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Church of England: Appointment of Bishops

Volume 748: debated on Monday 14 October 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Church of England about the procedure for the appointment of bishops in the Church of England.

My Lords, the current procedure for the appointment of bishops to the Church of England was agreed by the previous Government in 2008 after consultation with the church and the publication of a White Paper, The Governance of Britain. There have been no further discussions between the Government and the church on this issue since 2008 and the Government see no need to initiate any such discussions.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is it not the case that bishops are retiring faster than they are being appointed? In a little while, there will be none at all. If the most reverend Primate’s diary is so congested that he cannot find time for additional meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission, would it not be a good idea to reappoint the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who chaired that committee so effectively when it came to choosing the most reverend Primate?

My Lords, I am informed that there are currently four vacancies for diocesan bishops and two forthcoming retirements. There is also the issue of the new combined diocese of Leeds. I accept that the Church of England has a rather lengthy consultation procedure before new bishops are appointed. I spoke to the joint secretaries of the Crown Nominations Commission last week, who were in Hereford consulting members of the diocese on the nature and needs of the diocese and thus the characteristics they wanted in a new bishop. That seems entirely desirable. I understand that in the diocese of Guildford, with which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will be concerned, the bishop is due to retire at the end of November. It is likely that his successor, after this consultation, will be agreed in June or July next year.

My Lords, what assistance are Her Majesty’s Government giving to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in redressing the gender imbalance on the Bishops’ Benches in your Lordships’ House?

My Lords, the Church of England is moving with all deliberate speed towards the appointment of women bishops. I think it quite possible that the first women bishops will be consecrated before we have reached the next stage of House of Lords reform.

My Lords, synthesising the two previous questions, will the Minister tell us how many women clerics are in a senior position in the Church of England? Does he agree that a large number of vacancies might be helpful for the promotion of the majority of very good senior women to bishoprics as and when the Church of England approves their appointment?

It is desirable that dioceses nevertheless continue to appoint bishops. I know a number of senior women in the Church of England and have a great deal of respect for them. One of them is the wife of my good friend the Vicar of Putney. I have no doubt that in time, the Church of England will have a number of excellent women bishops in the same way that it now has a number of excellent archdeacons, canons, and others from the female sex.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that one of the great things about Church of England bishops is that their number in this House has an upper limit, whereas coalition Peers seem to be flooding in with no apparent upper limit? Are there any members of the Liberal Democrat Party who are not in the House of Lords?

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, did not take the other path appropriate to the Question, which is that the Bench of Bishops is the only section of this Chamber that has an upper age limit, which is 70.

My Lords, after that hilarious question from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, does my noble friend agree with me that it is somewhat unfortunate that Episcopal vacancies are now advertised? Is there not an anti-vocationary element there?

It may simply be a useful movement towards transparency. I know there are those who would like the Church of England to remain as it was 150 years ago or more, but as a member of the Church of England, I am extremely happy that it has moved and modernised over the last few years.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, typically, the Crown Nominations Commission consults some 100 members of civil society in each region to which appointments are made; that legislation to bring forward the possibility of women bishops is now before the General Synod and it is anticipated that it will be brought into law within two years; and that the Archbishop of Canterbury takes a very keen interest in the proceedings of this House, and will take careful note of any concerns about the speed of Episcopal appointments made in the course of this Question Time?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. In consulting when preparing for this Question, I was struck by how many of the people I spoke to said, “You have to understand that the workload of a diocesan bishop is enormous and that some wish to retire before the age of 70 because they feel they have done more than they can sustain for more than 10 to 15 years”.

My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Church of England on all the splendid work that it does in its dioceses, especially with people who are suffering so much under the austerity programme of this Government? Will he also join me in congratulating the Church of Wales on its vote in favour of women bishops?