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Mr. Pike: The hon. Gentleman is trying to widen this debate. However, while we have the present system, the Ecclesiastical Committee in this House cannot just be a rubber stamp. If the Committee has a role to play, it must do it properly, as it has tried to do with this Measure.

Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman--who is also a friend of mine--and others who have played an entirely consistent, effective and observant role in the Committee over many years have always taken that view. For the time being, we have an established Church and certain matters have to come to Parliament. We will do our job properly for as long as that is the position.

Other colleagues may make a self-denying ordinance not to take part in such debates. They are entitled to do so; it is the same issue as whether one takes part in Scottish business if one is an English Member, or vice versa. Constitutionally, every Member of Parliament has a role. Nobody has to serve on the Ecclesiastical Committee, but those of us from both Houses who do serve on it take our job extremely seriously. Those who serve us as officers have always been extremely diligent. Those who come from the Church of England to brief us and to answer questions have been always been extremely courteous and entirely helpful in trying to deal with our concerns.

It is still worth reminding people that churchwardens are chosen annually by the parish meeting, but all parishioners are entitled to vote for them. One of the

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things that still troubles me is that most churches do not invite all parishioners to choose their churchwardens. This is not just a token matter. There are many people who will admit to coming to church only on Christmas eve, for the carol service or for baptisms, marriages or funerals. One of the jobs of the Church of England--if it is to be the national Church--is to be available for people without lots of preconditions; for example, someone should not have to turn up so many times over so many weeks to take part.

One of the ways in which the Church of England can continue its links into each parish in the country is to make sure that everybody knows that, once a year, there is a meeting to which all parishioners can come. They do not have to have darkened the doors of the church between meetings and they will not be judged on their attendance, or on other things--it is their church. I would hope that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough can pass on to those in charge of the Church that they should make it their business to make sure it is not just the people on the electoral roll of the church or the normal congregation of the church who are invited to the meeting.

All adult parishioners should be told about the annual meeting, and invited to take part in the election of the people to represent the parish. I hope that we can get to that point because, at the moment, some churches find it more comfortable only to invite their own to the meeting. There is a great opportunity here, not just in terms of democracy but in terms of evangelisation and outreach from the church to the people.

Mr. David Taylor: Many church electoral rolls contain the names of people who live outside the parish. Would the hon. Gentleman expect that a by-product of a future move to disestablish the Church would be to remove what many see as an antiquated right for parishioners in general to contribute towards the selection of churchwardens?

Mr. Hughes: I do not want to get waylaid, but the debate is about churchwardens so the question is proper. The role of parish representatives in the Church would not continue after full disestablishment, but two sorts of disestablishment are on the table, in effect. One centres on whether members of the Church of England can be in Parliament, whether bishops should be in the House of Lords and whether the Prime Minister should appoint the bishops. In that model, there is an argument about whether the monarch should be both head of the Church and the head of state. The other sort of disestablishment centres on the arrangement of the parish structure. Disestablishment from Parliament--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman, who came late to the debate, is being extraordinarily discursive.

Mr. Hughes: I give way to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).

Mr. Grieve: I do not want to widen the point, but it would place a considerable burden on parishes if they had to advertise their annual meeting as the hon. Gentleman proposes. In the parish where I worship, it is clearly stated on public notices that everyone can come to the meeting

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and vote. The meeting is split into two parts for that purpose. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that his proposal is unrealistic in terms of cost?

Mr. Hughes: Any good parish communicates with all its parishioners on a regular basis. The message will therefore get pushed through doors and pinned on the notice boards in church and throughout the parish at no unusual or additional cost. Good churches tell people what is going on, and I hope that every Church of England church would want to do that and find the necessary resources.

There is unity on the issue because the Church accepted the advice of Parliament. The relationship therefore works, and the Measure will put churchwardens' relationship with the Church on a firmer and better footing. They, and we, will be grateful for that.

11.42 pm

Mr. Stuart Bell: With the leave of the House, I shall respond to some of the points that have been made.

I shall begin by thanking the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for his contribution. I shall follow your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and avoid the intricacies and interstices of the disestablishment argument: I hope that we will have that debate in the not-too-distant future.

The hon. Gentleman was right about the controversy surrounding the Measure, but, in the end, Church and state came together in the proper fashion. The House, in the shape of the Ecclesiastical Committee, exercised its judgment and responded to the concerns of churchwardens and parishioners. An expression of will went back to the Synod, which was sufficiently flexible and understanding to accept that the power of the bishops should be removed from the Measure.

The hon. Members for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey both referred to the role of churchwardens, and commended the people who do such a sterling job up and down the land. The House will know that Canon E1 provides that churchwardens are to be the officers of the bishop, and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made the point about their dual capacity. It also states that they are to be foremost in representing the laity and co-operating with the incumbent. It states that they

That shows the importance and significance of the role of the churchwarden. As the hon. Member for Worthing, West said, the nature of the sort of people who take on the role of churchwarden means that they might well step aside if a difficulty arose.

In a very important intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) pointed out that this House and the Ecclesiastical Committee are not rubber stamps and never can be in relation to the legislation that comes from the Synod on to the statute book via proceedings here.

I thank the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) for his graceful encapsulation of what the Measure contains, for sharing with us his experiences as a

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churchwarden and for his support for the Measure. It is important that when the House deals with Church matters it reaches a consensus, without the sort of hostility and controversy seen elsewhere, so I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West was extremely helpful in the Ecclesiastical Committee. His was a lone voice, sometimes, but he articulated a view that others might well have held. He was very graceful in his comments about me, and I am grateful to him for that. When I took on the role of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Lord Dixon said that I was the Church's shop steward. As a fellow trade unionist, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand and appreciate that.

The hon. Gentleman said that he might write his memoirs one of these days and that there would be a chapter dealing with the Churchwardens Measure. He might, in the meantime, like to read "The Churchwarden's Handbook--A Practical Guide", written by Ven. Ian Russell, recently retired as the Archdeacon of Coventry, who was a member of the steering committee on churchwardens. The book has been so popular that the first edition has sold out. The second edition will remove the contentious issue of whether the bishops should have power over a churchwarden. It reads rather like a Jeffrey Archer novel, with the ending changed according to the audience.

Mr. David Taylor: Will the author be sent to prison?

Mr. Bell: We will not go into that particular controversy.

If the hon. Member for Worthing, West does get around to writing his memoirs, the practical guide to churchwardens will be a very sound base.

I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


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