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House of Commons

Friday 29 October 1993

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Scarisbrick (Petrol Spillage)

9.36 am

Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West) : I beg to ask leave to present a petition that has been signed by 82 residents of the parish of Scarisbrick in my constituency. The petion is an attempt to draw the attention of the House to the blighting of the residents' homes and lives by a large petrol spillage in the parish more than a year ago. The petrol seeped into the drains and the water courses under their homes, presenting them with a threat to their health and safety as well as inflicting them with a permanent anxiety and rendering their houses valueless.

The cost of remedying the matter could not be met by the local authorities concerned. The petitioners seek the support of the House against the lack of satisfactory remedies available to them, and the unsatisfactory action taken by the local authorities. The petition ends :

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House would consider our case with urgency and understanding to a satisfactory conclusion for the petitioners.

To lie upon the Table.

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London Transport

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich) : I beg to ask leave to present a petition that has been signed by more than 5,000 residents of the Greater London area and of surrounding commuter areas, expressing anger and concern at the lack of investment in London Transport. In particular, the petitioners highlight the proposals to close the Aldwych station and the threat to Mornington Crescent station, as well as the cuts in investment in London Underground and bus services. The petitioners, together with all other Londoners, feel betrayed that the promised investment in London Underground pledged by the Government immediately before the 1992 general election is now being cut. Following a £300 million cut in last year's autumn statement, a further cut of perhaps 10 per cent. is threatened in the coming Budget.

The cuts will be catastrophic and will delay long-overdue improvements in stations. For example, on the Northern line the cuts will halt the replacement of outdated rolling stock and signalling systems and make it impossible for London Underground to complete essential repairs to track and surrounding walls, bridges and drains. That, in turn, makes the services slower, more vulnerable to interruption and less safe because the track can be blocked by debris from collapsing walls or crumbling embankments and drains. That comes at a time when there is a desperate need to improve our public transport network in London to ensure a transfer from our over-congested roads to get London moving again. The petition ends : Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House takes steps to ensure that the investment projects planned to achieve the "decently modern metro" by 2004-2005 and to improve quality of bus services are not cut or deferred, and your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.

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Priests (Ordination of Women)

9.38 am

Madam Speaker : Before we commence today's business, it might be helpful to the House if I made a short statement.

In view of the business of the House order which provides that the Questions on both Measures are to be put at 2.30 pm, I propose to allow them to be debated together. The amendment to the first motion is not in order, but of course the arguments contained in the amendment may be deployed in the joint debate.

I am satisfied that all the necessary preliminary procedures relating to the Measures have been gone through and that today's motions are perfectly in order. Whether or not the Measures represent an appropriate way in which to make the proposed changes is a question of argument rather than a question of order for me. I have been asked to consider whether the financial privileges of the House are being infringed by the financial provisions Measure. I have established that the payments that it is proposed to make out of the Church Commissioners' general fund do not require a money resolution of the House and that the Measure is perfectly in order in that respect.

Finally, an enormous number of hon. Members wish to speak and, alas, I am not in a position to place a 10-minute limit on speeches today. I therefore make a special plea for brevity.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. If the motions are accepted today, they will have a profound effect upon the Church of England. I am a communicant member of the Church and I am distressed that Members of the House who hold other religious beliefs or who are agnostics, atheists or feminists will be able to influence the future of my Church. I therefore ask you, Madam Speaker, to consider ruling that it would not be proper for those hon. Members to use their votes today.

Madam Speaker : I must tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that our proceedings are pursuant to an Act of Parliament and that all hon. Members are entitled to vote. May we now make progress? 9.40 am

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I hope that I need detain the House for only a moment. I have two messages.

First, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown and the Duchy of Lancaster, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Measure.

Secondly, I have it in command from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that his royal highness, having been informed of the purport of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure, has consented to place his interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Measure.

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9.41 am

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners) : I beg to move

That the Priests (Ordination of Women) 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.

The two Church of England Measures that I invite the House to approve are complementary--indeed, the first cannot be put into effect without the second, financial, Measure. I hope, therefore, that it will be for the convenience of the House if we discuss the two Measures in tandem, in accordance with what you, Madam Speaker, said. I remind the House of the second motion before us :

That the Ordination of Women (Financial 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.

The Measures are certainly among the most significant and, it must be said, the most controversial pieces of Church legislation ever to come before the House. Their significance goes far beyond their immediate provisions. They not only raise major questions of theology and Church unity and order but touch on issues of deep concern to very large numbers--probably millions-- of people, ranging from regular Sunday churchgoers to those more loosely attached, whose links with the Church of England, if distant, are existent and real. I am grateful and glad that so many hon. Members, on behalf of their constituents, have recognised the importance of these matters by their attendance and by their desire to participate in the debate. The process by which the Measures have reached the House cannot be said to have been either rushed or superficial. As long ago as 1975, the General Synod of the Church of England passed a motion to the effect that it considered that there were no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the Anglican priesthood.

The legislation before us began its own journey through the Synod more than five years ago. Prior to its introduction, the justification for and shape of the legislation had been extensively considered by the House of Bishops and the Synod itself. In accordance with the General Synod's constitution, and before they could be considered for final approval by the Synod, the two Measures were referred to every diocese in the Church, and were discussed, I suspect, in every deanery and parish in the land. All but six of the 44 diocesan synods voted in their favour and they were finally approved last November by majorities of more than two thirds in each of the three houses--Bishops, Clergy and Laity--of the General Synod. They reach us, therefore, with a pedigree of timely consideration and immense support within the constituencies of the Church.

The process of careful consideration has continued since that time. The Ecclesiastical Committee--a Committee of this House--whose reports are before the House this morning, heard evidence on the Measures on several occasions and held a joint conference with our matching body in the General Synod, which is called the Legislative Committee. In a departure from past practice, we took evidence in the House from members of the General Synod who were opposed to the Measures as well as from those who supported them. Having deliberated

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carefully, the Ecclesiastical Committee has reported by a majority that the legislation and the motions before us are expedient. Some hon. Members here today may, while applauding the careful consideration given to the legislation in the Synod, seek to argue that it is no business of this House to deliberate on matters that are so exclusively and intimately the concern of the Church of England. I suspect that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) may address himself to that point during a speech that we look forward to hearing.

To take that approach, however, is not only to ignore the historic role of the Church of England as the national church but to fail to realise how large our Church of England continues to loom in society today. Far from being the organisation in terminal decline that many commentators eagerly seek to depict, the Church of England remains an organisation with a vigorous life whose influence reaches into all corners of the nation. The active membership of the Church is currently increasing in many areas.

Moreover, the Church of England retains a significance far beyond those-- still numbering more than a million--who regularly and weekly attend its churches. It is still the Church to which most of us and our constituents go on the big occasions of life--to have our children baptised, to be married or, less willingly, to be buried. The Church of England still ministers to every community in the land. In many of our inner-city areas, Anglican clergy are often the only residential professional people. Some 20 per cent. of our schools are of Church of England foundation. More than 800,000 young people take part each week in the Church's youth activities. Its pedigree in our national heritage--culturally, linguistically, architecturally and artistically--is simply immeasurable. I remind the House in passing that all the Chancellors of the Exchequer from the Norman conquest to the reformation were bishops, or sometimes deans or archdeacons. It is for consideration whether those bishops, deacons and deans did a better job than more recent performers, by which I mean, of course, those performing over the past 500 or 600 years at least. Moreover, millions more of our fellow citizens and constituents than the comparatively smaller number of those who regularly attend Anglican Church services definitely identify themselves with and value our Christian heritage in Britain. The latest figures taken from the ninth British social attitudes survey of 1992-93 show that 61 per cent. of the entire population identify with one or other of the main Christian denominations. A much smaller proportion--35 per cent.--register no religion. Therefore, we are considering millions of people who identify themselves with and participate in the Christian denominations in our country.

Many of that 61 per cent. are members of other non-Anglican Christian denominations. For those millions of people, the Church of England, with its formal state link, is a kind of valuable stalking horse by which they can bring pressure to bear on the powers that be to promote or to maintain Christian standards in education, complex moral and ethical issues, and so on. Therefore, it is to this House and its elected Members that they expect to write and get a response in that context. Few would know how to get in touch with an elected Synod member, for example, so it is entirely appropriate for the House to debate matters of concern to so many millions of our constituents, whether or not they be members of the Church of England. It is also

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right for the House to manifest its proper function on an un-whipped Friday by the presence of such large numbers of hon. Members to reflect on, respond to and echo the intense interest of our constituents.

I shall briefly consider the controversy that has surrounded the motion that springs from the varying views in the Christian Church on whether the tradition of an all-male priesthood can be properly modified and whether the Church has authority to make such a change. Right hon. and hon. Members will not expect me as a layman to give an exhaustive and expert account of theological matters. [ Hon. Members : --"Why not?"] Since the arguments on both sides may well be referred to later, and in view of the response that that little tremor suggested, I shall include a bit of theology.

The case against the proposed legislation on theological and ecclesiological grounds falls in paragraphs 10 to 15 of the Ecclesiastical Committee report under three headings. First, it is argued that, in his incarnation as Christ, God manifested himself unequivocally as a male human being. At the Eucharist, the celebrant in his own person in called on to represent Christ and thus male priests only, it is argued, can properly and adequately do that. That argument is challenged by proponents of women priests on the ground that it is the humanity of Christ that is definitive and significant, not his maleness. To include women in the priesthood would indicate the inclusiveness of all humanity in the person of the celebrant. I shall tentatively follow that little theology byway a little further. We all understand that when one of Her Majesty's ambassadors is serving Her Majesty in a foreign posting in, say, Washington, that ambassador, if he is male, can properly represent Her Majesty. He does not have to be a representation of Her Majesty or, in other words, a women who looks exactly like the Queen. He can be a full representative of Her Majesty as a male. If one argues that it has to be a precise representation, one should argue that not only should the priest be male, but that he should be a Jew as well. [Interruption.] One sees the hazards that arise the moment one brings in the byways of theology.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many people in the Catholic and Apostolic Church--Anglican, Roman Catholic and orthodox--who would consider that a gross trivialisation of their argument?

Mr. Alison : Certainly it is not an original analogy. It comes from one of the great doctors of the Church of England and I shall take that rebuke and pass on to him.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that a number of Christian Churches have had female vicars for a long time, that they have behaved satisfactorily and to the great distinction of those Churches, and that many of us cannot understand the theological nonsense that has kept the Church of England behind other Churches for so long?

Mr. Alison : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I shall touch briefly on the extent to which other Churches have already trodden the path that today we are suggesting the Church of England should tread.

Those who lay the weight of the Church of England's tradition on deploying an all-male priesthood also argue that to admit women to that order of ministry would compromise its apostolic continuity. However, others see

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the Church of England as continually developing and do not accept that the apostolicity of the Church would be undermined by the ordination of women to the priesthood.

It is worth reminding the House that for the first 1,000 years of the history of the Christian Church it was normal for bishops and clergy to have wives--one wife only--and it was only after that period had passed that it became necessary for priests to be celibate. We do things in thousand-year tranches in the Christian Church and it may be that in the next 1,000 years we shall make another important change to the lot and scope of women. I do not believe that it represents a significant breach of the principle of continuity in which there is evolution over long periods of the Church's history. The next main objection depends on the interpretation of certain passages in the Bible.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the arguments that he and others have advanced against the ordination of women are absolutely crucial to a substantial number of people in the Church of England who want the Measure to be passed and form part of the pressure on hon. Members? However, will he assure the House that those who have reservations--as far as I can judge from conversations I have had with them, they will not give them up in any circumstances--will be properly catered for under any new arrangements if the House were to pass the Measure?

Mr. Alison : I hope to be able to reassure my hon. Friend when I briefly expound the content of the Measures, with the safeguards that are written into them.

The next main ground of objection depends on the interpretation of certain passages in the Bible suggesting that headship within the Church and more widely rests with men and not with women. The main texts in question are referred to and set out in paragraph 13 of our Ecclesiastical Committee's report. There has been much debate about the precise meaning of the Greek word Kephale, which is translated as "head" in the biblical text. Many who are strongly committed to the supremacy of scripture cannot find in the passages quoted any bar to the ordination of women as priests.

The third main ecclesiological argument is that the Church of England is part only of the one holy and apostolic church and does not have the authority to make the change proposed. Such a change could be made only by an ecumenical council of the whole Christian Church. This argument overlooks the effect of the reformation and the sad but none the less real divisions that continue within Christendom.

Article 20 of the our Church of England's 39 articles of religion, one of our foundation documents, states that

"the Church has authority in controversies of faith".

In spite of the considerable improvements in relations between the churches, an ecumenical council on this matter is not a realistic possibility at present.

The effect of unilateral action by the Church of England on its relations with other Christian denominations has been a constant concern throughout our debates. The ordination of women to the priesthood would undoubtedly represent a setback in the search for unity with the Roman Catholic and orthodox Churches. It would, however, not end the quest for unity with those Churches and would at

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the same time remove a barrier to unity with other Churches such as those from the Lutheran and reformed traditions.

Mr. John Selwyn Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) : Will my right hon. Friend explain why, almost 10 years ago, the Church of England solemnly agreed with the orthodox Churches that no changes would be made affecting its association and relations without discussion and agreement, yet, in the long discussions, threw that promise to the winds at a time when the orthodox Church, especially in eastern Europe, looked to the Church of England for leadership? Is not that to put our own wishes ahead of the unity for which Jesus asked at the last supper? Why did we make that decision, and why did we not keep our word?

Mr. Alison : My right hon. Friend will understand as clearly as I do that the Church of England is subject to synodical government, which includes a representational and--dare one use the word without theological undertones--democratic factor. No fixed or final undertaking--my right hon. Friend will, I think, understand this--can be given by archbishops or bishops in ecumenical or other discussions with other churches that must stand firmly, fixedly and eternally in the face of the movement of the seas of opinion and, above all, of voting changes in their own church that are likely to shift the sands a little on the basic discussion of ecumenical matters.

Mr. Gummer : Does my right hon. Friend have some sympathy with the leader of the Russian orthodox Church, who found it impossible to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury in formal circumstances and had to ask, "By what authority does he come if he is not prepared to accept the authority of the whole Church but insists upon a unilateral decision by a part of the Church, having given us his word?"

Mr. Alison : I do not think that I can properly respond on the relations of leaders of churches because I have not been privy to their discussions, but since the reformation there has been some division in the councils of Christendom and the Church of England was not extensively consulted by the Church of Rome on some of the fundamental doctrines--for example, the ascension and reception of the Blessed Virgin Mary bodily into heaven, a new doctrine promulgated without reference to the Church of England or its leaders. It is part of the divided framework of Christendom that churches develop their own positions and theological reflections and evolution in this area. We cannot continually be bound by decisions reached in other churches before we can go forward, otherwise no reformation would have occurred.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : The House will probably be able to hear some of the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) later in the debate, but is it not a fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not recognise the orders of male priests in the Church of England? That does not prevent parishes--Roman Catholic, Anglican and free--from presenting Christianity jointly to people all over the country, and is not that the greater truth and greater cheerfulness?

Mr. Alison : I fully accept what my hon. Friend says. There is nothing significant from the point of view of the Roman Catholic Church in the possibility of women priests

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emerging in the Church of England, as the ministry of the male priesthood, in the view of the Roman Catholic Church, is null and void. No terrible sea change is implied in the relationship between the two churches if null is made nuller and void voider by the introduction of the feminine tense to these two words.

As well as considering our Church traditions, we should not overlook the fact that the Church of England is the mother Church of a worldwide Anglican communion of 70 million adherents. Within that communion, many provinces have already moved to ordain women as priests. There are now well over 1,000 women priests within the Anglican communion. While other provinces continue to adhere to the tradition of an all-male priesthood, the communion has already and clearly found ways of living with a variety of practices among its members on this issue.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : I visited Hong Kong with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and last Sunday I took communion in the cathedral. It was administered by a women priest, and although I could not sometimes understand what she was saying because she was an American, I could not help noticing that there had been a significant increase in the congregation for the eight o'clock communion since I was there years earlier. I hope that that woman priest has helped to bring about that increase.

Mr. Alison : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for showing the extent to which communion is feasible and possible where women priests are ministering, certainly in the Anglican community.

The potentially divisive effect of the legislation within the Church of England has captured most attention within the Church and our own Ecclesiastical Committee.

The Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure--the main Measure--seeks to do two things. First, clause 1(1) makes it lawful for the General Synod to provide by canon for a woman to be ordained to the office of priest as long as she meets the other requirements of canon law for such ordination. Clause 1(2) makes it clear that the Measure does not open the way for women to become bishops. A further Measure requiring as elaborate a process of consideration as the present one would be necessary for that to happen.

Recognising the divided views in the Church on the issue, the remainder of the Measure provides an elaborate and comprehensive set of safeguards designed to ensure that those who, in conscience, cannot accept the ordination of women as priests are not asked to act against their conscience. Under canon law, a parish priest can already decide who may share in the administration of sacrament in his church and, if he wishes, he can exclude a woman from doing so. Clause 3 enables a parochial church council to pass either or both of the resolutions set out in schedule 1. These are, first, under resolution A, that the parochial church council would not accept a woman to preside at or celebrate Holy Communion or pronounce the absolution in the parish--those acts that are specifically reserved to the ministry--and, secondly, under resolution B, that the council "would not accept a woman as the incumbent or priest-in-charge of the benefice or as a team vicar for the benefice."

Both this and clause 4, which relates to cathedrals, are continuing provisions without limit of time--built-in, permanent parochial safeguards.

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Most attention has focused, however, on clause 2 of the Measure, which enables a bishop in office when the canon is promulgated to make one or more of three declarations. As paragraph 2 of our Ecclesiastical Committee report explains, the first of those declarations would prevent a woman from being ordained as a priest within his diocese ; the second would prevent a woman from being a parish priest or team vicar within his diocese ; and the third would prevent a woman from being given any licence or permission to officiate as a priest within the diocese. By making all three declarations, a bishop could exclude women from being ordained or acting as priests in any capacity within his diocese.

A declaration made by a bishop under clause 2 could be withdrawn by him, but would otherwise continue in force until six months after the bishop's successor took office.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Let us suppose that the House passes the Measure and that a woman is ordained. Let us suppose that she then goes to a diocese or a part of the country where the safeguards described by the right hon. Gentleman apply. What offence will that woman be committing, who will punish her with what authority, and on what basis is that to be justified to the House?

Mr. Alison : The woman would not commit an offence by travelling to any particular part of the country ; but, by definition, she could not officiate without being invited to acquire the title of a benefice, or to accept whatever post she has been invited to minister to. The initiative, therefore, would not lie with the woman ; it would lie only with the inviting body--a hospital, a parish or some other corporate body within the diocese. No offence would arise in the woman's simply considering an opening or opportunity.

Mr. Benn : May I clarify this point? Holy Communion is given on a number of occasions. If, under the safeguards that the right hon. Gentleman has described, certain areas are to be no-go areas for women priests, what offence would be committed--and by whom--if a woman went into a no-go area and administered Holy Communion? What would be the penalty, and, if the Measure is passed, will Parliament today be endorsing such a penalty for a woman ordained into holy orders under an instruction and agreement on the part of both Houses of Parliament?

Mr. Alison : The question is whether what the woman did was covert and unauthorised, or whether such an administration of oman could not administer the sacrament in a parish church without the clergyman--the occupant of the benefice--authorising her to do so.

It is conceivable, I suppose, that a group might get together, break the lock of the church in the small hours and hold illicit, covert communion service without the knowledge or authority of the parish priest ; but I do not think that that is what the right hon. Gentleman means. He is concerned with some formal breach of ecclesiastical jurisdiction or law. I do not see how that can happen in the context that we are considering : as I have pointed out, the absolute discretion as to who may administer the sacrament and absolution in a parish church remains with the parish priest concerned. He could invite a woman to administer the sacrament in his church--if she was duly

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ordained as a priest--if he and his parish had opted, as the option arises in these Measures, to accept women priests. If they had passed a resolution not to accept women priests, he would never invite her in the first place, and the contingency would not arise unless it was done in a covert and underhand way. I do not think that problems of ecclesiastical law and punishment arise in this contingency. The provision restricting clause 2 to bishops in office when the canon comes into force was requested by the majority of the House of Bishops in order to maintain their unity and collegiality. Since then, it has become a focus of criticism by opponents of women's ordination, who argue that, because the clause does not extend to bishops appointed after the promulgation of the canon, it is likely to prevent priests who share their views from ever becoming bishops in future. Opponents of the Measure therefore argue that the clause should either be extended to apply indefinitely whenever a new bishop comes in, or be scrapped completely. Supporters of women priests point out that to extend the rights given by the clause to future bishops would, in effect, be to legislate for the permanent geographical division of the Church into go and no-go areas for women priests.

The grounds for the argument over clause 2--which occupied much of the time of the Ecclesiastical Committee--have, I am glad to say, substantially diminished, as has the likelihood of diocesan bishops making any of the declarations under the clause, following publication of the pastoral arrangements which the House of Bishops has indicated that it wishes to operate once the legislation is in force.

The arrangements set out in the two statements of the House of Bishops-- which appear on pages 21 and 22 of our Ecclesiastical Committee report-- commit the bishop to ensuring that suitable episcopal ministry is provided for those in favour and those opposed to the legislation, while preserving the position of the diocesan bishop. The arrangements are to be embodied in an Act of Synod, which the General Synod will consider at its next meeting on 9 to 12 November.

An Act of Synod--which is the modern-day equivalent of an Act of the convocations--has no legally binding effect, but is regarded by the Church as morally binding. As paragraph 26 of the Ecclesiastical Committee's report records, some members of the committee have pressed, and will no doubt press today, for the Act of Synod to be given legal force by being enshrined in another Measure. While I appreciate the sincerity of those who argue that point, I do not think that their argument can be sustained ; nor did the majority of members of the Ecclesiastical Committee.

Pastoral arrangements are about matters of confidence and trust, not law. Flexibility is needed to adapt to the many different circumstances that will affect individual priests and parishes. Nor can there be any guarantee that the Measure--which will, in any event, take two years to enact--could be carried through all its stages in the Synod.

Hon. Members will be aware that a number of people in the Church feel that the arrangements intended by the House of Bishops already go too far in trying to accommodate those who are opposed to the present

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legislation. I am sure that the bishops are wise both in what they propose and in avoiding any attempt to enshrine their proposals in a further Measure.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex) : I very much agree with my right hon. Friend about these issues, and I admire the measured, reasonable and well- informed way in which he is presenting his arguments. However, although I have always strongly supported the ordination of women--I hope that it will happen soon, and I think that it will strengthen the Church of England when it does--I know that the point on which my right hon. Friend has touched worries a number of Anglican priests in my part of the world. The proposed Act of Synod is, in effect, designed to reassure opponents that their place within the Church of England is respected. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, it has no legal force ; its force is only moral and in-house. What guarantees can be given to such people that it will not be withdrawn later, in a different climate of opinion?

I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is not possible to legislate in perpetuity for what could be a perpetual division in the Church of England. However, if he can elaborate on that point, I will be able to reassure priests in Sussex with more certainty about an issue that is worrying them.

Mr. Alison : I shall do my best in a few seconds to reassure my right hon. Friend by reading out a short extract from the ecclesiastical bishops' report. As an old hand and as a parliamentarian, perhaps I can remind my right hon. Friend of some of the realities in that area. He will be familiar with the various Acts that we have passed.

Those Acts went through agonising Committee stages with the most minute discussion on the dots, crosses and t's of provisions about discrimination and anti-discrimination--anti-racial discrimination and anti-sex discrimination. A range of non-discriminatory Measures were introduced and, after agonising procedures, were put on the statute book. However, we must ask ourselves whether they have been fail-safe instruments for securing non -discrimination in race relations, non-discrimination in jobs available for West Indians or other minority immigrants in our community.

In spite of the splendid, detailed, agonisingly constructed statutory provisions that we have made, at the end of the day the small print, the cold legality, does not guarantee the moral impetus which is needed to eschew real discrimination. It depends on the good will, and the heart and mind, of those who live in the community. If we attempt to turn the Act of Synod into a Measure, to begin with, it would have to go through a committee stage in the Synod, which would delay it by at least two years. The present form of the Act of Synod, as proposed, would be much modified, because immediately it would become a battle as it went through the committee stage and the small print and all the technical requirements were considered. What would emerge might be much less comprehensive and protective than what is already in the draft Act of Synod. Then it would go forth with less of the spirit of moral unanimity than might be the case. There would be no guarantee that it would secure the required objectives.

I think that the words that I shall now quote from our Committee will help to put the matter into perspective. Paragraph 40 reads :

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"The preservation of the unity of the Church of England following the introduction of women priests cannot be achieved by legislation alone. Nor could legislation ensure that there is no discrimination against the opponents of women priests in the matter of preferment within the Church. These are ultimately matters which will depend on the good will of members of the Church at all levels and on the making of arrangements within the Church that are seen to promote fairness to all and toleration of different viewpoints. Such arrangements have already been proposed in the two Manchester Statements."

As the House will have gathered, a number of provisions of the main Measure and the pastoral arrangements proposed by the House of Bishops are intended to provide continued room within the Church of England for the ordination of women to the priesthood. As I hope that my right hon. Friend will concede, the Church is trying, through the Act of Synod, to get to the heart of the necessary unanimity and good will spelt out in the Act of Synod. It is doing that in a compressive if necessarily broad-brush way, not with the kind of minute protection against litigious tendencies that is so much a feature of our legislation in the House and, to some extent, in the Synod. The Measure is a broad-brush attempt to expand and explain the determination to give a breath of life to the skeleton of statutory provision that we are trying to introduce today to make the commitment to fairness and to allowing a hundred flowers to bloom and the two integrities to co-exist as a reality. That is the determination. That is the reason why the General Synod has wisely decided that it will go for an Act of Synod that can be introduced and passed rapidly in the General Synod and not go down the path of further detailed Measures.

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for detaining the House for so long. I come now to the second Measure, the Ordination of Women (Financial Provisions) Measure. It recognises that, in spite of the attempts that we shall make to maintain unity and to include everybody if possible, there will be opponents who do not feel able to remain within the Church of England. The Measure is an attempted safety net to ensure that those who resign from service in the Church of England, by reason of their opposition to the ordination of women as priests, do not suffer financial hardship.

The Measure is discussed in detail on pages 35 to 37 of the report. It falls broadly into two parts. Clauses 1 to 4 and 9 provide a standard scheme of financial benefits to clergy and others who resign because of their opposition to the ordination of women priests during a period between six months before and 10 years after the promulgation of the implementing canon. That 10-year scope forward is not without interest, because it means that the clergy have a chance to find their feet, or not, in the new regime when we have women priests. It allows them 10 years to make up their mind whether they can stand the new arrangements or not, and apply for the financial benefits of having to resign.

Clause 5 gives a wide discretion to make payments both to those who are not entitled to benefit as a right from the standard scheme and by way of additional benefit to those who are so entitled. All benefits are to be administered by the Church of England Pensions Board with a right of appeal to a tribunal of five persons, constituted as provided by clause 10.

The Measures have been variously criticised as either mean or over- generous. In my view, the level of provision is fair and reasonable-- indeed, it compares well with levels of provision in the secular field. The Church of England deserves great credit that, uniquely among these

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provinces of the Anglican communion who have ordained women as priests, it is making arrangements for those who do not feel able in conscience to remain in its service.

Some of those who have argued that the financial provisions are inadequate from the point of view of those who might receive them have also expressed concern that they are still too generous from the point of view of the Church's capacity to pay them. Depending on the timing of the resignation, the estimated cost of the provision could average £1 million per annum for each 100 resignations at current stipend levels. Illustrative figures on costs are given in the memorandum by the Church Commissioners, which is reproduced on pages 44 to 46 of the report.

As my colleagues will know, the Church of England, as with other institutions, is going through a period of financial hardship, and the costs will add to the burden of all the parishes that will ultimately have to bear them. The Measure was discussed in dioceses when the main Measure was referred to them. It received a 100 per cent. majority in the General Synod. In the House of Bishops, it received a majority of 96.98 per cent., in the House of Clergy a majority of 97 per cent. and in the House of Laity a majority of 95 per cent. The financial provisions Measures reached us with a virtually unanimous endorsement--more than many Measures that have reached us in the past.

Although there is still uncertainty over the number who will leave the Church of England as a result of the Measures, it now looks as though it will be substantially fewer than predicted in some of the initial estimates made in the immediate aftermath of last November's General Synod vote. There can, in my view, be no reasonable doubt either of the Church's capacity or of its will to live up to the commitments represented by the financial provisions Measure.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : Will my right hon. Friend comment, for the House's elucidation--he is giving us a thorough canter through the Measures--on whether the Measures cover serving missionaries abroad, serving chaplains to the armed services, serving chaplains to health authorities, and others who are not immediately in parishes?

Mr. Alison : I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. All the people in the categories that she has mentioned, whether they are lay members of such bodies or ordained members, will be eligible under clause 5 for the discretionary--

Miss Widdecombe : Ah!

Mr. Alison : --provision which is part of the package that we are now offering. It is being left to discretionary provision precisely because, as my hon. Friend showed by the impressive list of individual organisations against which the waves of the changes might beat in the future, there is a considerable number of bodies and individuals which it would almost certainly be impossible exhaustively to list individually in the body of the Measure. To that extent, we might lose more, and people might be more disadvantaged, if we were to spell out every conceivable individual group that might be disadvantaged.

In those circumstances, it is entirely reasonable to have a prescribed set of provisions for those who are easily

identifiable--that is, those in full-time registered ecclesiastical employment--to set the yardstick for all the others whom we wish to include in that broad category, and

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