THE Synod has voted to bring forward legislation to extend the
property-owning powers of PCCs.
On Saturday afternoon, the Revd Christopher
Hobbs (London) introduced a private member's motion
calling on the Archbishops' Council to bring forward legislation to
amend the Parochial Church Coun-cils (Powers) Measure 1956 to allow
certain PCCs to own their own land.
Under the Measure as it stands, PCCs cannot own land or property
in their own right. This is usually vested in diocesan trusts.
Mr Hobbs told the Synod: "I was surprised to learn that when
there was a vacancy for a curate, the PCC could not do a tenancy
agreement of the property it owned in its own name, but had to draw
it up in the name of the diocese. PCCs can do what they want with
money, but not land or buildings."
He said that a number of PCCs had formed their own trusts rather
than vest property in the diocese. "One has a trust with five
trustees, none of whom are elected, which controls most of the
expenditure of the parish. People are encouraged to give to the
trust, and the trust loans money to the PCC."
He said that the existing system caused delay and required staff
time and co-ordination to get diocesan boards of finance (DBFs) and
their trusts to do things. "Yes, PCCs may make mistakes, but DBFs
can make mistakes, too."
He said that many PCCs were now registered with the Charity
Commission, and cited a Commission requirement that trustees should
"operate independently and wholly in pursuit of their charitable
"Why should the PCC of a church have less independent judgement
and accountability than a parent-teacher association, bridge club,
or care home? It is a long time since the PCC Powers Measure was
passed, and it's time for it to be looked at again."
The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven. Tim Barker
(Lincoln), opposed the motion. "I have huge sympathy with the ideas
behind this proposal, but it is worrying that we may inadvertently
put powers to PCCs which, frankly, not all will be competent to
exercise. . . Being registered as a charity isn't in itself a
guarantee of competence."
If the existence of separate trusts in the names of some
parishes was the concern behind the motion, "it may be the way such
trusts are regulated and whether it is right for PCCs to hand over
responsibility for parish property to several trusts" should be
The Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Ven. Clive
Mansell (Rochester), agreed. "When we are talking about property,
we are talking about something quite expensive. Land or property
lasts a long time. You want to have decisions taken about that
long-lasting property which are properly thought out. This will not
always be possible at PCCs."
Adrian Greenwood (Southwark), speaking as lay
chairman of a PCC, supported the motion because "a law which is 56
years old needs to be looked at." In his understanding, in order
for a PCC to become a registered charity, it would need to have a
turnover of at least £100,000. He recommended that the Archbishops'
Council bring forward a suitable piece of legislation, and then
"put it through the mill, improve it, and bring this piece of
legislation into the 21st century, and empower our PCCs".
Prudence Dailey (Oxford) supported the motion
because "I want to live in a decentralised Church where things can
be done in diverse ways," with local independence rather than
"everything having to be centrally planned". She suggested that
there had been a tendency in the Church to "try and centralise
"Let's recognise the historical diversity and independence of
parishes and give them back this power which is rightfully
The debate was adjourned, and resumed on Monday, when
the Archdeacon of Dorking, the Ven. Julian
Henderson (Guildford), said that the present arrangements were an
"inefficient way of doing local parish business". The proposal was
that legal work was undertaken, not that a final decision was made.
There were concerns about costs, Archdeacon Henderson said, but the
saving of time would represent "considerable savings in the long
Julie Dziegiel (Oxford), a church treasurer,
said that she thought the motion "dangerous". She had found her
diocesan authority "very able and helpful." She expressed worry
that if property was held by the PCC alone, "there would be a real
danger of the current congregations taking a building with them if
they decided to leave the Church of England."
Clive Scowen (London) said that the Synod
should support the motion, but suggested building some "safeguards"
into the legislation to ensure probity.
Brian Wilson (Southwark) told a story from
personal experience as a parish treasurer. The PCC wanted to sell a
small house in which the youth worker lived, in order to
accommodate a new youth worker with a family. The diocesan office
had agreed to give them a mortgage, but there was a delay in
selling the house, because the diocesan office had the title deeds
and took some time to find them.
Once the sale had gone through, the diocesan office had
announced that it had changed its policy, and would fund a mortgage
only for a house occupied by a cleric. The PCC had thus decided to
set up its own charitable trust. He suggested that the "obvious
route" for larger churches was to "bypass the diocese".
The Archdeacon of Cleveland, the Ven. Paul
Ferguson (York), was not in favour of the motion, and recommended
that the Church "work better" with the legislation rather than
change it. This was not a question of centralisation, but about
"the availability of expertise and support and transparency".
There could be "unintended" consequences of changing the
legislation. The support available from diocesan offices should not
be underestimated. He warned that some high-street solicitors "have
not got the first clue about trust law". Also, some PCCs did not
have members with the time to deal with this kind of matter.
The present system offered "some safeguards and discipline for
PCCs" in "ensuring best value is got for assets, avoiding
transaction with connected persons, and avoiding conflicts of
interest". There were "insufficient reasons" to change the
legislation, and he hoped that, as the process continued, reform
would "preserve the good character of what we have at the
Sue Slater (Lincoln) was concerned that the
Synod might be labouring under a misapprehension. It had been
suggested that a PCC could be a registered charity only if its
turnover was in excess of £100,000. Her understanding, however, was
that churches had not, previously, had to be registered charities,
but had operated in a separate category. The Charity Commissioners
were gradually changing the status of churches "so that they will
all be registered charities", but they had "started with the big
So, although, at the moment, if a PCC had a turnover of more
than £100,000, it had to register, any PCC, "however small", could
register as a charity, "if they were prepared to do paperwork". She
suggested that a Measure devised in 1956 "could well need looking
at again". She supported the motion.
The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury &
Ipswich) spoke of the "challenge" of "what we do with money". This
reflected, he suggested, "our response to the gospel". He suggested
that "the kind of proposal on the table militates against the whole
body of Christ," and "many PCCs could give inspectors of HMRC a
good run for their money in their ability to hide funds and
reallocate and make sure things are kept at home." This was not, he
said, "the call of the gospel". In his parish, they had adopted a
slogan: "When you give, let go." He concluded: "We are a body, and
if we hold on to things, we cut the lifeblood."
Canon Martin Wood (Chelmsford) expressed
concern that the Charity Commissioners would "not provide
good-enough safeguards". It would be unwise, he said, for parishes
with an income of less than £100,000 to seek registration. "This
motion could give them the need to."
Canon Wood asked where PCCs would turn if things went wrong. "It
will be their local diocesan board of finance, who hitherto have
quite an involvement in this; but, if this passes, this will be the
first time they'll be involved."
Robert Holgate (Birmingham), a chartered
accountant and former PCC treasurer and churchwarden, said that
PCCs were "independent charities. . . not branches or subsidiaries"
of the diocese. "They are subject to restrictions that a secular
charity would not be subject to." Mr Holgate asked why PCCs could
be trusted "in the great things of mission, ministry, care of
buildings, and, dare I say it, raising large amounts of parish
share, but are not trusted to hold interests in land in their own
right." He urged the Synod to support the motion.
The motion was carried by 137 to 122, with 6 recorded
abstentions. It reads:
That this Synod call on the Archbishops' Council to bring
forward legislation to amend the Parochial Church Councils (Powers)
Measure 1956 so as to permit a PCC which is a registered charity to
acquire and hold any interest in land and any interest in personal
property to be held on permanent trusts, without any requirement to
be vested in the diocesan authority.