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Women bishops: reference to the dioceses

by
17 January 2014

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From Mr David Lamming
Sir, - At its meeting in London on 11 February, the General Synod will take the revision stage of the new Draft Measure and Amending Canon to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England. This follows the Synod's decision last November that the revision stage should be taken in full Synod, not, as is usual, in a revision committee.

Assuming that the revision stage is completed next month, the next stage will be the referral of the Draft Measure to the dioceses under Article 8. A majority of the 44 diocesan synods must approve the proposals for them to proceed to final approval by the General Synod.

Under standing orders (SOs), the Business Committee has the power to supervise the conduct of the reference, subject to a condition (among others) that diocesan synods shall be informed of the date prescribed by the Committee for replies, "which shall be not less than six months later than the date of the Synod's decision that the matter should be referred" - SO 90(b)(iii).

The timetable for the February sessions has, as an item of business to follow the revision stage: "Motion to suspend SO 90(b)(iii)." No details are given (we are told that "further papers will appear on Friday 17 January"), but the inference must be that the Business Committee intends to impose a shorter period than six months for diocesan synods to respond to the reference. Indeed, it is understood that dioceses have been informed of a proposed deadline of 22 May 2014, presumably with a view to taking the final-approval stage at the Synod meeting in York in July.

While it is entirely understandable that the Synod wishes to proceed swiftly to enacting the new proposals after the débâcle of November 2012, this proposed truncation of the consultation period with dioceses is troubling. Given that many diocesan synods meet in February or March and not again till June, proper consideration of the revised proposals will be difficult, if not impossible. Due process is important if the new Measure is to secure maximum acceptance.

There must also be a doubt whether the proposed suspension of SO 90(b)(iii) would be procedurally proper. SO 38 (which deals with suspension of standing orders), provides that "Any member may move at any time . . . the motion 'That (paragraph . . . of) Standing Order . . . be suspended during (or until) . . .' which may provide for the suspension of one or more Standing Orders (or part of a Standing Order) during the consideration of a particular item of business or until the end of a particular session or group of sessions."

Although widely worded, it is doubtful whether it was ever intended that the SO prescribing the minimum period for diocesan synods to respond to an Article 8 reference should be able to be suspended under this provision.

Giving diocesan synods the prescribed minimum six months to respond to a reference would allow for proper consultation in dioceses, and would still enable the final-approval stage to be taken by the present Synod in November 2014 or February 2015.

DAVID LAMMING
20 Holbrook Barn Road, Boxford
Suffolk CO10 5HU

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