With your permission, Mr Speaker, before I answer this first question, it may be convenient to the House if I make a short comment on the progress made by the General Synod this week on the Church of England being able to consecrate women as bishops. On Tuesday, the General Synod completed the revision process for a new draft Measure to enable women to become bishops. The Synod also agreed to shorten the consultation period with the diocese to consider this new Measure, so the Measure is now likely to come for final approval at the July meeting of the General Synod. If the Measure is approved then, I would hope that the Ecclesiastical Committee would be able to give it early consideration and that both Houses would then separately consider it so that, if it is approved, the Synod might then be able to promulge the canon in November. That would mean that it would be possible for the first woman to be nominated as a bishop in the Church of England this year.
Turning to my hon. Friend’s question, the Church of England has changed legislation to make it much easier for church buildings to be used for a wide range of community and cultural uses. The Church of England encourages all parish churches to be open where possible for as long as possible.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the congregation of volunteers at St Peter’s church in Broadstairs? He very kindly visited an award-winning tourism project called the St Peter’s village tour. Will he encourage other churches to use their facilities in order to open up to the community and develop tourism propositions?
I much enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency. She is absolutely right. The church of St Peter’s in Broadstairs is an excellent example of a church that is a hub of the community, hosting local clubs and services to the elderly, as well as toddlers groups and young people’s clubs, and, as my hon. Friend says, organising popular tours of the village for visitors to Broadstairs. May I also draw the House’s attention to Holy Trinity Margate, which is another fantastic example of a church delivering almost 24/7 social action?