Skip to main content

Ecclesiastical Appointments

Volume 912: debated on Tuesday 8 June 1976

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about the procedure for the appointment of archbishops and diocesan bishops in the Church of England.

The Sovereign, who is herself the Supreme Governor of the established Church, appoints archbishops and diocesan bishops on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day.The House will know that there is some disquiet in the Church about the present system and that in 1974 the Church's General Synod passed a motion affirming the principle that the decisive voice in the appointment of diocesan bishops should be that of the Church. As my predecessor informed the House on 24th February—[Vol. 906, c.

118.]—he held a number of talks, since that General Synod vote, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Sir Norman Anderson, Chairman of the Synod's House of Laity. More recently, I have discussed the matter with the Archbishop of Canterbury and

also with the leaders of the main Opposition parties, who have themselves had talks with the Archbishop and Sir Norman.

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 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.

As I see it, the main points of a new procedure might be as follows:

Bishops, and archbishops, would continue to be appointed by the Queen. The Queen would continue to receive, as now, final advice from the Prime Minister on these appointments. In giving that final advice, the Prime Minister would retain a real element of choice.

To assess a vacancy and possible candidates for it, a small standing committee should be set up by the Church. The exact composition of such a committee remains to be settled, but it is envisaged that both the Prime Minister's secretary for appointments and the archbishops' appointments secretary, who will work in the fullest co-operation throughout, would be members of it.

The committee would draw up a short list of two names, which might be given in an order of preference. The Prime Minister would retain the right to recommend the second name, or to ask the committee for a further name or names.

A special procedure would be needed for the appointment of an Archbishop of Canterbury. The committee might then be chaired by a layman chosen by the Prime Minister.

Arrangements on these lines, which would not in themselves involve legislation, would give the Church a greater say in the choice of its leaders and at the same time would preserve the constitutional essentials of an established Church.

I hope therefore that these proposals, worked out after the consultations which I have mentioned and which are also supported by the leaders of the main Opposition parties, may commend themselves as settling this issue in a satisfactory way for the foreseeable future. The General Synod is due to discuss them next month, and that discussion will reflect what the mind of the Church on them may be.