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Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure

Volume 586: debated on Monday 20 October 2014

[Relevant document: The 233rd Report from the Ecclesiastical Committee, Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure, HC 622.]

I beg to move,

That the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure (HC 621), passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which it was laid before Parliament.

It is now nearly a century since Parliament recognised that it should no longer be the body that initiated legislation concerning the running of the Church of England. However, Church legislation becomes part of the law of England, so it requires parliamentary approval and Royal Assent. A Measure such as the one before us has to have been passed by the General Synod of the Church of England. Most Measures require simple majorities in the Synod, but this one falls in that special category of particularly important instruments that need to have achieved at least two-thirds majorities in each of the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity.

A Measure passed by General Synod then comes to Parliament to be considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee, a statutory Committee comprising 15 Members of each House, and if after consideration the Committee thinks it expedient to approve the Measure, it then has to be considered and approved separately by each House. The Measure was passed by General Synod in July and considered and approved by the Ecclesiastical Committee on the last day Parliament sat before the summer recess. The House of Lords considered and approved the Measure last week, on the first sitting day after the recess, and for it to proceed to Royal Assent, it now simply remains for this House to give its approval.

The purpose of the Measure is to enable the Church of England, for the first time, to open all three orders of ministry—deacons, priests and bishops—without reference to gender. The process was begun by legislation to enable women to become deacons in the 1980s and to become priests in the 1990s. That process will at last be completed by this legislation, which will enable women to become bishops—and indeed archbishops, as they are not separate orders of ministry in the Church of England.

Women priests now make up over a quarter of parish clergy and around half of priests in training. There are already 23 women archdeacons and six women deans. As a debate last year in Westminster Hall testified, over the past 20 years many women have given outstanding leadership to the Church of England and to our communities as vicars, archdeacons and cathedral deans. Now every type of post will be open to them. It is right to acknowledge the immense patience among many women in the Church who have waited for this day. We acknowledge, as we need to, the pain and hurt that there has often been as a consequence of the delay in arriving at where we are at today.

As well as recognising the consequences of delay, will the right hon. Gentleman sound a note of joy, in that the Church will now be able to choose from the other half of the population for its most senior positions, which, all things being equal, must strengthen our hand?

I hope this whole debate will be joyful, because this is a very joyful day for the Church of England and society as a whole.

The conundrum has been: how to try to maintain the theological breadth and diversity of the Church of England while securing a solution that avoids any appearance of equivocation over the Church of England’s commitment to equality between men and women. Or, as I said in a speech to General Synod in 2010, shortly after I was appointed Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Church of England could have women bishops or not have women bishops, but one thing Parliament would not tolerate was any suggestion of second-class women bishops. As the House will recall, in November 2012, the earlier Measure failed at General Synod. That resulted in my having to answer an urgent question in the House, which indicated the depth and breadth of concern across the House. There was subsequently a half-day’s debate.

I think everyone in the Church of England felt chastened by the failure to reach agreement, and the Archbishop of Canterbury set in place a process of facilitated listening and discussions between all the various groups in the Church to seek a way forward. That process of facilitated listening and discussion led to a much simpler Measure, which is before the House today.

I am not a believer, as I have said on previous occasions. This Measure requires parliamentary approval, and we are all Members of Parliament, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, having voted 20 or so years ago for women to become priests, it was very difficult—certainly for me, as well as many others in the House, I am sure—to understand why there should be a glass ceiling? I am pleased that the decision has been reached to have no second-class category in the Church of England as far as women are concerned.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments, and I hope that view is shared by everyone and all Members of the House.

Will my right hon. Friend note that the enthusiasm for tonight’s decision is shared in the non-conformist Churches, many of which, like the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, are accustomed to having women as their leaders, as moderator or president?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making the point—it was made in the other place and I will comment on it later—that this is a measure that has been welcomed by many other faith groups as well. I am also grateful for his kind welcome for the Measure.

At General Synod, the Measure enjoyed overwhelming majorities at final approval in the three Houses of Synod, with 95% in the House of Bishops, 87% in the House of Clergy and 77% in the House of Laity—majorities that I suspect any party or combination of parties in this House would give their eye-teeth for. At the heart of the work and discussions on the new Measure was the ambition to do everything possible to maintain unity in the Church of England. This Measure, along with its accompanying instruments and documents, seeks to give expression to that hope of unity in various ways. It is acknowledged in the five guiding principles in the House of Bishops’ declaration that we live in a wider Christian world, where this development—having women bishops—is not accepted by everyone, and we have committed ourselves to maintain a place, without limited time, for those who are of the traditional viewpoint. These commitments are important because they are at the core of what the Church of England is about and how it sees itself within our national life. In the House of Lords debate last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury observed:

“One of the most moving parts of this process has been listening to those who have been willing to go along with something that they feel passionately and deeply is not the right thing for the church to do…I say again that the Church of England is deeply committed to the flourishing of all those who are part of its life in the grace of God. It is not our intention that any particular group should wither on the vine.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 187.]

Indeed, I think we would all hope that every part of the Church of England can now flourish and thrive.

In the same debate last week, the House of Lords was particularly moved by the speech of the noble Lord Cormack, who many will know was for many years a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee and who describes himself as a traditional Anglican. Lord Cormack said that he could

“say with all certainty that had I been present in York this year I would have approved of the Measure before us this evening. There has been a real attempt to understand the sincerely held peculiarities of those of us who call ourselves traditional Anglicans.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 175.]

As the Archbishop of Canterbury observed a little while ago on “Newsnight”,

“the biggest change in the last 20 months has been the way we treat each other and the way we are learning to treat people we disagree with.”

This Measures thus comes before us this evening with the overwhelming endorsement of every diocese in England and the overwhelming endorsement of every part of General Synod following a process of listening and reconciliation.

My right hon. Friend was kind enough to refer to the noble Lord Cormack. Would he accept that part of the reconciliation has been the generous approach adopted by those of us who would associate ourselves as being within the Catholic tradition, and will he welcome the observations made by Forward in Faith, which represents many of those parishes, and the generous approach by the Roman Catholic Church in England? Will he assure us all that this will in no way undermine the work on greater understanding and dialogue with our Catholic and Orthodox brethren, which is part of the wider scope of Christian understanding that we are seeking to achieve?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. In fairness, the Measure has come about because throughout every part of the Church of England, and in tandem with other Churches—as evidenced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and others—generosity has been shown.

The declaration of the House of Bishops, which accompanies the Measure, sets out five principles of non-discrimination, acceptance of diversity and recognition of difference across the universal and Catholic Church, which is enormously important. When the Measure was considered last week in the House of Lords, it was notable that it attracted support from all quarters, irrespective of whether they were members of the Church of England. As the Labour peer Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall observed, she supported the Measure as

“a representative of the many, many people in this country who are not members of the Church of England, or indeed of any church, but who are none the less, in some curious way, deeply attached to the Church of England. We are people who have grown up in a world in which the ministry of the Church of England has been very important to the social and, indeed, the political fabric of this country.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 177.]

Another Labour peer, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port observed—in a spirit similar to that expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed—that

“as a member and former president of the Methodist Conference, I am determined that it should not simply be Anglican voices that give expression to their delight in this debate; Methodists across the land will rejoice at it.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 171.]

In a short and very moving speech, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, a Cross Bencher, explained that he had been brought up in the Catholic Church, but that what really mattered was love:

“what is important is the degree of love… I enormously welcome women bishops…It is correct that we should also show great love to those who find this difficult.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 181.]

If we pass the Measure today, it will enable the Church to proceed to finalise matters at the General Synod next month. That potentially means that from 17 November, each diocesan bishop vacancy considered by the Crown Nominations Commission and each suffragan bishop vacancy considered by the relevant diocesan bishop will be open to women as to men.

One consequence of the Measure is that it will be possible for women to become Lords Spiritual and to sit in the House of Lords. At present, diocesan bishops are appointed to the House of Lords on the basis of seniority, so getting women bishops into the House of Lords could take some time if the normal system of seniority were simply left to take its course. However, I am glad to be able to report to the House that there has been consultation with all the main parties on the possibility of introducing a short, simple Government Bill to accelerate the arrival of the first woman bishop in the House of Lords, and I hope that such a Bill will be able to be taken through during this Session.

I am also glad to report that, in my experience, there has been solid cross-party support for such a Bill. It will have to be approved by Parliament because it goes to the question of who is summoned to attend Parliament. I should like to thank the First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons and the noble Baroness Stowell, the Leader of the House of Lords, for their help and support with this matter. We all recognise the pressures on parliamentary time, particularly so late in the Parliament, but I very much hope that the Government will be able to find a legislative slot very shortly.

I want to put in an early bid. The Bishop of Hull is leaving his post and moving on, and, as Hull is a pioneering city—remember William Wilberforce and Amy Johnson—I believe that the bishopric of Hull would be an ideal starting place for the first woman bishop in the House of Lords.

I will make sure that the Crown Nominations Commission takes on board the hon. Lady’s bid. I suspect that there might be some competition from around the country, however. The Bishop of Oxford is retiring shortly. There are many excellent women in senior posts in the Church, and I have absolutely no doubt that the first women bishops—and, indeed, all those women who are made bishops—will be excellent candidates. This measure is long overdue. The ability of the Church of England to consecrate women bishops is long overdue. The arrival of women bishops in the House of Lords is long overdue. I commend the Measure to the House.

It is my very great pleasure, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, to support the Measure to enable the Church of England to consecrate women as bishops. I congratulate all those who have brought us to this place: the Synod, which voted for the change; Archbishop Justin and his staff, who reinvigorated the process; the women in the Church who have ministered and campaigned for change; and those who did not wish to see women consecrated but who have accepted the overriding need for reconciliation.

To some of us, this decision seemed a long time coming. When we are waiting for something and uncertain of the outcome, it feels like an eternity, but when it is done, it feels as though it happened in the twinkling of an eye. I am not sure whether the story began in 1976 when the Movement for the Ordination of Women was set up, or in the 1550s with the Elizabethan settlement for the Church of England. Perhaps it began with those women we read about in the New Testament: Phoebe, the deacon; Priscilla, the teacher; and Lydia, whose house became a home for the Church. Perhaps it began with the Genesis story, which is open to different interpretations.

My mother once stood up in church to give the address, only to be blessed by a priest who prayed to God that women be forgiven, as sin was brought into the world by a woman. I am never quite sure where prejudice ends and firm conviction begins. I prefer to focus on these words:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them…God saw everything that he had made and indeed it was very good.”

The right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who has fulfilled his role as Second Church Estates Commissioner excellently and whom we will all miss when he leaves the House in May, has laid out with admirable clarity the contents of the Measure. I will not repeat all that he has said, although I do have some questions. Obviously, it is not for Parliament or politicians, or even the Government, to lay down the theological grounding of any faith or religion in this country. We understand that. However, as the established Church, the Church of England has certain privileges and certain responsibilities. Uniquely, it ministers throughout the country; uniquely, it is guaranteed places in this Parliament. In that context, the Opposition believe that it is right for the canons of the Church to reflect the views and values of the vast majority of members of the Church and of wider society in upholding gender equality. I am delighted that the Synod made the decision that it made in July. I believe that by doing so it avoided what might have been a substantial crunch in the next Parliament.

Let me now deal with the details of the Measure. Clause 2 makes it clear that bishops are not public office holders under the Equality Act 2010. It is a necessary provision, enabling the Church to provide for those who, as a result of theological conviction, do not wish to receive episcopal oversight from a woman.

The hon. Lady says that the clause is necessary, but I do not think that it is necessary at all. It is the one element of the Measure that I think is unfortunate: I think it unfortunate that, at a time when we are advancing equality, we have to amend the Equality Act to carve out a chunk of the Church of England.

I am, of course, sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s perspective on this issue, but I think that had the clause not been included, it is extremely unlikely that we would be in this place today. I think it extremely unlikely that the Synod would have agreed to the package.

While the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is valid, is it not a great truth that out there in the real world no one will understand that difference? When the Measure is passed and women are consecrated bishops, people will see women as bishops, and the small type on the face of the record, which might excite some people who think that it is a terrible injustice, will be lost once the first women are consecrated.

I hope very much that what my right hon. Friend says is correct, but I think that some questions arise about the way in which the Church is intending to handle the situation. I hope that the Second Church Estates Commissioner will be able to answer those questions, some of which were also raised during the discussion in the Ecclesiastical Committee in July.

First, will parochial church councils be obliged to inform all members of the Church who are on the electoral roll in a parish that discussions are about to take place regarding resolutions to restrict the ministry of women, so that hole-in-corner decisions are not made? Secondly, can a parish request oversight from a non-discriminating bishop? The rules allow parishes to request a discriminating bishop. Can they also request a non-discriminating bishop, and can such parishes apply to the new independent reviewer? Thirdly, will the new conservative evangelical headship bishop minister beyond the parishes that specifically request his ministry? Fourthly, will the Second Church Estates Commissioner confirm that clause 2 will not validate any further discriminatory practices?

There is a fifth, and very important, question, which relates not to the Church but to the Government. I am not sure whether the Minister or the Second Church Estates Commissioner will answer it. As the Second Church Estates Commissioner said, bishops are currently appointed to the other place on the basis of seniority. I understand that to change that we shall need primary legislation, because otherwise the advent of women in the other place will come about at some far distant time, and none of us wants that. The Second Church Estates Commissioner said that the Government had not yet found time for that legislation, but why is that? The Clerks inform me that only eight Bills are before Parliament at the moment, whereas in a year we normally have 22 Bills going through the House, so there seems to be lots of time available.

Clearly, I did not express myself with my usual clarity. The situation is more that the Government are in the process of finding this time. The hon. Lady and I have been here long enough to know what it means when at business questions the Leader of the House gives the impression that time might be found eventually, in the distant future. This is much more about when, not if, the Government find time within the legislation programme. That is very much the impression I have got from my discussions with the Leader of the House and his equivalent in the other place.

I am glad to hear that, because I am confident that such legislation would receive a fair wind from Members on both sides of the House, so it is not as though it will take up a huge amount of time; it is a purely practical thing.

I promise not to intervene again. The business is going to collapse three and a half hours early tonight, so if the Government had been prepared, we could have dealt with that measure tonight.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. I had thought we were going to do the primary legislation when we came back in September, but it was not to be. I hope the Minister will give us a firm commitment on this tonight.

I urge all hon. Members to support the Measure for the consecration of women bishops. It has widespread support in the Church, in the House and in the country. I am proud to have been able to speak in this debate. The time of crying is past; the time of singing has come.

I do not wish to detain the House, but I join the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) in praising my right hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner. I have served on the Ecclesiastical Committee for a short time and it is an honour to work alongside him. With great thought and care he undertakes his role and has expedited this Measure so well through the House over the past three months. I say a heartfelt thank you on behalf of all those who will not have the opportunity to speak in tonight’s debate.

I am proud to represent the diocese of Truro—indeed, the cathedral is in my constituency—particularly as I was confirmed there and I have the great privilege of worshipping there regularly. I was delighted that in May the diocesan synod voted overwhelmingly in favour of the consecration of women bishops, and I want to share with the House the marvellous way in which that debate was conducted. The discussion was heartfelt but measured and considered. I echo the words of the Second Church Estates Commissioner about the great progress that has been made within the Church of England on the way in which people talk to and engage each other. During the debate many people were swayed by the citing of a number of female Cornish saints and the great contribution they made to the early development of Christianity. That was a timely reminder of the significant role that women have played in the Church over many centuries. There was a reflection on the great contribution that ordained women priests have made in the diocese of Truro in the past 20 years, and a recognition of the broad views held in the community for this very positive Measure.

My hon. Friend has made a number of good points and she is right in all she says about the work of the Second Church Estates Commissioner. Does she agree that there is a fantastic opportunity for a woman to become a bishop very soon in my constituency, as our current bishop, Bishop Michael, retires in only a month’s time, after 10 years’ outstanding service? Does she agree that that great opportunity should not be missed?

I thoroughly agree with that bid from my hon. Friend and I can think of an excellent candidate who is sitting with us this evening and whom all of us would thoroughly recommend to be one of the earliest adopted new bishops.

Passing this motion this evening is the right thing to do not only for all the reasons that have already been expressed but because it will help the Church of England reach out and continue in its vital mission of engaging with a whole new generation of people. That will only strengthen the Church so that it continues to contribute to the national life of people of Christian faith and people of none.

It was an extraordinary Synod of the English Church, taking place as it did on a site of two religious communities—one of men and the other of women—both of which were headed by a female abbess. I am talking not about last summer’s General Synod of the Church of England or even any English Church Synod over the past 1,000 years, but about the 7th century and Abbess Hilda of Whitby.

As we have this debate today, we have to reflect on the leadership of women—some ordained and some lay—in our parishes around England, Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. Today also provides us with a moment to reflect on those who have served in ministries in many different capacities, but whose undoubted vocation was never recognised through the institutional structures of the Church. I think it was the French philosopher Pascal who once said that God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment. That has been true in the ecclesiastical structures in this country.

You will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I am not English, and I am also not much of a sports watcher. But in the words of a 1990s football song, what we are seeing is the English Church coming home, and we are all the richer for it.

I think it was in 1989 when the first female bishops in the Anglican communion were consecrated in New Zealand. We have had a bit of a wait in this country. The Church in Wales decided to support women bishops last year. Interestingly, as we have the debate about alternative episcopal oversight, it is worth looking at the model that the Church in Wales has taken, which does not go down the flying bishop route. However, such an issue requires a much wider discussion.

I was really heartened by what our Second Church Estates Commissioner said on the subject of the Lords Spiritual and how the process is likely to be accelerated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) has made the point many times that if the change does not come down the route of the Church, then it is only right that it comes down a different route, and I hope that that will happen.

The one thing that separates the Church of England from the Church in Wales is the fact that the Church of England is an established church. Most of us laboured under the misapprehension that the Church in Wales was disestablished, but when we had the debate on equal marriage we discovered that what we thought had happened in 1920 had not really happened. Perhaps we can finish off the job before it reaches its centenary.

As long as we have people who are not elected in the second Chamber, I can accept that representatives of the established church should probably be there, but what I cannot accept is an all-male Bench of bishops. I am heartened by what has been said this evening, and I very much hope it happens. Let us see today as that great moment of celebration—of women celebrating their vocation and making our lives all the richer for it.

May I briefly say that in my 39 years in Parliament I have shared in part the pain of many good women who could have made the Church even better if they had been able to be ordained as priests and not just as deacons, and if they had been ordained as bishops long before the present time? Too often we have walked in sympathy with the parishes and the people who have found that difficult, and I deeply regret that the whole matter has been so one-sided. If Graham Leonard were here now, I would quote back to him what he said to me: that he was not in favour of the ordination of women as priests because he thought it had not happened before. He was in favour of the ordination of women as deacons because it had happened before. That is the historical negative. If Jesus brought anything into our world, it is justice and righteousness. We should have picked that up, and should have forced this change through far earlier.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has given great leadership, and many others have co-operated; I am glad of that. If, as the archbishop said in another place, the bishops are a focus of unity, I ask all bishops, whether flying bishops or not, to ask every parish that went for resolution A and B to reconsider. In my constituency, there is a parish that, sadly, is to close. When people asked me whether I would campaign to help it remain a parish, I said, “You do realise that the first time I saw your church, it had a sign outside saying, ‘Be reassured: no woman will offer you Communion here’?” A parishioner said that she did not know that, but people should ask, and if for some reason, 20 years ago, that is what the parish went for, parishioners should ask it to review that decision, whatever the pain or difficulty, to revise it, and to come to the unity that the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked for.

Tribute was rightly paid in the other place to Women and the Church, or WATCH, with which I am associated. I was outside Church House when the ordination of women as priests was agreed. Some of those singing most heartily were Roman Catholic nuns, who said, “For us, it is a matter of when, rather than whether.” We are obviously way behind the Methodists, but we ought to get on, and try to help our brethren and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church to have the same kind of opportunities as us.

The Church is well behind the Baptists, too, if I may say so. I joined the Church of England a long time ago, but these days, as a Baptist, I wonder what all the fuss is about, and I share my hon. Friend’s resolve. Does he agree that there is scope in religion for people to tolerate genuine differences and to go their own way in peace?

I agree with that; it is one of the reasons why people are concerned that excluding the Church of England from the Equality Act 2010 may make it possible for the Church to go in for more discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or with regard to the remarriage of divorced people. That works both ways.

I want to end this speech, which is briefer than I wanted, with the words of a woman who wrote to me: “We love the Church of England, and want it to be the best it can.” With this Measure, it can be better.

Anybody looking in on this debate from outside would be rather surprised at how low key and sober it has been, given the momentousness of what we are debating and hopefully approving. I suspect that it is because most people will be rather surprised that this was not done some time ago. They probably thought it had been. Still, that should not detract from the importance and the historic nature of this evening’s debate, or of the approval for this Measure.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who speaks on behalf of the Church of England, will answer the technical questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), and by Lady Howe in the other place. However, I do not want to spend my few minutes focusing on technicalities. There have been few moments in the House of Commons that have given me this much pleasure. I joined the Movement for the Ordination of Women as a teenager; some may think that rather sad. Apologies to my Labour colleagues, but I joined the movement several years before I joined the Labour party.

We should pay tribute to all the campaigners over the years who spent a lot of their time getting us to where we are, and who took a lot of stick. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Banbury, because—without sparing his blushes—he has been the most fantastic Second Church Estates Commissioner. He has shown leadership on the issue; after the previous Synod debate, which took us all by surprise and shocked the nation as well as the Church of England, he went back to the Synod, the bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury and made it absolutely clear to them that Parliament would not put up with the situation.

We sometimes underestimate the role that we can play in this place, but the fact that we spoke with one voice, and such a strong voice, in response to that terrible vote two years ago in Synod really made a difference. I was involved in some of the meetings and discussions with the bishops and the archbishop. They were sobered by the vote, and were certainly unnerved by some of the discussions that we had in this place, saying, “If you can’t sort this out yourselves, we will sort it out for you through legislation. You had better watch the Church of England’s established status if you carry on like this.” That did concentrate minds, and it was largely to do with the right hon. Gentleman’s tireless work. I shall miss him in this place, not just because of the role he plays in the Church, but as one of the few sane Tory voices on Europe. I am sorry to lose that from the House as well.

I also pay tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I always said that I thought that it would take somebody coming from his tradition within the Church of England to drag it into the modern age, and I am in danger of being proved right. He has shown real leadership and determination as well as organisational skills, and political skills with a small p, which are essential in that job to get anything done. The majority that was achieved in the Synod last time took my breath away given what had happened the time before.

The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who is no longer in his place expressed some concern that what we are doing here tonight might damage our relationships with the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. There are many in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches who wish they were in the same position that we are now moving to in the Church of England. Pope Francis, bless him, had his own difficulties this week in Rome with his own bishops in his attempts to drag the Roman Catholic Church a little further into our century. I urge him to take comfort from the experience of the Church of England during the last two or three years: if at first you do not succeed, just try again. I am sure he will have more success next year in his final Synod. Perhaps they could look at our experience and take some comfort from it.

I also want to thank all colleagues on both sides of the House who have worked very hard on the issue and have made sure that Parliament’s voice has been heard. In particular, I refer to those tireless campaigners, such as Margaret Webster, the widow of the former Dean of Norwich, who, when I was a teenager and she was one of the founding members of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, nobbled me to join that organisation. It was really my first experience of political activism. I do not know how many other Members’ first experience of political activism was on such an issue, but it taught me about the importance of perseverance, of campaigning, of not giving up, and of making and winning the arguments. Heavens, it has taken us a long time, but it gives me fantastic delight and pleasure that we are getting here tonight. There will be a lot of people out there in the country, not just women themselves, but millions of ordinary Anglicans, who will be celebrating this evening.

I very much welcome the Measure before the House. I have had more than my fair share of difficult conversations with the Church of England during recent months, but I have always found that it listens closely, and when it comes to women bishops, it has acted swiftly. I certainly pay tribute to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), for his work in bringing this about. I also echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) in support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has shown tremendous leadership.

Perhaps it is the extraordinary simplicity of the Measure that has made it succeed where others have not. Many of us will remember sitting in this Chamber back in November 2012 with feelings of anger and disappointment at what had happened. It is very good news indeed and a moment for celebration that, as a result of today, women bishops can be appointed. That is very much a point of celebration. In too many areas women are still under-represented in British society. In the Church of England, the stained glass ceiling, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has termed it, was enshrined in law. Today we have the opportunity to ensure that that is no longer the case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) noted the contribution of women in our communities through the Church, and my community is the same as hers. We are much the richer for the work of people such as the Rev. Cannon Jo Stoker in St Michael’s church, and in my parish, in Mapledurwell, the Rev. Jane Leese, who does an incredible job in leading our community.

I will end my remarks with two simple points. First, during the discussions in the summer, the Archbishop of Canterbury made the important point that women bishops, and, indeed, women in the Church of England, would now be on an equal footing with men, and that in no sense would that not be the case.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important thing about that statement of equality is that other young women contemplating coming into the Church will be looking closely to see that that equality goes the whole way through to representation in the Lords?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we are to get the brightest and best wanting to go into the Church, that has to be the case. We have to respect all views, of course, but it is important that we send a clear message, today and in future, that women will have that equal status and equal footing in the Church.

Secondly, perhaps the Church can look at this place and take away some positive and not so positive messages. We are still working very hard to get more women in Parliament and public life. Despite very good measures introduced by both the Labour and Conservative parties to encourage more women, only by having the pathway of encouragement can we get women to achieve their potential at all levels. I gently encourage the Church to consider what pathways it will put in place. It is very encouraging to hear about the work being done with regard to the Lords Spiritual, but one swallow does not make a summer. We must ensure that it is more than simply one or two individuals who go forward and that women in the Church are supported to achieve their potential at every level.

I have just been reading that it was in 1988 that the first female bishops were elected in the US and New Zealand—the Right Rev. Barbara Harris and the Right Rev. Penny Jamieson. I am very pleased that we are about to agree to this Measure, hopefully unanimously. I feel far happier now than I did when I rose to speak on 21 November 2012, when for the first time the Church of England was called to the Chamber to answer an urgent question in response to the vote in the General Synod that had taken so many right hon. and hon. Members aback.

I want to make a few short comments. First, I want to pay tribute to all the women and men who over many years have campaigned on this issue: to bring the full extent of women’s ministry into the Church of England so that they can rightly take their places as deacons, priests and now bishops, and hopefully as archbishops. When I went to university—many years ago now—I had the great privilege of being a student at St Benet’s chaplaincy at Queen Mary university, which was where the Movement for the Ordination of Women had its headquarters. In fact, the chaplain got into a lot of trouble by allowing a communion to take place with a women priest, and unfortunately had to leave the Church and go elsewhere as a result. I was very struck then, as a young student, by the inequity of these very good women being denied the opportunity to become priests in the Church of England. When the ordination of women as priests took place over 20 years ago, I naively thought that we were all reconciled to the fact that women would now go on to become bishops, so it was a great shock when the vote went against us two years ago.

As a fellow Yorkshire MP, my hon. Friend will know that last Friday we were privileged to have two new bishops made in York Minster—the Archbishop of York presided and the sermon was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. That was the day we got a Bishop for Huddersfield, so it was very historic. Is she, like me, looking forward to getting a woman bishop in the Church of England soon?

I do not think my hon. Friend was in his place earlier when I made a bid for the position of Bishop of Hull—the current one is moving on to a new role—to be considered for one of the first woman bishops. However, there is a queue, because this has already been raised in Oxford and other parts of England.

We should particularly recognise the contribution made by Women and the Church, or WATCH, whose members, including Sally Barnes and Hilary Cotton, have campaigned on these issues for many years. Because of their perseverance—they have kept on going and kept on arguing—we are finally having this debate today.

I want to hear what the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) has to say about the technical questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I am very concerned about clause 2 and would prefer it not to be there. We are talking about the established Church of England, and it is very wrong that we are allowing it through legislation to opt out of the Equality Act 2010.

Will the right hon. Member for Banbury also comment on whether any time limit should be considered regarding the special provision to deal with people who struggle with this issue? Surely we must get to a point where it is clear that the Church has made a decision, and perhaps after a certain length of time that provision should be set aside.

I am delighted that we are finally here today—it has taken a very, very long time. I hope that Ministers will be able to give some indication of when legislation will be brought before this House so that matters can be expedited to ensure that we have a woman bishop in the House of Lords as soon as possible.

Two themes have emerged in this debate. First, we pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) for bringing this Measure forward and really pressing the issue via all aspects of Parliament; and, secondly, we all feel a lot happier than we did when we last discussed the matter in December 2012. It gives me great pleasure to see this debate taking place.

This is a historic moment that we should note, because it gives the Church a real chance to look more like the society that it seeks to serve. A Church with women in office at the highest levels of authority will better reflect British society today. As the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) said, we want women to contribute at all levels and across all fields, and we think that society at large is better for it. That relates to the Church as well. In the debate in 2012, we were all hoping that the Church would expedite matters in seeking to revisit its decision, and we should pay tribute to it for doing so. I am particularly pleased that the Church itself has come to the decision to have women bishops.

This is a particularly important matter for my constituency because we have a strong Anglican communion around Durham cathedral, with lots of very strong women who have campaigned for this Measure over the years. I thank them for the fantastic work they have done on this, and for not giving up but carrying on and keeping the issue alive, which was often not very easy for them. We have a training college, Cranmer hall, attached to St John’s college, that trains priests. The young women training to be priests there are very pleased that this issue is now being resolved, because they did not want to feel that they were going into a vocation where they were treated like second-class citizens, and now they know they can go on to the very highest levels in the Church. On Saturday morning, I spoke to a young woman vicar in my constituency, Miranda Holmes, who told me just how much this Measure means to her and to other women in the Church. She asked whether I was going to come to this debate and I said that I would because I really support this Measure.

Like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I think that some issues remain to be resolved and assurances need to be given on them. The bishops’ declaration allows for parishes to request a male bishop, but there seems to be no comparable provision for non-discriminating parishes finding themselves under a bishop who declines to ordain women priests who request a woman or, indeed, a male bishop who is supportive of women.

Fast-tracking is also an issue. As I am sure hon. Members are aware, women could not be ordained priests before 1994, so the length of their priestly service has historically been restricted. As such, there is an urgent and important need for selection criteria to reflect the full range of women’s experience. Finally, I agree with colleagues that we will need to push for a change to clause 2, which declares that the office of bishop is “not a public office”.

Unlike other hon. Members, I am not going to make an immediate bid for a woman bishop in Durham, because we have been through considerable change over the past few years and probably need a period of stability. In future, however, I am sure we would really welcome a woman bishop in Durham.

God, this has been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Sometimes, hymns suddenly seem relevant. A couple of weeks ago I sang the hymn “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year”, but in this case it seems to have been “decade succeeds to decade” or even “century succeeds to century”. Finally, however, God is working her purpose out.

I, too, pay tribute to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who has done a fabulous job. He has led on our behalf and I think he has done so admirably, as has the Archbishop of Canterbury. Given that Rochester is in the news at the moment—we are all taking a keen interest in it—I think we should also pay tribute to the Bishop of Rochester, who has played a really important role in driving forward the process.

But so many bruised hearts there have been. The former Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, has been mentioned. He once said that a woman was no more ordainable than a potato, yet he managed to rise to one of the highest offices in the Church—undoubtedly because of his tact, diplomacy and care for others. Seriously, though, we need to remember the bruised hearts of so many people.

I think I am the only Member of the House who has had a bishop lay hands on them to ordain them. When I went to theological college in Cuddesdon in the 1980s, it was the first year that more than one woman was in training there. The women could no longer be treated as honorary chaps, but the vitriol to which they were regularly subjected—I have to say that it was nearly always by gay men—was beyond the pale of Christianity.

Those gay men were all in the closet. The situation caused those women pain and many of them cried themselves to sleep on many nights during their ordination period. They believed that some people believed that they had no vocation and those people were prepared to use every means in the book to ram that home.

It is particularly ironic that, as one gay man walked in to be ordained bishop, he wore a mitre with the first word of the first Latin hymn on it—“Gloria”—because that had been his nickname at theological college, but he was not prepared to support the ordination of women priests or women bishops. That really rankled with me, because the battle for decency and the rights of all within the Church is a seamless garment—it does not distinguish between the rights of gay men and those of women in the Church.

So much time in so many ministries has been wasted when we could have had wonderful women ministers working in our churches. Did Teresa of Avila have no spiritual insight? Did Josephine Butler have no leadership or political acumen in the 19th century? Did Julian of Norwich have no felicity with language or theology? Of course these women had something phenomenal to offer, and it is extraordinary that people might think that those three aspects—spiritual insight, political leadership and theological insight, which are the foundation of the episcopacy—should not be recognised in women.

How bizarre it is that that should not be recognised in England. England had mitred abbesses sitting in Parliament in the 13th century. It of course had a succession of women monarchs, who were heads of the Church and who appointed bishops. For that matter, it has had a woman Prime Minister who also appointed bishops. It is a country in which women could be elected as a sexton or a church warden long before they could be elected to Parliament, yet we still thought that women could not be bishops. That flies in face of Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I resigned my orders in 1996 to be able to stand for Parliament. For that matter, I resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Falconer—Charlie Falconer—because I wanted to advance the cause of women bishops, but was told that that was part of his area of responsibility and that I therefore could not introduce such a Measure in the House. I pay tribute to all Members of the House who have taken part in the debate. It is almost inevitable that my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) should do so; they have a semi-episcopal role, given there are Prince Bishops of Durham.

Anyone who ever doubts the Church’s ability to change should remember Cardinal Martini, a very senior Roman Catholic cardinal, who when asked in 1999 whether his Church would ever have women priests, said, “Not this millennium.” I am certain that it will happen in the Roman Catholic Church, just as it has happened in the Anglican Church. I want to end—

I remember a Catholic priest telling me that he was opposed to Anglicans turning away from their Church to become Catholics because of women priests, saying, “I wonder where they’ll go when there are Catholic women priests.”

Indeed. I want to end with two quotes from Dame Julian of Norwich, a 14th-century anchoress who played a very important part in the establishment of the Anglican spiritual tradition. She wrote:

“Our Saviour is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born”.

We should never forget the spiritual insight of the feminine aspect of God, which runs all the way through the Old Testament and the New Testament. Secondly, in words that she could have said in the debate today, she wrote:

“But for I am a woman should I therefore live that I should not tell you the goodness of God?”

Of course she had the right to do so then, and of course women have the right to be bishops in the Church of England.

This is a very short piece of legislation, but it has been a very long time in coming: 21 years on from the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, the Church of England has finally come of age by admitting women for consecration as bishops. Those 21 years of delay have occasioned enormous pain—they have impaired the mission of the Church in the world by rejecting the leadership of half our population—and that is now to be put right. Given that this is without doubt the shortest speech I have ever made in this House, I suspect all my colleagues will find it doubly within their hearts to say, “Hallelujah”.

With the leave of the House, I will respond to a number of the points that have been made.

I endorse some of the comments of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), because one of the important things that has come out of this process for the Church of England is a much better way of disagreeing. The difficulty with Churches is that people have very set views about things. For a long time, all that happened was that people reflected sometimes rather entrenched positions. One of the early contributions of the Archbishop of Canterbury was to encourage a culture in which people could disagree better and then reconcile. I hope that that will be reflected in other areas.

A certain amount has been said about clause 2. I want to help the House on this issue, because I do not want there to be any misunderstandings. This evening, the House is considering a Measure to enable there to be women bishops. Within the context of providing for women bishops, the purpose of clause 2 is to enable the House of Bishops’ declaration and the five guiding principles to work without the risk of litigation.

There will be occasions when bishops—men as well as women—have to ask another bishop to exercise some of their functions in relation to a particular parish. However, if episcopal posts were public offices, as defined in the Equality Act 2010, appointing to them in the expectation that the person concerned would observe that self-denying ordinance would constitute discrimination in the terms in which the appointment was offered. We do not believe that episcopal offices currently fall within the definition of a public office. Interestingly, it came out in the House of Lords debate last week that membership of the House of Lords does not fall within the definition of a public office in the Equality Act either. However, it is unclear what view the courts would take if the matter were ever tested. Clause 2 therefore puts the matter beyond doubt.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) asked whether parochial church councils will be required to consult their congregations and wider parishes before they pass a resolution. The answer is absolutely yes. The arrangements by which PCCs will pass resolutions is set out in paragraphs 16 to 22 of the House of Bishops’ declaration. The importance of the decision is respected by the fact that at least four weeks’ notice has to be given of the time and place of the meeting, and of the motion to be considered. In addition, the motion will pass only if it achieves an absolute majority of all members of the PCC or a majority of those present at a meeting of at least two thirds of the members of the PCC who are entitled to attend.

On non-discriminating bishops, we must all recognise that in future every diocese will have a bishop who ordains women and who will be a champion for their ministry. There should be no part of England where it is not possible to have a bishop who ordains women. A headship evangelical bishop will be a bishop in the Church of England and a bishop in the Church of God, not just a bishop in a particular constituency, so he will be a bishop for the whole diocese.

The Bill to enable women to become Lords Spiritual will be introduced in due course and will be very short. We could probably have taken it through in the time that was available this evening. It will be a two-clause Bill. I will continue to do my best, through the usual channels, to ensure that we find time for it.

One question that has not been raised this evening, but was raised in the House of Lords, where the Archbishop of Canterbury’s answer was delphic, is whether the archbishops will consecrate other bishops when they are physically able to do so or whether they will opt out.

The Archbishop’s answer was very clear; it was not delphic at all. I commend Lords Hansard to colleagues. He set out the circumstances very clearly. He made it clear that, in the normal course of events, archbishops will consecrate all bishops, but that there will be circumstances when an archbishop is ill or overseas. His point was that there is no great issue about that, and none intended.

In response to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), I hope that in one, two or three years’ time, we will all wonder what the fuss was about. We will see women bishops in the Church of England in the same light as we now see women vicars, archdeacons and deans doing fantastic work as part of the normal course of ministry.

I thank all hon. Members who have said nice things about my role. It has been a privilege to serve as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, and to serve the Church and this House, and I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure (HC 621), passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which it was laid before Parliament.