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Miss Widdecombe: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and for doing so in a state of grace. Amendment No. 15 would not affect those who have left the priesthood because of the use of the word "and", not "or". The amendment says that he would be disqualified if he has been ordained to the office of priest and he is practising as a priest or deacon.
Of course, I am closely involved in what has become known as the Cairns affair in the west of Scotland. In this place, just three weeks ago, I had to defend the good faith of the members of the local Labour party, who were quite unaware of the anomaly faced by Mr. Cairns. He chose not to make this known at the hustings. That was a decision for him and his conscience. I am saying, in all conscience, that I am deeply disturbed by the right hon. Lady's amendment. She seems to be seeking to subsume the law of the United Kingdom under that of Roman Catholic law. That I find unacceptable.
A priest may choose to give up his parish duties and take up what I think is a more normal life. I have never been convinced about the law concerning compulsory celibacy--I think that it is harming the Church badly. I hasten to say that I speak as a lapsed Catholic. I was born and baptised into the Church, but I left. It was many years before the right hon. Lady entered the Church--there was no link between my departure and her arrival into the Church, I am pleased to say.
It is only right and proper that we enact the Bill. I believe perhaps in a Leninist way--I am old Labour rather than a Marxist or a Leninist--that in the light of the right hon. Lady's comments about a certain candidate, the ends justify the means. That is why I support the Bill but certainly not amendment No. 15.
At present, if that good friend of mine in Glasgow chooses to stand for the Scottish Parliament, it seems that there is no impediment to his doing so and, if he were successful, to taking his seat there. The same holds for the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies, and it should hold for this place, too. It might improve matters in this place if we had a few former priests on the Benches.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does my hon. Friend accept that we would take precisely the same attitude towards the Bill if the person concerned was a Conservative or Liberal candidate? I certainly would. It would make not the slightest difference.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that there should be no discrimination against anyone in this place? Catholics campaigned to be able to stand for Parliament and so did Jews in 1860. Charles Bradlaugh, who represented Northampton, was refused the right to sit in this Chamber four times because he had no religious views. We want an all-inclusive House of Commons, and I hope that that will always be the case.
Dr. Godman: I agree with my hon. Friend. As soon as this anomaly became known to people in the west of Scotland--I do not think that ordinary people knew about it before--a number of Catholics asked me whether it was yet another element in discrimination that they had suffered down the years. I make that point in relation to amendment No. 15. Catholics and others, from the Church of Scotland and from elsewhere, have said that the anomaly is absurd and should go. I hope that when I address a meeting of ministers and priests in my constituency tomorrow, I shall be in the happy position of being able to say that the amendments--especially amendment No. 15--have been rejected and that the Bill is proceeding on its way to the other place, which should be abolished anyway.
Mr. Fallon: I shall speak to amendment No. 13, though I confess that amendment No. 14, moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), covers a much bigger point. Although she kindly indicated that we have a free vote, I am happy to tell her that if she chooses to press it to a Division, I shall be in the Lobby with her.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to allow me to let him know that I have asked my officials to ensure that at least some of the letters from the Churches that we consulted will be placed in the Library, as he requested. Letters from the United Kingdom Churches--Catholic, Church of England and so on--should now be in the Library, or at least on their way there. We are still seeking the consent of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland to allow their letters to be placed in the Library. I shall obtain that as soon as possible.
Mr. Fallon: I am not just grateful, but stunned at such speedy action by a Minister. It is important that the responses are in the Library so that we may read the wording used by the Churches on these complex issues.
I was speaking specifically to amendment No. 13. The Bill appears to have been drafted rather hastily. It contains no definition of "ordained", and we should be clear on exactly what we are talking about. My amendment reflects the wording of The House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801, which will be repealed by the Bill, picking out the words "priest or deacon". I note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald picked out the same phrase for amendment No. 15, and I hope--indeed pray--that if I support her on amendment No. 14, she may be moved to support me on amendment No. 13. I stress that it is essentially a drafting, technical amendment, and is not as significant as amendment No. 14, which I shall support.
Mr. Mackinlay: During this Committee stage, I want to express some irritation. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) initiated a private Member's Bill that would, in effect, have introduced the measure before us, but because of our procedures, it was not enacted. I had previously questioned the Home Secretary about the desirability of such a measure during this Parliament, but he saw me off. We know that the Bill is now being introduced because of events in Greenock and Port Glasgow--
Mr. Mackinlay: I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman). That is the reason for the Bill's introduction, and it is the worst possible reason for making a change. Nevertheless, it is a change that we should make. Sometimes, I am a moderniser, while some of my good friends on the Front Bench are deeply conservative: they should have taken the initiative sooner as a matter of human rights and enfranchisement, rather than introducing a Bill now for the worst possible reason. I wanted to make that point, and I do so unashamedly. I wish that the Home Secretary and others would listen more to Labour Members and others in this place. It would be better for the House.
Also on a serious note, long before I had an early ambition to be a Member of Parliament, I wanted to be not a train driver but a priest. I remember telling a small group of children about it in later years. They were pretty geared up and they said that it reminded them of a parable. I asked what they meant and they said, "A man came from Jericho and fell among robbers." They were referring to the fact that I took a different course. I persuaded them that the honourable House was not like that, but the course of my life could have been somewhat different had ambitions from early childhood been sustained.
More recently, I remember that the vicar of East Tilbury, who was a good friend of mine in the constituency and has now moved on, was indignant that he was prevented by law from standing for election to the House of Commons. He did not want to stand, but he found the fact that he was prevented from standing an affront to his human rights. He pressed me on the matter; he was the cause of my tabling the original question to the Home Secretary. The fact that he was prevented from standing by virtue of his calling is discrimination that is contrary to human rights and to our traditions of democracy in the House.
Mr. Mackinlay: I am coming to that point. It is an interesting one. I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) when she moved her amendment, and I think that it is fair to say that part of the thrust of her argument was that a good priest--for some reason, she makes the distinction between those who are episcopally ordained and ministers of religion, as if they had different obligations to the people for whom they provide pastoral care--cannot possibly have time to give service to the House of Commons. That is a very dangerous argument for any of us here to advance, and especially for a Conservative Member.
Yesterday, I stumbled across the Register of Members' Interests, which has now been published, and my breath was taken away by the dexterity with which my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) can apparently fulfil all their other obligations and still fulfil their obligations to the House of Commons. I am amazed at, and admire, their dexterity.
I invite people to look at the Register of Members' interests. I only wish that Members of Parliament were full-time. We are told that it is perfectly proper and honourable, and that as a matter of capacity, it is possible for people to fulfil the office of Member of the House of Commons and diligently pursue other offices as well--except, if we accept the argument of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, if one is a Roman Catholic priest or a practising priest of the Church of England. It is illogical to suggest that there is an incompatibility.