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Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Is he seriously saying that he wants to keep the disqualification on the statute book, and that he would vote for the Bill only if it did not become law until after the general election, so that someone would be prevented

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from standing in a constituency where he might be elected to Parliament simply because he was a priest, although no longer practising as such? Is that really the right hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. Redwood: No, I was not saying that that was my view, but I have found out something very interesting about the Minister's intentions. Although he has not been prepared to write into the Bill, or to tell the House, the date by which he wants the legislation to pass and come into effect, we have now discovered that it is a rush job and that the Government failed to think about the matter in good time, over the past three and a half years, when we could have had a more leisurely discussion and the House could have given the Bill proper consideration. Now they suddenly have a problem and they are trying to rush the Bill through before the general election.

I repeat that that is not a good way to legislate. I do not want to trespass on the debate that might follow on the timetable for considering the legislation, but it is relevant to this important debate on its principles that there is no date in the Bill, and that the Minister seems to have expressed the wish to move rapidly to a conclusion.

Dr. Godman: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Redwood: I shall give way when I have dealt with the Minister's point. [Interruption.] I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman). This is a debate, and I am delighted that hon. Members are taking it seriously.

I shall complete my answer to the Minister. I am not saying that people should be barred from standing for election. I have just explained that, in general, I welcome the broadening of eligibility as much as possible. However, I have raised one issue, and if the Minister can deal with that satisfactorily, he may well sway me, even as regards Anglican vicars. I have already said that I have no problem with other types of minister. I was always referring to people who are practising and are on the payroll in their Church, not to people who have ceased to be on the payroll and are moving on to an entirely different career.

Dr. Godman: I thank the right hon. Gentleman. May I point out to him that if the Bill becomes law, it will bring us into line with the laws governing election to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly? He speaks of the relationship between the state and the Church. May I remind him that this Parliament governs a multinational state, not an English state?

Mr. Redwood: I agree that this is a Parliament for the whole United Kingdom, but it is also the Parliament responsible for the established Church that covers the biggest part of the United Kingdom. We know that successful battles have been fought in the past to disestablish Churches in the United Kingdom. I understand why that happened, and I understand the historical context.

There is still an established Church for the largest part of the United Kingdom, and the way in which that Church is established and its relationship to the House of Commons are important parts of our inherited constitution. I am

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asking the Minister to explain a little more how it will be changed, damaged or improved if the legislation goes ahead. From what I have heard so far, I do not think that that issue has been thought through fully.

The fact that the same rules do not apply in the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly does not surprise me. If, in Scotland, there is no established Church like the Anglican Church in England, there is not the same complication as the one that I raised for the Parliament of the Union. That is exactly my point. The fact that the Minister remains in his seat suggests that he cannot answer the conundrum.

Mr. Stunell: It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman was not present for some earlier speeches, when he would have heard a number of times that the Church of Scotland is directly affected by the legislation. In the light of that, will he reconsider his last remarks?

Mr. Redwood: I do not need to reconsider my remarks. I did not say that the Church of Scotland was not affected by the legislation. I said that it was in a different position. I am speaking of the established Anglican Church and its relationship to this Parliament. That is not a matter for the Scottish Parliament and it is not a complication in the case of Scotland.

Ms Osborne: The Church of Scotland is the established Church of the Scottish nation.

Mr. Redwood: The Church of Scotland has arrangements with the Scottish Parliament different from the arrangements that the established Anglican Church has with the Parliament of the Union. That is my point. I am interested in the latter, because I am a Member of the Parliament of the Union. As the hon. Lady knows, I am not a member of either the Scottish Church or the Scottish Parliament, so that is not my direct concern. The Bill is of direct concern to the House of Commons, which is the Union Parliament and also the Parliament of the established Anglican Church.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I speak as the son of the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland is an established Church in this Parliament. Its relationship to this Parliament is precisely the same as that of the Church of England.

Mr. Redwood: I cannot accept what my hon. Friend says. Of course, the Church of Scotland has an arrangement in which this Parliament has a legitimate interest, but it does not have the same arrangement as the established Anglican Church, because of the differing histories of those Churches. I, as an Anglican and a Member of this House, am primarily interested in that relationship, which is the dominant relationship because the Anglican Church is the established Church of the largest part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene as the Second Church Estates Commissioner. The Church of England fully supports the measure before the House and believes that it has no relevance or significance to the established Church.

Mr. Redwood: I am delighted about that, but it does not surprise me. Of course the Bill provides a greater

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freedom. If a civil servant were present and it was proposed that we should remove the disqualification of civil servants from the House of Commons, he might say that it was an excellent idea that provided greater freedom. However, that would not necessarily mean that it was the right thing to do.

I do not want to prolong my remarks, as I know that hon. Members want to make progress. However, I hope that the Under-Secretary will clarify the Bill's bearing on the important constitutional balance that was fought over and debated for many centuries in order to achieve an established Anglican church for the greater part of the United Kingdom. Will he describe the Bill's impact on the reporting lines of the clergy in respect of Lords Spiritual? I suspect that he will argue that there is no truth in my analogy between a civil servant reporting to a Minister and a vicar reporting to a Lord Spiritual. Why does he believe that to be the case?

7 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I rise to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), with whose remarks I agree almost entirely. I am sorry that I have not been present to hear all the speeches that have been made. I was especially sorry not to hear the one by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who understands better than most people the history of the matters under discussion.

The House must carefully consider any proposed changes to its composition and should not introduce them in a hurried fashion. A number of modifications have been made to the electoral system during the current Parliament. Indeed, we debated other disqualification measures last year, when the Government proposed that people who owed no allegiance to this country should nevertheless be entitled to sit in Parliament, even though the taking of an oath of allegiance is a condition of membership of this House.

The Bill is important and deals with a matter that is not to be trifled with. Even if we live in more secular times than we used to, I greatly deplore it. Nevertheless, the Church of England is the established Church in this country. Every coin in our pockets bears testimony to that fact, as each coin of this realm carries the two letters "FD", which stand for the term "fidei defensor". Her Majesty the Queen is defender of the faith--the Anglican faith. That is inextricably bound up with this Parliament and the way in which it enacts legislation. That is why I believe that the matter should not be dealt with hurriedly.

Miss Widdecombe: The title "fidei defensor" was granted by the Pope, and related to defence of the Catholic faith.

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that additional information, although it does not detract from the fact that Her Majesty is defender of the faith today. I understand that the title was conferred by the Pope on Henry VIII, so she is correct, but I hope that she will agree on today's practice, in which Her Majesty

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is the defender of the faith. Perhaps the cardinal archbishop will have noted her enthusiasm to leap to the defence of her newly espoused Church.

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