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Friday, 10 July 2009

When is a Motion not a Motion...?

When it's been amended.

Last time round I described the sequence of a debate through amendments and so forth, in an attempt to unpack a little of the process that we go through in turning a motion on the agenda into a resolution passed by Synod. One particular tactic that I didn't say much about last time - although it's the one I tried to use myself - was the tactic of complete substitution - "Delete all the words after 'This Synod' and add..." Obviously, one reason why someone would put an amendment like this in is because they think that the proposed motion is just completely wrong and ought to say something entirely different, and there is an example of this in the proceedings this session: Philip Giddings (Oxford Diocese, Chair of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, Vice-Chair of the House of Laity) has put in a "Delete all and add..." amendment to the debate on the Review of Constitutions.

However, there is another reason why this sort of amendment turns up, and we have two examples this time round. One is the contingency business, the other is the motion below:

The Revd Dr John Hartley (Bradford) to move on behalf of the Bradford Diocesan Synod:
‘That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council to formulate proposals for reductions in the numbers of episcopal and senior clergy posts, taking into account reductions for the number of stipendiary clergy since 1979; and submit a report with recommendations to the General Synod within three years.’

Unless there is a very good reason why they shouldn't be debated - and Southwark's motion to rescind the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod (Resolution C) is an example of this - motions from Diocesan Synods are always debated at General Synod, in the order in which they are received, and unlike Private Member's Motions they do not lapse at the end of each 5 year synodical period. However, this can result in some pretty forthright motions being put forward, and this is one of them. Clearly, a motion expressed in such bald terms would not necessarily be received with open arms by the hierarchy, but at the same time it would not be sensible for the powers that be to try openly to defeat such a motion. So what is the establishment to do? To the rescue comes our old friend "Delete all and add..." The tactic is to replace something potentially dangerous with something very much more anodyne - then everybody can support it, nobody in authority has to speak against it, and nothing much will happen as a result. This is how it is done:

Canon Dr Christina Baxter (Southwell & Nottingham) to move as an amendment:
Leave out all the words after 'That this Synod' and insert:
", welcoming
a) the recent establishment of the new Dioceses Commission;
b) the decision of the House of Bishops to decouple, from January 2001, national support for episcopal ministry from actual episcopal numbers; and
c) the intention of the Archbishops' Council to prepare for the new Synod in November 2010 a progress report on the delivery of changes to the present pattern of dioceses and of episcopal deployment."

In Synodical terms, Christina Baxter is a very major player. She is Chair of the House of Laity, a member of the Archbishops' Council, and involved in a great deal else besides. Obviously, a Bishop could not have put this forward, it really had to be a lay person. The fact that Christina has been chosen to do it gives some indication of how seriously this motion is being taken.

I have to say, I hope the motion goes through unamended - for two reasons. The first is that I don't like this kind of interference. Bradford Diocese wanted a particular motion to be debated, and they should get that debate, not the debate other people think they ought to have. The second reason is that there is something peculiar about a church that has fewer people in the pews, fewer priests, but more people exercising oversight.

You can find more information from Bradford about their motion at here and a response from the Dioceses Commission at here.

Justin (GS 373)

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