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Women Bishops

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 6 December 2012

1. What recent representations the Church Commissioners have received on the ordination of women as bishops. (131756)

3. What recent progress has been made in finding a way forward on the issue of women bishops which maintains the unity of the Church. (131758)

6. If he will discuss with the Government bringing forward legislative proposals to enable women priests to be consecrated as bishops. (131762)

Following the statement I made on 22 November, the Archbishops Council has met and concluded that a legislative process to admit women to the episcopate needs to be restarted at the next meeting of the General Synod. It was also agreed that the Church of England needed to resolve this matter through its own process as a matter of urgency. The House of Bishops is meeting early next week and has been urged by the Archbishops Council to put in place a clear process for discussions in the new year to inform the decisions that will need to be taken on the shape of the new legislation.

It may be for the convenience of Members of this House to know that they and Members of another place will have the opportunity to discuss these matters further at the meeting that I have arranged with the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the current Bishop of Durham, next Thursday at 9.30 in the Moses Room in the House of Lords.

I am very grateful for that full answer. When I was in church on Sunday, of the 14 people sitting in front of me 13 were women. I think all Members of this House understand how urgent the question is. If fresh legislation is to be passed by the current Synod, it is very important that members of the Church can lobby Synod in a proper way. The Church has published how members of Synod voted but not indicated to which dioceses they belong. Could that also be put up on the website so that people can lobby intelligently?

I see absolutely no reason why that information should not be made available and I will ensure that it is. The process should be perfectly transparent and every member of Synod should be accountable for how they voted.

As we know, the Church has been skirting around the issue for many years. According to the timetable my hon. Friend has presented, when will the vote come back to Synod to be reconsidered?

I hope that, if we can crack on with fresh legislation being presented to the Synod in July, the matter can be eventually resolved by the finish of this Synod in 2015.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he is doing? I hope that the message will go out from the House today to the Synod that we are waiting for its members to make legislation or else we stand prepared to introduce legislation of our own within that time frame.

The clear message from Parliament and the country as a whole to the Church was that this issue cannot be parked. It has to be resolved as speedily as possible and I know that the next Archbishop of Canterbury fully and wholly endorses that approach. I am sure he will make that very clear when he meets colleagues next Thursday.

It is 46 years, almost to the day, since I raised in a debate the difficulties faced by those with colour in trying to get jobs—before the Race Relations Act 1976 was passed. I did not believe that nearly half a century later I would be on my feet protesting against discrimination against women. Is it not absolutely essential that there should be the utmost sustained parliamentary pressure to change a situation in which women are discriminated against in such a blatant manner in the Church?

I entirely agree. Everyone in the Church of England needs to understand that, so far as Parliament and the wider community are concerned, this issue is increasingly seen as the Church of England discriminating against women. That is fundamentally wrong and fundamentally bad for the image and work of the Church.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we must tread with extreme caution in trying to tell the Church of England how to run its own affairs? It is nearly 100 years since this Parliament has interfered with the Church’s affairs—

Although Members are entitled to hold very strong opinions, would my hon. Friend reflect that it is really up to the Church of England to sort this out?

I do not think that anyone is telling the Church of England what to do. I have a very privileged position in this House; I think I am the only person other than Ministers who has the right to answer questions—[Interruption.] Apart from my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), of course. I do apologise. Very few of us have the right to answer questions. There are 26 bishops—24 bishops and two archbishops—in the House of Lords as a benefit of Establishment. Those are privileges and this House is therefore entitled to give good advice to the Church of England on how the Church should be run if it is to continue to have those privileges.

I do not want to intrude on any discussion about the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), but I think we can all agree that the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) is the representative of a rarefied breed.