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Church Of England Measures

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 21 December 1971

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[ Queen's Consent and Prince of Wales's Consent signified]

11.25 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Benefices Measure 1971, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if we discussed at the same time the following two Measures:
That the Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure 1971, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.
That the Admission to Holy Communion Measure 1971, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.
The three Measures are in no way related to one another but it will save a little time if they are discussed together.

I suggest, with the approval of the House, that I should introduce the Measures briefly, giving an outline of their purpose and, if points are raised by hon. Members, perhaps I could have the leave of the House to speak again and try to answer them.

The Benefices Measure derives from the increasing use within the Church of a part-time ministry. It has long been the law that a bishop can refuse to institute to a living a priest who has been ordained for less than three years. The purpose of that is to give the bishop the right not to institute someone with insufficient experience. A part-time clergyman could well have very limited experience, and it is therefore thought to be a sensible precaution that a bishop should be able to refuse to institute a clergyman with less than three years' full-time parochial experience. I emphasise that this is only a right, and a bishop can institute anyone who is presented.

The Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure brings about a considerable change in the law. At present the incumbent is responsible in law for the maintenance of the parsonage in which he lives, but in fact over a period of years this responsibility has been wholly taken from the incumbent. Although he is legally responsible, in fact someone else pays. That someone else may be the parish, the diocese or the Church Commissioners, and this is done through the complicated system called dilapidations. With this system the Church Commissioners have to keep for each parish in England a separate account for the money needed for repairs.

This is a singularly complex system and the suggestion is that, instead of doing it in that way, the diocese, through a parsonage board, should be made responsible for repairs to parsonage houses. This will do away with the complex system of accounts kept in Millbank, and the responsibility will be clearly placed on a single institution namely the diocese. The other rights of the incumbent are in no way altered. He is still the legal owner of the parsonage as, for the benefit of the lawyers, a corporation sole.

In the matter of alteration or of sale, there is no change in the law whatever. The only change is that he ceases to be legally responsible for repairs to the parsonage house. They are done by the diocese and in that way will be more efficiently and simply done in future.

The last of the three Measures relates to admission to Holy Communion and the purpose is to enable the General Synod to legislate by canon about the question of admission to Holy Communion.

At present the law is contained in the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 which has the force of law, and that says that only a confirmed person can legally be admitted. I am told that there is a great deal of controversy about the matter.

I should have said that. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. The point I am making is that the word "confirmed" is used in this rubric, but there is a great deal of argument about the exact meaning of the phrase and, equally, a great desire to admit persons from other denominations to the Communion service as part of the general ecumenical movement and the movement towards intercommunion. I am told that the clergy are disturbed in their consciences whether it is proper to admit such persons.

Therefore, after a great deal of discussion, including the report "Intercommunion Today", this suggestion has been made of a definition, and to remove this from the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer—and that the General Synod be entitled to legislate by canon. Of course they have not so legislated because they have not at present the power to do so, but they have carried a canon through what we should call Report stage, and it is all waiting to go forward. I can give more details should hon. Members require them.

I want to make it clear that the definition involved is that of baptism. Baptism in the context of this canon and the Measure is baptism with water in the name of the Holy Trinity. It is not necessary to define it because it is already defined by various case law. Better to leave it as it is.

I have cursorily introduced the three Measures. None of them was the subject of a division in the General Synod and all are the result of long and careful consideration. For those reasons I have pleasure in moving the first.

11.34 p.m.

I personally welcome the Benefices Measure very much. It is a most important and fairly obvious Measure and one wonders why it has not been brought in before, because it seems absolutely essential for an incumbent to have parochial experience and pastoral experience, and essential that he should know what it is to work in a parish. I have come across cases where the incumbent has little experience in parish affairs. That is a grave disadvantage.

I hope that this will not debar a body of men in the Church who do excellent work—the Service chaplains who, certainly in my estimation, have tremendous experience of parochial and parish affairs because they deal with a very large body of men and their wives and children. Indeed, one often thinks that a person who has been a chaplain is more fitted to be a parish priest and knows more about pastoral care than probably many priests, simply because of the large numbers of men and their wives and children to whom he ministers so faithfully. I hope that these men will not be debarred. Another category is missionaries who have been working abroad, obviously with large parishes or areas. I hope that they, too, will not be debarred.

In a strange way, this should apply to bishops and other Church dignitaries. I know of several bishops who have not had the parochial and parish experience that is necessary. In my view, if there is one thing a bishop has to have, it is that pastoral love and care. I feel that this should apply to them. If any bishops read HANSARD perhaps they will take note of this, because it is very important. What is needed in our parishes today are parish priests who have this love and pastoral care. It is vital. I therefore welcome this small Measure. I am sure it can do nothing but good.

As my hon. Friend said, the Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure represents a real change in the law. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) hopes to raise a point on it which he has brought to my attention. Some people think that it is the thin end of the wedge as regards the parson or priest and his freehold. I do not think so, although some priests in the Church are very suspicious of it.

The Interpretation Clause, Clause 31, states that
" 'benefice' means the office of a rector or vicar of a parish or parishes, with cure of souls, but not including the office of a vicar in a team ministry."
I regard this as a pity. I hope that in practice it includes the office of a vicar in a team ministry because there is a growing trend of team ministries. I welcome this. It will be extremely difficult for the Church to carry on with each parish having its own incumbent, much as one would like that. I envisage team ministry work growing. I feel that a vicar in a team ministry should have the same help and protection. Perhaps, in fact, he is covered. I hope that my hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner will be able to let us know.

The most important of the three Measures is that providing for admission to the Holy Communion by which the rubric at the end of the Order of Confirmation
"shall not prevent the General Synod from making provision by Canon and regulations for the admission to the Holy Communion of other baptised persons."
I certainly welcome this. I have always felt acutely embarrassed when I have known of people who have been debarred from taking their Communion because they were not members of the Church of England. They might have been members of another denomination. I can speak with a little feeling about this because I have not been a member of the Church of England all my life. I was baptised at 21 and confirmed a year later, and I came from a non-conformist background. It is embarrassing to think that one's relatives are denied access to the Communion Table. Therefore, I regard this as a very important Measure.

After all, who are we to deny anybody the right to go to the Communion Table? Such a denial goes against all the teachings of the founder of our faith. I wonder what the founder of our faith would have said if he had been present in a church in which a person had been refused access to his Holy Table to take of the body and the blood of Christ? It is a serious step to deny anybody such a right, and I wholeheartedly welcome this Measure.

Of course, certain rules and regulations must be observed if one joins any organisation, Or society or church. but if the ecumenical movement is to go ahead—and I want to see it do so—then it is essential for Christianity to work and worship together. This, then, is a step in the right direction. I welcome these Measures and hope that they will be of great benefit to the Church in the days that lie ahead.

11.37 p.m.

I am no expert on Church matters, as will be obvious as I proceed, but since I have received a letter from a cleric in my division referring to these Measures, I thought it right that the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) should hear from what I would term, even in this context, the man on the shop floor.

My correspondent complains that much of the legislation affecting clerics is insufficiently discussed by the body of the Church as a whole and he feels that this situation is very much to be deplored. He adds that many people in his diocese were quite unaware that these Measures had been produced by the Ecclesiastical Committee. He feels that there should be a better chance of discussing with the individual parsons and preachers the various factors that arise on such Measures as these. One could almost say that it would be much easier to hold a referendum in this smaller context of important Church matters than to do so for the country as a whole.

He goes on in the letter to say that the vicars and preachers in the area are compelled to live in official residences and makes the point that they cannot afford to do otherwise. We all know that the clergy are still very badly paid, and indeed a report in one of the Sunday newspapers recently drew attention to the situation.

He points out that this is the greatest tied cottage of tied cottages. Holders of Church property, while they may hold the rights to the freehold, in fact have no rights, because power of management is taken away from them. Having read the appendix, I think this is true. He says:
"The Parsonages Board will have virtually unlimited rights to alter, divide, demolish, sublet or sell vicarages or rectories despite the incumbent's right to put his point of view. The incumbent loses his right to carry out repairs including those required by the Board, in his own way, employing advisers and workmen of his choice."
That is a quotation from the letter my constituent has sent to the Ecclesiastical Committee.

We all know the dictum, "Whitehall knows best." Here the Church has taken it over and said "The Parsonages Board knows best." It applies even to the trees in the parsonage garden. While I agree with the beneficent tone of the Measure in providing the necessary money to maintain Church properties, I have to ask whether this work could not be done while permitting the incumbent to have something to say in what goes on. I hope that this will be dealt with, because it is an important point.

11.47 p.m.

I am glad that a general welcome has been given so far to these Measures. I am sure that the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley), who is Second Church Estates Commissioner, will be able to deal with the technical points raised. I found the speech of the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) moving and sympathetic and I agree with almost everything he said. To the point he made about Service chaplains, which was a good one and which may yet perhaps be taken note of by the Church authorities, one might add a similar comment about those clergy who have what is in some ways the most rewarding and in others the most unrewarding job of all—prison chaplains. It is an extremely difficult job.

I was in agreement with everything the hon. Gentleman said about the ecumenical movement generally. In the small country parish it is probably known which parishioners have or have not been confirmed or belong, loosely, to some other denomination. In a large town or city it is impossible for the priest to know the people who present themselves at the altar rail. I would be surprised if there were many, or even any, cases of the very disagreeable matter of which the hon. Member spoke—the actual debarring from Communion of certain people.

It used to happen that applicants for Communion were refused if they were not confirmed. If they come without notice, it is easier for them to slip through, but there are these cases in which the incumbent has refused.

Most such people would be covered by the alternative provision "ready and desirous". If the incumbent had any qualms of conscience about it, he would consult the bishop, who in most cases would take a fairly liberal view, I think, even before this Measure was passed.

There was some concern about this Measure, because there are denominations or sects whom one may describe without intolerance as being outside the mainstream of the principal Christian denominations and who practise a form of baptism. Examples are the Jehovah's Witnesses, or the Mormons, who sometimes secure baptism, by some rite of their own, on their dead ancestors. There was some apprehension that this might lead to confusion, but the Measure as it stands is perfectly all right because it removes any responsibility for this matter from the individual incumbent and places it on the General Synod. It is purely permissive.

It is impossible for the individual incumbent to know who all the people are who present themselves at the altar rail, and whether they are confirmed or ready and desirous of being confirmed. Referring, without wishing to stir up any great argument, to a recent controversial incident, I do not suppose that the Dean of St. Paul's knew whether every member of the cast of "Hair!" had been confirmed or was ready and desirous of being confirmed when they attended the Corn-mullion service which has been the subject of some comment.

Therefore, this Measure, which is the most profoundly important of the three, is quite satisfactory in its present form, since it places the responsibility for deciding this matter on the Synod and does not itself define the word "baptise".

11.53 p.m.

I accept unreservedly the spirit of the first Measure, but am a little worried about the possible consequences of the second, relating to the repair of buildings. I believe that this can be left to the good sense and feeling within the Church, but difficulties could arise and we would need to watch this.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) about the third Measure. I hope that I am not being niggling or opposing the spirit which we would all like to see in the Church, but there could be some ambiguity in it. I felt that there might be ambiguity when I read the draft canon. I should like any baptised person to have an inherent right to take Communion.

The draft canon refers to
"members of the Church of England who have been confirmed in accordance with the rites of that Church or are ready and desirous to be so confirmed."
That might be misinterpreted. It goes on to refer to
"baptized persons who are communicant members of other Churches which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and who are in good standing in their own Church."
That might cause some ambiguity. A person who wishes to take Communion in the Church of England may not be in good standing with the other Church. I do not press this point, but it is worth hearing in mind. The canon then refers to
"any other baptized persons authorised to be admitted under regulations of the General Synod."
Perhaps at a later date we can be informed precisely what those regulations are. I do not want to sound niggling about this, but it seems that the final Measure is somewhat ambiguous, and I hope that my hon. Friend can reassure me on this point.

It may not be considered inappropriate, Christmas being almost upon us, if I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication of the clergy. I am a member of the Church of England and I am an unashamed believer in the ecumenical movement. By that I do not mean the uniformity of church services. I believe in the unity of the Churches. Can there be a better time than this to express the hope that the Churches will come together and find common ground? In my view, these three Measures will further that belief.

With the leave of the House, I will answer the points made by hon. Members in this interesting debate. I wish at the outset to welcome, as I am sure those who will be involved with these Measures will welcome, the way in which these provisions have been received by the House. I also respond immediately to the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman), and I am sure that all hon. Members will echo his final remarks.

Dealing with the questions about benefices, arising out of the first Measure, I wish to underline that a bishop can institute any ordained clergyman, and neither this Measure nor the previous laws on the subject prevent him from ordaining. They merely give him the power, if he thinks that the person involved does not have sufficient experience, not to ordain. They will not debar a prison or Service chaplain, but the bishop has the duty to consider whether he has sufficient experience before appointing him.

I think, that, in general, a Service chaplain would have had parochial experience in the first place. This is, therefore, an academic point. Nevertheless, I respond to what hon. Members have said on this subject by agreeing that the work of such chaplains can be as much parochial, though it is not always so; and this Measure gives a bishop the right to say whether a man has sufficient parochial experience. Reference was also made to missionaries. Parochial experience in the missionary sphere could be as much parochial in that context as it could be parochial at home.

Coming to the repair of parsonages, I will deal first with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) about the team vicar. The simple answer is that under the Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure the team vicar is not caught by this change. His house is owned by a diocesan board of finance and will continue to be so owned. This Measure does not alter that situation at all. We are concerned with parsonage houses with an incumbent occupying them. As I see it, the rector of a team ministry would be an incumbent.

On the more general point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey), I shall answer him in some detail because it is very important, and I know that there has been much concern. First, on the subject of consultation, all of us in the House know well enough that we can go blue in the face discussing matters in the House and return to our constituencies to find that people have not heard anything about what has occurred. This is just as true of the Church of England as it is of parliamentary affairs. But to be fair to the Church, it makes tremendous efforts to consult at grass root levels. The new synodical machinery, which has set up deaneries where all clergy sit and to which a great number of Measures—all the more important Measures that go through—are compulsorily referred for discussion, and which has been in operation for only a couple of years, will further increase this discussion.

It is true that all clergy vote for the proctors—formerly in congregation, now in the Synod. There are elections, and those proctors ought to read the business. Perhaps, being human, they are like us. I do not know that all of us read every piece of legislation in the House. There is a human fallibility in this. But the machinery for consultation is there. The Church of England is not worse than any other similar legislative body at this sort of consultation, and it is certainly making every effort to do it better and better.

With respect, I think that my hon. Friend's constituent is taking alarm needlessly, and I will tell him why. First, I have already said that the ownership, the freehold, belongs to the incumbent. That is not altered. Second, in the matter of sale or alterations, his constituent talked as though he would have no powers in this matter. I reassure my hon. Friend that there is no change in the law in either of those respects. In as much as there is a change, it is somewhat in favour of the incumbent.

To summarise the law in this respect, for the sale or the building or purchase of a new house, the incumbent, the Church Commissioners, the bishop and the diocesan dilapidations board must agree. This is the same, omitting the bishop, for additions and alterations. The point is that the incumbent has a right to approve of any additions, alterations or sale, and that is not altered by this Measure in any respect.

It is true that there is a major change in the matter of repairs, and that the responsibility is put by law on the diocese. It is a little unlikely that many incumbents will insist on carrying out the work themselves in the way that my hon. Friend's constituent apparently wants to do. But I must tell him that what will happen is that there will be a report on each house every five years by a qualified architect. That is sent to the incumbent, who will be able to make representations on it and may meet the board or a committee of representatives of the board if he so desires. This will give him the opportunity to object if either unnecessary repairs or insufficient repairs are recommended by the surveyor. So he has the chance of speaking out. I accept that the board's decision is ultimately final, but this is not unreasonable. We are likely to see parsonage houses very much better repaired. I accept that there is some marginal surrender to the diocese in the matter of repairs. But I do not think that repairs are the critical issue. The freehold remains and the right of the incumbent to object to a sale, a new vicarage or alterations remains. These seem to me to be the critical things.

There has been such a general welcome for the third Measure that I need say very little about it. I agree with hon. Members who have said that it is the most important. It gives the General Synod the power to make what regulations it pleases, the limitation being that it cannot draw regulations so wide—even if it wished, which I suspect it would not—as to bring in the sort of people the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) talked about, who do not believe in Trinitarian baptism. This is something much better done by the General Synod than by us. It is a process of devolution in a minor way, a proper process, and one that I support completely.

How is "baptised" defined? It might be defined so narrowly as to cover only people baptised in the Church of England, in which case the Measure misfires, or so widely as to cover people who were not baptised according to rites we would regard as Trinitarian.

"Baptised" is not defined in the proposed canon or the Measure, or in any of the other canons. The reason for not defining it is that there are in the law, the law of the land and of the Church of England, decisions which have established that, "baptism" means

"baptism with water in the name of the Holy Trinity".
It has also been made clear by case law that administration by a dissenting minister, a minister not of the Church of England, or a layman in certain circumstances is good and effective, and that it therefore would be wrong to baptise again. So it is widely drawn. I could give my hon. and learned Friend at least six cases, the last being in 1844, defining what "baptism" is. Probably the ecclesiastical authorities are right not to attempt to redefine it but to rest on the present law.

One may be baptised in the Church of England, but one is not baptised into the Church of England; one is baptised into the entire Catholic Church, of which the Church of England is a part. Baptism can be administered, and sometimes is in emergency, not by a priest or a deacon but by a layman or, indeed, a woman or a non-Christian if the Trinitarian formula is used and water is poured.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

I think that the only points I have not covered are the concluding words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hands-worth. I have made the point that the canon which is proposed is not the only canon which could be proposed, and that we are handing over to the Synod a general power to legislate in these matters.

The most important point which my hon. Friend made concerned whether members of another church would have the right to come to Communion in the Church of England. Provided they were in good standing in their Church, and provided they had trinitarian baptism, they would have that right. As the hon. Member for Barking said, in practice one does not stand at the entrance and ask such questions, but there must be some form of regulation, and it seems to be very broadly drawn. If there is any doubt in the mind of the minister, he should go to his bishop and follow his guidance. The Church has avoided the risk that the hon. Member for Barking suggested of going too wide, but it has maintained the tradition of the Church of England of being a comprehensive Church in the canon it is proposing.

I hope that the House will approve the three Measures.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Benefices Measure 1971, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.


That the Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure 1971, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.—[Mr. Worsley.]


That the Admission to Holy Communion Measure 1971, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.—[Mr. Worsley.]


Resolved, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Hawkins.]

Adjourned accordingly at twelve minutes past Twelve o'clock.