THE task of sending the names of new Church of England bishops to the Queen is likely to pass from the Prime Minister to the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, it was confirmed this week.
First reported in The Sunday Times, the change follows Boris Johnson’s marriage to Carrie Symonds in the Roman Catholic Church last month (Press, 4 June). The Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which enabled Roman Catholics to serve as MPs, states that: “It shall not be lawful for any person professing the Roman Catholic religion directly or indirectly to advise his Majesty, or any person or persons holding or exercising the office of guardians of the United Kingdom, or of regent of the United Kingdom . . . touching or concerning the appointment to or disposal of any office or preferment in the Church of England, or in the Church of Scotland.”
Anyone guilty of this offence would be “deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and disabled for ever from holding any office, civil or military, under the Crown”.
Mr Johnson was baptised in the Roman Catholic Church, but confirmed in the Church of England while a pupil at Eton. In 2007, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a series of constitutional reforms that included relinquishing the Prime Minister’s power to choose diocesan bishops (News, 6 July 2007). The Crown Nominations Commission now passes just one name to Downing Street, and the Prime Minister conveys that recommendation to the Queen.
Mr Buckland has described himself as a practising Anglican. No formal announcement has been made about the transfer of the Prime Minister’s part in the appointment process to him. It is understood that the 1829 rule is to be examined further, and that the Prime Minister may yet retain his part in the process.