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Women Bishops

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 5 July 2012

6. What advice the Church Commissioners have given on the implications of a decision to agree to the appointment of women bishops. (115247)

9. What representations the Church Commissioners have received on recent amendments to the Women Bishops Measure made by the House of Bishops. (115250)

I made my own position very clear in a speech to the General Synod shortly after my appointment. I had hoped that the Synod would give final approval to the legislation for women bishops next Monday, but as a result of an amendment made by the House of Bishops in May, it is possible that the Synod will ask the House of Bishops to think again, in which case we may be in for a short period of ping-pong between the Synod and the House of Bishops.

Those of us such as the hon. Gentleman who have argued for a long time for women to have equality in the Church and to be able to become bishops are getting a bit frustrated. I respectfully say that the objective he should communicate to his colleagues on the Synod is that during this year—either at the forthcoming Synod or the autumn Synod—a final decision should be taken. If there has to be a bit of compromise, so be it—but not on the principle. The differences of view need to be respected, but we need a clear decision on women bishops to be taken this year while this archbishop remains in office.

It is terribly sad that, yet again, the bishops have threatened this measure by trying to water it down. A couple of weeks ago, they accused this House of jeopardising the status of the established Church because we are likely to vote for equal marriage. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the bishops that establishment is a two-way street, and that by putting themselves so far away from mainstream opinion on women bishops—in this House, in the country and even in the Church of England—it is they who are threatening the established status of the Church?

I take the point, but let me say, in fairness, that I think the Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops were trying hard to find a piece of territory on which they felt that everyone could stand. Many of us in the House are familiar with that concept. As the archbishop said, it is rather like one of those Christmas cracker games that involve trying to get three ball bearings into a hole: you always get two in, but one falls out. I think that a genuine attempt was made, but it obviously backfired, and we shall have to review the position.

The House of Commons well understands the concept of ping-pong. I hope that if the General Synod sends this back to the House of Bishops, the bishops will reflect on what has been said by people including my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). I also hope very much that, before the year is out, the House will have an opportunity to pass legislation that will make it possible for the Church of England to have women bishops.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in years to come, it will be as difficult for people to understand the controversy about women bishops as it is for them to understand now why 100 years ago women had to fight in every conceivable way to become Members of Parliament and to have the right to vote?

The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point, and one on which the General Synod ought to reflect at its meeting in York over the next few days.