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Faster, and less complicated processes approved

26 February 2016

Geoff Crawford

Debra McIsaac

Debra McIsaac

ONE of the proposals to emerge from the simplification process was a proposal for an Enabling Measure that would give the General Synod power to amend primary legislation, such as Measures, through the use of secondary legislation, such as Orders and Regulations. The chairman of the Simplification Task Group, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), opened a debate on a proposal to test whether the Synod wished to pursue this option.

If the Synod agreed “in principle”, draft legislation would be introduced at the July group of sessions for first consideration, “timetable permitting”.

“We need to be clear about what an Enabling Measure would and would not do,” he said. “The paper makes clear that it won’t end the use of Measures to legislate. That is how we do things, and that will continue to be the norm.”

“Important safeguards” would be built into the system, including “tests that have to be met, the types of legislation that would be excluded, and a scrutiny committee”.

Bishop Broadbent said that the Ecclesiastical Law Society had responded to the consultation by reminding the Simplification Task Group that Chancellor George Spafford’s 1980s working party had “proposed a major programme of work in the repeal and consolidation of obsolete legislation”, but that this had not been taken forward.

“The view we would take is that the Spafford proposals would, in an ideal world, be very valuable, but that the officer and synodical time that would be taken in processing this work would be disproportionate, and would actually make very little difference to our most frequently used legislation.”

But he said that the group was working on a “Spafford-lite” Repeals Measure, which would come to Synod soon.

Another concern that had been raised was that the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 — the Parliamentary forerunner of the proposed Enabling Measure — “has had a mixed press, and is not an unmitigated success story in terms of process or democracy.” He said that, in response, the task group had “built in some important checks and balances”.

The group had held a discussion with the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament to ensure that its members were aware of this proposal, and that they were clear how it was envisaged that this would fit into the parliamentary procedure for church legislation.

He said that future Measures, Canons, and Regulations “are now going to be written in a clear and concise way”, and that the Synod would “develop a new habit whereby primary legislation is minimalist in order to achieve clarity of purpose, with better recourse to secondary legislation and codes of practice that are more easily updated”.

Dr Christopher Angus (Carlisle) recalled how his experience of introducing new faculty jurisdiction rules — which took at least three years, despite a smooth process — had convinced him of the need to speed up the “tortuous” procedure in the Synod. “I commend the approach being proposed in the paper before us, and would urge you to support it,” he said.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) said he believed that the Ecclesiastical Committee and the Synod’s Legislative Committee were working very well, and that there was no need to change the process.

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) said that she was hugely excited by the simplification agenda. “We are hugely privileged to be a legislative body,” she said. “We make laws and change law, and do so as believers in Jesus Christ.” The current legislative process was not nimble, and the Enabling Measure would be a good change.

Emma Forward (Exeter) questioned the assumptions behind the simplification changes. There was wisdom in the slow process at the Synod, and, while a lesser burden of law-making might suit members, that was not a good reason to change the system. “This is not to say there is no need to improve the efficiency of processes, but I would question the need for rapidity and flexibility without deeper consideration,” she said.

Debra McIsaac (Salisbury) said that she was not against streamlining or creativity in the Synod, but not in the context of legislation. Good representation in simplifying the amendment and repeal of primary legislation was not guaranteed, and the simplification group should consider that the proposal was not yet ready for the Synod.

Clive Scowen (London) supported the main principle of an Enabling Measure, which, he said, was “friendly”, “uncontroversial”, and “adequate”; but he suggested that draft Measures be considered before they were debated in the Synod. His amendment proposed provision for “a prescribed number of members of General Synod to be able to give notice in advance of the group of sessions at which a draft Order is due to be considered requiring that consideration of the draft Order should proceed as if it were a draft Measure.”

He suggested 40 members in the committee for this purpose. He said that simplification of legislation was premature, and further procedure should be considered where it was needed.

Bishop Broadbent, resisting the amendment, argued that the instinct to be “careful” when considering changes such as simplification was unhelpful, and he rejected the idea of a 40-member rule. Matters would be on the floor of the Synod before the committee had its say, and the proposed shape would always allow safeguards to be considered later.

Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) opposed the amendmentbecause hesaid that the Synod was already “very slow” at passing matters — 40 years to approve the consecration of women bishops — and this could be perceived to be going backwards. “It is time to grow up, take decisions, and live in the consequences, because we already have the ability to go back and change them if we want to,” he told the Synod.

Philip French (Rochester) said that the wording of the proposal was “defective”: either something was a draft Measure, or it was not.

The spirit behind the Measure was to make the Church more agile, Andrew Gray (Norwich) said, but there were “sloppy items”. The scrutiny community would be the same for all Orders, unlike the Synod, he said. It confused agile evangelism with legislation, which required “careful thought and scrutiny”. “We’re being asked to pass something that might pass an unspecified amount of money at an unspecified stage,” he said. He advised the Synod not to rush through poorly constructed legislation.

The Revd Stewart Fyfe (Carlisle) opposed the amendment. The law did not stifle creativity, he said, but to overcomplicate the process was to slow it on uncontroversial matters that required simple and clear legislation.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) said that making a commitment to something so deliberate was unwise.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) welcomed the proposals, and invited the Council to introduce draft legislation at July sessions.

The amendment was lost.

John Spence (Archbishops’ Council) said that simplification was not about reducing the authority of the Synod, but enhancing it by spending time on major projects. Officers were getting too caught up on small points at the expense of important Measures, he said. “Appropriate and essential legislation” should be brought forward for scrutiny in a timely way.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that “we are concerned here with promoting the gospel, and accepting necessary change. We have agreed here . . . that Synod should only meet twice a year, and that is a break in the legislative process.” He welcomed the motion, which was merely to agree to the proposals “in principle”, and said that the detailed debate would come with the legislative process.

But he had concerns over one of the safeguards, which provided that any new legislation could proceed in the new way only if it “does not remove any necessary protection”. He wanted to know who decided whether any protection was necessary.

Another provided that the Synod would have the power to accept or reject a draft order, or send it back to the scrutiny committee. He wanted to know whether there would be any limit to the number of times that an order could be sent back to the committee, or if they could amend an order.

The Vicar General of the Province of Canterbury, Chancellor Timothy Briden, said that “making law is very important. The fact that we do it so frequently in Synod can blind us to that importance.” He said that “good processes” were needed to make law, and he welcomed the new proposals to make law more efficiently.

He mentioned, by way of example, the Ecclesiastical Leasing Act 1842, and quoted some of the clauses and sub-clauses with significant lines of text. “I rest my case on the need for a mechanism for dealing with this obsolete legislation that really needs attention,” he said.

“This is not going to be a licence to the Archbishops’ Council to slash and burn through the statute book,” he said. He expected that he, the Vicar General of York, and the Dean of the Arches would be members of the scrutiny committee, and would carry out their “independent functions according to law”. They were “not in anybody’s pocket”, he said.

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) wanted to say “a few general things about simplification”, and quoted G. K. Chesterton: “You shouldn’t renew a fence until you know how a hole appeared there.” The Synod was in danger of doing that, she said.

The C of E was not a top-down Church, she said. “There are all sorts of checks and balances woven into our complex structures that define how we are woven into the fabric of the nation.” She added: “The Bishop of Willesden will accuse me of resisting change; to which I will say ‘Well, what did you expect?’”


The Synod approved the motion:

That this Synod

(a) endorse the view of the Archbishops’ Council that there needs to be a means of amending or repealing some primary legislation concerning the Church of England by a more rapid and less complex process than is currently possible;

(b) welcome the proposals set out in GS 2018; and

(c) invite the Council to introduce draft legislation at the July group of sessions to give effect to them

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