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General Synod digest: Standing Orders

24 November 2023

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Sam Margrave presents his petitions to the chair

Sam Margrave presents his petitions to the chair

THE General Synod accepted proposed amendments to Standing Orders, which were due to take effect from 16 November.

Some related to miscellaneous points of procedure: notably, a provision for speakers in a debate who needed an interpreter to be allowed longer than the usual speech limit.

Moving on to Standing Order 43, Petitions, Canon Joyce Jones (Leeds), who chairs the Standing Orders Committee, noted that the procedure had been little used until the present quinquennium, and reminded the Synod that this was not a way of initiating a debate: there were diocesan-synod and private members’ motions for that. A petition’s only purpose was to draw attention to a matter.

Under the amended order, a member wishing to present a petition should give notice of the petition itself, not merely of “a desire” to present it. They must give notice of the text, and have the support of at least two other members for its presentation. In line with the practice in similar contexts, the Clerk would have the power to remove from the petition anything considered to be “libellous, insulting or unseemly”. The member presenting the petition would be unable to refer to the removed content.

Alison Coulter (Winchester) firmly believed that petitions undermined the democratic processes. “My preference would be to get rid of them altogether, but this recommendation improves things considerably,” she said.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, would also have preferred their abolition.

Luke Appleton (Exeter) spoke in their defence: “They are a mechanism for all members to raise local concerns,” he said. “Revise, and explore making it work.”

The vote on the Petitions amendment was carried. In the context of the Living in Love and Faith debate, there was keen interest in the debate on Standing Order 78, defining the meaning of “liturgical business”. Canon Jones outlined the function of Canons B1-5, reminding members that B2 was the only Canon that gave the Synod a means of approving forms of service.

The Standing Committee, therefore, proposed, for clarification, that “liturgical business” expressly meant a service or other liturgical provision to be made under Canon B2. Debbie Buggs (London) moved an amendment providing that “a form of service arising from the Living in Love and Faith process and before Synod for consideration is to be deemed as having been introduced as liturgical business.”

The Standing Committee objected to Miss Buggs’s amendment on two grounds: it was wrong in principle for Standing Orders to make specific provision about business on a particular subject; and it was incompatible with the Canons. “It would purport to enable Synod to approve forms of service commended by the House of Bishops and which ministers may, under Canon B5, choose to use. But only liturgical business under Canon B2 requires Synod’s approval.”

The committee was further advised that the amendment was inconsistent with the Synod’s Constitution and, therefore, ultra vires on that basis, too.

Stephen Hofmeyer (Guildford) suggested that even a cursory examination of Miss Buggs’s amendment showed that it would alter the meaning. He also highlighted the diminishment of the part played by the Business Committee. Canon Jones indicated that she had no wish to continue the debate, but 25 people stood, and it therefore continued.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) objected to the use of Standing Orders in “an inappropriate and partisan way. Let’s stop this game,” he said. The Synod had made clear, in February, the direction in which it wanted to go. He urged the Synod, to loud applause, to “see off this foolish attempt to subvert Synod’s democratic process”.

Sammi Tooze (York) also urged resistance, describing the proposal as misleading: “It doesn’t make any sense . . . it sets an unhelpful precedent. It would also create a huge amount of synodical work. It’s not in line with the substantial motion we agreed in February.”

The Vicar General of York, the Rt Worshipful Peter Collier KC (York), also urged rejection. The Canons already made legal provision authorising forms of service. “This is beyond our powers and is unlawful,” he concluded.

The Revd Julian Holywell (Derby) requested a counted vote by Houses on the Buggs amendment. The result was: Bishops 1-34, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 22-124, with 31 recorded abstentions; Laity 36-123, with 25 recorded abstentions. The amendment was therefore lost.

Miss Buggs moved her second amendment, to give an Anglican Communion representative the right to call for the designation of an item of business concerned with liturgy as liturgical provision.

The Standing Committee objected, on the grounds that it would give an Anglican Communion representative a right to use a novel procedure not available to members, and, further, that it was inconsistent with the Synod’s Constitution. “It would give people who are not members of Synod greater powers than the members themselves. There is no legal power to do so,” Canon Jones said.

The amendment lapsed, as there were not 25 members standing to support further debate.

ON MONDAY afternoon, Sam Margrave (Coventry) presented two petitions under Standing Order 43. The first called into question the leadership and judgement of the Archbishop of Canterbury over matters of safeguarding, referring to his “closeness” to John Smyth and Mike Pilavachi, and calling on the Archbishop of York to write to the King to request Archbishop Welby’s resignation. His efforts provoked one member to call out “Shame”.

His second petition called for an investigation to “establish the truth” of Archbishop Welby’s decision to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board, and to seek from him an apology. Under Standing Order 43, any petition has to be made available for inspection for the remainder of the group of sessions.

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