My Lords, this Measure makes a modest change to the statutory framework for land and property held on permanent trusts by parochial church councils. At present, legal title to all PCC land is vested in the “diocesan authority”—usually the diocesan board of finance—which holds it as trustee for the PCC, by virtue of the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956. The diocesan authority’s consent is required to all kinds of transactions, with the exception of leases for a year or less.
The trigger for the Measure before the House was a private member’s motion at the July 2012 group of sessions of the General Synod, which called for PCCs which are registered with the Charity Commission to be able to hold their own property legally and beneficially. The Archbishops’ Council did not support the change in the form proposed, but acknowledged that the PCC powers Measure is over 50 years old and the regulatory environment has changed very significantly. In view of this, the Archbishops’ Council agreed that a degree of deregulation would be helpful, and brought forward legislation which makes three substantive changes to the 1956 Measure.
First, the Measure removes entirely the requirement for a PCC to obtain the consent of the diocesan authority before bringing legal proceedings; for example, to evict squatters or non-paying tenants from parish property. On the coming into force of this Measure it will be for a PCC to decide, in every case, whether it is in its interests to bring proceedings. That is important, because it puts local knowledge to the forefront.
Secondly, the Measure extends the length of lease that can be granted without reference to the diocesan authority. Under the 1956 Measure as it stands, a “short lease” is defined as a lease for a year or less. The amendments made by this Measure define a “short lease” as a lease for seven years or less. That change aligns this requirement with the controls on dispositions of land under the Charities Act 2011, which apply only to leases of more than seven years.
Thirdly, the Measure provides that the consent of the diocesan authority is required only for transactions with a value in excess of a figure to be specified in an order made by the Archbishops’ Council, which will be laid before the General Synod and Parliament. The Archbishops’ Council has not yet determined what the figure should be, as it has committed to consult others before setting the figure.
The Measure also makes equivalent provision for ecclesiastical trusts governed by the Incumbents and Churchwardens (Trusts) Measure 1964, which are subject to a statutory regime very similar to that for PCCs. I beg to move.