Church of England (General Synod) (Measures)

– in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 24th April 1995.

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Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby 10:15 pm, 24th April 1995

I beg to move,

That the Team and Group Ministries Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament. The Measure makes a number of amendments to the existing legislation on team and group ministries in the parochial system of the Church of England. It follows the recommendations of two working parties, one of 1982, chaired by Dame Betty Ridley, and one which reported in 1991, chaired by the now Bishop of Ludlow.

Colleagues present this evening may be aware that a team ministry is a collaborative form of ministry established by a pastoral scheme under the Pastoral Measure 1983 or its predecessor the Pastoral Measure 1968, whereby a team of clergy and other ministers work together in a legally constituted partnership, usually in the area of a single benefice. Essentially, it is characterised by parity of team membership rather than by hierarchy. That is to be distinguished from a group ministry, which is an association of adjoining benefices in which each incumbent has authority under the pastoral scheme to officiate throughout the area of the group ministry, although when doing so in a benefice other than his own, he is subject to the directions of the incumbent of the benefice concerned.

The only provision in the Measure concerned with group ministries as opposed to team ministries is clause 5(3), which enables an alteration to an existing group ministry to be made by pastoral order rather then pastoral scheme. It is essentially a limited and marginal provision. All other provisions in the Measure relate to team ministries.

In 1992, there were more than 430 team ministries in the Church of England and the clergy in those team ministries numbered more than 10 per cent. of all stipendiary clergy. The essential point of the Measure is to develop and prove what is now a well-established and well-tried feature of the Church of England's varied forms of ministry. To promote more effective collaboration, the Measure seeks to enhance the status of team vicars and experienced deacons in teams by creating greater parity between team vicars and experienced deacons on the one hand and the presiding team rector on the other.

That aim has been achieved by amendments of the existing legislation in four areas—first, by abolishing the freehold for future appointments of team rectors in clause 1(3).

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way on the issue of the parson's freehold. Does he accept that many people welcome the abolition of the freehold in respect of new team ministries and would like the Church of England to re-examine the whole principle of the parson's freehold, which unfortunately acts as an effective encouragement to some vicars not to do as good a job as they might?

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

I take note of my hon. Friend's point about the parson's freehold. I know that there have been unsatisfactory cases of over-extended incumbencies, so to speak, but I stand very close to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell), whose father enjoyed the freehold tenure of his parish for 46 years. In that period, my hon. Friend's father rebutted attacks from various powerful episcopal battleships, which threatened to try to sink him. I have to be very careful in trying to maintain a balance that I think is appropriate to the Church of England, between those who feel that the freehold gives too much security of tenure and those, such as my hon. Friend's father, who make good use of the security of tenure to reinforce an acceptable position. I hope that in making those references to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby, I may even have persuaded him not to intervene in the debate.

Secondly, the amendments give experienced deacons a special responsibility for the pastoral care of an area, which is in clause 1(5) of the Measure; thirdly, they give bishops power to grant a fixed-term licence to deaconesses and lay ministers in teams, which is also in clause 1(5); and fourthly, they enhance the standing of team vicars and team members regarding housing, trusteeship of parochial trusts, chairing of parochial church councils and so on.

The proposal that the Ecclesiastical Committee was most anxious about was the one to abolish the freehold for future appointments of team rectors. I return to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). The proposal had been one of the recommendations of the Ridley report of 1982. The later 1991 Saxbee report—named after the current Bishop of Ludlow—endorsed the recommendation on the basis that collaborative ministry depends on the good will and consent of those concerned, so the team rector, the team vicars and experienced deacons in the team should be appointed for the same specified term of years. Under the existing legislation, team vicars can be appointed only for a term of years and a team rector may either have a freehold or a term of years. At the end of 1994, incidentally, 159 team rectors held freehold offices and 294 had a specific term of years.

At the general approval stage in the General Synod in February 1992, the draft Measure contained a clause abolishing the freehold for future team rectors, which would have rung a bell with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South. The Revision Committee of the General Synod then agreed by seven votes to six to remove that abolitionist provision. At the revision stage in Full Synod in November 1993, the General Synod decided by 144 votes to 199 to restore the clause, precluding future freehold appointments of team rectors. That is now clause 1(3) of the Measure.

From the annexe to the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, hon. Members will have seen the questions raised by the committee and the written answers provided on behalf of the Synod. The main point to bring out from those answers is that it is not envisaged that team ministries will become the normal pattern of ministry. Nor is it envisaged that the parson's freehold will, by that means, be supplanted by the back door, as it were. As has been stated before, the reason for the abolition of the freehold for future team rectors is to enhance the standing of the team vicars and other team members and to give a balance and a sense of equal partnership of parity rather than hierarchy throughout the team. However, that is not in any sense to preclude or determine what is to be the final position, approach or attitude of the Church of England as a whole to the matter of the freehold, which is still very much a matter for consultation. There is no provision before the Synod on that matter at present.

Some members of the Ecclesiastical Committee were also worried that a team rector appointed for a term of years might find that he was not reappointed at the end of that term. The draft code of practice deals with that point in paragraph 51. It has to be a draft code of practice because it cannot be formalised unless and until the House passes the Measure this evening. It recommends a review procedure initiated by the bishop in good time before the term is due to end.

In February 1994, the General Synod gave final approval to the Measure by 326 votes in favour and 25 against. On the basis of that substantial endorsement of the Measure, it would be appropriate to invite colleagues in the House this evening to give it a fair wind and let it proceed to Royal Assent.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Social Security Committee, Chair, Social Security Committee 10:25 pm, 24th April 1995

It is a topsy-turvy world, is it not? In an intervention a moment ago in the speech of the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), we heard a plea for the abolition of freehold. In the world in which I grew up, I would have expected people on the Tory Benches to be mindful that organisations, particularly large ones that web through the whole of our history, were immensely complicated and that freedom was not an abstract word taken out of the dictionary, but something built up by a series of checks and balances over the years. One would have expected that message to come clearly from the Tory Benches.

From the Labour Benches, as Michael Oakeshott said, one would have expected the 1940-type rationalistic view of the world, which could not comprehend anything that was not open to sheer, straightforward logic; which recognised only one sort of knowledge, that is, technical knowledge that could be learnt in books; and which held that the wealth of experience of the world built up through ages, which I believe is an equally important form of knowledge, was something to be discarded.

I wish to speak against the Measure, although not necessarily to vote against it, on the very point of the clause that deals with the freehold. No one in his right mind or, I hope, not in his right mind, would ever doubt the word of the right hon. Member for Selby, but over the years we have become accustomed to how Synod presents Measures to the House. We are assured that, even if part of the area of freehold is surrendered tonight, that does not mean that the issue of freehold is up for discussion or up for grabs.

Of course, we know that within a year or so, there will be another Measure that will quote the surrender of freehold in this Measure as a reason for further erosion of that principle. Indeed, we see it in this very Measure. The main reason why we should agree to the abolition of the freehold for those who are newly appointed to the position of rectors is that team vicars do not have it. The rule that team vicars should not have freehold did not come down from Mount Sinai. The journey was much shorter than that. It came over the road from Synod. That is where that particular rule was made.

We are told that a further erosion should occur because the position is inconsistent. We are told that we are all chums together, all mates in the same old boat, and that there should not be any distinctions, so it is important that the person who leads the group should be brought down to the same basis as other members in the team.

The matter of team ministries is largely rubbish. We have one in our area. It would be run more satisfactorily by a vicar with some senior curates and some younger curates. They would all know where they were and would have tasks, and the team rector would have the crucial role of training people so that, at some stage, they would be able to take over their own parishes. The team ministry is part of the nonsense with which we have to indulge ourselves.

In my short contribution, I hope that I have made a case against the further erosion of freeholds. All privileges can be abused and freehold is no exception. If one treasures freedom, sometimes the price is to get terrible old duffers—or young duffers—whom one cannot move out of their parishes, but who are not doing their job and clearly ought to give way to someone else. Freeholds give security to those brave souls who are saying things that are not fashionable and that people do not want to hear.

We should not view this Measure separately from the catastrophe that has overtaken the Church Commissioners' funds. Ever since the Church began in this country—it is a show that has run longer than the nation and the Government, let alone the state—individual parishes have depended on endowments to survive. Now, large tranches of the Church will not gain such additional help from those historic resources, which have been built up over the centuries and were there for the lean times when people were not going to church, or not giving, or to prevent one of the factions of the Church from taking control.

At the moment, a strong evangelical party is in the driving seat. Never before in our history has one party been able to control the whole show, because the Church Commissioners' assets have been too powerful to allow it to do so. Now, those with the numbers, the power and the money come overwhelmingly from one faction and there will be no effective counterbalance from the Church Commissioners' assets, which probably give a capital base that is only half what it was a few years ago, once losses from gambling and the moneys that will at some stage have to be transferred into a new pension fund are taken into consideration.

The Measure will erode the freedom of some parish priests to say what they think and blow the rest of us, and we should view it very seriously. We should not let it go past without registering our disquiet and, in the most friendly terms, telling the Synod that, once it is passed, we know that the Synod will put it in its armoury for the next round of Measures, to erode further the principle of freehold. It will be abolished not by this one Measure, but by the continual dripping away of those institutions and, within them, the aspects that have guaranteed the freedom that English men and women have known and still treasure. For that reason, I am sad that the Synod continues to send us Measures of this nature.

Photo of Mr William Powell Mr William Powell , Corby 10:33 pm, 24th April 1995

It is not often that the House has the opportunity to listen to a speech of such unalloyed Toryism as that by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), to whom we just had the pleasure and privilege of listening. I was unable to disagree with any word. I just wish that those profoundly Tory sentiments, which have been expressed so often in the House down the years, were expressed more often.

We are fortunate indeed that my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) introduced the Measure. His calm and measured introduction will have done much to dissuade the Tory ultras like myself from going into the Lobby against him tonight. I shall not do so, but I will register in the House—as I did in the Ecclesiastical Committee—my total opposition to the Measure. Its effects will be precisely as the hon. Member for Birkenhead has outlined.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that, if not my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby, my right hon. Friend's successor will, in due course, come to the House with further Measures to enlarge the team ministry concept. That will increase episcopal patronage and lead to the further destruction of the traditional Church of England, which I know is passing, but in which I was brought up and to which I remain nostalgically extremely attached.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

As I listen to my hon. Friend's profoundly Tory remarks, after those of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), I feel that one thing is missing. The Church of England is not an end in itself; it is the care of souls to which it is devoted. In a changing world, the Church must change to deliver its responsibilities to the parishioners who are in its charge.

Photo of Mr William Powell Mr William Powell , Corby

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the purpose of the Church of England is to administer to souls. Whether the new management structure which the Measure introduces is most likely to deliver that care of souls is something about which I have considerable doubts.

I was born and brought up in the countryside and I live in the countryside today. I have seen the way in which country parishes have first of all been joined to one other parish, then to two, three and, increasingly, to a dozen and sometimes to a dozen and a half. Who knows, we could end up with three dozen parishes joined together, with only the occasional form of divine worship at each parish—perhaps once a month, then once every three months and then perhaps once a year. We see that trend.

The hon. Member for Birkenhead was absolutely correct when he suggested that people—the souls for whom the Church of England exists—find it easiest to identify with a local parson, who is resident in their community and who has perhaps been among them for a long time. That parson may well have baptised them, and married their parents, and they look forward to him doing the same for their children.

Between 1898 and 1989, in two of the three parishes for which my father had responsibility there were only two parsons. I do not expect that record to be replicated often, but it is not a record that should be denigrated merely because my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall)—I do not wish to tempt him too far—wishes to introduce managerial structures. Those structures may be appropriate now for the Church Commissioners, because, my goodness me, it certainly looks as though some other structure over and above that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby is necessary in that respect.

I fear that the old Church of England, which so many of us knew and loved, will pass even more speedily as a result of the passage of the Measure. I am quite certain that parish life, particularly in the countryside, will not be enriched as a consequence.

I also fear the growing explosion of episcopal patronage. The purpose of bishops in the history of the Church of England of modern centuries has been to attend the House of Lords and to support the Government there.

Photo of Mr William Powell Mr William Powell , Corby

There is some truth in that.

The job of looking after the diocese was left to archdeacons and to parsons and their freeholds. From time to time that arrangement was criticised, but let not my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, in his enthusiasm for new managerial structures, imagine that the Measure will not lead to difficulties and unsatisfactory clergy, just as any other human system will. On the other hand, the more bishops take over the control of the management of their dioceses, the worse, I am afraid, the management tends to become. I say that although, if the House will allow me to put it in a slightly facetious way, some of my best friends are bishops. That does not mean that they are necessarily the best people to control the lives of so many and an increasing number of parishes.

I am opposed to the Measure, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby will draw some comfort from the fact that I will not oppose him in the Division Lobby.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons) 10:39 pm, 24th April 1995

I speak in favour of the Measure. I hold the opinion, which I assume that the right hon. Member for Hove (Sir T. Sainsbury) holds, that the Church must respond to the changing pattern of residence, activity and occupation in the country and that its job is to reach people and bring them in.

In that context, there are strong arguments in favour of team and group ministries. They provide a support system for the clergy; one does not leave what is in some cases traditionally one minister or priest, vicar or rector, on their own, unsupported. The Church has developed, and has tried to ensure that there are training parishes in which there is a curate or more than one curate, but some residual parishes continue to be one-person parishes. That can be a very lonely ministry, no matter how good the incumbent is.

The Church has tried to ensure that there is shared responsibility to cover for illness, strain, stress, difficulties and holidays, and to give pastoral, spiritual and practical support. The Church was never intended to be a series of one-man bands. The Church was all about a group of 12 people going out, supporting one another and reinforcing the message in that collegiate style.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another advantage of a team ministry is that some clergy have special gifts with, for instance, the young, which they are able to exercise more effectively in a team ministry, whereas others, regrettably, are perhaps not so good with the young and therefore can be relieved of that responsibility?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

The right hon. Gentleman is right. Not only is that so, but in teams one can rightfully engage both women and men in appropriate activity. I know that that is more controversial.

One can sometimes bring in people such as hospital chaplains and specific chaplains, who otherwise would not be linked into the parochial structure. There are all types of advantages of team and group ministry to its members.

Another common advantage is that a team or group ministry gives a sense of belonging to the wider Church without necessarily breaking down the parish structure. I shall give an example.

I strongly support the proposition that, even though in many cases there should be teams or groups of clergy, none the less it is very important to people who attend a specific church that a member of the clergy has specific and leading responsibility for that church.

When I went with my family to Herefordshire as a teenager, we moved into a lovely little village called Hampton Bishop, just outside the city of Hereford, with a beautiful old church. A little later, a discussion took place about with which parish we should merge. There was eventually an order which meant that Hampton Bishop was linked with its daughter parish of Tupsley, which is inside the city of Hereford boundary. In many ways that was a good idea although many people argued that the better grouping was with the other rural parishes nearby, outside the city boundary.

It was not satisfactory at the beginning, when the people of Hampton Bishop felt that they were not specifically anyone's responsibility—that the minister who turned up for the 8 o'clock communion was simply whoever happened not to be on duty for the main service in the bigger church with the bigger congregation. When there is a group ministry, it is important that each of the churches in the group of parishes has someone whom members of the congregation know to be their lead person. Whether it is the team rector or the team vicar, or perhaps a curate or even a lay person, they need a person to whom they can attach, so that they can be supported.

The other reason why it is right to go down the road—I say unreservedly that I think that it is right to go down the road which may, I do not say will, follow from the Measure—of ending the freehold, is that sometimes the freehold can be a positive disadvantage to the ministry of the Church. I could name—but I will not—two clergy in the diocese of Southwark who have had freehold and who have been a positive hindrance to the ministry in their parishes. No one else has been able to work those parishes, those clergy have stayed there for a long time and congregations have diminished to a mere handful.

I remember going to one of the churches once. People said to me as I arrived, "We are surprised and honoured to see the Member of Parliament here. We do not think that we have ever had a Member of Parliament in this church." It took all that I was worth not to reveal what I was thinking—that I was not surprised. It was a parish with six souls, of whom three were from outside the parish and no one else would darken the doors. If one is trying to bring people to Christ, one cannot have no-go areas in the Church where one person sits for decades and says that nobody can come in, which is what has happened. The Church has to deal with that in a managerial way.

Just as we are on fixed-term contracts, and increasingly everyone else in the country is on fixed-term contracts, so the Church should increasingly have fixed-term contracts. That may be true for bishops, archbishops and everyone else. I do not see why the great advantage of the freedom, which of course comes from the independence—which we have given to judges—should mean that people are allowed to continue to have that freedom when they are not doing the job. We are becoming a society in which people, including the judiciary, will be expected to show that they are doing the job properly and where there is a review system. If people do not do the job properly, they should be asked to move so that somebody else can come in—that is true of judges, bishops and the rest. The past system within the Church has been a hindrance. Team and group ministries are a good idea.

I welcome the Measure. We cannot say that the Church has rushed it through; it has been deliberating on the proposal for 13 years. It will have been 13 years from conception to delivery. The Measure has not been passed undebated—the Church has changed its mind on the issue of freehold. There was a marginal vote of seven to six in favour of one view on the freehold. As the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) said, there was a change of attitude when the Measure returned to the Synod, and the majority voted to remove the freehold.

The debate has been held; the Church has decided that it is better in the context of team and group ministries not to have one person with a freehold and others without. The structure of the Church should give a sense of commonality. I hope that people welcome the Measure, which will make the Church more flexible in times when human resources may be more difficult to find. It may not be possible to have as many ordained ministers as we have had to minister across the length and breadth of the country. It is better that cover be provided by a range of people. I hope that the Measure gains the support of the House, whether or not another Measure is later introduced to deal with the more thorny issue of freehold which, if it came, I would also support.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke , City of London and Westminster South 10:46 pm, 24th April 1995

I did not arrive in the Chamber this evening with the slightest intention of speaking. It is a tribute to those who have spoken that I should have felt inspired and provoked to do so.

I start on a personal note. I lived for 18 years in a 1720 former vicarage that now looks—or certainly did when I resided in it—more like a Royal Ulster Constabulary police station than any other 1720 vicarage in the country. It was immediately adjacent to the church and, in the tradition of the Church of England, I was always the last person into church on any Sunday.

I have moved into a hamlet where there is no church—such church as we had was turned into a private house about 40 years ago. I suspect that it was probably originally of Victorian design. The holy spirit has placed the hamlet on the border between two team ministries—one of five parishes and one of eight parishes. We are situated in a diocese that the Ecclesiastical Committee's report says is one of the three leading dioceses in the country for team ministries. It will not have escaped the attention of anyone in the House that being on the border of 13 churches that form two team ministries allows one the option of attending each one of them once a quarter and each of them four times a year.

The variety of service—from the Eucharist, which was primarily said in my former parish, to matins and evensong—is enormous and the number of rituals, rites and prayer books from which the services are taken is large. As a result, there is the most marvellous opportunity for choice and, on the strength of that and the manner in which the two team ministries are conducted, I support the proposal introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison).

However, I worshipped in the past in a parish where the parson was enormously preoccupied with the parson's freehold. He arrived in the parish at the age of 50 to succeed a man who had been rector for 43 years. He announced in his first week in the parish that he proposed to surpass him; he did so and remained the rector for 44 years, reinforced by the parson's freehold. During that time, he drove my father from the front pew of the parish church with his constant attacks on Parliament for what it was seeking to do to the parson's freehold. He also drove away the church warden, a most distinguished accountant who had been in the habit of regularly giving the parish a large cheque. The parson said that he did not believe in having parish audits, to which the most distinguished accountant replied that an audit did not suggest that there was anything wrong; it was simply the right thing to do. The accountant said that if there was not to be an audit in the parish he would leave as well. He subsequently left, and the last five quinquennial inspections by the diocesan architect also passed by. By the time the parson died, the fabric of the church was in a state of disorder and the congregation was reduced to seven.

Despite that sorry tale, I wholly support the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) in seeking to defend the parson's freehold as one of the remarkable institutions of the Church to which we both belong. I certainly hope that the Measure will not be prayed in aid in the future in order to make a separate point.

The marvellous curate's egg that the Church of England is, and to which all of us subscribe, is such that I disagree—despite his advocacy of the hon. Member for Birkenhead—with what my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) said about bishops and archdeacons. I think that we can perhaps carry on that dispute better outside the House and I may misunderstand the roles that are fulfilled by both.

I was brought up by a house master, one of whose Oxford contemporaries was sent to be the archdeacon in Norfolk. My house master sent him a postcard to say that his principal duty would be to detect concubinage in various parishes in the diocese. He received a postcard in return to say that that was of course ridiculous. A fortnight later, he received another postcard which said, "By God, you were right."

I think that my hon. Friend takes a rather distant view of the role and function of bishops. I wholly agree—although from a slightly different quarter—with what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said about the loneliness of individual parishes. I believe that it is a major responsibility of the bishop to reinforce the faith of those who find themselves preaching in that way.

The debate has been thoroughly worth while and I suspect that, as the dodo said, it will end up as a case of all have won and all shall have prizes. We shall not come to blows over the Measure. However, I suspect that, as the hon. Member for Birkenhead said, we will have to take a rather more solid stand on another occasion.

I close with a sermon preached in a rural church at evensong to my father and six rustic members of the congregation by a vicar who began with the words: Those of you who have been to Thermopylae will remember … I suspect that some of us at some stage in the future will find ourselves at Thermopylae with something serious to do.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby 10:53 pm, 24th April 1995

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), I did not intend to speak in the debate and I will not detain the House long.

Sadly, I cannot match my right hon. Friend's anecdotes about parsons who have been in place for 43 or 44 years. However, as someone who has the best interests of the Church of England at heart and who has a great affection for it I express unease about the Measure. I suspect that this country desperately needs decent moral and spiritual leadership, which, sadly, seems to be lacking from all the Churches—but particularly from the Church of England. The state of the Church is not as one would wish—indeed, some might say that it is parlous.

I am uneasy because one wishes to see more spiritual leadership and one wonders whether team ministries will lead to that. A team ministry has just been introduced in my constituency. Although it seems to work reasonably well, the suspicion of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that one may turn up at a Church with no idea who may take the service is well founded. The loss of the relationship between the congregation and the minister is something that happens in team ministries.

I know that there is a shortage of good ordinands and of clergy, but we should not pursue the path that we are taking. As my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) said, modern management techniques and structures do not necessarily lend themselves to a Church that is thousands of years old—hundreds if one takes the Church of England.

I rose only to express my unease because although I have great respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), I respect the views expressed by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby, who I suspect are more in touch with the congregations of the Church of England than the General Synod seems to be when it speaks.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby 10:55 pm, 24th April 1995

With the leave of the House, I will respond briefly to the debate. I start by warmly congratulating the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)—I am tempted to call him my hon. Friend—on having accepted the substantial office of shadow second Church Estates Commissioner.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Social Security Committee, Chair, Social Security Committee

When I was sacked by Neil Kinnock for voting against Government policy on GCHQ, I asked whether he wanted me to resign my other post as well. He said, "What other post?" When I mentioned shadow Church Estates Commissioner he said, "No—that is a divine appointment." Whether or not it is divine. I also had the Whip removed from me at some stage and thought of yet another deselection, but I am now back with the Whip and glad to be welcomed.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

I am delighted to learn that Neil Kinnock makes an occasional reference to divinity. I thought that was a dimension of his life that he kept under wraps. He was certainly divinely inspired in appointing the hon. Member for Birkenhead. My only fear is that his status is such that if shadow becomes substance, he is likely to become rather more exalted in any future Administration than second Church Estates Commissioner. He would not then be able to employ his enormously powerful debating skills defending the freehold, which he suggested might be under threat in future.

In the light of the hon. Gentleman's Cassandra-like foreshadowing of the shape of things to come, it is worth remembering that it is probable and possible that the General Synod will be less flexible and less willing to move in the direction of further damage to the freehold notion than might appear from the Measure. The General Synod consists of the House of Clergy as well as the House of Laity, alongside the bishops. I suspect that on the general principle of the freehold, there will be a substantial consensus among clergy and laity to hold on to a lot of the best aspects of the freehold.

Tonight's Measure affects only 10 per cent. of the stipendiary clergy of the Church of England. Team ministry provisions in a particular locality can be rescinded. There is no ratchet effect, because in certain circumstances a team ministry may be wound up in a particular location, with a return to the freehold in an appointment to that benefice. It does not necessarily follow that, for the clergy and laity, the General Synod will be quite so sympathetic as the vote for the Measure seems to imply in relation to the freehold. I hope that reinforces the determination of my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) not to vote against the Measure.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—whom I may also call my hon. Friend—brought a whiff of the pavements of Bermondsey and Southwark to us this evening. It is a parish where, alas, the worst features of the freehold manifest themselves.

It was enormously to the enhancement of our short debate tonight that my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) contributed to it. He has now accepted a distinguished official post in the Church of England in respect of our heritage. We are extremely fortunate that he has moved from a Cabinet position of responsibility for heritage matters into what is—in many ways—a much more enduring and even more fundamental responsibility. It will probably be remembered long after many of the duties that he had to perform as Heritage Secretary have been forgotten. It is enormously to our advantage that he has been willing to take on these new responsibilities. He delivered a perfectly balanced exposition of the merits both of the freehold system and of the team ministry Measure before us this evening. Unlike the curate's egg, which was good only in parts, his speech was the perfect balance of everything that is good and wholesome.

It was refreshing to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). He referred to the need for the Church of England, whether through the parson's freehold or through a team ministry, to get out and exhort and pursue what it alone can: the promotion of fundamental ethical and moral values, without equivocation, on a firm rock-like foundation. I am glad that he made that point. What we have been discussing this evening in a sense represents only the shell of the process; the kernel, however, to which my hon. Friend referred, is of the essence. We all hope and pray that this Measure will enhance and extend the possibility of successful and fruitful ministry in the Church of England.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the Team and Group Ministries Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.