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Mr. Blunt: Following the concerns expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) about the UK-US extradition treaty, can the Foreign Secretary go one better than passing on his concern to the Home Secretary, perhaps by informing the American Secretary of State on her visit to Blackburn that if the United States Congress is not prepared to address this issue, the Government might be minded to bring the matter back to Parliament for us to come to our conclusion about the view of the US Congress? Will he confirm that the whole cost of the additional measures that he has presented to the House today is covered under the consular premium in the cost of passports?
Mr. Straw: On the hon. Gentleman's last question, the answer is yes. On the first question, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in the lead on that matter, but I will go one better than waiting until Secretary Rice comes to the fine constituency of Blackburn and write to her in advance.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I want to raise the case of my constituent, Mr Potter, who is currently in a secure prison in the US pending appeal, while his US counterpart is in a low-security prison and able to see his family regularly. It seems to me that the primary duty of the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Government is to defend British interests abroad. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House why the Government unilaterally signed away rights of British citizens with the extradition treaty, and what representations he has made on behalf of Mr. Potter to the US authorities?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about Mr. Potter. As I have explained, the
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general issue of principle regarding the extradition treaty is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I can say that Mr. Potter was last visited by British officials on 14 December, and we facilitated his wife's visit at the end of January. We were told in February that his lawyers would lodge an appeal at the beginning of March. The director of the consular department in the Foreign Office is going to see Mr. Potter's supporters, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman himself, on 30 March.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Following other questions and in the light of his welcome announcement that he will consider a compensation package, will the Foreign Secretary take account of the experience of some other people who have suffered recently? Their son, Jeremy Lakin, was killed at Sharm el-Sheikh, and they had a series of really unsatisfactory experiences with officialdom in the United Kingdom and our people in Egypt, as well as with the Egyptian authorities. Is the Foreign Secretary willing either to meet them personally or to look at the file, and to ensure that their experience is dealt with and taken into account in any final announcement that he makes in the coming months?
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con):
The Foreign Secretary said that he could not get people out of jail, but surely Her Majesty's Government can do their best to ensure that those who are incarcerated receive humane treatment. May I refer him to the case of Nicholas Baker, who is in Fuchu prison in Japan? Although he is not a constituent of mine, he has a number of relations in Norfolk. He has been systematically bullied by guards, deprived of food,
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proper clothing and bedding, and subjected to frostbite. I believed, somewhat naively, that such behaviour did not take place in modern Japan.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is right: we have considerable responsibilities in respect of conditions in prisons. I do not know the details of that case, but I will look into them and follow them up, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Along with other Members, I welcome the review. Probably hundreds, if not thousands, of my constituents are abroad at any one time, especially on a Tuesday such as this. However, my question concerns an event that will take place in about 10 weeks' or three months' time: the World cup. Many thousands of English fans will travel to Germany. Is the Foreign Secretary satisfied with the level of consular assistance that he has laid on for an event that will take place very soon?
Mr. Straw: Yes, I am satisfied with the level of consular assistance that will be available. We have built on a good deal of experience in respect of British fans abroad, not least following the riots of English fans in Charleroi in 2000 when I was Home Secretary. After those riots the House agreed on swift changes in the law, so that we could apply banning orders on known hooligans going abroad.
I believe that about 80 British police officers will be deployed, along with many consular officials, and we are already providing a great deal of consular advice on the website and through the Football Association's England supporters club. I think that we shall be providing the maximum help, and that we shall be seen to be doing so. However, if there is disorder involving English fans, or others from the United Kingdom, the responsibility for that disorder is not a matter for the United Kingdom Government. Responsibility will lie with those individuals, who ought to be well-behaved abroad as they ought to be in this country.
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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Yesterday the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), said in respect of NHS operations
Yet on 13 March, in reply to a parliamentary question, the same Minister stated that 74 people were waiting more than six months for their operations. Has the Minister of State given any indication that she will come to the House to make it clear which statement is correct?
It is not often that we get to debate such matters as the consecration of women bishops in this House; indeed, many colleagues have asked why on earth we are involved in such a decision in the first place. During my speech, I hope to explain how this Bill argues for Parliament's sending a clear signal to the General Synod about women bishops, and why it might provoke a discussion about our role in such matters in future.
First, I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who initially proposed this Bill. At that stage, I, along with other colleagues, was a humble sponsor of it. Unfortunately, his parliamentary role in the Department for Constitutional Affairs does not allow him to move such a measure, so I am delighted to pick up where he left off.
It is a full 13 years since we were last asked to debate the ministry of women in the Church, and I am delighted to say that the vote then was overwhelmingly in favour of allowing the Church to ordain women priests. I hope that the House will be overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops today. However, 13 years ago we agreed to a compromise that left open the question of women bishops.
Well, not everyone agrees, of course. A former Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, once said that a woman was no more ordainable than a potato. I am not sure where he learned his interpersonal skills, but his theology seems horribly awry, too. Indeed, since studying this matter further for today, I have been overwhelmed by the number of spurious arguments against women bishops and priests masquerading as theology. I prefer the words of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Martini, who, when asked whether the Catholic Church would ever ordain women, said, with the wink of an eye, "Not in this millennium." That, of course, was in 1999.
Despite the few who have campaigned vociferously against women's ministry, the truth is that the vast majority of ordinary members of the Church of Englandand, for that matter, of the nation that it servesagree that there should be no impediment to women in the Church. The Church's compromise Measures in 1993 allowed parishes to declare themselves women priest-free zones, yet fewer than one in 10 have done so. It is not just in Dibley that women priests are burying the dead, baptising the new-born, celebrating communion, counselling the sick and supporting the dying. In every one of our constituencies there are women clergy, many of whom are the most able of their generation.
Half of those in training for ordination in each of the last three years have been women. Yet a full 13 years after they were allowed to enter the priesthood,
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womenwho can be curates, vicars, rectors, chaplains and deans, and even rural deans and archdeaconsare still barred from being bishops. That is simply wrong. How can the Church preach equality when it institutionalises discrimination? Can anybody imagine the Church's refusing to have black or disabled bishops? Some 14 other provinces of the Anglican communion already allow women bishops, including Scotland. The Bench of Bishops supports the consecration of women, as do both Archbishops. Indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned only last night that Sudan already has women bishops. However, the earliest date that the Church is contemplating change is 2012. We can build for an Olympics in that time, yet the Church cannot move forward on this simple issue.
Of course, there are Members who feel that it is none of our business whom the Church of England does or does not consecrate. Understandably, perhaps, they argue that the Church should govern itself. They probably also think that parliamentary questions to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) on behalf of the Church Commissioners is a quaint and irritating anachronism. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) has found it useful to quiz the commissioners on their outrageous sale to the highest bidder of the Octavia hill estate in her constituency. But I accept that there is an argument that Parliament should not be able to tell the Church what to do on this issue; Indeed, I agree. We should not force the Church to consecrate women bishops; nor should we be able to do so through this Bill.
However, while the relationship between Church and state remains as it is, we should use the mechanism before us to make our views known in full. We should be able to express our support for the role of women in every field of British lifeto express our view, in the broadest terms, that women and men are equal, albeit different. We should be able to give voice to the many men and women in the Church who have been clamouring for this development for decades, and to declare our direct and personal support for the many women clergy in the Church. Many women clergy have called my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda in tears of gratitude. They believe that the Church is dragging its heels and listening far too attentively to its ultra-conservative wing, rather than to the mainstream. That certainly smacks of the ultra-conservative tail wagging the mainstream dog.
So why are we in Parliament involved? From the outset, I want to make it clear that I am fully signed up to the principle of disestablishment between Church and state, but at present we are part of the decision-making process and, at some stage, will have to consider and vote on this issue. The problem for me is that the Church recently decided that the earliest date for that vote would be 2012. It is highly likely that those opposed to women bishops will use every tactic to fudge and delay any decision from Synod and that they will plead with hon. Members to block any such proposal. This Bill is a useful device for sending the clear message to Synod that we are here and that we have been waiting for further instruction since 1993. If the House approves the Bill, it will demonstrate that we are willing to consecrate women bishops as soon as we can.
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Church of England Measures are the instruments by which changes are made to the governance and organisation of the Church. Once a Measure has been approved by the General Synod, the Ecclesiastical Committeea Committee of both Houses of Parliamentconsiders whether it is expedient. If a Measure is considered expedient, both Houses are required to approve it before it can receive Royal Assent.
Generally, motions to present any Measure for Royal Assent are debated in each House as soon as the Ecclesiastical Committee report is laid. Neither the motion itself nor the report can be amended, which means that the House of Commons cannot amend Measures as it can other Bills.
There have been times in the past when this House has rejected such Measures. It happened with the Prayer Book Measure in 1927which I hope that no one present today can rememberand as recently as 1989, when we rejected the Clergy (Ordination) Measure. The House may not be aware that, since 1992, we have passed 17 Church of England Measures. We rarely invoke the right to reject a Measure although, if a number of hon. Members feel strongly about its substance, a Measure will have no automatic right to proceed unhindered.
Other hon. Members before me have rightly made the point that, although the House naturally does not wish unduly to interfere in the Church's self-governance, its agreement cannot be taken for granted. It has been said that the House
There was much debate on the 1993 Measure and Bill for the ordination of women. However, the Ecclesiastical Committee simply summarised the arguments on both sides and, unfortunately, seems to have given them equal weight. As hon. Members will know, there are nearly always two sides to most arguments, but muddle and compromise are not always the best option, as they prolong the agony and do not tackle the issue adequately. Compromise is good sometimes, but not always.
The 1993 legislation legalised a muddled compromise to please a vociferous minority. The House of Bishops working party has recognised that that compromise is a continuing problem and has restarted the debate, but it is still at a preliminary stage only. This Bill represents a great opportunity to send the House of Bishops a message while its deliberations continue. That message is: we in this House are ready to change. As soon as the working party gets the Measure to the Ecclesiastical Committee, and that Committee produces its report, we are ready to endorse it for Royal Assent.
"Although the House of Commons may not pre-empt decisions of the General Synod of the Church of England, the success of this Bill would be an important indicator of the support for the change as the Church's own decision making proceeds."
"The fact is that those opposed will certainly take their fight to the Ecclesiastical Committee if they don't like the Measure that comes from General Synod, and it is therefore very important that the Commons should have indicated its view for the Committee's guidance".
Some have even argued that this Bill could trigger "a church-state crisis", as one media headline put it. I had not realised that I could achieve so much in 10 minutes but, if that is one of the outcomes, it will be a useful contribution to the debate. The truth is that the House will not be legislating this afternoon, but it has an opportunity to send a simple message and declare its support for women's ministry at every level of the Church.
I hope that all hon. Membersregardless of the state of their souls or, for that matter, of whether they believe that they have onewill seize that opportunity, vote in favour of the Bill and put and end to the stained-glass ceiling for women in the Church.
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