Tuesday, 6 July 2010

A Lesson concerning the Debating of Women Bishops.

Earlier on today, Ruth Gledhill was asking for blog posts to explain the upcoming Women Bishops debate. I thought I'd have a go, and since Ruth's Blog is now hidden behing the Great Pay Wall of the Murdoch Empire I thought I'd post it here as well. Quiet everyone, the teacher's coming...

"Good morning class. Today's lesson is all about how to work out what on Earth General Synod is doing in all these debates over the next few days. You are going to need the following set texts - the Report of the Revision Committee, the Draft Measure, and Notice Paper 5. If you have forgotten them, go and download them now. Yes, we'll wait... OK. Everybody got the right bits of paper? Good. Now, the first thing you need to know is that there are actually only two debates about this happening at Synod. Yes, I know it looks from the Agenda as though there are going to be at least five, but it's actually one short debate and one very long one, that will take about a day and a half to get through. Let's deal with the short one first.

"The first debate is scheduled for Friday morning. Last year we sent the Revision Committee away with a series of instructions about how the legislation was supposed to work, and they made several changes to it - as well as listening to lots of people presenting all the same ideas that had previously been rejected all over again. They have sent revised legislation back - that's the Draft measure - and they also make a report about what they have done. Yes, I know we can see what they have done by looking at the Measure, but what the Report does is explain how they decided everything. That's why, if you look at the Report, you can see it's very long. And not very interesting. No, you don't need to read all of it, but people will refer to it in the debates, so you need to have a short look at it. So, this first debate is to 'take note' of the Revision Committee's Report. In Synod-speak, 'take note' has a particular meaning - it means that the Synod as a whole accepts the report. If the Synod decides not to 'take note' then the whole process stops at this point. No, that won't happen - but there will be some interest in seeing how many vote for and against, because right at the end of the process the legislation needs 2/3 of the bishops, 2/3 of the clergy AND 2/3 of the laity to support it, or it won't become law. For now, though, a simple majority will do. There won't be any discussion about particular parts of the Measure - that will come later - and this first bit should be quite short.

"Next - and probably following on immediately - comes the second debate. The big one. What happens, essentially, is that Synod goes through the Measure clause by clause, amending them or not, and then voting on them. So, to understand this process we need first to look at the Measure. Yes - it's a lot shorter than the Report. You'll notice that it has 11 Clauses - let's look at them one by one.

"1. Provision for the consecration of women as bishops and ordination of women as priests. Yes - this is the simple bit. It changes the law so that women can be bishops.
2. Duty of the Diocesan Bishop to make arrangements. These 'arrangements' are the real substance of the Measure, and what the major amendments will attempt to alter. As they stand in the Draft, they basically say that every bishop has to put forward a scheme showing how he (or she in due course, perhaps) will accommodate those who for theological reasons are unable to accept the ministry of a woman as priest or bishop. What shape that scheme has depends, obviously, on whether the Diocesan himself will ordain women - that must also be stated in the scheme itself.
3. Parish Requests. This describes what a parish has to do and say - who votes, how often and so on - in order to trigger arrangements under Clause 2.
4. Benefices in the patronage of the Crown etc. Nothing is ever simple in the Church of England, and some parishes are governed by different rules than others, especially when it comes to appointing vicars.
5. Code of Practice. This clause establishes that a Code of Practice is to govern how Clauses 2 and 3 are put into action. It also states how any Code of Practice should be authorised and how it can be altered, but it doesn't say anything about the substance of such a Code.
6. Duty to have regard to Code of Practice. Yes, it's Lawyer-speak, and it means that as a bishop you have to do what the Code of Practice says.
7. Equality Act exceptions. Obviously, if you are going to establish bishops who have to be male this might get you into trouble with the Equality Act, so this makes it clear that the Act does not apply in the case of (male) bishops appointed to oversee dissenting parishes. Yes, the Measure can do this, because once Parliament approve it, it's the law.
8. Interpretation. This just defines some of the words used in the Measure so that people can't come along later and argue that they mean something different. Yes, I agree that should be obvious, but we are dealing with lawyers here.
9. Consequential amendments. If this gets passed, then certain other rules and regulations will change as a result. This just lists them and tidies them up.
10. Repeals. Likewise, if this passes it will make some earlier rules and reguilations irrelevant, so again this tidies up.
11. Citation, commencement and extent. What the Measure shall be called, when it will come into effect and who it will affect.

"No - I haven't forgotten the debate. In fact I was just coming to it. If you get out your last text, Notice Paper 5, you will see that the debate follows the order of the clauses and... Yes, I know it's complicated. Well, actually it isn't, it just looks that way. Lets take it clause by clause.

"Nobody is trying to amend Clause 1 - although people will try to vote against it, because if that vote is lost then the whole measure becomes meaningless.

"Clause 2 is where things get more intricate. There are two attempts here to re-write it entirely. The first one - 512 on the Order Paper - would set up alternative traditionalist dioceses. This idea has been ruled out already as essentially legislating for schism, so it probably won't get far. The second - 513 - sets up transferred arrangements for traditionalists. No, that's not the same as the Draft Measure. Yes, it does sound the same, but there is a big difference. In the Measure as it stands, parishes have to ask the Diocesan Bishop for special arrangements, and he/she appoints someone to look after them. If this went through, the transfer would be as of right. Supporters of women bishops don't like this option because you could see it as creating 'second class bishops' by enabling traditionalists to act as if their diocesan bishop didn't actually exist. Again, these proposals have already been rejected, and they probably won't get through this time. They are not enough for the hard-line traditionalists, and a step too far for the reformers. The third major amendment is the one proposed by the two archbishops. It tries to bridge the gap between the idea of transfer and what is in the measure as it stands. Given that most of the usual suspects - sorry, I mean campaigning organisations of one sort or other - don't seem to like it, it probably won't get through. However, with both Archbishops backing it, you never know. The rest of the amendments to Clause 2 are essentially tinkering at the edges.

"Clause 3. Although there are a lot of amendments here - 519-527 on the order paper - they don't really make a huge amount of difference. They alter some of the detail about opting into or out of whatever is (eventually) described in Clause 2, but whether or not they are passed the legislation remains substantially unaltered.

"Clause 4. Unsurprisingly, no amendments to this one. What about the person who wants to speak against it? Give me a moment, I'll get there soon.

"Clause 5. Two amendments here. One is the second part of the Archbishops' amendment - it will only get debated if their first one goes through. The second is one that essentially re-writes Clause 5 to say that the House of Bishops can do whatever they want in a Code of Practice. No, I have no idea what the logic is behind that. Yes, that does mean they can do what they want. No, that won't necessarily be a good idea.

"Most of the rest of the amendments are small bits of drafting that result from other things that might or might not be passed earlier on, but three are more interesting. 540 would put a 'sunset clause' into the measure. No, not that, it means that it lapses after a certain period of time... 541 is designed to make it harder to change these rules after they are agreed - it would need a 2/3 majority in Synod to do so. 542 allows for dissenters to be pensioned off if they leave because of the changes but before they come into effect.

"So finally, at the end of all that, we have a re-drafted Measure. Subject to a final vote that then gets sent out to the Dioceses, and if a majority of them agree then it comes back to Synod again for a final debate, but no more revision, and if it gets its 2/3 majority it goes in front of Parliament and becomes law.

"Oh yes, and you wanted to know why it was listed on the Notice Paper that people wanted to speak against things. I need to back-track a bit, then, and explain some rules to you. When Synod is doing revising, the presumption is that everything is OK unless someone complains. So, you only get a debate on a particular bit of a measure if someone either tries to amend it or gives notice that they want to speak against it. What's more, if someone suggests an amendment, after they have explained why they want it and what it will do, Synod has to show some support. It's called the Forty Member Rule (yes, I am serious and no, that's not funny) and it states that unless 40 people in Synod stand up to show that they want a debate on that particular amendment we forget about it and go on to the next thing.

"So, any clearer? No? Never mind. You'll have something in common with most of the rest of the Church of England, then..."


Alastair Cutting said...

Very helpful thanks, J.

I have linked back to this from the GenSyn blog.

Anonymous said...

I have forwarded this to the local radio station who asked me to explain what was happening - THANKS!

Pete Broadbent said...

My one protest is that the Report of the Revision Committee *is* very interesting, because it rehearses a lot about the arguments, how we got to where we did, and what the journey involved. And, unless Synod reads it, they will all be forced to go on the same journey that we did. So, please don't dismiss the Report of the Revision Committee. Those who ignore history are forced to repeat it.

Anonymous said...

Good summary Justin - thanks.

By the way, I HAVE read the whole report, which is very enlightening, as Pete says. Worth trawling through - took me just two iced coffees to get through it all !

I have been looking for a clear summary of the amendments, so thanks very much Justin !

Justin Brett said...

I apologise for being facetious, Pete. You're right, of course - although judging by the amendments I fear that there are several people who did not take your advice. There will be much repetition of history over the next few days...

Nancy Wallace said...

Thank you Justin. I found your post a helpful summary, but I agree with Pete Broadbent that the Revision Committe Report is interesting and for General Synod members essential reading.

Unknown said...

Seems like a lot of waffling goes on in the C of E and you leave out God. Doesn't anybody know him to find out what he thinks? The kingdom of God is a kingdom of power not of words.