HL Deb 19 July 1995 vol 566 cc290-2

3.10 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of St. Albans

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

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Short Title of the Measure indicates that it contains a miscellaneous collection of provisions relating to the Church of England. Their effect is described in the comments and explanations of the Legislative Committee of the General Synod which are annexed to the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee.

It is a convention that miscellaneous provisions Measures contain only non-controversial material. That is borne out by the voting in the General Synod last November. There were 229 votes in favour and one vote against. There is always one vote against. It may help the House if I briefly draw attention to two provisions of the Measure which were the subject of scrutiny by the Ecclesiastical Committee.

First, Clause 2 permits Christ Church, Oxford, which is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford, through its constitution and statutes, to appoint two lay canons. Subsection (3) of the clause permits in future the Regius Professorship of Ecclesiastical History to be held either by a residentiary canon or by a lay canon, appointed pursuant to subsection (1) of the clause.

In 1840, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act annexed the Regius Professorship of Ecclesiastical History in the University of Oxford to a canonry in the Cathedral. Therefore, the holder of the professorship must be a clerk in Holy Orders of the Church of England. For some time, the university has expressed concern about the narrowness of the field of candidates who are eligible to take up that chair of ecclesiastical history. There is no suggestion that the professor should not any longer be a clergyman. Indeed, that will be encouraged because the relationship between college and cathedral is strong and the person appointed will be expected to play a day-to-day role in cathedral life.

But both the university and the diocese recognise that academic talent for that post could be found among the laity or outside the Church of England—perhaps an ordained person of another Church or perhaps a lay person. The Ecumenical Relations Measure 1988 now makes it possible for such a person to take a major part in the daily life of the cathedral.

Clause 2 is included in the Measure at the request of the university, the diocese of Oxford and the cathedral authorities. The Crown appoints the Regius Professor. It has been consulted about the clause and is content with it. I thought that noble Lords would be interested in that provision.

The second provision to which I wish to refer is Clause 6. That amends the Church Commissioners Measure 1947 concerning the composition of the Church Commissioners' Assets Committee to allow the appointment of not less than one and not more than three additional members chosen from the commissioners and elected by and from the General Synod.

When the Measure was considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee, it became clear that the provision was regarded as premature by a majority of the committee, in view of the recent report on the Church Commissioners and Church Pensions of the Social Security Select Committee of another place and the impending report of the Archbishops' Commission on the Organisation of the Church of England, which is known as the Turnbull Commission. In view of the misgivings expressed in the committee, the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have indicated that they do not intend to exercise their power under Clause 15 of the Measure to bring Clause 6 into effect pending consideration of those reports.

The Ecclesiastical Committee has reported that the Measure is expedient. In view of the overwhelming support expressed in the General Synod, I trust that it will find acceptance in your Lordships' eyes as well.

Before I sit down, perhaps I may say on a personal note that this week is my final week in your Lordships' House, as I retire next month. Let me simply say to your Lordships, as I want an excuse to do so, how grateful I have been for the kindness and courtesy shown to me by so many Members of the House and also by the staff of the House. I wish the House Godspeed in its continuing deliberations. I commend the Motion to the House.

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

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, we are grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his introduction of this wide-ranging Measure. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords when I say that we wish him a very happy retirement. He is not, I understand, going to Oxford but to Cambridge. I am quite sure that he will be very happy there.

I want to give a particular welcome to Clause 2, which the right reverend Prelate introduced at some length. He explained the background to it and I need not go over that again. But I feel that it introduces a very welcome degree of flexibility into the range of candidates eligible for appointment as Regius Professor. It will help to ensure that the appointment will be of the highest academic quality. It will allow the appointment of a distinguished Church historian from another denomination, if necessary, and—dare I say?—it might even allow the appointment of a woman. In the long run it can only strengthen the Faculty of Theology in Oxford. I particularly welcome it.

As the right reverend Prelate said, the other Measures are also to be welcomed. None of them is controversial, with the exception of Clause 6 and the difficulty that arose over that was met by the most reverend Primates. We support the Measure.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, as a member of the Joint Parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee, I welcome the Measure. The Measure is extremely thorough and Clauses 2 and 6 were well dealt with. It shows how efficient and thorough is the General Synod. There are over a dozen clauses in the Measure and nothing has been left out.

I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in wishing the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans a good and happy retirement. I remember his maiden speech. It was very interesting and amusing.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, from these Benches may I briefly congratulate the right reverend Prelate on the way in which he introduced the Motion. I should also like to join in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Teviot, and demonstrate that on this side of the House we also are entirely in agreement with the Motion.

The Lord Bishop of St. Albans

My Lords, I thank your Lordships very much for those kind words and for noble Lords' appreciation of the whole work of the Ecclesiastical Committee. It is very rare that the General Synod receives accolades and therefore the words that came from behind me warmed my heart. I shall go into retirement feeling a new person. I only regret that when other people at my age are becoming Members of your Lordships' House, I am leaving it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.