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General Synod (Remote Meetings) (Temporary Standing Orders) Measure

Volume 806: debated on Thursday 22 October 2020

Motion to Direct

Moved by

That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the General Synod (Remote Meetings) (Temporary Standing Orders) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

My Lords, this Measure will enable the General Synod—the legislative body of the Church of England—to meet and conduct its business remotely. Current coronavirus restrictions mean it is not practically possible for the synod to meet in the usual way, with 500 people from across England gathering in the same place.

Arrangements made under the Measure could allow for all synod members to participate remotely, but it would also be possible for the synod to adopt a hybrid approach, with some members in the chamber and some joining online. Noble Lords will be familiar with these types of arrangements, since they have been in use in your Lordships’ House since April. The precise arrangements adopted by the General Synod will need to take account of the relevant regulations and government guidance as they develop over the coming months.

In this place, we were able to make provision for virtual proceedings using Business of the House Motions. However, as the General Synod was created by statute law, it does not have the same freedom and the legislation is required to enable the synod to meet remotely. Noble Lords will recall that the Coronavirus Bill contained provision enabling local authorities to hold virtual meetings. The Measure makes equivalent provision for the General Synod.

There is some urgency to this legislation as there is business that the General Synod needs to do before the end of this year. This includes legislation giving effect to recommendations from a 2019 report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. There are also statutory deadlines that need to be complied with, including the approval of the Church of England’s national budget for 2021. If the Measure is approved, the General Synod will meet remotely this November to deal with that and other significant business.

Because of the practical issues arising from the coronavirus restrictions that I have already mentioned, the synod met in September to pass this Measure with only a quorum of members attending and maintaining social distancing. Other members graciously refrained from exercising their right to attend. The Measure was passed by synod with no votes against in any of the three houses.

The Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament considered the Measure on 6 October and has reported that it considers the Measure expedient. I take the opportunity to express my thanks to the Ecclesiastical Committee, the clerks and the usual channels for the trouble they have taken to facilitate the swift dispatch of this business. I beg to move.

The next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is now not taking part, so I call the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

My Lords, I chair the Ecclesiastical Committee. As the right reverend Prelate said, we met in November and found this Measure to be expedient. It is perfectly sensible. The only sadness for me is that it is a shame it has to come to Parliament and cannot be dealt with by the synod itself. Since the synod is created by Parliament, that is why that cannot be done, as the right reverend Prelate said. I give my support to it and say that that is exactly what the Ecclesiastical Committee said.

My Lords, the Measure makes provision for the General Synod to meet and transact business remotely in accordance with temporary special standing orders made jointly by the archbishops and officers of the synod. In the era of Covid, this is the right decision. The synod’s business has to continue despite the lockdowns.

As I respect the synod’s work, I have only one comment to make. The amendment safeguarding legislation to take account of the recommendations contained in the 2019 Anglican Church report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is an important issue that should be considered as soon as possible by remote meetings.

I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her comments and for her work on the Ecclesiastical Committee. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, for his comment, and I agree with him that the recommendations of the 2019 IICSA report should be taken as soon as possible. This Measure allows us to do that.

Covid-19 is presenting us with a marathon and not a sprint, which means that, rather than waiting for this to pass, we have to change the way we work. This Measure will allow the Church of England General Synod to undertake its business in support of the Church of England, which contributes not only spiritual capital but also social capital to our communities at this challenging time. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.46 pm.