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Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2010

Motion to Present for Royal Assent

That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

My Lords, and now for something quite different. The body of law regulating the Church of England is complex—believe me. As time passes, it needs, like all other law, to be corrected, brought up to date and sometimes allowed appropriate development. Miscellaneous provisions Measures are a means whereby the General Synod of the Church of England from time to time seeks to amend matters of church legislation that do not merit free-standing legislation. That is the context of this modest Measure, which aims to make a number of uncontentious changes to various aspects of ecclesiastical law which have passed their sell-by date.

By the nature of the case, Measures like this usually contain an amorphous mixture of technical material, united by the common characteristic of being uncontroversial. There are however, as is also usual, some common themes, as the Measure seeks to clarify some problematic provisions, improve various processes, give greater flexibility and confer new powers to benefit the Church of England and those it serves.

A number of the changes made in the present Measure are designed to promote or clarify the governance of the church’s national institutions. Thus, for example, Sections 1 and 11 devolve responsibilities relating to land acquired or held for the purposes of the local church from the Church Commissioners to the diocesan board of finance for the diocese concerned. At this stage I suppose I ought to record a particular personal, non-financial interest as a president and director of a diocesan board of finance. Other provisions make technical changes relating to the provisions for the governance of the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board.

The Measure will then bring a number of provisions up to date. For example, Section 5 does that in relation to the retirement age of diocesan chancellors in the light of changes to the law relating to judicial appointments to which church provisions are linked.

In a more local context, Section 10(2) brings the provisions governing Christ Church, Oxford, more into line with those applicable to other cathedrals under the Cathedrals Measure 1999, which does not apply to Christ Church. It does so by increasing the number of non-residentiary canons, allowing the appointment of lay and ecumenical canons and creating a college of canons with specified functions.

Finally, the Measure will make certain changes to benefit the life of the church at different levels. Notably, Section 9, which has been included with the agreement of the Charity Commissioners, provides for gifts to or for the benefit of the Church of England to take effect as gifts to the Archbishops’ Council, thereby avoiding the time and trouble involved in obtaining directions under the Royal Sign Manual or a scheme made by the court or the Charity Commission. Oddly, the Church of England does not exist as a corporate entity able to receive gifts.

By way of further example, Section 10(3) amends the Care of Cathedrals Measure 1990 so as to bring proposals for works which would affect human remains in cathedral precincts, which are currently subject to secular control, within the controls contained in that Measure, in the same way that human remains in churchyards are already subject to the faculty jurisdiction. If the Measure is enacted, the intention would be to ask the Ministry of Justice, whose coroners’ department has already been consulted on the matter, to amend secular legislation, disapplying it in all cases where ecclesiastical controls apply, and thus avoiding dual control over human remains in cathedral precincts.

I hope that these necessarily brief and selective examples of what the Measure seeks to do will show that, beneath a somewhat dry and technical complexity on the outside, there lies the rather commonsensical aim of making the legal processes of the Church of England more effective at every level. Your Lordships might like to know that when this Measure was presented at the final approval stage in the General Synod, it was approved by 185 votes to one, with one abstention.

The Measure has been found expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee and now comes to your Lordships’ House for approval. I hope that approval will be readily forthcoming, and I commend the Measure to your Lordships’ House.

Motion agreed.