My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Crown Benefices (Parish Representatives) Measure, have consented to place their prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Measure, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Measure.
My Lords, I apologise for slightly jumping the gun a moment ago, I was wrong-footed by the noble Baroness having spoken to this Measure as well under the previous one.
This is the second of the two Measures before your Lordships' House this evening that concern ecclesiastical appointments made by the Crown, in this case parochial appointments. As we have heard, the consent of the Queen and of the Prince of Wales as Duke of Cornwall have been given.
As things stand a present, when a benefice is vacant, the parochial church council of a vacant benefice appoints two lay representatives whose approval is required before a patron can present or a bishop can institute a particular priest to the living. This gives the laity of the parish, through their representatives, an important, even a decisive, role in the appointment of a new incumbent.
This right does not however currently apply to livings in the gift either of the Crown, including the Lord Chancellors' department, or of the two Royal Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. These so-called "Crown benefices" constitute about 8 per cent of the total number of the 7,633 parochial benefices in English dioceses-quite a sizeable minority.
The policy background to this short Measure is again the Government's Green Paper of July 2007 and the recommendations put before the Synod by the Archbishops in response. In the light of the Government's policy that the Prime Minister should no longer make the final choice in ecclesiastical appointments, it made sense that the exercise of parochial patronage by the Crown and the two Royal Duchies should become more closely aligned to the exercise of patronage in the gift of other patrons which might be institutions such as cathedrals and colleges or private individuals, or indeed of diocesan bishops themselves. This would involve giving parochial church councils of Crown benefices the same right to appoint representatives with the power to give or withhold approval of the patron's choice of priest to fill a vacant living.
This Measure makes the necessary amendments to existing legislation to achieve just that. It gives parochial church councils of Crown benefices the same right to be formally involved-by way of approving the patron's choice-in the appointment of their new incumbent. This neatly achieves the removal of the final decision from Ministers without abandoning the principle of a mixed-economy in parochial appointments where patronage is exercised by a variety of people and corporate bodies, including the Crown. It's really as simple as that. I commend this Measure to your Lordships' House.