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Mr. Bercow: I have listened to my hon. Friend's historical exegesis with interest and respect. I have also noted what he said about church attendances, which I found slightly more surprising. Will he confirm that he is not suggesting that the somewhat better church attendance figures than I had imagined are either an argument for the Bill or against it?
Mr. Key: The figures are an important matter of background information. Some people have suggested that it is a waste of time for Parliament to consider this matter, and that the people outside are not interested. The figures that I have quoted--they are not my figures--prove my point.
The Venerable Bede wrote, in his "Historiam Gentis Anglorum Ecclesiasticum", that there was, in the sixth century, an awareness of England and of the English without parallel in other parts of Europe, and that the English nation was the child of the Church. The Church gave its authority to kingship, to law and to the unity of the nation. It provided the King's chief office-holders and was, effectively, the civil service. The state granted the Church privileges and gave it land and money.
School history teaches us--or probably does not, under this philistine Government--that the Tudor reformation was about Henry VIII's desire to get a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. It was about far more than that. It was about the extent of papal involvement in English life, the relation of the papacy to the Crown, and the meaning of sovereignty in a nation state.
Mr. Stuart Bell: The hon. Gentleman has given us an interesting recital of historical background that brings us to the concept of Church and state. In the same mould, does he accept that during the 19th century, between Gladstone and Disraeli, the argument about Church and state and the established Church rippled on throughout? It will continue to ripple on, but will the hon. Gentleman confirm that if one disentangles Church and state, the monarchy itself comes into focus? Whether we have a republic or a monarchy is the next issue to be dealt with.
Mr. Key: That will no doubt occupy those who sit on these Benches in a thousand years. I am sad that some hon. Members have not recognised the interweaving of Church and state in this country, which makes it wholly different from any other nation in the world bar none, particularly our continental neighbours. In 1920, the French Church was disestablished.
Mr. Key: I was several years out, which is terrible, but that intervention makes the point that the French Church was disestablished. Only this weekend, I happened to be in old Catholic Munich for a security conference. As we looked at the two onions of the Marienkirche, a French academic laughed about the fact that no one ever goes to church in France, saying that it was a load of mumbo- jumbo. I thought, "Well, that's just a bit different."
Mr. Forth: I am slightly puzzled, I must confess, given my hon. Friend's analysis of the relationship between Church and state and the continued presence of Church of England bishops in a House of Parliament as of right, that he still seems to think that we are able legitimately to legislate as the Bill suggests without giving proper consideration or reconsideration to the related matters of Church and state and the presence of bishops in the other place. How can he suggest that?
Mr. Key: If I considered such matters in detail, I dare say that I would be ruled out of order. However, I would be happy to explore them because I know that, under the Wakeham proposals, the number of Church of England bishops in the other place would be reduced from 26 to 16. That I regret, but the quid pro quo is that there would be more appointees from other Churches and other religions. I have no difficulty with that. When I was a Minister, I established the Inner Cities Religious Council with a number of distinguished theologians and the Bishop of Leicester, Tom Butler, who is now Bishop of Southwark. Were I allowed to, I should have considered
Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has a legitimate grievance about which, I might add, he chuntered furiously to me earlier. Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason for the problem arising--we do not seem to be dealing with interrelated issues in an orderly fashion--is that the Government have engaged in a disgraceful go-slow on reform of the composition of the other place?
Mr. Key: Yes, of course. My hon. Friend is right. If I appear to take a rather long-term view, I make no apology for that. The seat that I represent, Salisbury, sent its first Members to the House in 1260. We in Salisbury tend to think long. We also find it important to take in our stride reforms that have taken place over those many hundreds of years. There is an historical continuity about this place and about our country.
I shall not be surprised if we give the Bill a Second Reading, but I am very surprised that the Government have chosen to rush it through just before a general election, without blushing. It is heroically appalling that they should hurry to the House to legislate so that one of their own party's candidates can stand for election in a few weeks. Nevertheless, that is entirely in character with the way in which the House, over many centuries, has dealt with such issues, the difference being perhaps that 300 or 400 years ago, someone would have been burnt at the stake. I have no intention to vote for that tonight.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): Listening to the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), I could well imagine him conducting a Church of England service in a church in deepest Salisbury. I have to say that I have heard livelier debates at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Listening to some of the interventions, I came close to thinking that I should perhaps make a personal statement, given that we are dealing with my would-be successor, Mr. David Cairns.
I welcome the Bill, which is of great interest to those whom I have the honour to represent. Incidentally--as you well know, Mr. Deputy Speaker--my constituency is Greenock and Inverclyde, and not, as some hon. Members insist on pronouncing it, "Grennock" and Inverclyde.
Let me say in response to a couple of interventions from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that I played no part whatever in the selection of my successor. I kept myself at a great distance, feeling that that was the honourable thing to do. Obviously, like every other Member, I tell the truth in this place, so I will say that I wanted to be succeeded by a woman with good, honourable, old-Labour qualifications, but that was not to be.
Let me also say--I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) for giving me the opportunity--that at no time did members of my party behave in a deplorable or underhand way in selecting Mr. Cairns to represent Greenock and Inverclyde, if he is
My earlier question to my hon. Friend the Minister about the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly was badly phrased. The Bill brings us into line with the sensible legislation that established those legislatures: the Government of Wales Act 1998, the Scotland Act 1998--I played a large part in the passage of that Bill, along with the late Donald Dewar, who took it through the House in his inimitable style and with his wonderful elegance--and the Northern Ireland Act 1998.