HL Deb 03 July 1989 vol 509 cc1012-54

5.48 p.m.

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

The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, the purpose of this Measure, which we ask should be presented for Royal Assent, is simple. We seek to permit a variation, in exceptional circumstances, to the general rule that no person may be ordained who has married a divorcee or has himself or herself been married after a divorce in the lifetime of a previous partner.

Under existing law, there is an absolute bar to such a man's or woman's ordination. The law does not disbar someone from being ordained on the grounds of divorce alone. It is remarriage after divorce during the lifetime of the previous partner which creates the bar.

After lengthy and considered debate the General Synod decided, by a substantial majority in all three Houses, that this should be a rule to which exceptions might be allowed. Such exceptions should only be permitted after the circumstances have been fully weighed. Procedures for this have already been published and guidelines agreed by the most reverend Primate the Archbiship of York and myself to ensure maximum consistency. We believe this Measure to be theologically sound. We believe it to have wide support in the Church. We believe that justice requires it.

There are claims that the "right formalities" have not been observed in the submission of this Measure, that it should have received two-thirds majorities in each House of the Synod. The Times said this morning that your Lordships have "a proper role in ensuring" that the formalities have been observed.

The central point is that under the synodical Government Measure of 1969, which contains the synod's constitution, a proposal is approved if it receives a simple majority in each House. There are some cases which attract special procedures under Article 8 of this constitution, which speaks of: a measure or canon providing for permanent changes in … the Ordinal", that is the form of service for the ordaining of deacons, priests and bishops annexed to the Book of Common Prayer. Neither this Measure nor the Canon would change the wording of the Ordinal. When a question is raised as to whether Article 8 applies it is determined by a clear procedure. The question was raised; the procedure was applied, and it was determined that Article 8 did not apply.

Alternatively it is argued that under the Worship and Doctrine Measures 1974 a two-thirds majority in each House is required for making a Canon. But that relates only to a Canon under the Worship and Doctrine Measure, it can have no application to a Canon which is made under the Measure which is before your Lordships' House.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, advised the Ecclesiatical Committee that "the right formalities" had been observed. It seems that at least a majority of the committee accepted that advice.

There is a long history of dispensations for various causes by an appropriate authority in the Church. An example today concerns the age of ordination. A dispensation is a means by which the exception allowed may assert more vigorously the principle from which it is an occasional departure. It was the clear wish of the synod that in the matter before us we should proceed by dispensation and that the ultimate discretion should lie with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. We do not wish to rescind the existing Measure or the Canon. We wish the principle to remain. However, we believe that there are cases in which its provisions are inappropriate. We believe that the procedures for dispensation, though tightly drawn, are manageable. We believe that the archbishops have the means to carry out their responsibilities with care and justice.

The question of justice is illustrated by what happens to a clergyman when his marriage fails. In many cases such clergymen will continue in office without any disciplinary consequences. Only in cases where there is misconduct in terms of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure can action be taken to deprive an incumbent of his benefice. If an incumbent who is divorced remarries, or if a bachelor priest marries a divorced woman, in most cases he is able to continue his ministry. There is no legal barrier to that.

I should add that at present no substantial body of opinion in the Church of England has emerged which would wish to change this. Here I must mention the Motion standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. Were his amendment to be carried not only would mine be negated but other unfortunate consequences would follow. Would it not be somewhat inconsistent for Parliament, which has legislated for easier divorce, to call in question the enabling Act itself by making a judgment on the discipline of the Church? More than that, it would be intolerable that a beneficed clergyman going through a divorce procedure, perhaps against his will, should automatically lose job, house and income, which appears to be what the noble Earl seeks.

As I have said, there is no substantial body of opinion in the Church of England that supports such a move. It seems somewhat strange that so draconian a proposal that no beneficed clergyman who is divorced … may continue to minister should come from one in whose own Scottish Episcopal Church there is no legislative bar to the ordination of those who have remarried after divorce, let alone those who have simply been divorced.

There are many examples of clergy whose experience of marital failure and subsequent establishment of a strong second marriage has enhanced their effective preparation of couples for marriage. The witness of failure, forgiveness and renewal is crucial to the understanding of the gospel. We live under grace. We seek to witness to that grace in relation to those currently barred from ordination. There are still other searching tests to be applied to the character of those who seek ordination; but we believe that a person should not invariably be barred at the outset by the single matter of his or her marital status.

Perhaps I may illustrate the point by means of some actual examples. A man intent on ordination falls in love with a woman who years before has been deserted by her husband. There were grounds for a legal annulment of the marriage but the couple were advised to seek divorce because it was simpler and would avoid publicity. The marriage of the man to that woman would put a stop to the pursuit of his vocation. Yet the irony is that if they postponed their marriage until after the ordination no penalty would automatically attach to it.

Perhaps I may take a second example. A woman is badly battered by her husband and finds comfort, help and advice from her local priest and church. She is confirmed. Years later she marries again and her new husband becomes a Christian through her witness. He has not been married before. Gradually he feels himself called to the priesthood, but he cannot test his vocation because of his wife's previous marriage. The absolute bar to his ordination is not a witness to the forgiving and life-changing faith he and his wife have experienced.

The anxieties expressed by those opposed to this Measure, both in the synod and in the Ecclesiastical Committee, have been clearly set out in the report of the committee. It is first said that the measure would weaken the Church's witness to the doctrine of indissolubility of marriage. Our Lord taught that marriages are meant for life. Anything else spells failure. There is no question about that, and no going soft on that. But he was not legislating for an institution. His words are divine insight into the truth and challenge to follow it.

That point has been weighed very seriously at all stages of our debate. We believe that we should be able to hold up the ideal of matrimony as a lifelong commitment so attractively that we can have the confidence to cope with the exceptions that rightly deserve special consideration. I agree profoundly that the number of marriage breakdowns in our society is a tragic development; but the reasons are complex. It would be difficult to prove that the removal of religious sanctions to uphold marriage as an institution has itself given rise to a higher divorce rate. It would be easier to prove that teaching the special blessing of a lifelong union is the way to reverse the trend.

All Churches vary in their treatment of that difficult word "indissolubility". The Roman Catholic Church makes use of extended grounds of nullity. The Orthodox speak of the concept of the death of a marriage, and allow second marriages in church. Those Churches are equally attempting to cope with pastoral realities as they strive to build good marriages and family life and witness to the sanctity of marriage.

Secondly, it is said that, The Church should require exemplary standards of the clergy. We do not dissent from that opinion of the Committee in any degree. But there are many whose sins in the past have had to be forgiven and overcome. As the scriptures tell us, Peter was an apostate and Paul was a murderer of Christians. A would-be ordinand said to me, "If I had committed a serious crime in the past, you would test my vocation. But, since my wife was divorced years ago, you won't". I believe that it is intolerable that we should be forced by law into so unjust a pastoral approach.

A third reason given is that it is inappropriate to amend the canon law in that particular respect while leaving the regulation barring the marriage of divorced persons in church unamended. Those are related but distinct questions. It is perhaps worth pointing out that no lay persons are disqualified from office, whether they be churchwarden or church commissioner, on grounds that apply to those who seek holy orders.

In regard to remarriage in church, the difficulty is that each wedding service is a witness to what Christians believe about marriage—I recognise that—whereas an ordination is not a witness to the nature of marriage, but a sign that God can call ordinary, sinful people to his service and, through grace or forgiveness, open up the way to holiness of life

The last argument advanced against the Measure is that there are no criteria specifying the basis on which the discretion of the archbishops would be exercised. We have tried to meet that final point in my recent statement to the House of Bishops, explaining the kind of considerations that would be taken into account in determining dispensations. It is clear that the Faculties will be far from easily obtained. It should be emphasised that the application for a dispensation would not be put by the candidate, but by a diocesan bishop after his own searching inquiries. We cannot allow our discretion to be codified or it would then cease to be a discretion, but the general principles are clear. A copy has been placed in the Library.

Several hundred years ago the Church of England decided that a married clergy was God's will for his Church. It was then that the clergy's personal and domestic lives became involved ineluctably with what happens to marriage in society. There is no way in which we can simply say that, whatever happens to marriage in our society, the clergy will somehow be exempt, either miraculously or by legislation.

As we consider law and practice in this matter, more than one doctrine or principle is at stake. I prefer to lay stress on grace and forgiveness and believe that I have the mind of the Church in asking your Lordships to support the proposal. The consideration given to it in synod was thorough. There has been a wide-ranging debate in the Ecclestical Committee and in the Legislative Committee of General Synod, both separately and in a joint conference, and I testify to its constructive character. I hope that your Lordships will now find it expedient that the Measure be forwarded for Royal Assent. I beg to move.

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

6.7 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale rose to move, That the debate on the measure be adjourned until the present anomaly as between candidates for ordination and incumbents has been corrected to ensure that no beneficed clergyman who is divorced, or has married a divorcee while a former partner of either is living, may continue to minister.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying that I am sure that the whole House was deeply moved by the sincere and wonderful words that we have just heard from the most reverend Primate. I should like to take this opportunity to say that I take no relish whatever in the line that I propose to expound, least of all since it is contrary to the purposes of the most reverend Primate, to whom I and my family are personally grateful for his great kindness. I am sure that he will realise that one is only trying to speak the truth in love.

First, there is no question about the legitimacy of an amendment under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919. There is no question that Parliament has the right and duty to scrutinise and even, if necessary, to vote on a synod measure. Parliament represents the state Church's constituency—all who live in England—like it or not. That is how things are under the 1919 Act. There are quite recent precedents for Motions and debates, and indeed, votes on measures received from the synod. I have in mind those in 1963 and 1964 about Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction on the one hand and the vesture of ministers on the other.

The debate is not about divorce as such, let alone the misdeeds and ill-doings of many of us here present. It is about the priesthood and—as a layman I say this with the deepest respect—about the priesthood being tampered with. There may be procedural claims that the synod should have handled the matter differently and have come to this House on a matter of such gravity only on the basis of a two-thirds majority. I am not competent even to comment on that as an issue of law. However, as a layman I have to say—and I think I echo the voices of many—that we have had a lot of upsets in quite recent years and I claim that the present anomaly between canon law and civil law, instead of being corrected, is to be made worse. Clergy who are parties to the breaking of a lifelong oath may apparently minister at the taking of that oath.

The Preface to the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer requires candidates to be "of virtuous conversation". I submit that that can hardly mean that a man of virtuous conversation is one who is party to the breach of a lifelong oath. However, much we as individuals have erred, we as what I would call church back-benchers—pew members—want to look up to our clergy and be able to honour them without reserve. It is reasonable enough that we should look to them for an example.

I submit that the Church needs a holy and pious priesthood. We need that much more than, if I may use the term, a layer of clubbable good companions.

The most reverend Primate quoted from The Times. That newspaper has reminded us that we might well look into the question of whether the synod should not have seen this issue as sufficiently fundamental for the requirement of a two-thirds majority in each House. Personally, again as a pew member outside the synod and holding no office whatsoever in the Church, I have to say that it seems to me that the minimal requirement should surely have been an overwhelming majority. In fact, we find that 15 per cent. of the bishops were against it, as well as 30 per cent. of the clergy and 40 per cent. of the laity. Whatever the legal niceties may be, I believe that we are entitled to say that there is a moral case that such a change should only be proposed on the basis of a two-thirds majority.

We all agree that the ecclesiastical set-up as between Church and state is awkward at the very least. But part of that set-up is indeed the Ecclesiastical Committee which was established by the Act of 1919. It usually passes measures fairly easily and they then come to your Lordships' House. It is common to pass them in the dinner hour, more or less on the nod. But on this occasion that was not the position by any manner of means.

The Ecclesiastical Committee, consisting of 15 Members from each House, held six meetings stretching over a period of more than a year—in fact, 13 months. There was an average attendance of 22 Members out of 30. One vote went eight to five against the Measure, with 11 abstentions; in other words, there were 24 Members present. The Measure was finally deemed expedient by a single vote, there being 10 votes to nine, with one abstention, including the vote of the chairman from whom I am glad to learn that we shall hear later on in this debate. So by any measurement it was only by a squeak passed by the Ecclesiastical Committee as expedient.

In the committee, the record of whose proceedings is available to all Members of the House from the Vote Office, it emerged that whereas at first the committee had been led to believe that only a handful of cases was in question, and of course the discretion proposed would be very narrowly used indeed, there were in fact more than 200 cases. Then, as an olive branch held out toward the synod, the committee invited the archbishops to describe the criteria that they would use if the Measure were passed. That particular point is contained in the final paragraph of the report, paragraph 9.

The archbishops were invited to provide that information when the Measure was presented. It was tabled on the 19th June. In fact the address of the most reverend Primate to his own House of Bishops was at approximately the same time—the 19th June—and he then listed his criteria. As the most reverend Primate said, they are available in the Library. However, I have to say that as recently as last Thursday, just a fortnight after the Measure was tabled and only one parliamentary day before this debate, they had not reached the Library. Several telephone calls had to be made to the synod in order to obtain copies, and I only got a copy with considerable difficulty. No doubt there was some slip-up in the machinery.

The archbishops were asked to produce the criteria as a kind of olive branch—and I say "olive branch" because, although I am not a member of the committee, I used the privilege of being a Member of this House to sit in what one might call the "strangers gallery" and listen to the proceedings—and the principles that were set out in the most reverend Primate's speech to the House of Bishops seemed to take us back rather than forward. A new doctrine, if I may use that term—or perhaps "principle" is a safer word—of distance in terms of both time and space regarding the events in question is enunciated.

I want to ask, putting it very crudely, this question: Is a murder any less a murder because it was committed 20 years ago? Of course we know, and I think that everybody in the Committee agreed, as will everybody, that there are cases within very narrow bounds. The most reverend Primate cited one this afternoon, mentioning a person who is converted to Christianity late in life after these events. That is a very different situation. However, it has to be said, and I am sure that your Lordships will recognise the principle that has often been enunciated here and elsewhere, that hard cases make bad law. Although it is proposed to build up a body of case law in these matters, which is some consolation to the rest of us, we have no idea of how the next generation of archbishops will handle the matter, whatever body of experience they may inherit.

This is not simply a question about divorce. If I may say so, it is not really even about the priesthood, because there are many ways of serving the Church outside the priesthood, and to that point I shall return. This concerns a man or woman who has been involved in, or at some point has consented to, the breach of a solemn lifelong vow. I put the question: Shall that man—or woman, if it is a woman deacon—then preside when others take the same solemn vow before God and in the presence of the congregation which is there to witness it?

We are told that the unworthiness of a minister hinders not the effect of a sacrament. Thank goodness that is so. Come to that, thank goodness the unworthiness of a communicant does not affect the benefit of the communion. But in the case of marriage is it not the fact that the minister, priest or deacon who is presiding, presides as a witness on behalf of the Almighty and the sacrament is in fact administered by the two parties? So the question of unworthiness does not really arise in this case.

I ask: Shall such a man who has been involved, either directly or by indirect consent, in the breach of a lifelong vow taken by someone else, be the one who at the end of the ceremony declares, as he folds his stole over the couple's hands, "Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder"? Is he the man to advise bridal couples beforehand? Is he best placed to encourage those in marital difficulties to stick to it and not to take the easy way out?

We are sometimes told that the priest who has been through the misery, pain and suffering of divorce is better placed than others to give such advice. I should like to put a different point of view. Surely the priest who is deeply spiritual, whose life is steeped in prayer, who is a man of tranquillity, calm and quietness, and a man of purity, is better placed than the man with what I call human experience. We are told that it is the pure in heart who shall see God. I ask whether such a person is the one to prepare children for confirmation, Is he the one to help us to pray? Is he the one to lead us in private austerity, such as fasting? Is he the one to lead us in meditation? Is he the one to be authorised to give the absolution which is provided for in the Book of Common Prayer, at the Visitation of the Sick, and in the homily at Holy Communion? Is he the one to give absolution, whether in private or public?

Perhaps I may say this in the nicest possible way, but sincerely. I take this opportunity to beg the most reverend Primate and his fellow bishops not to ignore the laity. Aside from raising money for the Church, it is the laity sooner or later who beget the clergy and ultimately the bishops. We beget ordination candidates. We often go to great lengths to foster vocations. My father's vocation was fostered by his mother at the age of 10. My son's vocation was fostered by myself from childhood. I speak therefore with some feeling on this matter. I have seen the priesthood from close to all my life. My grandfather was a priest. My father was a priest. My brother was a priest, and, happily, my son is a priest. From that close view, I am well aware of the strains which no mere human solace can assuage and of the great spiritual loneliness and terrible sense of frustration which priests endure. Nothing but grace can put that right or support them.

I believe that we have a duty to support and never to debase the priesthood. As I consider this, I wonder what Wesley, Pusey, Liddon, King, Temple or Lang would have said. It seems to me that we are being invited to assent to a glaring and unworthy contradiction. My Motion is a plea in the long run to look at the whole matter fundamentally, from the 1919 Act onwards. We are so often told that clergy must respond to the trend of times and difficulties. Times were always difficult. We are also bidden in scripture, Be ye not conformed to the world but be ye transformed". This is a measure which in my view overtly bows the knee to what I think our Lord would have called the adulterous world around us. I see the Church in danger, and so I beg to move.

Moved, That debate on the measure be adjourned until the present anomaly as between candidates for ordination and incumbents has been corrected to ensure that no beneficed clergyman who is divorced, or has married a divorcee while a former partner of either is living, may continue to minister.—(The Earl of Lauderdale.)

6.27 p.m.

Lord Bridge of Harwich

My Lords, if the law leads to results that the intelligent layman would regard as ridiculous or anomalous it is time that the law was changed. The present state of canon law which this measure seeks to modify is just such a law. Let us consider the position of two men aspiring to ordination in the Church of England. The first is a married man. Either he or his wife were parties to a previous marriage which broke down and was dissolved; the previous spouse of one of them is still living. The second man was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and he has now been released from that sentence on licence. The second man may repent. He may be forgiven and, in appropriate cases, he may be accepted for ordination. The first man may not. The absurdity of the situation appears from this consideration. The only circumstance which can release the first man—the married man—from the absolute ban on his ordination is the death of his wife, or the death of his own former spouse, or the death of his wife's former spouse. How can one of those fortuitous circumstances affect his suitability or acceptability as a minister of the Church of England? It is the absoluteness of the ban, its rigidity and inflexibility, which makes its operation irrational and arbitrary. It is only that rigidity and inflexibility which this measure seeks to mitigate.

Manifestly the greatest anomaly in the present situation is that the absolute ban applies only to those seeking ordination. It has no application to those already ordained. When I read the Motion for the adjournment of the debate on this measure which has been moved by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, I thought that he was going to speak to the Motion which stands in his name. Noble Lords will have read it. The proposal is that the measure should be adjourned until the present anomaly as between candidates for ordination and incumbents has been corrected. The noble Earl's proposal, as expressed in the Motion—although he has not spoken a single word in support of it—must imply this. There should be legislation so that any bishop, priest or deacon in the Church of England who has been a party to a marriage at some time, or who marries having a previous spouse living, or who marries a woman with a previous spouse living, is guilty of an absolute ecclesiastical offence. In order to cure the anomaly, such a measure would have to operate retrospectively so as to disqualify and deprive of their benefices all those who had at some time in the past contracted offending marriages of the kind to which the legislation was directed. That being so, even if the legislation were not retrospective, it would have such an element of legalistic rigour that, in my submission, it would be wholly unacceptable to public opinion either in the Church of England or in the country at large. I ask rhetorically: who will introduce such legislation? Clearly it will not be the General Synod of the Church of England. If not the synod, then who else? The only way in which the anomaly will be removed, therefore, is by this modest measure proposing the conferring of discretion by canon on the most reverend Primates.

Perhaps I may say a word about the roles of both the Ecclesiastical Committee and Parliament in a measure of this nature. Parliament, in the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, conferred upon the then Church of England Assembly the power to legislate on its own affairs by measures which would acquire the force of law only if approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The old church assembly is now the synod, whose constitution is governed by the Synodical Government Measure 1969, but the Ecclesiastical Committee still derives its constitution and its functions from the Act of 1919. It consists of 15 Peers, appointed by the Lord Chancellor and 15 Members of the House of Commons, appointed by the Speaker. I do not know what the qualifications are, but I presume that they are all communicant members of the Church of England, though the statute does not require that they should be. I suspect that the primary qualification is a willingness to be drafted.

The function of the Ecclesiastical Committee derives from the statute. Every measure has to be submitted to the committee for report before it is laid before Parliament. The committee is required to report: its views as to the expediency [of a measure], especially with relation to the constitutional rights of all His Majesty's subjects". That is the statutory language from which the committee derives its function. It defines the scope of its function and is a very imprecise and unsatisfactory phrase.

As your Lordships know, this measure has aroused strong controversy in the Ecclesiastical Committee, but my suspicion is that a large measure of that controversy arises from differences of view as to the scope of the committee's functions as defined by that term. My view has always been and remains that the essential function of the Ecclesiastical Committee is to act as a kind of parliamentary watchdog. We are to scrutinise measures which come up from the synod to make sure that they do not encroach upon or conflict with the general law in such areas as, for example, the liberty of the subject or rights of property.

But, when the synod has passed and approved a measure relating to the internal domestic affairs of the Church, and certainly when the only matter of controversy arising from a measure turns upon a point of theology and doctrine, it has always seemed to me to be a quite improper exercise of any function conferred on the Ecclesiastical Committee for its members to prefer the latter's own views to the views which have been expressed by the Church's representative body by appropriate votes of the three houses of the General Synod.

It is at this point that I must say a word about the technicalities raised regarding the two-thirds vote. This was before the Ecclesiastical Committee. It was debate by me ad nauseam in correspondence before the Ecclesiastical Committee ever sat and it arises from a total misconception of the effect of the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974. I am sorry about the technicalities, but to understand the point one must appreciate the elementary difference between primary and secondary legislation. We all know the difference between an Act of Parliament and a statutory instrument. The analogy in the synod is a measure and a canon. The measure is the synod's primary legislation, which of course requires approval by resolution of both Houses. Legislation by canon is the synod's secondary legislation, which does not require approval.

A canon can only be enacted so far as it is authorised by a measure, and the Worship and Doctrine Measure authorises legislation by canon in certain matters relating to worship and doctrine. Section 3 of that measure provides that legislation by canon under the authority of Section 1 or 2 of the Worship and Doctrine Measure must be by two-thirds majority of those voting in each of the three houses of the synod. That measure has nothing whatever to do with primary legislation by measure, as the most reverend Primate has already pointed out. That is governed by the Church's constitution, found in Schedule 2 to the Act of 1969, paragraph 5. The normal measure is to be approved by a simple majority of those present and voting in each of the three houses. It is only the special measures, to which the most reverend Primate has referred, which require two-thirds majority under paragraph 8 and, by the procedure which conclusively resolves any question as to the application of paragraph 8, it was determined that this measure was not a paragraph 8 measure. So the point on the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974 is wholly without substance and is misconceived.

Next there is the question of majorities in the synod, which were, as has already been pointed out, some 85 per cent. in favour in the House of Bishops; 68 per cent. in favour of the House of Clergy, which was well over two-thirds; and only marginally less than two-thirds in the House of Laity, at 61 point something per cent. The point about majorities has been echoed in the minority view expressed in the Ecclesiastical Committee's report that the approval of a measure in the synod does not express the voice of the Church. If the voice of the Church is not to be expressed by a constitutional vote of the synod, I do not know how it is to be expressed.

I have already taken longer than I intended, but finally I want to say a word about the role of Parliament. The General Synod, with its House of Bishops and its elected houses of the clergy and the laity, is the body to which Parliament has committed the primary responsibility for legislating in ecclesiastical matters. Of course it is right that synod legislation, primary legislation, should require Parliament's imprimatur before it becomes law. The question is, on what grounds is it appropriate that imprimatur should be withheld? It goes without saying that if some constitutional issue arises out of a synod measure, Parliament should resolve it. I appreciate that, if a measure comes before Parliament which threatens to split the established Church asunder, that would indeed give rise to a constitutional issue. The possibility of such a measure coming before the House in the foreseeable future is obviously present in all your Lordships' minds, but the present measure is not of that nature at all. Controversy over the measure lies in the relatively narrow field of theology and doctrine, which it is surely within the competence of the Church's representative body to resolve. It would be quite inappropriate, in my respectful submission, for Members of your Lordships' House to take the stance that their own personal views of the theological merits of the issue should stand in the way of implementing the Church's own solution to a difficult problem which has been approved by the Church's own elected body acting entirely within its statutory constitution.

6.39 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, I should like to begin with an apology. I was called to give evidence on behalf of the General Synod to the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. During the course of that examination I was asked about the number of people likely to be considered under this draft Measure. I recognise now that I was less than clear in my answers and if in any way I misled the committee I apologise both to the committee and to the House. No figures had been ascertained at that stage. I could therefore rely only on my own experience.

At the time that I gave evidence I had been a bishop for five years. During that period I was aware of only one person in my diocese whom I should have liked the freedom to consider under this proposal. If that is typical then there would be about nine cases a year under consideration by different diocesan bishops, some of whom might become the subject of an application to the archbishops.

Since I gave evidence to the committee an inquiry has been made about the number of people known to be hoping for consideration under the Measure. Across the whole of the Church of England the figure is about 240. That is not an annual figure; it is an accumulated figure. It is the total which has accumulated over the period since the Measure was first suggested. Although it represents the number of people who are known it does not mean that that number will form the subject of an application.

The person in my diocese to whom I have already referred is known to my officers but I have not yet met him. I have indicated that I cannot consider him until the law allows. When I meet him I may decide that the circumstances do not justify any application or that he is not a suitable person. Whatever the number may be to whom the archbishops give a faculty it must be seen against the annual number of ordinations in the Church of England. At the present time it is running at approximately 528 a year. So I hope that shows that although the numbers may be larger than when I gave evidence to the Ecclesiastical Committee we are talking about a small number of people who are exceptions to the General rule.

Who are the people who might be considered under the provision? The potential candidate in my diocese married a divorcee some 15 years ago. His wife's first marriage was never consummated. When she wanted that marriage dissolved the lawyers advised her that it might be more straightforward to obtain a divorce than a decree of nullity. So she took her lawyers' advice and obtained a divorce. Therefore, the man concerned is now married to a divorcee and automatically barred by law from consideration. Had his wife been advised differently by her lawyers she might have obtained a decree of nullity and her present husband would have no impediment.

Let us take another situation. A growing number of those coming forward for ministry are new Christians brought to Christian life and faith later in life. A man may contract an unwise marriage in his early years before he is a Christian. His wife leaves him for another man. He obtains a divorce and both he and his first wife marry again. As a result of his trauma the man grows and matures, is helped by the Church and becomes a Christian. But because of what he did some years ago before becoming a Christian he is legally barred from ordination.

A contemporary of his, who in his pre-Christian days was promiscuous and had a number of transitory partners but never actually married, also matures, settles down, marries and is converted to Christian faith and life. He can be considered. It is in order to be free from such awkward situations that this modest Measure is proposed.

I have a further concern. The present bar to ordination is not attached to divorce but to remarriage. On any strict understanding of the doctrine of indissolubility I can understand that. But the Church of England as a whole has never adhered to a rigid doctrine of indissolubility. We uphold firmly that marriage is lifelong, exclusive and total in its commitment and it should not be dissolved. For most of us the primary failure is the breakdown of the marriage and the divorce rather than the subsequent decision to remarry. So the law excludes at the wrong point.

Furthermore, we must ask: why is this one offence of remarriage a legal impediment? As the law stands at present we can ordain a penitent murderer and a reformed embezzler but not a divorcee. Commonsense and justice indicate that at least there should be provision for exceptions to such a legal impediment.

In his maiden speech the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, rightly referred to the importance of having high standards in the priesthood. I fully and unequivocally support that. Our difficulty is that we can use only men. I must tell your Lordships—if you have not already noticed—that men are sinners; a bundle of frailties and failures. Therefore, we must all minister from a position of failure and the experience of forgiveness. Although we must work for the highest possible standards we cannot expect perfection. We must recognise that priests are and will aways be human.

I suggest that this is a most modest Measure passed by a majority in the General Synod of 293 to 147. That is a majority which I suggest any parliamentarian on this side of the river would describe as "substantial" if not "overwhelming". It gives a discretion—and no more—to the two archbishops after scrutiny by our diocesan bishop. Surely there is nothing here which will overturn Church or state or the relations between them.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I apologise for entering into the debate as a totally unqualified layman but simply as a communicant of the Church of England. I have deliberately come without notes because I believe that if I do so I am less likely to detain the House for any length of time.

Of course, I do not question to the slightest degree either the sincerity or the seriousness of the arguments put forward with obvious passion by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale. But I must argue that the amendment that he has proposed is utterly misguided. I wish to support in every way the speeches of the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate and of my noble and learned friend on the Cross Benches who is the chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee.

I hope that one phrase will not be heard again in the debate. I am referring to "hard cases make bad laws". That is an utter misuse of a jurisprudential cliché. The fact is that silly and unjust laws make hard cases. One cannot justify a silly and unjust law on the basis of a cliché which is designed to illustrate a totally different truth.

The real truth is that the debate has become a matter of serious consideration not only because of the inherent importance of the subject matter but, as my noble and learned friend Lord Bridge has pointed out, because it raises the serious question of the relationship between the established Church of England and the state as represented by the Queen in Parliament. I take the same view on that matter as did my noble and learned friend.

I have one or two qualifications for so doing. In one way or another I have interested myself in every one of these debates since the Prayer Book controversy of 1928. Few of them have been helpful and where the opposition to the Church organs have been successful they have almost always done more harm than good. They have nearly always been inspired by religious beliefs held with more passion than common sense. We must consider where we stand in this matter. The Church of England has always been accused of Erastianism. A little bit of Erastianism does you good, and I think that some part of the accusation sticks.

However, we must consider what a body of this kind—and I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby—has to say about testing the vocation of a man who wants to enter the priesthood of the Church of England. I am told that the passage of the synodal Measure was entirely at large. The synodal Measure introduced the Ecclesiastical Committee, whose terms of reference were correctly cited by my noble and learned friend. It is quite clear to me that when Parliament sanctioned that Measure and the synodal government was introduced, it was really saying that the constitutional rights of all Her Majesty's subjects was a proper matter for Parliament to safeguard, and the word "expediency" where it occurs in the earlier part of the terms of reference must be read in the light of the whole clause.

We have to consider questions of public interest rather than the particular view of the sanctity of marriage which my noble friend Lord Lauderdale has put forward. I should like to assure him that whatever else may be true, to my detriment, I hold as serious a view of the obligations of marriage as he does, although I do not agree with the application of it to this Measure.

Let us consider how the matter has developed. It happens that I was the first Lord Chancellor to have to consider the effects of the Private Member's Bill which was enacted in 1969, when I was in another place and when I was the spokesman for home affairs and therefore had to take part in the debates. The second time that I was Lord Chancellor I realised at once that the points which I had put forward by way of criticism of that piece of legislation were so serious that in every Session of Parliament during which I held that office, I tried to bring in a family law reform measure to make sense of the situation which was developing.

However, one has to recognise that since 1969 the secular status of marriage is a contract leading to a status. It is not a sacrament. It can exist equally between two divorced persons; it can exist between two Quakers who do not have sacraments, between two Moslems who believe in polygamy; it can or cannot exist between two atheists; it can exist between any persons capable of contracting a marriage in this country, whatever their religion and whatever their religious views. The secular status of marriage is a contract leading to a status.

I know that my noble friend did not intend to mislead anybody in any way, but it is utterly false to say that a man who marries a divorced woman—a woman who has been divorced—is necessarily either breaking his own oath if he has been divorced or encouraging her to break hers. Those churches that hold the indissolubility of marriage—the Roman Catholic Church being the most notable example—have a very elaborate jurisprudence of nullity which is totally different from our own. If an ordinand presents himself for ordination in the Church of England, wishing to marry or having married a lady who has been married for the second and third time after two or three divorces, he is not necessarily infringing the particular view of marriage held by the Church of England because the original partner of the first marriage may easily be dead. If this Measure were not passed, the fact that his partner had been divorced twice and the latest of the partners was still alive would be an absolute bar against ordination.

Where are we going as between Church and state? The position is this. Secular divorce and secular marriage at the present state of the law are part of the secular law of the state. They do not form part of the ecclesiastical and sacramental view of the nature of marriage to which I have no doubt whatever my noble friend Lord Lauderdale subscribes. We must recognise that fact. What we are discussing in this Measure—were we to go into the merits, which I am not, in the short time that I wish to take—is the reality of a vocation from God to enter into the Church of England priesthood. What I am suggesting—and I only echo what has fallen from the Bishops' Bench on this occasion—is that that is a matter which has to be tested by the Church authorities and not by the Queen in Parliament.

If a public interest issue were involved or if the rights of all Her Majesty's subjects were involved, I should be the first to claim the right for Parliament to veto any ecclesiastical Measure which the Bishops put forward. However, they are talking about something within their peculiar jurisdiction. The Measure was passed by the Synod by substantial majorities in each of the Houses. Usually, in Parliament, a majority of one is considered to be enough. We do not usually decide that if there is only a small majority we ought to defer the measure before it receives Royal Assent. We are not people to talk about two-thirds majorities. I am not prepared to take very much notice of that point for the exact reason given by my noble and learned friend on the Cross Benches.

There is a very serious point which we have to consider. The Church of England is a denomination among many other religious denominations in this country. I happen to belong to it and I hope that I am a loyal member. It is not for Parliament to carry Erastianism too far. It is for Parliament to study public policy questions; and questions of whether a man's vocation to the sacred ministry is a true vocation coming from God or a form of self-congratulation as to his own sanctity are not matters for us. I hope that this amendment is decisively rejected.

6.58 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I enter this debate with the very greatest hesitation, recognising how little I know about the theology of the matter and how little experience I have of these questions. However, I speak very much as a layman, a very ordinary member in the pew. It is as a layman and from a layman's point of view that I should like to say a few words. Before doing so, I should like to say how very much I agree—if it is not presumptuous to say so—with the speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham.

Behind the arguments today lies the question of the relationship between Parliament and the Church and the Church's right to settle its own affairs through its own elected machinery. I think it is of the greatest importance that we bear that point in mind when we vote on this Measure.

Looking at the matter from the view of a very ordinary layman, perhaps I may say this. If a man, through his wife or his own experience, is prohibited from being considered for a priesthood, how is that going to look to the laity as a whole? I suggest that everybody in this House must know through their own friends and family, if not through their personal experience, people who have struggled through the hideous business—and for most it is a hideous business—of divorce with all that that means. In fortunate cases such people have been able to make a second marriage which has been a very fulfilling experience for them.

Surely we have all seen how very good relationships and good families have developed through those second marriages. How are those people going to feel if it is said that someone in their own position is not even to be considered for the priesthood? It is a way of saying to them that what they have done is not acceptable. Otherwise, why should a person with that experience be turned down out of hand, and not even allowed to be considered for the priesthood? It is an implied condemnation of the way in which they have attempted to solve their own very difficult problems.

The next point that I wish to raise is how grossly unfair such a ruling will be to individuals. We can all cite particular cases which we know about. Let us consider the case of a man's wife who leaves him and goes back to the man with whom she lived before she married. Of course one does not know the circumstances, and one never knows all of the circumstances in such cases. These matters cannot be judged from outside. She goes back to her previous lover, and the lover and she now wish to marry. What can the husband do except agree that she should be free so to do? He divorces her. He does not wish to do so; but he does so because the alternative is that she will continue to live with her lover to whom she wishes to be married, but she will not live in a married status.

The man who has divorced the woman thereby releasing her for the marriage that she now seeks, if the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, has his way, is not to be considered for the priesthood. My Lords, what is the right action for a man in those circumtances? Is he to say that because they have entered into an indissoluble relationship for the rest of her life she is not to be allowed to marry her lover although she has not the slightest intention of returning to the man to whom she has been married? Can that be fair and right?

As a very ordinary layman, I feel very strongly indeed that it is quite extraordinary that we attach so much importance to sexual offences in relation to all other kinds of offences. You can be cruel or greedy; you can cheat and be arrogant and avaricious; but those defects are apparently forgivable. However, if you trip up in your sexual relationships, that is not to be forgiven. I simply cannot understand that as an argument, and I cannot accept it. The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, raised what I suppose is a theological difference between us. He said that you want to be able to look up to your priest. I hope that the Bench of Bishops will not misunderstand me; but, frankly, I do not particularly want to look up to my priest. However, I do want to be able to talk to him. When I talk to him, I hope that he can understand. It is my belief that it will be far easier for members of the laity to speak to those who are sanctioned by the archbishops—and I am sure it will not be done frivolously—and I believe they will be men and I hope women in due course, with understanding, because of the experience that they have been through.

7.4 p.m.

The Marquess of Salisbury

My Lords, much has been made in the speeches this evening of the exceptions and the benefits that will arise were those concerned given the opportunity to join the priesthood. I wish to query whether we are advocating going down the right road. I have always had doubts whether government by what I call "exception" is not in effect lowering the general standard. I wish particularly to speak about the impact that it might have on the congregations under the ordinands.

We all know that we look up to our parish priest and we expect him to set a standard. It seems to be extremely difficult, if he has broken some rules of the Church, that he should retain respect in the same way as he would have done if he had not been so involved. There are many other opportunities within the Church which such a man can take without being ordained. I wonder whether we are looking at the matter the wrong way round. The question is whether we are lowering Christian standards in this way. I suggest to your Lordships that this Measure is one of a series. Over the years exceptions have continued to be made in various spheres including divorce. Is it right that we should go further without the risk of weakening Christian standards which the Church is supposed to promote?

I wonder how much the teaching of the Church is now concentrated on Christian ethics. Is not the Church going down the road of care? Of course it is necessary to have pastoral care, but do we really need to have a Church acting as second fiddle to the social services? The money raised there could perhaps be used more profitably by paying better salaries to the hard working parish priests. The Church very seldom now tells people what they should not do. It is quite happy to tell them what they ought to do. I wonder how long it is since any of your Lordships have heard the Ten Commandments read out in Church. For my part it is a very long time ago. One of those is that thou shalt not commit adultery. That is what we are talking about now.

I have listened with great care to what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop had to say. I am not clear whether he is satisfied that this Measure is in line with the teachings of our Lord as set out in Chapter 19 of St. Matthew where He says: And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery". That seems to be fundamental to the issue that we are talking about tonight.

So many of the laity have lost touch with the Church. It does not seem to me that they can be attracted back to the Church by going easy on the moral issues. If one were to draw u parallel between Christianity which seems to be weakening its hold and lowering its standards, and Islam which has maintained its toughest rules, we see Islam forging ahead at this time. Perhaps that is the reason why. I wonder whether this Measure is part of a long line of minor Measures and whether it is one that is not going to be to the detriment of the Church.

7.9 p.m.

Lord Soper

My Lords, I wish ardently to support my noble friend the most reverend Primate in what he has proposed. Consequently, much as I respect him, I object to the amendment which is in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. I begin by reminding myself that I am a Peer within this House but, despite the ecclesiastical appearance, I carry no sprituality whatsoever here. I believe that that is the beginning of an understanding of the problem that underlies a great deal of what has been said so eloquently today.

There is an inevitable collision between the proper rights of a House such as this and the proper rights of a Church, the Anglican communion. There are aspects of relationships which require law, but if I may refer to the third leader in The Times this morning, I believe that we should have no truck in this House with doctrine as such. That does not come within our purview. The House does not of necessity possess the expertise and the experience which would be required to make a formal and final judgment on a moral issue.

It is in that sense that we are embarking on a false course if we imagine that it is within our power in this House to modify or alter the main principles of Christian morality. But as a noncomformist I would say that only within the framework of disestablishment can there be an effective future for the relationships between Church and state. However, having said that, I find that it is a rather incomplete relationship that I bear to the Christian faith and to the Christian Church.

I am a minister of the Methodist Church. In that ministry I would claim to be a churchman. In its history I would remind myself that John Wesley was an ordained priest within the Anglican communion, and that not a few years ago I had something to do with the attempts which were made between the Anglicans and the Methodists to come together, to recapture that sense of unity whose loss I for one deplore. In that regard I believe that there is for me at least a responsibility to put my own case for the adoption of this Measure and to explain my own sense of the indignity which in some respects is imposed on my most reverend friend in having to bring it before the House.

I look for the time when the Methodists will become a preaching order within the Catholic faith, a preaching order indeed within the Anglican communion. It is in that regard that I feel a sense of responsibility for what in the future may be a disestablished Church, but nevertheless a united and more effective one. That brings me to the consideration of these projects which are included and have relationships, mainly sexual. Perhaps I may remind myself and your Lordships that there has been a transformation in the whole concept of sexual behaviour, much of it for the worse, some of it for the better. But one thing has emerged which is germane to the purpose to which we are looking in this debate. A larger element is required of forgiveness and of understanding in those relationships which were much more categorically either approved of or attacked in my own lifetime.

I resent the concept that at least has been apparent in what has already been said, that there is required some doctrine almost of perfection in those who minister, as I have been doing for the past 60 or more years, in many areas of domestic and personal relationships which have a large element—perhaps a dominant element—of sexual context. I do not believe that in the Church we must look for those who are immune from the temptations or the disabilities that follow after misbehaviour.

It was in what used to be Ceylon that I heard a most eloquent preacher saying that the prime requirement for a minister of the Gospel was that he should regard himself as one thirsty sinner in a desert able to tell other sinners where they could find water. I recognise that such an enterprise would require something almost of a Water Bill to apply it to the various conditions which prevail in any attempt to expose that to public concern and to public edition. But I believe that that is the prime requirement. I have found in my lifetime that the repentant sinner in many cases becomes a more ardent advocate of that which he has previously ignored or transgressed. Though I would not believe that sexual indulgence or infidelity in marriage qualifies one for a better counsellor, I have every evidence in my past experience as a minister to say that, over and over again, it is easier, as the noble Baroness has said, to talk to somebody whom one can assume will understand what one is talking about. In that regard I believe that this Measure is proper, selective and accurate.

In general principle, I deplore a breakdown of marriage, but in many cases I have found that marriages have died and should be buried. I believe in the concept of a resurrection, but with other partners. What I do deplore is the assumption that this evil, if it is known to be part of the background of one who desires to be ordained, prohibits the kind of effective ministry which a repentant sinner is entitled to believe can be his.

I refer the House to the great Pauline concept of the second Adam, who comes to the fight not only bearing wounds and scars but also that enlightenment which is the product of those who have been genuinely sorry for their sins. And within the protection that is offered in this Measure I believe that both archbishops will be competent to discriminate between those whose divorces have become just means of sexual gratification or sexual negligence and those which are part of the on-going process of the good life. It is in that latter sense that I believe the Measure to be right. I believe that there is sufficient justification for acceptance that the various points in the Measure which are open to complex relationships and results can be effectively dealt with by the provisions of the Measure itself. I wish it well.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I wish to express a word of support for the Motion which has been so eloquently moved by the most reverend Primate. I fear, on the other hand, that I cannot support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, much though I sympathise with the passionate conviction with which he put his case, and which I well recognise from many occasions in the past when we have been on the same side. I should also like to thank the ecclesiastical committee for its report on this Measure. I note its recommendation in favour of it, which I was glad to see.

In studying the report and appendices I observed that it reflects the deep concern which was expressed by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale at the distressingly high number of divorces today and at the suffering that flows from them, especially for the next generation of the young who start with disturbed lives. I sympathise with those who are anxious about this Measure. However, I recognise that the General Synod was persuaded by a majority in each House that the balance of justice and mercy in cases where an applicant for ordination has been divorced or is married to a divorced woman, requires that there should be a discretion vested in one or other archbishop to dispense with Section 9 of the 1964 Measure.

I should like just to mention a constitutional point, because I rather suspect from reports which I have read in the press, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, will be firing off some broadsides on this aspect. I read the evidence of Professor McLean and I also listened to, and was enlightened by, the speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, this afternoon. This Measure makes no change in the ordinance; a simple majority in each House of the General Synod is sufficient to take the decision. The Measure is limited to a dispensation; but the order remains in being as before. I feel that that fact must weigh substantially against the arguments which I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, is about to let loose.

After reading the report most carefully, I must say I recognise that the pros and cons of the argument are evenly balanced. However, in reaching my decision on the Measure, I have been most conscious as a parliamentarian, as others have said this evening, that we have substantially devolved by the 1919 and 1969 synodical Measures to our Church in the body of the General Synod, the general responsibility for managing its own affairs, except in a few reserved instances—of which this is not one. It seems to me that the decision in this case should lie within the judgment of the General Synod and that we in Parliament ought not to argue it all over again.

Lord Bridge of Harwich

Hear, hear!

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I am delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, say that. Indeed, he has heard a great deal about the matter from the Ecclesiastical Committee.

In this context, I should like to add that I believe this substantial Measure of independent government for our Church will in the long run redound for the greater strength and vitality of our Church, and especially its appeal to the younger generation. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, as regards his feelings on the matter. I confess that, like many others, I have been strongly critical of action or inaction by our Church leaders in recent years. However, I am still convinced that substantial independence will be for the long term benefit of our Church. Being of that mind, I shall support the Measure and reject the amendment.

7.24 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I have listened to all the arguments in favour of the Measure. In a way, I come into the debate as an ecclesiastical lawyer of old standing. It is nearly 50 years ago that I was Chancellor of the Dioceses of London and Southwark. It was part of my duty to advise those bishops on the ecclesiastical law regarding it. First, I shall define marriage in our English ecclesiastical law. Marriage is the personal union of one man with one woman, for better or for worse, to the exclusion of all others on either side, so long as they both shall live. That is the ecclesiastical law of marriage. It is the duty of the Church of England to do all it can to maintain that law and not allow exceptions to it. However sympathetic you may be with the people involved, that is the ecclesiastical law. I am not speaking of the divorce law or the civil law in any way; I am speaking of our ecclesiastical law.

There is a report in this suitably coloured book, called "red" . It reports the proceedings of the Ecclesiastical Committee. I am afraid that I must criticise that report. In paragraph 6, under the heading of "Expediency", it says: Section 3(3) of the Act of 1919"— that is the Act which gave the Church of England Assembly its own legislative powers— requires the Ecclesiastical Committee to report 'its views as to the expediency' of a Measure". Indeed, we have those views on that matter by a narrow majority. But it continues to say—and these are the words which have been omitted altogether—that, especially with relation to the constitutional rights of all His Majesty's subjects". But, this is the important sentence: The present Measure in no way affects constitutional rights. The Committee is accordingly concerned with its `expediency' in the most general sense". In my submission, that is a complete error by the Ecclesiastical Committee. The important words in question are, especially with relation to the constitional rights of all His Majesty's subjects". I repeat, "the constitutional rights".

Now I go back to the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, which was made law by the Act of Uniformity which prescribed the doctrines of the Church of England. It prescribed it in the Apostles' Creed, if you please. Is anyone going to alter that by a narrow majority? The Act of Uniformity prescribed the doctrines of the Church of England; it also prescribed the forms of service and the regulations under which a man can become a clergyman. These matters are all in the Book of Common Prayer. They have all been made law by the Act of Uniformity which remained on our statute book right up until 1974. I shall return to that matter presently. But, then there is our Act of Uniformity and our services.

I expect that many of your Lordships, like myself, have from the age often attended church on Sundays. We have all said our creed. Is that to be altered by a narrow majority? The only way in which it could have been impaired was when we reached the 1974 Measure on doctrine and worship. That Measure repealed—the first Act to do so—the Act of Uniformity. In its place, it gave the General Synod power to change and alter our Book of Common Prayer. The synod should be very careful before it changes or alters the Book of Common Prayer. It not only contains some of the best literature in our English Language, but it is also the governing instrument for the doctrine of the Church of England, for the forms of service and for the ordinands who come before it.

This is where I return to the Book of Common Prayer. As I read the 1974 Measure, if we are to alter, vary or make exceptions to precepts in that book, then we must do so by a two-thirds majority. This is what the Book of Common Prayer says when it comes to a man who has been guilty of any crime or impediment being ordained. I expect that the right reverend Prelates will all know the text by heart. The Book of Common Prayer contains special provisions for The form and manner of making of Deacons.".

Let me remind right reverend Prelates of the conditions:

"¶ Then the Bishop shall say unto the people:

Brethren, if there be any of you who knoweth any Impediment, or notable Crime, in any of these persons presented to be ordered Deacons, for the which he ought not to be admitted to that Office, let him come forth in the Name of God, and shew what the Crime or Impediment is.".

Then come the rubric, printed in red of course to emphasise it: "¶And if any great Crime or Impediment be objected, the Bishop shall surcease from Ordering that person, until such time as the party accused shall be found clear of that Crime." Cases of murderers and embezzlers have been illustrated this afternoon. They are all notable crimes. A man cannot be ordained a clergyman if he is accused of any notable crime or impediment.

Since 1662 it has always been an impediment for a man to be married to two wives. It is an impediment to the ordaining of a deacon. That is what I go by. I go by the Book of Common Prayer. I go by the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer.

Then I turn to the 1974 Measure which makes it plain, as I read it, that if we are to make any change in, or amend, the doctrine of the Church of England, or if we are to make any change or alteration in the rubrics, then it must be done by a two-thirds majority. That is an important aspect of our constitution. The Book of Common Prayer stood from 1662 until 1980, when we had the alternative service. If we are to alter our Book of Common Prayer, it is the right of every citizen to see that it is not done except according to law. The full integrity of the Book of Common Prayer must be maintained and can be altered only by due process of law.

Section 3 of the Measure makes it clear that, No Canon making any such provision as is mentioned" — that is interfering with our Prayer Book— shall be submitted for Her Majesty's Licence and Assent unless it has been finally approved by the General Synod with a majority in each House thereof of not less than two-thirds of those present and voting". That provision is contained in the 1974 Measure which is part of this country's statute law. Is that not right, if we are to amend our Book of Common Prayer? Are we going to let that be done by a simple majority? It is the doctrine of the Church of England. If anyone—perhaps the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham or whoever it may be—believes that the wording is wrong or inapplicable today and wants to amend it, it cannot be done by a simple majority. It can be amended only by a two-thirds majority in each House of the General Synod. That is contained in the Apostles' Creed which is part of the doctrine of the Church of England and is contained in the Book of Common Prayer.

Impediments to ordination are dealt with in the same way. They are catered for in the rubrics. If we are to alter the rubric we must do it by a two-thirds majority. That point was never reported upon by the Ecclesiastical Committee. It said that it was not going to go into the constitutional rights of Her Majesty's subjects. I have read the section to your Lordships. It provides: especially with regard to the constitutional rights of Her Majesty's subjects". An essential constitutional right of all Her Majesty's subjects is the maintenance intact of the Book of Common Prayer. If it is to be amended or altered in any significant respect—whether in the doctrine or the form of service—the 1974 Measure allows it to be done, but let it be done according to law. Let it be done by the two-thirds majority.

With all respect, my noble and learned friend Lord Bridge of Harwich said that we are not proceeding under that 1974 Measure; we are going to amend the Canon by a new Measure of our own. In other words, we cannot do it directly under the 1974 Measure; we will do it indirectly through another Measure. That is impermissible. We cannot get round this country's law by enacting another Measure, which itself would be contaminated in that way. That is the constitutional point. It is a point which affects all Her Majesty's subjects.

The sanctity—if I may put it that way—of our Book of Common Prayer has been the subect of controversy between the Houses, and, as a rule, Parliament fights shy of any alteration to it. Any alteration to the Apostles' Creed or to the ordination of deacons cannot be done without changing the Book of Common Prayer by tampering with its rubrics. As I read this country's ecclesiastical law, as embodied in Section 3 of the 1974 Measure, that is not constitutional and for that entirely legal reason—it conforms with the article in The Times today—we are concerned not so much with ecclesiastical theology as with the rights of Her Majesty's subjects not to have altered the Book of Common Prayer, which has been established by Act of Parliament for over 300 years, except in accordance with the law; and as I read the law there should be a two-thirds majority.

I therefore oppose the Measure and support the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, not on the grounds that he stated but on the wider constitutional grounds which should have been reported upon by the committee but which have not been reported upon.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am sure that, whether your Lordships agree or disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, we are glad to find that he is here for the first time for many months since his 90th birthday, expressing matters with his usual vigour and great clarity of mind.

I too shall speak to the constitutional point, but I wish to do so in a way which has not so far arisen in the debate. Perhaps I may say, first, that when the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford were discussing the merits—I am glad that they did because it is right that we should have some opportunity to do so—they convinced me that there were injustices, anomalies, hardships and inconveniences which need to be rectified. I am a middle of the road member of the Church and a regular worshipper. I assume, for the sake of the argument that I am about to put, and in the light of what has been said, especially by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, that we should concern ourselves primarily with ensuring that the Measure has been properly drawn and ensuring that it makes clear its purpose and any change in the law that it carries out. If it does not do those things I should have thought that it was failing Parliament.

What does the Measure do and how does it do it? Perhaps noble Lords will be so good as to glance at the Measure. They will find that it is entirely procedural. It does not state any principles on which it is based; it does not state what changes in the law are to be made. It gives a complete discretion, first, to the bishops and then to the two archbishops, to exercise it in a way which the two archbishops have described in a document which is not before us and which will not be part of the law. The Measure introduces a very important change in the law and practice of our Church. I must confess that I am very surprised that it has been dealt with in the way which is before us, and which I have tried to describe.

It was right for Parliament to say to the Church, "There are certain matters which are your concern and provided that you deal with them properly and in accordance with the procedures laid down, we shall not interfere". But I think that when the matters are brought before us we should know what is happening.

In my opinion, so far as concerns the Measure's effect—and we can only consider its effect because we are not told its terms—it goes too far. In considering this, I say that we should remember, as my noble friend Lord Lauderdale and others have pointed out, that we expect the clergy to be virtuous and to set an example to the rest of us. If the Measure were simply to approve the ordination—I give an example of a man whose wife has deserted him or who has had to divorce her for adultery or any other reason—for my part I should support that. To that extent I must disagree with my noble friend Lord Lauderdale.

However, the Measure would enable a married man, who, for example, committed adultery with another man's wife, to become ordained. There is nothing to stop that. It will not happen; we know that it is unthinkable. But it is no answer to say that no archbishop would let it happen. The point is that we are asked to approve a measure which would in law allow that to happen. We are told that given enough distance in time and space, many things which have been disapproved of previously and which—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, pointed out—have been considered unlawful, could become lawful.

The most reverend Primate referred to "dispensation". He said, "We do not want the procedures too tightly drawn". Surely we should not only be concerned with procedures.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. I said that the procedures would be tightly drawn.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am most grateful for that interruption and correction. The most reverend Primate has helped me in a way to clarify my case. We shall have tightly drawn procedures leading to the exercise of an absolute discretion. That discretion is in no way limited. This Measure would have the effect of making the archbishops responsible for limiting the application of the law of the Church so far as concerns ordination. However great a regard one may have for each of the most reverend Primates, for all the bishops and all who may come in the years ahead, I do not think that we should turn them into law-makers, to that extent, or place on them the responsibility of limiting the application of what is a legislative provision, but so widely drawn.

I find myself in a difficulty, as your Lordships may have gathered from what I am saying. I have much sympathy with what was said by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, but I regret that I could not accept the actual terms of his amendment. Before I came to the debate I thought that I might be able to accept them but having heard other speakers, I regret that I cannot do so.

Nevertheless I hope that for reasons other than those which my noble friend Lord Lauderdale has expressed, the Measure might be postponed or temporarily withdrawn by the most reverend Primate. I hope that he will take note of the powerful views expressed in the debate. As my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said, the arguments are pretty finely balanced. I therefore hope that we may have placed before us at some future date a better defined Measure and a more limited Measure in its potential legal effect. Even trusting the great men of the Church whom we have to trust, in my view this Measure could cause sorrow among many churchgoers.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, I wish to explain why, if your Lordships' House divides on the measure tonight, I shall not vote against it, as I did at the final meeting of the Ecclesiastical Committee. First, I wish to say something which I believe to be almost entirely irrelevant—that is, to say where I stand. I believe that the measure is right in intention and, if the general rule is waived only in really exceptional cases, that it will work out right in practice.

We know that God hates divorce but it also seems that in certain cases He blesses the second marriages of those people who have gone through the terrible experience of divorce. I say that my views are irrelevant because throughout the consideration of this measure I have taken the view that in my capacity as a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee and now of your Lordships' House, it is not my place to take issue with the General Synod on the interpretation of Christian doctrine. I believe that our main roles are to see that measures sent to us by the General Synod are properly drafted and do not clash with other legislation. For us to argue with the synod on matters of doctrine would be to bring into question the very existence of the synod itself.

I voted against the measure in the Ecclesiastical Commitee because there were no published guidelines as to how the archbishops, present and future, would exercise their discretion. I felt this meant that Parliament would not know what it was being asked to approve. The way was open also for the public to get the wrong idea of the measure. Certainly, some of the letters which I received from both supporters and opponents of the measure seemed to assume that its passing would result in a free-for-all. Furthermore, the ordinands affected by the measure might have been confused as to how it might apply to them. Now, however, proposed guidelines have been published. I should have preferred it had they been a little more easily available, as some of us had difficulty in getting hold of them. However, they have been read to me and I feel sure they will by no means lead to a free-for-all. As a result, I shall support the measure if your Lordships' House divides.

7.50 p.m.

Earl Waldegrave

My Lords, perhaps it is appropriate that I should speak after the noble Lord who has just spoken, as I was also a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee. The only reason I speak is because I was a member of that committee for several years. I am no lawyer of any kind. I am not a theologian, but I suppose I am the lordly equivalent of the man on the Clapham omnibus. I do not know what is the correct description of such a man. Perhaps I shall describe myself as the ordinary man in the motor car. I am the ordinary citizen going about his business, as it were.

When this measure came forward and we were asked to speak on it and consider it, we were extremely bewildered and found it a very difficult subject. That lasted for a period of over 18 months. The committee sat six times on this measure. Perhaps some noble Lords have not had time to examine the evidence contained in the red book that sets it all out. However, it is rather extraordinary that on this particular measure the committee sat first on 21st March 1988, then on 18th April 1988. At that meeting, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and those responsible for the measure in the synod came to explain matters to the committee. We asked them questions and they replied.

Apparently, we were still in a muddle on 16th May 1988, at a meeting which, unfortunately, I was unable to attend and at which a vote was passed by only eight to five. The committee contains 30 members, of whom only 13 attended on that day. We then met again in July 1988, when 27 members of the committee attended. At that meeting we asked for a conference, which was a very big thing to ask. We were granted a conference. On 13th February that conference was held, and 27 members of the committee attended.

On 10th April, the sixth committee meeting was held to discuss, finally, the draft of what we proposed to do after all this cogitation. The measure was considered expedient—our statutory duty consisted in deciding whether or not it was expedient—by 10 votes to nine. One of the votes was the chairman's vote. I believe that was the first time the chairman had voted at the committee meetings.

Over and over again in those committee meetings and over and over again at the very interesting and full conference that was held where the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York addressed us, there was constant use of the word "unhappiness". We said, "We in the committee are very unhappy with the measure. We do not quite understand what we are supposed to do. We think we are debarred by the passing of the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974"—I personally opposed that measure at that time—"from discussing or having a view on theological matters, as that is the duty of the synod." Those duties were passed over to the synod entirely. As I understand it, Parliament cannot deal with those matters in detail. So, what were we to do?

Many members of the committee were not lawyers, so we could not answer the finer points of Sections 7 or 8, which needed a two-thirds majority. We did not know whether that could be achieved by a simple and bare majority of those present and voting. Therefore, we puzzled out the fact that we represented the man on the Clapham omnibus. We had to consider what kind of effect the measure would have on congregations, on people who attend church and on people who do not attend church. People who do not attend church often take far more interest in criticising what goes on in church than the people who do attend church. So the committee had to decide what kind of effect the measure would have.

What effect has the measure had? It has received very wide publicity. There have been leading articles in The Times on the matter. People have said that the measure has infringed constitutional rights. I believe the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, must have meant that we should forget about the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974. I believe he said that we should simply turn up the rules in the Book of Common Prayer, and that if anyone touched them it would be over his dead body.

That is the position now. I still feel unhappy about the measure. We heard a wonderful speech from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and also from the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and I am puzzled now as regards whether I shall be considered to be just going with the herd. Perhaps noble Lords will ask themselves why I attended the committee meetings and voted against the measure and yet, when it comes down to it, I jib at the fence and turn. However, I do not feel that that is the case. I believe there are very important reasons and that there is more to this than we have been told.

I was astonished by the very large number of letters we received on this matter. I am not a politician and I do not come to your Lordships' House very often. Nevertheless, I do not think I have ever received such a large quantity of mail as I did regarding this matter. I see another member of the Ecclesiastical Committee nodding his head in agreement. Certainly, no other measure over the past dozen or so years has led to the same quantity of mail as this one. Therefore, I do not feel I can support my noble friend Lord Lauderdale in asking for an adjournment and for a piece of new ecclesiastical legislation, as I understand it. On the other hand, I do not feel that I can change my mind on this.

It is a question of interpreting the extremely difficult word "expedient". What does that mean? Our chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich, said he did not know what it meant. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said he did not know what it meant. I must quote one thing that he said: "It certainly does not mean that you approve the measure." I quote his words verbatim from page 35 of the report: I never suggested that for the Ecclesiastical Committee to say that it was expedient meant they felt they had to approve of the Measure". Well, some of us asked then, and ask now, what were we there for? That is a different matter, but I felt unhappy then as to whether it was right to say that I thought it expedient. I thought that it would stir up trouble, cause controversy, and make people unhappy. Therefore, I shall have to abstain in any vote tonight.

8 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, at this late hour I shall try not to go over too many of the arguments which have already been put forward. However, the noble Earl who has just spoken seemed concerned about the voting figures in the committee. Therefore, perhaps we might go back to the voting figures in the synod. After all, those are the votes which really matter. The Measure gained support by a very comfortable majority. The House of Bishops cast 85 per cent. of its votes in favour; the House of Clergy cast 68 per cent. of its votes in favour; and the House of Laity, 61 per cent. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said, any government returned on the basis of such figures would consider that they had a landslide majority and a mandate for whatever they cared to do. I think that we must be convinced by the figures.

The synod has chosen the road of grace, forgiveness and redemption. No member of synod, of whatever House, will have reached his decision without prayer and thought, against a background of practical experience in the field. We in this House set great store by expert opinion. A majority of the expert opinion in this case has come down in support of the Measure.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford was concerned that the figures he gave earlier concerning the numbers affected by the Measure were lower than appears to be the case. However, the numbers involved are irrelevant. Justice has to be absolute. It does not matter whether there are one, two or 200: the answer must be the same.

Opponents of the Measure argue that the Church must set high moral standards. They imply that by removing the present anomaly the Church is proposing a loosening of moral discipline. But the Church also has a duty to set standards of justice and mercy, and those standards are just as important. We are being asked to approve a Measure which will allow the archbishops to judge cases on their merits and to overcome the injustice of the present situation. We can be confident that they will exercise their discretion with care and restraint and after full consultation.

If we accept the proposed amendment the whole argument goes back to square one and the cruel anomaly which exists will continue through what must inevitably be a long exercise. Surely the just and compassionate way would be to approve today's Measure and for those who still oppose its provisions to continue their arguments in the General Synod. That is where the argument really belongs, not in this House. I oppose the amendment and support the Measure.

8.4 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, my position is that of my old friend the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I am a simple communicant, unconcerned, with Church government but concerned very much with the views of my fellow parishioners.

I have listened with sympathy to the exposition of the most reverend Primate and also to the right reverend Prelate, and to their hard-luck cases. I can assure them that I spent the weekend inventing scenarios for hard-luck cases which would involve injustice but no offence whatsoever if this Measure came into force.

When the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, invited me to take part in our proceedings this afternoon my heart sank because I felt myself quite unqualified to do so. I felt sure that most of the legalistic arguments would be over my head. Having listened to them, I find that they are. I have never seen guidelines and do not really know what I shall be voting on. My main sympathy lies with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who feels that some offence is being given, and he would like to see both Motions withdrawn to give us time to think a little more. I do not know whether my noble and learned friend Lord Bridge spoke to the point when he said that the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, was not speaking to his Motion. It is not until I read Hansard tomorrow that I shall be sure.

I had hoped that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, would clarify the way in which the leading article in The Times this morning should be read. I do not know what the writer had in mind, but it seemed to me that he meant that if the matter was doctrinal it must go through on the nod, but if it is a procedural fiddle it must not. I have no idea which of the two alternative ways of reading that article I should adopt.

I should like to remind the most reverend Primate of the credibility gap that now exists between my friends, the simple parishioners who are unconcerned with Church government, and the politics of the synod. I ask myself whether the proposals are divisive or whether they will heal breaches that already exist in the community of Christendom. I remind the most reverend Primate that one of the cardinal virtues is patience. Perhaps we could be given a little longer to study the proposals. If both Motions were withdrawn and returned to later, that would be to the benefit of the members of the laity—my friends and fellow parishioners—who simply do not understand what the Church is up to.

8.8 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, I have listened with great admiration to the most sincere and moving speech by the most reverend Primate. I hope that nothing I shall say will cause him any distress, because I hold him in very high regard.

I also listened with great care and attention as I always do, to the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. He mentioned the need for your Lordships' House to consider the public interest in this matter. He drew a very sharp distinction between matters of the Church and of the state, those which are our business and those which are not our business. It seems to me, without any legal knowledge, that with an established Church matters of general interest to the Church must be issues with which we should be concerned. Of course it would be wrong for us to take any view against that of the synod on theological or doctrinal issues. However, in spite of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridges, said, it does not seem to me that this is a wholly theological and doctrinal matter.

As I understand it, we have to determine whether the Measure is expedient. That means: is it on balance advantageous and in the national interest? For one simple reason I believe that it is not. If any great enterprise or institution is to prosper its leaders must set a good and clear example. To ordain a person who has been unable to maintain the promises made in Christian marriage or who has been involved in such difficulties but who must advocate to those whom he marries the need to maintain the vows that are made in the Christian marriage service, seems to me to put him in an impossible position. It also demeans the priesthood and weakens the influence of the Church and its reputation. Therefore, it seems unwise and likely to damage the institution of Christian marriage and the standing of the Church of England, which are both important in our national life.

As regards my noble friend's amendment, the chance of correcting the anomaly to which he refers in his amendment is extremely remote. In any case, there is a considerable difference between removing the holder of an appointment—depriving an incumbent of his benefice, in the words of the most reverend Primate—and refusing to make such an appointment—refusing to ordain a man. As my noble friend Lord Salisbury pointed out, there are many other ways of serving the Church than in the ordained ministry.

I am therefore inclined to support neither the amendment of my noble friend nor the resolution proposed by the most reverend Primate, but I shall listen carefully to their winding-up speeches and try to vote accordingly. It seems to me that this is one of the most difficult issues that we have had to consider in this House for a long time. I hope that we shall come to the right conclusion.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, even by the usual economic standards that I try to set myself, this will be a suitably brief contribution to the debate from a struggling and, I feel, sometimes almost fugitive member of the Church of England. After the many excellent and conscientious speeches, I am unable to add new arguments, but can only echo the anxieties that have been expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Denning, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made light—as it is very easy to do—of the emphasis upon sexual offences which, after all, are a most particular challenge to the stability of the family and a sin against which many people have struggled, not always with great success. Those of us who have enjoyed, or even endured, a marriage of three, four or more decades must acknowledge that the continuing success owes something to good fortune as well as to merit and perhaps to prayer and grace. I find that one trial of advancing age is to witness the break-up of marriages of friends and family where the apportionment of blame seems not only fruitless but difficult or impossible. Yet divorce must still be generally acknowledged as a human failure that reflects the fallen nature which we all share and which demonstrates how even thoughtful, highly intelligent people seem incapable of acting far-sightedly in their own best interests, to say nothing of the interests of their spouses or offspring.

I would honestly say, as a provisional view that I shall continue to ponder, that I should prefer a repentant murderer as a candidate for ordination, to give a most spectacular example of turning from evil to witness to the Lord's forgiveness. Unlike one speaker, I must humbly admit that I and many people to whom I speak wish to look up to their minister. For the high calling of a priest, it seems to me not improper that we should seek the highest standard of conduct, not least as an example to us lesser men and women. Of course, we do not seek perfection, but we must set some limits and make some judgment about the extent and kind of failure that is easily tolerable.

I have no doubt that there are cases of divorce—to which reference has been made from the Bishops' Bench—where no personal blame or failure can reasonably be levelled at either party; yet this is a very practical matter. If a divorced man is to be ordained and licensed to conduct marriage services, it is impossible to doubt that, for weaker mortals, it may encourage a less rigorous view of holy matrimony as ideally indissoluble.

I speak as something of a refugee from my local church where the Book of Common Prayer has been banished to the occasional fifth Sunday in the month. I speak for many who do not invariably find that synod reflects the views of ordinary people, especially about the rate at which change is forced upon the great mass of ordinary parishioners. With the greatest respect, I am not surprised that the great and the good—so amply represented in this House—take a more lenient view of matrimonial breakdown. It is a civilised approach to adopt, but I think that the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelates on the Bishops' Bench must allow for the widespread unease outside this place with which many simple Anglicans, and many outside our communion, will regard this apparent relaxation of standards. At the very least, I ask that the greatest possible emphasis be placed upon the exceptional nature of the cases that will qualify for possible exercise of discretion by the two archbishops. Indeed, in proportion, as they trumpet the exceptions, they may draw attention to our united claim that Christian marriage should be indissoluble.

8.16 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, as this debate draws towards its close, I feel like one of those fish who sees being trailed across the water over its head a fishing line baited at intervals with luscious looking baits and hooks. I shall attempt not to seize any of those lures.

We were invited by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, to talk about the priesthood and the priesthood being tampered with. As one of the two parish priests in the House, I should be delighted to debate that subject with him at any time, if that was what the debate was about. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, lured us with the suggestion that the debate was about adultery, a subject that a great many people like to talk about ad nauseam. But, when we reached those subjects which the debate was about, it seemed to me that the major arguments for the amendment were fairly rapidly destroyed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, destroyed the argument about the two-thirds majority. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, destroyed the argument that the Measure allows the ordination of oath breakers and those who condone oath breakers.

There were other temptations. Behind it all seemed to be a platonic idea that there is such a thing as a platonic marriage which lasts forever and which is laid down from the beginning of the world to the end. I seem to remember that Jesus was asked a question about that and about a woman who had been married seven times. His response was, in effect, "not to be silly".

If we are talking to the subject of the debate, we are talking about a Motion to adjourn indefinitely a Measure brought forward, completely properly, by the synod of the Church of England and its spokesmen in the House. The aim of the amendment for which we are asked to vote is one which almost every speaker has agreed cannot, in the terms laid down, be achieved. If I may say so with due respect, the idea that we need to delay also seems to me to be absurd. Time and again we have heard of the number of times that the Ecclesiastical Committee has met and the number of times that this issue has been through synod. There are injustices here which are long overdue.

I should like to close my remarks with one further observation. The main point is that this measure has been brought forward properly by the Church, with the requisite majorities, as part of the settlement that now exists between Church and state and there is no reason why we should not pass it.

There is one more minor point to make. Several times the objection has been raised that much of this is management by exception; we should have rigid rules to which we can stick. As a very minor pastor in the Church, perhaps I may say that that seems to me to be the reverse of all the "pastoralia" which should happen in the churches. We deal always with individual people and individual problems. Any blanket laws which allow for no exceptions are almost certainly bad laws and un-Christian laws, in that they do not consider how we should deal with people as their pastors and counsellors within the Christian Church.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, my only qualification for speaking in this debate is that I have had the privilege of serving for many years on the joint parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee. My only regret is that I did not speak then as strongly for this measure as I shall do now. The reason why I did not speak strongly then was that I did not wish to prolong the agony. After listening to so many speakers I always hoped that the proceedings would soon finish. That may be regarded by your Lordships, justifiably perhaps, as a feeble excuse.

This measure has been long debated in synod in all the houses of that body, not only in the General Synod but in the diocesan synods as well. The General Synod presented us with this measure which is a mild measure, well thought out and supported by many safeguards. Noble Lords are addressing themselves, one hopes, to a law which will allow to become priests people who have either had the misfortune to have a broken marriage or have been married to someone who has had a broken marriage. Neither of those misfortunes can diminish their faith or their ability to minster religion with conviction. Surely such sad events cannot commit them to a lifelong sentence of non-opportunity in administering churchmanship. These people who seek the opportunity to become priests must somewhere along the line have repented, if they needed to repent, and thus have been forgiven.

In my humble opinion the Church of England has changed over the years for the better, and the clergy have come much more into line with present day life. There seems to be a new stimulus. During the past 20 years I have lived in two parishes and have been impressed by the way in which the two incumbents have looked after their parishioners. When I go to church I come out feeling better for it.

Returning to this measure, I must also say that I have been impressed by very genuine letters received from the victims—if one can call them such—although letters are not in themselves confirmation that the people who have written them are in the right. But that is not my concern; neither, frankly is it the concern of your Lordships. It is a matter for the diocese itself: its parson, archdeacon, bishop and—if that is not enough—its provincial bishop, the archbishop who finally approves the nominations. Surely that is the greatest safeguard.

I now turn to the synod itself. There are deanery synods which comprise a few parishes whose representatives come from the parochial church councils. Above them are the diocesan synods which represent the deanery synods. Ultimately there is the elected General Synod. We have heard the way in which the General Synod voted in all three houses: the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. In voting, they all came to the conclusion that this measure was correct. All the people whom I have mentioned were democratically elected and all of them are churchmen.

In my opinion, Parliament should think the same. The joint parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee confirmed by one vote that this measure was expedient. That was the right decision. On what is essentially a doctrinal matter of the Church that has been deliberated upon and much considered, who are we even to contemplate reversing that decision? It would be a very grave step should Parliament oppose a decision which not only makes sense but denies Christians the opportunity to be guided by those whom their bishops and archbishops have seen fit to ordain.

I very much hope that the House will disapprove of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Lauderdale and approve the Motion in the name of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury.

8.26 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, your Lordships will notice that on the list of speakers my name appears above the gap rather than below it. It is our normal practice that if there is an Opposition spokesman to wind up, he should come below the gap. The reason for the change is that as I understand it the Government have no speaker and take no view. There is a gap made so that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who is prepared to speak if necessary, can explain that the Government have no view on this matter; but I shall not ask what is the Government's view and thus alleviate any anxiety that the noble Earl may feel on that point.

Nonetheless, there are one or two points that I should like to make from this Dispatch Box. First, we on these Benches do not feel that this measure is a matter that should provoke a confrontation between Church and state. We shall therefore vote against the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and in favour of the Motion of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I say that because this is a matter which has aroused considerable controversy with my colleagues on these Benches. I wished to express that in the most forthright manner immediately when I rose to speak.

Having said that, I shall now speak personally about the measure. A number of noble Lords have observed that we should not be debating theology, and I agree with them; and that we should not be debating the legality of the measure, and I personally agree with that. Certainly I would not wish to dispute theology with the most reverend Primate; nor would I wish to dispute legality with the chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich. I only say to the noble and learned Lord that I wish that he had given such a clear definition of "expediency" to the Ecclesiastical Committee during its deliberations as he gave today. I think that it might have saved a great deal of discussion.

Nevertheless, when I say that I shall go into the Lobby with the most reverend Primate, I do so with a certain amount of regret. I do not propose to establish my credentials as a lay communicant. They are like those of other noble Lords who have spoken: those of an ordinary member of the Church of England. I want to discuss two points. The first is whether the measure, in introducing changes to the canon law, does not create certain anomalies in place of the anomaly that it is designed to correct. The second point concerns whether this is the message that the Church of England wishes to send out about the nature of the priesthood of the Church. I shall couch this discussion in the form of questions to the most reverend Primate, if I may, because on this occasion I certainly do not wish to be provocative.

We have to remember that we are dealing with a measure for candidates for ordination, not with the general lay position. The Lichfield Commission reported on the Christian doctrine of marriage and the marriage discipline in the Church of England in 1978. The central recommendation was that the Church of England should revise its regulations to permit a divorced person, with the permission of the bishop, to be married in church in the lifetime of a former partner. That was the central recommendation of the Lichfield Commission regarding the laity. This recommendation has not been acted upon. The Church of England has been deliberating on it for over 10 years. The Lichfield Commission also drew attention to such matters as the problem of ordinands which the measure addresses. The measure proposed by synod and proposed by the most reverend Primate today seeks to alleviate that position.

I ask this question of the most reverend Primate. Is it right that the general specific recommendation of the Lichfield Commission with regard to the laity should not be followed through by the Church, but a minor point which was raised by the Lichfield Commission in respect of ordinands should be followed through by the Church? If that is right, does it not raise another curious anomaly: that, if the measure is accepted and achieves Royal Assent, an ordinand may be approved by the bishop for ordination. He may then administer the Sacrament of Holy Communion, for instance, to lay members of the Church of England who themselves, because the matter is somewhat in doubt, are not entitled to the same privilege as the ordinand has received in obtaining approval for his ordination from the bishop. In other words, if one regards ordination, as I do, as a very special sacramental ceremony, the ordinand—re-married as he may be under the same circumstances as a lay person—can administer sacraments to someone who may be prohibited because of re-marriage, from being re-married in the Church of England. I understand that it is discretionary in the Church. It is a possible contradiction. I should be grateful if the most reverend Primate could comment on that.

There is also the problem of the anomaly which may arise between ordinands who are accepted on the principle of the measure—assuming that it goes into canon law—and existing incumbents of benefices. This matter was discussed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich, and figured in the discussions of the Lichfield Commission. I join with the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. It seems odd that there can be come dispensation for ordinands and prospective ordinands in the Church of England, while beneficed clergymen—as opposed to clergymen waiting for institution, as was discussed in the committee—should have to be taken before some ecclesiastical court and convicted of some offence before they can be deprived of their benefice. There is a discretion on the bishop for an ordinand or prospective ordinand. There is no discretion in the case of a bishop for a beneficed clergyman. As I understand it, he has to be convicted of an ecclesiastical offence in order to be deprived of his benefice. The question arises—and I join with the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, in asking this—why is the procedure different? Should not the Church be looking at that problem?

The last anomaly that I should like to raise—and it may not be an anomaly, but a difficulty—is this. There is a clear ecclesiastical offence, as defined in the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, of any breach of canon law. Canon B.30, paragraph 1, sets out the Church's doctrine of marriage as a permanent and lifelong union. This is a point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, made. Canon B.30, paragraph 3, requires the minister to explain that doctrine to the intending parties of a marriage in church. Canon C.26 requires a minister, to frame and fashion his life according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, so far as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ". I ask the most reverend Primate: is it not the case that any ordained priest or deacon who re-marries while the previous partner is alive must prima facie be regarded as having breached at least two of the canons to which I have referred. Breach of canon law is an ecclesiastical offence and can give rise to deprivation. I ask the most reverend Primate to explain to me, as a layman, how all this will add up in terms of the application of canon law?

My second question of the most reverend Primate is this. What signals does the Church of England wish to give to the public at large about the priesthood? I do not want to become involved in what I call the Lauderdale versus Seear argument as to whether we look up to, across at or even down on our clergy. However, there can be no doubt that the clergy of the Church of England have had a rather bad press, I should think since the Reformation. The Bishop of Barchester is par for the course, or the vicar in the TV sit-corn. We have seen this far too often. Is it not time that the Church of England started to improve its public relations? On a serious note, in doing so, a reversion to the doctrine that the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, was seeking when he made his opening speech of more of a convinced priesthood, more of what my father used to call a priesthood militant, would be more acceptable to what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, referred to—and I think rightly—as the general lay opinion of the Church of England. That is not simply the laity who are elected to diocesan or General Synod, but those who are not. If the views of people who do not become elected to the diocesan or General Synod are consistent with the doctrine of the Church of England, I wonder why we cannot achieve such aim.

I have a certain sympathy with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and others, that while the measure is undoubtedly a modest one, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, said, it may lead us down a path that the Church does not wish to go. I offer that as my personal comment.

I come back to where I started. We shall support the most reverend Primate if the matter goes to the Division Lobby because we believe that on this occasion that is the right thing to do.

8.38 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords for jumping into the gap. I am not speaking for the Government or for the great and the good. I speak only as a very ordinary lay person. I wish to make only one point.

The sanctity of Christian marriage is one of the great bulwarks of our civilisation. Anyone married in church makes a vow before God to stay married until death. None of us is perfect. All marriages have ups and downs. Some of the downs can even sink a marriage although we all try to keep afloat. It seems unfair to any human being whose marriage, for whatever reason, has already collapsed to be asked to preach the sanctity and permanence of Christian marriage to others. It is not a question of he without sin casting the first stone. It is not a question of people in glass houses not throwing stones. It is simply that it is better not to build one's glass house in a stone-throwing area. I beg the most reverend Primate and my noble friend both to withdraw their Motions to give us all breathing space and time.

8.40 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I shall be one minute only, but I wish strongly to support my noble kinsman Lord Lauderdale. I feel strongly about this. At the moment one marriage in three ends in divorce. If this measure is accepted it will strengthen the all too widespread feeling in this country that divorce is acceptable. For reasons which have been advanced by many speakers this evening, I feel that we should do all we can to oppose this great landslide of divorce which is disturbing so many people in this country.

8.41 p.m.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, I have listened with very great care to what has been said in the debate. I am deeply grateful for the many thoughtful contributions that have been made, for the depth of feeling that has been evident, not least in the last two interventions, and for what I have been glad to find here: a universal desire that we should do all we can to uphold and support the institution of marriage. That is not a question which is at any issue in the minds, in the teaching and in the example of those who bring forward this measure to the House.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not comment on every speech that has been made. In the first place, I am an irregular attender here and therefore do not have the dexterity of others on the Front Bench on which I am privileged to sit. I shall try to comment on a few as I go along, not forgetting the noble Lord, Lord Williams, at whose father's feet I once sat in order to learn the elements of moral theology.

I should like first to thank the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, for the generosity with which he spoke in introducing his amendment, particularly for the personal feelings (which I reciprocate) of respect for his own convictions and witness. I, too, believe that the priesthood should be for those of prayer and piety and conviction, that they have a representative role. However, I wish to give space to what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, spoke about in recognising that blend of humanity and holiness which is the mark of the Pastor Supreme, particularly perhaps an ideal which has been attempted and cultivated and aimed at by our own Church of England, with its attempt to combine personal convictions with the widest possible scope of a teaching and pastoral ministry. I apologise to him and to others if there has been any breakdown in the procedures by which noble Lords might be able to read the directions which I, along with the Archbishop of York, have given to the bishops at the recent House of Bishops. We gave these guidelines on how we should exercise our discretion.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, and others have spoken about the uncertainty attendant upon the way in which we should exercise that discretion, but I have to remind your Lordships that, when it comes to ordination, it is inherent in the office of a bishop that he has absolute discretion as to whom he will or will not ordain. In many fields of clergy discipline, particularly those relating to clergy already in post, a great deal of discretion lies with the bishop. It was the especial desire of the General Synod that, if there were to be any exceptions, the strictest way to proceed would be by way of a procedure within the diocese that would ultimately go to the archishops for the exercise of their discretion. We have made available very clear guidelines which we would employ and which I reckon would quickly filter out some of the cases that have been mentioned here, where they would fall because they could not possibly justify the kind of exceptions that I. have talked about.

Where I found that the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, did not pursue the terms of his amendment was in dealing with how we should correct the injustice, which I believe we all recognise, by going the other way; that is, making it harder for clergy whose marital status is irregular, rather than easier for ordinands. That is the amendment proposed and, frankly, I have not heard many arguments in favour of that as correcting the injustice that already exists.

It has been argued in general terms that this measure constitutes a further surrender to the times, a further lowering of Church discipline. That was put before us in a characteristically robust contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, whose presence in the House I so much welcome. It is his first appearance since his 90th birthday.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, I am sorry we are not in wholehearted agreement on this issue because I should like to assure him that I, too, am a lover of the Book of Common Prayer and intend that it shall not die within our nation. I, too, can subscribe to every article of the Creed and assure your Lordships that it is not in danger in the teaching of our Church. I, too, believe in the sanctity of marriage, but I do not believe that we need any alteration to the ordinal or the Book of Common Prayer in the passage of this measure. That has been explained to us particularly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham.

On the general question which worries people, the truth is that the reason for easier divorce is not the failure of the Church to teach the Christian doctrine of marriage. There are many and very complex reasons. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, was particularly helpful in talking to us from his great experience about the secularisation of marriage which has taken place in the laws of our country. It means that the kind of argument which depends upon the Church as a sacrament cannot be sustained. The doctrine of indissolubility is one that is held and based upon the idea of marriage as a sacrament. If you are going to deal with exceptions to rules which depend upon that then you must have a complex apparatus of nullity procedures. That is what the Roman Catholic Church has and I respect what it has done and is doing in that area. However, it is not the Anglican way.

The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, talked about Matthew, Chapter 19. That is only one in a complex of quotations from the scriptures which make it clear that, as I said earlier, our Lord was providing insight—marriage is for ever—and challenge. He was not legislating for an institution.

I do not believe that this measure is a challenge to fundamental doctrine. It is a response to failure in moral achievement. This is serious but our ordinal is realistic. Candidates for the priesthood are asked to make themselves and their families, as much as in them lieth, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.

The measure has attracted wide publicity. I fear that instead of it being a measure concerned simply with the discipline of the clergy it has often been elevated into an issue which concerns whether one believes in divorce or that divorce is always impossible. But to be fair I believe that the Lord Himself was misrepresented for so-called "laxity": The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Neither do I condemn you … go and sin no more". We recognise that the Church of England does not have a tradition of regulating dispensations by canonical procedures. But we have a good record of attempting to witness to fundamental principles within a broad pastoral outreach. We believe that ordinands and clergy deserve pastoral support. A pastoral approach calls for fairness and trust. That is why we hope that Parliament will give us the support for this carefully considered measure. It is being brought forward in the conviction that the present rigid rule is unjustified in principle, is likely to work unfairly in individual cases and does a disservice to the Church as a whole because it unnecessarily turns away some who would serve the Church well. I plea that the support for this measure—which comes from the bishops and principals of theological college and parish priests as well as lay people—comes mainly from those who are in touch with the pastoral realities and with individual cases. I think that that is an important influence on me: the extent to which it is the background of those people who are speaking in favour of the measure because it comes from areas of experience.

I turn to deal with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. He talked of the inconsistency between refusing to legislate for the remarriage of divorced persons in church and yet carrying forward this measure. In my opening speech I tried to make the point that the two questions, although related, are distinct. It has been more difficult to win acceptance for remarriage in church because the marriage service is a witness to the Christian belief in marriage. That would be undermined by using the same service twice. On the other hand, the ordination service is not one of witness to marriage precisely but is particularly a witness to the ability of God to call sinful, fragile, forgiven human beings to his service.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, spoke of the difficulties about the guidelines and about the injustice which may exist in the treatment of those in post, because they are subject to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction measure, and those who are putting themselves forward for ordination. I believe that in some measure that has been tidied up by the benefices measure which came into force on 1st January this year. It gives to the bishop a discretion over his institution of a clergyman to a living. I do not say that all matters have been cleared up but I say that that is a point in favour of the measure. It will move us into greater consistency between the treatment of clergy in post and those who are putting themselves forward for ordination.

Finally, I depend very much on the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, for what they say about the significance of the measure in dealing with the relationship between Church and State. It seems to me that the scope of the law is designed to ensure that Parliament safeguards the constitutional rights of the subject and ensures that there is no conflict with the general law. I am glad that they have been able to clarify that for us and I hope that we shall feel able to follow them.

What we desire and ask is an opportunity for those who believe that they have a vocation to Holy Orders, but are at present canonically debarred, to have their circumstances considered and to have at least the possibility of an archbishop's dispensation. I believe that to pass the amendment would accentuate the injustice, would be unacceptable to the majority of Church people and would never possibly win the support of the synod.

If one wanted to create something divisive, this is the way to go. To go our way would be to confirm what the majority of the synod has been saying for a good number of years. Anybody interested in the debate could have tuned into it years ago. We believe that this is the way, not only of mercy but of justice; a way which would accord with the gospel and serve the wellbeing of the Church.

9 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are grateful to the most reverend Primate and also the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford for their exposition of this matter, which has certainly been constructive and, if I may say so as a layman, done with great pastoral gentleness for those of us who are rather stupid and slow in the uptake.

There is no doubt that the establishment, whether as the Church or of the usual channels of this House, was taken by surprise at the amount of interest which was generated in this debate, lifting it from a mere dinner hour affair to be disposed of on the nod with half a dozen or a dozen noble Lords present. I hope that I shall get credit from the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford for at least having gathered them a congregation. The best part of 100 Peers have listened to the debate. There are about 70 Peers in the Chamber at this moment, and this at nine o'clock at night for what was expected to go through on the nod in the dinner hour. That is a considerable achievement and I hope that I shall at least get credit for that.

Throughout the debate there have been certain underlying trends. When we read of unemployment figures we are always told what unemployment was and what was the underlying trend. One trend is clear: that everyone in all quarters of the House recoils from the spectre of a clash between Church and state at any time, particularly on a measure of this scope.

On the other hand, attention has been drawn to contradictions between civil and canon law which are causing anxiety in many quarters. Several noble Lords have pleaded for delay or for patience. It is not for me to comment on that matter, but there is an underlying anxiety. My noble friend Lord Halsbury referred to a credibility gap between the pew and the synod. I am reminded, although I cannot think in what connection, that since the end of the last war there have been occasions when governments have been in power for quite a long time with quite a large majority and have been accused of getting out of touch with the electors. That is commonly said—no names, no pack drill—about governments of both persuasions. I wonder whether there is a certain analogy between the synod and the pew. The members of the synod, splendid godly people as they are, give time and trouble to working at the nitty-gritty of Church government. Inevitably they focus attention on those matters and may well become somewhat distanced, at any rate psychologically, from the ordinary people, of whom a number have spoken today.

There has arisen from this debate a certain note—I will not be so presumptuous as to say a note of warning—but a plea to the episcopate: please, please, please, listen to the inarticulate, stupid, slow-on-the-uptake Back-Bench pew men who sometimes have an anxiety which is not always as quickly recognised in the synod as they would wish. One again thinks of electors who complain at not being properly listened to in Parliament. This analogy of a distance between Parliament and people is purely imaginary. I have no particular case in mind. Having drawn that analogy and drawn attention to what I suspect are real anxieties at large, I hope that tonight's debate will be thought to have been constructive and godly. In that sense, and in that spirit, I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion.

Amendment to the Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at six minutes past nine o'clock.