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Women Clergy

Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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What representations she has received about amending the law to give women clergy protection against discrimination. [123239]

I know that this is an area that my hon. Friend has actively pursued, not least earlier in this Question Time. Although we have received no specific representations about amending the law to give women clergy protection against discrimination, we are obviously pleased, as a Government who are keen to promote equality for women, that 2,000 women have been ordained in the Church of England since the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 was introduced.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the two women who were ordained into the Church in Wales by the Bishop of Monmouth last Saturday? Does she agree that although an increasing number of women have been ordained in the Anglican Church and other denominations, many face discrimination when seeking appointments? I urge her to ensure that women clergy get the same rights as other women in other occupations. They should be included in anti-discrimination and equal opportunities legislation.

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the recently ordained women to whom he referred. I was pleased that a woman priest presided in the House of Commons during our own Prayer session before Question Time. It is an important step forward for the Church. I recognise my hon. Friend's concerns about particular restrictions, such as those in section 19 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Although we have no plans to reform that, we will continue to keep the law as it applies to religious bodies under review in the light of developments in EU law.

Mr. Speaker, I wish you and the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) many happy returns of the day. If anyone wants an additional birthday, I volunteer mine—I am in the mood to give them away.

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. I welcome her to the Dispatch Box in her new role and wish her all the best. I bring to her attention a worrying report entitled, "They shoot children don't they?", which focuses on child victims of paramilitary punishments in Northern Ireland. Will she speak to her colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that women clergy in Northern Ireland who have condemned, and voiced their abhorrence of, paramilitary intimidation in their communities and congregations will not be discriminated against? I would appreciate that very much.

I have no doubt that the fact that the hon. Lady raised the issue in the House will have been important enough to highlight it. I undertake to ensure that the report to which she referred is brought to the attention of my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office.

May I put on record my support for the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards)? Is the Minister aware of an organisation called the group for the rescinding of the Act of Synod? It organised a meeting two weeks ago at which I spoke, and many of the women in the group are angry because of the discrimination from which they still suffer 10 years on from the date when women were ordained into the Church of England.

I know that my hon. Friend also pays close attention to the issue. I am not aware of the group to which she refers, although I am certainly willing to consider its concerns if she passes them on to me. However, the very fact that she mentions the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, passed by the Synod of the Church of England, gives an idea of where the responsibility lies. I reiterate that I welcome the progress made by the Church of England. Despite the possibility contained in the measure of opting out of the welcome ability to ordain women, fewer than 1,000 parishes out of more than 13,000 have chosen to do that, although I do understand my hon. Friend's concerns.