Crown appointments: Synod feels its way towards a greater self-determination

21 February 2008

Praise for the new system: the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, Dean of Leicester

Praise for the new system: the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, Dean of Leicester

THE SYNOD has approved the Archbishops’ Council’s proposals for altering the procedures for Crown appointments for a new era when the Prime Minister no longer exercises any choice in the matter.

Although the decision will, it is planned, be the Church’s, the Synod has approved the idea of a Crown appointments adviser who will, if Downing Street agrees, continue to bring the interests of the state to the Crown Nominations Commission’s attention.

Introducing the debate, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the issues had a long history that needed to be seen in the context of “steady shifts in what patronage and establishment have meant in the last few centuries”. He hoped the Synod would resist the temptation to divide into opposing camps, one moved by nostalgia, the other determined to obliterate every trace of “this sometimes embarrassing history”.

The C of E had, for many decades, expressed a wish to have a more decisive voice in making its own key appointments. There had been a “very great advance” in the 1970s; but there was unfinished business.

“For a variety of reasons the Church was a bit diffident over pressing for any further change after the creation of what was originally the Crown Appointments Commission, and part of that was the strong and proper attachment to the position of the Supreme Governor in the Church.”

Last July, the new Prime Minister had made it very clear that he no longer thought that Ministers should exercise even the residual choice they had in recommending the appointment of senior ecclesiastical personages. But he had reaffirmed “very explicitly” the position of the C of E by law Established, with the Sovereign as Supreme Governor.

“There are some who regret that the Prime Minister took the view he did. I have to say I’m not among them. The fact that we are still speaking of Crown appointments means that we still have a recognition from the state of the distinctive mission of the Church of England to every community of this land. That in itself is no small gift.”


He could see no positive argument for leaving the PM able to set aside a preferred candidate; nor, in relation to cathedrals, with leaving key powers with a Minister and his office, “however scrupulous they may be”. He wanted to echo tributes paid to the PM’s present Appointments Secretary. “Nevertheless, I am quite clear that the new arrangements now open to us are in principle to be preferred and in practice will be easier to explain and justify.”

It remained for the Government to resolve how best to satisfy itself that the public character of these appointments was properly taken into account. The question for the Church was whether it believed that someone appointed by the Crown as an adviser was of value to the Church as well as to the Crown.

“It can be argued that we could perfectly well find our own people to satisfy some of the requirements of this role. It may be so; but the Archbishop of York and I, having listened to all of the arguments, are persuaded that there will be benefit to us as a Church in having someone in the whole process of nomination and appointment — someone who is visibly there to offer an independent advisory voice, keeping the process open to wider currents and concerns than the Church alone might offer, asking what may be sometimes uncomfortable questions, and bringing an understanding of public office which comes from having worked at the heart of Government.”

The adviser would have no vote, but would have to be a communicant Anglican. The Archbishops had been in contact with Downing Street about this, and Dr Williams was confident that “it is being taken very seriously at the government end.”

For all cathedral deaneries, there would be a selection panel with an independent lay chair. “Our decision was that it would not be necessary or desirable to have the bishop in the chair of such a nomination process.”

The Synod needed to decide now what to do in relation to those matters that were within its discretion, and what it was going to propose to the Government in relation to the Crown’s interests. There would need to be further discussion with the PM and his officials after the debate. “I think on both sides there’s a wish to bring such discussions to a speedy conclusion so that new arrangements can be put in place as soon as possible.”


Aiden Hargreaves-Smith (London) welcomed the fact that a senior person would be appointed by the Crown to work with the Church’s Appointments Secretary as adviser. There was every reason to press the Government for the very best appointee possible, with at least the same seniority in the Civil Service as at present, based in the Downing Street complex, and with direct access to the Prime Minister.

“At a fundamental level, there must be no risk of down-grading the post by appointing a junior civil servant based in the further reaches of Whitehall.” It was also important that the Crown appointments adviser should have direct access to the clergy.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) said that the present system worked very well, and the relationship with Parliament should not be underestimated. He believed that two names should continue to be offered to the Prime Minister, both for the appointment of diocesan bishops and of suffragans. To put forward only one, and have it turned down, would be highly disappointing, and would mean that all the work had to be done again.

Bishops should certainly take a pivotal part in Crown appointments, but having the Crown as patron had worked very well in the past, as a Rolls-Royce service that the Church could not afford on its own. He did not want to see any changes.

Timothy Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) believed that the independent element that had been provided by the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, William Chapman, had been good for the Church in finding some fairly unconventional characters. He had been complementary to the Archbishop’s Appointments Secretary.

Mr Allen welcomed the Archbishop’s proposals. A senior civil servant as Crown appointments adviser was the best to be done in the circumstances, but he had a “nagging feeling” that the influence could not be replaced. The adviser would not have the same authority: the job could be seen as less attractive for being a less decisive role. Would it attract candidates of calibre?

Professor Michael Clarke (Worcester) described himself as a “constitutional anorak”. He urged the Archbishops to make sure they were satisfied with the detail of the proposals: one false step could be disastrous. As a cathedral-chapter member, he welcomed the attempt to put parish-church cathedrals on the same basis as the rest. As the process moved towards implementation, he sought clarity about the principles.

Rachel Beck (Lincoln) believed firmly in the principle that the Established Church served the whole nation. She warned against the danger of being inward-looking or narrowing down the selection process, concentrating on churchmanship perhaps, or views on certain issues. It was essential to have a senior vision on selection processes.


The Dean of Durham, the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, was very glad that the Archbishops proposed a single appointments process for all deaneries. He embraced the opportunity to do away with the notion of two kinds of cathedrals, first- and second-division. “A cathedral is a cathedral is a cathedral,” he said.

The Dean of Durham, the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, was very glad that the Archbishops proposed a single appointments process for all deaneries. He embraced the opportunity to do away with the notion of two kinds of cathedrals, first- and second-division. “A cathedral is a cathedral is a cathedral,” he said.

For Crown Appointments Adviser he hoped for a “person of stature”, with insight and good under-standing of the challenges of public office.

On lay representation on the panel for the appointment of deans, he stressed independence from the diocese or cathedral. He was not, however, persuaded by the arguments for excluding the cathedral chapter from electing members to the panel.

Dr Christina Baxter (Southwell & Nottingham) wanted to be radical. She had found the Prime Minister’s announcement appropriate and long overdue, especially as viewed from an ecumenical perspective. Did other Churches not get the best senior appointments simply because a senior civil servant was not involved in their selection? A limited number of appointments were made to senior positions: “we don’t have millions to choose from.”

Surely there should be confidence in lay people with skills for the task, working alongside the Archbishops’ Appointments Secretary. Was it a good thing to muddle appointment procedure with influencing the Government? The C of E was mature enough to make its own appointments.

The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, described the sense of apprehension among cathedral communities which had surrounded the taking away of the mechanism for appointing deans. Cathedral communities were complex: it was hard to divide them into groups. Each had grown in a particular way, so that the appointment of a leader had been a kind of weighting.

Their chief task was to support the ministry of the diocesan bishop, but they were owned by many people around the world. The proposal recognised the breadth in the life of cathedrals and represented new imaginative beginnings.

The Dean of Leicester, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, said that when, “at the stroke of a pen”, she was transformed from Provost into Dean, she found herself being congratulated by civic leaders who thought not only that she had been promoted, but also that they and their city and county had been promoted, now that they had a proper cathedral.


Cathedrals played a mediating part in the community; so the process that led to the appointment of their deans was “very significant”. She also regretted the exclusion of the Crown’s adviser from either a formal or informal involvement with parish-church cathedrals.

She believed that the continuing power of veto by people from the parish was anachronistic, and could “shrink vision” and slow the process whereby such cathedrals moved to a more properly diocesan role.

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (London) said that an adviser who had insights into the world outside the Church and had a wider public voice was a major factor in appointments.

She questioned allowing a parochial veto in the appointment of deans for parish-church cathedrals. If her present parish had had a veto, it would have had a white male priest: “they made it very clear. I am very grateful to someone who knew what the community needed and not just what the people in the church wanted.” She was congratulated from the floor for her recent appointment as a Chaplain to the Queen.

The Bishop of Bradford, Dr David James, said that the Prime Minister had “offered us a Get Out of Jail Free card, and we are turning it down”. He said that Yorkshire people wanted things both ways. “We know we are special, but we want to be treated as normal.” This was the case in its two cathedrals of Bradford and Sheffield. If the issue of patronage and veto in the appointment of deans for those cathedrals could not be resolved, “what would the Archbishops advise?” he asked.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) said that the office of Second Church Estates Commissioner had been overlooked in the report. It was very important, and the present holder of the office, Sir Stuart Bell, had done a very good job in liaising between the Church and the Cabinet. The senior civil servant being proposed as appointments adviser should work very closely with the Second Church Estates Commissioner.

Judge John Bullimore (Wakefield) said that what was going to happen with the appointment of diocesan bishops would have a trickle-down effect on other dio-cesan appointments. He thought that the Synod should accept the report and be ready and willing that the Church should appoint its own leaders.

Speakers had been much concerned that the Crown adviser should be of similar weight to the present secretary, but the debate was not about civil servants, but about appointments in the Church. Several people had said that all the appointments made in the past on behalf of the Crown had been excellent, but, really, mistakes had been made. “There will always be mistakes, but let them be our own mistakes.”


Peter Smith (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), a lay canon of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, said that his diocese had a new Bishop and a comparatively new Dean.

When the Dean had been appointed, Mr Smith had been one of two laymen appointed by the chapter who had a right of veto over the new Dean. The then Bishop “had been exemplary”, and had encouraged them to sit in on all interviews. Mr Smith saw it as a positive move that the lay member should have not only the right of veto, but the opportunity to make a positive contribution.

Prebendary David Houlding (London) said that, as well as approving the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, they should also remember the excellent work done by the Archbishops’ Appointments Secretary, who needed to be better-resourced.

The Synod should remember it was talking about Crown appointments: they belonged to the Supreme Governor, and so it should honour the relationship between Church and state.

Replying to the debate, Dr Williams said that many people had spoken of the need to have someone from Downing Street who could bring to the appointments the right kind of perspective and skill. “Their status has been very much in our minds.”

The proposals in the report were put to the vote and passed by 290 to 16, with 16 recorded abstentions.

THE SYNOD went on to debate a following motion from Anthony Archer (St Albans) about the chairing of the Crown Nominations Commission when it met to consider the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. His motion sought to have the Church rather than the Prime Minister appoint the person to chair the Commission.

“The whole thrust of the Government’s Green Paper The Governance of Britain is for the Prime Minister to relinquish this patronage in the appointment of diocesan bishops, and for the Crown Nominations Commission to have the final say in making a preferred nomination.”

He said that “it made no sense” for the Prime Minister to appoint the chair, while the chair was accountable to someone else, “namely, the Church”. He had been surprised “at how reluctant the Church appears to have been to embrace and welcome the move by the Prime Minister”.

Caroline Spencer (Canterbury) spoke as a diocesan member of the Crown Nominations Commission involved in the appointment of the present Archbishop of Canterbury, under Dame Elizabeth (now Lady) Butler-Sloss. Her appointment to the chair had helped the Commission never forget that it was seeking to help appoint someone who would have an international role, and who would be widely held to be the chief pastor to the nation.


The Revd Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) argued that the C of E was different, the Government should have its say, and the public wanted to be represented in what it did.

Dr Williams commented that the objections of the Perry report to the Government’s having “two bites of the cherry” by both appointing the chair of the Commission and also selecting which name, of two provided, to put to the sovereign dropped away now that the first name proposed would always be put before the sovereign.

He said that the Archbishop of Canterbury had overseen the arrangements for the coronation of the sovereign since 1066, and the Government had recently confirmed that this would continue. “There is a national dimension we cannot entirely ignore in this debate.”

There was no suggestion that the chair appointed to the Commission would ever be appointed from outside the Church. Dr Williams foresaw only one circumstance where a problem could arise, and that would be in the event of a tied vote where the chair’s vote would be decisive. “I agree that it would be better if the chair did not have a casting vote,” he said.

He would discuss this with the Prime Minister, but believed that under those circumstances the chair should step aside and not vote at all.

Prebendary Houlding said that the appointment of an Archbishop of Canterbury was “very different indeed” from other appointments, and required a wider perspective.

The motion was lost by 142 to 107, with 20 recorded abstentions.

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