HL Deb 29 October 1987 vol 489 cc704-10

7.21 p.m.

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

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name. For your Lordships to follow this matter there are two documents that would be of help to you: the Church of England (Legal Aid and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure and the report by the Ecclesiastical Committee upon the Measure.

The purpose of miscellaneous provisions Measures is to effect minor or non-controversial changes in the law. Part I of the Measure consolidates and amends the provisions relating to the ecclesiastical legal aid fund at present contained in three different measures. Part II makes minor amendments to the law on a number of topics. Part III contains formal provisions.

The four clauses of Part I and Schedules 1 and 2 revise and consolidate the existing statutory provisions concerning the Church of England's ecclesiastical legal aid fund. There are at present three Measures and three items of subordinate legislation which currently deal with legal aid: the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 (the 1963 Measure); the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Legal Aid) Rules 1964; the Incumbent (Vacation of Benefices) Measure 1977 (the 1977 Measure); the Vacation of Benefices (Legal Aid) Rules 1978; the Pastoral Measure 1983, replacing the 1968 Measure; and the Compensation of Clergy Rules 1970.

The ecclesiastical legal aid fund was constituted for the first time by the 1963 Measure (Section 59) for the purpose of assisting in the payment of, costs of any complainant or accused person in … any legal proceedings … in respect of any offence under the measure". The legal aid committee was established and, charged with the duty of administering the Fund … subject to and in accordance with rules made by the Church Assembly". The two more recent Measures provide that legal aid may be granted for other proceedings.

The various Measures and regulations do not provide a common approach and practice in the administration of the legal aid fund. Part I of this Measure, together with Schedules 1 and 2, consolidates with amendments the statutory provisions, deals with existing differences and includes further provisions. New rules made under Clause 4 are being prepared and in accordance with Clause 4(4) and (6) they will require the approval of the General Synod and be subject to the negative resolution procedure in Parliament. The new rules will provide one set of legal aid rules providing a common procedure for application, grant of legal aid, issue of certificate, control of proceedings and assessment of costs.

Part II comprises nine clauses. Clause 5 amends the Extra-parochial Ministry Measure 1967, under which clergymen are licensed to institutions such as hospitals and prisons, to take account of changes made in the law of marriage for housebound or detained persons by the Marriage Act 1983. The clause has been included in response to a request made by the Home Office during the preparation of the Marriage Act 1983 that consequential amendments to the 1967 Measure be made by Measure rather than in the 1983 Act.

Clause 6 makes provision for the name of a diocesan or suffragan see to be changed. At present there is no machinery for this to happen and the clause gives power to Her Majesty in Council to change the name of a see.

Turning to Clause 7, this deals with the revocation of licences. A bishop by right of his office has at his discretion always been able to revoke a minister's licence to officiate in his diocese and until 1964 a minister had no right of appeal. Section 10 of the Clergy (Ordination and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 1964 gave the minister a right of appeal and incorporated in statute the bishop's power to revoke summarily licences of ministers in his diocese. It was considered desirable to give a similar right of appeal to other persons who are licensed by the bishop, for example, deaconesses and accredited lay workers. Section 10 of the 1964 Measure is being repealed and Clause 7 is an enabling power for the General Synod to make provision by canon as to the revocation of licences of ministers, deaconesses, lay workers and readers.

Members of your Lordships' House might wish to take a look at the comments of the Ecclesiastical Committee on Clause 7. In the second paragraph the committee says: The relevant canon approved by the General Synod would give ministers the same right of appeal as they presently enjoy and the Ecclesiastical Committee accept the evidence given on behalf of the General Synod that it would he unrealistic to suppose that the power in Clause 7 would in future be used in such a way as to remove or cut down the right of appeal".

Clause 8 is also an enabling power to make provision by canon as to the appointment and dismissal of organists and choirmasters. The right of appointment to the office of organist belongs to the incumbent but the parochial church council is responsible for the payment of his remuneration. The right of the incumbent to appoint and dismiss an organist is being retained but provision is to be made by canon for the agreement of the parochial church council generally to be obtained first before an organist is appointed or dismissed.

Clauses 9 to 12 deal with minor amendments or improvements to various statutes made at the request of the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board.

Clause 13 amends the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 so that money given at Holy Communion should be disposed of at the discretion of the parochial church council and not the churchwardens as currently directed by the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer. This provision merely recognises the regular practice of the majority of parish churches.

The Home Office has been fully consulted on the Measure throughout its progress through the General Synod, and the General Register Office and the Department of the Environment has also been consulted on Clauses 5 and 10 respectively.

The Measure was given general approval by the General Synod at its July 1984 Group of Sessions. The Revision Committee amended the Measure extensively and divided it into three parts. The draft legislation was returned for revision in full Synod in July 1985 and was considered for final approval in February 1986 at which stage the voting was as follows: House of Bishops, ayes 18, noes 0; House of Clergy, ayes 122, noes 0; House of Laity, ayes 112, noes 0. The Ecclesiastical Committee is of the opinion that the Measure is expedient and, in its report (HL 140), it comments in particular on Clauses 7, 8 and 13.

I commend the Motion to the House.

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

Lord Sudeley

My Lords, I shall be very quick. Let me make one or two remarks about the provisions of the Measure referred to by the right reverend Prelate that Communion alms shall be disposed of by the parochial church council rather than by the incumbent and churchwardens in keeping with the old rubric of the Prayer Book that such alms shall be distributed to the poor. Anyone upholding the cause of the Prayer Book should be careful not to go too far in taking up the position of a fundamentalist. It has to be seen that some rubrics of the Prayer Book over the years have become unworkable and here in particular we need to remember that parish Communion has become more popular than matins and so the collection at the Communion service may be the biggest, indeed the only, collection.

Nevertheless, having said that, it is very disappointing that the Measure fails to enjoin on the parochial church council any duty to remember the poor. It is easy to envisage what may happen when Communion alms are placed at the disposal of the parochial church council. They would have to he paid into the parochial church council's accounts. The parochial church council's treasurer would aggregate this cash with other funds of the parish to pay for gas, electricity, repairing the roof and so on, and the aggregated fund would be subject to a diocesan levy; that is to say, the payment of a quota to be used in part to support the synodical machine and the bureaucracy of the Church of England.

We are very familiar with arguments that the Church of England has misunderstood its mission in secularising Christianity by imposing answers to economic problems for which there is no Christian or specifically Anglican solution. It would be inappropriate at this moment to examine whether this trend in the Church of England is right or reflected in the Archbishop's Commission on Urban Priority Areas. However, let me conclude by observing that it is odd for the Church of England on the one hand to have the Archbishop's Commission on Urban Priority Areas and on the other this Measure completely removing the statutory obligation on the parish to do something about those less fortunate than themselves. For reasons of logic alone the Church of England cannot look both ways.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool for explaining so clearly the content of this Measure and what differences there are between what is proposed here this evening and what has happened in the past. We are also grateful to him for indicating in a very clear and firm manner that the Church of England Synod voted decisively in favour of this measure. Indeed the voting figures sounded somewhat like Politburo voting figures in the Soviet Union!

I welcome this Measure. I have participated in some of the discussions in the Ecclesiastical Committee on some of the points. I should, however, like to ask the right reverend Prelate one or two rather minor questions, but they are really questions of clarification rather than challenge.

In Clause 1(2) of the Measure we see, After every ordinary election to the General Synod the Standing Committee of the General Synod shall appoint a commission". I should he grateful if the right reverend Prelate will tell us how the members of that commission are selected. Is this something which is generally open to members of the Synod, other people, practising members, communicants in the Church of England? What is the basis for that selection? It also carries through into Clause 1(4) where it specifies, The members of the … Commission shall be entitled to hold office until their successors, who may be the same persons, come into office". If we are dealing with legal aid, which is a matter of social concern, I am sure the right reverend Prelate recognises that we on this side of the House would like to feel that there is some measure of openness about how these people are appointed and that the less well off in the community would be represented in some manner on this Commission. Without wishing to force the issue, I should be grateful if the right reverend Prelate could help us on that point.

In Clause 2(4) we read: Before deciding whether to grant any legal aid under this section … the Commission shall consider the financial resources of the applicant (including the financial resources of the wife or husband of the applicant), and legal aid shall not be granted if it appears to the Commission that the applicant could afford to proceed without legal aid". Again I return to the matter of the commission. I hope that the standing committee of the Synod in appointing members of the commission will bear in mind that these applications have to be considered on a very compassionate basis and it would be wrong for the Church of England to appear to be hard-faced or bureaucratic in its approach.

I next turn to the rules that may be made under Clause 4. I accept entirely what the right reverend Prelate says: rules made under subsection (1) would be statutory instruments which are subject to the negative procedure. Nevertheless—noble Lords on the Front Bench will know that I make this point frequently—in all areas where we pass Measures and Bills which allow negative procedure instruments, we like to know a little more about the general principles on which these powers will be available and will be used. I note that under Clause 4(3), Any rules made under subsection 1(1) above may make different provision in relation to different proceedings". I shall be most grateful if the right reverend Prelate will give us some indication—I am not asking for a long speech, a sermon or anything else—on how the commission and the Synod approach these matters of some sensitivity.

Turning now to "Miscellaneous Provisions"; under this part on Clause 7, to which the Ecclesiastical Committee drew the attention of the House, I do not think I have any particular comment to make. I was present at the Ecclesiastical Committee when it discussed this matter. It was discussed fully in the Ecclesiastical Committee and a number of members of that committee made certain comments and had certain objections. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, it is essential to ensure that where we have deaconesses (and perhaps in the future deacons without any differentiation of sex), lay workers and readers that there should be a proper right of appeal if their licences are revoked. This caused a great deal of difficulty in the Ecclesiastical Committee. Clause 8 of the Measure, concerning the appointment of organists and choirmasters, raised the question that the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, raised on another matter to which I shall come shortly—that of the responsibility of the incumbent against the responsibility of the parochial church council.

I believe that the Measure before us is quite properly and correctly drafted and conveys the right emphasis. I wonder—somewhat frivolously perhaps—about the expression, persons to act as organists and choir masters (by whatever name called)". In my time I have called organists and choirmasters a number of names, but I am not sure what other names there might be available. I note that in passing as a curious act of draftsmanship.

The noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, mentioned Clause 13 of the Measure. I have certain sympathy with what the noble Lord has said. The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer are and have a certain hallowed authority, if I may put it like that. At our peril we move away from the tradition of the Church of England as enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer. I was present at the discussion that took place in the Ecclesiastical Committee and I am inclined to take a somewhat different view from the noble Lord, although I recognise that he has a serious point.

In summary I feel that this is a Measure that the right reverend Prelate is correct to commend to your Lordships' House. We on this side of the Chamber have no great matter of principle. But we should be grateful if when he responds the right reverend Prelate can reply to some of the points I have made.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I am grateful for the short debate we have had. I saw the extreme nervousness of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, at the thought of a sermon coming on. I shall spare noble Lords that.

I respond first to the points that the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, made. He recognises what is the point of the change from the time when that rubric was written, when the main congregations, and therefore the main collections of the church, were at an eleven o'clock or a 6.30 service. There was an 8 a.m. celebration and it was from that 8 a.m. celebration that those alms were to be given to the poor.

Noble Lords will not be surprised that I should want to see the Church much more deeply committed than it has ever been to remembering the poor. There is no conceivable way in which this change could be a turn away from that. It provides that the parochial church council is the body responsible for all the giving of the people of God in the parish. The PCC is a charity, and all its moneys must be used for charitable purposes.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, raised various points. The standing committee of the General Synod is the body which arranges the business of the synod. Its election is wide and open.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the right reverend Prelate. The noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, made an interesting point, and I do not think that the right reverend Prelate has answered it. The point was that the parochial church council is now free to use that money, if this Measure passes, not for the poor; it could go to pay the electricity bill and do the roof. Must it earmark that money for local churches to give to the poor or to individuals, or can it pay the electricity bill? The PCCs have troubles with electricity bills like everyone else. I can see the money going quickly into paying church bills rather than to the relief of the poor.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, there is no doubt that in the majority of parishes, since long before I was born, all the offerings have been put together and used by the PCCs. Yes, PCCs have what was called "alms" and "dues". It is important for them to be called to face both those responsibilities. I speak about my own diocese and many others. We have now moved to assessment of stipends arid quotas on the basis of potential and not merely on how much comes in; so whether a parish is, so to speak, keeping some of the money in a separate pocket would no longer arise with us.

I do not believe we shall take seriously our commitment to the poor merely by trying to keep the money from one pocket for them. The charge and the challenge to the Church, to which I am deeply committed, as, thank God, is the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the lead that he has given us, to which the noble Lord referred, is that this should be a mainline part of our funding. There has been some substantial change in that direction since the commission reported.

The standing committee is elected in the most open possible way with a great deal of interest by the General Synod. Members of the commission shall be members of the Church of England—usually some are lawyers who know about legal aid, and some are clergy—to represent their peers.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, would it not be right for the Church to have representatives of the laity on this commission?

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, the lawyers would be. I do not think that we want to say that that is exclusive. We hear the point that has been made and will take that back with us. On Clause 2(4), we should want to take note and consider that on a compassionate basis. My experience is that that has been done when such matters occasionally have to be proceeded with.

The rules made under Clause 4 will take account of a person's means and they will of course come to Parliament. The rules are concerned with general principles. The proceedings will differ in a case under the Vacation of Benefices Measure from a case under the Pastoral Measure. With this measure we are attempting to provide legal aid widely so that it is available in every appropriate case. It is an attempt to leave that flexibility for the future.

My advice is that the "choirmaster" includes choirmistress and choirtrainers. The noble Lord was interested in the subject of women deacons. They are already clergypersons and were within the measure as it was. This is to extend the measure to accredited lay workers and to readers.

On Question, Motion agreed to.