to which they are addressed. Similarly, the inspectors' questionnaire is not a public document and so parliamentarians cannot know whether it is too loosely worded, which colleges were visited and what the findings were.

Owing to these circumstances, a plea should be made that theological colleges should be subject to some degree of open and public accountability. The Church is not respecting the principle of freedom of information, and in that it runs counter to established practice elsewhere such as police complaints procedures, the inspection of schools and so on. An important example of a more open system of accountability developing in the recent history of a profession is teaching, over which Her Majesty's Inspectors have secured santions under the Education Act 1980.

In that statute, schools must publish for the benefit of parents such details of themselves as the Secretary of State shall require. The Secretary of State has since required that schools publish examination results and HMI reports which head teachers had formerly been allowed to keep secret. Why over theological colleges should bishops be keeping the blinds drawn when they put under their own scrutiny defence, economic matters and even the GLC? If bishops feel in a position to call politicians to account, they should observe in their example the standards that they expect of those they criticise.

That concludes my remarks, which I have kept as short as possible. I thought that it would be better to avoid comments on the demerits of the Alternative Service Book as I think that this ground has been amply canvassed so far, together with other vaguely related issues. I thought it important that this debate should not be diverted by vaguely related matters or complaints about Erastianism. I hope that the debate may be concentrated on the simple and basic issue that justice should follow from the promises made over the position of the Prayer Book in theological colleges by the House of Bishops in 1981.

7.31 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle

My Lords, I am grateful for an opportunity to take part in this debate, as my name occurs several times in the report which we are discussing. Further, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for the understanding way in which he has set out the background and the contents of this report.

Last year he was kind enough to suggest that he and I met in order to discuss some of the points which are raised by the report and which he has mentioned in his speech. It is now about 25 years since he and I worshipped together in the same Oxford college chapel where the Book of Common Prayer then reigned supreme.

However, even then the problem about which he is deeply concerned and troubled was with us; namely, how to ensure that ordinands and young clergymen properly enter into and appropriate the heritage of worship which is ours in the Church of England and which is to be found in the Book of Common Prayer. That was a problem long before the Alternative Service Book was even thought of.

When in 1955 I went to Chichester to be ordained deacon, the candidates were taken by the archdeacon into the cathedral and told to read to him aloud the prayer for the High Court of Parliament, no less. I vividly remember that one of the candidates could not find it in his prayer book, and the archdeacon was understandably displeased. That was long before the Alternative Service Book, and it puts the problem in a nutshell.

Nearly six years ago when I became a diocesan bishop the problem was still with us and in a sharper form. It was in that year that the House of Bishops passed a resolution—the resolution to which the noble Lord referred—in which it asked that governing bodies and principals of theological colleges pay attention to the use of the Book of Common Prayer in their colleges with a view to securing the use of both the Book of Common Prayer and the Alternative Service Book in teaching and in worship. The House of Bishops could do no more than ask that this be done; it cannot direct. It asked that this be done, and in the past three years, since I became chairman of the body which has general reponsibility for the selection and training of ordinands, I have to my certain recollection on two occasions reminded the principals of this request.

More recently, as we have just heard, in 1984 the Archbishop of Canterbury in this House commented that the bishops have in fact gone further than their resolution stated: Through their inspectors they now require that the Book of Common Prayer should remain in use both in teaching and in worship". In both these statements mention is made of the use of the Book of Common Prayer in teaching and in worship. I do not think that it is possible to teach properly the worship or liturgy course, or even the doctrine course, without the inclusion of some serious treatment of the history and contents of the Book of Common Prayer. My impression is that this part of the resolution of 1981 is being honoured.

What about the use of the Book of Common Prayer in worship? That is the nub of the matter. I should like to narrow the question further. What about the use of the Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer in worship at theological colleges? I narrow it down in this way, for the shape of the Morning and Evening prayer in the Book of Common Prayer and in the Alternative Service Book is very similar. If one is familiar with the one form of service, one is more or less familiar with the other. However, the shape of the Holy Communion in the two books is rather different, and not only the shape but also the word and the ethos.

We as bishops have a duty to ensure that all clergymen, and especially the more recently ordained, are sufficiently familiar with all the authorised services and rites so that they can officiate at them all with reverence and dignity; a duty to ensure that the clergy know what comes next, what to do, where to stand, how to speak the prayers so that they yield their proper sense; more, a duty to ensure that the clergy have had opportunities to enter into the spirit of the various liturgies authorised and have had opportunities to make these rites their own. I should be surprised—very much surprised—if all the bishops did not agree with these statements of principle.

What about the theological colleges and the students there? The colleges are all independent, private, charitable bodies with their own trustees, councils and governors. The Church of England is well served by a wide variety of independent voluntary bodies: missionary societies, Church Army, Church of England Children's Society, colleges of education and so forth. So far as the theological colleges are concerned, the bishops require candidates to attend colleges, or courses, which they, the bishops, have recognised. Recognition could be withdrawn if colleges did not comply with the bishops' requirements with regard to the training provided. So far as I know, recognition has never been withdrawn for such a reason. That would be the ultimate sanction and it has not been applied. The Church of England prefers to act by persuasion.

The noble Lord invites us to consider whether we should not withdraw recognition—or threaten to withdraw recognition—from colleges which do not use the Book of Common Prayer sufficiently. In principle we could do so. It would be an unprecedented step. We might be reluctant to take it—reluctant because it might well have the effect of altering the entire flavour of the bishops' relationship with the colleges. In any case, we should want to pause and think hard before we took such a step. As I said, the Church of England prefers to act by persuasion.

The bishops have some power to influence the governing bodies of colleges. As the noble Lord has mentioned, all these bodies contain a bishop or bishops in their number, and there is in any case a general moral influence which the bishops have exerted. We do not control the colleges. We can influence them, but we could well be reluctant to compel them.

Consistent with this is the fact that corporate worship is not one of the subjects covered by the bishops' regulations for training. These regulations cover the length of training and the academic requirements for the various types of student. We do not make regulations about the internal ordering of a college's life. For instance, we do not define residence or the length of terms, or details of how pastoral work is to be done, or the details of what goes on in a college chapel. However, as we have heard, our inspectors review the life of each college about once every five years. If anything is seriously amiss we expect them to detect it and to comment on it.

In general, so far as the colleges are concerned I am sure that governing bodies and principals have paid attention to the Book of Common Prayer. I am perhaps less sure about the non-residential courses, but pretty sure about the colleges, and I am sure that its use has been secured in both teaching and worship, as the House of Bishops requested, although the Book of Common Prayer is perhaps less used in worship than some might wish. So much for relations between bishops and colleges.

What about the students? I am pretty sure that the days have gone when attendance at all services is compulsory. It may be obligatory but it can no longer be treated as compulsory. The spirit of the times has affected even the training of the clergy. I fear that in some colleges, when there is a celebration of the Holy Communion according to a rite which a student does not like, he very probably votes with his feet and stays away.

However much one regrets this situation (and I do), that is the situation. I regret it not least because part of the purpose of the education provided in theological colleges is to broaden the students' range of experience and first-hand knowledge. As in all educational establishments, I assume, alas, that there will always be some pupils who decline to take advantage of the opportunity to open their minds further.

While the college may well provide excellent teaching in the Book of Common Prayer and instruction on the ways in which it should be used in worship, some students will not pay close attention at that stage. There are many more pressing matters for their immediate attention, or so they think. The moment when the student will be receptive to some instruction on this subject comes when he is a deacon or a newly ordained priest and is learning how to celebrate the Holy Communion.

I know that some dioceses require their young clergy in the years immediately following their ordination to be given experience in officiating at all the principal authorised rites of the Holy Communion (the Book of Common Prayer, Rite A and Rite B of the Alternative Service Book), even if that means visiting another parish for the purpose. For example, in the Diocese of Newcastle we have a regulation to this effect. I am pretty confident that that is the best way of achieving the end which we all have in view, to which I referred earlier and on which I assume that we are all agreed.

Your Lordships will have noticed that I have not talked much about the report, Theological Colleges and the Book of Common Prayer: a Survey. Instead I have sought to set out the background. I did not wish to introduce a sharply critical note but rather to assure the House that the bishops corporately are anxious about some of the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all in 1984 when he gave to this House the assurance that it was the intention of the bishops to keep before the Church the fact that the Alternative Service Book is, as its name indicates, an alternative service book.

However, had I dwelt at length on this report I should have had to be critical in part of it. I should like to make two points briefly. First, the authors are themselves disappointed that they did not elicit replies from more students. It is a particular cause for disappointment that there was scarcely any response from the three avowedly Anglo-Catholic colleges and none at all from two of the evangelical colleges. The poverty of response from those two quarters must surely have affected the balance of the report.

Secondly, and more seriously, there is in the appended note on the implications much with which I should have to disagree. For example, those colleges which use the Book of Common Prayer for one term in three are doing rather well, and not the reverse, as the report suggests.

In conclusion I should like to say that there is a wise layman in the north of Northumberland. He is lay-chairman of the most northerly deanery synod in the country. He said to me recently on another topic, "Bishop, maintain the pressure". That is what the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has been doing over the years, and that is what bishops too have been doing in their various ways during this time.

We know that there are weaknesses, perhaps more in the courses on which about one-third of our ordinands are trained than in the colleges, on which this report concentrates; and perhaps too in ecumenical colleges and on courses where understandably the students do not have so much of their own Church's liturgy as they would in purely Anglican colleges and courses.

In general, I interpret the evidence in a way rather differently from the way in which the noble Lord has interpreted it. I am reasonably encouraged by the progress made over the past few years. In our various ways we shall all no doubt continue to maintain the pressure, but no good whatsoever is served by referring to the present situation as "a blazing scandal", as we find on page 16 of the report. Such language will be counter-productive and will not further the end which we all desire.

I have to state my conviction that this is a situation which, given the circumstances is not too bad, which could be a good deal worse, which has certainly improved since I ran a theological college and which stands some chance of improving further as a result of gentle pressure consistently applied. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver". That is a sentence from the Book of Proverbs which could serve as out motto in this connection.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, tells us that we owe this debate to an invitation to him by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to put down Questions from time to time. It is not unknown for hosts to issue invitations and not be there when the visitors arrive. I am not certain that the noble and learned Lord has judged ill in doing so, but we know at least whom we have to blame.

I do not think that we are achieving a great deal in this debate tonight. The theological colleges are fairly far from the purview of Her Majesty's Government who are being asked a Question on this subject. The fact that the Question should come from your Lordships' House is very odd indeed because there is every reason for saying that the position of the theological colleges in the Church of England, and in the country, is extremely anomalous. Rather like your Lordships' House, they exist in the way that they exist and they are governed in the way that they are governed because it happened that way and because no one can agree on any different solution.

While it is pleasant and always helpful to hear the very sincere noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, talking about theological colleges, I feel that when we hear hereditary Peers debating the theological colleges we are getting a little removed from the real business of your Lordships' House.

I should like to move the debate a little wider. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, said about why he concentrated on the theological colleges as such. But he did express in the course of his speech the fact that there is a strong feeling in the country at large. This comment I think is on the subject of the Prayer Book, the Book of Common Prayer and the forms of prayer in use in the Church of England.

Since I last took part in a debate in your Lordships' House on this subject, I have come back into the full-time ministry of the Church of England. I have the honour and privilege to serve two parishes in the peninsula of Kew. I think they are very pertinent to the subject we are discussing. They are educated parishes, although their class make-up is definitely mixed. There are rich areas and housing estates. Their age groups are mixed, as is the origin of the people in both parishes. There are people who have been there for a long time and who were born in that parish—quite a lot of them. There are also people who have come in two or three years ago. Our worship is mixed. We have Rite A in one parish for our main service; we have Rite B in the other parish for our main service. At evensong, every Sunday, we have the full works, the full evensong of 1662; the full Book of Common Prayer with no abridgement of any kind whatsoever.

I introduced that, which was not present before I came. I introduced it not because I am a seeker after archaism in any way but because I thought that I knew that there were people who appreciated the old rites, the old words, the old prayers and services, and I thought that, since on the whole the kind of people who came to evensong were people who came to a restful evening service rather than a stimulating one and a number of them were elderly, it would be the right thing to do. The parochial church councils of both parishes agreed—without much interest one way of the other, I may say, but they agreed—and so we have balanced worship.

I do not believe that it makes the slightest difference whatsoever to the numbers who come to the two churches. I have gone to the lengths of writing to some people who I know have expressed sadness at the fact that the old services no longer exist, inviting them to come along to evensong at St. Luke's, where there is the 1662 service every Sunday. There is no reply, and the result is nil. We have a nice service with a few attenders, no more and no less than we had before the 1662 service came in.

I have consulted the parochial church councils of both parishes. I have talked to people who have been in the parish for years and years and who were born in the parish; some who come to church, and some who do not come to church. From none of them have I extracted any suggestion at all that their churchgoing is in any way altered by the pattern of these services.

It may be said that that is because the people who would come do not come, and therefore I am not in touch with them. However, I do not think that that is true. My two parishes are fairly small parishes. People know who used to come to church. They know their neighbours. They are fairly tightly knit communities for London communities, and there is no way in which, if there was a solid feeling that there ought to be much more of the old services, I would not know about it and it would not have been drawn to my attention.

There were, I am told, in the course of the 10 years before I came two incidents where people stopped coming to church because of the services. Only two in the whole of that Kew peninsula. In each case they have found for themselves happy homes elsewhere, and in any case there were other factors involved.

There may be some parts of the country where what the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, said about strong feeling is true. But I would remind your Lordships that London is not just a place which is in the fashion and all the new things happen. It is also, in ecclesiastical terms, and always has been, the home of the diehards at the extremes of every tradition. If you want to find the home of Anglo-Catholicism and the real home of the evangelical movement, you will find them in London, so it is not that London just picks up the easy changes to modernism. There is real tradition in London as well.

These parishes are not untypical except that they are fairly easily defined in a geographical area, and it is rather easier for parish priests to make judgments and analyses of them and to come and tell your Lordships, or report back, as to what the feeling is, and I get no feeling whatsoever. As a new priest coming, and inheriting the services of my predecessor, I have been open to all kinds of suggestions and I have detected at no stage any of this strong feeling in the country at large.

I am not saying that the ways of the Church of England are faultless. I am on record over quite a long career as thinking that they are not, and saying so. I do not think that the theological colleges, either in their make-up or in the way they perform, are absolutely perfect. I think sometimes that the Bishops may be led into giving slightly more easy reassurances to the House of Commons and the House of Lords than they would if they were able to look forward a little more foresightedly.

But the idea that the whole of the Church has been turned upside down by a small clique at the centre pushing through changes and new services without the support and the wish of the ordinary worshipping members of the population is quite untrue. I have seen this on the ground and I know it, and the sooner we stop talking about it in those terms the better.

7.57 p.m.

The Marquess of Salisbury

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for introducing this short debate. If I may, I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle for so lucidly explaining the situation in the theological colleges and the reasons for it.

I find it somewhat difficult to adjust the ideas between the two first speakers because they do not seem to have been describing quite the same situation. I would question what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has said: the bulk of the congregations support the Alternative Service Book. My own experience, for what it is worth, is that usually the incumbent has preferred it and has managed to persuade the parochial church council to follow in his wake. I come across many people who find that their views have not been fully appreciated.

I also find—and this occasionally happens to me—that I have, as patron, to find an incumbent for a living and you get some peculiar answers to the questions you put to them. Whether this is the result of their own predilections or the result of what they have learnt in the theological colleges, I do not know, but certainly a large proportion of the ones one interviews are, to my way of thinking, not always suited to carry out their duties in the parish.

What we are talking about this evening is the question of whether we really believe what the Church tells us they are trying to do. It may well be that some of us are wrong who feel that there is a doubt. All I can say then is that I think that the Church public relations people have failed to put over their case adequately. One thing I find extremely trying as a result of these new services is that if you go to any church which you are not accustomed to attend, you never know what sort of service you are going to attend, and you often find it difficult to find your way round. I should have thought that this was a retrograde step and that something could be done to correct that situation.

Is this not part of a wider move, of which the Alternative Service Book is part? For instance, it would not be possible for the Church to do away with the Book of Common Prayer because that is laid down by Parliament. Therefore if they want to make any alterations, they have to do it, as the name implies, by presenting an alternative.

Over recent years we have seen quite a change in the position of the established Church. This seems to have been a deliberate policy on the part of the Church of England to distance itself from the state. As Mr. T. E. Utley said in an address he gave in Exeter last May, the Christian society in this country is based on the joint pillars of the Church and the state. The established Church is little more than established in name and, as he put it, is in grave danger of becoming just one of many sects. If the process was to develop on those lines I am sure that everyone in your Lordships' House would regard it as very unfortunate. However, it is a point that requires the closest attention.

If the Church is to survive as the main representative of Christianity in this country it is surely important that we should know exactly where it is going and what it is trying to do. I also hope that it will be possible for the right reverend Prelate to reaffirm what his colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, said about the use of the Book of Common Prayer. That seems to be fundamental for so much of the teaching of Christianity on which we have been brought up.

8.4 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, as I was coming down one of the corridors in your Lordships' House today, I was asked by a. noble Lord what I knew about the Prayer Book. He said he did not know that I was an expert on the Prayer Book. I told him that I was by no means an expert, and that was why I was intending to speak because I felt that this was a debate of interest to a wider number of people than are represented in your Lordships' House tonight. I have been struck by the expertise, and in particular the very excellent speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, which has enlightened me a good deal. Mine is the concern of the irregular churchgoer. That is perhaps the majority of people who have been baptised and confirmed in the established Church. It includes those of us who are old enough to have been educated solely in the Book of Common Prayer, who have some affection for it, and some feeling for its cultural relevance in the country. This is a point I should like to put before your Lordships.

The struggle between those who favour the Book of Common Prayer and the alternative is not in terms which commend themselves to the great majority of people who have a passing interest in this. There should be more than a passing interest, and I wish that there were more lay speakers of the quality of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, tonight. I felt some comradeship with him after his remarks.

This debate has moved into the hands of the experts—as many matters do in this country. The noble Lord who asked me the question in the corridor—although it may have been semi jocular—put his finger on a point. We tend to leave matters to the experts, whereas more curiosity and interest might be helpful in the debate. I have listened very carefully, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I found his remarks very interesting because in my preparation for tonight's debate I had not spoken to anybody who had a parish within the London area. All my information has come from the country.

Last evening I was introduced to someone who I understood was a very keen churchgoer. He had lived in a village in the Midlands where there was a congregation in that area of around 35 to 40 people each Sunday morning out of a total population of 450. I asked him what he thought about this argument on whether or not the Book of Common Prayer is used enough, and whether there is enough pressure from the Bishops on the theological colleges to produce the young priests who will use it. He said, "It is a very interesting debate but we do not have the opportunity to debate this. Our main concern is getting a service at all. We have not had a regular priest now for five or six years. We have an aged 75 year-old who does not enjoy good health. It looks as though we shall have to join with five or six other parishes ultimately. We should love to be able to debate the matter. We agree with the points which you imply in your Question." He hazarded a guess that if they took a sounding of the people in that little Midlands community the result would probably be 50–50, but the reasons for them preferring the alternative to the traditional might be varied.

However, the debate is too confined. There was a letter in The Times which I found interesting and which may stimulate other responses. It is helpful to have the debate which the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has initiated tonight. I know much more having taken part in your Lordships' debate. What strikes a layman is that it is undesirable that a part of the fabric of our life, a part of the Church's teaching and worship since the 17th century, can disappear. There is reason to believe that the alternative is slowly becoming the replacement. This is sad, and would be sad to many people—regular or irregular churchgoers.

This subject deserves wider debate in the country at large. The argument on incomprehensibility—which I have heard from several of the people that I have asked—does not stand up. I have never found difficulty in comprehending the Prayer Book although it is full of what might loosely be described as poetic language which is not fashionable today. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle ended his speech with a wonderful gem of poetic language which I enjoyed very much.

There must be a wider audience who appreciate this language. It does not matter that it does not express matters precisely in such terms as are now being pressed upon us. It is argued that everything should be abbreviated, exact, and convey information concisely and quickly. A great deal is being missed by eliminating this poetic element. This is important. It is in our tradition which was very strong in the 17th century.

It may be that my interest, subliminally, is because I am descended from a 17th century renegade priest. He was brought up covertly as a Catholic. He went to the Low Countries, became a priest, abandoned that, returned and became a poet and a balladeer. His works are rare but now quite sought after. Perhaps I have this feeling for the poetry and for religious arguments. I think a lot of people have this interest but are either too hurried or too shy to express it.

I feel that this debate is very useful. I hope it goes wider because the Book of Common Prayer is worth preserving, not just as an archaic piece of literature. It has a spiritual message. I remember very well the communion service and the marriage service. I know very well the arguments about the obeying part of the marriage service. All the arguments are specious and very small against the value of the Book of Common Prayer, though I am prepared, and I suppose most other lay people are prepared, to say it can be supplemented—it must be supplemented—to meet modern needs.

I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, earlier today that there had been a Gallup poll at one stage which showed surprising results; that was, that a great number of young people preferred the old version, which I found surprising. I do not put much faith in Gallup polls and your Lordships probably have the same reservations about Gallup polls on other matters. It is interesting that there is some enthusiasm among the young for that.

From what I have heard today from the right reverend Prelate the bishops have done a great deal. I hope they continue in the evenhanded and understanding way they do. I understand much more about the problems of the theological colleges since this evening's debate, but I hope that the noble Lord will initiate another debate so that we shall have more interest. Perhaps somebody else will write a letter to The Times, the Independent or the Guardian, and we may have a television debate on the subject. Anything that is part of our cultural heritage, anything that has a cultural value, is worth preserving, and I am thankful to the noble Lord for raising the subject tonight.

8.12 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ely

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for the opportunity his Question provides of offering to your Lordships' House an assurance. In using that word I am conscious at this moment of the cautions that were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on the hazards of the temptation to offer assurances. But the assurance I offer is from a position of particular responsibility towards my brother bishops which I presently carry. I chair the committee of the House of Bishops which manages the inspections of the English theological colleges and courses to which reference has been made this evening; the difference between a college and a course being that a college offers residential training.

In 1983, as we have been reminded this evening, specific questions about the Prayer Book were put into the questionnaire which is set out in preparation for the inspections. The questions are: how often is the Book of Common Prayer used in the college or on the course; and what provisions are made for instructing candidates in the conduct of worship, including the use of the Book of Common Prayer?

I should not wish it to be inferred from this that before 1983 the questions were not raised. They were made explicit in that year in that context. Since then my committee has read and considered in close detail the answers and the comments of the bishops' inspectors on seven of the 14 colleges and eight of the courses, which makes the arithmetic of the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, about correct.

It is quite clear from the reports that the Prayer Book is in the teaching of the colleges. Of course it is; it is in the syllabus, as the right reverend Prelate said. It is in the training in the colleges and in the worship of the colleges and courses, though in the words of the right reverend Prelate this evening it is less in some than some might wish. Given the fact that the recognition of a college or a course by the bishops is dependent upon the bishops being satisfied with these quinquennial reports and that the funding from central Church sources of training grants for ordinands in the colleges and courses is dependent on the bishops' recognition, there is an adequate machinery for the maintenance, in the words of the right reverend Prelate, of a pressure.

Perhaps it might be of help to the House if I indicated at this point what happens to the reports, since that question has, as it were, been touched upon. Each report goes under confidential cover to the House of Bishops and after consideration there it is sent to the governing body of the Church or the course in confidence for their consideration and with the expectation that in a year's time there should come back to the bishops' committee a report on how the college or course has met the recommendations in the report. There might be a follow-up inspection at that point.

Any question about the releasing of the report to a wider public must take account of the fact that the report is, in the terms I have described, a working document. It is, as it were, a document in dialogue between the bishops, through a working committee, with the college or course concerned; an intimate document too, at some points. So it is between the bishops and those who have the care of the colleges. The governing bodies of the colleges include representatives of the wider Church upon them. It is admitted that these are not seen as public documents; nor could I speak of the House of Bishops on this matter, though I should be ready to mention to the bishops the question of publication which has been received.

Having said those things, I beg leave of your Lordships to spend a little more time speaking from personal experience within this most important and at the same time most sensitive area of the ordering of worship in colleges and courses. It is 25 years precisely as from yesterday since Canon Edward Craddock Ratcliffe—Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, the acknowledged authority in the Church of England on the Coronation service and indeed on the history of the Book of Common Prayer—installed me as principal of Westcott House, Cambridge, of whose council he was chairman. The next 10 years of my life were given to the vocation, as I saw it, of caring for 45 men in training for holy orders in the Church of England.

The years 1962 to 1972 were the restless years, from the "Honest to God" debate to the "God is dead" school coming to us from America. They were days of great restlessness, including restlessness among ordinands with order in the Church. Some of the most restless of those young men are some of the most steady and impressive in the Church today. I think of provosts; I think of one or two bishops; I think of a director of race relations in an inner city turmoil and I think of priests in South Africa. I think first and foremost of the frontier men of the Church; that is to say, the parish priests increasingly stretched and needing to keep their freshness and their vision.

It so happens that in a letter to me only this morning, a senior churchman spoke of his time at Westcott House in the days of my predecessor, someone whom the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, remembers as I do, as the time which gave him the resources in the later years not to run for shelter or to drift before the wind.

As I said, the 1960s were restless days, but by the end of my time there 10 years later I had seen the wheel begin to move full circle. In the early years the principal's job, at least as I saw it, was to hold the boat steady, to contain the enthusiasm for new things and the restlessness about things old among the ordinands. But by the end of that time one was beginning to hope for the sake of the Church that one was not moving into a period of reactionary squareness among the ordinands; and there were signs of it.

As an example of what I am saying about the earliest days—whether it was commendable or not, I do not say—it was the case in the 1960s, as it was not the case when I was a slightly older ordinand in the 1950s, that there was restlessness at the sheer weight of the Prayer Book, daily offices, the interminable 73 verses of Psalm 78 recited on the 15th evening, for instance. None other than Professor Ratcliffe encouraged me to form a group of ordinands to sit with him, as we did for a term, to work through the principles of a perhaps somewhat lighter office with a little more space about it but yet faithful to the spirit of the Prayer Book. We shaped up such a pattern, and it was very close to what one sees now in the morning and evening offices of the Alternative Service Book. If I may adapt a phrase from the great English bishop who ordained the right reverend Prelate here beside me, George Bell of Chichester, who was often known to say "I am not a private bishop", since I did not see myself as a private principal I put it to the Visitor of Westcott House, the present Lord Ramsey, whether the use would be acceptable; and he demurred: "The men must be trained for the Church they are going out to serve", and that Church then, 23 years ago, knew only the Book of Common Prayer. We accepted that (though, in fact, Professor Ratcliffe was cross with me and told me that I should have done it and not asked).

There was a tension there, and there is something of a tension still. There is little doubt that the ordinands as a whole find themselves more at home with what I have called the lighter offices of the Alternative Service Book. That emerges clearly from the report out of which today's debate comes. My point is that the important thing is that a man, or, I should say, a woman, since women now train with men for ministry in the Church, should have grown into the reality of worship, which means corporate worship, and see that as at the heart of the place where he or she is training for the ministry of the Church. That is what they must be rooted in and take out with them to the service of the communities of their parishes. That means some stability, which is not easily achieved if you are moving from one day to the next to achieve a statistical balance. For instance, when you learn that Westcott House gives a month of its worship to the Prayer Book and Ridley Hall the whole of the Lent term to the Prayer Book, that is something that is very real; you can get into something with that. Incidentally, that important piece of information about the last-named college I convey to noble Lords as coming from the report of the bishops' inspectors. Rightly or wrongly, as the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, commented in his speech, Ridley Hall chose not to respond to the inquiry out of which the report that is the subject of this evening's debate comes, because, in the words of the principal as we have heard them, "we do not like even the remote possibility of being used as statistical information in a political debate".

What I am seeking to convey is that here is something deeply sensitive, deeply at the heart of a theological college's life, again more difficult to achieve in the life of a non-residentiary course where men and women come in of an evening during the week after a day's work, or at a weekend after a week's work, to establish the heart of the matter, the primacy of worship and the liberating quality of worship. If the feel of a college or course is towards the Alternative Service Book for the offices or the Holy Communion, build on that; let it grow, consolidate and reach out from that. Do not let a note of competition or of direction towards the Prayer Book introduce an edge into things. That is not the spirit in which a man should go out to the parishes.

If I may return at this point to my own particular responsibility, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, and the other noble Lords who have expressed their concern, that like the right reverend Prelate the chairman of the Advisory Council for the Church's Ministry, the Bishop of Newcastle, I share the noble Lord's concern, but the mode of an inspection must have the sort of sensitivity that I have been trying to indicate. One must be alongside them and share the life a bit; one must reach out from that to ask them where the wider understandings lie.

The other side of the emphasis which I have been placing on community can be, as we all know, insularity, cosiness and defensiveness, and the Prayer Book tradition is greater than that. That is a reason why we must keep it alive. If you do it that way you can hope to carry them with you into what is vital about the Prayer Book and what is seen as vital and what we heard spoken of as vital about the Prayer Book in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.

I can hardly express how grateful I was to hear those points made about the potential for poetry that we are in danger of losing in some of the revised services, and of the importance of poetry in liturgy and, indeed, in theological understanding. It is one of the great hopes for theological understanding that we are beginning to take some note again of the place of metaphor and of symbolism in language coming over from the literary studies and disciplines out of which some of our best ordinands do, in fact, come. I have been trying to convey that you can do it if you take it at that sort of level with them, but you will not do it by a directive about the Book of Common Prayer put in the wrong way. They are serious men and women who have made a very serious choice.

If I may, I will come in a moment to the serious question that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, asked me to reply to. The inquiry out of which the debate has come was a serious one addressed to the colleges with courtesy. If it was not received at all points with the courtesy desired, then I say that I am sorry.

Points have been made in today's debate which I should wish to keep in mind in the work of the Bishops' Committee on Inspections and in discussion with the House of Bishops. There is one point which the right reverend Prelate made in a speech with which I would wholly identify myself—a point which I would not wish to see overlooked. It is a simple point. If we talk of training we should not lose sight of the place of an ordinand's first parish or diocese for some of that. There was a time when a man's first title, his first curacy, was looked upon to give him that. The formation of a spirituality, in which I agree the Prayer Book has its place, is the prime task of a theological college or course. I am trying to convey that we must keep these vital months and years of training in that dimension and in that perspective.

Perhaps I may close with an assurance to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I was grateful for his question, which was an open one asking for an assurance on perhaps what is seen to be happening and is acknowledged as a concern; namely, the potential depreciation of the Book of Common Prayer as compared with the Alternative Service Book. I assure the noble Marquess that to my mind—and I could not think of a Bishop here who would see it otherwise—there is no arrière pensée about this, no deliberate policy in such a way to distance oneself as a churchman from the state.

I was reading a letter written to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1882 by Dr. Hort of Cambridge, in which he expressed himself, in 1882, concerned not so much for the divisions that could tear the Church apart as for the steady alienation of the Church from the life of the nation and from the mind of the ordinary Englishman—or words to that effect.

I think a principle of the Reformation was that worship should be in the language of the people. I think this movement of the Alternative Service Book is basically and simply a movement to be close to the people. We may have slipped into a prosaic language, as I acknowledged a moment ago, and we may need things to be recovered in our understanding through the Book of Common Prayer. But I would believe that the principle of comprehensibility, in the noble Lord's phrase, is what is at work.

I hope that those comments, with my expression of gratitude for what I have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and successive speakers, together with my observations from within, as it were, may have been of some assistance to the noble Lord.

8.34 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the Question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, is not one in our view that is properly addressed to the Government, and the Government in our view cannot take a position on this. In view of that, it does not seem to us—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—that the Opposition can take a view. Therefore I have very little to say. It seems to me to be a discussion between the Prayer Book Society and the Bench of Bishops, and no doubt they will be very happy to get together and talk about it. Therefore in what I say I shall be very brief, because this has been a long debate and what I say is said in my purely personal capacity.

If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, concerning the report Theological Colleges and the Book of Common Prayer: A Survey—I speak as a statistican and I can probably say rather ruder things than the right reverend Prelate and the Bishop of Newcastle said—I find the base very flimsy indeed. There was a sample of 878 and a response by 292, of whom 115 were Year 1 students and so the sub-sample on which all these conclusions were based was 173, which is something under 20 per cent. of the original sample. Even in the sub-sample, as the report points out, there was a bias due to the fact that the non-response was the result of all sorts of factors which have been described and which destroy the statistical basis for what is alleged.

Even in the sub-sample, 139 claimed to have attended at some time Holy Communion celebrated according to the Book of Common Prayer and 164 claimed to have attended at some time Holy Communion under Rite A of the Alternative Service Book. That does not seem to me to do other than show that there were multiple responses. Of this subsample some people went to Holy Communion under the 1662 service and others went to ASB Rite A at various times.

I must agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. I do not regard this as a serious basis for saying that there is a blazing scandal, and I put this forward purely as a private individual, looking at the report the noble Lord was kind enough to send to me.

Finally, I would simply say that I do understand what noble Lords on all sides of the House have said about the desirability of retaining in some form the 1662 Prayer Book. But in all my years of churchgoing—that is several years now, as I was brought up as a church-goer and continue to be one—I think I have attended once a Holy Communion service following the 1662 Prayer Book in its totality and in its exactitude. What I would say to your Lordships is that if those people who want to preserve the 1662 service really want to do so, they cannot pick the bits and pieces out of 1662 that they want. It is either the whole thing or it is nothing. Having said that, I would be very interested to hear whether the Government have any response to this and to hear what it is.

8.38 p.m.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, we have heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle about the Church's attitude towards the report of the Prayer Book Society. With a low response rate it is difficult to gauge how representative this survey is of the views of all the ordinands in full-time study in the 14 Anglican theological colleges. But you can hardly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, on the basis of the response from those who replied, that alternative services are on the whole preferred by the ordinands to those services in the Book of Common Prayer. I should add, however, that few of the ordinands who responded are never exposed to the Prayer Book services. I think also that many, if not most, of your Lordships would agree with the noble Lord that in terms of literary qualities, the liturgy of Cranmer is unsurpassed. But that is not strictly to the point, as the noble Lord has asked about the Government's attitude to the findings of the report.

I think it would be helpful if I first briefly reiterated the Government's general position on matters of the liturgy and doctrine of the established Church. As your Lordships will remember, the last time Parliament attempted to intervene in matters of Church liturgy and doctrine was in 1928, when it rejected a measure of the Church Assembly for an Alternative Prayer Book. Over the years it was gradually accepted, however, that Parliament, though it remains sovereign, should not attempt to impose its views on the Church in matters of liturgy and doctrine; and this concordat was in effect codified in the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974, which gave self-government to the Church in these matters.

The General Synod was to determine the forms of service which could be used, but the approved service which was actually used in a particular parish was a matter for the incumbent and the parochial church council, with the council having the last word on the matter in the event of any disagreement. That same measure described the doctrine of the Church as being grounded in the Book of Common Prayer, among other teachings. In the debates on the noble Lord's Prayer Book (Ballot of Laity) Bill in 1978, and his Prayer Book Protection Bills of 1981 and 1984, the government of the day were at pains to defend the agreement that underlies the 1974 measure, and to treat as retrograde any suggestion that Parliament should intervene in liturgical matters.

I appreciate that the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, is that ordinands, through lack of exposure to the 1662 Prayer Book, will be less than ready to see it used when in time they become incumbents. To this, I would only repeat what has frequently been noted in the debates on the noble Lord's Prayer Book Bills, that the answer lies with the parochial church council which can, if it collectively wishes, require a particular service of its own choosing, provided only that it has been approved by the Synod.

On the question of what is being done to see that ordinands at theological colleges are familiar with the liturgical tradition of the established Church, I refer the noble Lord to what has been said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely. I must conclude, however, by repeating that the Government uphold the agreement by which the Church, through the General Synod, and the various incumbents and parochial church councils, determines what liturgy is to be used; and it has no wish to see disturbed the relationship between bishops and theological colleges. In the light of what I have already said, I am sure your Lordships will understand if I decline to comment further.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before nine o'clock.