My Lords, your Lordships will have seen from the measure itself and from the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, that following on from our previous discussions today, this is also a substantial piece of legislation. Indeed, we believe that it is the longest Church of England measure to come before your Lordships' House since the early 1980s. It covers a wide range of subjects, and deals with much that is central to the church's life and work—its parishes and places of worship, and the dioceses to which they belong. Because of the very breadth of the measure, I can do little more than give a very brief overview, but I hope to be able to explain to your Lordships, in broad terms, the measure's intentions, its main provisions and its importance.
The measure is the outcome of a seven-year process, set in train in 2000, to review some of the church's basic legal procedures and to ensure that they are as flexible, effective and cost-effective as possible in order to meet the needs which face the church now. This is a process which every major institution must undertake from time to time if it is to continue to flourish in a fast-changing world—and if the church is to carry out its mission effectively it must not merely take account of those changes, but be ready to embrace the opportunities that they offer.
This process of review and subsequent drafting has been very careful and thorough, with extensive consultation, and with very detailed scrutiny as the legislation progressed through the General Synod. It has resulted in amendments to some parts of the church's existing legislation, replacement of others and some completely new provisions as well. However, I should stress, as I did to the Ecclesiastical Committee, that what lies at the heart of the measure is evolution rather than revolution. It takes great care to safeguard and support the parochial structure, with its parish clergy and lay people, and the dioceses and their bishops—as intrinsic to the nature of the Church of England. Nevertheless, it had become clear that existing church law—and we are talking here mainly of legislation dating from the 1970s and 1980s if not earlier—needed some changes, and its operation needed some amendment and increased flexibility, in order to enable the church to further its mission, and the cure of souls, as effectively as possible in the 21st century.
Because this concept of the "mission of the church" lies at the heart of the measure, it is important that I explain to your Lordships that this is a term to which the measure expressly gives a very broad definition, covering the totality of the church's mission—pastoral, evangelistic social and ecumenical—and, as such, continues the meaning of mission as the term has been used in previous legislation of this nature.
Further, Section 1, which requires all those who are discharging functions under the measure to have due regard to the furtherance of the church's mission, has been carefully drafted to ensure that the requirements of the church's mission are held in proper balance with all the other factors which are relevant to the objectives of particular sections and that it is given its proper weight in that context. Thus, for example, architectural and historical considerations must continue to be properly weighed in matters relating to the care, use and disposal of church buildings which form such a unique and treasured part of our heritage.
Part II deals with the church's provincial and diocesan structures. It replaces legislation from the 1970s with provisions for a new dioceses commission, now with an elected element in its membership, and a new set of, and more proactive, processes for reviewing and, where appropriate, reorganising diocesan arrangements. It is not that there is some existing blueprint behind all this. Rather, this is about appropriate adaptability for the future with this part of the measure requiring the commission to keep existing structures under regular review and then prescribing a process whereby any proposals for future reorganisation may be brought forward either by the bishop, or bishops, of the diocese or dioceses concerned, or by the commission. This process also makes detailed provision for consultation with, and safeguards for, all with a proper interest in it. At the end of the process, responsibility for the final decision on any particular proposal rests not with the diocese commission but remains that of the General Synod, where all the dioceses concerned will of course be represented.
Part II also makes some other very welcome changes, including giving individual dioceses autonomy from central bodies in deciding how best to use their suffragan and assistant bishops in their own particular circumstances. There are also sections making it easier for dioceses which wish do so to set up joint administrative arrangements without compromising the essential independence of each diocese's own diocesan synod and its bishop's council.
The following parts of the measure make a number of amendments to the processes in the 1983 pastoral measure for making changes, in particular, to parochial structures within a diocese and also for, where appropriate, a,
"closure of a church no longer required for regular public worship"— a term now preferred to the rather unhelpful description "declaration of redundancy" used in the 1983 legislation. The aim is very much to simplify and streamline the procedures, and make them, and the diocesan committee structures which support them, more flexible, but without removing the essential safeguards provided in the existing legislation.
I have already referred to the importance of caring for our church buildings and the opening sections of Part VII concentrate on this. At present there are two expert central church advisory bodies involved in this work. One is the Council for the Care of Churches, which deals with those church buildings which the church continues to use for regular public worship, but which also has a role to play in the early stages of considering the closure of a church. The other is the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, whose remit applies later in that process. This measure replaces those bodies with a unified church buildings council in order to provide one cohensive, statutory central church source of expert information and advice on church buildings. Among other things this permits a single, seamless procedure for giving expert and independent advice on heritage issues involved in the closure of churches, offering a more effective process than at present. The independent nature of the advice is of real heritage significance. The measure takes great care to preserve it, in particular by giving a key role to an entrenched independent element of four members nominated by the Secretary of State.
Finally, Part V gives a bishop new powers to authorise mission initiatives in his diocese, beyond those that may already be encouraged and successfully operate under the existing law. These new powers meet the need of the church for a new type of model which a bishop can use to authorise those initiatives which do not fit within the present legal structures, either during their start-up phase or in the longer term. In carefully drafted provisions that allow for flexibility, but ensure that the initiative is anchored within the church's wider framework, the measure permits non-parochial structures that complement existing parishes and parish clergy rather than undermining them and ensures that they receives proper support and guidance as they are established, together with proper oversight and structured review of their progress and direction.
I hope that this gives at least a general picture of the measure's objectives and how it sets about achieving them. The General Synod showed its strong support for the measure throughout its various stages and on final approval Synod members gave it an overwhelming endorsement. The Ecclesiastical Committee has also been able to report unequivocally that it finds the legislation expedient. I hope that it will likewise commend itself to your Lordships.
Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure be presented to Her Majesty for Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Exeter.)
My Lords, I am a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament and, as such, have already had the advantage of having this measure presented to us under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who will speak later. It was presented by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, who presented it so well again today, accompanied by the Dean of the Arches, the right worshipful Sheila Cameron, Dr Edmund Marshall, the venerable Christine Hardman, Miss Ingrid Slaughter and Mr William Fittell. I have been privileged to have heard all the stages of the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure. As we have already heard, that committee found the measure to be expedient; so here it is through to its final stages.
The measure, as we have heard, is wide-ranging. The Church of England believes that the measure will give it the flexibility it needs, given the changing circumstances and needs of its people, to enable its ministry better to serve English society at all levels. I should like to take two examples from the document; I have had some involvement with both in one way or another.
The first is the mission initiative in Part V. I am a member of the Lambeth Partnership and have been involved with Fresh Expressions. This is an interesting development: the idea is to develop alongside and complement the parochial structures, yet the nuances include the whole of the church mission, to be weighed up with all the other relevant factors. Nowadays so many people have their most significant connections where they work and in their social and family life. They are not as tied geographically as they used to be, so new ways of being the living body of the church are to be welcomed and nourished alongside that bedrock of parochial structures.
Secondly, Parts IV and VII of the measure deal with church buildings. I am experienced in that I have chaired the Redundant Church Uses Committee for six years and the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Diocese of London. It is always sad when a church building has to go through procedure after procedure to close it, especially when it is listed, old, beautiful, famous, and was, in its time, very much loved. The remaining few people then have to wait a long time for what the church will finally be used for and sometimes it gets into a terrible state. That is a sad and awful witness for the church. It is a great thing that the church is trying so hard to bring into being this new statutory body to give parishioners a single, simple procedure to ensure that a church is protected during its time of change and then put to the best possible use.
I understand that the new body will contain four independent members. Long and hard work has gone into this measure—this evolution rather than revolution—and we hope and believe that it is the right thing to do. We on these Benches are content for the measure to be presented to Her Majesty for Royal Assent, and we wish it well.
My Lords, as the right reverend Prelate has said, this is an important measure, perhaps the most important to come before the House for some years. I suspect that the most important part of the measure—certainly the most innovative—is Part 5, which enables diocesan bishops to make what are called mission orders. Happily, that part of the Bill is entirely uncontroversial, so I can pass quickly to the only two controversial matters raised in the course of the hearing before the Ecclesiastical Committee. The first arises under Part 2 of the measure, which enables the dioceses commission to make proposals for the reorganisation of dioceses, including dissolution. Certain people in the diocese of Truro took the view that this provision was directed towards them, perhaps thinking that their diocese might be swallowed up by the diocese of Exeter. Happily, the right reverend Prelate was able to assure the committee that the diocese of Exeter has no territorial ambitions.
The second controversial matter arose under Part 7, which, as the right reverend Prelate explained, deals with the care of churches and provides for the abolition of the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches and its replacement by the statutory advisory committee of a new church building council. I mention this part of the Bill because I had a number of letters from the chairman and members of the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches both before and after our hearing. The new statutory advisory committee will have seven members, four of whom will have specialist knowledge of architecture, archaeology, aesthetics, and so on. They will make up a majority of the sub-committee. They are appointed directly by the Secretary of State and are therefore clearly independent of the church authorities. That is one of the matters worrying the advisory board. I express my sympathy for the advisory board. No one likes being abolished; I have twice been abolished by statute, so I know what it feels like. But it was necessary to streamline the procedure, which is what the provision does.
The advisory board had ample opportunity during the progress of the measure through the synod to make its case known. It sent us a lengthy argument before we heard the measure and its case was put by Sir Patrick Cormack, who was a doughty advocate on its behalf. We were not persuaded that the abolition of the advisory board made this measure inexpedient.
I support the Motion proposed by the right reverend Prelate. Perhaps in concluding I may remind him of his promise, which I am sure he has not forgotten, that as soon as may be he will produce a consolidated version of what are now two separate pastoral measures.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a clergy spouse and a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee.
The House, and Parliament generally, is often accused of passing legislation in haste. No one can accuse the Church of England of such a shortcoming; this measure has taken seven years of gestation to reach your Lordships' House. Huge amounts of detailed, thoughtful toil have been put in to bring us to this point, and the Ecclesiastical Committee has found the measure expedient. When the right reverend Prelate talks about this being evolution rather than revolution, he has it absolutely right. I suspect that most priests toiling in the vineyard will not notice any difference in their arrangements and will not find that the many significant challenges which they and the church face are much affected by this measure. However, it is useful and expedient and we support it.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may reply to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. It is not only the intention but the earnest desire of the Church of England to produce a consolidated measure as soon as possible. We look forward to returning that here as quickly as we can.