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Monday, 6 February 2006

The Placing of Questions - (3) 6Feb2006

Towards the beginning of each meeting of Synod, the Business Committee reports. So? Well it is the Business Cttee that discusses, prepares and sets the Agenda for Synod. The 24 pages of Agenda items are updated in the weeks before Synod meets, and indeed order papers with additional information or changes are often on the seats in the Chamber at the start of each session. The Business Cttee’s Report is a sort of commentary, and justification, of what is on the Agenda, and why it is there.

Their report is one of the first items that comes up on the Agenda, and after it is introduced, it is open for discussion. The Business Cttee are on a hiding to nothing really. Take over 450 eager and eloquent elected and appointed members of Synod, each arriving with diocesan and personal axes to grind, with their own priorities and interests, and no wonder the Agenda is then shredded.

A key point this time was the placing of Questions. Now Synod questions are not just a couple of queries, causally asked. They are written questions - some 79 submitted in advance for this session. All receive answers, some written, some verbal, and if times does not permit all to be addressed live, some are presented in writing after the Synod.

‘In another place’ not far from here in Westminster, Questions - PMQ, is I believe the shorthand - are in the middle of the week, and at the start of the working day. Questions for this Synod are at the very end of the last day. Murmurings and mutterings begin to circulate in the chamber.

Two or three members raised the issue. Perhaps hearing answers to these questions nearer the beginning of Synod may well inform debates taking place over the coming days? it is suggested. Supplementary questions, following on from the written submitted ones, can elicit significant insights and progress in various areas of national church life. One particularly eloquent speech suggesting a particular way of re-jigging the Agenda got an extended applause - really extended. The chair of the session started to look distinctly peaky. Would the chair of the business cttee buckle under the onslaught?

Not a bit of it! We were informed that for many and numerous reasons, the placing of questions in this part of the Agenda had been carefully considered, and was in the best position for this meeting of Synod. People were starting to ask for the business cttee to set the agenda when they as individual members were available - we were informed - and that could not be a sensible way forward.

Whilst the business committee may be right about that particular point, I bet that Questions do not appear at the very end of the Agenda at the York sitting of Synod in July! And I hope it will be a spark to the thinking and boost to the already very high standard in the quality of debating that the General Synod does.

Alastair GS101

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