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Synodical Government Measure

Volume 302: debated on Monday 16 June 1969

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2.38 p.m.

rose to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Synodical Government Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent. The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name. This Measure is, I think, one of the most important for the Church of England that has come before your Lordships' House since the enabling Act of 1919. That Act set up the National Assembly of the Church of England and gave it considerable powers to deal with Church legislation by Measures which could receive the Royal Assent after the passing of a single Resolution in each of the Houses of Parliament.

But that Measure left the Church with many complications in its own constitutional organs. Side by side with the National Assembly there have continued to exist the ancient Convocations of Canterbury and York, and the distribution of functions between the Convocations and the Assembly has made for complexity and slowness in Church business. In recent times it has increasingly come to be felt that the laity have too little direct share in Church government and that the separation of the clergy and laity in separate Houses for a good many important matters is injurious to the life of the Church.

The Measure which I am now commending to this House provides for the Church Assembly to be renamed and reconstituted with the title "the General Synod" and it authorises the Convocations to pass canons vesting all their present powers and duties in the new body. The Convocations will remain in existence, but they will no longer be the final deciding bodies in the areas in which they have hitherto acted. The main work in all parts of the Church's affairs will be done by the General Synod in which Bishops, clergy and laity will sit together, debate together, and decide together.

The Measure also provides for the creation in every diocese of diocesan synods and deanery synods, which are given larger responsibilities than those of the present diocesan conferences and ruri-decanal conferences. At the same time, the powers and duties of parochial church councils are redefined.

The force and effect of each clause of the Measure and its four Schedules are set out at length in the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee and in the Comments and Explanations of the Legislative Committee. I would draw your Lordships' attention only to some of the main changes for which the Measure provides. First, it introduces what has I believe for long been a valuable, and valued, feature of Church government in the Church of Scotland and other Churches. Proposals for permanent changes in the Services of Baptism and Holy Communion and Ordination, schemes for constitutional union with other Churches or major changes in relationship with them, will, under the Measure, be referred to the diocesan synods; and the approval of the majority of the diocesan synods will be required before final approval can be given by the General Synod. And any other matter can similarly be referred to the diocesan synods.

Many of your Lordships will know that in the last few years we have referred matters to diocesan conferences for the assistance of their judgment, notably the Report which gave rise to the present Measure, and the question of Anglican/Methodist unity. To have the machinery and the necessity to do so over a wide variety of matters is, I think, wholly good. In the present case, as a result of consultation with the dioceses, I can give your Lordships the assurance that the dioceses are in favour of the present Measure, the first draft of which was indeed amended to meet some of the points they made.

For more than fifty years the Church has had ruri-decanal conferences composed of clergy and laity from the parishes in the deanery. They are not statutory bodies and their powers and duties are ill-defined. The Measure requires that there shall be a deanery synod in every deanery and defines its powers and duties. The deanery synods will clearly take time to understand and to take up their responsibilities, but when and to the extent that they do so the Church of England will for the first time have the means to test local reaction to the proposals put forward and discussed at the centre.

The position of the parochial church council is not greatly altered by this Measure although it has been changed by other Measures in recent years. Notably the consent of the parochial church council is now required to the introduction of alternative forms of worship. The redefinition of its functions has, I hope, clarified the relations between the incumbent and his parochial church council.

As to the qualification for entry on to the electoral roll of the parish, after a long and earnest discussion of various possibilities the Measure retained baptism as the main qualification. Other requirements are residence or habitual worship in the parish, being not less than 17 years of age, and membership of the Church of England or another church of the Anglican Communion or a church in communion with it. Your Lordships will remember that enrolment on the electoral roll, which is voluntary, entitles a person to attend an annual church meeting and to vote for the election of sidesmen and members of the parochial church council.

The Church of England has neither the money nor the personnel to conduct direct elections among the laity. Therefore, in 1920 we were forced to devise a system of indirect election to the Church Assembly. We have retained this system in this Measure but I think that we have improved upon it. For members of the House of Laity of the Church Assembly the electoral body in each diocese has hitherto been the lay house of the diocesan conference. We have now widened the electorate by making the electoral body the Houses of Laity of the deanery synods. Direct election still remains the method applicable to the clergy. While baptism is still the qualification for entry to the electoral rolls, the basic qualification for membership of all elected bodies from the parochial church council to the General Synod is communicant status. For the parochial church council the minimum age is 17. In all other cases the age is whatever may be fixed as the age for voting in a Parliamentary election.

At present there are just under 750 members of the Church Assembly and there is no limit on the numbers for diocesan and ruri-decanal conferences. To ensure that the new synods are of a workable size, we have proposed in the Measure to reduce the numbers of the General Synod to about 545 and to set both upper and lower limits for the other synods with the machinery to vary them in appropriate cases. The effect of this is to ensure that every parish is represented on its deanery synod and every deanery is represented on the diocesan synod. There is no longer direct representation of the parishes at diocesan level, but it is this which in the past has made so many diocesan conferences too large and unwieldy. This point was argued in the Assembly at some length, but an Amendment designed to make direct representation the rule was heavily defeated.

The Measure contains as its first Schedule the canons which it is proposed the Convocations shall pass for vesting their present powers in the General Synod. Schedule 2 sets out the constitution of the General Synod, which is based on that of the Church Assembly with the necessary modifications to deal with its extended powers and the consequences which arise from the exercise of them. Schedule 3 replaces the rules for the representation of the laity which are contained in the Representation of the Laity Measure 1956. Again much that is familiar remains, but considerable changes have, of course, been made to meet the new situation. Schedule 4 sets out the transitional provisions. These are neces- sarily somewhat complicated since we have to provide for elections and other preliminary steps which must be taken before the synods themselves can come into being on the appointed day. Thus one provision of the Measure is retrospective. Other parts of it must come into force as soon as it receives the Royal Assent, and the remainder and most important part of it will come into effect on a day to be fixed by myself and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. We cannot, of course, determine the appointed day until Her Majesty has issued her Royal Writ dissolving the Convocations, but it is our hope that the General Synod will come into being early in November, 1970.

I hope that I have said enough to outline the main provisions of this important Measure. From time to time Members of your Lordships' House, as well as Members in another place, have expressed a desire to be certain that when a Measure comes here from the Church Assembly it represents a wide consensus of opinion in the Church, in the dioceses and parishes, as well as in the central bodies. I do not hesitate to hope that the passing of this Measure will enable your Lordships to be as sure as possible that any important Church Measure coming to this House in the future has behind it a wide amount of agreement at all levels in the life of the Church on the part of those concerned.

Let me end by saying that I am advised that Her Majesty's interest and prerogative, although referred to in the Measure, are not affected by it. I am happy to commend this Measure to your Lordships in the confident hope that you will agree that this is something which can only be for the benefit both of Church and of State. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Synodical Government Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—( The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)

2.50 p.m.

My Lords, it is with the greatest diffidence that I follow the most reverend Primate in the debate upon this important Measure. I am a simple member of the Church of England and I have not the present experience of serving on the Church Assembly, though I did that many, many years ago. I simply rise to express the hope that your Lordships will approve this Measure. The fact that I am speaking from this Dispatch Box is simply because it is my duty to do so and not because I detect or wish to detect that there should be the slightest difference of Party in a matter of this kind. I know well how great has been the trouble taken in Convocations and in the Church Assembly and throughout other organs of the Church of England to bring about this reform, and I am certain that all your Lordships are appreciative of the care and thoroughness with which the most reverend Primate has explained it to us.

Speaking personally, a feature in it that I welcome is that it gives increased recognition to the place of the laity in Church government. It always riles me when I hear people speaking as though the Church, whatever Church it may be, consists solely of the ministers ordained in that Church. Surely if you use the word "Church", that must properly include the laymen as well as the ordained ministers, and certainly by this year 1969 we ought to know that the laity have their full and proper functions, as ordained ministers have their full and proper function, and the Church is incomplete unless it includes both. My only fear is that some of those who have greatly interested themselves in this Measure may overrate in their own minds its true importance. This is a matter of machinery. If Parliament approves this Measure, we shall in my judgment, be improving the machinery of the Church, and that is all. It is possible for too much energy to go into the improvement of machinery and for those who are necessarily very busied about it to persuade themselves that they have done more than they actually have done. Here we are revising the machinery of the Church of England; but neither the Church of England nor any other Church can conquer the world simply by the revising of its machinery, but only by a revitalising of its spirit.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, for appearing to frustrate his attempt, very properly, to give the second address on this Measure but may I ask the most reverend Primate one or two questions, for clarification? I am not a member of his Church, but all of us who are non-members have some responsibility, obviously, for the passing of this Measure. May I ask him, therefore, what is the exact position of the General Synod? Is it the final authority, able to override decisions of all other bodies within the Established Church? Secondly, may I ask him whether the clergy and bishops predominate in what are called the Synods. Finally, am I right in understanding that baptism is the basis of membership of parochial councils; and, if so, does it mean only baptism according to the rites of the Church of England?

2.56 p.m.

My Lords, I gladly answer the noble Lord's questions. The General Synod will be the final authority for those matters concerning the Church which are not subject to Parliamentary decision. Matters still for Parliamentary decision can come to Parliament either in the form of Bills or in the form of Measures requiring a single Resolution in each House. I think I can say that many churchmen desire for the Church a greater freedom to order its own affairs without Parliamentary control, but I am certain that the hope of such greater freedom turns upon a fuller recognised participation of the laity in all Church affairs.

With regard to the noble Lord's second question, I may say that the clergy and the laity in the Synod will be about equal in numbers. As to the third question, the basis of membership of the electoral roll is defined in terms of being baptised and not being a member of a non-Anglican Church; that is to say, a person who was baptised in the proper way anywhere could, I think, be on the electoral roll, so long as he was not identifying himself with the membership of a non-Anglican Church.

On Question, Motion agreed to.