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Church Commissioners

Volume 612: debated on Thursday 7 July 2016

Lords Spiritual

5. If the Church of England will make it its policy that bishops sitting in the House of Lords do not participate in debates or vote on legislation that relates to Scotland. (905697)

I was slightly surprised by this question. I perfectly appreciate that the SNP is opposed to the House of Lords on ideological grounds, but I was unaware that it had adopted a narrow position on the Lords Spiritual. I expect the irony is not lost on the hon. Gentleman that he is exercising his right as a Member of this House representing a Scottish constituency to scrutinise the affairs of the Church of England—a scrutiny, I would add, that I welcome.

I would point out that legislation on English votes for English laws means that I, as a Member of this House, cannot vote on issues that pertain to England only. [Interruption.] No, I cannot—my vote is discounted. I would therefore ask the right hon. Lady to reconsider the position on the Lords Spiritual participating in proceedings on legislation that affects Scotland.

All Members of the other place are able to take part in proceedings on legislation put before Parliament, and bishops take that duty very seriously. They are independent, and they do not take the party Whip, so these things are up to each of them. At least two of them have family links to Scotland, which may give them a reason to have a closer interest. This may be the moment for me to come out in the Chamber as a half-Scot—my maiden name was Cormack, from the Clan Buchanan. I think that demonstrates the point that there are Members in all parties and in both Houses who have a great love for Scotland.

Women Bishops

As the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has assiduously asked me this question on several occasions, I am delighted to be able to inform him that a further six women have been appointed as bishops: the diocesan Bishop of Newcastle, with a seat in another place, and five suffragan bishops—of Taunton, Aston, Sherborne, Repton and Dorking.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that excellent answer. As she mentioned, this is a bit of a campaign on my part. I want to fill the churches, and one of the ways we do that is by having more women bishops. However, how many are there out of the total number? What is the percentage? There are some very good women who have not been promoted yet.

This is a campaign the hon. Gentleman is well able to take some credit for, and I am sure my predecessor is too. Some 18 suffragan bishops have been appointed, eight of whom have been women, which is 45% of all appointments.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the new Bishop of Sherborne, Karen Gorham, to her place? Her first official engagement was a confirmation service in Lytchett Minster parish church, at which, I am proud to say, my son was one of the candidates. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that Karen Gorham’s appointment will encourage other women into leadership positions in the Church of England?

Yes, indeed, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his son’s confirmation. An increasing number of younger women have indeed entered the priesthood. Some 47% of the clergy ordained in 2015 were female, and 22% of the women ordained in 2015 were under 40.

Disadvantaged Communities

8. What work the Church of England is undertaking to help improve the life chances of people in disadvantaged communities. (905701)

The Church of England’s House of Bishops recently published a new discussion paper, “Thinking afresh about welfare”, which is intended to help discussion across the Church as it engages with the Government’s life chances agenda.

The Church of England and other denominations and faith groups have always led the way in helping our most vulnerable people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that faith groups and voluntary organisations are ideally placed to help the Government improve life chances for all, including the homeless, young people and people with disabilities?

Yes. The diocese of Truro is particularly committed to improving the life chances of children and young people living there, including on the Isles of Scilly. That is lived out principally through the schools, which are committed to building character and improving employment skills. However, I did just notice that there is a homeless breakfast initiative in Penzance, so these efforts are not confined to children, but also extend to adults.

Historic Churches: Toilet Provision

9. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the adequacy of toilet provision for visitors to historic churches. (905702)

The Church Buildings Council has been promoting through its “Open and Sustainable Churches” initiative how parishes can adapt their buildings for wider community use. Most schemes for work in church buildings that the Church Buildings Council now see will include installing an accessible toilet if there is not one already present.

Mr Speaker, imagine that you came to visit the historic Scrooby church to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers, and, as a modern man, drank tea or coffee on the way, which people did not do when these historic churches were built. It would be easy to be caught short. Many of these great historic churches lack toilets. Should not a fund be created somewhere to allow visitors the comfort break that may be required, given that we live in a modern coffee and tea-drinking era?

I am delighted to be able to say that the Church is making great progress with the provision of the facilities that the hon. Gentleman describes. Currently, 55% of the 31 listed Church of England churches in his constituency have installed new toilet and kitchen facilities.