HC Deb 02 March 1992 vol 205 cc119-33
Mr. Speaker

We now come to the Church of England Measures.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Is it on this matter?

Mr. Cryer

It is not on this matter, it is on another matter connected to the Palace of Westminister. The Government have been defeated on the Education (Schools) Bill, and that raises important issues. I wonder whether you have had an application from the Department of Education and Science to make a statement to the House about the Government's defeat in the House of Lords on what they regard an important privatisation measure. If Government support is crumbling on the wing down the corridor—the geriatric wing of the Palace of Westminster—and if it is crumbling everywhere, we should know about it.

Mr. Speaker

That has some relevance to the previous debate. I know nothing about what has gone on in another place.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

It was not a point of order for me. If the Government have been defeated in the other place, presumably we shall debate that when we consider Lords amendments.

Mr. Bennett

As the Leader of the House is present, I wonder whether he has asked you whether he can make a statement about any change of business, because we are under considerable pressure with various guillotines and other business that must proceed this week. It would be very helpful if the Leader of the House could tell us whether it will be necessary, in view of that defeat in the House of Lords, for there to be any change of business this week.

Mr. Speaker

The Leader of the House was present throughout the previous debate, as I was, and will be as much in the dark as I am about what went on in another place.

10.2 pm

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

I beg to move, That the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament. As its short title suggests, the Measure contains provisions on a wide range of matters, most of which are neither controversial nor exciting but will be extremely useful in their own ways. I do not want to detain the House by attempting to deal with all of them, but perhaps I may mention one or two. Schedule 1, for example, deals with parochial registers and records, some of which are very ancient. Quite apart from their importance to the Church, the documents are of great interest to historians and genealogists, so it is important that they should be properly preserved and cared for. The amendment in schedule I will help to ensure that.

On a completely different subject, clauses 2 and 3 will help to ensure that the rector or vicar of a parish will normally be responsible, if requested, for the funerals of his own parishioners, even if their funerals are to be held in a cemetery or a crematorium which lies outside his own parish boundaries. They will also help ecclesiastical law to deal more adequately with the ever more widespread practice of cremation.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am grateful to the blessed and holy Member for giving way. This is a genuine inquiry, which is not my usual form of inquiry. Is it possible for me to be buried at the end of my garden if I so choose? Does the ground have to be consecrated? If I were to be cremated—[Interruption.] I am not anticipating anything unfortunate happening on 9 April. My parrot is buried at the end of the garden, so why cannot I be?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman can be buried at sea if he wants. There is a good deal of flexibility as to where the hon. Gentleman may prescribe that his remains should be disposed of—although long may that day be delayed. The limited purpose of the clause is to ensure that a vicar who wants to bury a parishioner with whom he had a particular association in another parish, away from his own, cannot be prevented from so doing by some obstreperous incumbent forbidding him to cross the constituency boundary, so to speak.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I remind my right hon. Friend that a Member of another place was convinced that, when he died, his remains should be fed to dogs.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

He must have been a Liberal.

Dame Jill Knight

My hon. Friend is right. We will pass over any suggestion that the noble Lord's wishes reflected his mental condition. Does the measure incorporate the regulation that forbade that Member of another place to be eaten by dogs after his demise?

Mr. Alison

My hon. Friend has managed, by a subtle side wind, to introduce the topic of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill into this debate. I hastily ask for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in being invited to follow that line. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) that the narrow ambit of the measure relating to burials has nothing to do with the technicalities of the way in which the poor deceased's body may be disposed of, but entirely concerns the right of a parish priest to secure the funeral of someone who was a member of his flock in a cemetery or crematorium that lies in another parson's constituency, so to speak—and to prevent that parson from objecting to an outsider working on his territory.

I will attempt to take the House away from those rather sombre aspects of the Bill. The main intention behind clauses 1 and 11 is to save unnecesary paperwork, and thus unwelcome expense, when a rector or vicar resigns, or when a parish is temporarily without a rector or vicar for some other reason.

Turning to Church of England activities on a broader front, clause 6 will help it to forge closer links with Churches abroad. That reflects current efforts to improve relations with other Christian Churches in Europe, but also in this country.

Right hon. and hon. Members who had an opportunity to examine the Bill will know that schedule 4 lists a number of provisions in statutes and measures dating back to at least 1803 that are being repealed because they are no longer needed. I am advised that, at present, the standard volume of ecclesiastical law, statutes, and measures occupies about 1,300 pages—and that only goes up to mid-1985, and does not include a good deal of recent legislation. The pruning effected by schedule 4 represents a welcome simplification of the law.

Three clauses relating to the appointment of deacons to various posts gave rise to some concern among some members of the General Synod and of the House's own ecclesiastical committee. The main background to those provisions is to be found in section 10 of the Act of Uniformity 1662, which provides that holders of certain offices in the Church must have been ordained as priests.

Clause 14 provides that, in spite of anything in section 10 of the 1662 Act, deacons may be appointed as rural deans. The clause says that it is for the avoidance of doubt, and that is exactly its purpose. Some ecclesiastical lawyers take the view that it is already lawful to appoint deacons to such posts, and that section 10 of the 1662 Act contains nothing to prevent it, as some experienced deacons have already been appointed as rural deans on that basis. On the other hand, some ecclesiastical lawyers take a different view, and it therefore seemed desirable to clarify the legal position.

The office of rural dean is a responsible one, but his role is essentially pastoral. It does not involve the supervision of priests in the rural deanery, or the carrying out of essentially priestly functions. As a matter of law, the rural dean's main task is to report various matters to the bishop, such as illness or distress among the clergy, or instances in which a church is in a poor or dangerous state of repair. I see no reason why that task should not be carried out by experienced deacons.

Clause 15 makes it possible to appoint a deacon who has been ordained for at least six years as residentiary canon of a cathedral. That represents a change in the law. The position of residentiary canon is a senior one, but mature and experienced deacons are already able to hold—and, indeed, do hold—senior posts in the dioceses: for example, as directors of ordinands, directors of education and directors of social responsibility.

Posts of that kind, however, are often linked to cathedral canonries, partly for financial reasons and partly because it is desirable for senior people in a diocese to have a spiritual home in the life of the mother church of that diocese. At present, deacons are excluded from the posts in question, which means that the best available person cannot necessarily be appointed. Clause 15 would open the way to the appointment of deacons both to residentiary canonries and to diocesan posts linked with them. It would also ensure that, when it is thought desirable to appoint a deacon but the cathedral's constitution and statutes mirror the existing law and require a residentiary canon to be a priest, the cathedral will not need to go through the lengthy process of having its constitution and statutes amended.

Nevertheless, the clause makes it clear that deacons who are residentiary canons will not be entitled or required to perform exclusively priestly functions, such as celebrating holy communion or giving absolution. For that reason, there can be no question of all the residentiary cannons of a particular cathedral being deacons, as there would then be no one to fulfil the canons' sacramental duties.

Mr. Harris

Does not that highlight a major inconsistency? Obviously, the reason for the measure is the current existence of a number of female deacons. Is my right hon. Friend saying that a woman deacon can become a canon of a cathedral—can, indeed, become a director of ordinands—and still not be able to administer holy communion? Is that not absolute nonsense?

Mr. Alison

Whether it remains absolute nonsense is a question for the future. It is conceivable that the General Synod of the Church of England will decide to remove that disability: in future, a woman deacon who has spent six years as a diaconate may be able to become not merely a canon, but a fully officiating canon. That remains to be seen, however. It does not make it undesirable for a women who may already be the director of education in a diocese, or hold a similar senior post, to be given a place as a canon, provided that she has had at least six years' experience—even if she is not fully fledged and able to carry out the full priestly function. That holds out to women a further prospect of significant honour and advancement which the General Synod of the Church of England thought—and I am sure it was right—was entirely laudable and desirable.

Clause 16 deals with non-residentiary canons. The office of a non-residentiary canon is mainly honorary and is normally intended to give some recognition to clergy who have played a significant part in the life of the Church and the diocese. Deacons who have had an effective ministry for some time may well be considered suitable persons to appoint. Most ecclesiastical lawyers consider that the 1662 Act does not prevent a deacon from holding that office. Several deacons have been appointed as non-residentiary canons in various cathedrals.

The object of clause 16 is to set at rest the few doubts expressed about the legal position and to ensure, as in the case of residentiary canons, that, if a cathedral's constitution and statutes stipulate that the non-residentiary canons must be priests, the cathedral will not need to go through the process of having them altered. The clause makes it clear that non-residentiary canons who are deacons are not entitled or to be required to perform exclusively priestly functions.

Although the position may change, it is well known that most male deacons regard their office as a stepping stone to the priesthood. As a result, the real relevance of clauses 14, 15 and 16 is to women deacons. Some members of our Ecclesiastical Committee, of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) is one, were concerned that the clauses were an attempt to edge towards the ordination of women to the priesthood by the back door. I assure the House that that is not the case.

The offices covered by the three clauses do not, as I have explained, involve carrying out exclusively priestly functions. The supporters of the clauses in the Synod included some people who were opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood but who thought it important to allow mature and experienced women clergy to progress to posts of responsibility in the Church which they could properly hold as deacons, rather than leaving them to feel that the only way forward for them in their ministry was to be ordained as priests.

At first sight, it may seem surprising that a deacon would be able to hold those responsible posts, but could not be an ordinary vicar or rector. The office of rector or vicar of a parish is one of the most honourable and important offices in the Church, because it involves the cure of the souls of the parishioners and is the cornerstone of the parochial system which is such an essential feature of the Church of England.

The Measure was debated at length and in detail by the Synod, and it was passed by substantial majorities in all three of the Synod's houses. It contains many provisions which will undoubtedly be for the benefit of the Church of England and for those whom the Church serves. It was passed by our Ecclesiastical Committee with the recommendation that it was expedient.

10.17 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I welcome the Measure, especially clauses 14, 15 and 16. As hon. Members have just heard, we are beginning to build a career structure in the Church for women priests. It is not a substitute for the main Measure, which I hope will come to the House at some stage, to allow women to be priests, but it is a step in that direction. It will stand whether that Measure is passed by Synod and comes to this place or not. If Synod sends us a Measure to allow women to be ordained as priests, it will gain a huge majority in the House.

I make my comment with one proviso. People may have heard a debate in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and I took part last week. My right hon. Friend said that he had never voted against a Church Measure in this place. He also said that he was wholly in favour of women priests. However, he said that if the Measure came here linked to and indivisible from the compensation Measure, he would be sorely pressed not to vote for that Measure.

The debate allows us to send friendly signals to Synod. The House of Bishops has a chance of splitting that Measure, should it wish to send it to us, so that we consider the women priests Measure and the compensation Measure separately. I hope that it will consider the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield carefully. Although I believe that there would be a thumping majority in the House of Commons in favour of women priests, the House would not look so favourably on a measure to pay people up to £55,000 if they wished to exercise their conscience and leave. The House believes that people should exercise their conscience and leave without being paid such handsome sums for doing so.

The only other point that I wish to make is about the title of this Measure. It is an important Measure. It is not the main Measure about women priests, but clauses 14, 15 and 16 are important. Yet it is another example of Synod trying either our intelligence or our patience. It seems discourteous, to say the least, to dress up the Measure as a miscellaneous Measure. It is about developing a career structure for women deacons and it should have come over as such. Synod should have been proud to send that Measure to the House.

Several diligent Members of Parliament look carefully at what Synod proposes. If Synod thought that the Measure would go past without comment or opposition from those who oppose giving women a greater say in the church, that is a reflection either of its intelligence or of its folly.

For the reasons that I have given, I hope that this miscellaneous Measure will begin to provide a proper career structure for the valuable service that women deacons already give in the Church. For that reason alone, I hope that the House will pass the Measure. But I hope that Synod will take on board the points about compensation and about the silly behaviour of dressing up significant Measures with innocuous titles.

10.21 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) on the last point. It is one reason why some of us who serve on the Ecclesiastical Committee were a little angry about the Measure. It is not what it appears on the outside. The hon. Gentleman and I are in accord on that point. The Measure is designed to do one main thing. It is designed to advance the cause of women in the Church.

Some of us who serve on the Ecclesiastical Committee were disturbed that the measure seemed to anticipate a further decision of Synod and, indeed, of the House. It would be fair to say that those who were disturbed included some who support the ordination of women and some who, like me, have grave reservations about that move. We are talking about posts of real seniority in the Church of England. There is no point in anyone denying that.

A rural dean is a position of seniority within our parochial system. It is unthinkable that a male deacon would ever be a rural dean. A rural dean is almost always an experienced parish priest who has been an incumbent for many years and is therefore reckoned to be well qualified to help to administer a group of parishes and to be in effect the presiding priest over a group of his colleagues. That is a position of seniority and it should not be dressed up otherwise. It should be occupied by a senior priest. I use the word carefully. That is not to say that if women become priests they should not become rural deans. Indeed, if they become priests it would be entirely proper that the position of rural dean and other positions of seniority should be open to them.

The same applies, one might say to an even greater extent, in the case of canons of cathedrals. It is a high honour to be a canon of a cathedral in the Church of England. Many of the most distinguished churchmen in our history have never held a more senior position—people such as Sydney Smith—and many have never aspired to any higher position. It would be unthinkable for a male deacon to become a canon of a cathedral.

I spell those matters out carefully, and I hope without too much emotion, because it is important that, while the House has a responsibility for these matters, we should face them fairly and squarely.

Some members of the Ecclesiastical Committee felt that the Measure was anticipating future decisions of Synod and of the House. First, we were disturbed that the Measure should have come to us with this seemingly innocuous title. We were then doubly disturbed to find that this measure was being proposed many months in advance of the Synod making a final decision on women priests, and many months—perhaps a couple of years—in advance of the House being asked to endorse such a decision. I do not like it, and that is why, in company with my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) and some other members of the Ecclesiastical Committee, I voted against it on that occasion, and our votes were recorded.

As the hon. Member for Birkenhead has rightly said, now is not the time to debate in detail the ordination of women. I doubt not that there will come a time when the House will be asked to debate it. I suspect that, when this measure is debated in the General Synod in the late autumn of this year, there will probably be the requisite majority. However, this issue must be thought about and prayed about carefully. It is an issue which will divide people within the Church of England, and there are people whom I deeply respect on both sides of the argument.

Some people are utterly convinced that there is no bar to a woman exercising the priestly function. There are others who take a contrary view and who properly recognise that the words "priest" and "minister" are not synonymous. There are others who believe that it would be divisive to proceed with that within the Church of England at this time.

Among those who take that view, a considerable number believe that the cost of conscience has to be counted. It was a good thing that the hon. Member for Birkenhead introduced that issue into his speech. Above all, he is an honest and honourable man who does not seek to hide what he believes or what he wishes to achieve, and I honour and respect him for that.

In the months which lie between this decision and the decision that will be taken by Synod in November—and the decision that we may well be called on to take thereafter—I ask the hon. Gentleman to think carefully about what he has said, and about those men who will feel that they can no longer be at home within the Church of England, although many of them have given decades of their lives to it as vicars and rectors—men who have never been paid any great sum of money because we do not pay our priests very much in the Church of England, and men who will feel that they cannot, in all conscience, continue to exercise their vocation. Are they and their families to be punished for a decision which was never even in prospect when they were ordained?

We have to face that issue and deal with it with clarity and humility. Now is not the time to expand on that subject, although it was proper for the hon. Member for Birkenhead to introduce it and it is equally proper that I should respond, but I ask him and every other hon. Member in this Chamber to think carefully about that before we come finally to debate it.

I shall not seek to divide the House this evening because there is no point in so doing. It is clear to me that the majority of Members present this evening would feel that the measure is indeed expedient, although I do not think that it is, for the reasons that I have sought to explain.

I come back to where I began and where the hon. Gentleman finished his speech. It is important that the General Synod of the Church of England and those who lead it and seek to speak for it should behave wholly honestly in every way. That means saying what they are about and not dressing up significant Measures in spurious garments. That way lies further division and further justifiable anger as a result of provocation.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), who introduced the Measure with his customary elegance and moderation, will take that message back to his fellow commissioners and others in the hierarchy of the Church of England.

10.30 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I rise to speak in favour of the motion and the proposals in the Measure. Although I have been present at the commit tee meetings on almost all occasions, unfortunately I was unable to attend this time, but 1 would have taken the same view. It was a useful exercise in exploring the issues and hearing the evidence which, as the committee often finds, was helpful.

To follow on the speech of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), the Measure seems to tiptoe round the three controversial clauses, particularly the difficult issue of the ordination of women priests. I support the ordination of woman priests. I was interested to hear the answer of the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) to me the other day on the personnel implications. It advanced the important argument that the total number of people coming forward for ordination had increased, but that the number of men coming forward had decreased. It does not take the genius of a Newton to work out that the advantage to the Church of having women ordained would be considerable: it would give a plus rather than a minus final figure.

I have always taken the view that there are enormous numbers of people out there who wish to give service as ordained members of the ministry. I remember going to the first service of the ordination of women as deacons at Southwark cathedral and seeing a great tide of women coming through the gates to that new form of ministry. I was enormously impressed by that. I realised how we hold back, to our detriment, those who feel that that sort of ministry is their vocation. When the Measure comes before us, as we expect that it will within a year, it not only will have my support, but will enjoy widespread support on both sides of each House.

I agree with the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) that the issue of principle behind whether women should be ordained priests should be taken separately. Now is not the right time to get into the detailed debates that follow from that, but as this is probably the last chance that the House will have to discuss the whole issue of the preferment of women in the Church, it is important to see how the Measure relates to that wider issue.

The debate is topical because of the express concern of members of the Church about what will happen if the Synod votes for the ordination of women—the majority of dioceses have already said that they wish to do that. I understand the point of conscience, but there is a greater cause to which those ordained into the Church must subscribe. They must ensure that the maximum number who feel that they have a vocation are able to practise it in the cause of the gospel. Whatever the personal conviction, there are perfectly adequate ways within the same Church whereby people can continue their ministry without seeking to divide the Church, separate from it or cause difficulties to its ministry.

The Church has suffered from schism during two millennia and its message has been obscured by it. The Church of England will not do the country a service if large numbers, or even small but significant numbers, of its ordained priests decide that they must go somewhere else to carry out their ministry as a result of a decision by the Synod. The Church of England may have reason to arouse criticism because of its establishment nature, but its great merit is that it is the Church of the whole nation. I hope that everyone who is ordained to serve in it will see the merit in retaining that unity after any decision, taken after due and prayful consideration, by the Synod of the Church.

Those who are considering how they will react should the Church vote for the ordination of women should remember that many of us want them to stay in the Church and not to divide it. We believe that their concerns can be accommodated by a careful, conscientious, considered and deliberate process between now and any decision by the Church. Some have asked that any such decision should be delayed for 10 years, but if that is not possible, I hope that they will not believe that they have an overriding duty other than to stay in the Church to which they have given so much of their lives.

It is anomalous that we should be considering the supplemental issue before the main one. However, in relation of rural deans, I appreciate that that is necessary for the clarification of the law, rather than the promulgation of new law. It is clear from the evidence that, at the time of the act of uniformity, the job of rural deans did not exist. They were a later creation. However, the Measure on rural deans has been introduced to avoid doubt.

I understand the view expressed by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South, and I accept that it is logical to think that the job of rural dean is given to someone of seniority and experience in that local part of the Church. The evidence, however, suggests that the hon. Gentleman is wrong in one respect. Rural dean is not a post of seniority, but one of co-ordination. The selection of a rural dean works on a rota of people in the deanery. Some of those selected are relatively new priests in the deanery and are relatively young. The post does not necessarily go to the most senior priests. It is a functional, administrative job which entails passing on information to the area bishop. It is not a supervisory or hierarchical job. There is a difference.

It is also an anomaly in 1992 to describe the person appointed to the post in a deanery such as mine as a rural dean. I know that the parishes of Bermondsey were in the country once, in the county of Surrey, and were a long way from the City of London and the city of Westminster. That is not so any more. The Church should look like it is up with the times. We could correct the title in the next miscellaneous Measure to allow people to be called urban or area deans in those areas that are no longer rural.

Hon. Members will have noticed that there are female non-residential canons—they are enumerated in the Measure. Indeed, we have one in Southwark diocese. The Measure seeks to add the opportunity for women to be residential canons, too. Although that is a different argument, it has merit. As there are many women in different forms of the ministry in the Church, it seems entirely appropriate that women—irrespective of their priestly or diaconal status—should be able to participate in the internal grouping responsible for the running, management and ministry of the cathedral church. Therefore, allowing women—who cannot yet by law be priests but who can be deacons—to attain that office is an advantage both to the cathedral church and to the diocese as a whole. Women in the diocese would then have a role model representing them in an extremely important part of the diocese.

There are reasons that stand on their own and have merit to justify the two provisions. Those who proposed them thought so, and I believe their honesty and integrity. Bigger issues lie further down the track and we shall debate those with more heat and potentially more numbers in due course but, in the meantime, I expect that the House will wish to support the Measure. I hope that it does so and that it will allow the many small administrative changes and the two more noticeable ones to be made to the advantage of the whole of the Church of England.

10.42 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

A virtue of the speeches by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is that they seem to be new each time. Having something to say on every subject would like to be shared by many hon. Members who do not get a chance to speak quite so often—

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am a spokesman for my party.

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman says that he is a spokesman for his party on that subject. I concede that.

The last tract that I read was given 18 years ago by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, on "The Christian Concept of Sacrifice". I do not address that to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) because the persuasive case that he has made for this Measure has convinced everyone and gained the tacit acquiescence of those who have argued against or been doubtful about the provisions at previous stages. But Michael Ramsay said: if we're engaged in a ministry of paraphrasing we do need to conserve at the heart of it the thing which is being paraphrased; and unless we do, we may not be paraphrasing, but we may be talking a lot of rather superficial stuff which means a great deal less than what the real thing meant and means. For that reason my hope is that however much modern paraphrase language we come to use in our liturgies, hymns, preaching, and elsewhere, we will always retain at the heart of it the words that Jesus himself used on the night in which he was betrayed, the words, 'This cup is the New Covenant in My blood' or 'This is My blood of the Covenant, shed for you and for many', because the reality contained in those words really transcends all the attempts at paraphrasing as long as this world may last. Michael Ramsey started that address to the Anselm Society of Canterbury by saying that one of his great teachers, Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, said many years ago that the concept of sacrifice had become spiritualised and etherealised and that we had forgotten what a horrible thing it really meant. Hoskyns said it it would be a good thing if once a year a bull could be sacrificed in the college court, preferably on a hot summer's afternoon, just to bring home to all our senses what a horrible thing was this sacrifice that lies behind so much of the imagery of Christianity. Those words may go a little beyond the Measure, but they begin to illustrate that some of the cosy little talks among those who know how to spell ecclesiology—I confess that I am not among them—get away from the service to which most of us are called. One of the reasons why I have not been a very successful politician is because I do not know how to get on bodies such as the Ecclesiastical Committee. If I am re-elected at the general election, could those who know how to get on that Committee tell me, because I should like to be on it, especially when Measure on the ordination of women comes up? [HON. MEMBERS: "Write—or pray—to the Speaker."] I am told that I should write to Mr. Speaker.

It seems that, although the Measure's innocuous title helps it to contain provisions to allow women and others—men, although they are not likely to remain deacons for six years or more—to do things that they are not forbidden to do. As my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said, I think that we all recognise that we are on the way to the General Synod considering the major point.

I hope that we shall hear less in the popular media that reflects the voice of the organisation "The Church in Danger". As far as I can see, the organisation was thought up by those associated with The Spectator weekly magazine. A significant, although not always declared, proportion of its members are retired from active stipendiary ministry—they are ministers on pensions.

Mr. Frank Field

That is ageism.

Mr. Bottomley

It is not ageism—I am just trying to describe whose who are not involved in compensation.

I also hope that when we consider the Measure on the ordination of women, which I hope will come through Synod and the Ecclesiastical Committee to the Floor of the House, we shall not look on the issue of compensation in that way. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South would accurately describe such matters as resettlement issues. The resettlement of people who feel that they have to abandon their way of earning their living is a separate matter. But perhaps such arguments can be addressed following the bishops' advice to the Synod.

I used to believe that it was worth waiting a bit for the ordination of women. On one of my unsuccessful attempts to stand for election at the General Synod—there have been two so far—I said that I thought that the balance of sacrifice was now being carried by the women, not by those to whom the ordination of women would be a personal pain, difficult or unacceptable.

However, I now look at the people who still object to the ordination of women—I am not addressing a personal remark to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South—and see that some of them overlap with those who object to a modern liturgy. I see the modern liturgy as one that makes the Church of England liturgy virtually identical with Roman Catholic liturgy, and, on those grounds alone, something to be very much welcomed. I also see people objecting to the ordination of some people who could be ordained if they were in slightly different personal circumstances.

I hope that the Bishop of London will not take this as a personal attack on him, but when he uses language that I cannot even understand, let alone agree to, it seems that we should take a different approach. We should recognise that the General Synod was set up to try to help ease the burden of legislation on ecclesiastical matters in the House, but also realise that the House should not just rubber stamp what may come forward but should call for it.

We should say that the sacrifice which has been borne by women and the Church has gone on too long, and most of us are like the two thirds of the readers of the Church of England Newspaper who, about three years ago, were clearly strongly in favour of the ordination of women. Half of one third—about 16 per cent. of the readers—were strongly against it. The strength of feeling of the minority who are opposed should no longer be able to dominate the overwhelming majority, plus the others who would want or accept it when it comes.

Mr. Cormack

I counsel my hon. Friend to be a little careful in his attribution of motives to other people.

More importantly, he should not castigate an organisation like "The Church in Danger" as being a particular group of people. He should look at the Members in both Houses of Parliament who are on that group. He would see that they are people of all ages and both sexes, with genuine concerns which any member of the Church of England should take seriously.

Mr. Bottomley

I accept that. However, I saw the unpaid advertisements—the come-ons—in The Spectator magazine week after week. I was tempted to join to find out what was being circulated among the members of the "The Church in Danger" organisation.

When "The Church in Danger" writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury I should be grateful if it would deposit a copy of the letter in the House Library so that people like me can read it. I pay tribute to the archbishop for giving us the copy of his response, which struck me as fair and reasonable. It would also help if those reporting the words of "The Church in Danger" mentioned not just that one member of the Cabinent supports what it is doing but that none of the others has signed up. The reporting of this matter has not been terribly balanced—

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

As a younger member of "The Church in Danger," perhaps I could attack the accusation of ageism. My hon. Friend is well known in the House for his defence of minorities—in a secular sense. Is he saying that a minority in this case should be overruled or swept aside?

I should like to challenge my hon. Friend's reference to the Church Times

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Both hon. Members are straying a long way from the Measure. I very much hope that they will relate their remarks more closely to it.

Mr. Howarth

If I may continue, my hon. Friend should not judge the views of the Church of England—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Bottomley

I was referring to the Church of England Newspaper, not the Church Times. On the other matter, I stand corrected.

I have spent some time serving on the Archbishop of Canterbury's urban priority commission, a follow-up to "Faith in the City". No great objections to the ordination of women were raised in that body. I spent six years as a trustee of Christian Aid and found no difficulties with the idea on that organisation. When I served as chairman of the Church of England Children's Society I did not find that the issue came up much.

In short, in much of the practical work of the Church, the ordination of women is not an issue, because people are getting on with their work. If St. Hilda of Whitby could do what she did, why could she not be ordained? My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South and I were in St. Faith's chapel earlier this evening; if St. Faith could be a saint and a woman, surely the ordination of women does not present difficulties.

I am grateful for your charity, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I support this Measure, and also the Measure that that is to come later; I hope that Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike will do all in their power to support and pass it when it comes.

10.51 pm
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I entered the Chamber solely to listen to the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members who have served on the Ecclesiastical Committee for longer than I, but I felt it right to say a word or two because I disagreed mildly with my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and more strongly with certain Conservative Members.

While we should try to avoid schism—paganism is far too rife in this country—we should also recognise that, despite all pleadings for unity and cohesion in the Church, there may still be some honest men who cannot go along with the decision to ordain women. I agree that they should not leave the Church loaded with largesse, but it would be wicked to send them along a bitter road without scrip or sustenance. We do not want to over-encourage their departure, but it should not be accompanied by impoverishment—

Mr. Frank Field

We should try at all costs to prevent these people from departing—they should be promoted in the hierarchy, and parishes should have the right never to accept women if they do not want to; there are not enough to go around, anyway. But at the end of the day, if they do not want to stay, having been encouraged to do so, they should leave.

Mr. Tony Banks

Let them eat manna.

Mr. Hardy

My hon. Friend demonstrates his usual generous spirit.

The fact remains that there must be some understanding of the challenges faced by the Church and those within it. My view of the matter is different from that of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South. I attended the last meeting of the Ecclesiastical Committee at which the matter was discussed, and I certainly understand the hon. Gentleman's view.

Because of the developments of history and the change in the nature of society, the ordination of women is right. As a result, it would have been inappropriate for the House not to recognise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has recognised, that the debate is of relatively minor importance. However, signals will go out from the debate, and the House should send a signal that the future debate on the ordination of women should be preceded by the proper rectification of anomalies. The issue of canons and rural deans is an anomaly that may not have loomed large in the past, but in the context of the developing debate, it is important and it would not be wise to rule out women on the ground that they do not have the capacity to hold such positions.

I hope that grasp of the modernities of life displayed by the hon. Member for Southward and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will not be such as to expunge the title of rural dean from his area of London or any other conurbation. One of the advantages of the developing debate, with all the anguish and anxiety that it will engender, is that the media may well return to the above-average presentation of dramas based on adaptations of Trollope. Such presentations are among the finest achievements of the past decade of British television, and I hope that they will be repeated or developed.

Such presentations hold out the prospect of rural deans having a greater meaning in Britain's conurbations. That could be one of the less significant spin-offs of a debate that will bring heated argument to the country and probably to the House. On this occasion, I hope that the House will approve a Measure that is both consistent and necessary.

10.57 pm
Mr. Alison

I note that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is looking forward to his Adjournment debate, so I shall not detain the House.

The hon. Member asked where he might be buried. That is a matter of some local importance, and the hon. Gentleman will be relieved to hear one or two facts that are relevant to his contingency when it arises. He need not be buried in consecrated ground. He could be buried at the bottom of his garden, if that is what he wants, but I suspect that that might be a hazardous enterprise, because it could give rise to a whispering campaign alleging that the local Conservative party or an activist had murdered and buried him. That could lead to the hon. Gentleman being disinterred and put in the local authority cemetery. If he were buried in unconsecrated ground and his family subsequently wished it to be consecrated, that could be done. The hon. Gentleman's future burial is entirely indeterminate, but I suspect properly safeguarded.

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) made a helpful speech supporting the Measure, for which I am grateful. He criticised the General Synod in terms of the title that we are considering, the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure. The hon. Gentleman is being a little harsh, although he is not normally a harsh man. The measure started as the Service Chaplains and Miscellaneous Provisions Measure. The Synod then decided to take out the service chaplains bit of it, so it became simply the miscellaneous provisions Measure.

Much further down the line, when it had completed almost all its stages, the Synod decided to put in the three provisions on canons, and overlooked restoring the title that the Measure had originally had, the Service Chaplains and Miscellaneous Provisions Measure. The Synod might have done so if it had thought about it, and I am sure that it would accept the rebuke that the hon. Gentleman made, but this was not done in an attempt to mislead us or to get something through on the nod.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) made a considered and moderately expressed speech of dissent and warning. His eloquent and well-rounded speech will be noted and considered in General Synod circles. It is a foreshadowing of things to come, and we need to take considerable notice of speeches from that quarter and of that calibre.

I am not sure whether I can reassure my hon. Friend, but I can tell him that already, some rural deans appointed from the diaconate are men of considerable experience, so this is not entirely unprecedented. We are enfranchising women in this sector not because it will be the shape of things to come, but very much because it is the shape of things as they are as the result of the 1985 measure, which presented the Church of England with such a large number of women deacons.

It is worth noting, by way of counter-balance, that the Roman Catholic Church is moving strongly in the direction of introducing a diaconate expressly for married men, so as to encourage men to go into a limited ministry. It is possible that there will be a feedback into the Church of England, with a growing body of men who wish to limit themselves to the diaconate, thereby offering a limited service, in a way that matches what is happening in the Roman Catholic Church.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend not only for the tone in which he expressed his dissent, but for saying that he will not divide the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for his helpful and analytical exposition of the merits of the measure. We note his point about the change of the designation of rural deans to Bermondsey, although, with greenness in his veins, he may one day secure that Bermondsey becomes rural—that will be the day! I note carefully the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), and the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) has given us his usual helpful support. I am grateful for the positive note that he struck.

Against that background, I hope that the House will allow this Measure to go through.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.

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