Constitutional Affairs Committee

Press Notice/ 02 of Session 2003-04            16 December 2003


The reform of the Office of Lord Chancellor: ecclesiastical patronage

What should happen to the Lord Chancellor’s powers to appoint vicars in many Church of England parishes? That will be the question under consideration by the Constitutional Affairs Committee in a special one-off evidence session to be held on 29 January 2004.

One of the Lord Chancellor’s varied functions, as an ecclesiastical patron, is the appointment of vicars and rectors to a number of parishes within the Church of England, as well as appointing canons to some cathedrals. However, with government plans to abolish the office of the Lord Chancellor, the Committee is keen to investigate how the current system works and how it would be affected by the current proposals.

According to current government proposals, the Lord Chancellor’s power could:

a) be transferred to another Minister of the Crown, such as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs;
b) revert to the Crown, with the Prime Minister advising the Queen or;
c) be transferred to the Church, whether to the relevant Bishop, Archbishop or board of patronage.

The Committee is particularly interested in exploring the following issues:
• How important is the future of the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage function to the existing, varied system of patronage?
• How does the exercise of ecclesiastical patronage by the Lord Chancellor work in practice, and how does it differ from the way other patrons exercise their powers?
• Which of the three government options for the future of the Lord Chancellor's Ecclesiastical Patronage function is preferable? Are there other options that the government has not considered?
• If the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage responsibilities were transferred to the Church, who should assume them? Would such a change be seen as a step towards disestablishment of the Church?

The Committee will be receiving copies of all non-confidential responses to the Government’s consultation from the Department for Constitutional Affairs. It would, however, welcome any additional submissions which interested parties may wish to make directly to the Committee. It is in particular interested to hear any views about the system form parishes which have recently had clergy appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

Any such additional submissions should be sent to the Clerk of the Committee at the address above no later than Friday 9th January. Preferably an electronic version in MS Word or Rich Text format should also be submitted, either by email to or on a disk and this should be accompanied by a covering e-mail stating clearly who the submission is from, together with relevant contact details. A letter should be sent validating the e-mail.  Attention is drawn to the guidance on the submission of evidence which can be found at