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Letters to the Editor

19 March 2021

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Lockdown law and Clapham vigil

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — The criticism by the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, of the policing of the vigil on Clapham Common last Saturday evening is understandable. No one can view the pictures of young women being held forcibly to the ground by police officers with equanimity. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, must answer for the heavy-handed tactics used by her officers, and it is to be noted that the Home Secretary has commissioned a “lessons-learned” review by the police watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

The answer to the Bishop’s question “why this was not done in a Covid-safe way with Covid marshals, because people were always going to gather” lies with the Government. Unlike previous coronavirus regulations, the latest “lockdown” regulations (made without prior debate in Parliament) contained no specific exception for peaceful protest from the prohibition on leaving one’s home, even if compliant with Covid-19 measures.

Advice on the government website on 4 January stated: “You must not leave or be outside of your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. This is the law. The police can take action against you if you leave home without a ‘reasonable excuse’.” A High Court judge declined to rule on Friday whether attending the vigil would be a “reasonable excuse”.

The current regulations do contain an exception for attending communal worship, something not allowed during the first lockdown. One lesson from these latest events is that Parliament must also be astute to preserve the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, even during a pandemic.

20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU


Strains in relationship of parish and patron

From Mr John Peter Hudson

Sir, — The Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) would have been wise to agree a joint shortlist for the appointment of a new parish priest for St Luke’s, West Holloway, with the elected representatives of the parish (News, 12 March). To have done so would at least have given the Society a chance to influence the result.

The CPAS should also have responded directly to the PCC rather than through the Bishop of Stepney. Not to go directly was discourteous. The general director and the patronage secretary of the Society each had the opportunity to explain its position, but failed to defend it.

The impression that this conveys to me, and maybe others, is that the Society is disorganised, and that its left hand is unaware what its right hand is doing. Does it know what it is here trying to achieve?

Foot Lodge, School Lane
Middleton Stoney
Oxfordshire OX25 4AW


From the Revd Malcolm Doney

Sir, — I was a member of the PCC and then churchwarden of St Luke’s, West Holloway, in the late 1990s. The 2018 clash with CPAS was not the first. It was only when our incumbent left in 1995, that we discovered CPAS were our patrons.

We found this out when they insisted on taking a controlling hand in the appointment of his successor. It was abundantly clear from the outset that CPAS’s only interest in the church was to safeguard their particular brand of orthodoxy, regardless of the wishes or constituency of the church. In essence, they acted like religious police.

It strikes me as sinister that an organisation that claims to offer pastoral aid should, instead, use its power to manipulate clergy appointments for its own prejudicial purposes. St Luke’s, West Holloway, should be removed from its clutches.

The Birdhouse
Old Angel Lane
Suffolk IP19 9JW


From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — The Revd Martin Wroe (Online Comment) has recorded the true story of the process to appoint his parish’s new vicar prolonged by the obstructions of a patronage trust, “peer pressure from the dead”. That’s a reminder of the high drama on 5 July 1973 when the General Synod just failed to abolish patronage. Clergy and Laity voted in favour of abolition by clear majorities.

Their will was negatived by a 14-14 tie in the House of Bishops (then all diocesans). Before the vote, Archbishop Michael Ramsey had declared that the Church was “in a great muddle over patronage and was likely to go on being in a great muddle’’. Forty-eight years later, the muddle persists. Would the Bench be so evenly divided today?

The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB


Coming Home report: what should be done

From Canon R. H. W. Arguile

Sir, — It was good to read of the housing initiative (News, 26 February) and, in particular, Canon Angela Tilby’s comment on it. I chair our town’s Neighbourhood Plan Working Party. It is a tourist seaside town and, like much of the Norfolk coast, highly desirable to in-comers. House prices average £557,000, according to the ONS. Average earnings locally, apparently £38,550, will buy a house costing about £186,000.

The only solution to the increasing gap between what local people can afford and what in-comers can pay is socially affordable houses for rent. Affordable housing for purchase is an illusion. Wherever dioceses own land, they need to negotiate with parish as well as district councils, engage with the Neighbourhood Plan process, and offer land at agricultural land prices (round here, £7000 per acre rather £250,000 per acre for development land), thus undercutting developers’ land banks and enabling local housing associations to develop well-designed and locally socially appropriate housing on a scale that the community will accept.

Things may well be different in cities and inland. What needs to happen is for the Church to engage locally and to deal with local concerns, however difficult. At present, at least, the Church has local representatives in every city, town, and village. Perhaps this is a chance for them to do something really important. But, nationally, the Church may find that it is at odds with the Government’s current mistaken and harmful policy of encouraging house purchase.

10 Marsh Lane
Norfolk NR23 1EG


From Dr Phillip Rice

Sir, — I share Geraldine Peacock’s sense of frustration about “maximisation” (Letters, 5 March). The time is ripe for the religious charities, with about 20-per-cent share of total UK voluntary contributions to charity, to stand up and take the wider view of value. It is open season for recommendations to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about the person (and the agenda) for the next chair of the Charity Commission. Could this also include opposition to the campaign “calling for the Charity Commission to drop the requirement that charities must seek permission before paying their trustees”? My fear is that paying trustees is the thin end of the edge for many charities.

23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU


Chesterton anti-Semitism issue can’t be ducked

From the Revd Deiniol Heywood

Sir, — I enjoyed the article on G. K. Chesterton and apologetics (Comment, 12 March). I discovered the breadth of Chesterton’s writing as an undergraduate, and remember well a joyful essay that he wrote extolling the connection between the fast-disappearing local cheeses and the local breads that should be eaten with them. It was a piece of literary, culinary, and social excellence written decades before its time.

Nevertheless, we must also face up to the fact that there were less attractive aspects to Chesterton than the dishevelled appearance that the Revd Steve Morris refers to, and that is Chesterton’s anti-Semitism. It is particularly important to draw attention to this in a piece about apologetics. It does not mean that we must disregard Chesterton and do the intellectual equivalent of chucking his statue in the river, but it does mean we must read him with awareness of his anti-Semitism, and include it in our response to him.

In talking about his new book, Jews Don’t Count, David Baddiel said: “You can say T. S. Eliot is a great poet . . . and an anti-Semite. Roald Dahl is a great author . . . and an anti-Semite.” It doesn’t do us, Chesterton, or Christian apologetics any good to say, “Chesterton was a great apologist,” without adding “and an anti-Semite,” and facing up honestly to what that means in interpreting his work.

140 Wycombe Road
Prestwood, Great Missenden
Buckinghamshire HP16 0HJ


Examination-marking procedures have changed

From Professor Ann Loades

Sir, — On “marking for objectivity” (Comment, 5 March), over the past quarter of a century (if not longer), boards of examiners at universities have developed procedures to ensure fairness, eliminate bias and prejudice, and evaluate the different kinds of work required, with attention to the effect of mishaps on a student’s work. By the time a board meets, its members are likely to have been presented with a computer-generated print-out of marks beyond emendation. Differences of opinion between examiners will already have been sorted out. Countries other than the UK manage assessments of undergraduate degrees without involving “external” examiners.

“Classification” of degrees will have been generated by the computer, although, again, most countries do not suppose the practice to contribute much. The availability of transcripts that display a student’s progress during their whole period of study — rather than classification — are invaluable to an employer or to a possible supervisor for a further degree. The advent of the Arts and Humanities Research Board helped to galvanise those unfamiliar with marking in percentages to do so, to use the top 30 per cent of the scale for very good candidates, and to concentrate referees’ attention on writing evaluations to match the marks awarded.

In schools, as in many other institutions, building confidence and competence is likely to result in better work and hence better marks. There are procedures to adjudicate differences of opinion about marks, “and there is growing evidence that teachers have become increasingly sophisticated in judging their students’ performance, not least because they have had an array of information about students’ prior attainment available to them”, to quote from the article “A much simpler way of awarding exam results in exceptional circumstances” by John Gay (thebritishacademy.medium.com, 11 January) — from which much may yet be learned about awarding results in non-exceptional circumstances?

1A Grey Street
Tayport, Fife DD6 9JF

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