Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Equality Act and Women in the Episcopate

Back in June, I wrote an article for the Church Times, Equality Law will affect church appointments. This is a more detailed look at the same subject, with particular reference to the draft legislation on women bishops that is about to be referred to the dioceses of the Church of England.

That draft measure, GS 1708A as amended by synod in July, contains the following clause:

7 Equality Act exceptions

(1) Section 50(1), (2), (3), (6) and (7) of the Equality Act 2010 (2010 c. 15) (“the Equality Act”) do not apply so far as they relate to sex or religion or belief, in relation to —

(a) any arrangements contained in a scheme made by the bishop of a diocese under section 2,

(b) any request made by a parochial church council under section 3(1) or (3),

(c) any arrangements set out in a notice sent to the secretary of a parochial church council by the bishop of a diocese under section 3(8),

(d) any action taken in exercising functions relating to the appointment of a priest in order to take account of a request made by a parochial church council under section 3(3), and

(e) any provision in a Code of Practice made under section 5.

(2) Subsection (1) is without prejudice to Schedule 9 to the Equality Act

Section 50 of the Equality Act 2010 deals with the particular topic of Public offices: appointments, etc. Under the Equality Act, a Public office is defined as:

a) an office or post, appointment to which is made by a member of the executive;

(b) an office or post, appointment to which is made on the recommendation of, or subject to the approval of, a member of the executive;

(c) an office or post, appointment to which is made on the recommendation of, or subject to the approval of, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the National Assembly for Wales or the Scottish Parliament.

Clearly, this definition encompasses all Crown appointments, which within the Church of England includes among many others all appointments to bishoprics.

Section 50 goes on to specify the various ways in which discrimination is prohibited in relation to such appointments. For example:

(a) in the arrangements A makes for deciding to whom to offer the appointment;

(b) as to the terms on which A offers B the appointment;

(c) by not offering B the appointment.

It is self-evident that several provisions in the draft legislation are, and are intended to be, discriminatory against women appointees. See, for example, the references to a “male bishop” in the text. Unless a clause along the lines of Clause 7 is included in the draft measure, there will be a clear conflict with Clause 50 of the Act. It is worth noting, perhaps, that this requirement is entirely separate from, and in no way impinges on, the various exemptions for religious organisations which are enumerated in Schedule 9 of the Act.

It is also worth noting that the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, and the former MP, Robert Key, both issued warnings to synod during the debate that even with, or perhaps because of, Clause 7, the draft measure might face opposition in Parliament. See my earlier report women bishops and equality legislation.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 11 September 2010 at 3:14pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod | equality legislation

Is it only gender discrimination which is outlawed for public appointments, or is, for example, sexual orientation discrimination also prohibited? If so, it would affect Jeffrey John type situations, I suppose.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Saturday, 11 September 2010 at 10:33pm BST

No, the terms of Section 50 apply to all the "protected characteristics" i.e.
* age;
* disability;
* gender reassignment;
* marriage and civil partnership;
* pregnancy and maternity;
* race;
* religion or belief;
* sex;
* sexual orientation.

The government has announced that these Equality Act 2010 provisions will come into force on 1 October 2010. Until that date, the existing legislation continues to apply.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 11 September 2010 at 11:10pm BST

Church appointments cannot discriminate on religion or belief? How is THAT going to work out for you?

Posted by: dmitri on Sunday, 12 September 2010 at 11:58am BST

No, dmitri, church appointments can indeed discriminate on Religion or Belief. That is covered in detail for the general case in Schedule 9 of the Act.
For the particular case of bishops, it is covered by Clause 7 of this draft Measure. The wording of the latter is quite specific in the first line of subclause (1).

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 12 September 2010 at 4:19pm BST

It was unfortunate that Tom Wright's last significant act, before he scuttled off to the groves of Academe, was his grossly misleading speech on this matter at the General Synod; it seems probable to me that he, Rowan Williams, and John Sentamu, had convinced themselves that they had a cunning legal plan to circumvent all this nonsense about equality, and were not prepared to listen to anyone who thought differently.

Even, or perhaps particularly, when the people who thought differently actually knew something about it.

They were deluding themselves, and unfortunately they deluded the Synod on the Clause 7 point, though the Synod did rumble the Archbishops' cunning Amendment; for this relief much thanks, but it still leaves the CofE in the unfortunate position of looking as if it wants to discriminate against anything it fancies, regardless of the moral basis of such actions, and expects Parliament not only not to notice but also to carry on heavily subsidising it from the common purse.

I am left, again, in the position of vulgarly lowering the tone by referring to money; for example, the Dean and Chapter of York obtained the commitment of £10,000,000 to repair York Minster from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

That was in 2008; if the Church now refuses to play by the rules that apply to everyone else then Parliament may well take the view that the Church should actively demonstrate its independence, not least by bearing the costs of repairing its own buildings. People who believe that they have a cunning plan frequently discover themselves to have been mistaken...

Posted by: chenier1 on Sunday, 12 September 2010 at 9:50pm BST

Sad it is that any national government has a need to protect minorities against discrimination, when the local Church obviously sees no such need.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 12 September 2010 at 11:48pm BST

All churches and religions which are independent of the state , should be self governing and allowed to keep their doctrinal standards. However the Church of England is a state Church and Parliament has the final say.

It is utterly baffling that in the second decade of the 21st century that a western democracy has a section of its legislature reserved for men only.. namely the Church of England Bishops in the Lords.

Parliament should say to the bishops, you can keep your opt out on women bishops , but you must opt out of Parliament.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Friday, 17 September 2010 at 6:50am BST
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