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Clergy Discipline Measure

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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1.41 pm

Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners
(Mr. Stuart Bell)

I beg to move,

That the Clergy Discipline Measure, 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.
It is a great pleasure to stand at the Dispatch Box with you in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As right hon. and hon. Members who have served on the Ecclesiastical Committee will know, the Clergy Discipline Measure represents a major revision of the disciplinary procedures for Church of England clergy. As those who follow our proceedings intimately will know, it is the result of a long, careful consideration by the General Synod. Indeed, it comes to the House with the strong support of the General Synod of the Church of England, has been found expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee and has been approved in another place. I therefore commend it to the House.

By way of background, current arrangements for clergy discipline are included in the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, but its procedures—modelled in some ways on those of the criminal courts—have been found to be inflexible, expensive and slow. As a result, the 1963 Measure is rarely used, which has serious consequences for a number of areas. A significant number of complaints have been left unresolved, and discipline has tended to be exercised "informally" and on a voluntary basis. Consequently, resignation has been a frequent but not always appropriate outcome. The situation is unsatisfactory, not least for the clergy themselves. If they are to be respected and trusted, a manifestly credible, fair and transparent system for administering discipline is essential in those rare cases where they fall short of the standards expected of them.

Accordingly, in 1994, the General Synod established a working party to review clergy discipline and the working of the ecclesiastical courts. There followed an extensive consultation and examination of good practice in other Anglican provinces, Christian Churches and professions in the United Kingdom. Legislative proposals were then developed and submitted to a long, careful process of revision in the Synod. The Measure resulting from that lengthy process commanded 100 per cent. support among those voting in the House of Bishops when it was finally approved in November 2000; 99 per cent. in the House of Laity; and 90 per cent. in the House of Clergy. Only 23 per cent. voted against final approval, with 200 members voting for it.

In drawing up the Measure, the Church has sought to construct procedures that are fair to all parties; can be applied to all types of clergy, whatever their rank, experience or circumstances; are easily understood and flexible; and encourage as speedy a resolution as is consistent with the needs of justice. The Church firmly believes that the procedures in the Measure will meet all these requirements and enable genuine complaints to be dealt with effectively while excluding trivial, malicious or vexatious ones.

By way of detail, disciplinary procedure under the Measure relates only to cases of misconduct and not to matters of worship or doctrine, and will be activated by a written complaint to the bishop. The exclusion of matters of worship or doctrine is considered significant by many hon. Members, as I can testify from the number of questions that I am asked at Church Commissioners questions. It is therefore worth repeating that matters of worship and doctrine are excluded from the Measure.

Once received, the complaint will have to be examined by the diocesan registrar, who is a practising lawyer. The registrar will decide whether the complainant has a right to complain under the Measure; whether a disciplinary matter is involved; and whether the evidence supplied supports the complaint. On the basis of the registrar's assessment, the bishop will decide whether the complaint should be dismissed. If he decides not to dismiss it, a number of courses are open to him, including taking no further action, leaving the complaint on the record, seeking to promote conciliation or imposing a penalty with the cleric's consent. The remaining option is to refer the complaint for investigation, with a view to it being brought before a bishop's disciplinary tribunal if the president of tribunals—again, a lawyer—agrees that there is a case to answer.

I think that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Measure bends over backwards to be as fair as is humanly possible to a cleric who is the subject of a complaint, and I will allude to that later when I touch upon article 6 of the European convention on human rights. There may be a referral to a bishop's disciplinary tribunal, but it should seldom be necessary to go so far. In the rare cases in which a complaint proceeds to a tribunal, the case will be heard by a tribunal of five members—two clergy, two lay people and a legally qualified chairman, all from provincial panels. Their decision will be by a majority, using the civil standard of proof. Appeals will continue to be dealt with in provincial courts of appeal.

As for penalties, the Measure will give more flexibility than the 1963 Measure. The most severe penalty, for use in the most serious cases, is prohibition for life, which involves a permanent ban on exercising any clerical function. Other penalties include prohibition for a limited period; removal from office; revocation of a licence, requiring the cleric to refrain from offending behaviour; and, lastly, a formal warning. The Measure also provides for the bishop to be able to impose some of those penalties after certain proceedings in the criminal or divorce courts, whose findings are treated as conclusive by the Church, and it gives him a new power of suspension. A similar process is made available for complaints about bishops and archbishops.

The Measure provides for the establishment of a new commission, the clergy discipline commission, to give general advice on the working of the Measure, to issue codes of practice and guidelines, and to maintain an archbishops' list—a confidential record of penalties imposed under the Measure and other matters.

In drawing up these new procedures, the Church recognises that disciplinary proceedings can have very serious implications for clergy, even where the complaint is relatively minor. The Church has therefore been concerned to ensure that the rights of clergy are properly protected. To that end, the draft Measure was subject to detailed scrutiny by leading counsel specialising in human rights law. Counsel was satisfied that the requirements of article 6 of the European convention on human rights, conferring the right to a fair trial, were met by virtue of the rights of appeal to the provincial courts, but he identified ways in which the Measure, as originally drafted, might not have been fully consistent with human rights requirements. A number of changes were made as a result, and the Church is satisfied—or as satisfied as we reasonably can be—that the Measure complies fully with the Human Rights Act 1998.

In that regard, the proper protection of the human rights of clergy was a matter that the Ecclesiastical Committee was entitled to, and did, consider very carefully. Accordingly, one of the principal issues that it addressed was that of the standard of proof where a complaint is heard by a tribunal. Church representatives explained to the Committee that the choice of the civil standard, as opposed to the criminal standard, which applies under the 1963 Measure, was arrived at after thorough consideration and much debate in the revision committee for the Measure and in the Synod as a whole.

The civil standard is increasingly used in the disciplinary procedures of other professional bodies. In the Church's view, it strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of the wider Church and the public in not allowing misconduct by clergy to go unchallenged and the right of clergy to a fair hearing and a safe decision. The level of proof required will vary according to the seriousness of the allegation and the implications for the cleric. Thus, in the most serious cases the standard of proof required will be indistinguishable from the criminal standard—beyond reasonable doubt, rather than on the balance of probabilities. The Ecclesiastical Committee accepted that understanding of the position, and accordingly was content to accept that the adoption of the civil standard of proof was appropriate.

The Ecclesiastical Committee addressed other matters in its examination of Church representatives and its report, but, in its judgment, none of them was such as to render the Measure inexpedient. We are grateful to members of the Committee—right hon. and Members and noble Lords alike—for making recommendations for consideration by the Church. We shall give those recommendations careful consideration in implementing the Measure once it passes into law, with the grace and leave of this House and Royal Assent. The Committee's decision, by a substantial majority, to find the Measure expedient, and the decision of the other place yesterday, reinforces my confidence that the Synod's proposals embodied in the Measure will commend themselves to the House.

In conclusion, the Measure is the fruit of the Synod's long and careful consideration of the needs of all those who are interested in this important matter—not only clergy, their bishops and the lay people of the Church, but the wider public. The Church believes that it strikes a fair balance between their different interests and, in doing so, will give the Church a fair, credible and open system for dealing with disciplinary measures. I therefore commend the Measure to the House.

1.54 pm

I am grateful for an opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate. I should first apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), who is unable to be here as he is under doctors' orders. I am sure that he would entirely endorse my point, which is that we are extremely grateful, not only for the clarity of the exposition by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), but for the amazingly thorough work of the Ecclesiastical Committee; not being a member of the Committee, I can express my gratitude to it for that.

I do not have a pecuniary interest in the matter, of course, but I have a personal interest in that my brother is a parish priest in the Church of England. I take a close interest in the way in which the Anglican Church operates at all levels, and I have in the past observed, at a distance, misconduct proceedings.

The Measure is extremely timely, perhaps even overdue. Those of us who are practising members of the Church of England understand that this has long been an area of concern to many Church people, and perhaps to some outside it. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Measure establishes beyond peradventure that the civil standard of proof must be the basis of judgments made in future misconduct proceedings.

I have had the benefit of reading the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, including the very thorough interrogation of representatives from the Synod. I also commend the work of the Synod, which is comprehensive, imaginative and sensitive. Indeed, if Members of Parliament had equally sensitive and humane guidance on the way in which we operate, perhaps we would be rather better at ensuring that we all work positively and constructively to the same agenda.

When reading the documents, one occasionally wonders what is being got at. My heart rose when I saw that the report contained a section on fashion. Those of us who are practising members of the Church of England are often confused when we go to a church that we do not know as well as our own and witness very different fashions in clerical garb. When I came to read the detail, however, I found that it was nothing to do with that at all. That is unfortunate, because some guidance on fashion for incumbents would not go amiss. One sometimes gets the feeling that anything goes these days, and happy-clappy priests—perhaps they would not want to be called that—can look somewhat absurd.

There is nothing wrong with them, but I am sometimes disconcerted by their choice of garb. The hon. Gentleman is a very distinguished member of a very distinguished ecclesiastical family, and when he speaks he may wish to give some description of the different garb that can be used in church and the confusion that it can cause.

It might assist the hon. Gentleman's argument if I say that the relevant passage is on page 44, and is entitled:

"Fashion your life and the life of your household according to the way of Christ".

That phrase has an important origin. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was simply making the point that it is important to read the report in its proper context.

At several points, the papers contain a considerable degree of distilled wisdom. They are a good read, extraordinarily, if rather long for those of us who have other preoccupations. I like, for example, the definition of good discipline as
"not to hurt but to help".
I wonder whether that might be a good motto to put above the door of our own Standards and Privileges Committee.

We are indebted to all those who have been involved in the process, but that should not disguise the fact that this is not really a proper matter for Parliament any longer. Although I pay due attention to and respect the work of hon. Members, including several who are present, on the Measure, it is extraordinarily anomalous to subject only one Church among many to such scrutiny. The House can scarcely pretend to be made up predominantly of members of that Church—or perhaps any Christian Church—and should not therefore be given such a responsibility.

Although I agree with our Committee's conclusions, and respect the work of the Synod, I look forward to the time when we can say that it is a matter not for us but for the Church and its effective self-discipline.

2 pm

I warmly support the Clergy Discipline Measure and wish it well. I do not criticise the absence of many members of the Ecclesiastical Committee because their work is done when they present their report to the House. I shall revert to that point.

The report is outstanding. The 218th report of the Ecclesiastical Committee should be much more widely available and I should like the Church of England to consider putting its evidence on its website. It should be freely available, although, at £12.50 the report is the best value for money that can currently be obtained from the Stationery Office. I warmly recommend it for wider reading in the Church of England.

The supplementary material is especially valuable. The "Draft Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy" begins with a remarkable theological reflection by Francis Bridger. He points out that, whatever the law in the Church of England, it depends on a cluster of concepts about covenant, agape and virtue. He explains that in such a way that even a layman like me can understand it. At the end of his section, he states:
"We have seen how the Church can no longer stand back from addressing the issue of what it means to act professionally in today's social climate …. Above all, we are reminded that the foundational value for all Christian ethics is the uniquely Christian gift of agape. Without this we are but clanging cymbals, professional or otherwise."
The report raises many issues, and I should like to explore some of them further with the Second Church Estates Commissioner because they have great implications about which I remain unclear after reading all the evidence, the explanatory notes and the Measure.

Clause 24 deals with penalties and is the most serious part of the Measure. Prohibition and removal from office are the most serious penalties. Priests can be subject to rumours, vexatious complaints and gossip. Even if they are innocent and have gone through the new process, a priest and his or her family may find it impossible to continue their ministry in the parish because of the amount of gossip and malicious rumour.

The report compares other professions with the clergy—I commend the Synod for going into such detail in its work over some nine years—and it compared tribunal procedures, including standard of proof, in other professions and occupations such as those of accountants, architects, barristers, dentists, doctors, Lloyd's insurers, nurses, midwives, health visitors, pharmacists, police, solicitors and veterinary surgeons. Synod reached conclusions that informed the decision on the way in which to proceed. My problem with that is that there are some matters that none of those professions has in common with clergy. The most obvious is housing.

Low income demands some benefits, which have traditionally been offered in housing. Sometimes the freehold was part of the deal. Nowadays, approximately two out of five clergy are not beneficiaries of freehold. If somebody is prohibited or removed from office under the disciplinary procedures, what happens to the housing? What is the time scale for leaving the property? Is any assistance provided? We are not considering veterinary surgeons and solicitors but people on clerics' salaries. If we are not careful, we could impose a double penalty.

What is the position on pensions? In some professions, people who lose their jobs for disciplinary reasons also lose the right to their pension. Is that the case under the Measure? I read the documents from cover to cover but I found no mention of that in the interrogation by the Ecclesiastical Committee or the notes.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner referred to complaints about doctrine, ritual and ceremonial. I understand that the bishops made a sensible recommendation to put that on one side and deal with disciplinary matters first. However, I understand that another committee will sit and present doctrinal discipline proposals some time. What stage have we reached on that?

I had always been content to trust the Ecclesiastical Committee to do its work and present us with reports. Last night, a debate on the Clergy Discipline Measure took place in another place. I was worried to read that several of their lordships questioned the efficacy of the Ecclesiastical Committee. Lord Brightman asked about its size and recommended that it should be cut from 30 to 15 Members of Parliament. Only five of the 15 Members of this House who are entitled to attend went to both evidence sessions that the Ecclesiastical Committee held. Lord Brightman said:
"I have examined the reports of nine meetings of the committee. It is usually not possible to tell from the reports how many members of the committee voted on the expediency of a draft Measure. But I can say that in one case only 12 members attended' and voted—12 out of 30."
Lord Campbell of Alloway stated:
"Everything the noble and learned Lord—
Lord Brightman—
"said was right. On our first meeting, 22 out of 30 members attended, but later it had to be adjourned because there was not a quorum of 10. At the second meeting 16 members out of 30 attended. At the end, a member who was leaving the room had to be recalled to establish a quorum for a vote."
Lord Wallace of Saltaire said:
"Perhaps I may tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that the committee, on what many of us thought was an important issue from the outset, failed to start on two occasions for lack of a quorum. It struggled for several months to manage a quorum and to get any notice whatever."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 May 2003; Vol. 648, c. 922–26.]
The Church of England expects the Houses of Parliament to attend to the business of the Ecclesiastical Committee appropriately. Members of the Committee should ask themselves how serious it is. If it is not serious, that throws into doubt and confusion the relationship between the Church of England and Parliament. I deeply regret that because I do not share the views of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) about the inappropriateness of a relationship between the Church of England, as the established Church, and Parliament.

I have simply floated some questions. I do not know the answers but I was surprised when I read the report of the debate in the other place.

Having said that, I look forward to hearing some answers from the Second Church Estates Commissioner, and I repeat that I wish the Measure well. I am absolutely confident—having checked with my bishop before I spoke that he, too, was content—that these provisions will rapidly pass into the everyday business of the Church of England.

2.10 pm

I speak without having consulted my bishop, but I was with him in St. Paul's cathedral at the great concert service for the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy. I suspect that a partial answer to one of the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) is that, when clerics find that they cannot support themselves—whether through some fault of their own or not—the range of charities associated with the Church will provide support if it has not been possible to get it directly from the Church Commissioners or from the diocese.

I should declare an interest, in that I have just been elected a trustee of a trust established in 1695 by Dr. Busby for the support of the clergy—although the first thing that he did with the trust was to spend £10 on a dinner for the trustees. Most of the other money is spent in a way that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury would support.

I recently went to the Elizabethan exhibition at the National Maritime museum, which served as a proper reminder that, when Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne, she had to unite the country in the Church of England, and that, much to the disappointment of both the Catholics and the Presbyterians, she established the middle way. I suspect that one of the best ways of maintaining the middle way, and one of the best ways for the Church of England within Christianity to serve at least the nation of England, is for the Church to remain established. I side with my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury on that; I am not taken with what I hope are the short-term modern ideas put forward so elegantly by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler).

The Ecclesiastical Committee works in mysterious ways, and much of that work is done in public. It is possible to read that two of the noble Lords whom my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury quoted were in dissent in finding the Measure expedient. I should like to pay tribute to the Chairman of the Committee, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, for helping us to have a fair go at all the points that were on our minds and to come to a conclusion. Those who argue about the difficulty of achieving a quorum might like to consider the attractiveness of the way in which they speak and of the points that they raise. I am not saying that people left the room to avoid hearing them at length, but it is certainly true that, if these meetings took the amount of time that they properly deserved, we could still cover the ground and come to proper conclusions.

I am perfectly prepared to find myself in a minority on occasions, but I still think that I am right. Measures that I think should get through without difficulty sometimes fail to do so, but I believe that the process is important. I hope that the House will have the opportunity to debate synodical government at some point; it is about 40 years since the last report led to certain changes being made. I remind the House that the reason that we have this debate on the Measure, and this debate alone, is that we have got rid of the Second Reading, Committee and Report stages relating to changes in the laws of the Church of England. I believe that that was progress, although it has led to some difficulties. Anyone who thinks that the Synod and those who serve it do not take this matter seriously has not read the report and the papers presented to us.

I hope that there will be a way of making available to every parish in the country two of the items referred to by the hon. Member for North Cornwall and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury. The reflections by the Reverend Dr. Francis Bridger are useful, and are to be found on page 35 of the report. They are deep but valuable. The parts that I believe should go to every parish are parts I and II. The five pages covered by part I—Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy—are basically the charge to the clergy.

Paragraph 12 in part II appears on page 45, and deals with the support and care of the clergy. The question asked at the installation of every incumbent is:
"Will you uphold them in their ministry?"
The answer deserves the attention of us all, and I completely agree with it. It states:
"The officers of the parish, especially the churchwardens, should ensure that their clergy have:
Sufficient time off for rest, recreation and proper holidays.
An annual opportunity to make a retreat of at least a week's duration.
  • Adequate administrative assistance.
  • Reimbursement in full of ministerial expenses.
  • Appropriate release for extra parochial ministry.
  • Encouragement for ministry to the whole parish not just the gathered congregation."
We all ought to be aware of those words, especially when dealing with disciplinary measures involving allegations against a member of the clergy that may be right or wrong.

I would ask those ministers who might read this debate—I am glad to see some ministers here—to remember that the Church of England has the advantage of article 26, which says that what a minister does is still all right, even if the minister himself is no good. I pay tribute to those in ministry, both in the Church and the Government.

2.15 pm

With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the points that have been made in this debate, and I welcome the very constructive fashion in which they have been made. May I also echo the words of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)? I, too, am sorry that the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) is not here today. I am aware that he is indisposed and I wish him a quick recovery.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall made the point that the Measure was overdue. Its gestation took six years; it also took a little longer because the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force and had to be taken into consideration. I agree with him that the world moves on very quickly, and something that takes six years to get through the system can find itself out of date by the time it reaches the House. I am sure that we shall take that point on board. He was kind enough, however, to commend the Synod for the work and preparation that it has done, and I will pass on his remarks when the Synod meets again in July.

With the House's permission, I shall avoid any debate on happy-clappy ministers. I often feel that we have happy-clappy Members of Parliament at Question Time here in the House, although they have not given me any difficulty in this Parliament. I would not, however, want to get involved in any debate on happy-clappy ministers or on fashion.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall raised the significant point—as he has done before—about the disestablishment of the Church. I have made the point to the new archbishop that we ought not to be talking about disestablishment; some important points were made on that, to which I shall come in a moment. The hon. Gentleman might, however, like to talk about disengagement, and about how we might disengage some of the aspects of the Church from the state. The Church should get the best out of its relationship with the state, and the state should get the best out of its relationship with the Church. How we achieve that is something that we ought to look at.

The Measure before us today comes from powers emanating from the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919. That Act has not quite been in force for 100 years, but we have nevertheless been acting under its provisions for an awfully long time. I suspect that one of the problems involved is political or parliamentary inertia. There is a tremendous inbuilt inertia when it comes to considering these matters, but we ought to remember that the clergy play a very distinguished and important part in their parishes with their parishioners, and that those parishioners are also our constituents. We therefore have a strong interest in maintaining that relationship.

I welcome the remarks made by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), as I always do. He mentioned the lack of members of the Ecclesiastical Committee here today, but I am happy to say that some members of the Committee are present on the Labour and Conservative Benches. In relation to some members of the Committee, however, I would say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I sometimes think that our proceedings move more quickly and progressively when some of those members are not here.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the website report. It is certainly true that, in the age of the internet and of mass information, it would be appropriate for these proceedings to be on the website. My own website has just celebrated its half-millionth hit. How half a million people can check into my website over a period of just a few months is astonishing to me; what they do there I have no idea. Nevertheless, websites are an important source of information and I think that the hon. Gentleman has put forward a sound idea. He talked about a cluster of concepts; I often think, when dealing with issues concerning the Church and the state, that I am dealing with a confusion of concepts, rather than a cluster. The hon. Gentleman's point is certainly well made, however.

I outlined a range of penalties. The hon. Gentleman asked how malicious gossip could be dealt with. That is of course a difficult issue, but we have found ways of dealing with it different from those adopted in Massachusetts in 1692, when ladies were taken out and burnt at the stake as witches. We have progressed a bit since then.

Housing is of course important to a clergyman. His vocation and his vicarage necessitate a dwelling. The Church must be very liberal, sensitive and generous when dealing with housing for priests who may be in difficulty.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning pensions. The simple answer to his question is that under the rules of the two Church of England pension schemes, clergy who are subject to disciplinary proceedings will not lose any accrued pension entitlement. Should they have to leave the stipendiary ministry as a result of disciplinary action, they will be treated in the same way as others who choose to leave before retirement age. Their existing pension rights will be preserved, but no further entitlement will accrue, and their pensions will not become payable until they reach retirement age.

As the hon. Gentleman may know, doctrine, ritual and ceremony are still being dealt with under the 1963 Measure, and that will continue. The working party that he mentioned, consisting of bishops, clergy and laity, was established to examine the matter in detail, and will report to the House of Bishops early next year. In due course the House will report to the Synod on its proposals, modelled largely on the new Measure establishing disciplinary procedures to deal with complaints relating to doctrine, ritual and ceremony. The Measure that will enact those proposals will then be presented for synodical approval.

When I think of all the work that lies ahead, I am reminded of the words of St Augustine, who said "Make me pure, but not yet, 0 Lord". I hope that it will be some time before we find ourselves in the Ecclesiastical Committee considering those Measures.

A point was made about the size of the Committee. When I read the report of proceedings in the other place, I noted that one Member had complained that it was too large with 15 members from the Lords and 15 from the Commons, while the other had complained about the presence of the Second Church Estates Commissioner and a Member of Parliament who was also a member of the Synod. In fact the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the member of the Synod are two people who are guaranteed to be present if no one else is, so I thought there was a bit of a contradiction there. Nevertheless, attendance and the Committee's composition are a constant source of worry for the Commissioner. It is extraordinarily difficult to find volunteers for membership, and many Members of both Houses are more or less press-ganged into it. That does tend to impinge on attendance.

I apologise for missing my hon. Friend's earlier remarks, but may I say something about size, composition and attendance? I must confess that I missed the sittings, but I think that part of the problem is that those who become members of the Committee are not entirely sure of its powers and what it is likely to do. As a member myself, I would welcome an opportunity to discuss that informally.

As he said, my hon. Friend is a member of the Committee, and he has taken a strong interest in our proceedings. He anticipates a point that I intended to make. We have a busy House, a busy Committee structure and a busy timetable, and it is not always easy for Members to attend sittings of the Ecclesiastical Committee. The change in the sitting hours of the House has had a further impact on attendance. My hon. Friend's point about how we inform new Committee members is well made, and I will certainly return to it. 1 have already discussed the point made by the hon. Member for Salisbury about the Church of England and Parliament.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), who was on the Committee, made some pertinent points. He spoke of the role of the parish priest, and the vocation. It is indeed a vocation, and parish priests are therefore in a rather different category from those in other professions that the hon. Gentleman mentioned when something has happened that must be dealt with.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to Elizabeth I and the middle way. I had visions of the middle way and the third way. Four hundred years later, here we are again, inventing a new way of looking at politics. Incidentally, 30 years ago General de Gaulle also had a third way in French politics—but in the context of the established and the disestablished Church, as I have said, disengagement strikes me as a way forward for both.

I think I have covered the question of the Committee's size. The questions of synodical debate and a debate on synodical government, however, are extremely important to both the Church and the House. The hon. Gentleman made a significant point about our proceedings today, namely that there was no Committee stage and indeed no Second Reading for Church legislation. There is no Department to take over such business. The House of Commons represents the final safeguard of the rights of our constituents who are also parishioners. Today's proceedings are therefore very important, and I am glad that there is a sense of unanimity here.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke of connecting parishes with the internet. It is certainly a wonderful source of information, even for our parishes.

I think I have covered all the points made by Members. I thank them all again for their constructive participation. I thank members of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the General Synod, and the representatives of Church House who brief me so well. I commend the Measure.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Clergy Discipline Measure, 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.