Continue reading “Church Commissioners’ Written Answers: carbon emissions, religious freedom, strategic development funding, church planting, green investments, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, the Primates’ Meeting, new technologies, marriage and family life”
On 5th February 2020 the House of Lords debated the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Revd Christopher Foster, expressed concern about the Bill, saying that divorce needed to be kinder to all involved, rather than easier. In his view “the Bill before the House discourages reflection and hence the possibility of reconciliation”.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I add my warm welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Hunt, and congratulations on her fine maiden speech.
I hope that ordained speakers can bring a distinct perspective to the deliberations of your Lordships’ House today, since—unless I do noble Lords a grave disservice—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and I from this Bench and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, are the contributors to our debate who conduct marriages.
I have never lost the sense of immense privilege of being with two people at such a significant moment in their lives, and of the joyfulness of the occasion, their commitment to one another and the commitments they make so significantly together and before others. Such commitments are integral to the foundations of their lives together, but also to the lives of their friends, communities and society as a whole. If your Lordships will forgive my brief lapse into theological jargon, marriage represents not just a contract but a covenant between two people, and between them and society. It is about not contractual rights but covenantal generosity. It represents a good for them and for us all.
On 5th February 2020 the House of Lords debated the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of Carlisle, Rt Revd James Newcome, spoke in the debate and his remarks are below. He highlighted several problems with the Bill, which he said would create more difficulties than it was intended to resolve.
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I am greatly looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hunt of Bethnal Green, and I welcome her to this House, which I am sure will benefit greatly from her expertise, campaigning zeal and commitment to debates on justice and equality.
Let me begin by saying that I appreciate the motivation behind the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill. As we have already heard, they want to make divorce less complicated, less acrimonious and less harmful. Who could possibly argue with that? I like the revised terminology that the Bill suggests, and I agree that, at first sight, this looks like a sensible response to shortcomings in a process that is currently unsatisfactory and often seems to lack transparency or fairness.
However, this deceptively simple piece of legislation actually creates more difficulties than it resolves. One has to do with the nature of marriage itself and our commitment to it as a society—I shall confine my comments to marriage rather than civil partnership.
On 30th January 2020 the House of Lords considered the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, a piece of church legislation that was introduced by the Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek. A short debate also took place on a motion to regret the Measure, tabled by Lord Trefgarne, which was subsequently withdrawn. The Measure was passed.
Moved by The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, although the provisions contained in this Measure are miscellaneous, some of them are nevertheless important. Rather than go through the Measure section by section, it might be helpful if I just mention some of the more significant provisions at this point.
Section 2 implements a recommendation from Dame Moira Gibb’s report following her review of the Church of England’s response to the abuse committed by Peter Ball. One of the report’s recommendations was for the introduction of a national register of clergy with permission to officiate. That recommendation has been further developed and Section 2 will now require there to be a national ministry register. Every clerk in holy orders who has authority to exercise ministry in the Church of England will have to be included in the register. There is also provision for the creation of a register of licensed lay people, and bishops will be required to provide details to the Archbishops’ Council on a regular basis so that the national registers are kept up to date. A form of the register that omits personal contact information will be published by the council and be accessible to the public free of charge.
On 31st October 2019 Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman answered questions from MPs for the last time as Second Church Estates Commissioner. Tributes were paid to her, and questions were answered on climate change, archbishops, reconciliation, telecommunications, thefts, women in prison, marriage, and digital evangelism. This was also the same day that the Speaker and his Chaplain were due to retire. A full transcript follows:
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Climate Change: Investment in Companies
Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): What progress the Church of England has made on holding the companies in which it invests to account on climate change. 
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): Since this is my last set of oral questions, I would like to record my heartfelt thanks to my small team of staff, and especially my constituency secretary, who has faithfully served me for 20 out of 22 years. We often forget that our staff are on the frontline of much of the abuse that we receive, and I want to record my admiration for their fortitude. I also thank the amazing staff I have had to support me in this role, particularly Simon Stanley at Church House.
In tribute, Mr Speaker, I thank you for your kindness and courtesy—unfailingly so, and especially at times of personal duress. I single out your inspired choice of Speaker’s Chaplain, who has enriched the spiritual life of this place—but more of that later.
The Church of England Pensions Board has tabled a shareholder resolution ahead of the annual general meeting of BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, on 7 November this month. It asks BHP to suspend its membership of trade associations that are not lobbying in line with the climate change agreement. This is just the latest example of the Church Commissioners using their shareholder position to change company policy in line with the climate change agreement.
On 1st March 2019 the House of Lords considered the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill at its Report Stage. Lord Faulkner of Worcester tabled an amendment to the Bill similar to that which he had tabled in Committee on the process by which the Church of England and Church in Wales might opt-in to conduct same-sex marriages. The Bishop of Oxford responded to the amendment, explaining that it was not necessary as there were already legal mechanisms in place for both Churches to opt-in should they choose to. The Minister also emphasised these points in her response and the amendment was not put to a vote. The Bishop’s speech is below, and the whole debate on the amendment is reproduced underneath.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, those were extremely moving speeches. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner, Lord Collins and Lord Cashman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for the contributions they have made in the Chamber today and the moving way in which they have spoken. I thank them for sharing their personal experiences so movingly, and for the important and necessary articulation of the views they have heard within the broader Church of England in favour of movement and inclusion. I deeply regret the language used in writing to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others; it has no place in the contemporary Church.
The Church is committed to listening carefully to the wisdom of the nation, to the wisdom in our continued debate in this Chamber and to the voices of LGBTI people at all levels in the life of the church. We are committed in our public statements to the inclusion and welcome of all.
On 21st February 2019 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, answered three written questions from MPs, on Christian persecution overseas, homelessness, and married couples’ tax allowances.
Jim Shannon(Strangford): To ask the Right Honourable Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what humanitarian support the Church of England provides to people overseas that are persecuted for their Christian beliefs. Continue reading “Church Commissioner Questions – Christian persecution overseas, homelessness, married couples’ tax allowance”
On 1st February 2019 the House of Lords considered in Committee a Private Member’s Bill, the Civil Partnership, Marriage and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill. This Bill incorporated provisions on marriage registration that the Bishop of St Albans had successfully piloted through the Lords in his own Private Member’s Bill in 2018. It included extra provision relating to registration of stillborn children, and civil partnerships for opposite sex couples.
The Bishop of Chelmsford spoke during debate on two amendments to the Bill. The first, briefly, on an amendment from the Bill’s sponsor Lady Hodgson, to enable the conversion of civil partnerships to marriage, and vice-versa, through the introduction of Regulations that could amend primary legislation, including Church of England Measures. The amendment was passed after debate.
The second on a probing amendment from Labour Peers, which was withdrawn after debate, to remove the provisions in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 that give legal security to the Church of England and Church in Wales in setting and maintaining their doctrinal position on marriage. The Bishop’s speech on that, and the responses of other Members including the Government front bench, the Bill’s sponsor and the amendment’s sponsor are below: Continue reading “Civil Partnership, Marriage and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill – Bishop of Chelmsford responds to amendments on marriage”
On 18th January 2019 the House of Lords considered the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I thank Tim Loughton MP and the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, for bringing this Bill forward in the Chamber today. It is a complex Bill because it brings together a number of different issues and therefore the danger is that it could fall because a group of people does not like one particular bit of it. I know just how hard it has been working on just the focused registration of marriage part of it, let alone the other focuses. For that reason, I will resist the temptation to widen the debate beyond the scope of the Bill; for example, to explore the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury. I do so because I want us to focus absolutely on what we are trying to deliver. That does not preclude us from having other debates on the points he has made but I do not believe that they are relevant today. Indeed, the danger is that it will confuse matters if we go beyond the scope of what we are trying to do.
As has already been spelled out, the proposals in Clause 1 reflect almost exactly my own Registration of Marriage Bill, which passed through this House with support from your Lordships. Perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the considerable number of people who were immensely helpful. Continue reading “Bishop of St Albans welcomes Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill”
The following appeared on the Church of England website on 24th July 2018:
The House of Lords today passed a bill from the Bishop of St Albans to end the historic inequality of excluding mothers’ names from marriage certificates. The Registration of Marriage Bill, which would also introduce electronic marriage registers, passed its final stage in the House of Lords today and now moves to the House of Commons to be considered by MPs. It is the first time a Bishop’s Private Member’s Bill has proceeded to the House of Commons in more than 20 years. Continue reading “Press notice: Bishop’s Bill calls on MPs to add mothers to marriage certificates”