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New fast-track process to scrap old laws given thumbs up by Synod

15 July 2016


"Appalled": the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff

"Appalled": the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff

THE Draft Legislative Reform Measure was given first consideration on Saturday morning.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, said that the Measure would create a new method of quickly amending and repealing burdensome regulations without needing the full synodical process, which could take at least two years.

For instance, various actions needed to have notifications published in the London Gazette, which no one read, but they still incurred significant costs and time for staff. A 1991 Measure specifically prescribed what money from the sale of timber from a tree in a churchyard could be spent on.

“This level of over-prescription — and that’s just a few examples — imposes unreasonable burdens on clergy and parishes,” he said. “In a fast-changing world, we need, without compromising our core values, to be adaptable and fleet of foot.”

The proposed system would need the Archbishops’ Council to consult extensively, and then present a draft order repealing burdensome regulations to the Synod, and then a committee of the Synod. This would then consider the order and whether certain pre-conditions had been met, before reporting back to the Synod. The Synod could then choose to approve the order, reject it, or refer it back to the committee for more revision.

There were safeguards, such as forbidding orders addressing constitutional or synodical affairs. Both Houses of Parliament could also choose to veto any order.

Canon Simon Taylor (Derby) said that he welcomed the legislation, and would be voting for it. But the Synod should not forget that sometimes what seemed inconvenient or inefficient was an important voice to be heard.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) raised concerns about this Measure, particularly about how it fitted in with the work of the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. He also questioned how the consultation by the Archbishops’ Council would work. “I don’t believe we have been told the full story yet,” he said. The current procedure for amending and repealing old laws was working well, at any rate, he suggested.

Debra McIsaac (Salisbury) supported the proposals, but said that some things still needed to be thought through, such as the composition of the committee, which must not be full of people on other committees, or on the Archbishops’ Council.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) referred to his maiden speech supporting the thrust of the legislation, but expressed concerns over its timing. He supported the Measure on the basis that, if implemented, legislation could be changed more quickly. Was that still the case, he asked.

There was a requirement for consultation to be carried out first. Was this to be done in advance by email or during Synod sessions? This needed to be considered. Clause 12(d) included a provision regarding the removal of “any necessary protection”; but what was meant by this? What was necessary is subjective to those for or against a Measure. Mr Lamming also asked for a list of examples of draft legislation that might be affected or improved by the reform Measure.

Consultation should be fresh, and near in time to making decisions, Nigel Bacon (Lincoln) said. He proposed that a time limit of one or two years for consultation should be implemented, and that a clause should be valid only for a certain period; otherwise it might remain indefinitely. There should, therefore, be wording stating that a clause could be repealed automatically after two years if another Measure was not put forward.

Clive Scowen (London) supported legislation that would enable the Synod to fast-track important but uncontroversial Measures. He recognised that much had been done to build in safeguards to prevent the abuse of procedure, but suggested that a draft order should be provided to address concerns of the Synod rather than through an explanatory document.

Mr Scowen suggested that the revision committee consider that a proportion of that Synod could “at an early stage” request that the full procedure be used for particular Measures. He also asked how the scrutiny committee will be appointed, and how the Synod might amend Measures that had gone through the new legislative process, without going “back and forth” and thus lengthening the process further.

John Spence (Archbishops’ Council) said that he had witnessed the “growing understanding of, enthusiasm for, and ambition” of the Renewal and Reform agenda. But senior officers in Church House were being distracted by legislation. “We need to be radical,” he said. The Measure also needed safeguards, but were the safeguards sufficient? He also sought to ensure the “relevance and timeliness” of the process by directing resources to the centre of the Church.

It could be difficult to unpick the meaning of amendments to legislation, Michael Stallybrass (York) warned. He requested that the committee consider codes of conduct when presenting legislation so that members “can clearly see what is being changed and its impact” in the context of the original legislation.

The business was committed to the revision committee.

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