rose to call attention to the case for the constitutional separation of powers between Church and State throughout the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, yesterday, a journalist returning from a holiday abroad said to me, "I'm a bit out of touch, but I hear that you have secured a debate in which you can be rude to the bishops". I was quick to say that he was, indeed, out of touch. Besides, how could I hope to rival that notable English cleric, Sydney Smith, who denounced his old schoolmate, Henry Phillpotts, who had become a conservative divine, saying:
Reopening the issue of the constitutional relationship between Church and state, a matter that has unleashed high passion and wrought martyrdom throughout our history, may seem like the abandonment of common sense. "Quieta non movere"—"Let sleeping dogs lie"—may be the tag that springs to your Lordships' mind. However, after some self-questioning, it seems prudent and timely to have such a debate. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury led the way with a notable speech, delivered in Lambeth Palace on St George's Day last month, extolling the establishment of the Church of England. I wish, respectfully, to take issue with some of his arguments.
First, I must affirm that I do not have a wholly secular view of society. It is in the interest of organised religion and the proper working of democracy in this country that both should be self-governing. In the modern world, it is as bad for a Church to be seen as enmeshed in the state as for the state to be seen giving privileged eminence to a Church. I also affirm the actual and potential benefits of religion to the lives of our citizens. I acknowledge the beneficent effect that adherence to religion by the citizenry may have on society. The historian, Lord Acton, well observed that religion,
"locates and strengthens the notion of duty. If men are not kept straight by duty, they must be by fear. The greater the strength of duty, the greater the liberty".
Acton's syllogistic argument for religion and liberty fully recognised that,
"the paths of both are stained with infinite blood".
Acton spoke as a Roman Catholic. My own antecedents are different. I am a child of the Establishment in Scotland, as my late father was twice appointed Lord High Commissioner on the advice of Willie Ross, then Secretary of State. In Scotland, too, the relationship between Church and state stirs controversy. Noble Lords will recall that during the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998, the then Lord Advocate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, overrode the objections of the Church of Scotland by refusing to exempt religious courts from the definition of "public authority", thereby enabling the secular courts to accept jurisdiction in a spiritual matter.
I note also the resolution of the Scottish Parliament in December 1999 concerning the Act of Settlement 1701, expressing the Scottish Parliament's wish that those discriminating aspects of the Act be repealed and affirming its view that Scottish society must not disbar participation in any aspect of our national life on the ground of religion. That repeal, a reserved matter for this Parliament, is a duty that we should not shirk.
The case for a state church to protect citizens from disorder caused by religious dissension may be traced back, in the Christian world, as far as Constantine. However, it received its real fillip as a principle of the Reformation, confirmed by the Westphalian Settlement. Establishment had more to do with public order than with the protection of religious truth. Even in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, freedom of religious expression was subjected in Article 10 to a public order proviso. In modern times, and in Britain in particular, religious toleration has tilted the argument in a different direction. The challenge for a modern democracy is to secure the equal treatment of religions by law and the safeguarding of their coexistence in a plural society. That difficult task is not helped by the existence of a state Church.
Internationally, we face threats from within states where religious imperatives are claimed to validate external attacks. These acknowledge no superior international legal order. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie, which brought murder to Belgium and Japan, was no isolated incident, as the tragic events of September 11th in the United States have shown. There can be no religious override of international law. If we seek the international acceptance of such normative rules as guarantee religious toleration within Britain, all must ensure that British rules are shining exemplars. That is not so while the English common law of blasphemy applies only to Christianity. When in 1991 the High Court, in ex parte Chaudhury, blocked the English Muslims' case for the prosecution of Rushdie, the signal was clear: in England there is one law for Christians and another for the rest. It is too easy to conclude that it is the established Church which maintains this partial curb on the freedom of expression.
Perhaps Blackstone's well-known statement,
"Christianity is part of the laws of England", would not be upheld today. It may be that the position has been changed by the Human Rights Act. I am simply not sure. In 1995, in the Wingrove case, European judges at the European Court of Human Rights endorsed the British censors relying on that Christian law of blasphemy. I would submit that the state Church might have served itself and the cause of freedom of speech by seeking its repeal.
But the impression created abroad may be of less importance than the impact of Establishment on our own society. In the speech to which I have referred, the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of,
"the interweaving of Crown and State and Nation [which] have come down to us through the long and steadily evolving set of relationships known as the Establishment".
The heroism of that history touches us all. Have we not all been shaken as much by Cranmer's renunciation of his recantation as by Sir Thomas More's steadfast to death disavowal of the state church? Who is unmoved by the serene beauty of East Anglia's "wool" churches, the transporting periods of the Authorised Version of the Bible:
"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin".
And yet I must reject the conclusions of the most reverend Primate. It is that historical "interweaving" called "establishment" which has drawn out for so long the process of entrenching toleration in our society, which has unduly protracted the removal of disability on the grounds of religion. Above all, it is the fact of establishment which has held back the espousal of free and equal citizenship as the foundation of our democracy.
Such free and equal citizenship is surely not opposed to the Christian valuation of the individual, nor to the Christian ascription of responsibility to the individual. How regrettable that, so far from being in the vanguard of those who seek a civil society reflecting these values, the Church of England throughout its history has shown reluctance to embrace democratic reform.
When the five-day debate on the "Great Reform Bill" ended on 7th October 1831, the vote was taken. From the Bench of Bishops, one alone, Edward Maltby, then Lord Bishop of Chichester, was present in person to vote in favour. The infirm William Bathurst, Lord Bishop of Norwich, also sent his proxy vote in support. The rest, dragooned by the Duke of Wellington and marshalled by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley, voted en bloc the other way.
In this respect, history did not end with the millennium. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, whom I thank for winding up our debate, will remember how in 1974 an Act was passed at long last enabling Roman Catholics to serve in his office. Only last year, the religious disqualification of the clergy from membership of the House of Commons was ended by statute. This Government have secured major constitutional reforms. Others may emerge, touching the place of Bishops in this House. These things are being done with a democratic electoral mandate.
But the constitutional power of the state over the Church and of the Church within the state is seen differently by the Government. When on 27th July 2000 in this House the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, answered on behalf of the Government a Question put to him by his noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington, he said:
"The Government would not contemplate disestablishment of the Church of England unless the Church itself wished it".—[Official Report, 27/7/00; col. 571.]
How the hereditary Peers must have wished that their place in our constitutional arrangements might have been similarly left in their hands.
But if the liberum veto rests with the Church, perhaps I should direct my remaining remarks not to the Government, but to those right reverend Prelates for whose presence and participation I am most grateful.
My concluding thoughts are these. The present Archbishop of Canterbury will retire shortly. Is it appropriate that his successor, first in honour among perhaps 70 million adherents to the Episcopal Church around the world, should be appointed by the hazardous advice of our Prime Minister? To Jeremy Paxman on "Newsnight" last week, Tony Blair affirmed both his Christianity and his very proper reluctance to,
"colonise . . . religion from one political position".
But how could any Prime Minister judge, say, the administrative efficiency of the different candidates, let alone their spiritual leadership qualities as well and as perceptively as the Church itself? Or is the political appointment of the one whom the Church would not have preferred simply a cross that it has to bear?
My second question concerns the role of the Church in relation to other faiths. When the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of "hospitable establishment" on St George's Day, is the case being made that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics alike would do well to accept the Church of England lead in protecting their religion in our society? That would seem to lead to what the political philosopher, John Rawls, has described as the,
"containment of religious differences by seeking overlapping consensus".
That narrow consensus is not how most spiritually motivated people view religious truth. It was, perhaps, the least bad alternative in 1610 when Hugo Grotius wrote his ground-breaking Meletius or Letter on the Points of Agreement between Christians. For today it is an impoverishing choice limiting the rich pluralism of beliefs. Moreover, in modern society we face a triad of tensions between the rights-based claims of the state seeking to preserve unity, the religious and other groups seeking to preserve their particularity and the individual seeking freedom of expression and identity. It is the difficult duty of democracy to equilibrate that triad.
And so I ask the advocates of establishment, what do you fear? The state adds nothing to the power of the message of Christ. National religious leadership stems from the example of Christian charity, whether it be that of Cardinal Hume or of Archbishop Runcie.
About 50 years ago the sovereign took the Coronation oath to preserve the settlement. That solemn oath will not be lightly discharged, but if it is the will of her Church and her people, in this, as in all else, Her Majesty will do her duty.
A politician myself, I conclude with the words of another. Our Leader in this House, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said:
"The Welsh Church was successfully disestablished in 1914— effectively in 1920 after the First World War—and it is a thriving organisation within the life of Wales".—[Official Report, 12/3/98; col. 304.]
Much good has come out of Wales. It is time for the rest of us to follow that Welsh lead. I beg to move my Motion for Papers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, on introducing such a fascinating subject for debate and on his eloquent and intriguing speech.
The House may recall that on 11th February this year I tabled a Starred Question about whether there are any plans to change the arrangements for the appointment of bishops and archbishops. My noble and learned friend the Lord Privy Seal replied on that occasion that currently there were not. He then referred to the review of the Crown Appointments Commission, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, and the forthcoming discussions that are to take place in the Synod of the Church of England.
In my short contribution today I shall question whether it is desirable or appropriate for the Government to be involved at all in episcopal appointments. Further on in the exchange on the Starred Question to which I have referred, my noble and learned friend reminded the House—this is consistent with what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan said—that,
"There is an admirable model to the west of the border between England and Wales, where the Church . . . has an entirely different method of choosing bishops and archbishops and has, at the moment, an admirable archbishop who certainly speaks his mind on every appropriate occasion".—[Official Report, 11/2/02; col. 883.]
Other Churches in the Anglican communion follow a similarly inclusive approach for selecting their bishops, particularly the province of Southern Africa, the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Australia. These are matters which will be considered by the General Synod of the Church of England in July, when the report of the review group chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, will be considered.
There will, I understand, be a motion moved from the diocese of Southwark which will call for,
"a reform in the method of appointing diocesan bishops in the Church of England so as to detach the process from any involvement with Downing Street and the monarchy, and to provide for a more participatory and open Church procedure than is currently possible".
We can predict with some confidence that this will be a lively debate. It will, I am sure, be pointed out that the present arrangements for appointing bishops are governed by Henry VIII's Ecclesiastical Appointments Act 1534, the purpose of which was to exclude the Pope from any part in the process and to locate the powers solely in the monarch's hands.
Apart from the inescapable fact that, unlike in the days of Henry VIII, Church and state are now two separate entities and that Britain is now a multi-faith, largely secular society, the most significant recent developments came in the 1970s, when the last serious efforts were made to change the way bishops were appointed. The Chadwick Commission proposed in 1970 that a church commission should choose one name to be sent to the Prime Minister who, as a convention, would forward that name to the monarch.
This radical proposal was approved by the Synod in 1974, which indeed went further and effectively said that it was pointless to keep the Prime Minister in the process simply as a postman and that it would be more logical for the single name to be submitted directly to the sovereign. There were then discussions which involved the leaders of the three political parties. Eventually, on 8th June 1976, a Parliamentary Answer was given in the other place by my noble friend Lord Callaghan to a Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. It stated:
"There are, in my view, cogent reasons why the State cannot divest itself from a concern with these appointments of the established Church. The Sovereign must be able to look for advice on a matter of this kind and that must mean, for a constitutional Sovereign, advice from ministers. The archbishops and some of the bishops sit by right in the House of Lords, and their nomination must therefore"— note that "therefore"—
"remain a matter for the Prime Minister's concern. But I believe that there is a case for making some changes in the present arrangements so that the Church should have, and be seen to have, a greater say in the process of choosing its leaders".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/6/76; col. WA 613.]
That led to a report to the Synod, which had then to make the best of an outcome which was a long way short of the "decisive voice" it had sought in 1974. It secured as a concession the right of any Church Commission to send at least two names to No. 10, stating the order of preference of the two and the precise voting numbers. But even then the Prime Minister would retain the right to refuse both and to ask for more names. In the case of the Archbishopric of Canterbury, the Prime Minister would also appoint an Anglican lay communicant to chair the commission. That is where we still are today.
Returning to the reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, for why the Prime Minister appoints diocesan bishops—this is the "therefore" in the Parliamentary Answer—it is based on the assertion that, because only the Prime Minister can appoint Peers, so the Prime Minister must appoint bishops.
That argument no longer works. First, we now have new Members of your Lordships' House who have been appointed as Cross-Benchers by an independent commission. The Prime Minister has not played any practical part in their appointment.
Secondly, we are about to embark on the second stage of reforming the composition of your Lordships' House. I assume that for as long as the Church of England is the established Church we shall have representatives of the Church as Members. But do they have to be bishops? What happens if in future the Church says that it would like other men—and, indeed, women—to represent it here as well as the bishops? In those circumstances, where is the logic in the prime ministerial involvement in ecclesiastical appointments?
Thirdly, it is already the case that a substantial number of diocesan bishops never reach your Lordships' House. Obviously the odds on them doing so will get worse when the number is reduced from 26 to 16 or to whatever figure is finally decided. For those who do not make it here, again, why should No. 10 have anything to do with their appointments?
I could say a great deal more on this subject but I am aware that many other speakers are waiting to enter the debate. I conclude with one thought. It would be interesting to speculate how a practising Roman Catholic Prime Minister—and there will undoubtedly be one some day—would see his or her responsibilities for appointing bishops in a Church where number 37 of the 39 Articles states clearly and explicitly,
"The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England".
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, both on his choice of subject and on the way in which he introduced the debate. He did this with an elegant conviction that is characteristic both of himself and of the intellectual tradition to which, as he told us, he belongs. It is a conviction that brings a cool logic—although in my view not always an irresistible logic—to bear on modern problems. That is the same logic that would convert our counties and cities into regions, this House into a body of wholly elected politicians, and—one day, although not today—our monarchy into a republic. It is the oldest philosophical argument in British politics: it is Hume and Paine against Burke and Disraeli. What I would argue his approach lacks is an understanding of certain loyalties and emotions that help to form us and keep us going in this country.
As regards government, there is no formal, clanking machinery to describe the relationship between the Church of England and the government of this country. There is, rather, a series of distinct and subtle relationships. When I was at the Home Office, and again at the Foreign Office, I used occasionally to cross the river, go to Lambeth and discuss with the Archbishop of Canterbury matters that were on my mind and about which I thought I needed advice that I believed he could give. This was not exclusive; there were others whom I consulted from time to time. However, with the Archbishop of Canterbury it was a natural visit. It needed no explanation on either side. It was useful to me and conceivably to him. I certainly did not feel that I was enmeshing him, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, or that he was enmeshing me. I do not recall an occasion when the Archbishop urged me to follow a foreign policy that would lead us into war for religious purposes, as the noble Lord feared might have happened.
If that is true of the subordinate offices, it must be more true of matters about which I know much less; namely, the private and continuous relationships, as of right and as of office, between the Prime Minister and the Archbishop and between the Queen herself and the Archbishop. The good in these types of relationships is in my view clear and I do not see the harm. There would be harm if the Church became a tool or any ally of any particular government. However, I do not believe that it can seriously be argued that that is a danger now. We have moved a little way from the time of the Great Reform Bill and the Duke of Wellington.
The two most famous actions for which I suppose the previous Archbishop, Archbishop Runcie, will be remembered were his sermon in St Paul's Cathedral on the occasion of the Falklands memorial service and the publication of Faith in the City. Members of the government to whom I belonged were highly critical of both those matters at the time. I believe that both pronouncements stand up well. However, whatever their merits, no one can say that the Archbishop was acting as in some way a tool or ally of government. Archbishop Runcie himself used the phrase "critical solidarity". I do not think that that is at all a bad way of describing the potent relationships between government and the Church. Of course others also speak by virtue of their personalities of spiritual matters when they believe that the nation needs such a voice. But the Archbishop does so by virtue of his office. Much is expected of him, perhaps more now in the time of mass media. Again, the good is clear; I do not see the harm.
I remember going to France on the occasion of the D-day memorial celebrations, in 1994, and attending some of the British service commemorations that took place, as your Lordships will remember, along the beaches that day. The then French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, courteously came with me. Afterwards, I asked him how our services differed from those which would have occurred on a French occasion. He said at once, "You have much more religion in your form of service. You have hymns and a blessing". We are of course familiar with that because of what happens at the Cenotaph each November, when we all recall moments of death, fear, courage and sacrifice. These are moments when people of all faiths are more likely to think of God and need God. I think it is right that we should have that particular dimension in our remembrances. However, that is a product and the result of the relationship that we are discussing today. Again, the good is clear; I do not see the harm.
We come in all shapes and sizes, not only in this House but in this nation. I happen to live in a benefice in Oxfordshire with 10 ancient village churches which are reasonably well attended, although not as well attended as they were. Many people go to other churches and even more stay at home. However, almost everyone, I think, in each of those villages looks on the church—that building, that place—as their church, the church of their community and of their nation. The test of that is a very practical one. I am always amazed at the way in which people are prepared to contribute truly large sums, whatever their own religious views or lack of views, to keep these churches in good repair.
Of course it is different in the cities. We are all familiar with the Victorian spire presiding over a neighbourhood that has totally changed since that church was built. In the talk that the Archbishop of Canterbury gave on St George's Day, to which the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, has referred, the Archbishop said of the cities that,
"the draining away of services and resources at periods of economic hardship has meant that the parish priest has been at times a crucial focus for keeping beleaguered neighbourhoods afloat and for breathing into them a vision of new life and worth and purpose. Sometimes, the parish priest is the only professional person still living in the area he or she serves".
We are talking of the biggest voluntary organisation in the country, with 13,000 parishes, and the only organisation of its kind that provides anything like a comprehensive network.
It is not a question of whether this situation changes; of course it changes. It is not a question of resisting or denying change, but of deciding whether that change takes place in harmony or by some abrupt break. The Church of England, like the Church of Scotland, was established, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, by rough decisions of kings and queens. In its early days, both Churches used their authority roughly and to the exclusion of others. However, I do not think that that could conceivably be described as the situation today.
I declare an interest at this point as High Steward of Westminster Abbey. The funeral recently of Her Majesty the Queen Mother was conducted by the Archbishops, flanked by the Cardinal, flanked by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, flanked by leaders of other Christian denominations and other faiths. All took part. However, they took part in the natural place, using their own words alongside the traditional language. I do not suppose that the next Coronation will be in the same shape as the Coronation of the Queen in 1953, because much has changed during that time. However, are we to say that the Coronation of the next sovereign is not to be in the Abbey, not to be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, not to be a symbol of the nation gathered in that way to offer prayers and good wishes to the sovereign? I think that such a conclusion would be harsh and wrong. However, it is in the logic that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, has set out.
We learned from those who circled the coffin of the Queen Mother, not far from here, why they came. When asked, they all talked of a link with the past. The past is a different country where they do things differently, as Alan Bennett said. Many of our fellow citizens come from pasts quite different from our own, and we recognise that. However, they are now here in this country with our distinctive past. So let us change where change is needed, but in harmony with that past, keeping the links that help to hold us together. I believe that, of the links, the one we are discussing today is not the least important.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for introducing this fascinating subject. I think that I speak for all Members on these Benches, both present and absent, when I say that we are very glad that the subject has been brought into the public domain at this time. It is a topical subject in the life of the Church, and this is a very good place in which to rehearse those arguments. It is also a great privilege to follow a speaker as distinguished as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who is such a stalwart in enabling the Church of England to think through much of its current strategy, not least on appointments and the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I believe that this is a hugely important issue, in relation to which we understand not so much the Church of England, but something about the heart of the nation. In other words, it would be a pity if this debate were to become side-tracked on to some of the issues and components of the Church-state relationship without our beginning to understand what we are as a nation. I do not believe that it is a debate about the so-called privilege—which we call service—of the Church of England.
I do not believe, in spite of the passionate intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that the debate is about the bishops' membership of the House of Lords, or indeed about the Prime Minister's appointment of bishops. There will be other places and other debates, even in this House, where those issues can be fully debated. I do not believe that the debate is essentially about the constitutional obligations which the Church of England carries out in every locality in the land; nor do I believe that it is about the scrutinising of Church legislation by Parliament. Each of those expressions of the Church-state relationship has proved capable of development and change without affecting the basic constitutional ties, and those processes will continue.
More subtly and more powerfully, the Church is part of a constitutional weave which includes the monarchy, Parliament, the law, and faith. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked what it is that we fear. For my part, a quick answer is that I fear the law being left to the lawyers alone, politics being left to the politicians alone, and religion being left to the bishops alone. We need each other in that weave of the constitutional understanding of the nation. Locally and nationally, each of those ingredients of our constitutional framework finds practical expression in what makes up a nation. Each element needs the other. Without the checks and balances, monarchy could become despotic; Parliament could become a playground of personal ambition; law could become detached from the hinge of justice and compassion; religion could become fanatical and fundamentalist—I agree with that point. But within our national framework, we owe each other a mutual accountability; and indeed we owe a corporate accountability to the people of this land.
The record of religion, strengthened by a constitutional partnership, is impressive in the fields of education, social justice, the law and—with their historical and ethical insights—in disciplines such as medicine, the arts and economics.
That contribution is best made from within the constitution. The Church has a unique presence in every community. Perhaps that is even envied, especially by political parties. The Church exercises leadership in many regional and national institutions, because it is regarded there as a good broker between sectional interests.
Of course, some of these roles are played out by Churches and faith communities in other parts of the world which have no formal church-state expression. But we are here—we are where we are in the evolution of the constitutional arrangements with which we work. To disengage constitutionally from the Church would jettison the opportunity for the state to recognise the powerful contribution which religion plays in our national life, socially, morally and symbolically.
To consider closing that relationship would condemn religion to privatisation—perhaps that is what some people in public life are looking for. Religious institutions and individuals with religious motivation do not want to be patronised as though faith were a nice optional extra. They want to be partners with the rest of the policy-makers and the priority-formers—not in terms of privilege for ourselves, but for the common good.
The present constitutional arrangement offers a starting-point for further evolution shaped by the times in which we live. It offers a gate through which other Christian traditions, and indeed other faith communities, can be encouraged into constitutional participation. This, I believe, is the way to provide for the voice of equality for which the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, passionately pleaded.
Her Majesty the Queen is an example of a way in which these strands can be brought together in a celebration of national identity. The Church of England's presence at all levels of society, its relationships with other faith communities, its provision of a focus and a venue for the expression of powerful symbol—all these factors suggest its commonly accepted role and accountability among all the other expressions of national life. All those should not be abandoned without weighing very carefully the far-reaching consequences.
There is no evidence in history to suppose that a church with a formal relationship with the state loses its prophetic independence. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, referred to some good examples in recent history. There is indeed much more evidence to suggest that the religious dimension, which touches the vast majority of the people of this land, is more likely to be side-lined, ignored or patronised if the religious voice does not have an acknowledged place within the fabric of the nation.
My Lords, I welcome the debate. It has been one of the great strengths of the dissenting traditions to emphasise that at the heart of the Christian faith there is a tension between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God. This is a crucial Christian insight, crucial in the most literal sense, because the Cross was the supreme demonstration of it. But it has from the beginning carried the danger, to which the right reverend Prelate has just referred, that Christians might separate themselves from this world, ignore the need for good government, and just carry on doing their own thing in their own little playground.
Fortunately, that is not what has happened. The biblical tradition that rulers are ultimately responsible to God was too deeply rooted to be ignored. Hence the early Church took the risk of involvement with the Roman state. The result is that we have a Christian civilisation, with all the strengths, plus all the potential for corruption which such a close relationship can bring.
The tension between worldly involvement and other worldly separation is inherent in the Christian faith. On the one hand, it is essential for Churches to maintain their own integrity and to be free to speak their own mind; but on the other hand, it is essential for the state to be based on some moral authority which has deeper and more permanent roots than the opinions of the government of the day, or even the will of the people. It is essential, too, for that authority to be more than just a memory; it needs symbolic expression. The 20th century, and even recent weeks, brought painful reminders of how easy it is for people to be bamboozled by unscrupulous leaders, and how highly popular movements, based on immoral principles, can attract great followings and have horrific consequences.
Our country is peculiar in that we have no written constitution, and our Parliament has no formal limit to its powers. As a result, the question of where the state's ultimate source of moral authority lies can be both urgent and controversial. The question of how it is symbolised is not trivial.
It might be argued that the Human Rights Act goes some way towards entrenching in law some of the basic principles of human behaviour; but it remains to be seen how effective an appeal to individual rights can be as a means for calling the state to account in the actual complexities of political life. In fact it has already become apparent in one or two cases how rights centred on individuals can prove to be inadequate guides in difficult matters of public policy. Nor is it convincing to say, as some do, that we should look at the United States, which is full of flourishing religions in an anti-establishment environment. But, of course, the Americans have their own national quasi-religion, based on the constitution and on the flag, with its own rituals.
To look for an ultimate moral authority is not to argue for the kind of religious ascendancy within the state, as expressed in the heyday of the establishment. Today, the Church has no such ascendancy, nor is it likely to have again, even if that were felt to be desirable. What we now have is a rather weak form of establishment, in which the two national Churches, here and in Scotland, have substantial power to order their own affairs, and in which the state, although recognising them, is not beholden to them. Neither is dependent on the other. But the fact of a relationship between the Church and the state safeguards matters of importance for both. In fact, they are rather lucky that the relationship has evolved, and continues to evolve, while still remaining unbroken. In my view, it would be foolish to spit on our luck.
Perhaps I may correct the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. We are not a state Church. We never have been. If you want a state Church, you should look at some of the Scandinavian Churches. We have never been controlled by the state in that way.
These days, established Churches place few constraints on government. However, they are valuable reminders that the state itself is not absolute. They point to a moral authority that transcends us all. In this Chamber we begin our day with prayer, because we are in a Christian country. The established Churches hold in trust for the whole of the United Kingdom the belief that sovereignty is to be exercised as a God-given responsibility and not as a manifestation of arbitrary power. They keep alive the language and ritual that allow such insights to be expressed. They bring into politics perspectives and accumulated experience, which can easily be ignored in the rough and tumble of political controversy. Nowadays, after a century of ecumenism and growing interfaith co-operation, they can do that in partnership with all religious traditions and can open the way for the interests of all to be represented at the highest level.
I differ from the most reverend Primate, our Archbishop. This is not about hospitality. It was very unfortunate that he used that word. It is about partnership. That is the way in which the Churches actually think about it. There is much evidence from other traditions that this role at the interface of religion with the state is both welcomed and valued. Establishment in this mode gives religion public access and a public face, and is a reminder that there are more important matters than political supremacy.
It has been rightly said that what the Churches of England and Scotland gain from being established has nothing to do with power or privilege. In so far as those exist at all, they are outward trappings. The real benefit is that, being public symbols of the importance of religion in the life of the nation, they are saved, as we have just been told, from the all too pressing danger of becoming private associations. In lean times, such as the present, it is easy for religious bodies to relapse into a kind of cosy sectarianism—there are signs of that already happening—but to do so would betray our history.
By all means, let establishment continue to evolve. We can no doubt do something about the Prime Minister, although, in 12 years' experience of the delicate matter of appointing bishops, I have never really had reason to fault the Prime Minister. But that is by the way. I gather from the laughter opposite that I have probably been misunderstood. Prime Ministers have many faults. However, in the particular matter of choosing between two names offered to them by the Church, they have, in my direct experience, always acted straight—and good for them.
It is useful to go on examining the rather subtle relationship that I have been sketching, whereby both Church and state are forced to reckon with one another, without being too beholden to one another. I therefore welcome this debate. But actually to sever the relationship would mean serious loss to both of us.
My Lords, about two years ago, a former colleague of mine at the TUC, Marjorie Nicholson, who had retired some years previously, having been associated in particular with the TUC's work in Africa, India and the Caribbean, died. It was announced that her funeral would take place at a parish church not too far from St Albans. We all arrived, and there was the coffin. The first action of the vicar was to read a letter from Miss Nicholson, which she had written some days before her death. The key passage struck me rather forcibly. She wrote:
"Dear Vicar, I am an atheist—certainly an agnostic—but I wish to draw to your attention the fact that you are obliged to carry out a Church of England funeral service for me, using the Prayer Book, laid down under the Act of 1550 or thereabouts", which he proceeded to do. I have often thought about that gesture. Was it absurd, as some may contend, or quite the opposite, as some may equally strongly contend? If it was not absurd, what inferences can we reasonably deduce from it?
First, the Church of England is very inclusive. It is involved with minor matters, of passing interest, such as: "Why is there a universe in the first place? If it was an accident, in respect of which norms was it accidental? How does it all relate to Darwin? Is Genesis an allegory on evolution?", and so on.
It is a fact often commented on that many millions of people in England—I speak as a back-bench member of the Church of England—share Marjorie Nicholson's view, which, not to put too fine a point on it, supports the retention of the established Church and at least its essentials, reflecting, as I believe it does, the settled opinion of the great majority of the country.
The starting point of the iconoclasts is seductive. Is it not time that the established Church was reviewed? It is, of course, regularly reviewed in detail. But, in its broader sense, this debate creates some strange bedfellows. In a recent article in The Times attacking the establishment of the Church of England, circulated to Peers by the National Secular Society, Miss Libby Purves wrote:
"I am one of those who believe that without faith human life is impoverished, but for God's sake keep it out of the corridors of power. The other way leads to crusade and jihad, to witch burnings and Taliban, or at the very best the wet hesitancy of a PC Anglican Britain".
What a neat juxtaposition. But then we get a clue. Miss Purves continues:
"Trust me, I know. I am a convent girl".
"Bully for you!", I thought.
Even if we can all see the obvious fallacy of saying that if you do not want the Taliban, neither logically can you have the Church of England, with the Queen as its head, let us unpick this a little further. If I were the chief propagandist for the National Secular Society, I, too, would probably try to pose the two choices: the polarity of secularism against fundamentalism, whether in the sense of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. The Church of England—fundamentalist? I should have thought that fundamentalism was the one charge that no one in his right mind would ever contemplate making against the Church of England. The minority of UDI merchants in the General Synod and possibly on the Bishops' Bench, for all I know, would echo that.
Does the Church of England have a privileged financial position? Far from it. On the question of the upkeep of churches, for example, the paradox is that in France, despite all its traditions of anti-clericism, the state actually owns the Roman Catholic churches built before 1905 and undertakes major repairs to them. I wish that the same were true in my parish of about 1500 where we are trying to find £300,000 for the fabric. I remind your Lordships that some 80 per cent of Grade I listed buildings in this country are Church of England churches.
I hope that I may introduce a somewhat irreverent note on the question of whether the Church of England is too political. It all depends what one means by political. The TUC—I was assistant general secretary at the time—invited the Archbishop of Canterbury to address Congress in Brighton in 1997. It was a very impressive occasion, both as regards the content of his address and the warmth of the response. The Archbishop spoke in the morning and the Prime Minister in the afternoon. I knew that the Archbishop had hit the bull's eye when a wag said at the dinner that evening, "Interesting day—we had the politics this morning and the sermon this afternoon".
On a slightly more serious note, when we took soundings of the TUC General Council on the question of inviting the Archbishop to address Congress, we also consulted Cardinal Hume. He said that he would strongly support such an invitation as he fully recognised the leading role of the Church of England. I recall that we had a similar conversation with the Reverend Tony Burnham, Moderator of the Free Churches' Council. We received the same answer.
The debate is couched in broad terms. I very much agree with the argument just advanced by the former Archbishop of York that this is not really a debate about the need for the Prime Minister to give advice to the monarch so long as the Queen is head of the Church of England and, to use a phrase which I believe the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, used, unless one unravels the whole ball of wool. In respect of that and in respect of the formal religious position of the Church, I make one point which has not been made so far: there is no way in which the Queen can be one-tenth this, one-tenth that and one-tenth the other. That is an absurd proposition, whoever may make it.
In conclusion, the Church of England in broadly its present disposition is what a rather broad consensus of the people of England, with all their variations, are largely content with. To go back to the question of fundamentalism, the Church of England is very much the basis on which we can build a more inclusive society with all our friends from other religions. Indeed, I go further and say that as we become more multi-cultural, more Europeanised—I am very pro-European—and more globalised, it is a part of our national architecture which the people of England would wish to sustain.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, on introducing the debate. I confess to an interest in that I have been a priest of the Church of England for over 40 years.
When I was a young man learning at the feet of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, I felt passionately that the Church ought to be separated from the state as I thought in my enthusiastic youth that the Church was weakened by that connection and deprived of the opportunity to fulfil its prophetic mission in the state. However, over the years, and possibly through my experience as a curate in a parish, my view has changed. It is true that the establishment is the result of history and can seem odd in a modern and largely secular society. It is also true that the establishment has been abused and that the Church at times in its history has been a persecutor and an unhappy master. But in general, looking at the whole and particularly over the past 200 years, its effect has been beneficial rather than malign.
The Church of England at present—and certainly for the past 100 or so years—sees its role as being the servant of the whole community rather than a dominant force. My experience in a parish influenced my thinking about this matter. When I was a curate in a country town in Derbyshire I was seen by the whole population as someone to whom they turned, even though only 100 or so of a population of 5,000 went to Church. When I visited the sick, the bereaved and married and buried the various members of the parish, even those who did not regularly attend Church, I felt that my role was valued. I was the only person in the community who performed that role. When I visited people in street after street I never received less than a welcome in the homes I visited. However, that was not true of my non-conformist or Roman Catholic colleagues. They saw their role as being confined to their own communities. I and my colleagues were the only people who dealt with the whole community and to whom the community turned at times of death, sorrow and disaster.
The Church is the only institution that has that role in the community at present and the parish system is the only one that puts it into action. That in reality is the most concrete example of the establishment. If one separates Church and state, that goes overnight. The Church would become more sectarian and more denominational and would deal only with the believers—the 100 or so who attended Church in my parish. The matter is wider than that. The Coronation, and particularly the act of anointing, reminds us all in the absence—I endorse the remarks of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, in this regard—of a written constitution that in a largely unbelieving society the state has obligations beyond the practical and material. That embodies the very nature of our state, as the flag and the constitution embody America.
I must emphasise that that is valued even by non-Anglicans. Paradoxically, I am a governor of Downside. My colleagues at Downside value the establishment because they feel that religious issues are being placed in the context of political considerations. But, more than that, I belong to an inter-faith group and I have found that Buddhists, Muslims and other non-Christian denominations value the fact that within the constitution of England a religious view is represented by the nature of the establishment.
We have many examples in Europe of separation of Church and state caused by bitter revolution and secular logic such as—forgive my saying—the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, has put forward, and it has resulted in bitterness and conflict. I remember attending a wedding in France where people stood in the porch of the church. They did not go inside the church as that was against their belief. They attended the wedding out of friendship but did not wish to hear a nuptial mass. We have avoided that situation here. In other words, the establishment has been benign rather than malicious. Even in the secular world it is good that the values of Christianity that we in this House all would recognise—compassion and care for others—should be represented at all important civic and national events, from having chaplains to mayors to services at the Cenotaph and, of course, a service for the Golden Jubilee.
All of that would go if we agreed to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and all of that would be lost if Church and state were separated. Let us give a thought to our history and realise that some good things may emerge from this establishment, and that sometimes one can be too Scottish and too logical.
My Lords, the important constitutional issues to which my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart has so powerfully drawn attention aggravate the problems we face in this country in promoting equal citizenship based on modern democratic values.
As the Home Secretary wrote in the Guardian on 14th December,
"It is vital that we develop a stronger understanding of what our collective citizenship means, and how we can build that shared commitment into our social and political institutions".
As several noble Lords have said, unlike almost all other western democracies we do not have a written constitution defining and limiting the powers of the public authorities of the state and the rights and obligations of British citizens. In the Human Rights Act 1998 we use the European Convention on Human Rights as a substitute for a basic constitutional charter. The archaic obscurity of our tangled constitutional arrangements undermines the notion of equal citizenship and a collective understanding of the core civic and political values of a plural society.
The problem is especially pressing as a result of the past half century of Commonwealth migration and settlement and Britain's membership of the European Union. It is aggravated by the failure to make a constitutional separation between the British state and the powers and activities of the Church of England. By the establishment of the Church of England, the state accepted it as a religion truly teaching the Christian faith and gave it a special legal and political position.
I pay tribute to the Church's great efforts in promoting inter-faith dialogue, especially during the past 20 years. But, as Clifford Longley pointed out in The Tablet on 11th May, in terms of establishment England is in unsplendid isolation. Of the 38 provinces that make up the Anglican Communion, 37 are disestablished and none of them regrets it. Establishment has been rejected in countries the world over, but not in England.
Surely, as my noble friend Lord Maclennan explained, it is in the best interests not only of the Church of England itself to cease to be the official religion of the state, but also in the wider public interest of the United Kingdom and its peoples. A constitutional separation would recognise the reality of our modern diverse society in which members of the Church of England number only about a million; a minority not only among those who are religiously devout in adhering to other faiths, but also among the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens who do not practise any religion. Disestablishment would make it easier to promote racial and religious equality in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and respect for human rights, and to promote a common and collective sense of what British citizenship entails.
In a perceptive article in The Times, Joan Smith argued that the accommodation with modernity that Christian Churches in the West made some time ago—usually expressed in a formal or de facto separation of Church and state—is in danger of unravelling. Her concern is with fundamentalist forms of religions which offer few compromises to other religions or other values. She rightly observes:
"There are good reasons for being phobic about all religions in their militant phase, whether Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or the fanatical form of Hinduism which has been targeting Muslims and burning them to death in India over the past few months."
In her words,
"There are few more urgent questions than whether people with strongly held religious views are prepared to live harmoniously alongside those of us whose faith is milder or who have no belief at all."
It would be much easier to seek to persuade people with strongly held religious—even militant—views to live harmoniously alongside others if there were no official state religion giving preferred treatment in our system of governance. I declare an interest as counsel for Penguin Books in the Satanic Verses case, where I learned a great deal that informs what I am saying.
I hope that the Select Committee on Religious Offences—and the Church itself—will support the abolition of the ancient and anomalous common law crime of blasphemy which protects Christianity against gross insult or attack as part of the special legal protection given to the established Church. In 1996, the Irish Supreme Court wisely decided that the offence of blasphemy was not recognised in Ireland because there is no established Church in Ireland.
There is a pressing need to meet another legitimate source of resentment, especially among British Muslims; the absence of effective legal protection against unfair religious discrimination. I hope the Government will soon legislate against this form of discrimination, not only in employment and occupation, so that British Muslims may enjoy equal protection under law with ethnic minorities and with women.
There is also the vexed question of the preferred position of Christianity in state-maintained faith schools and the Government's plans to increase the number of faith schools. As part of the constitutional separation of Church and state, as in the United States, the government of this country should be carried out in a way that goes no further than supposing the existence of a supreme being. The United States is by far the most religiously observant country of any western democracy; yet neither religious instruction, other than broad-based humanities curricula, nor compulsory prayers are permitted in state-maintained schools. That makes it much easier to promote both the integration of immigrants and their children and a sense of collective citizenship and common purpose.
If we must have state-maintained faith schools, then let us at least ensure, as happens for example in France, that they are not permitted to discriminate against pupils of other faiths or no faith, and that they are required to teach a broad-based core curriculum.
Delicately, I hope that when this House is fully reformed, neither the Anglican bishops nor the Law Lords will be Members of the upper House merely by virtue of their public offices, a view shared by the majority of those who responded to the Government's consultation on Lords reform. As Clifford Longley observed, the notion inherent in establishment that the Church of England plays host to other faiths and religions is objectionable because it,
"tells any Catholic, Methodist, Jew, Muslim or Atheist, born in England with full legal citizenship that they still do not really belong to it . . . They are merely the guests of their hospitable host, the Church of England."
The time has come to remove those anomalies and sources of grievance and to complete the process of disestablishing the Church of England as part of a new constitutional settlement appropriate to the political and social conditions of this country in the 21st century. We should no longer by governed by the Tudors.
My Lords, this is a topic of perennial importance. We must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for initiating the debate, although, with the noble and reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, I shall want to dispute some of his assertions both of fact and interpretation.
There can be no absolute separation of Church and state. Let us take the example of France, where Church and state were separated on secularist principles in 1905. The state owns all the Church buildings—what kind of a separation is that? Even in the United States of America the Union flag has pride of place in nearly every church or chapel. That may be a separation of Church from state, but it is no separation of state from Church. The fact is that every Church exists under the law if only because it is a corporate body that employs people and holds property. The Methodist Church, which is a free church, is governed by the Methodist Church Act; the United Reform Church likewise.
That suggests that the idea of the separation of Church and State is a wax nose. One has to ask in each case what is meant. The same is true of the idea of establishment. So far as the Church of England is concerned, establishment is simply the particular set of laws and conventions by which its relationship with the state is governed. Other arrangements apply to other so-called established Churches, such as those in Scotland and the Scandinavian countries. It is worth remembering the situation in Germany, where the Catholic and Protestant Churches are free to order their internal affairs but are supported by state-collected taxes. Is that established or not?
In some cases, certain privileges may be involved but in others certain restrictions of freedom are involved. Earlier this month, when noble Lords were debating the proposed Divorce (Religious Marriages) Bill, my brother the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said:
"we should be careful not to intrude on the internal theological and legal debates of different religious traditions. I do not think that Parliament would be wise to enter into that area".—[Official Report, 10/5/02; col. 1406.]
The right reverend Prelate's words were received in this House with widespread approbation. Well, if that principle holds for one religious community, it should hold for all. If Parliament should keep its nose out of the internal theological affairs of the Jewish community, the same principle should apply to all other communities, including the Church of England.
There is here a persistent issue—that has been so throughout 2,000 years of the Church's history; it involves the issue of the freedom of the Church. That involves not freedom for anything but freedom to pursue its proper ends. Speaking personally, I believe that the Church of England could do with a little more of the substance of freedom in exchange for a little less of the appearance of privilege.
To those who might fear disaster from that, I say that we should remember that the Church of England rests on deeper foundations than the present constitutional arrangements. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that the mission of the Church of England to all the people of England rests not on our relationship with the state but on the Lord's command to His Apostles to witness to the Gospel to all the peoples of the world. After all, there was a Church in Britain and bishops in Britain before ever there was a king of England, or even a House of Lords.
When people ask for a wider separation between Church and state, what are they asking for? Mere secularism is a dead end and can be as tyrannical as any religion. If ever the Church of England and the Church of Scotland are to lose their special position, that must be done in favour of the proper recognition of all religious communities, not of none.
The roots of much traditional opposition to the particular rights of the established Church, such as they are—actually, there are not many—lie in the schools' struggle of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The arguments that we hear today are often a secularised version of that kind of nonconformist opinion, which involved the belief that one can remove the dogmatic accretions of ecclesiastical Christianity in favour of a pure remnant of unsectarian and uncontroversial Biblical religion. That tradition also had a low view of the corporate character of Christianity and put a corresponding stress on the individual believer. The secularised offspring of that tradition is the view that religion is a purely individual and optional affair. It fails to recognise the inherently corporate and therefore institutional aspect of all religious faith. The way to proceed nowadays is not by abolishing the rights of the Church but by recognising and establishing the rights of all bona fide religious communities.
One of my memories of this House's debates on the human rights legislation was the one-sided concentration on the rights of individuals and an unwillingness to accept that corporate bodies, including Churches and other faith communities, have an inherent life of their own with corresponding corporate rights.
Whether or not we talk about the separation of Church and state is really a diversion and a distraction. The vital issue for the human and spiritual good of our country is whether or not the state gives proper recognition to the inherent corporate rights of all religious communities. I say that in the light of having been Bishop of Birmingham for nearly 15 years. I say in passing that it is a pleasure to see my predecessor sitting on the Steps of the Throne.
The Church of England in Birmingham has virtually none of the trappings commonly associated with establishment—no vast cathedral and no cathedral close. We are about as far from Barchester as one can possibly imagine. Furthermore, the inherited political traditions of Birmingham are nonconformist. The Church's and the Bishop's contribution to the life of the city and its communities has to be offered on the basis simply of its merits and quality.
One of things that I have tried to offer is an insistence that public authority must take the religious dimension seriously. It has to deal not merely with many cultures and ethnic groups but with a variety of communities whose life is fundamentally determined by religious practice and belief. We must recognise that those faith communities will be able to make their proper contribution to the life of the wider community only in so far as society as a whole gives proper recognition to their community life in its integrity, including its religious integrity.
It is more than 90 years since Neville Figgis, who was both a priest of the Church of England and an historian of political theory—he was much admired by Harold Laski—gave four lectures to the clergy of the Diocese of Gloucester on the subject of Churches in the modern state. His concluding paragraph included the following words:
"We must learn to allow to others that liberty we claim for ourselves as a corporate society, and fairly face the fact which I have called 'the religious heterogeneity of the modern state'".
That, my Lords, was said 90 years ago.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham shared with us some of his experiences from Birmingham. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, who is in his place, will, I am sure, have shared many of those experiences. His example, and that of the late Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Warlock, show how irrelevant the debate on establishment or disestablishment is in the context of Christian unity and of interfaith dialogue.
The whole House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, for eloquently setting out the issues. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, put the other side of the argument trenchantly and vividly. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, did the House a service by initiating the debate, although I share not his views but those of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell.
On Trinity Sunday next, my father-in-law will celebrate 53 years as an Anglican priest. There are five ordained Anglican clergy on my wife's side of the family. I come to this debate as an outsider—as a Catholic. In common with many Catholics, I should oppose any move that seeks to weaken Christianity in Britain. I have my differences with individual Anglicans but firmly believe that the Church of England has brought innumerable benefits to our national life and that any attempt to undermine it would be inimical to the country's best interests.
I want to make three points. First, establishment recognises the centrality of Christianity in our society. Secondly, disestablishment would give the signal that religion and, more particularly, Christianity no longer matters. Thirdly, establishment is broadly welcomed by other faiths and other Christian denominations, although its precise form may well evolve. A number of the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan of Rogart and Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and others, could be adequately addressed while remaining well short of disestablishment.
"maintain the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel".
The Archbishop of Canterbury handed the Queen the Bible as,
"the rule for the whole life and government of Christian princes".
Beyond that ceremonial symbolism are the principles that underpin our constitution. Foremost among them is the recognition that the state and government are subject to a higher law—the law of God.
Canon Tom Wright, who recently gave the first in a series of jubilee reflections at Westminster Abbey, observed:
"Where, in the last century, nations and states have decided to get rid of the symbols in their midst which speak of responsibility to God, they have quickly become totalitarian".
It is easier to destroy than to build. When I witnessed the wholesale destruction of communities in Liverpool, I argued then that we needed an 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not bulldoze until you know what you are going to put in its place". If it is hard to rebuild communities, how much more so is it to rebuild institutions and traditions?
Institutions, from Parliament to the courts, from the Royal Family to the Church, are often hard to love and currently receive a bad press. But a landscape devoid of trees would be a bleak and barren place. If we continue to cut down all the trees, there will simply be nowhere left for the birds to sing.
As the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, told the House, all over the country the Church of England is still looked to by all kinds of people, from community leaders to the destitute, not only to preach the gospel and minister the sacraments, but also to be an honest broker, to hold the ring, to provide stability and focus and, yes, to provide hope. Over three decades now of being involved in an inner-city area, I know that some of the most dedicated and committed people have been local clergy—providing oases of stability. Establishment underlines the Church's responsibility to serve the whole community. When it has the courage to do so, it can also speak prophetically on social and ethical issues. The fact that it is here in your Lordships' House means that it is more likely to be listened to on those subjects.
Canon Wright succinctly captured the importance of establishment as a visible symbol of the role of Christianity in society when he said:
"It means that the church is there for everybody, and though of course there are many places where that means nobody bothers, there are many others where the society as a whole regards the church as its own".
I turn from centrality to my second point; namely, that disestablishment would send a clear signal that religion, but more particularly Christianity, is no longer relevant to contemporary society. No doubt this is something that some of the proponents of disestablishment would welcome. Yet speaking last week—and I agree with him—to London Church leaders, Trevor Phillips, chairman of the London Assembly, warned:
"A society which banishes faith is heading for catastrophe".
"to have faith is an important form of humility, because it is the recognition that there is someone greater than oneself".
The United Kingdom has never been a secular state. The hallmarks of Christianity are stamped all over our political and legal order. Each act of worship here is a daily reminder to politicians that their actions are finely constrained by God's higher laws. The well-being of a nation does not rest in legislative action alone, but in the goodness and providence of God's blessing.
Those who argue for disestablishment seem content with what Canon Wright labelled,
"a split-level world in which religion and faith belong upstairs and society and politics belong downstairs", and never the twain shall meet. Here I particularly agree with what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, said about the consequences when we banish faith into a privatised sector. Religion would become a purely private matter that should not interfere or impact upon public life. Martin Luther King well understood what the consequences would be when he said that, in so doing, we would create a "dry as dust" religion.
Christianity is woven into the fabric of our nation and can be seen in the symbols, rituals and stories that pervade public life and that people cling to at times of national celebration, crisis and mourning. Let us think for a moment about the aftermath of 11th September and the events surrounding the recent death of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. Establishment becomes a focus for national unity.
Disestablishment of the Church of England would represent a significant milestone in the unravelling of what Dicey called the "dignified parts" of the constitution and would quickly be followed by other changes further weakening the role of religion in society.
Already there is a drive towards the removal of blasphemy laws, without saying what would be put in their place, or, indeed, how they could be extended to protect, for example, Muslim believers. The removal of prayers in Parliament and the removal of prayers and RE from schools have also been suggested, and challenges have been made to the role of chaplains in prisons, in hospitals and in the Army.
Disestablishment should be recognised as part and parcel of the secularist agenda, and that leads me to my third and final point. Secularists complain that the position of the established Church gives privileges to Christianity not enjoyed by other faiths, and that it is socially exclusive. Yet establishment is welcomed by many other faiths and denominations. Within other Christian denominations, many believe that the public affirmation of Christianity through the established Church can give them the courage to witness publicly to their beliefs.
When John Smith wrote his booklet Reclaiming the Ground for the Christian Socialist Movement, he received responses from Hindus and Muslims thanking him for speaking out as a man of faith, because it allowed them to do the same. Clearly discriminatory legislation, such as parts of the Act of Settlement, must evolve but should not be used as a smokescreen for a politically correct and wholly secular agenda.
When secularists argue that we live in a religiously plural society, they usually do not actually want to take those religions seriously. Today, no belief is regarded as true, except the belief that no belief is true—and that has become a new dogma.
The clarion call is "inclusivity", but this is often so much rhetoric. Being socially included is becoming a mask for enforced conformity. No one of faith will want to be socially included if it resembles the position of Jonah in the whale, or the chicken in the fox. We do not come out of a ghetto to sit mutely in the corner. The truth is that because many have lost the faith of their fathers, some insist that we must lose the faith of ours. Religious belief is belittled and sidelined and replaced by syncretism— lowest common denominationalism—that is, the belief of nobody, taught by anybody, and paid for by everybody.
Theodore Roosevelt once remarked that to educate a man but not to form his values is to create a menace. Mere knowledge without values is a disaster. Formation of the whole man or woman has been one of the traditional roles of the Church in England, and who can doubt that the challenge today to continue to do so is acute?
In conclusion, I am not saying that the Church should not consider new ways of fulfilling that role and meeting that challenge. But for the three reasons that I have outlined—centrality, continuing relevance, and the Church as a force for unity—I think that to destroy a relationship that has served our nation well would be foolish and dangerous. Tocqueville was right to urge us to overcome,
"a secret feeling of fear and jealousy that prevents the citizens from defending the institutions of which they stand so much in need".
My Lords, the House will certainly be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for introducing this very important debate. It is, of course, a long running saga, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham pointed out. But it is no bad thing that from time to time we review the matter. In passing, I would simply note that I have no particular knowledge of the established Church of Scotland, worthy though I am sure it is.
Personally, I am fortunate in that I sit astride, as it were, two religious horses. I am a practising member of the Church of England, when I am in England, and of the Church in Wales, when I am in Wales. To be honest, as an ordinary man in the pew, if I may put it that way, I confess that I find very little difference between the two—the one established and the other disestablished. In England, for instance, there are various legal requirements on parish priests, some under the statute law and some under Canon Law. I refer, of course, to the legal obligation on parish priests to baptise, marry and bury.
In Wales, although there is no longer any statutory obligation, things seem to go on much the same. Priests baptise, marry and bury in just the same way as they do in England, apparently—I hope—with the same effect. The reason for this, to put it in a nutshell, is quite simply social: this is what the community expects, and this is what the community gets.
I am bound to say that—although I have been, I hope, a dutiful member of the Ecclesiastical Committee for a number of years—I have no particular view on whether the propagation of the faith, if I may put it like that, is helped or hindered by establishment. I can only report the view of a parish priest whom I have consulted; namely, that, one way or the other, establishment or disestablishment would make little or no difference to his work.
Having said all that, and announcing myself spiritually neutral, as it were, I have two serious practical objections. The first concerns the legislative implications. I remind your Lordships that it took Lloyd George seven years—admittedly, with the interruption of the First World War—to disestablish the Welsh Church, which he wished to do, so we are told, because he disliked the Welsh bishops of the day.
I cannot believe that disestablishment of the two Churches—England and Scotland—could be accomplished in a shorter period since, at least in England, the procedure would be much more complex. For example, in England, Parliament would not only have to abrogate its powers over the rules governing the Church but, presumably, would have to hand over existing legislation to the Church of England Synod. How that would work, I know not; but I suppose that, in turn, the Synod would have to re-enact that legislation if it so wished. But that would be entirely in its discretion.
Furthermore, the whole matter of the Crown would have to be re-defined, both as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and, thereby, as the residual author of Crown appointments. The whole apparatus, for example, of the appointment of archbishops and bishops—not to mention royal peculiars—would have to be re-cast. Transfer of assets would certainly be another problem. In short, the Lloyd George timetable seems to me to be optimistic. It would certainly be a brave government that took it on.
My second objection is even more serious. It is this. The Archbishop of Canterbury, whoever he—or, perhaps in the future, she—may be, is not only the Primate of All England but the leader of the Anglican communion world-wide. As such, of course, he has great spiritual responsibilities. But he also has an immensely important political role, and one which is often overlooked. In any efforts to reconcile communities—in Africa, for example, or even the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem most recently—the Archbishop of Canterbury is received not only with a warm welcome, as would be his personal due, but as a figure who at one and the same time is a spiritual leader and someone who has the immediate ear of the British Government when he needs it. I do not believe that that position could be maintained if the Church of England were to be disestablished.
Whatever the domestic position of the Church of England—or the Church of Scotland, for that matter—all of us who value the force of reconciliation against conflict would be well advised to tread carefully before we raise domestic hares. The world needs spiritual leaders with both authority and credibility. England, whatever the historical baggage, provides one. We would lose it at our peril.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, believes that there is no difference between the Churches of England and Wales. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, was once worshipping at evensong in Wales with his daughter—my god-daughter. Two parishioners—a man and a woman—were sitting separately in the other aisle. The clergyman asked whether, as only three or four people were gathered together, they really required a sermon; indeed, he requested an answer. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, gestured to the two in the other aisle. The man, having elected himself foreman of the jury, said, "Don't mind". I speak as a Welshman. I do not believe that that series of events could have occurred in the Church of England.
Your Lordships' House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, for providing the chance to debate this topic—indeed, this topical topic. As he knows, he and I, in the words of Lycidas, were nursed on the self-same hill. The noble Lord is, of course, a Scot.
In 1706 Parliament passed paving legislation decreeing that, when the House of Hanover should succeed to the throne, Ministers should not sit in the Commons, thus notionally creating the separation of powers which the United States subsequently endorsed. Writing in 1739, Montesquieu commended our democratic pedigree and alluded to that separation of powers, clearly in ignorance not only of the fact that we had repealed the paving legislation in 1708 but also of all our subsequent history from 1714 to 1739. I have always wondered why we repealed the paving legislation in 1708. The noble Lord's antecedents and his initiative today convince me that the decisive factor was the Act of Union with Scotland in reinforcing our constitution in 1707.
Of those who are participating in the debate today on these Back Benches, my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell held high office in the state and discharges high responsibilities in the Church today. My noble friend Lord Pilkington of Oxenford has spoken of his clerical role within the Church of England. My role within these Benches' three-decker pulpit is the much more modest one of speaking as a man in a pew, although I should perhaps declare that for three years I had the great privilege vested in me by Church and state of chairing the former Redundant Churches Fund—now the Churches Conservation Trust.
Outside the trust, and, indeed, outside the pew, I was, at the time that Enoch Powell made his speech about rivers of blood, chairman of the Camden Committee for Community Relations—harbinger, I believe, of a body that the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, latterly chaired. I was, in another place, vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees. I value highly the multi-faceted role that refugees have played in this land.
I was present at a dinner of the Council of Christians and Jews some 15 years ago when it was remarked from the chair that, for the first time in a millennium of history, the Judaeo-Christian tradition was in retreat and Islam was advancing. Thereafter, as an inner-city MP, and also with more higher education in my constituency than any other in the country, I kept a modest eye on that advance. I imagine that your Lordships are aware that there can be very real hostilities within British universities between Christian and fundamentalist Muslim students, and that, if spiritual and intellectual conflict turns physical, that is a bad omen for the future.
At about the same time as the CCJ dinner, I attended a seminar, organised by my noble friends Lord Tebbit and Lord Lawson, on the charity concessions and charity loophole blockages in the 1986 Finance Bill. The first question from the floor was from Sir John Smith, the founder of the Landmark Trust, who said that he spoke as treasurer of his parochial church council. He opined that the Church of England had been engaged in an innocent debate about its purposes for more than 400 years and that the Finance Bill was going to settle the debate once and for all at the level of an Assistant Secretary in the Board of Inland Revenue.
The final question, much later, was, by happy equilibrium, from the Imam of all British Imams—or so I understood his title—who prefaced his question by saying that, unlike Sir John Smith, the Muslim Church knew exactly what its purposes were. That was regarded as a very British joke, but it had a separate resonance. The Church of England, is, after all, a very British institution.
I am not one who follows the view of the Scottish judge who said that a change for the better is a contradiction in terms; nor am I seeking to introduce a geo-strategic dimension to our debate today or even echoes of the Battle of Lepanto. But I cannot help harking back to the doctrine of unripe time, for all that it was lampooned by Francis Cornford. Of course, the noble Lord has done us a service today by airing the issue. But, although naturally I would not follow FE Smith in thinking of the disestablishment of the Church of Wales as an act which should shock the conscience of every Christian in Europe, which gave rise to Chesterton's marvellous poem, I hope that we shall not conclude the debate by seriously contemplating separation.
Even on a domestic front, the Church is wrestling with a pension problem more massive still than for those in secular employment. In their tablets to clergy who served 30, 40 or even 50 years in a parish in past centuries, the walls of our churches show the consequences of the absence of pensions in their era. That immobility must have affected the workings of the Church. Change has, of course, occurred since. My late noble kinsman in the 1920s attended a rustic evensong where the sermon began:
"Those of you who have been to Thermopylae will remember . . .".
I doubt whether such sentences occur today; nor are there patronal small advertisements in the Church Times, as there were in the 1930s, stating:
"Rural curate required. Slow left-arm bowler preferred".
But if immobility was the price we paid for being without pensions in the past, then churches unserved at all will be the price that we shall pay for it tomorrow. We do not need other distractions if we are to solve today's problems. And the fact of the church's existence, both with a lower and upper case "c", remains a desired Christian landmark, even among indigenous unbelievers, as indeed a number of your Lordships have already testified.
It was Henry VIII who set us today's examination question, but the magnificent ruins that he ultimately created, which English Heritage attend with care, are not living buildings. Like similar buildings in Ireland which testify to Ireland's role in the dark ages, they are part of our past, but not of our present.
I said at the outset that the debate was topical. The position of the bishops in your Lordships' House hinges of course on a wider debate about House of Lords reform, but it also hinges on today's issue. The bishops can speak here only if there are enough of them, as they also have full-time diocesan duties.
The admirable speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham in yesterday's debate on our working practices in this House was as good a prefatory text for today's debate as any.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart for introducing this debate.
I believe that the constitution of this country should serve its people, both individually and as a community. On the basis of both of these criteria the Church of England should be disestablished.
The relationship of the Church of England with the state is a historical one and our culture has a generally Christian ethos. That is our tradition in this country. I think that it is reasonable to expect people who come to live here to respect that, just as I respect the culture of an Islamic country if I visit one. However, I also believe we should equally respect the religions of those whom we welcome to live legally in our country. All genuinely held religious beliefs should be treated with respect in today's multi-faith Britain. People should be free to practise them so long as they do not impinge on the freedoms of the rest of our citizens.
However, the validity of the case for having an established Church has been overtaken by the actions of our citizens themselves, or rather—should I say—their inaction. Church-going is very much a minority activity in England and Anglicanism is now a minority religion. According to the February 2001 Statistics of Religious Trends, membership of the Church of England has fallen to one third of what it was in 1930, of which only one-quarter actually attend church regularly.
If one assumes attendance at church to be an indicator of genuine belief, the Church of England is not even the predominant Church. The attendance figure for the Roman Catholic Church, being about one-third, is higher as a percentage of its membership and higher in actual numbers. Other religions have about 40 per cent attendance. Church attendance overall is therefore a minority pursuit even among its members. This minority Church, the Church of England, does not, and cannot, represent all religions in public life in the way that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham suggested.
In 2000, only 8.1 per cent of the population attended any church regularly. There is also reason to believe that the downward trend in the Church of England is gathering momentum because the average age of its members is rising. I do not believe that this decline in religious practice necessarily indicates a lack of spirituality among our population, nor a descent into a lifestyle lacking in morals and values. Many of the most spiritual and moral people I know do not attend church or belong to any religion.
My view on this constitutional matter is not an attack on the Church itself or on any other religion. Indeed, I believe that all people of faith should have an equal right to practise their religion, either in their own home or in a place of worship of their own building and maintenance, if that is how they prefer to do it. I also believe they should have a right to communicate their religious views to their children and bring them up within their own set of moral values. I just do not believe that the state should discriminate in favour of any particular religion and give it a voice in the making of legislation as of right. This is the only legislature in the western world where one religion has places as of right.
Neither do I believe that it is the state's role to force children to undertake a daily act of worship in school, in a state where a minority of citizens profess a faith, nor to subsidise the education of children in any particular religion. I believe the way to equalise educational opportunity is not to set up many more faith schools, because it is quite impossible to do it that way. Where does it end? There are dozens of religions in this country. Are they all to have schools within the reach of every family so they all have an equal opportunity to go there? No, the answer to the challenge of educational equality for people of all faiths is to ensure that faith-run schools serve the communities in which they are located and are not allowed to use a "faith test" as a barrier to admission. After all, they are built and run on money that comes from the taxes that your Lordships and I pay and they should therefore serve us all.
If faith schools are not prepared to agree to this reasonable request, the only alternative, in order to equalise opportunity, would be to secularise education completely, while ensuring the freedom of religions to teach their faith to their children outside the classroom. That way, children of every faith would have an equal opportunity to go to the best schools in the country.
Some people claim that parents want church schools. I believe that this is a misunderstanding of the real situation. Parents want good schools and many church schools are good schools, although not all of them. Indeed, some have had poor Ofsted reports, and the Catholic schools in Scotland had a real problem not many years ago, although I gather that has improved of late. However, the standard of education in some of our state schools is so poor that some parents of no faith are prepared to be hypocritical and attend church for months or years in order to ensure that their children can go to a good church school. The churches and the heads of church schools know this perfectly well. They conspire to allow it to continue in order to keep up the impression of a high demand for faith-based education.
All our children deserve a high quality of education. It is a dereliction of duty for the state to pass on to any Church the responsibility for providing it. I think France and the United States have something to teach us. France is normally regarded as a Catholic country and yet its schools do not discriminate on faith. That does not seem to prevent the French from teaching their religion to their children.
Under the United States constitution, as several noble Lords have mentioned, the schools are secular and yet both membership of faiths and attendance at church in the USA are higher than in this country. In answer to the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, Christianity is stronger there, not weaker. Indeed, looking at the figures, the Churches may well feel that the fact that we have an established Church and many faith schools actually holds them back. There is certainly evidence from the United States that secular education, where faiths and races mix according to the mix in the community, has contributed greatly to the improvement in race relations over the past 40 years. The situation is still far from perfect but I think they have something to teach us about the benefits of integrated education on race relations.
Finally, I shall say a word about the human rights of the Royal Family. If one believes in the right of every citizen to choose which religion to practise and to practise it freely, one must extend that same right to the Royal Family. What nonsense, therefore, to institutionalise a ban on Prince Charles becoming a Catholic, a Muslim, a Hindu or anything else, on pain of losing his right to sit on the throne when eventually the angels take his mother. It was both courageous and realistic of Prince Charles to say that he would like to be a defender of faith rather than a defender of the faith.
To summarise, therefore, I believe that the Church of England should be disestablished on the grounds of human rights and equality of opportunity for all children and not because I am anti-religion in general or any religion in particular. On the contrary, I believe that religion is a valuable and integral part of our culture and history, but its relationship with the state needs to be brought up-to-date and in line with the reality of the 21st century.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the lead given by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, whom I first met on the campus of Columbia University nearly 40 years ago. He has spoken with characteristic courage.
I suppose I should declare an interest as the only living author of a book on the history of Welsh disestablishment. It is not a long book, and I doubt very much whether anyone would wish to emulate it. But it brings us very near home because Irish disestablishment in 1869 was the disestablishment of a separate Church—it merged with the Church of England only in 1800—whereas disestablishment in Wales was the disestablishment of an integral part of the province of Canterbury, which for a millennium and-a-half had been part of the Church of England. So this brings us near home.
We have heard about FE Smith and Chesterton. It was a profoundly political argument which was decided, I may say—the noble Lord has disappeared—not by Lloyd George but by Mr Gladstone, that famous Anglican who laid down that the verdict of the ballot box—political consideration—should predominate. The Church was seen as a minority linked to the Tory party, hostile to the interests of Wales and unsympathetic even to causes such as that of the University of Wales.
Since disestablishment, the Church in Wales has been transformed. It has grown; it has been a dynamic Church; whereas the Welsh non-conformist chapels have gone into decline. It has been far more responsive to social and cultural change. The poetry of R S Thomas, a parish priest, full of social and cultural criticism, would have been inconceivable in the suffocating atmosphere of the Church prior to disestablishment. It has been far more sympathetic to the Welsh identity—the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, may confirm that. It has done much to promote the Welsh language. The Church of Wales has been intimately involved with all the main national movements in Wales in recent decades, including disestablishment. No longer can it be called the Church of England in Wales—Eglwys Loegr; an alien Church.
Finally, the Church is much better off. In Wales there was not just disestablishment but disendowment—the secularisation of tithe and of glebe, which went to excellent causes such as the University of Wales and the National Museum and Library. The Church has been better off because it has been able to develop an enterprising policy in relation to property investment.
So the disestablishment of the Church in Wales, which aroused many of the objections that we have heard in this interesting but somewhat traditional debate, has been a success. If I read the newspapers aright, there is the interesting prospect that the head of the disestablished Church in Wales may even—who knows?—become head of the established Church of England, which, as my mentor, AJP Taylor, would say, would indeed be one of history's curious twists.
Wales shows England the importance of reacting to history. One noble Lord—forgive me, but I forget who—said, "Let us give some thought to history". Let us indeed give some thought to history, but real history, not the metaphysical, mystical concept floating detached from time, space and reality about which we have to a degree heard this afternoon. Wales shows how we should respond to history. Church and state were thought of as coterminous, as embodying the same principle of coherence. The Church has wisely withdrawn.
There has been a long process of civic equality since the 1830s. Incidentally, that is one major reason why our politics have not been blighted by anti-clericalism or the bitter message of some in the National Secular Society. That has occurred in France and Italy but not in Britain, which is to the credit of the Church.
The Church has contributed immensely to our national life through education, the debate on the inner cities and, latterly, the involvement of bishops and others in the movement for regional government. But that is the Church, not the establishment. Establishment has several damaging features, one of which was admirably described in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley: the Church claims to be a national Church. If the words mean anything at all, it is not. It is not even remotely a national Church. Its members form fewer than 2 per cent of the population.
At the most generous computation, even counting all the members of all possible religious bodies in the country, more than four-fifths of the population of the United Kingdom are not identified with any religion. In fact, the vast majority of people in the country belong to a community not represented in this debate: those who do not go to church, who do not have religious faith—unbelievers, as it were. They are the majority; they are the reality; and we should pay heed to them.
The Church of England is now, as it has been for many decades, a fraction of a fraction. Ever since urbanisation, when cities began to grow, the Church has been unable to retain contact with its natural constituency. Establishment is especially inappropriate now in a secularised, multi-cultural and multi-faith society.
I was fascinated to listen to the speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. Establishment causes anguish in many souls. There are many leading churchmen at present who are the natural heirs of people such as Bishops Charles Gore and Henley Henson, who were strong advocates of disestablishment and who saw the Church's sense of mission and independence severely compromised by the shackles, as they saw them, of establishment—in particular, the fact that leading officers in the Church are appointed by the Prime Minister. The Church is, as it were, a giant apostolic quango, part of Prime Ministerial patronage. That is demeaning for a great and historic institution. I am not a churchman, but I deeply regret that and I feel for the Church as it exists.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, also explained, establishment is also an anomaly in the constitution. Incidentally, the sovereign is, under Henrician, Elizabethan and Tudor period legislation, Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As I said, the Church in Wales is disestablished; and the sovereign is not supreme governor of the Church of Scotland, where the Church-State relationship is expressed in a different way. Whether such a distinction is appropriate for an era of devolution is perhaps open to debate.
The constitutional role of the link between the monarch and the Church of England creates many anomalies, as the noble Baroness said. For example, there is the question of the faith of the sovereign and the attitude, at least formerly, of religious bodies as to whether the sovereign should or should not marry someone who is divorced. That is not merely promoting views that are totally at variance with the views of the overwhelming majority, especially of young people, who are not represented at all in this House—possibly in the Public Gallery but certainly not in the House. People under the age of 30 or 40 do not understand that. That forces the Church into an intolerant position that it does not support.
Establishment is an incubus to Church and to state. There are many other models, including, as we have frequently heard, that of the United States. With respect, I take issue with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Habgood. It is false to see patriotism as a religion. It is an ideology, a set of cultural, political and social ideas; it is not a religion. The United States—perhaps not always in the most helpful and attractive way—has shown how Churches flourish under the situation provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution since 1787: the separation of Church and state.
There is no "middle way", to coin a phrase, in this debate. Nothing resembling the Scottish arrangement is feasible for the Church of England. We should remove the last relic of Tudor centralism—no others are left. It is out of date. We should adhere to the principle of a free Church in a free state.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity afforded by this welcome debate to explore the Church-state relationship. For reasons that will become obvious, I am a strong advocate of the evolution of that relationship, rather than its demise. I say that as someone who is proud to say that I have not one drop of English blood in my veins.
However, I first pay tribute to my friend and colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham on this his last week in office. I have been privileged to know him for many years. As a young and highly critical curate, I remember a sermon he delivered in Lincoln Cathedral that I still number as among the best that I have ever heard. When I published some research, his gracious foreword demonstrated a sharper understanding than mine of the many issues that I was trying to elucidate. He played a prominent part in my consecration as bishop and was the senior bishop who introduced me to your Lordships' Chamber two and a half years ago.
Many people have benefited from his wise and trenchant contributions here. I know that I speak for many of your Lordships when I pass on our thanks and best wishes to him on his retirement.
My Lords, the issues before us are complex, and I do not intend to rehearse them all. Nor shall I raise some of the points of detail that I would question in the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, and in what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about education. That can be left for another time.
I am glad that the Motion refers to the whole of the United Kingdom. My fellow Scot, the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, will, doubtless, be aware of the Act of Parliament that set up the re-united Church of Scotland in 1929. I do not know how long it took to draft, but it walks the establishment tightrope carefully. It reserves patronage to the Kirk itself, thus placating the demands of the former United Free Church, while maintaining the historic place of the Kirk in the life of the nation. Technically, at least, the Kirk relies on that Act for that place.
That view goes back to Calvin's understanding of,
"the twofold government in man".
Noble Lords must excuse the non-inclusive language of that era. Calvin said that,
"one aspect is spiritual...the second is political".
Thus, the Church has a positive duty to the state, and those words were echoed later in the 16th century by the Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker. It is a view that, with deep gratitude, I saw reflected throughout my childhood in Scotland, albeit from the perspective of an Episcopalian.
No church needs establishment for its existence. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, that I fear no one except God and, perhaps, my chaplain. Although one could argue for the possibility of separating powers while retaining establishment, it would be difficult in practice, as many of the speeches made this afternoon demonstrated. So, what is the case in favour?
First, I acknowledge many anomalies and widespread misconceptions. Following on from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, I should say that one irritating anomaly that is increasingly resented by parish communities is the crazy scenario in which the Government get more from churches from VAT on church repairs than they pay out through English Heritage. That situation is not confined to the Church of England, although it bears the brunt of the burden. Many congregations are expected to maintain the national architectural heritage single-handedly, and many regard the Church-state link in that instance as being distinctly one-sided in its benefits.
The repeated assertions by Roman Catholic journalists of the absolute need for disestablishment are misconceived. They forget conveniently the long history of sometimes rather dubious Church-state concordats concluded by the Vatican and the fact that the president of France, no less, still nominates bishops for Alsace-Lorraine. As in so many other things, life is more complex than it seems.
My fundamental point concerns the need for a religious point of reference in the nation. It is of abiding significance in our increasingly pluralist society. As a member of the Select Committee on Religious Offences, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that his words on the blasphemy law are carefully noted; I concur with them. However, I do not believe that the agenda that often lies behind Motions of this kind adequately reflects the spiritual flavour of post-modern Britain. I am thinking of world events since 11th September, which make Europe's sometimes aimless and cynical way of relating to and adapting her cultural and political history look somewhat tired. Religion is back on the worldwide agenda; it is back in the market-place. It may be more individualised than before, but that is a characteristic of many other aspects of modern life. The whole business of joining and signing up and passive membership is as aspect of political life, as well as ecclesiastical life.
I know that many leaders of other Churches and faith communities value establishment as an important point of spiritual reference. I am led to believe that that is the position of the Chief Rabbi. When we talk to other faith leaders, we find that many of them hold the view that one cannot be a defender of all faiths in the abstract and general; in order to understand other faiths, one must be secure in defending one's own. There is no inevitability about the post-Enlightenment, secularist agenda. Increasingly, the post-modern world views religious and spiritual issues in a way that must be taken seriously and requires specific but inclusive embodiment, not merely vague recognition.
The position argued strongly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham in the context of a pluralist society would not be so argued by, for example, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford. As the Church of England, we are not clinging on to privilege, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, I speak from a perspective that is as far away from Barchester as is imaginable. The model of establishment that I set before your Lordships' House is sometimes called an inclusive particularity. There are examples of that growing and developing in many places, from the way in which schools are run to local chaplaincies, civic and other. In Christian terms, it was demonstrated in a high profile way at the funeral of the Queen Mother, although I suspect that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal and other Welsh Peers will have noted the absence of a voice from Wales.
Such an inclusive particularity is something, rather than nothing. It can invite and encourage other voices in partnership into a responsibility to articulate what Calvin called,
"the twofold government in man" in which the spiritual lives side by side with the political, perhaps even enjoying facing head-on the tensions that such a recognition may, from time to time, involve.
My Lords, my noble friend's Motion has given rise to an outstanding debate. I hope that other speakers will forgive me if, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, I pay particular tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. I do so with pleasure for his subtle and thoughtful speech today and with regret as it will be the last occasion on which he will speak from the Bishops' Bench. I feel that regret all the more strongly because, for the past 20 years at least, he has been a personal friend.
The relationship between Church and state has been a major issue throughout Europe ever since Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire in the reign of Constantine, 1,800 years ago. That relationship has, sometimes, been stormy. In particular, the Middle Ages were a period of conflict between the temporal power of kings and the spiritual power of the Pope, a conflict symbolised in England by the battle between Henry II and Becket.
After the Reformation, there was a profound change, and, in England at least, Church and state became symbiotic. The established Church supported the established government except in 1688 when the Church withdrew its support from James II because he showed an intent to withdraw his support from the Church. In return, the government supported the established Church by protecting it against the other Churches and by giving its members certain special rights. We are concerned with two relationships: that between the state and the established Church and that between the established Church and the unestablished Churches and, increasingly, other faiths.
I shall consider the second of those relationships first. The Church of England has lost almost all the legal rights and privileges that were once closed to members of other churches and faiths. Members of the Church of England long ago lost the exclusive right to vote, stand for election or hold public office. Indeed, no longer would anyone raise an eyebrow at the fact that the leaders of both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties are Roman Catholics, as are my noble friends the leader and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in your Lordships' House. The Prime Minister himself is married to a Catholic and sends his children to a Catholic school.
Again, members of the Church of England have long since lost the exclusive right of admission to Oxford and Cambridge. The Church of England has lost its right to levy a tax on agricultural property in the form of a tithe, perhaps its most important right and certainly its most unpopular one.
Therefore the relationship between the Church of England and other denominations and faiths is now largely one of equality. The Church of England does not claim exclusive access to truth and, in matters of legal rights and privileges, the Church of England claims for its members no priority over members of other faiths and those with no religious faith. So the state no longer supports the established Church against the other Churches or faiths because the Church of England no longer seeks or requires it to do so. Thus, that part of the symbiotic relationship has ceased to exist.
If the established Church is no longer seen as a bulwark of the state against other denominations, what is the justification for maintaining the special relationship between the state and the Church of England? I have to say that I believe that there is none. In that I must part company with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood. Our objection is not that establishment links religion with public life, but that in doing so it creates a special relationship between the state and one denomination of one faith.
It is not enough to say that the Church of England acts in some sense as a trustee for other sects or faiths. That suggestion is, I believe, very questionable. I also disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, that the Church of England is the only Church which looks after the whole community. When in the 1980s I was a parliamentary candidate in Kensington, in the very poor wards of North Kensington I found that the Roman Catholics and the Methodists were at least as concerned with the whole community as was the Church of England. I have in mind in particular two remarkable Roman Catholic priests who will be well known to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham because he was then the Bishop of Kensington, Father Michael Hollings and Father Oliver McTernan.
The Church of Ireland has of course long since been disestablished. It was disestablished by a Liberal government under Gladstone. The Church of Wales was disestablished by a Liberal government under Asquith. Indeed, that disestablishment was the first Act passed without the consent of your Lordships' House under the Parliament Act 1911. I accept that the circumstances of the Church of England are different.
In Ireland and, to some extent, in Wales, the established Church was the Church of a small minority and thus seen by most inhabitants as alien to their personal religious concerns. Certainly in Ireland, although not in Wales, it was an object of positive hostility. Of course that is not the case in England today. In England, many people who are not members of the Church of England regard it, as I do, with great respect and totally without hostility. One could say that in many ways it is one of the best-loved institutions in the country. But that is not enough to justify the continuance of the establishment.
Disestablishment, the treatment of Churches and faiths as equals, would involve the repeal of the Act of Settlement and that part of the Bill of Rights which excludes Roman Catholics from the throne. No longer is it acceptable to limit the descent of the Crown to Protestants or to remove from the throne a sovereign who converts to Roman Catholicism or marries a Catholic. I believe that the Act of Settlement should go, even without disestablishment.
Repeal of the Act of Settlement would not exclude a Coronation. As matters stand, a Coronation is not a legal requirement. King Edward VIII was a king of England although he was never crowned as such. The form of the Coronation would be a matter for the sovereign who was to be crowned, although I should say that I believe that the Coronation oath should not be used in the anti-Catholic form specified by the Accession Declaration Act 1910, which was itself an improvement on the rabidly anti-Catholic form prescribed by the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement.
Disestablishment inevitably would mean the removal of the reserved places for bishops in your Lordships' House, even if 40 per cent of the bishops were female. I have to say that this would be a cause of real regret. If there is one group within your Lordships' House with whom we on these Benches agree across a wide range of issues, it is the bishops. I remember in particular the powerful and convincing report of the Church of England, Faith in the City. On personal grounds, too, I should like to see the bishops still in their places. However, I do not think that the Church of England should be the only Church that is represented here and I do not think that a compromise would be acceptable. That could leave us with a smaller number of bishops and add official representatives of other Churches and other faiths.
Disestablishment would remove the right of the state to interfere in the affairs of the Church of England. Once again I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham that this needs to be done. No longer should it be necessary for Church measures to obtain the approval of Parliament. The Church of England should be free to choose its own bishops and the next Archbishop of Canterbury surely should be the last to be appointed with the imprimatur of 10 Downing Street.
I believe that establishment now confers little benefit either on the Church itself or on the state. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I do not believe that disestablishment will lead to any destruction of or damage to faith, any more than did 75 years of communist rule destroy faith in Russia. The presence of the bishops in your Lordships' House does confer a benefit because of the quality of their contributions to our debates, but it remains an anomaly that I do not believe either can or should be retained in a reformed second Chamber.
In 1789 the Congress of the United States of America passed the first 10 amendments to its constitution, those amendments now being known as the Bill of Rights. The first words of the first amendment state:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".
On that occasion, I believe that Congress got it right.
My Lords, I am sure that we would all agree that we have had an informative, thoughtful debate with some eximious speeches, among which I rank the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham very highly. On behalf of these Benches, I too should like to wish him a very happy retirement.
I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, on opening up this time-honoured subject to reveal its modern facets and relevance. The often turbulent relationship between Church and state has bestrode our British history like a Colossus and the history of Europe too—or Christendom, as it was once known. It has been a dominant theme since Constantine adopted the Christian religion, through the medieval centuries of the empire and the papacy, into the Reformation era and our own times.
It has been my impression that the issue of the constitutional separation of Church and state has been comparatively dormant since the disestablishment of the Church in Wales—with the assistance of the Parliament Act and the Great War—apart from odd queries about the inability of a monarch to marry a Roman Catholic or the appropriateness of prime ministerial influence on episcopal appointments, to which the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, devoted his speech. But it may well be that the issue is due for an awakening, primarily because we have become a multi-faith as well as a multi-cultural society. Some of the non-Christian faiths now practised in the United Kingdom have strong adherents and have influence outside the synagogue, the mosque and the temple. One has only to listen to "Thought for the Day" on Radio 4 to realise the diversity of faiths in this country and to understand why His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is reputed to favour the title of "Defender of Faiths" rather than "the Faith".
Those of your Lordships who have been following the progress of the Education Bill through the House will be well aware of the prominence of the faith school concept and the controversy surrounding it. I made my personal position clear at Second Reading when I said that having accepted Roman Catholic and Church of England schools within the maintained system since 1944, I could not see how we would deny similar support to schools of other religions if there was community and parental demand for them. Of course such tolerance might present problems but we have to trust the intrinsic goodness of the faiths concerned to ameliorate any difficulties that might arise. Of course, there are those who are opposed to all such schools, who would turn the clock back if they could. They are secular statists and I respect their view.
Constitutional change is very much in the wind. This may be yet another reason for debating this subject today. There have been numerous references to the current issue which is close to our hearts—that is, the place of the right reverend Prelates in a reformed House of Lords. They have occupied their Bench to the right of the Throne since the 13th century, if not earlier, but I note that more than half of the 1,101 respondents to the Government's White Paper thought that there should be no bishops in the new House. An even greater percentage thought that there should be no Law Lords either. None of us appears to be very secure in this place.
Be that as it may, we shall undoubtedly hear demands for places for representatives of other faiths. The report of my noble friend Lord Wakeham has already set the ball rolling. The Government's White Paper reduces the numbers on the Bishops' Benches to 16 but leaves the representation of other faiths to the appointments commission.
I have mentioned the presence of the right reverend Prelates in the House because it reflects the constitutional affinity between the Church of England and the state. We do not have Roman Catholic prelates or prelates from Scotland or Wales—they have their own ecclesiastical arrangements—although some regret their absence. Indeed, they may come to us in the reformed House.
It does not seem to me that any of the issues raised in the debate call for a radical change in the relationship between Church and state. We appear quite capable of handling most of these issues within our present constitutional framework. Even to deal with the problem of the law of blasphemy we have set up our own Select Committee. I take a very conservative view—with a small "c"—of constitutional change. It should of course be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, otherwise it upsets people and tends to create disorder.
Church and state have been separate in the American constitution from its early days. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Morgan and Lord Goodhart, for their comments in relation to that. But the danger of the state on its own, without its religious dowry or spiritual heritage, is that it becomes over mighty and develops its own secular, and possibly abhorrent, philosophy of power. There have been many instances of that happening in Europe. That would be far removed from the essentially religious idea of service which is part of our democratic heritage. That was stressed by Her Majesty in her Jubilee Address, a point echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
At the same time, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King in the 1960s, when he said:
"The church must be reminded that it is not the master or servant of the State but rather the conscience of the state".
Some believe that the Church has not exercised its conscience sufficiently; others that it has occasionally overplayed its role, as my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell reminded us. On the whole, I believe that its record, though not perfect, is to be highly commended.
What we all want to know at the end of the debate is whether the Government have changed their position since 27th July 2000 when—to repeat what was said by the noble Lord who opened the debate and what appears in Hansard—the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, said that,
"the Government would not contemplate disestablishment of the Church of England unless the Church itself wished it".—[Official Report, 27/7/00; col. 571.]
As far as I can see, there is no evidence that the Church or, indeed, other faiths wish it to be disestablished, a point implied very strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I hope that we shall receive an unequivocal and authoritative answer from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the question of where the Government now stand.
My Lords, we have had an excellent debate today, for which the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart. There have been many distinguished contributions. Let me, too, say from these Benches that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham will be as much missed on leaving your Lordships' House as he has been appreciated within it.
Perhaps surprisingly there does not appear to have been a full-scale debate on disestablishment of the Church of England in this House or the other place for some years. The debate has provided an opportunity to expound the case against establishment in greater detail, and the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan, Lord Lester, Lord Morgan and Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, have taken that opportunity forcefully. Other noble Lords and right reverend Prelates, however, have argued just as strongly for the retention of the Church's established status. The Government recognise the strengths of deeply-held convictions on both sides.
On the one hand, it is said to be wrong for any one denomination to be given precedence in a society that is characterised both as multi-faith and increasingly secular. Opponents of establishment also find it indefensible that the appointment of bishops and archbishops is not exclusively for the Church and they find it unfair that one denomination has guaranteed seats in your Lordships' House.
On the other hand, it is argued that, far from enabling the Church to bask in privilege, its established status gives the Church a responsibility to the whole community. The nation as a whole benefits from the close connection between Church and state which ensures a voice for moral and ethical issues in public life, and all members of the community, of any faith or none, have a claim on the pastoral services offered by the Church.
I am sure that most, perhaps all, noble Lords, whatever their views on the issues before us, would recognise the long tradition of inclusive service to the nation which characterises the Church of England. The Church provides pastoral cover for the whole of England. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, emphasised that point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also argued that many who belong to other faiths and denominations welcome establishment; it is said that they share many values with the Church of England and find in establishment support for their own priorities about human life and the human condition. Establishment is said to preserve a link between religion, morality and power. The Chief Rabbi, Dr Sacks, for example, defended establishment on these grounds in his Reith lectures in 1991. He argued that disestablishment would be a significant retreat from the notion that we share any values and beliefs at all.
I propose now to explain why the Government are not persuaded that it would be right in current circumstances to favour the separation of Church and state.
First, it would be an enormously complex undertaking to pull out the threads of the established status of the Church of England without damaging the tapestry of the constitution. I develop the metaphor of the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Durham, of the constitutional "weave". Establishment has had centuries to embed itself in our laws, customs and consciousness. Constitutionally, the Queen in Parliament is the highest authority in the land, in matters ecclesiastical as well as civil. Disestablishment of the Church would necessitate revisiting laws and procedures governing important areas of the nation's business, including the Bill of Rights, the Coronation Oath Act 1688, the Act of Settlement 1701, the Union with Scotland Act 1706, the Union with Ireland Act 1800, the Accession Declaration Act 1910 and the Regency Act 1937. There could also be implications for the legislation of Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty is Queen.
In his notable contribution, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel spelled out his concerns about the legislative implications. He reminded your Lordships that it took Lloyd George seven years to disestablish the Welsh Church; but whether that was because of a dislike for the Welsh bishops or for more fundamental reasons is not for me to opine. In fact, Lloyd George's Bill was introduced in 1912, received Royal Assent in 1914 and was brought into force on 31st March 1920—so, on a conservative estimate, the process did take seven years, although the suspension of the Act in 1914 was probably due as much to the First World War as to difficulties in achieving disestablishment.
My Lords, although we have the noble Lord's authority for that proposition, it would not necessarily be generally accepted.
My noble friend Lord Williams went on to say that Parliament would have to abrogate its powers over the rules governing the Church. That, I think, is true. The role of the Ecclesiastical Committee would become redundant, and it would probably go; and it would become necessary to re-think the process under which the Church made binding rules for its members. I am less sure about my noble friend's assertion that Parliament would,
"have to hand over existing legislation to the Church of England Synod", and that,
"in turn, the Synod would have to re-enact that legislation if it so wished".
I suppose it might be desirable to ensure that existing ecclesiastical law contained in Acts of Parliament or General Synod measures did not continue to have the full force of an Act of Parliament, binding the whole nation as opposed to the Church of England. However, the existing law could and probably should continue to bind the Church. The solution adopted in Section 3(1) of the Welsh Church Act 1914 was to provide that,
"as from the date of disestablishment . . . the ecclesiastical law of the Church in Wales shall cease to exist as law".
But, at the same time, it was provided that:
"As from the same date the then ecclesiastical law and the then existing articles, doctrines, rites, rules, discipline, and ordinances of the Church of England shall . . . be binding on the members for the time being of the Church in Wales in the same manner as if they had mutually agreed to be so bound."
Much more fundamentally, my noble friend contended that,
"the whole matter of the Crown would have to be redefined, both as supreme governor of the Church of England and ... as the residuary author of Crown appointments".
That, I believe, is correct. If the Church in England were to be disestablished, it would be argued that the monarch could not remain as supreme governor of the Church. This might give rise to questions being raised about the monarch's role as head of state. Responsibility for the appointment of senior clerics would have to be reconsidered. A body similar to the Crown Appointments Commission could presumably take full responsibility, or some form of election might be called for.
Lastly, my noble friend said that,
"Transfer of assets would certainly be another problem".
He is undoubtedly right. Some consideration would have to be given to the transfer of assets. The Church has considerable property holdings—although it does not receive financial support from the state. For example, the Church Commissioners administer the funds of Queen Anne's Bounty, which was established in 1704 for,
"the Augmentation of the Maintenance of Poor Clergy", and comprised the revenues from "first fruits and tenths" payable to the Crown following the Reformation, and hold the assets of dean and chapter cathedrals and bishops' assets, such as episcopal palaces.
The disestablishment of the Church in Wales involved its disendowment—the provisions for which took up two thirds of the Act. The disestablishment of the Church of England need not necessarily be linked with its disendowment, but consideration would have to be given to property issues. It would be necessary to ensure that the Church retained sufficient assets to continue maintaining cathedrals and other historic churches unless anyone were to suggest that they be taken over by the state. Thus, my noble friend, in his well-judged speech, summarises some of the major complexities with which we should have to grapple if any question of disestablishment were to arise.
I must not pass over a further matter raised by my noble friend; namely, the important point that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a spiritual leader who, because of his position, has the ear of government when he needs it, and therefore has a special authority. That authority does equip the most reverend Primate for his missions to reconcile communities, whether in Africa or in relation to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart was good enough to acknowledge the scale and ambition of this Government's constitutional reforms. Some, however, complain—of course, I would not agree with them—that we are already suffering from "constitutional overload"—devolution, with a Scottish Parliament and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland; human rights legislation; freedom of information legislation; Lords reform; and the possibility of regional assemblies in England. So a very strong case has to be made out for further legislation of a major constitutional character now.
The question is, therefore, whether the effort involved would be justified, or whether it could be better spent on other issues. With great respect to noble Lords who have argued for disestablishment, it is not at all evident that a majority or even a significant minority of people would want us to go down that road. The issue goes much wider than the Church's own wishes, but I shall consider first the position of the Church, and the attitude governments have taken in response to it.
Previous governments made clear—particularly following the Chadwick report in 1970—that they did not propose to consider disestablishment unless and until the Church itself asked for it. It has not asked for it, and indeed, although there are obviously variances of view within the Church, I believe that the Church as a whole continues to value its established status. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a strong lead to the Church in his speech at Lambeth Palace on 23rd April. He urged that no steps should be taken that would weaken the links between the Church and the state without the very closest examination both of their historic significance and of their wider impact on the community as a whole. This was emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
The Church does review aspects of its status and procedures from time to time, as is only right. As my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester mentioned, in July the General Synod is due to consider a motion to change the procedure by which diocesan bishops are appointed. If changes are proposed, the Government will certainly consider them. But I do not think that either this or any government would devote the considerable time and trouble that would be required for legislation to disestablish the Church unless it were clear that the Church itself indisputably favoured such a move. That is intended to be an unequivocal answer to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, invited me to answer.
I acknowledge that this debate leaves me in cautious mode. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, put it on another occasion,
"As a country without a written constitution we depend more than most on symbolism, on historical precedent and on subtle linkages between Crown and Parliament and Church. None of these is unalterable"—
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for giving way. Would anything he has said preclude two actions—amendment of the Act of Settlement, which is now something of an anachronism, or allowing the choice of Archbishop of Canterbury to be made by the Church without the intervention of the Prime Minister of the day?
My Lords, the noble Baroness not merely interrupts me, which I am entirely relaxed about, but interrupts the excellent quotation from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, about which I was reminding your Lordships. We could have a three-hour debate on the issues surrounding the Act of Settlement or on the choice of archbishops and bishops in its own right. If your Lordships will forgive me, I shall return to my quotation of the noble and right reverend Lord. He said that,
"As a country without a written constitution we depend more than most on symbolism, on historical precedent and on subtle linkages between Crown and Parliament and Church. None of these is unalterable, but we need to get out of our minds the idea that it is possible to make a few simple changes without the risk of triggering off a whole series of other changes which might be far from what we want".
Today, the noble and right reverend Lord was wise to caution us to see the need for the state to be based on a transcending moral authority requiring symbols to uphold it.
Opponents of establishment tend to see that status as conferring special advantages upon the established Church. Some of the supposed advantages are questionable, but they certainly should not, as has been mentioned, blind us to the special opportunities to serve which establishment gives to the Church. I conclude as unequivocally as I may. As matters stand now, in the Church and in the nation, the Government believe that our collective time can be better spent in pursuing other priorities.
My Lords, in thanking all who have participated in this wide-ranging if—to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Morgan—somewhat "traditional" debate, I should like to express my genuine appreciation to those on all sides of the argument who have spoken. As a result of what we have heard, those of us who are constitutional reformers and seek to base our modern constitution on the concept of a free and equal citizenship know the cases that we have to answer. That these arguments have been around for some time does not necessarily diminish their effectiveness in this House.
I conclude by adding my particular felicitations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, to whom I owe a special debt of gratitude—not only for making an eloquent plea today for an evolutionary approach to the issue of disestablishment, but also for having confirmed my daughter in his church. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.