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Dioceses Measure

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 29 November 1977

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

3.2 p.m.

rose to move, That this House do direct that in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Dioceses Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Dioceses Measure be presented to Her Majesty for Royal Assent. Fundamentally this Measure concerns the discharge of the duties of a bishop to the Church and to the nation, and it is intended to help him to carry out his responsibilities more effectively. Its roots, therefore, go deep into history, for from generation to generation the Church has had to adapt its functions to the needs of the society in which it was set, and consequently the character of a bishop's work has changed. In the Middle Ages many of the bishops were the great officers of the State. Following the Reformation they retained their close links to the State and were, in many cases, subservient to it. There was pastoral oversight of a kind; there was also much absenteeism as bishops resided in their London houses and spent much of their time in your Lordships' House.

In the 19th century reform was in the air. The movements of population made the vast medieval dioceses totally insufficient for the tasks ahead. Men like Samuel Wilberforce remodelled the episcopate. The distinguished Church historian, who had been a diocesan bishop and therefore knew what he was writing about, remarked that modern bishops hustled from committee to committee and, almost overwhelmed by administrative detail, may have little cause to bless Bishop Wilberforce. But in an age which had for far too long been content with easy-going standards some such example was needed.

We, in our day, have moved on. The prelate in his shovel hat, apron and gaiters is a creature of the past. The bishop of the Church of England will, I trust, continue to be a national figure and exercise his privilege of membership of this House. But today the emphasis is on episcopy, on pastoral care, and the bishop needs to be able to work within a structure that, so far as possible, releases him from intolerable burdens and frees him to be a real father in God to the clergy and laity of his diocese. This is the underlying purpose of this Measure.

The report of the Ecclesiastical Committee on the Measure is in your Lordships' hands. It will be noted that in one particular, at its request, the Measure was amended, and so it is recommended to your Lordships' House. The comments and explanations of the Legislative Committee of the General Synod are also before your Lordships. I need not go into all the details of the Measure, but I should draw your Lordships' attention to certain objectives with which it deals. First, the size of dioceses. One hundred and fifty years ago there were 26 dioceses. The movement of population and the creation of great conurbations made reorganisation essential. From 1836, when the diocese of Ripon was created, to 1927 when the dioceses of Derby, Guildford and Portsmouth came into being, the number of dioceses was increased from 26 to 43. This has meant, in the words of Professor Owen Chadwick, that a bishop is—

"far closer to his clergy and laity than the bishop of 1850 could be or was expected to be."

But in the past, on every occasion of the creation of a new diocese, it has become necessary to come to Parliament. Under the Measure, with considerable safeguards, the creation of new dioceses, and the alteration of diocesan boundaries, will be carried out as a function of the General Synod through the newly established Dioceses Commission. I can assure the House that the general opinion of the General Synod in this matter is exceedingly conservative. It has expressed its mind very clearly on this. It has rejected the school of thought which is known as mono-episcopacy, which would create about 120 dioceses each with one bishop, and it is therefore exceedingly unlikely that the General Synod and the Dioceses Commission would lightly create a new diocese. I hope that Parliament will appreciate that this Measure, in this respect, will relieve it of a detailed administrative burden.

Secondly, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Measure deals with the status and work of suffragan bishops. Such bishops were brought into existence by an Act of 1534, and though a few were consecrated between the years 1536 to 1592 they did not reappear in their present role until the end of the 19th century. Their position is anomalous. Although consecrated bishops in the fullest sense, they are virtually episcopal curates. They are the most defenceless clergymen in the Church of England, for they depend solely for the exercise of their functions upon the goodwill of the diocesan bishop, who gives them a commission to exercise such episcopal functions as he cares to allocate to them. He may withdraw his commission at a moment's notice; a new bishop coming to a diocese may refuse to renew it, and the suffragan can do only as much, or as little, as his diocesan bishop allows him.

In modern circumstances, this is considered both undesirable and unfair. The Measure therefore gives authority for the creation of areas within a diocese with their area synods, and for the delegation of responsibility for episcopal oversight, either permanently or personally, to the suffragan bishop. Such action can only be taken with the consent of the diocesan bishop, his diocesan synod, and the Dioceses Commission. It will, it is believed, give a proper recognition to the suffragan bishop as a bishop, and it will relieve the diocesan bishop of much routine administration and, in all, it will lead to better pastoral oversight and care, which is of course the most important issue of this Measure.

The key factor in all these reforms is to be the Dioceses Commission which will be a continuing body to be established by the General Synod. It will be an advisory body, especially in the important area of requests for the creation of new suffragan Sees which, at the moment, has been very haphazard, and it will, acting on the initiative of a diocese, prepare schemes for reorganisation, as is set out in Clause 3 of the Measure. The machinery for bringing schemes into effect is set out in the following clauses.

Without going into burdensome detail I hope I have sufficiently set before the House the basic concerns of this Measure and I would therefore add only two further observations. First, this Measure is the outcome of a ground swell of conviction within the Church that, if it is to fulfil its responsibilities of pastoral care to the nation, there must be some machinery for re-ordering the structure of dioceses and the work of bishops so that the barriers to that pastoral work may be removed. The Church of England is not the only Christian communion in this country to be aware of this crying need; the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, is taking very similar steps and one may hope that, because there is this common mind among Christians, pastoral reorganisation at this level will lead to closer understanding and co-operation in the days to come. These issues have been carefully considered and they have been debated over a very long period. The voting on final approval as recorded on page 5 of the comments was almost unanimous.

Secondly, I hope your Lordships will appreciate that such a Measure as this is designed to relieve Parliament of the necessity of having to spend time on the minutiae of ecclesiastical administration. My mind goes back to the debates in this House and another place over what a clergyman should wear when he is celebrating the Holy Communion or what the table should be made of on which he does so. There was considerable and reasonable impatience at the placing of those matters before Parliament.

There are some important issues, though not many, still to come before your Lordships in which Parliament should have a right to express its mind. But, generally, the Church wants to respond to the opinion which has been expressed in Parliament that it should not be burdened with details such as the boundaries of dioceses or the functions of bishops, and indeed this was a matter which was specifically mentioned in the Chadwick Report on Church and State. I hope therefore that your Lordships will be sympathetic to the purposes of this Measure and accord to it an Affirmative Resolution.

Moved, That this House do direct that in accordance with the Church of England

Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Dioceses Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—( The Bishop of London.)

3.13 p.m.

My Lords, this is just the latest of a series of general Measures which is steadily removing, as the right reverend Prelate has said, the ultimate authority over individual Church of England decisions from Parliament and leaving it in the hands of the General Synod. I have a feeling that these Measures are slipping through both Houses a little too easily.

I see two dangers in this transfer of power. The first is this. Although it may seem logical and right in advance that a certain broad area of decision-making should be left to the General Synod, within that broad area individual decisions may be made that were never foreseen by Parliament, and had they been foreseen would, very probably, not have been approved when it passed the Measure.

My Lords, our experience in this respect has not been very happy. When the Redundancy of Churches Measure was presented to this House it was said that, owing to shifts of population, certain church buildings were no longer needed. This seemed fair and reasonable. In a large community it may well make sense to reduce the number of churches from three to two, particularly when one of them is in an area that is no longer residential. But the Measure has since been used in a high-handed way to deprive small isolated communities of their traditional place of worship—buildings that for centuries their forbears have taken a pride in struggling to maintain.

In many villages this unspoken threat bedevilled—and I use that word intentionally—relations between parochial church councils and higher Church authorities. If any administrative change affecting their parish is suggested to them, they dare not accept it on its merits, however sensible it may seem in itself, because they now have to consider whether it may prove to be one more inexorable step towards ultimately depriving them of their church.

More recently, the Worship and Doctrine Measure again seemed reasonable when it was presented to Parliament. Many parishes had switched reasonably happily from the 1662 Prayer Book to Series One, Series Two or Series Three. If it had stopped there, it would have been all right. But Series Two is out of print now; all you can get to replace it when the paper-back copies belonging to a particular church wear out is a rewritten amalgum of Series One and Two. And this form will change again in a couple of years when the new hard-back Prayer Book comes out. What people want above all is continuity. This chopping and changing does not bring new people into the churches; it merely upsets those who are there already. And it was certainly never foreseen when the Measure was before Parliament. If, for instance, the General Synod still had to seek the approval of Parliament before rewriting, and rewriting again, the Lord's Prayer, I very much doubt if your Lordships would pass it. Now it can be done without a "by your leave".

And this Measure that is before us today. As the right reverend Prelate has described it to your Lordships it seems eminently reasonable in theory, but how is it going to be administered in practice? Your Lordships will remember the changes in county boundaries under the Local Government Act 1972, and the distress that the loss of old loyalties caused in many parts of the country. There may well be parishes, too, which would bitterly resent losing the connection with their traditional diocese. Seeing what has happened over these past Measures, can we rely on the General Synod to remember that people are people with feelings, and not just units of population to be tossed about for their own administrative convenience?

The second danger that I foresee in this steady shift of power from Parliament to the General Synod is that the General Synod is totally remote from the grassroots church-goer. If somebody objects to something that is being done at Westminster he knows the name of his Member of Parliament; he can write to him, he can encourage his friends to do the same, and if necessary, as a final resort, they can withhold their votes at the next Election. I have no idea as to who my representative on the General Synod is.

More important, he has no way of knowing that I or the thousands of others he represents are thinking. The parish elects a representative to the Deanery Synod, the Deaner Synod elects a representative to the Diocesan Synod, who in turn elect a representative to the General Synod. All right:—with a little research I can find out who my ultimate representative is. But if I object to the way that the General Synod is acting over all these matters, what can I do about it? My only sanction is to vote against the poor chap who represents my parish on the Deanery Synod, who may well be my next-door neighbour, who in all probability feels exactly the same way as I do, and who in any case is two removes away from the Assembly where the power lies.

I do not intend to oppose this order this afternoon, but I wish to put one question to the right referend Prelate the Bishop of London, and to make one request. The question is, just how far has this transfer of power progressed? When this Measure has been passed, what areas of decision will still remain the prerogative of Parliament, and what proportion do they form of the whole? And the request is this: That the people to whom we are transferring these powers should show a little bit more humility and a little bit more compassion in exercising them than they have heretofore, not only as regards this present Measure but as regards its predecessors as well, and in particular the two that I have mentioned. Because if they do not, if they continue to ignore the feelings and wishes of the people they represent, the next time such a Measure comes before Parliament, the time may well have come when it would be right for your Lordships and Members of another place to say, "Enough is enough".

3.20 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to offer a layman's respectful support to this Measure, which has been moved so clearly and cogently by the right reverend Prelate, but I should like also to associate myself with the words of my noble friend who has just sat down. My own feeling about that matter is that Clause 5 in the Measure, as drafted, ought to provide, and certainly does in the letter, for the means of making sure that proper consultation takes place, and that far-reaching reorganisations do not take place against the wishes of the majority or behind people's backs.

It also seems to me that the laymen who have to elect representatives to Synods at different levels will need to take a little more care than they have taken in the past to send to the Synods people who are capable of being judges of public affairs of this kind. I hope, therefore, that the Measure will soon receive the Royal Assent. Of course we shall not know whether the wise words of my noble friend have been heeded until we see the Measure put into practice, which I hope it shortly will be.

My noble friend Lord Denham mentioned local government reorganisation. I believe that the fact that local government reorganisation, or rather the reorganisation of county boundaries, has now taken place and is complete, provides another reason—and a strong reason—why this Measure should be brought in now. After all, there is much to be said for the diocesan boundaries being coterminous with the local government boundaries, if only because it would be easier in that way for people who wish to serve Church and State to do both together.

But I should like, in a few words, to give an example from my own part of the world of the work which awaits the Commission which is proposed in the Measure. I am talking about the West Midlands, where I come from. There are four dioceses which are concerned in the West Midlands conurbation and the adjoining counties: Birmingham, Worcester, Lichfield and Hereford. Very likely the right thing would be to look at them all together. But I should like to speak in particular about the last two—Lichfield and Hereford—and my diocesan bishop knows that I am doing so.

Lichfield diocese has a population of well over 2 million; Hereford has under half a million. Both carry the same overheads in the way of cathedrals, bishops, deans and canons. Shropshire (the county of Salop) has a population of 350,000, and it is split between the two dioceses. So Church life for centuries, instead of centring on the county town of Shrewsbury, is drawn away to Lichfield and Hereford, which are places to which Shropshire people do not normally go on any other business. This problem is not new to this House; I make no apology for bringing it up again. Those who care to look at Hansard for March 1926 will find that someone said then that the problem was as old as 1888. In 1926, a Bill was introduced to create a separate diocese for Shropshire at the expense of Hereford. It passed in the other place, and was defeated here by one vote. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth took place. Among the weepers and gnashers were my father and mother. But thank heaven! it happened the way it did, because, had the two dioceses been created then, neither could possibly have been viable at the present time.

But at that time there was strong support for what I believe would have been a much more sensible scheme; namely, to take the whole of Shropshire and put it into the Hereford diocese, making proper arrangements for devolution—which in this context is not such a dirty word as your Lordships may think—so that the financial arrangements for the two counties could be dealt with by delegation from the diocese.

Apart from what I am certain would be for the good of Shropshire, I am quite sure that a scheme like this would be an act of common sense. There is another reason why it would be so. Here, I refer to the new town of Telford, and I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, chairman of the town's development corporation, is not in his place. I did not have the opportunity of warning him that I was going to say this. The new town of Telford is divided into two, ecclesiastically. It lies between the two dioceses. Some time ago, Lord North-field's predecessor gave the opinion, on behalf of the new town development corporation, that it would be much better if the whole of Telford new town was in one diocese and not in two, although he refrained from saying which diocese he thought it should be in.

There we are with a new town growing, with people of all kinds and colours rapidly flowing in, and the Church of England, in common with the other Churches, doing its best, but handicapped by the diocesan boundary. I thought that I would describe that position to the House, not as a parochial example, but as an example of the kind of work which awaits the Commission once the Measure receives the Royal Assent and gets to work, as I hope it will. Therefore, I support the Measure, and once again draw attention to what my noble friend said about it.

3.26 p.m.

My Lords, at the outset of my contribution to the debate I must declare an interest, although a small one, in that I am employed part-time as the secretary of the International Affairs Committee of one of the boards of the General Synod. But the interest is diminished by the fact that it is a part-time appointment, and it is diminishing still because it is terminating at the end of the year. Moreover, my Lords, I do not think that from what I say you will feel that I have been influenced by it.

The subject which the right reverend Prelate has introduced to us in such reasonable and measured tones deals with the fabric of our State and history. Our national affairs are like a garment made of two pieces, and this is where the stitching is, between Church and State. As the right reverend Prelate so clearly pointed out, this interaction has gone on from the beginning of our history. From Odo of Bayeaux to Cardinal Wolsey it was difficult to distinguish between the roles of the prelate and the statesman, and from Henry VIII to James II religion and politics interacted so fiercely within the institutions of both Church and State that they boiled over on to the battlefields of the Civil War.

Something approaching calm did not become re-established until the arrival of the House of Orange in the Glorious Revolution, and since then we have had a series of diminishing periods of activity which have led to the present state which some would say resulted from cynicism and indifference, and others from wisdom and moderation.

None the less, the duality continues from top to bottom. At the Coronation, the Sovereign is anointed to her sovereignty by the Archbishop of Canterbury or, in his absence, by the Archbishop of York. At their enthronement it is clear that both archbishops hold their archbishoprics of the Queen. We have the right reverend Prelates sitting in such handsome and unaccustomed array before us today as witness of the involvement of Church and State together in the politics of our national life. The prayers in this House and in another place are Anglican prayers. Outside Parliament, in the maintained schools, a large number of parish clergy still have the right of access to the children. Would that they were more, and that they had been more vigorously defended in that role. We have lay patronage and presentation to livings, but I will not go on.

It is enough to say that clearly it would be foolish to argue that the conduct of the affairs of the Church of England do not closely affect the climate of the affairs of the nation of England, and indeed a wider circle still. It is in that context that we have to examine the Measure now laid before us, and for a start we have to be seized of both its nature and its effects.

In its nature it is an Affirmative Instrument; that is to say, it is an instrument which your Lordships can in no way amend. You must either accept it or reject it. Furthermore, it would appear to be an irreversible step, because although we are employing the machinery to take from Parliament powers and give them to the Synod, there is no machinery created, and no provision for the creation of machinery, to recall those powers. Therefore, what your Lordships decide today will be decided for ever and always, provided of course that another place concurs in our judgment. It is therefore not an unimportant departure, and I note with surprise and real regret that Her Majesty's Government, elected by the people and appointed by Her Majesty to watch over their several interests, regard this Measure as being of insufficient consequence for one single voice to be raised from their Benches.

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord in his very agreeable and interesting speech, but I cannot let him get away with that. This, of course, like many other Church matters, is a devolved matter on which the Government, although they were of course aware of the Measure which the right reverend Prelate was to introduce, have no particular view. They are quite neutral about it; and, therefore, they are not taking part, as indeed they do not take part in the great majority of debates on these Measures.

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says in good part. On the other hand, if it is a devolved matter we none of us have any right to speak about it at all; and why is it that, until 1964, it was the custom of the Government to engage themselves in these affairs? However, the noble Lord has made his point.

My Lords, it seems to me that we are touching on a matter which closely affects the national welfare. The effects of this Measure are, as has been said, to transfer a number of powers, many of them internal to the Church, to the control of the General Synod and of a Commission set up by it; and we have heard the reasonable contentions of the right reverend Prelate as to what their intentions are and the moderation with which these powers will be used. But I have often said, and make no apology for saying again, that what you have to consider when looking at a constitutional measure is not the purpose for which the powers have been taken but, as my noble friend Lord Denham adumbrated, the purposes for which they can subsequently be used by people quite other than those who either gave or took them.

For this purpose, your Lordships will have looked at the Schedule and seen that the first two powers are to abolish or create bishoprics or dioceses. I do not seriously contend that the General Synod will make irresponsible and divisive use of these powers, but I do think that they need to take note of the mood, both of their constituency and of those elements of it that have a voice in our Houses of Parliament. Slow though the processes of innovation may seem to the members of the General Synod who institute them, they are a great deal more rapid than the public—their public and ours—is accustomed to in spiritual and constitutional matters. They may think that Series 1, 2 and 3 have been universally assimilated and approved in place of the 1662 Prayer Book, but in this they would be wrong. I still hear frequent pleas (and your Lordships have just heard another) against the way that this is handled. They may think the New English Bible is everywhere welcomed and preferred to the Authorised Version, but this is not so; and they may have thought that the amalgamation of parishes or the scheduling of redundant churches, or the new version of The Lord's Prayer, nowhere gave rise to offence or resentment, but, if they did, my noble friend Lord Denham has disabused them.

The essential point, my Lords, is this. Since the 'sixties there has been a succession of innovations, each of which has upset some of their constituency, and indeed some of ours, and none of which has been digested before another is presented. The diet may seem very wholesome, reasonable and beneficial to them, but, if I may make an analogy, and if they think that the resentment which it causes among some is infantile, then I would say that when a nurse feeds an infant, no matter how nourishing and beneficial the baby food may be, she is well advised to let it swallow one mouthful before she inserts the spoon with another; and, if she does not, she will finish up with egg all over the child's face and very often, in my experience, over hers as well. This situation causes a loss of confidence in both the mother and the child. At least, it did in me and my mother in 1930, when it happened to me.

In this context, the Mother of Parliaments sees itself, doubtless with very little justification but none the less quite clearly, as the mother of the child; it sees the general public, which is its own constituency and of which the parishes, remotely, are the constituency of the General Synod, as the child in the story; and it sees the General Synod itself as the nanny. It is saying to the nanny, in effect, "Please use your spoon with a little more discretion". If Parliament feels that this discretion is lacking, there may indeed be trouble when next she asks for a new packet of baby food. That, my Lords, in essence, is what my noble friend Lord Denham has said; and I hope your Lordships will not be misled by the lightheartedness of the analogy as to the gravity of the message it conveys.

That is the extent of my reservations about this Measure. I note that it has been inspired in part by the Chadwick Report and that it has been amended to meet the strictures of the Ecclesiastical Committee, and I accept that in instituting synodical government Parliament, quite rightly, willed that the Church alone should regulate what alone concerns the Church. Therefore, my Lords, it is with no ill will but, I hope, with a not ungracious counsel of caution to the Church and, indeed, to the State, that I ask your Lordships not to resist this Measure.

3.35 p.m.

My Lords, we have heard some highly conservative observations on these matters. I am one of those who thinks that it is high time the Church began to move with the times, and I think that Measures such as this are precisely what is required to enable it to do so. We have educated an enormous number of young people in physics and chemistry and in modern disciplines, and to them the antique wording of the 1662 service, regarded with great affection by myself and by many other people, is really quite an obstacle to their coming to church. I speak as a father of four and I know a great many young people, and it is quite hard to get them not to criticise some of the ancient wording. I believe that Measures such as this, which enable the Church to move with the times, are very helpful to the continued practice of the Christian religion in our country, and I give wholehearted support to this Measure.

My Lords, I should like to say just one thing as president of the Prayer Book Society—and I rather wish that I had had greater notice of this Motion. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, says that people are not moved by the usages and the words of the 1662 Book, and one recalls that Series 3 talks about " The President". Is this President Nixon or is it President Amin? Series 3 is as bad as that. The beauty of the words of 1662 is beyond peradvanture; and for the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, to say that modern youth cannot be moved by beautiful English is patronage in its worst sense.

My Lords, following on the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, and of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, may I say that I am vice-president of the Prayer Book Society, and my experience as vice-president is quite contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said when he suggested that the Book of Common Prayer is a disincentive to people coming to church. On the contrary, what I have found through the members of the Prayer Book Society is that, more often than not, the new forms of service are forced on a reluctant laity by the clergy, most often by the moral authority of the vicar in a parish church council. The point is simply that, to a far greater extent than is probably realised, the laity just do not want the new forms of service.

3.35 p.m.

My Lords, I apologise for not having put my name down on the list of speakers. I should merely like to go on record as disagreeing entirely with what was said by my noble friend Lord Hankey. I cannot feel that young people are particularly attracted by modern wording. All that has happened is that the dignity and the beauty of the church service has been destroyed, and I do not think that modern English is the thing that is going to attract young people. It is far more a question of what the Church is doing in our everyday lives that is going to bring them into any kind of convinced membership of the Church.

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Somers it was not my intention to intervene, but may I remind the House that the language of that period, and even earlier, as in Shakespeare's " Age of Kings", was a television best-seller over every continent where the English language is spoken, and the idea that young people do not react to Shakespeare when well produced is a non-starter. What the Church has got to do is not to desert its language, but to concentrate on how it produces it.

3.40 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, although I must confess that during the last few speeches I have wondered what they had to do with the Dioceses Measure which is the matter we have before us. However, I might say a word to those who have expressed their opinions about the language and the use of these modern services. The Worship and Doctrine Measure has written into it the safeguards that any of them could use at any time, because if a majority of the parochial church council desire that other services should be used, and there is disagreement with the parish priest, then he has by law to use the 1662 Book and the practice that was in use for the last two or three years, until agreement has been reached. Therefore, if there are those who do not like the use of these modern services, all that they have to do is to persuade a majority of the members of their parochial church council to take the action which is laid down for them in the Worship and Doctrine Measure.

My Lords, may I ask the right reverend Prelate whether he acknowledges that in many instances in a parish church council, no matter what the law is, the new forms of service are imposed on a reluctant laity by the moral authority of the vicar?

Several noble Lords: Yes, yes!

My Lords, I have no evidence that that is happening. If it is, then the remedy lies with the people who feel that they are not getting what they want. It is in the Measure and anybody can use the powers that are there. My own feeling is that, much as I love 1662 and much as I, personally, do not like addressing the Almighty in the second person plural, I find in so many of the churches that I go to these services are welcomed and are being used and are obviously of great satisfaction to the people worshipping there. I think there is a considerable area of disagreement here as to exactly what the facts are.

I was saddened to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. He was obviously speaking from very deep and personal concern and his speech was in large measure a stricture and criticism of those of us who are involved in the administration of the Church and in the fulfilling of the terms of these various Measures to which Parliament has given its permission. I was not quite sure what he was referring to. He mentioned the " Redundant Churches Measure". There is no such measure. There is a section of the Pastoral Measure which deals with redundant churches. That is probably what he was referring to. Also, I was not clear whether he was referring to the union of benefices or only to the declaration of redundancy of churches. But, in whichever case it is, I would remind him that there are considerable safeguards. I see him showing his dissent. All that I can say is that the law is there for all to see.

I and other right reverend Prelates who are sitting here are on the committees of the Church Commissioners who have to sit in a quasi-judicial position regarding these requests and objections; and we take unlimited care to examine these matters. When there is a difficult case, a special delegation from the Church Commissioners goes to the place and meets with all the people and talks with them. Then there is the final appeal to the Privy Council. Noble Lords should not think that that is a difficult or forbidding thing, because on many occasions I have known quite ordinary church wardens to go and plead their own cause before the Privy Council. Therefore, there are many safeguards before a church can be declared redundant. I fully appreciate that there are some occasions when these things do cause distress and heart searching, but I can assure noble Lords that those of us who are involved in this do our utmost to see that those things are gently and understandingly dealt with; and, if that is not the case, then we are very much to blame.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, spoke about the General Synod as being remote from the grass roots. I think that this is always a danger as regards any kind of democratic assembly—and I think that there are a good many people who would not know the name of their Member of Parliament. But it is open to any churchman to find out who are the members of the General Synod and, if he cannot do so, to write directly to the bishop and express to him his misgivings about anything that is coming before the Synod. I would say most genuinely that if these matters are of real concern, then we need people on the General Synod who will come to express these sentiments and test them against the general opinion of the General Synod. I would hope that somebody like the noble Lord, Lord Denham, would seek membership of the General Synod and be able to make the speeches there that he makes here and to persuade the General Synod to his point of view.

He put to me questions as to how far the Synod has gone, how far it intends to go and what are still the remaining safeguards. I would suggest to your Lordships that those safeguards are still very considerable, for the Synod recognises that certain powers remain in the hands of Parliament and that is why we must come here for an Affirmative Resolution. I could not possibly say that these matters have been dealt with lightly; the ones that I have been involved with have been very thoroughly debated here and even more highly scrutinised when they get to the other place.

Nevertheless, I can remind the noble Lord, first of all, that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is specifically entrenched as a legal alternative in the Worship and Doctrine Measure and, therefore, it could only cease to be a legal alternative by deliberate Act of Parliament. The Dioceses Measure, for instance, would not allow the creation of a further province. The Church of England is divided, as your Lordships will know, into the Provinces of Canterbury and York. Some people think that there ought to be a Province of London. But if there is ever to be such, it cannot be created under the Dioceses Measure: we should have to come again to Parliament on that particular issue. The constitution of the Synod and the rules of procedure are subject to the scrutiny of Parliament; all issues of property would have to come before Parliament; the common law rights of citizens to the ministries of the Church of England are safeguarded. Although there is a new procedure for Crown appointments, ultimately they remain in the hands of the Sovereign. The structure of the Ecclesiastical Courts, which was decided by the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure in 1963, would be a matter over which Parliament would have much to say. There are still the safeguards of the courts for aggrieved citizens should they feel that the law of the Church has been abused. There are many ways in which the rights of citizens are still protected.

There are one or two major issues which are still coming before the Synod and eventually before Parliament. One of these is the whole difficult question of patronage. As soon as the Church Assembly was created in 1919 the first thing that it tried to solve was the problems of patronage, and we are still having to wrestle with them. No doubt, sooner or later, Measures will be brought before Parliament on this very difficult issue, but that is one matter that is still outstanding. The other big issue which may have to be decided in the near future is the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood of the Church of England. The Church of England General Synod is going to examine this again after the Lambeth Conference next year in November 1978.

If it were to decide that women should be ordained, then we should still have to come to Parliament because we are told, rightly or wrongly—we are advised by legal experts—that the ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer presumes that the priesthood is male and, therefore, that would have to be changed before women could be ordained. Those matters are still before us. But, as I say, I think this process of reform is coming to an end. Those of us who are involved in it sincerely hope that this is the case.

It was good to hear the voice of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. His voice, and that of his family, has always been valued in ecclesiastical matters. We remember the doughty fight put up for the Prayer Book in 1927–28 in another place, and also the disappointment over the Diocese of Shropshire later on. As I believe and understand, the Dioceses Commission will be a very responsible body, and the terms of those who have to be consulted are clearly laid out in the Measure. If they were to take action in defiance of any of the terms of the Measure, that would be a serious matter, one on which there would be a full expression of views. He may rest assured that the greatest possible care will be taken by consulting as many people as possible.

The main point which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made was that we are making changes too rapidly and that we are, so to speak, suffocating Parliament by the rapidity of the Measures that we have been bringing before Parliament. I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord because the Church of England has been wrestling with these constitutional problems for at least 100 years, and there have been one after another Church and State Commissions which have been recommending that various things should be done. One of our difficulties is that there was a theological reformation but not an administrative reformation, and we have been largely saddled with a mediaeval structure for the Church in the 20th century. Therefore it is a process going back to the Royal Commission at the turn of the century, the creation of the Church Assembly by the enabling Measure in 1919 and various other matters: the reform of canon law, the reform of the Church courts, and so on. It is possibly because we feel that the pressures are so great that we have had to bring the succession of Measures before Parliament.

My Lords, in order to be clear for the record, I was indicating not so much Parliamentary indigestion, as the indigestion of the inner articulate parts of the Church of England which have been alluded to already, and to those who feel that they have some stake in the Church without being active members of it. That is a constituency of which we are more sensitive than is the General Synod. It was to that that I was drawing attention.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that correction. I can assure him—as I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Denham—that there are people who are sensitive to these matters. If people have been hurt by changes, then that is a fault which ought not to have taken place. When changes come, it is inevitable that some people will dislike them. We know that in another great Christian communion in this country there are similar strong feelings about the changes which are taking place. It is obviously a point which has been made strongly and should be watched and will certainly be taken from this debate. In these matters of change we ought to be sensitive and humble. I hope that, with those assurances, your Lordships will give assent to this Motion.

My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, could he answer Lord Elton's point on the constitutional changes involved in this order?

I am afraid, my Lords, I do not understand the implications of the noble Earl's question.

My Lords, am I not right in saying that this involves a possible change in the constitution of the Bench of Bishops in your Lordships' House?

My Lords, I see no indication of that in this Measure. The likelihood of a diocese being dissolved completely and therefore the bishop being, so to speak, out of a job, is not a constitutional matter. I see no constitutional implications in the rearrangement of dioceses or within dioceses.

On Question, Motion agreed to.