Parliament and the Church of England
: The Making of Ecclesiastical Law

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines one of the pillars of the constitutional link between Church and State. It focuses on the unique process by which Church legislations (Measures) are drafted by a legislative body of the Church (the General Synod) and presented to Parliament for approval. The thesis looks at the role played by Parliament and examines how well it performs this role. The responsibility for scrutinising Measures lies with a joint committee of both houses, the Ecclesiastical Committee. This Committee cannot amend a Measure and can only declare it expedient and present it before the House for approval or reject it. An analysis of this legislative process is missing in the current literature. This thesis aims to fill this gap and provide a study supported by case studies of this important legislative process.
The first part of this thesis analyses this process in detail together with the role of the Ecclesiastical Committee. The case studies illustrate how parliamentary scrutiny of ecclesiastical measures has become more interventionist than the restrictive framework set up by the 1919 Enabling Act. The Appointment of Bishops Measure 1984 was passed by a deeply-divided Ecclesiastical Committee. Once the Measure reached the House of Commons, members of the Committee who had opposed it, presented their views before the House. The Measure was rejected by the Commons. The Clergy Ordination Measure 1989 faced a difficult passage through the Committee, as members were unhappy about the changed voting system used by the General Synod to pass this Measure. The Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 saw the Church having to concede to demands to include opponents to this Measure in the joint consultation process. The final case study is the Churchwardens Measure 2001, which was rejected twice by the Ecclesiastical Committee. Eventually the Measure was passed after the Church accepted all its recommendations.
The third section with Comment and Analysis on the research addresses the wider context of Church-state relations today and the pressures and challenges upon the future of establishment and, with it, the place of Parliament in the making of ecclesiastical law. The greater scrutiny of ecclesiastical legislation has arguably ensured that the Church of England has been more open to broader opinions in society. On the other hand, the way in which the legislative procedure works has also sometimes enabled narrow interests in Parliament and in the Church to set the agenda or to block change. Although reform in the immediate future is unlikely, the link between Parliament and the Synod has been the object of criticism in some political and religious quarters (particularly from those who support disestablishment). At some point administrative changes to ecclesiastical law-making is likely. The thesis concludes that given the important role played by Parliament in legislating for the Church, misguided or badly structured reforms can have serious consequences for the established Church and the Monarchy to which it is so closely linked.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRobert Blackburn (Supervisor) & Raymond Plant (Supervisor)

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