Lords approves CofE Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure – Bishop of Durham leads debate

On 28th January 2016 the Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, moved a motion that the House of Lords approve the Church of England’s Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure. Peers gave approval to the Measure, following a short debate – the full transcript of which is below.

Moved by The Lord Bishop of Durham

That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

Bp Durham June 2015 bThe Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure is set in the context of our commitment, as the Church of England, to keep becoming a safer church. The Measure itself is only one part of all the work that we are undertaking. The Measure is before your Lordships because the church believes it needs to improve its statutory arrangements: first, to prevent the abuse of children and adults at risk within the church community; and, secondly, to deal effectively with those in authority within the church who seek to harm children and vulnerable adults. It follows on from a wide consultation within the church as to the appropriate legislative steps that need to be taken. When it received final approval before the General Synod, this Measure had unanimous support among those who voted—28 bishops, 145 clergy and 149 laity voted in favour, with no votes cast against it in any house and no recorded abstentions. The Measure has also been placed before the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament and deemed to be expedient.

An important provision in this Measure is to be found in Section 5, which imposes a new safeguarding duty on those in authority within the church. All ordained clergy who are authorised to exercise ministry, along with all archdeacons, bishops, licensed readers and lay workers, churchwardens and PCCs will now be under a specific duty to have due regard to the church’s safeguarding policies and guidance issued by the House of Bishops. It is the House of Bishops which takes the lead on safeguarding matters in the church. It will be misconduct for a clerk in holy orders to fail to comply with that duty, and PCCs will be required in future to state in their annual reports whether they have complied with this new duty.

Churchwardens and PCCs, together with the incumbent, play an important part at parish level in the life and mission of the church. They occupy positions of responsibility in the parish, where they are trusted and respected by others. The church therefore needs to be able to stop those who are unsuitable, from a safeguarding perspective, from serving as churchwardens or as PCC members. Sections 2 and 3 will do that. Any person who is on a barred list under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 will be disqualified from holding office as a churchwarden, serving on a PCC or being appointed a PCC secretary or treasurer. Furthermore, under Section 3, members, secretaries and treasurers of PCCs will be disqualified if convicted of an offence listed in Schedule 1 to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Those grounds for disqualification already apply to churchwardens under the Churchwardens Measure 2001.

This Measure will enable a bishop to suspend churchwardens, PCC members, treasurers and secretaries on certain safeguarding grounds. The bishop will have new powers to suspend them if they are arrested on suspicion of committing an offence listed in Schedule 1 to the 1933 Act or charged with such an offence, or if the bishop receives information from the police or a local authority that they present a significant risk of harm towards a child or vulnerable adult. To protect these lay officers from being unfairly suspended they will have a right to appeal to the President of Tribunals, an independent senior judge, against that suspension.

The bishop will also have new powers to suspend clergy, on the basis of information supplied by the police or a local authority. We realise that there are judgments to be made about where the right balance is between protecting children and vulnerable adults, and suspending clergy when there has not yet been an arrest or a charge. However, we believe that we have indeed struck the right balance here, as the bishop will be able to suspend only if satisfied that the cleric presents a significant risk of harm and, before the bishop suspends, he or she will have to consult the safeguarding officer and such other persons as the bishop considers appropriate. Furthermore, the suspended cleric will have a right of appeal against the suspension to the independent President of Tribunals, and will be eligible to apply for church legal aid for representation to pursue such an appeal.

Under the existing provisions of the Clergy Discipline Measure, disciplinary proceedings against clergy must be started within one year of the alleged misconduct unless the President of Tribunals, upon application, grants permission to make the complaint out of time. The president in such cases has to be satisfied that there was good reason why proceedings were not instituted at an earlier date. This one-year limitation period has been criticised for inhibiting survivors of abuse from making complaints, since it often takes many years before they are ready and able to come forward. Section 7 of the new Measure will remove the current one-year limitation period for any complaint against a cleric alleging misconduct of a sexual nature towards a child or vulnerable adult. This will help survivors achieve justice.

Under Section 8 of the new Measure, in cases where the limitation period does still apply—that is, in complaints that are not concerned with sexual misconduct towards a child or vulnerable adult—the bishop will now have new powers of suspension so that, in serious cases, the cleric can be suspended while the President of Tribunals considers an application to allow a complaint out of time to proceed. To protect the cleric, the test that the bishop must apply will be one of necessity: the bishop will have to be satisfied that it is necessary for a suspension to be imposed and will first of all have to seek legal advice from the diocesan registrar. The suspended cleric will have a right of appeal to the independent President of Tribunals.

As I indicated earlier, in all cases of alleged sexual abuse, or in any other alleged misconduct case, we need to find the right balance between protecting the vulnerable and the damaged on the one hand, and ensuring that the rights of clergy are not unfairly impeded on the other. We believe we have the right balance with this Measure. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, I make it plain at the very beginning that I do not dissent from this Measure. I should perhaps declare an interest in that I was a churchwarden for some 36 years, in three different churches, and I am acutely aware of many of the problems that have disturbed people in recent years. I say that by way of preface. We in this House have recent experience of unfounded allegations being made against one of the most respected individuals in this country, albeit not a clergyman. I refer of course to Field Marshal Bramall, who must have gone through the most agonising period.

Not all your Lordships may be aware of this, but a recent colleague from the Bishops’ Benches also had an agonising period of a year or more. I refer of course to the former Bishop of Gloucester, the right reverend Michael Perham, whom I knew on the General Synod when he was Dean of Derby. He was a greatly respected bishop but suddenly, in the glare of publicity, had to stand down as bishop for a period. He was not able to make his farewell because his retirement had already been announced. Although he was completely exonerated by police and church, it was a long, cumbersome and distressing process. I hope lessons were learnt within the church from that. He was able to go back in June last year and, having had that agonising period, say farewell to a grateful diocese. We of course have had the pleasure in recent weeks of welcoming his replacement, the first of the women diocesan bishops, to your Lordships’ House.

I have cited these two cases, and I shall mention another because I knew the right honourable Edward Heath fairly well, in so far as one could know Ted Heath well. I was utterly astounded when accusations were made, and I was totally appalled at the way in which they were publicised by a senior police officer standing outside the late Sir Edward’s house in Salisbury and, in effect, saying, “If you have any complaints against the former Prime Minister, come forward”.

I hope those lessons from cases such as those to which I have referred have been adequately registered within the higher counsels of the church. The new powers and responsibilities that this Measure gives bishops are very considerable, and they must be exercised with enormous care and restraint and in the spirit that has been the watchword of legislation from Magna Carta onwards that an accused person is innocent until proved guilty. Too often in recent years, it has almost seemed the other way round.

Having had some distant knowledge of what the former Bishop of Gloucester went through, because we were in correspondence during his period of self-imposed exile—he stood down before he was suspended—I know a little of the agony that can be felt, particularly when the person is innocent. As one who fought for a constituent who had been wrongly imprisoned for sexual crimes, I also know how families can be destroyed. We know from the publicity surrounding the affair of Field Marshal Bramall that it would sometime appear that on the flimsiest of evidence a man—or a woman, for that matter—can go through hell.

I mentioned this briefly when the Ecclesiastical Committee discussed this Measure, and I thought it right to put some remarks on the record as we debate it tonight. Indeed, I was encouraged to do so by a couple of colleagues on the committee. The Measure has my support. It is important as we have had some very sad cases of clergymen having indeed been found wanting. It is important that people have total trust in the church—indeed, in the churches, because this is by no means an Anglican problem. Wherever people are gathered together, this can be a problem, whether they be Christian or otherwise. It is vital that the Church of England has safeguarding measures in which the public can have confidence, but it is also right and proper that the church, above all institutions, should have regard to innocent until proven guilty; that every possible help, counsel and advice should be given to anyone who is suspended; and that, so far as is possible, the anonymity of an accused person is preserved until a charge is made. That is difficult in the case of a parish priest—the rumour will go around—but it is perhaps less difficult in the case of, for example, a treasurer or a churchwarden. However, it is important that anonymity is preserved so far as it can be unless and until a charge is laid.

I hope that when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who introduced this Measure in a moderate way, comes to sum up what will probably be a brief debate, he will be able to give some further reassurance on the point that disturbs me and which I felt it was only right to voice in this Chamber in this debate.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for the very full and helpful way in which he introduced this Measure this evening, as he did in the Ecclesiastical Committee itself. I also take the opportunity to put on record my deep appreciation—I am sure I am not the only member of the committee who feels this—for the warm and very effective way in which we are led by our new chair, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who is an outstanding leader of our deliberations.

I very much endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, which concern me deeply. I am a little more cynical than he is about the anonymity plea, because I fear that it might be counterproductive and would lead to even more gossip and speculation of a very damaging kind. I, too, despair at times about what I have always seen as the ideal foundation of British justice—that people are innocent until proven guilty. So often—too often—people are, in effect, tried, arraigned and condemned by the more irresponsible sections of the media and, indeed, by the gossip of the communities in which they live.

That is the point I wanted to make. Churches are themselves fairly close-knit communities. Particularly in smaller urban or rural areas, they are a very important part of the network of wider society. What we are looking at here can be a nightmare experience, not only for the person who is accused but also for his family and all the rest. I hope I will be forgiven for saying this—instinctively I do not like to say this, because it can sound awfully sentimental—but the basic principle of Christianity, as I understand it, is about love and the application of love in the way we live.

It seems that if we have any real, deep commitment to that principle, we ought to hear a little more—I raised this in the Ecclesiastical Committee—about the arrangements that are being made for counselling and supporting the accused individual during the period in which all these proceedings take place. Of course, if the person is ultimately exonerated, one can rejoice in the fact that he or she is exonerated but that will not undo the damage and, from that standpoint, I would like to see the other side of this coin. I am absolutely convinced that the church is to be congratulated on having faced up to something that needed to be faced up to and should have been faced up to long ago. It is extremely good that it has moved so firmly to try to do this, but the way in which the move is undertaken matters as much as the principle of the move itself, and I hope that the right reverend Prelate will be able to reassure us.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has been extremely kind and indeed very flattering about my chairmanship of the Ecclesiastical Committee. I should like to make one or two points about this Measure which I hope will be encouraging to noble Lords.

As a judge, I had some 35 years’ experience of sexual abuse. I was also the vice-chairman of the Cumberlege commission, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, which advised the Vatican and the then cardinal archbishop of Westminster how Roman Catholic priests, deacons and so on should be dealt with where there were allegations of sexual abuse. The proposals in the Measure now before the House were almost exactly what we recommended and they were accepted both by the cardinal archbishop and by the Vatican as a good plan for other countries, as well as this one. We also spent a considerable amount of time—over an hour—in the Ecclesiastical Committee discussing the concerns, particularly in relation to priests and their suspension.

It is important to recognise that a diocesan bishop can suspend a priest or deacon only if he is satisfied, on the basis of information provided by a local authority or the police, that the priest or deacon presents a significant risk of harm. Interestingly, in the other place Stephen Phillips MP was very critical of this Measure, saying that it was too restrictive. He wanted a bishop to be able to receive information basically from any source and to have the power to suspend. He asked why the information should be limited to coming from the local authority or the police. Quite simply, the intention is that there must be evidence about the priest or deacon of sufficient weight that either the police or the local authority safeguarding team feel it necessary to approach the bishop. If the bishop gets information from another source, it will be his job to talk to the police and/or safeguarding team at the local authority, and indeed to tell the source of the information provided to him also to get in touch with the agencies. However, that gives the priest or deacon the protection that ill-informed or tenuous evidence cannot be used for the purpose of suspension.

As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, the important thing is that people are innocent until proven guilty, but you have to balance the protection of children against taking steps against adults. I had the unhappy experience of preparing a report on Chichester. A result of that report was a visitation to the diocese of Chichester. There were two priests, one of whom had died before he could be prosecuted—he would certainly have gone to prison; the evidence was overwhelming—and the second was in prison. I wrote a second report for the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, setting out the names of other priests who had not at that point been before the courts, several of whom are now serving sentences of imprisonment. So we have to be realistic: there are bad hats in every profession, even in the church. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, knows, a previous bishop of Gloucester is presently in prison. That was very bad luck for his successor, who had a very rough time in relation to that previous bishop.

So what is being offered here by the church, accepted as expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee, is a proper balance between the protection of children and the proper approach to not finding somebody guilty of anything until the evidence has come before a criminal court, or indeed a family court if there are children involved with that particular person. It seems to me that the Church of England, along with the Roman Catholic Church, has just about got the balance right.

It is, of course, important, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has said, that proper counselling should be provided if necessary to the priest who is suspended. He will also get legal aid through the church for lawyers, and one hopes that these matters will not take too long. However, the process being put forward by the synod seems entirely appropriate and I hope the House will approve this Measure.

Lord Lexden (Con): My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the extremely powerful and moving remarks made by my noble friend Lord Cormack. I will, if I may, very briefly add one further issue.

The diocese of Chichester decided recently that a former bishop, George Bell, whose memory is respected, indeed venerated, sexually abused a child some 65 years ago. This decision has provoked deep concern, particularly regarding the process followed in reaching it. There was just one, apparently uncorroborated, accusation. The names of those who decided the case have not been made public and neither has the amount of money paid to the complainant; nor have we been told the names of the experts who interviewed the complainant. The current Bishop of Chichester has declared that the church has, in this matter, acted with transparency. A more accurate word, surely, would be “opaque”. Deep hurt and bewilderment have been caused among many faithful members of the church. Should not our leaders give a full and proper account of the process by which the church has endangered the reputation of a very great man?

Durham171115The Lord Bishop of Durham: I express my thanks to the noble Lords who have spoken and add my thanks to those of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, to the noble Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her chairing of the Ecclesiastical Committee. It was my first experience of attending such a committee with such a piece of legislation and I was treated with lots of courtesy, for which I am grateful. I will say as much as I can in response to some of the things that have been said. I am very grateful to the noble Lords for raising these matters and delighted that they are not opposed to the Measure.

The history of the successive Bishops of Gloucester highlights the very real difficulty we have found ourselves in. With regards to Michael Perham, the most recently retired Bishop of Gloucester, let me please assure the House that every time a case like this happens we follow a serious safeguarding case procedure. When that has been gone through, the last act is that the whole thing is reviewed to see what lessons might be learned from it for the future. I assure noble Lords that such a review has been undertaken and that some significant lessons have been noted. As that has not yet finally been shared with Michael Perham himself, I do not think it would be appropriate to say too much about it. However, I assure noble Lords that that review has occurred. One of the realities of the situation is that if this Measure had been in place, we would have been better able to handle it than we were when the circumstance arose.

In response to the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Judd, the issue of pastoral support, care and counselling, not only for the person against whom an allegation is made but for their family, for the survivor—the person who has made the allegation—and sometimes in parochial situations for the entire community, has to be taken on board. We are constantly learning lessons about that. Certainly, we have learned further from Michael Perham’s case and will make some changes in the light of that experience. I hope that reassures your Lordships that we have done a thorough review.

There is a difficulty with the issue of anonymity—I perhaps share slightly the cynical thought of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on this issue—and perhaps I may refer to the Peter Ball case. It is a deeply sad case with which the church is still having to come to terms. The reality is that people stepped forward and made allegations against him many years ago, and the church simply did not believe them. However, he has finally admitted his guilt and is now serving a prison sentence. That illustrates the tension that we live with in respecting and honouring all that a senior person in the church has done, and yet having to live with the reality that people who do great things sometimes also make very grave errors. We must not hide away from it when they do.

Another issue with anonymity, which we can get caught with, is that, first, sometimes names get into the public realm not because the church put them there but because others do. We then have work out how to handle the situation. The other reality is that when the name is put into the public realm, other people come forward and we discover that what was one allegation that may have appeared false is proved to be true.

A great deal of work is ongoing around support and pastoral care. Often, it is not the person against whom the allegation is made who is most seriously affected but close relatives and other members of their family. We have to watch for that.

Without wanting to deflect the question concerning Bishop George Bell, I refer the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, to the extensive explanation on the Chichester diocesan website that deals with the reasons why we have not been able to put into the public realm some of the information asked for. The decision to put his name into the public realm was not taken lightly. I was aware of this for at least two years before any decision was taken.

Secondly, I refer to what I said earlier: this is not to denigrate in any way the amazing work done by Bishop George Bell. He was an astounding man and leader of the church. But we also have to recognise that it is possible for great people to make mistakes. In fact, if noble Lords read very carefully the statements that have been put out, they will see that there has been no declaration that we are convinced that this took place. It is about the balance of probabilities and what might have happened if it had come to light at an earlier date. On matters such as whether his name will remain on the church calendar, no decisions have been made and no proposals have yet been suggested.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, perhaps I may express the hope to the right reverend Prelate that when those decisions are made, they are made in a spirit of Christian charity. He says that lessons are being learnt all the time. Surely the lesson that should be learnt here is that to give great publicity to a possibility without giving any opportunity for it to be challenged is itself a rather dangerous precedent.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: I note the point. It is a very difficult decision to have to make. Again I refer noble Lords to the website because there is a very long article on it explaining the ins and outs. I am quite happy to go on the record as saying that one of the lessons learnt in this particular case is that our failing to acknowledge the immensity of the work that Bishop George Bell had done was a failure in our communications process. We should have done it in a different manner.

I hope that I have responded to all the questions raised and I am pleased that everyone who has spoken is supportive of the measure. Perhaps I may now move the Motion formally so that it can be presented to Her Majesty for Royal Assent.

Motion agreed.

(via Parliament.uk)

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