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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Last week, I received a letter from the Bishop of Fulham, who is chairman of the very respected Anglican organisation, Forward in Faith. I am not a member, but I respect his point of view and those of his members. He wrote:
"On behalf of my several thousand membersbishops, priests, lay women and lay menall of whom find themselves unable for purely theological reasons to consent to the ordination of women, I write to ask you to find the time to be present in the Chamber and vote 'no' to"
"I am certain that I do not need to point out that his initiative in this matter is contrary to the long-standing constitutional convention that Parliament does not initiate legislation on such matters. Further, as you will know, the Church, through its democratically elected General Synod, is already engaged in a careful consultation process which seeks to ensure that all views on this important issue are heard and respected."
I ask the House to take the bishop's remarks seriously and to recognise that, although a large majority in the Church of England are in favour of what the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) proposes, an
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honourable and significant minority take a different view. I was on the General Synod until last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) now sits on it. He and I take different views on this issue, but I respect him very much and I hope that the respect is reciprocated.
I do not want to make a great issue of this. If the Church of England does move to consecrate women as bishops, I will probably be one of those who feel obliged to go elsewhere. We should remember that both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which contain far the greatest majority of Christians in the world, take a different line on this[Interruption.] Perhaps they will change in the fullness of timeI do not know. Nor do I say that I am right. I may be wrongI do not know. I do not wish to divide the House. It is premature to have brought the measure forward. Indeed, the hon. Member for Rhondda, in a kind and courteous letter that he wrote to me last week, admitted as much, in that it probably pre-empts Synod. We should leave Synod to decide whether it wishes to bring a Measure and then we will have ample and proper opportunity to debate it.
All that I would say to those present and particularly to women Members is that, as far as the Bishop of Fulham and his colleagues are concerned, this is not a matter of equality. It may be perceived as such by many, but this is a theological matter. He may be wrong. I may be wrong. It is just conceivable that the hon. Member for Loughborough may be wrong and I am glad that he acknowledges that. I hope that, in that spirit, we can move on to other business without dividing the House.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andy Reed, Robert Key, Mr. Tim Boswell, Simon Hughes, John Bercow, Mrs. Sharon Hodgson, Julie Morgan, Bob Russell, Susan Kramer, Stephen Hammond, Mrs. Ann Cryer and Barbara Keeley.
Mr. Andy Reed accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 so as to remove the bar on the consecration of women as bishops; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 151].
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Armed Forces Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State in connection with the establishment of a body whose primary function is to investigate matters relating to the mental or physical wellbeing of members of the armed forces or the operation of that body.
The purpose of bringing forward the money resolution at this stage is to enable the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill to consider any amendment that might be tabled seeking to create a statutory body or an ombudsman to investigate certain complaints made by service personnel.
This is a very important subject, and one on which the Defence Committee made a recommendation in its report on the duty of care, which was published on 14 March last year. The Government are not persuaded that that is the right way forward for our armed forces, and the Bill makes no provision for it. But we are keen to have an open debate about the issue. We have therefore tabled this resolution in the spirit of constructive engagement, and to enable proper debate in the Committee. Without the money resolution, we would not be able to debate the matter fully.
The money resolution makes clear the proposed primary function of the independent ombudsman, and I think that it is drafted sufficiently widely for a full and informed debate in Committee. If it were agreed, the creation of such a body or ombudsman would give rise to additional costs from public funds. It is too early at this stage to estimate what those costs might be. None the less, we need this motion to allow a full debate. If it were agreed, the creation of such a body or ombudsman would give rise to additional costs from public funds. It is too early at this stage to estimate what those costs might be. None the less, we need this motion to allow a full debate in Committee, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con):
I am grateful to the Minister for proposing the motion. What he has said about the enabling nature of the motion is sensible, and very much in the spirit of the manner in which the Bill is being considered, which could well be applied to the consideration of other Bills. After Second Reading the Bill went not straight to a Standing Committee but to a special Select Committee, which has enabled us to take evidence from a wide range of people, including those who are in favour of the establishment of the kind of grievance redress arrangements to which the Minister referred. Like him, we are not persuaded that that is the best way to proceed for our armed forces, but the motionif passedwill enable the Committee to examine the proposition publicly and in detail, which will add further to the authority of the Committee and the professional way in which the House has approached the Bill. It is therefore right that we should debate the matter, and that the motion should have been tabled.
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I would be keen to learn from the Minister whether the costs that might arise out of the arrangement have been quantified by the Department, given that he is not in favour of the establishment of an ombudsman
It would be helpful if the Minister would indicate whether any consideration has been given to the likely costs. As this is a money resolution, and as the Bill has implications for additional expenditure by the Department in the establishment of standing courts martial, and there is the possibility of increased litigation that might entail increased costs for the legal representation of members of the armed forces who end up in the dock, I wonder whether the Minister can give us any estimate today of the likely increases in the defence budget that might arise. That would be helpful, but if he cannot give us that information today, we quite understand that a letter may follow, as has been his custom on other occasions.
We welcome the fact that the motion will facilitate further debate, and I look forward to joining the Minister in resisting a grievance procedure that would not be appropriate for Her Majesty's armed forces. I am delighted that in the spirit of co-operation between both sides of the House in areas on which we agree, I shall be able to make the Minister's task that much easier and perhaps make common cause against some of his Back Benchers, which may be developing into a bit of a habit
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