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Synod: Reform measure cracks the ice

14 July 2017


Speeding things up: the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, introducing the debate

Speeding things up: the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, introducing the debate

THE Draft Legislative Reform Measure and the Draft Statute Law (Repeals) Measure came before the Synod for final drafting and final approval on Saturday morning.

Introducing the debate on the first of these, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, put forward three items in a composite report that required three votes. Two drafting amendments had been made to tidy up the consultation of the Archbishops’ Council, when the Measure comes into force, and to adjust the amendment of Clause 6. There were no special amendments.

The item was carried.

Moving a further item, Bishop Langstaff said that the draft was “not insignificant”, as it had arisen out of the simplification process to provide a “more rapid and less complex” means of approving legislation in the given framework of the Synod.

The legislative reform currently involved “unduly complex procedures that cost time and efficiency”, and simplification would smooth over this process. The Measure would enable the Church to dispose of financial provisions, for example, which currently required an out-of-date or unnecessarily inconsistent and costly process. The targeting of this Measure was the removal or reduction or burdens, he said, and the intention was that there be real benefits.

He acknowledged concerns over safeguards, and, he said, they had been included in this Measure. The first step in consultation involved laying both documents before both Houses of Parliament. Every member of the General Synod would also be consulted, and the Council would have to be satisfied that conditions had been met, including expected rights or freedoms. “There are all sorts of preconditions which must be met,” he said.

The scrutiny committee would consider and report on the draft order, and would have the power to make an amendment. The Synod would then have the option to consider, accept, amend, or reject the report. This process would change the law of the land, he warned, and must not be taken lightly. As another safeguard, the Measure would “automatically expire after five years” unless it was continued with a special order by Synod or Parliament. He assured the Synod that the Measure was about the need to “balance speed and flexibility” to make changes to ecclesiastical law.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) was on the Synod’s Legislative Committee, and paid tribute to both the Legislative Committee and the Parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee. He had been nervous about the draft legislation, but had been reassured, and was confident that the checks process would be properly conducted. The safeguards were particularly crucial, he said. Mr Bruinvels wanted to be assured, however, that nothing would be rushed. The Ecclesiastical Committee had always been supportive of the Legislative Committee. Simplification was necessary and would be brought into use.

The Revd Stewart Fyfe (Carlisle) was on the revision committee and hoped that the legislation would be used. The “slow ice flow” of the process to now had left small boulders and impediments that needed to be cleared away, and he hoped that this was an opportunity to do so. He urged the committee to use the legislation, and not to forget the sunset clause.

The Draft Legislative Reform Measure was given final approval nem. con., with 16 bishops, 92 clergy, and 96 laity in favour. There were no recorded abstentions.

Moving on to the second Measure under debate, Bishop Langstaff said that the last time a proper attempt to repeal defunct statutes had been in 2004, when 40 enactments had been repealed. But there was still a significant number of obsolete or unnecessary laws left to remove, he said, and 62 were included in this Measure. The particular Acts, Measures, and parts of Acts which would be repealed had been chosen by the Legal Office after a consultation in 2015.

Most of them were “fairly dry stuff”, but one of interest was the repeal of the Queen Anne’s Bounty Act of 1714. This reform had provided more money to penniless clergy struggling in poor livings. The Bounty had been very successful at alleviating clerical poverty, but had been merged into the Church Commissioners in the 1940s and thus was now obsolete.

Mr Bruinvels supported this effort, but asked whether there was a regular process to check whether more old laws needed to be repealed. The Bishop assured him that a “weather eye” would be kept on this issue.

The Draft Statute Law (Repeals) Measure was approved nem. con., with 18 bishops, 98 clergy, and 106 laity in favour. There were two recorded abstentions in the House of Laity.

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