Motion to Direct
My Lords, the Mission and Pastoral etc. (Amendment) Measure implements proposals that were initially formulated by a simplification task group established by the Archbishops’ Council. It makes various amendments to provisions of existing legislation concerned with pastoral reorganisation and other related matters to make those provisions more effective and more efficient.
Pastoral reorganisation within the Church of England is brought about by pastoral schemes and pastoral orders made by the Church Commissioners. That, at least, is how its legal aspects are dealt with. Before anything ever reaches that stage there is of course hard work to be done on the ground by clergy and laity and others within dioceses to bring forward proposals. The types of changes that we mean when we talk about pastoral reorganisation include, for example, the creation of new benefices and parishes, the closure of churches and the designation of new parish churches, the allocation of rights of patronage and miscellaneous other matters.
This Measure amends provisions in the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 that set out the process for making such pastoral schemes and orders. The amendments will streamline the process by removing duplication and making the consultation process more effective. The rights of parishioners and others to be consulted and to make representations in relation to proposals for pastoral reorganisation clearly remain in place, but the consultation process will become focused on the substance of proposals for change, irrespective of whether the proposals take the form of a specific recommendation or of issues that have been identified as needing to be addressed.
There is a new provision: where a deanery synod has, after consulting interested parties, formulated a deanery plan for pastoral reorganisation—and that, by definition, covers more than one parish and is an increasingly common occurrence—the Church Commissioners will operate a presumption in favour of giving effect to the proposals contained in such a deanery plan. The Measure introduces a new type of instrument called a “bishop’s pastoral order”, which will be available to provide for a very limited range of administrative matters: for example, something as simple as changing the name of a parish or creating a new deanery. The bishop will be able to make orders providing for this limited range of matters without going through the more involved procedures for pastoral schemes and pastoral orders. None the less, the bishop must in these circumstances consult the diocesan mission and pastoral committee and anyone else whom the bishop deems ought to be consulted.
Provision for compensating clergy who lose office as a result of a pastoral reorganisation will be replaced by this Measure. This inevitably has been one of the more contentious elements of this Measure and there has been much discussion around it. The existing provisions provide, in effect, for a member of the clergy who is displaced and who does not find another post to receive compensation for loss of stipend and housing until they reach the retirement age of 68. In practice, this provision is so expensive for dioceses that pastoral reorganisation that would have the effect of displacing clergy is not contemplated, even where it is clearly needed to further the mission of the Church.
The new compensation provisions are more workable and, I think, more in line with what happens in other walks of life, replacing compensation until retirement with compensation based on 12 months’ stipend and pension contributions—but with the important discretionary power given to bishops to authorise additional payments and with the right of the individual concerned to apply for a review on the grounds that the bishop’s decision would cause exceptional hardship for that person or their family. In relation to this particular provision it is perhaps worth underlining that, when the General Synod voted on this, there was substantial support in the House of Clergy, which is the place where you would have expected there not to be if this was a problematic provision. I think that indicates that there is in the wider Church a recognition that we need to find ways of giving ourselves the possibility of making such reorganisations when we need to.
The Measure also makes amendments to the rules concerning so-called “lapsed patronage”: the statutory provision dealing with the situation where the patron of a vacant benefice has not made a formal presentation of a priest to the bishop within the time allowed, which at present is nine months. Instead of unexercised patronage lapsing to the archbishop of the province— which is what happens at the moment, and then the archbishop invariably passes it back to the diocesan bishop—it will pass directly to the diocesan bishop unless the PCC of the benefice concerned passes a special resolution that the archbishop alone should take the decision. The time allowed for patrons to exercise their patronage is increased from nine to 12 months, so it is hoped that the number of cases of lapse will thereby be reduced in any case.
Additionally, the Measure strips away a number of rather overprescriptive provisions, and various other provisions have been tidied up. Again, the Ecclesiastical Committee, to which we are very grateful, has reported that it is of the opinion that the Measure is expedient. I beg to move.
My Lords, we took the precaution, in the Ecclesiastical Committee—since we were asked to look at several Measures together—of allowing a considerable period of time to reflect on them before we actually met as a committee. So all of these documents were sent—the next ones coming along, together with the present one; I will only speak once on this—to committee members before Christmas, although we did not meet until some time in January. The result was that there were a number of very sensible—if I might respectfully say so—and practical questions asked of the Church of England in relation to each of these subsequent Measures. Each one of those questions was very appropriately and adequately responded to, so that by the time of the Ecclesiastical Committee, we dealt with all the Measures within an hour, including the one that we have just been discussing, because we had been given such good help by the lawyers of the Church of England in particular that we were able to understand and be entirely satisfied that they were expedient. Therefore, I support the present Measure on the basis that the Ecclesiastical Committee found it expedient.
My Lords, for reasons which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, knows, I could not attend that meeting. I certainly do not wish to rehearse arguments that I might have advanced then, but I will make two or three simple points. We have to recognise that, in England, we have an established Church and everyone in the country lives in a parish and is entitled to the services of the parish priest. We also have to recognise that the landscape of the organisation of the Church of England has altered very significantly since those days some 70-odd years ago when I first sang in a church choir—I promise your Lordships that I will not do it now.
In those days, almost every parish had a parish priest resident. A lot of not-necessarily-large parishes had a curate, as we had in the parish where I grew up. Now, in Lincolnshire, where we began the amalgamation of parishes with the South Ormsby Group many long years ago, it is not unusual for a parish priest to be responsible for five, six, seven, eight or even a dozen parish churches, many of which are historic buildings of enormous importance. It is important to get these things on the record and to recognise that another thing that has changed very much is that now very few incumbents enjoy the freehold. Now, it is much less likely that a parish priest will have the freehold of the parish in which he or she lives. This inevitably leads to a great deal of extra power and authority going to the bishop of the diocese. Most bishops exercise that with care and sensitivity and understanding—but I have come across cases where that has not been so, and we need to be alive to that fact.
I will make another point. The right reverend Prelate, in introducing this Measure—which, again, he did extremely cogently—referred to retirement age. In the final debate initiated by the then Archbishop of Canterbury—now the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth—who was stepping down in his early 60s, I made the point that we should be more relaxed about retirement in the Church of England. Many a man or woman in their late 60s or even 70s—I speak as one who will enter his 80th year next year—can minister very effectively, and with great care and thought, as I am sure the noble Baroness will do when she is ordained; we are lucky to be able to look forward to her ministry. I therefore appeal to the right reverend Prelate to take back to his colleagues in the House of Bishops the fact that there is some degree of disquiet in and around the Church of England—I know this to be a fact in Lincolnshire, and in the diocese of Lincoln—that men and women who could well still conduct a vigorous ministry often do not feel that they are sufficiently regarded, even though we rely on the ministry of retired priests, even in the cathedral, when there is a vacancy or illness. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will take that away—and there is of course the added bonus that the right reverend Prelates might then be able to sit in your Lordships’ House a little longer.
My Lords, this will also be my last and brief comment on these Measures. In supporting them from these Benches, it was interesting to hear that the amendments were based on proposals by a Simplification Task Group, established by the Archbishops’ Council. I could not help feeling that we might do well to adopt a similar task group for some of our legislation.
My Lords, again, I am grateful for the various contributions and for the support of noble Lords. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on his point about retirement, I apologise for a slightly misleading use of words. There is a pensionable age of around 68, but in fact the statutory retirement age for stipendiary clergy remains at 70. Interestingly, however, there is now a provision by which bishops may, under regulations, extend a priest’s tenure beyond the age of 70 in particular circumstances for defined periods. I have done so three times recently in my own diocese, and I suspect that we will find ourselves using that provision in an appropriate way. But again, it is important not to arrange things such that clergy who would like to retire feel unable to do so because there is an expectation that they will continue. So there is a balance in those things. However, I am grateful for those comments and for the opportunity to clarify that point. Other than that, I am grateful for the support of those who have spoken.