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Synod: Diocesan powers over parishes’ property debated

18 July 2014

parish property

THE revision stage of the Draft Church of England (Ecclesiastical Property) Measure was completed on Tuesday morning. The Draft Measure had received its first consideration in November 2013.

The Draft Measure had been prepared in response to the private member's motion from the Revd Christopher Hobbs (London) which the Synod passed in July 2013, and which called for legislation to permit PCCs to hold property.

But, introducing the report of the revision committee, Robert Key (Salisbury), who chaired it, said that the draft legislation had not been implemented "in the terms in which it was expressed" in Mr Hobbs's motion, because the Archbishops' Council "could not support the removal of the requirement that the legal title to interests in land and personal property held on permanent trusts, be vested in the diocesan authority".

"The proposals contained in the Measure therefore retain the requirement for the title to property to be vested in the diocesan authority, but will remove the need for the authority's consent in any case, in which the consideration paid on the transaction falls below a threshold specified in an Order made by the Archbishops' Council. . . In such a case, the diocesan authority will be required to take the necessary legal steps to give effect to the transaction." Mr Key confirmed that beneficial ownership would remain with the PCC, and thresholds would be decided by the Archbishops' Council after consultation.

The Synod took note of the report.

Clive Scowen (London) moved an amendment that would end the requirement that property belonging to PCCs must be vested in the diocesan authority.

Timothy Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) was concerned that some large parishes might use these new powers to control church property to loosen their links to their diocese and the C of E.

The Ven. Christine Hardman (Southwark) said that, although Mr Scowen's amendment sounded reasonable, the Synod should resist it. "The diocese won't seek to thwart the parish's desire for growth and flourishing but to help them achieve what they want to achieve," she said.

Gerald O'Brien (Rochester) emphasised the optional nature of the proposal. "A small country PCC without any expertise can simply leave it to the diocese. A large thriving congregation packed full of lawyers and accountants would probably desire to do it themselves."

The Revd Hugh Lee (Oxford) said that he was worried that the clause that said "without the consent of the diocese" didn't contain a bracketed sub-clause saying "which shall not be unreasonably withheld".

In a vote by Houses, the amendment was lost in all three: Bishops 2-17-0; Clergy 24-89-5; Laity 40-85-3.

Mr Scowen moved his next amendment.He argued that it did not remove the duty to seek consent or impose any additional duties on archdeacons. It assumed that best practice was to consult archdeacons and others, and have regard to that advice before they sought the consent of the diocesan authorities.

Where a parish had done due diligence, the default position would be that they would get consent automatically, within 28 days, unless the diocesan authority gave written notice of refusal, setting out reasons.The amendment applied discipline to diocesan authorities.

His amendment was resisted by Archdeacon Mansell, and lapsed.

A technical amendment from Mr Scowen was carried.

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