On 23rd March 2020 the House of Commons considered the emergency legislation from Government to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the Bill provided powers to delay scheduled elections for devolved and regional assemblies and other bodies. A new clause to extend that provision to the General Synod of the Church of England had been tabled by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, and was accepted by Government. Andrew spoke about it during the Committee stage of the Bill in the Commons:
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I will not detain the House long. I rise to speak to new clause 1, which I understand has been agreed in advance with the Government, and I will move it at the end of this evening’s proceedings.
New clause 1 is very straightforward. It enables the elections to the General Synod of the Church of England to be postponed. Quite recently, we postponed all the elections that we in the House are involved in—the mayoral, local government and police and crime commissioner elections—but the General Synod is the National Assembly of the Church of England, and it is a Church that is episcopally led and synodically governed. The General Synod is a devolved body of this Parliament. It is the first devolved body of the Westminster Parliament and has been since 1919. Synods last five years, just as Westminster Parliaments do. The last one was elected in summer 2015 and therefore would expire this summer.
There is no legal power to extend the current General Synod. New clause 1 provides that power by allowing the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York to ask Her Majesty to postpone the date of dissolution by an Order in Council. That order postpones the date of the dissolution of the current Synod for as long as would be necessary by dissolving the convocations of Canterbury and of York. The dissolution of those convocations triggers the dissolution of Synod.
Hon. Members may not know what I mean by convocations, but they are the historical assemblies of bishops and clergy. They go back to the time of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, who was enthroned in 668, so convocations give this Parliament a run for its money in terms of historical precedent. That may sound a bit dry, but it is important. This will enable the Synod to deal with important matters, such as the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. The Church takes that very seriously, and it will need to react to that body’s findings. This will also enable the Synod to move forward with the important work on cathedral finances and governance, which also need to be addressed urgently.
The Church is fulfilling an important role today. It is caring for the vulnerable, and it is reaching out in helping with the delivery of food, such as working with food banks and with night shelters. I commend new clause 1 to the Government and to the House.
Text of the clause, which was accepted unopposed and so eventually became section 84 of the Act:
Postponement of General Synod elections
(2) Section 1 of that Act is, accordingly, to be read subject to provision made by an Order under this section.
(3) If either of the Archbishops is unable to exercise the power to join in making a request under subsection (1), or if the see of either of the Archbishops is vacant, the power may be exercised by the senior bishop of the province, with seniority for that purpose being determined in accordance with section 10(4) of the Bishops (Retirement) Measure 1986.
(4) An Order under this section may make consequential, supplementary, incidental, transitional or saving provision.” —(Andrew Selous.)
The new clause would enable elections to the General Synod of the Church of England that are due to take place this summer to be postponed.