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Church Commissioners

Volume 462: debated on Monday 25 June 2007

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Women Bishops

21. What progress has been made in discussions on enabling the appointment of women bishops in the Church of England. (144681)

Last July, the General Synod set up a legislative drafting group to prepare the draft Measure and canon necessary to remove the legal obstacles to the consecration of women bishops. It is keen to make progress but, realistically, we are several years away from the consecration of the first female bishop.

With 50 per cent. of current ordinands being women, 69 per cent. of the clergy saying that they support women bishops and 89 per cent. of young people in the Church of England saying that they want women bishops, are we not missing out on the talent and abilities of a huge swathe of women who are ready to become bishops? The length of time is unacceptable.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments. The Synod is meeting next month, and I am sure it will listen to what she has to say. The General Synod has approved the principle of removing the legal obstacles to the consecration of women bishops, but we will ultimately need a two-thirds majority in each of the Synod’s three houses before any legislation can receive final approval.

Has the hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 1664, which was tabled only 10 days ago but has already attracted 67 signatures from across the House? Will he please sign that motion?

The hon. Gentleman makes official his unofficial request to me. Perhaps we should wait till Thursday and see what happens.

We should hesitate to be critical of those who try to preserve the Church of England as a broad church that gladly encompasses such differences. They are profound and theological and make for enormous difficulties in the Church.

I admit that I am not involved in religion of any kind, but will my hon. Friend explain to me why on earth, given that the House voted for women priests, there should be any difficulty about bishops? We established the principle; the Church of England gave a lead to other religions, so why the endless delay in appointing women bishops?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but he knows that, since 1919, we have rendered

“unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”.

That is to say that the Church is responsible for its own legislation and we are here to enact it, should it interfere with legislation that is already on the statute book.

“The mills of God grind slowly”—

certainly in relation to women bishops.

But is it not a fact that the vast majority of Christians in the world—those who belong to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions—do not have women bishops? As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, some people have serious and conscientious reservations about the matter.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It may seem simple to some hon. Members, but a significant number of people in the Church from both the Catholic and evangelical wings are opposed on theological grounds to women bishops.

As a very proud stepmother whose stepdaughter will be ordained in Sheffield cathedral on Sunday, I have a vested interest and I should like a little more encouragement from my hon. Friend. Does the Ecclesiastical Committee not have an influence?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has already raised these matters with me. She will know that the Ecclesiastical Committee will meet on 27 June, and I can assure her that when it deals with the issue there will be strong representation by women on the Committee, and we will give the subject the best and fairest of winds.

Pastoral Reorganisation

A recent major review of the legislation dealing with pastoral reorganisation has resulted in the preparation of the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure, which is now before Parliament. As I have indicated, it is to be considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee on 27 June.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that measure aims to reduce the size of rural parishes that are nursed by one priest, who has to look after several parishes at once, which puts a huge burden on them? Will he confirm that that arrangement will be reviewed in the Measure?

The object of the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure is to make new, more flexible provision for the Church’s structures and procedures to facilitate missions for the 21st century. Taking into account the points that the hon. Lady has made, we believe that it aims to make better provision for the cure of souls.

Churches Conservation Trust

23. How much funding the commissioners have given to the Churches Conservation Trust in 2007-08. (144683)

The commissioners’ contribution to the funding of the Churches Conservation Trust in 2007-08 will be £1.286 million.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Does he agree, however, that a considerable additional sum is required if historic churches no longer used for regular worship are to be maintained and remain part of the nation’s important heritage?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for continuing to raise that issue on the Floor of the House and for drawing attention to our heritage. Since 1989, the Government have provided 70 per cent. of the trust budget, and the Church has provided 30 per cent. The overall budget for 2006-09 is £12.6 million, with £8 million from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and £3.8 million as the Church’s share. We continue to lobby for more.