Stephen McPartland: I understand that the hon. Lady has a specific issue in her constituency, and I would like to point out one in mine: anyone in my constituency who requires radiotherapy treatment has to travel to Hillingdon in London to have access to the linear accelerators, with the typical journey being more than 4,000 miles during the course of the treatment. I do not want to blame any particular Government or party, but the reality is that there are difficulties everywhere. I have a campaign, which I would love all hon. Members to join, to bring cancer care closer to people’s homes, and I want to have a radiotherapy unit based in my

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constituency. There are discrepancies and disparities all over the country, and it would be great if we could iron them out.

Grahame M. Morris: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a good use, not only in Stevenage, but across the country, of some of the underspend that has been mentioned by hon. Members from across the House would be to buy advanced forms of radiotherapy equipment?

Stephen McPartland: That would be fantastic use of the money, but Hillingdon already has eight linear accelerators and a cyber knife, which reduces the course of someone’s treatment from about 25 visits to eight. The key for my constituents is that the people accessing that service are generally elderly and they would have to access it by public transport, which they find very difficult, so they rely on friends and family. I want that treatment to be brought closer to their home, which goes back to my point about the patient’s experience.

Earlier in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker called for a little bit of Christmas cheer, so I have great pleasure in being able to announce that earlier this morning, when it was minus 6°, I was outside my local hospital having my photograph taken and the Government were announcing £72 million of funding for infrastructure in the Lister hospital—the money is part of an ongoing investment programme worth more than £150 million. That is the third of 11 projects. We are having a huge accident and emergency department rebuilt, and a lot of people are going to be accessing it; and we are having new ward blocks, theatres and endoscopy units. A huge range of services are coming to the Lister hospital in Stevenage; it is fast becoming a centre of clinical excellence. I know that many hon. Members think I am quite lucky, and I am very proud and happy about what is happening.

That investment highlights one of the issues I want to raise. When we have these debates, we often find that the passions of hon. Members on both sides about small amounts and figures can create a sense of fear in the NHS that services are being delivered poorly day to day. In my constituency, for the past two years, construction has been going on and new services have been coming to my local hospital, with a range of users able to access them. That building will go on until 2014 to early 2015, and it is what we are calling phase 4. I refer to my radiotherapy campaign as phase 5—people are not aware of that, but we are keen to access the money for it. The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) suggested using the £1.6 billion underspend, and it will now be my target for where we get the funding.

In my constituency, the NHS is daily delivering better and better care; a legion of doctors, nurses and clinical staff, backed up by great administration staff, are providing a fantastic level of service and improving the NHS. I am proud of the NHS and of the staff in my constituency who work in the NHS, and I am delighted that we have had the opportunity to have this debate.

3.58 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the measured and thoughtful speech that the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) has

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just given. May I also put on the record my tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and the vital work she is doing, at what must be an incredibly difficult time for her, on putting the importance of care and compassion back at the heart of our NHS?

I wish to focus on the current threats to NHS services in south-east London. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) has already spoken about the threats to Lewisham hospital and the plans on the table, and I am going to treat the House to my own concerns about that matter. We are rightly debating national expenditure levels on the NHS today, but the harsh reality in Lewisham is that my constituents are confronted with the fact that their local accident and emergency and maternity departments may have to close in order to deal with financial pressures elsewhere in the NHS.

The Government can claim all they like that they are investing in the health service, but it does not feel that way in Lewisham. Last Friday, along with local doctors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd), I presented a petition against the closure of Lewisham’s A and E and maternity departments to No. 10 Downing street. As has been said already, in five weeks the petition has been signed by more than 32,000 people. The proposed changes at Lewisham hospital are not only unwanted, but arguably unsafe and unjustified.

Lewisham is a busy hospital. More than 120,000 people visit the A and E each year and last year more than 4,000 babies were born there. Lewisham is a place where average life expectancies for both men and women are below national averages. Sadly, it is a place where sometimes, admittedly infrequently, a stab victim will walk into the A and E from the streets and a place where many teenage girls will give birth to their babies.

The A and E and maternity departments at Lewisham hospital are a matter of life and death for many of my constituents. I am therefore not surprised that more than 32,000 people signed the petition to keep a full A and E and full maternity service there; I am also not surprised that more than 100 local GPs, including the chair of the new clinical commissioning group and the head of every single clinical group at the hospital, have written to the Prime Minister to express their concern about the proposals.

The question for the Minister today is: will the Government listen? Will the special administrator to the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, a man appointed to sort out financial problems in neighbouring hospitals, think again about his plans for Lewisham when he draws up his final recommendations to the Secretary of State for Health?

I do not think that anyone can be under any illusion about the degree of local opposition to closing the A and E and maternity departments at Lewisham. I recognise that trying to balance the books at the South London Healthcare NHS Trust is a hard job, but asking a hospital that is not even part of the trust to pay such a heavy price seems patently unfair.

The plans for Lewisham are based on inaccurate data and flawed assumptions. The size and nature of the caseload at Lewisham’s A and E have been misunderstood.

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The estimated additional journey times to neighbouring hospitals have been woefully underestimated, yet the speed with which it will be possible to reduce the need for hospital care seems to be hopelessly optimistic and based more on wishful thinking than on hard fact.

Those are not the only problems with the proposals. I also cannot see how the current plans make financial sense. In the past week, we have had—even though the Government dispute this—independent verification that there has been a real terms reduction in spending on the NHS in the past few years. Surely it then becomes all the more important that every pound spent is spent wisely and well. How can it be wise to sell off more than half the Lewisham site for £17 million only to have to reinvest £55 million in reconfiguring the remaining buildings on that site to do different types of work? Why sell off the existing buildings, only to shell out money at other hospitals to increase capacity to enable other parts of the NHS to do the work that Lewisham is already doing very well?

The 4,000 babies who are born to Lewisham mothers every year will have to be born somewhere. Where? There is no free capacity in the system at the moment, so that will require investment. Where are the people who use Lewisham’s A and E going to go? We have all seen the reports of more and more ambulances queuing outside hospitals, with patients waiting to be taken into A and E but being kept in the ambulance because of a lack of space.

It is asserted that in Lewisham, if the proposal to close the A and E went ahead, only one in four people would have to go to other A and Es, while the other 77% would still be treated in the urgent care centre that would remain. That figure is fanciful. The emergency doctors at the hospital say to me, based on their analysis of patient numbers and the nature of the work that they do, that just 30% of people could still be treated at the urgent care centre.

I accept that the NHS cannot be preserved in aspic and I understand that it must change to meet the demands and challenges of the 21st century. However, those changes must be driven by patients’ health needs, not an accountant’s bottom line. That is not what is happening.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): The hon. Lady may be aware that we have had a long fight against the downgrading of my hospital, Chase Farm. Many people think that that fight is over, but I do not. With the new demographic figures and population increases in London, it is important that we continue to press authorities and Ministers to take these things into account, even at this late stage, because where people go is even more of a priority than she assessed it was before the figures came out.

Heidi Alexander: The hon. Gentleman is completely right. Lewisham’s population is growing, and has increased by 10% in the past 10 years. All the indicators suggest that London’s population will continue to grow. It is a diverse population with varied health needs, so it is imperative that people in our capital city can access high-quality services close to home.

In conclusion, before the election, the Prime Minister told us that he would cut the deficit and not the NHS. In 2007, he promised a bare-knuckle fight over the

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future of services at Lewisham hospital. How times have changed. He has broken his promises on NHS spending and he has broken his promises about Lewisham hospital. If anyone needs proof that the Government cannot to be trusted with the NHS, they need look no further.

4.6 pm

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in a debate that is incredibly important to my constituents. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for opening the debate. He is aware of my grave concerns about the future of hospital services that serve people in Corby and east Northamptonshire.

It has long been the ambition of people in Corby—a large, important town that is growing—to have their own hospital. I hope that in future we can realise that ambition. For a long time, however—and for the foreseeable future—we will be served by Kettering general hospital for most of our hospital needs. At Kettering general hospital there are 650 beds and more than 3,000 staff. The hospital is more than 115 years old, and received massive investment, including under the Labour Government. I make that point not so much politically point but as a local person who remembers driving down Hospital hill in Kettering and seeing the fundraising barometer outside the hospital and wondering why we relied on car-boot sales to fund vital hospital services.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, a former Health Secretary, and his predecessors began to put that right, and there was huge investment. Kettering general hospital now has 17 operating theatres and an obstetrics unit that delivers more than 3,500 babies a year. It has something that serves only a few of my constituents but is incredibly important to all of us—a neonatal intensive care unit, or special care baby unit. My own family has had cause to be grateful to that unit and its brilliant staff.

Kettering general hospital offers a 24-hour accident and emergency service, with level 2 trauma services, which sees more than 2,000 trauma patients a year. There are concerns, however, and I have agreed with the hospital and local people to champion certain issues in the House as the local Member of Parliament, including per capita funding of Kettering general hospital, which we believe is inadequate and lower than average compared with other areas. With a growing population and growing health needs, that must be addressed.

Recently, a report on the hospital by Monitor raised serious concerns, particularly about accident and emergency. I have met the hospital chief executive and the chair of the trust to discuss those concerns, and to assure them that I will seek to do whatever I can, including making sure that a case for adequate funding for the hospital is made, so that those concerns are addressed.

The big issue that causes us all concern locally is a major review of health services—the kind of review that other Members have experienced in their areas. In Kettering, the Healthier Together review of five hospitals has already cost more than £2 million; that was the figure in the summer, and I have no doubt that it is rising rapidly. The review has also taken a great deal of time and effort. In early September, together with local nurses and others, I met the people leading that review,

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as a public member of the trust, and I was incredibly worried about what I heard, both as a user of the services, and as a representative of local people.

The Healthier Together team gave us a pledge card telling us about their plans and giving us some assurances. The context was also set. We were told that the review was driven by a desire for the best clinical outcomes, by expertise, and by research on how local people could be provided with the best health care. We were told that there were considerations to do with more services being provided in the community, and a shift to prevention, which are things I recognise it is important for our local hospital and its partners—the clinical commissioning group and the other hospitals—to consider.

It was slide 2 that really got to the heart of the problem. It told us that the five hospitals face a combined funding gap of £48 million, and that my local hospital, Kettering general hospital, faces a future funding gap of £6 million a year. I have no doubt that the comments that Andrew Dilnot recently made about the real-terms reduction in funding are very much connected to that, but I do not want to make that wider political point again; it has already been made eloquently by my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State. I simply say that all local people recognise that resources are getting tighter and tighter at the hospital.

Norman Lamb: Does the hon. Gentleman share my view that in many local health economies, private finance initiatives are causing a massive strain on resources?

Andy Sawford: I want to keep my remarks to Kettering general hospital, and I do not think that PFI is the issue there.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Healthier Together programme; it is clear that many of the hospitals in that programme have very high PFI debts. We will get the figures for him, to clarify that, in the closing remarks.

Andy Sawford: A few weeks ago, the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he had no intention of misleading the House—talked about the funding issues at Kettering general hospital being driven by PFI deals in Anglian hospitals, which are not really part of the group that I am talking about.

Dr Poulter rose

Andy Sawford: I will not give way; I want to make important points for my constituents. It is important that these things are put on record, so I shall not be giving way to the hon. Gentleman again. He has not done a great service to people in my constituency in the way that he has addressed these issues.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency earlier this year, and I am sorry to hear about Kettering. Both the accident and emergency departments and one 500-bed hospital in my constituency are due to close. Neither of those A and E departments is PFI, and none of the four A and Es closing in west London is PFI, so is that point not a complete red herring?

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Andy Sawford: I have had some experience of my hon. Friend in the past, and as ever, he talks a great deal of sense. Certainly, in Kettering, we are looking at something driven by funding cuts.

I want to address the issues, because I seek real answers from the Front Benchers, and real assurances about the future of my local hospital. Healthier Together has assured us that no hospitals in the group of five of which Kettering is part will close. I have never heard any claims that those hospitals will close. The local media have been very clear that they are not aware of any assertions that Kettering hospital will close. There has, at times, been the presentation of an Aunt Sally by some of my political opponents, who have sought to say, “The hospital won’t close, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

Let us be clear what is being talked about. The Healthier Together review had six different models, and it has refined that to two options. The status quo is very clearly not an option, and it is not consulting on it. One of the two options would see five hospitals going into three for some of the services, though all the hospitals would remain open and provide some services. The services that are at real risk in two of the five hospitals include in-patient paediatrics. Last year I took my son, who had pneumonia, late at night to the Dolphin ward at Kettering general hospital. It concerns me deeply that paediatrics might not be there. I would have had to go elsewhere, and so will local people in the future if the paediatric ward goes.

Under the proposals, obstetrics would go at two of the five hospitals and be replaced by a midwife-led unit. People in Corby have experience of a midwife-led unit. At one time there was a births in the community facility in Corby, as there still is in some other smaller midwife-led hospitals around the country. Where those exist, if local people want them to continue, they should have that opportunity, but we have a full maternity service in my area and people are very concerned that that could be lost under the proposals.

I have talked to midwives who tell me that during labour it would not be possible to give an epidural, for example, if the labour became more painful for the mother. Among my family and friends, I have heard about people who hoped their children would be born at Melton hospital, which is a midwife-led unit, describing the worst hour of their life as following a blue light on an ambulance taking their wife and hoped-for child across to Leicester royal infirmary or another available hospital so that the care that was needed could be given. We want our proper obstetrics-led unit to remain and we do not want it downgraded to a midwife-led unit.

At two of the five hospitals, trauma services would be lost. I have already described how Kettering general hospital provides level 2 trauma and treats more than 2,000 trauma patients a year.

As to where we go from here, it is important for Healthier Together and the Government to be honest about the proposals. It is important for geography to be recognised as a critical factor. Healthier Together will talk about the clinical evidence and the clinical drivers, but it must recognise that local people are very concerned that Luton and Dunstable hospital is 50 miles away, and that the nearest hospital in the group is 45 minutes away from Corby at Northampton along a very busy road.

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The journey takes 45 minutes at the best of times; the road is seriously in need of upgrading and improving. People are really concerned about the geography, and that has to be balanced with specialisms which people understand. There are already specialisms in our local health care system at other hospitals.

I am pleased that despite the empty assurances from Government Front Benchers, the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) had the courage to raise these issues on 9 November—notwithstanding the by-election inconvenience for Government Front Benchers. I now look to work with him as we seek real assurances from the Healthier Together team and from the hospital that they will not proceed with the proposals if they mean that we will lose all those vital services for my constituents.

4.17 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I am confused: the Government continue to state that they are increasing health spending in real terms; the UK Statistics Authority says that expenditure on the NHS in real terms was lower in 2011-12 than in 2009-10; the Government say that that is not true and that they are still spending more. Of course, they have wasted millions on their top-down reorganisation, which has seen the biggest shake-up of the NHS since its inception.

However, the people of Bolton West are pretty clear in their beliefs. Their local health services are being cut. They know that their local hospital has faced 5% cuts each year since 2010, and they know that it has been told to save £50 million over the next three years—a sixth of its budget. They see no growth, only cuts. We all know that the Royal Bolton is in a mess. Some of that is of its own making; contracts were signed that repaid less money than the cost of treatment that the hospital is outlaying, and it has faced fines for missing targets, such as £4 million for missing its clostridium difficile target.

That seems utterly mad to me. On the one hand the Government say, “Your treatment was inadequate.” On the other hand, they take a fine of £4 million from the hospital, taking that money from the health care of my constituents, which must make that treatment more inadequate. The Royal Bolton has a new leadership in place and I am confident that it will turn around financial and clinical control in the hospital, but faced with £50 million-worth of cuts, services will have to be reduced.

Already, 7% of patients are having to wait longer than 18 weeks for treatment, and more and more people are having to wait longer than four hours in accident and emergency—and of course that will lead to more fines, which seems nonsense to me. Royal Bolton hospital will have to shed between 300 and 500 jobs. Of the positions at risk, 146 are for nurses, midwives and health care assistants, 20 are medical and dental, 93 are for technicians, scientists and clinical support staff, 193 are for non-clinical staff and 45 are in estate facilities.

The Government parties would like us to believe that hundreds of public sector workers are sitting around and doing nothing, but the hard-working nurses, porters, cleaners and—yes—administrative staff across the NHS utterly disagree. If the Government cut a job, they cut

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the work that that person was doing, so there must be a reduced service. My constituent Colin was admitted to Royal Bolton hospital for four nights with a strangulated hernia. He told me that only one nurse was on duty for the entire ward for the 12-hour shift from 7 pm to 7 am, and she often had to leave the ward to help a colleague in a similar position on an adjoining ward. Owing to staffing levels, patients were woken in the middle of the night for their medication and blood tests. Colin was full of praise for the hospital staff, who were determined to do their best and apologised profusely for having to wake patients. He told me that he feels that their dedication and commitment are being seriously compromised by Government cuts.

It just does not make any sense to me. The Government are adamant that they are spending more on the NHS, but every Opposition Member looking at local provision sees cuts, so where is the supposed increase in spending going? It is certainly not going to Bolton or Wigan, and it does not seem to be going to any of the areas represented by Labour MPs, but I cannot believe that the Government would be so cynical as to put money into the more affluent areas represented by Tory MPs. Who should we believe? Should we believe Dilnot, the Secretary of State or the shadow Secretary of State, or should we believe our own eyes, which tell us that our local hospitals are undergoing cuts? The 99-year-old man who waited for 75 minutes for an ambulance while bleeding on a cold pavement and the 69-year-old woman who waited for more than an hour while lying in a park with a broken shoulder think that it is the cuts in health services that affected their treatment.

Now, of course, we face the challenge of Healthier Together. NHS Greater Manchester’s review of the area’s health care programme is likely to see the closure of a number of A and E departments across the conurbation. None of us would argue against changes made on the basis of clinical need. Indeed, Bolton has a super neonatal unit, which provides enormous expertise for extremely premature babies across Greater Manchester, and Hope hospital is our neurology and stroke centre. However, I cannot accept changes and closures that are based simply on saving money. For me, it is not about the blue-light service to accident and emergency, because we know that they can travel incredible distances in an incredibly short amount of time; it is about people with broken legs and illnesses who need to get themselves to an A and E and need their families and friends around them.

Owing to the time limit, I will not talk about the funding difficulties for public health and care services. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) talked movingly about what is happening in hospitals, and Members will know about some of the issues that have affected my family directly. However, I will say that the NHS is in crisis, and it does not help when the Secretary of State says that there is no problem and that funding is increasing, because on the ground we see cuts and patients waiting longer. We see patients being neglected and not being fed, and we see an increase in trolley waits and ambulances not in service because they are queuing outside A and E departments. Let us have honesty in this debate. Whatever the figures say, needs are not being met. Action is needed, not rhetoric. Our constituents are at risk. They need the Government to act.

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4.24 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I rise to speak in favour of the motion tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. The Deputy Speaker suggested that we might introduce a bit of Christmas cheer into the proceedings, and the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) certainly painted a very rosy picture of investment in his constituency. I thought he made a very good speech, incidentally.

In case Ministers are making their Christmas lists, let me tell them that one of the first things that this Government did was cancel a new hospital that served part of my constituency in order to save £464 million. Restoring that funding might be a good use for some of the £3 billion underspend. It was not a private finance initiative scheme but a scheme that was approved by the Department of Health and the Treasury but stopped in the emergency Budget.

I want to concentrate on two specific issues that are directly linked to the motion and on the important question of trust in the Government’s pledge on the funding of our NHS. I believe that the Government are keeping the public in the dark about a range of issues relating to publicly funded contracts delivered by private sector organisations, including on cancer care.

On trust, none other than the Prime Minister broke yet another pre-election promise. Having said before the election that he would extend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to all publicly funded organisations, he did not do so. As a result, the public cannot access information about private sector providers in the NHS. This does not apply just to the NHS. In his comments, the Prime Minister referred to other publicly funded organisations such as the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust, the Local Government Association, and traffic penalty tribunals. It is increasingly apparent that many of the large corporations that apparently enjoy cosy relations with this Tory-led Government are extremely anxious that the Prime Minister does not extend the Freedom of Information Act to them. Currently, it instead allows them to hide behind a cloak of commercial confidentiality as billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are awarded to them in barely transparent contracts. The public are deliberately being kept in the dark, and I have no doubt that an expensive lobbying campaign is under way to ensure that the Prime Minister and the Tory party do not change their minds on this issue.

Meanwhile, private companies benefit by gaining intimate knowledge of public sector bodies through their own submissions of freedom of information requests. That information is then used to undercut or outbid the very same public sector bodies when contracts are tendered or put up for renewal. Members might ask what the relevance of this is in the NHS context, but as someone who worked in the NHS, who is passionate about it, and who has tremendous admiration for the people who deliver the service, I can say that it is a huge concern to me. The area that I worked in—the pathology service that carries out diagnostic tests—is under threat. This huge uncertainty continues, and we need to know precisely what the position is.

Virgin Care, Circle, Serco, Care UK and any other private sector companies awarded a public contract to provide hospital, community or even specialist diagnostic cancer services are not subject to the FOI Act. We have no idea how these companies went about winning those

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lucrative, taxpayer-funded contracts. Under current arrangements, the best that may be hoped for in terms of any rudimentary accountability is achieved through a Commons Select Committee inquiry of the type conducted by the Public Accounts Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge). However worthy this process, it is by its very nature very limited in scope, and such inquiries can only ever touch the tip of the iceberg.

This is a national scandal that has prompted me to table early-day motion 773, which has attracted quite a wide range of support, mostly from Labour Members. It calls for the FOI Act to be extended to private sector bidders for public service contracts, particularly in organisations such as the NHS.

My concern is that this has overtones of the Government’s response to Leveson, in so far as I do not believe that the Government want their corporate friends to be accountable to Parliament, even though our public services are being awarded to those companies in ever greater numbers. We should follow the public pound and ensure that we know who is getting it, and how and why they are spending it.

The Secretary of State has said that there will be no large expenditure projects that are not fully thought out and properly costed. That brings me to my second point. Responses to FOI requests from my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) have made it clear that the Secretary of State is presiding over cuts to essential cancer networks, yet we know that he is planning to spend £250 million of taxpayers’ money on two proton machines, even though, according to the Department of Health’s own report, there is little evidence that they provide any benefit. There are no clinical trial data and no randomised control trials, which are the gold standard by which the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence judges the effectiveness of clinical therapies. Indeed, the new chair designate of NICE appeared before the Health Select Committee earlier this week and said exactly that.

The economic justification for purchasing those two machines has been based on informal discussions with the manufacturers who make them. If the machines are to be viable for the two hospitals that are to have them, they will need to treat 1,350 patients a year at a cost of £40,000 per patient. However, according to the Department of Health’s own dataset, the highest number of patients ever treated with proton therapy in one year is 79.

I would like to draw the House’s attention to the situation in Germany, which has invested more than most in proton therapy. Today, two of the three proton machines in that country are being mothballed. In Kiel, €250 million was spent last year on a machine, but it is now being dismantled and put into storage because of a lack of demand.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend explain to the House what a proton machine actually is?

Grahame M. Morris: Probably not, in the very limited time available, but I can tell my hon. Friend that proton therapy is a form of advanced cancer treatment.

My argument is that the money the Department is proposing to spend on those incredibly expensive machines would be far better spent on advanced radiotherapy

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machines such as the stereotactic body radiation therapy machines that the hon. Member for Stevenage mentioned. There are other forms of therapy that are far more cost- effective. I might add that we in the northern region have no access to such therapies. Indeed, whole regions of the country do not.

The one remaining proton machine in Germany is at the university of Heidelberg, and it treats a maximum of 1,200 patients each year. The German Radio-oncology Society has said—[Interruption.] I hope that the Minister will listen to this. The society has said that

“for the vast majority of cancers there is no proof that proton therapy is more beneficial than other forms of innovative radiotherapy that are one hundred times less expensive”.

This proton debacle highlights the perversity with which the Government are running the NHS budget, and these questions lie at the very heart of whether we can trust Conservative promises on the NHS.

The Prime Minister tells the public that by April next year every cancer patient who needs innovative radiotherapy will get it, while at the same time the Secretary of State for Health starves dozens of hospitals and cancer networks of vital money needed to buy innovative radiotherapy equipment. We now know that money is being redirected into those two highly dubious projects. The Secretary of State needs to cancel those projects now and redirect the money into radiotherapy machines that will help tens of thousands of people in my constituency and across the country. This has the potential to be a monumental scandal and a waste of public money. I urge hon. Members who share my concern to sign early-day motion 773, to lobby the Health Secretary and ask him to reconsider his spending priorities in relation to cancer therapies, and to support the motion on the Order Paper.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I call Jim Shannon. I am not putting the clock on him, but he must resume his seat by 4.44 pm.

4.34 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have no doubt that I will finish in time.

We are well aware of the pressures in every area to implement Government cuts and how difficult it is to do that. Whether we are in government or in opposition, we all have a job to do in sorting out that problem. In my opinion, there is no worse place to carry out cuts than the NHS. Sick people need treatments that are often expensive and doctors are working out treatment plans and thinking about how they can keep to their budget and provide top-class care. There are pressures on the doctors in the system and they are ever mindful of the budget that they have to work to.

Everyone inside and outside the Chamber is aware of the issues and of the value of the NHS. The debate is about how we can do things better. The Opposition tabled the motion and their concerns have been well rehearsed today.

In my constituency—many hon. Members have given similar examples—a young lady had been unwell for 10 years with ulcerative colitis. She was responsive to her treatment of infliximab, and yet the doctor had to take her off it because it was too expensive and other more serious cases needed the treatment. However, once

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she was off the treatment she worsened, had to go on the sick and received numerous warnings from her workplace about losing her job. Where would the money truly be saved in such a scenario—stay on the treatment, stay in work, or go off the treatment, go off work?

My mother had a saying—I am sure that many hon. Members will be able to relate to this—“Your health is your wealth.” It clearly is and those of us who are in good health are fortunate.

The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) is no longer in her place, but she made an excellent, compassionate speech. I think that she probably told the story of this debate in the examples she gave. I told her before she left the Chamber how important it was to have those comments on the record.

It must be remembered that in its review of independent NHS trust three-year plans up until 2014-15, Monitor, the NHS’s economic regulator, warned that cuts were unlikely to be matched by any let-up in the number of patients requiring care. There is an emphasis on preventive medicine and how best to use it. I am sure that the Minister will address how we can ensure that people who are getting older do not succumb to the many diseases and other problems. Sometimes, there is nothing gracious about growing old—it is a fact of life.

The Minister will talk about efficiency savings—they can achieve much—but when I consider the great job that the Northern Ireland Minister of Health, who happens to be a colleague of mine, has done on efficiency savings, I wonder whether the further cuts to Northern Ireland’s block grant will be applied to health again over the next few years. How much more can we save through efficiency? There is a limit—a ceiling—to what efficiency savings can do without affecting health. John Appleby, the chief economist of the King’s Fund think-tank, has said that the outlook for hospitals in 2013-14 and 2014-15 is particularly severe, with anticipated cuts of about 1% when the Government’s inflation forecast is 2.5%. That is a clear difference.

Some hospitals plan to partially offset the radical drop in NHS income by expanding their private patient work, aided, as their financial plans say, by moves to restrict NHS funding for certain surgical procedures. This is expected to fuel an increase in patients funding surgery privately. That greatly undermines what the NHS is about—its very thrust—namely care, no matter the condition, provided by national insurance contributions. As has been said, if we introduce a two-tier care system to operations, how long will it take until we find ourselves providing a system similar to America’s private health care system? How ironic it is that the Americans are attempting at this time to a design a system that is in line with our own NHS. Perhaps we can take some lessons from that.

I also want to comment on the problems that arise when we cut NHS funding. The number of MRSA cases in hospitals has increased. That is not through any particular fault of the staff—I am clear about that—but it is a problem that occurs whenever cost-cutting becomes the No. 1 priority for hospitals. We have to be careful.

We have already implemented cost-saving measures, such as carrying out certain treatments as day procedures followed by care at home, which, as well as being cost-effective, makes a lot of people feel more secure. However, it is essential that the patient is at the heart of

12 Dec 2012 : Column 365

any decision made and any strategy must incorporate that. There is a fine balance between cutting costs and cutting care. My fear is that the latest cuts, which will filter through to Northern Ireland through the block grant as a matter of course, will tip the balance for many people.

Many people in my office tell me that they were brought up to respect authority and that if a doctor tells them something, they accept their word. I come across other people who challenge their doctors and push them for the experimental treatment that they know is available, although at a cost, or for a referral to the mainland for innovative treatment. It saddens me that the results differ between those two types of people. In my opinion, it puts our health care professionals in the difficult position of choosing who deserves and who does not deserve the nth degree of care.

Recently in this Chamber I questioned the Secretary of State about the shocking use by doctors of so-called death lists—I am very careful about using that terminology—for elderly people, whereby they withhold certain treatments from those who they believe will die anyway. It is a dangerous precedent to set for the NHS when that can and does happen. If one puts oneself in the doctor’s shoes and realises that the Government are putting a great emphasis on cost, one can see that they are almost forcing that choice. That makes it a little more understandable, but no more acceptable.

As an MP, I have come across many constituents who have come to the mainland to have hospital operations and examinations. We are thankful that we are able to do that, but it involves a cost.

I am not the kind of person who believes that money grows on trees. I wish that it did. I have some trees in my garden, but I cannot find any money on them. We could spend, spend, spend, but I know that we must reduce the deficit. In my opinion, there are other ways of doing so, such as adopting the proposals put forward in the debate in May on the NHS and foreign nationals. To give a brief reminder of that debate, an article in The Daily Telegraph stated that official figures suggest that

“more than £40 million is owed to NHS hospitals by foreign patients who were not eligible for free care”.

It stated that a freedom of information request showed that

“the average unpaid debt for the provision of care to foreign nationals was £230,000 in the 35 trusts which responded.”

The article went on to note that the doctors’ trade magazine Pulse claimed:

“If this figure was the same across all 168 English acute trusts, the total debt would be almost £40 million”.

Perhaps in his response the Minister could give some detail about whether that money has been collected, and if not, when it will be.

In that debate, it was suggested that there should be a £1,000 threshold. Has that been implemented yet? Have those who owe the money been chased down? Has the six-month registration period for a GP been altered? In my opinion, by acting on such matters urgently, we can save money without cutting care. Does the Secretary of State agree that such angles must be pursued if we are to stop cutting services and still save money?

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Time has got the better of me, so I will end by urging the Government to look at people and not simply at numbers. If everybody does their job more effectively, we can ensure that all people have top-class care, no matter where they live, without having to pay for it. The NHS is truly a jewel in the crown of this country. Many owe their lives to it and many depend upon it. Let us retain it and build upon it to ensure that in the years to come, it will still be the jewel in the crown that all in this nation cherish, love and depend upon.

4.43 pm

Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): During this debate, Ministers and the few Government Members who have spoken have either denied that the Government have broken their promise to increase NHS spending or have claimed that it does not matter, as if the Prime Minister’s clear, direct and personal pledge to voters can easily be swept to one side. They—perhaps with the exception of the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh)—have also skated over or ignored the waste, confusion and utter distraction of their back-room NHS upheaval.

In contrast, Opposition Members have talked about the harsh reality of the double whammy of cuts and reorganisation on their constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), my right hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) and for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), my hon. Friends the Members for Corby (Andy Sawford), for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke powerfully about their concern that changes to local services are being driven by money alone, not by improving patient care. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who spoke with bravery and compassion about the unacceptable standards of care in parts of the country, which must be tackled.

Perhaps the most worrying example of the combination of cuts and reorganisation that the Government are forcing through involves what is happening to cancer networks. Those groups of local specialists were set up more than a decade ago under Labour’s 2000 cancer plan to help tackle one of Britain’s biggest killers. It is widely acknowledged that cancer networks have played a central role in improving mortality rates, cancer survival rates and equality of cancer care, and they have done that on small budgets with few staff, offering good value for taxpayers’ money. Crucially, the specialist local skills of cancer networks are vital to making even greater improvements that cancer patients need and deserve in the future.

Ministers have repeatedly promised to protect budgets for cancer networks. On 31 January last year, the then Health Secretary told the House that

“cancer networks funding is guaranteed during the course of 2011-12.”—[Official Report, 31 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 612.]

On 27 November this year in a debate on the NHS mandate, the new Health Secretary told the House:

“Cancer networks are here to stay and their budget has been protected.”—[Official Report, 27 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 127.]

Those promises have been broken.

In response to a freedom of information survey from Labour, cancer networks report budget cuts of 13% in 2011-12 alone—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State

12 Dec 2012 : Column 367

shakes his head but he can look through all the figures, including individual examples, if he wants to see those cuts. In total, budgets have been slashed by 26%—by a quarter—since the Government came to power.

The Government’s national cancer director, Professor Mike Richards, at least has the honesty to say that

“cancer networks will have a smaller proportion of the budget in future.”

I understand that the Health Minister in the House of Lords, Earl Howe, has also been forced by an urgent question to admit that less money will be available to cancer networks.

Mr Jeremy Hunt: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Liz Kendall: I will, of course, give way to the Secretary of State.

Mr Hunt: First, these networks are brilliant. They are a good thing and they have done a huge amount. The Government support them and we are expanding them. That is why instead of just having cancer, cardiac and stroke networks, we will also have networks for dementia and maternity. The budget for those networks is going up by 27%.

Liz Kendall: The budget for cancer networks has been cut by a quarter. The Secretary of State is not expanding those networks but merging them and diluting their specialist expertise, as I will show. The cuts and the Government’s NHS upheaval mean that cancer networks have lost one fifth of their staff, withdrawn or scaled back current work, and put future projects on hold—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is still denying that so let me tell him what the networks actually say.

The Arden cancer network in Coventry and Warwickshire says that it has lost its vital chemotherapy nurse. The Peninsula cancer network in Devon and Cornwall says it has had to turn down £150,000 from Macmillan Cancer Support to fund a programme for cancer survivors because its future is so uncertain. Essex cancer network says that posts have been removed, its staff are in a redeployment pool, and that it will have

“no presence in Essex from April 1st next year.”

Instead of supporting those vital local experts, as well as specialists in heart and stroke networks, the Government are merging them into 12 generic clinical networks that cover bigger geographical regions and far more health conditions. No one is against sharing the skills and experience of cancer and cardiac networks. However, as Maggie Wilcox, a former palliative care nurse, breast cancer patient, president of Independent Cancer Patients’ Voice and the layperson on the recent review by the Department of Health into breast screening said,

“subsuming cancer networks into generic clinical networks could be disastrous for cancer patients…you cannot be both a specialist and a generalist.”

That is especially important in an area as complex and fast-developing as cancer. Staff will not be able to make the same depth or scale of improvements if they are forced to cover a large area and more conditions with fewer members of staff.

The Secretary of State ploughs on regardless, denying that there is a problem and telling BBC Radio 5 Live that it is too early to know what will happen. How utterly complacent and out of touch. Networks are

12 Dec 2012 : Column 368

already disappearing. Their staff have left or are looking for jobs because their future is in such disarray. With their reckless NHS reorganisation, the Government have wasted not just taxpayers’ money but the knowledge and expertise of specialist staff, and patients are paying the price.

Mr Hunt: With respect to the hon. Lady, we have increased the budget for strategic networks by 27%. What would have happened to that budget if we had a lower NHS budget, as her party’s Front Benchers have been arguing for?

Liz Kendall: I do not think the Secretary of State understands that in a really complex and fast-developing area such as cancer, we need to know about individual, specific issues and concerns. If there are fewer staff covering bigger areas and more health conditions, we will not get specialist expertise.

If the Secretary of State does not believe me, perhaps he would like to comment on what Dr Mick Peake, the clinical lead for NHS cancer improvement and the national cancer intelligence network, has said. He has stated:

“With the shift towards GPs commissioning, the need for this expert…clinical advice will become ever more crucial…I am worried that in the process of reorganisation of the networks…we will lose many expert and very committed individuals, and that this could impact on the quality of commissioning and cancer services in the future.”

What will be the impact on patients, who are what the network is supposed to be about? Let us take prevention. Who has championed prevention by increasing the uptake of screening programmes? Cancer networks. Who trains GPs to spot the signs of cancer so that patients get earlier diagnosis? Cancer networks. Who has helped patients get their tests and scans done in days, not months, and slashed waits for cancer specialists to two weeks? Who has helped hospitals compare their performance, use the best drugs and treatments and transform patient information and support, and who has been central to setting up the new national cancer outcomes database, which the Government rightly say will help reduce cancer variations and drive improvements in future? Cancer networks. So why is the Secretary of State diluting—[Interruption.] Oh, now he switches to talk about the cancer drugs fund, because he knows that by stripping away vital local expertise, he is putting care at risk.

When the Secretary of State tells Radio 5 Live that he does not know why Labour is flogging this issue, calls cancer networks a mere pilot and says that his upheaval will be in patients’ best interests, cancer specialists, patients and Opposition Members know that he is wrong. We know that he cannot sustain the progress on cancer and make even more improvements in future when he is ripping away the foundations of better cancer care. As Earl Howe has just told Members of the Lords, it is “perfectly correct” that the share of the pot that cancer networks will be able to get will be smaller next year than it is this year. I rest my case.

The Prime Minister said that he would increase spending on the NHS, but NHS spending is lower in real terms today than it was when Labour left office—broken promise No. 1. Health Ministers repeatedly claim that they have protected cancer network budgets—broken promise No. 2. No top-down NHS reorganisation, mental health a priority and social care budgets protected—broken

12 Dec 2012 : Column 369

promises three, four and five. The list goes on. The Prime Minister claims that his priority can be summed up in three letters—NHS. That very same organisation is responding with its own three letters—SOS. I commend the motion to the House.

4.53 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): I start by acknowledging the moving contribution of the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). Her testimony was shocking and should force the whole system to recognise that such experiences are utterly intolerable and have no place in a modern health system in which kindness and compassion must always take first place. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely right to put that at the top of his agenda. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) also spoke about that point.

I have sat in this Chamber for many debates on the NHS; I have spoken in many of them too. I have heard many arguments about a lot of different things, but unfortunately this is one of the most misguided motions I have ever seen. I get on well with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), but on this occasion he is completely wrong. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) said, the debate should be about the massive challenge we face in caring for people with long-term chronic conditions.

The right hon. Gentleman blames us for his spending plans when he was in office—plans that he signed off when he was in government. Let us have a quick reality check. The coalition’s spending plans kicked in in 2011-12, not before, and in that year there was an increase in real-terms spending. However, hon. Members should not take my word for it: they should ask Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority and a highly respected and eminent economist. He confirmed that in 2011-12, NHS spending increased in real terms compared with the previous year by 0.1%. It says it all that the right hon. Gentleman refused to complete the sentence from Andrew Dilnot’s letter and give the complete picture. Spending will carry on going up for years to come, despite the legacy of financial irresponsibility left us by the last Government—the billions frittered away on a failed IT programme; the vice-like grip of PFI schemes mortgaging—

Lucy Powell: Will the Minister give way?

Norman Lamb: I have very little time.

Seventy-three billion pounds outstanding on PFI projects, mortgaging the NHS’s future and causing a massive strain on local health economies—that was something alluded to by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) and the hon. Members for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and for Corby (Andy Sawford). The problems of PFI are massive. Labour also had 25,000 people working in health quangos. That is Labour’s legacy, but now, under the coalition, over the four years to 2014-15 the NHS budget will rise by more than £12.5 billion.

Nigel Adams: May I appeal to the Minister to ensure that rural areas such as North Yorkshire are given a fairer funding formula when the Secretary of State reassesses the formula shortly?

12 Dec 2012 : Column 370

Norman Lamb: I understand the concern about rural areas and I will write to my hon. Friend about that. That £12.5 billion will go into improving services, hiring staff and keeping people well. That money will help to protect our health even as the age of the population goes up.

Lucy Powell: I thank the Minister for giving way. [Interruption.] Let me tell the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) that I am not going to read anything out. After such a long and lively debate, I just want to know whether the Minister will now clarify the matter that is before the House. Was NHS expenditure, in Dilnot’s words, lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10? Yes or no?

Norman Lamb: The letter from Andrew Dilnot—the part that the right hon. Member for Leigh did not read out—also said that

“it might also be fair to say that real-terms expenditure had changed little over this period.”

In 2011-12, it went up according to Andrew Dilnot.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has already gone through the numbers outlining what is happening in the NHS today. He has already mentioned all those areas where the NHS is now healthier than under Labour—60,000 fewer people waiting longer than 18 weeks than under Labour; a determination to give access rights to those with mental health problems, as well as those with physical health problems, which was something bizarrely left out by Labour; more than 3 million more out-patient appointments every year than under Labour; more clinical staff, including 5,000 more doctors; and better access to drugs than ever before, including £600 million for the cancer drugs fund. On the cancer networks, the budget for networks as a whole is going up by 27%, which includes dementia and maternity—something that was also left out by Labour. Had the Labour party had its way and cut NHS spending, what would have happened to the networks in those circumstances?

Here is the important point, a point that Labour Members have unsurprisingly chosen not to mention throughout the length of this debate—that money would not be there under Labour. I have no doubt that they will protest, but it is there in black and white, immortalised in Hansard and in the press: for years, they have consistently advocated spending less than us on the NHS. In 2010, the right hon. Member for Leigh, in an interview with the New Statesman, said:

“Cameron’s been saying it every week in the Commons: ‘Oh, the shadow health secretary wants to spend less on health than us.’”

The interviewer fired back:

“Which is true, isn’t it?”,

and the right hon. Gentleman admitted ,“Yes, it’s true”. In the same year, as reported in The Guardian, the right hon. Gentleman said:

“It is irresponsible to increase NHS spending in real terms”.

Yet it goes even further than that. A year before those interviews, in 2009, he could not even promise that the NHS would be protected from cuts. The chief economist from the King’s Fund agrees. Commenting on Labour’s plans, he said that the implication of the overall budget for the NHS was that it would be cut in real terms from between a very small amount to up to 5% over two

12 Dec 2012 : Column 371

years. That is what would have happened, had Labour won the election. It will fool no one: it will not fool the public, patients, the professionals or this House. We all know that the coalition is moving heaven and earth to protect the proud heritage of the NHS and drive up standards for everyone—whoever they are and wherever they live.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood rightly says, the challenge is how we rethink how services are delivered across the health and social care divide to prevent crises from occurring. Prevention is what we should be doing, as the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) rightly pointed out. If Labour Members do not like our plans, it is up to them, but if they think the NHS would be doing better with less money, more mixed-sex wards, longer waiting times and fewer clinical staff, they are more than welcome to that position. They can cling on to that as long as they wish, but what is unforgivable is for them to try to hoodwink the public into belittling an NHS that is getting better and better all the time. We have an NHS that is treating more people than ever better than ever, an NHS that is preparing itself for new challenges every day.

Let us compare that with Labour’s real NHS project in Wales, where we see cuts—cuts that have resulted in half a billion pounds taken out of the NHS in Wales by Labour. Waiting times are longer than in England and a higher proportion of patients is waiting for treatment. That is the true face of Labour on the NHS, and in England we should fight it as passionately as we can.

We have seen clearly today the desperation of the Labour party—a desperation that has led it to try to misinterpret inconvenient statistics. Frankly—

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 233, Noes 303.

Division No. 120]


5.3 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Clark, Katy

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Phil Wilson


Julie Hilling


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Robert Syms


Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

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12 Dec 2012 : Column 375

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Backbench Business

Church of England (Women Bishops)

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): For clarification purposes, this debate can last up to three hours. Although I shall not put an initial limit on Back-Bench contributions, if those who have indicated that they wish to speak could focus their minds on about 10 minutes a time limit might not have to be imposed.

5.20 pm

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of the Church of England Synod vote on women bishops.

I am delighted to see so many hon. and right hon. Members in their places. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to schedule the debate and my colleagues on both sides of the House for supporting it. I was encouraged to apply for the debate by the huge level of interest from Members on both sides when, in a move that I think was unprecedented, the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) came to answer an urgent question after the General Synod rejected the Women Bishops Measure.

Some people think that we should not be discussing this matter at all and that it is no business of Parliament to involve ourselves in the affairs of the Church, but that is to fail to understand our constitution. The Church of England is not like any other faith group—it is the established Church, answerable to Parliament. We can have a debate about whether or not that is a good thing, and I am sure hon. Members will do so.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way so early in his speech, but does he agree that in a multi-faith society there is no longer any place for an established Church?

Mr Bradshaw: No, I am afraid I do not agree. For the record, I support establishment, because it provides for what I call a servant Church—a Church that is there for anyone. Many of us will have had experience of that in our constituencies at times of great civic celebration or mourning or simply in the lives of our constituents who may not feel themselves to be particularly religious but find the Church of England is there for them when they need it when they wish to baptise, marry or bury a loved one.

With establishment comes privileges, such as the presence of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords for example, but with those privileges come duties, one of which is the legal requirement for Church of England legislation to be approved by Parliament. To those who say we should not be talking about this, I say not only that we should be but that we do not have a choice. If Synod had passed the Women Bishops Measure, the Ecclesiastical Committee, on which I and a number of other hon. Members and Members of the other place sit, would have had to consider and approve it in the coming months. There would then have had to be debates and votes on the Floors of both Houses.

What has been forgotten in the debate since the Synod vote is that it is perfectly possible that we in Parliament might have rejected the Measure. It is interesting

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reading the proceedings of this House on women’s ordination more than 20 years ago. Then, Parliament acted as a brake on progress. I remember Members such as John Gummer, Ann Widdecombe and Patrick Cormack, who ensured that extra safeguards for the opponents of women’s ordination were written into the legislation.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is talking about the issue of women bishops, but does he agree that the vote was not simply about the principle of being for or against women bishops? It was about protections for dissenting voices, like those written into the legislation to which he refers. When we talk about those who were dissenting, we should not just characterise them as being for or against women’s rights when a significant number are simply taking a doctrinal view.

Mr Bradshaw: I shall come on to that in a while.

I was making the point that back then, Parliament acted as a brake on women’s ordination, but in the intervening two decades there has been a huge change in attitudes in both Houses to gender equality in general and on the role of women in the Church in particular, as we have experienced and witnessed women’s ministry in practice in our communities. My assessment is that when a resurrected Women Bishops Measure comes before the House, the main danger for it is not that it will contain insufficient safeguards for its opponents but that it will contain too many and be deemed inconsistent with widely accepted views on equality.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Figures that have just been released show that half of those who voted against the legislation to allow female bishops were women. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on that?

Mr Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman will have to examine the Church personship of those particular members of Synod, but it is not a secret that there are as many female members of the conservative evangelical and conservative Catholic wings of Synod as there are male members. We do not necessarily make choices and choose values based on our gender.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Arising from that intervention, does my right hon. Friend not agree that when women were campaigning for the parliamentary vote and to sit as Members of Parliament, it was argued that the majority of women wanted nothing of the kind?

Mr Bradshaw: Indeed, that is an interesting historical parallel.

It is important that we in the Church consider the reality of parliamentary opinion as the bishops, led by the new archbishop, try to chart a way forward. If they are to resolve this matter quickly using the usual or some form of expedited Synod process, they will still need a two-thirds majority in all three Houses of Synod—bishops, clergy and laity—and they will need to get it through Parliament.

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It has been widely reported that if the Measure is further watered down in any way or more concessions offered to opponents, it will not get through Synod. However, it may well not get through Parliament either.

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that the Church is for everyone. I have received letters from constituents who have a genuine, deep-rooted objection in conscience to the Measure. Does he agree that it is important for the Church to make every effort to accommodate those of faith and conscience who have a long-standing doctrinal view, even though it may come into conflict with what he described as the values of today?

Mr Bradshaw: My view is that the Church should make every reasonable effort to accommodate those views, but the feeling of the overwhelming majority, both of Synod and of the Church of England, is that concessions have gone far enough. As I shall explain, the danger for opponents is that they may have overplayed their hand at the last Synod, and they will not get a deal as good as the one that was on the table then.

I want to make one more point to those who argue that this is none of our business. Many of us are members of the Church of England, and those who are not have constituents who are. Any Member of Parliament who has had contact with Churches in their constituency in the past two weeks will be aware of the enormous shock and hurt among many Anglicans about the Synod vote. We have had women priests for 20 years. The majority of new ordinands are women. Some of the deans of our great cathedrals are women. The Church has been debating women bishops for years.

Everyone thought that it was a done deal. The dioceses voted 42 out of 44 in favour. In Synod itself, the bishops voted 44 in favour and two against, with two abstentions. Three quarters of the clergy voted yes and even in the House of Laity, 64% voted in favour, but that was 2%—just six votes—short of the required two-thirds majority. If we look at the analysis of those who voted that was helpfully provided by the Thinking Anglicans website, we can see that supporters of women bishops in the House of Laity all voted yes. The blocking minority was made up, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) indicated, of opponents from the conservative evangelical and conservative Catholic wings. The composition of Synod is not due to change until 2015, so unless some of those who voted no this time can be persuaded to change their mind, I doubt whether the bishops can be confident of getting a revised Measure through before 2015 under the normal or even an expedited procedure that requires a two-thirds majority in every House.

The only way we might persuade some of the opponents to change sides is by offering them more concessions, but that would be anathema to the majority and would not get through Parliament. There is no guarantee, of course, that if we wait until after 2015, it would be any different.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Is the right hon. Gentleman as surprised and delighted as I was by a petition that began in one of my smaller villages to try to persuade the Bishop of Oxford to have a shorter, much simpler process in a week? That petition has already gained 1,500 signatures.

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Mr Bradshaw: Indeed, and I understand that there have been spontaneous meetings at local and synodical level all over the country. At an emergency meeting this week, the synod in Bristol voted in a similar vein. There has been a real upswelling of indignation and sadness among many ordinary Anglicans.

As I was saying, things may be no better in the new Synod. The conservative evangelicals are well organised and motivated. If we look at the voting figures in the House of Laity, we see that the majority of lay representatives from some dioceses voted no, even when their diocesan synod had voted overwhelmingly yes. Of course I hope and expect that there will be conversations at local level with these people, to whom it should be gently pointed out that they have not really represented the views of their diocese very well. I have had quite a lot of dealings with the opponents, and particularly conservative evangelicals, and I am not filled with confidence that they will be persuadable.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): As I understand it, the Synod vote was not about whether there should be women bishops; apparently, that has been agreed already. The vote may well have been—I stand to be corrected—about how the Church can be kept together, in light of the fact that a minority of people, perhaps for theological reasons, cannot accept the oversight of a woman. That might be the nub of the problem. That is a question, as much as a statement.

Mr Bradshaw: The answer, of course, is yes, but the Measure made very generous provision for opponents of women priests and bishops; it would have allowed them to continue to have their own bishop. Supporters of the Measure believe that the concessions were pretty generous, and I do not think that they will become any more generous in the weeks and months to come.

That is why I say to the bishops that there comes a time in any organisation, whether it be a political party or a Church, when it is no longer sustainable or possible to move at the pace of the slowest, which in this case means not moving at all. The overwhelming majority of Anglicans do not want more delay. They believe that the opponents of women bishops will never be reconciled. If some of the opponents decide to leave for Rome or to set up their own conservative evangelical sect, so be it. Similar threats were made over women’s ordination. In the event, far fewer people left the Church of England than was predicted, and as time has gone on, more and more parishes that originally decided that they did not want women priests have come to accept and celebrate them.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is vital that the Church of England considers its trajectory and progress, bearing in mind that women bishops are already part of the international Anglican community in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States and elsewhere?

Mr Bradshaw: Yes. I shall mention some of the provinces of the Church of England that already have women bishops when I come on to one of the possible solutions to the impasse.

I was talking about people coming in and out of the Church. For every one person who may leave the Church of England over women bishops, there will be many

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more who stay or come back; there are also people who, at the moment, shrug and say, “Why should I take a second look at an institution that treats women like this?”, but who will take that second look if women are fully celebrated in the Church. In the discussions that we often have about the importance of Church unity, we very rarely talk about those who have already left or been driven out of the Church, or who have not come in, including members of my extended family and my circle of friends—I am sure that the same applies to many hon. Members—because of the failure of the Church to make progress more quickly.

Having announced on the eve of this debate that they will have another go in July, the Bishops need to be sure that they will win. The process must be concluded quickly—in months, not years. If they are not sure that they can deliver, they should ask Parliament for help. Since the Synod vote, many of us will have been contacted by priests and lay members of the Church, appealing to Parliament to act. A priest from Lancaster wrote to me, saying, “Please, please, please, help.” She went on to ask us to remove the Church’s exemption from equality laws, describing it as

“deeply offensive to most women priests.”

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I am very much a supporter of the Church of England having women bishops. Do we speed up the pace at which the Church moves by having this debate, or is it much better to let the Church of England get on with it?

Mr Bradshaw: The Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) may be able to add some helpful intelligence in that regard when he replies, but from all the conversations that I have had with people from the archbishop downwards, they are encouraging us to have this debate. They feel that they need the pressure to be kept on from this place, so the simple answer to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) is that it is helpful.

Other correspondents have questioned the continued presence of an all-male episcopate in the other place, and suggested that the Prime Minister put a hold on new bishop appointments until the issue is resolved. A male vicar from London wrote to me saying that because the failure lies in the synodical election process, Parliament should intervene. The Dean of Sheffield wrote to me saying:

“Parliament has a responsibility to take action when the future of the established Church is threatened by the actions of a vocal and determined minority.”

Canon Jane Charman, the diocesan director of Salisbury, wrote:

“The Church of England has a privileged place in our national life and Parliament has not just a right but a duty to help us fulfil our responsibilities appropriately.”

She goes on:

“I believe it would be a kindness to the Church and to our Archbishop designate if Parliament can now do for us what we have proved unable to do for ourselves and so bring this shameful situation to an end.”

Canon Charman goes on to suggest this could be done by a simple mechanism of Parliament amending Canon C2, as we would have been asked to do if the Women Bishops Measure had passed.

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Women and the Church, or WATCH, which is the umbrella group for those supporting women’s ordination and consecration as bishops, also says that resolving the issue would be a simple task requiring the repeal of one clause of the 1993 Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure or the removal of one clause of one section of Canon Law. WATCH is pessimistic about the prospect of a successful compromise in July and now advocates a simple measure legislating for women bishops. It says that that is the only legislation that Parliament should accept. Provision for dissenters, it says, should be as in all the other Anglican provinces that have women bishops—that is, based on pastoral and informal support.

A non-stipendiary priest and senior civil servant has written to me advocating a simple amendment to legislation, making it legal for anyone to be a bishop regardless of gender. This permissive model would not force the Church to have women bishops but, he predicts, the Crown Nominations Committee would nominate a female bishop within a year or so and some diocesan bishops may well start appointing female suffragans pretty much immediately.

What we have here is not Parliament wishing to intervene or relishing intervening in Church affairs, but priests and lay people in the Church pleading with us to do so. Some people have suggested that it would be unfair or unconstitutional for Parliament to single out the Church of England in legislation in this way. But that is exactly what the Government are proposing to do on same-sex marriage. The Church of England is to receive special legislation, at its own request, applying exclusively to it, banning same-sex weddings in Anglican churches. If Parliament can legislate exclusively for the Church of England to ban same-sex weddings, something the Church is perfectly capable of deciding to do for itself, why should not Parliament legislate exclusively for the Church to do something it wants but cannot deliver for itself—women bishops?

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend noticed a particular irony? It looks like this House and the House of Lords will have a significant majority in favour of the legislation that he has just referred to, but the one place where it will not be possible to perform such a marriage is the Crypt Chapel of Parliament. Would it not be a good idea if that were handed over to all the faiths, rather than just one faith?

Mr Bradshaw: Yes, there are all sorts of anomalies in the legislation that was presented yesterday, but today is not the time to debate those. We will have plenty of opportunity to do so. It is interesting that the Church of England was asking for Parliament to protect it from itself, so to speak, over equal marriage, yet it is still rather resistant, as things stand, to our helping it to legislate on something that its says it wants to do but so far has not been capable of delivering for itself.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Before we get diverted down discussions that we had yesterday and will have in future on other subjects, will the right hon. Gentleman return briefly to what has happened in the other provinces? Can he say slowly and clearly that where they trusted diocesan bishops to make suitable

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arrangements, those arrangements were made, and the heavens have not fallen in on those who might be regarded as conservative or dissenters?

Mr Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Canada and South Africa all have women bishops, and they have systems that are without any legislative alternative for episcopal oversight; they have voluntary pastoral care. From what I hear, that works well and people are perfectly happy with it, and the women bishops themselves deal with it very sensitively.

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): Would it help the right hon. Gentleman’s argument if I pointed out that the Church of Scotland, which is also the established Church, and which has no bishops or hierarchy, has no problems whatsoever of discrimination against women? It has had women ministers for many years, and indeed a woman Moderator of its General Assembly, without any adverse effects.

Mr Bradshaw: Yes, indeed, and I commend the Church of Scotland for that. Of course, the Scottish Episcopal Church, which is the sister Church of the Anglican Church, legislated for women bishops about 10 years ago. I do not think that it has appointed any yet, but that is already possible and the heavens have not fallen in north of the border.

When the Minister and the hon. Member for Banbury respond to the debate, I hope that they feel they can comment on the various suggestions for legislative solutions that we have collectively received. I also hope that the hon. Member for Banbury can reassure us that the bishops have an acceptable plan that will work, and work quickly. In the crisis meeting that was held between the bishops and Members of this House and the other place the day after the Synod vote, I was struck by the total unanimity from MPs and peers on the view that the vote had been a disaster for the Church, that the matter had to be resolved quickly and that, if it was not, Parliament would act.

Mr William Fittall, secretary-general of the General Synod, has said:

“Unless the Church of England can show very quickly it’s capable of sorting itself out, we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church-State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with any confidence.”

Some people might relish such a prospect. I and, I believe, most Members of this House and most members of the Church of England do not. That is why together we must find an urgent solution to this damaging impasse.

5.42 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate. I agree almost entirely with what the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) has said. I will not dwell on the great theological arguments or the interpretation of St Paul’s letters. Instead, I want to give a view from the pew which I think is very different from that expressed by the House of Laity.

I have been a member of the Church of England since my baptism. I have served on parochial church councils for more years than I care to remember. I have been a church treasurer and, for five years, a church

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warden. During that time, I can recall—to my shame—voting only once in an election for a General Synod representative. It is a process clouded in mystery, and one in which the vast majority of churchgoers are uninterested.

We are all completely mystified about why people lack interest in the democratic process. I am sure that we all have appeared at church and village halls in front of—how shall I put it?—small audiences, but I can recall only one occasion when no one turned up to a public meeting, and that was when I stood for election to the General Synod six or seven years ago. We held three or four meetings across the Lincoln diocese, to which all the candidates were invited. On one occasion about 15 people turned up, and four turned up at another, but at the one held in a church hall in Brigg the one person there was the caretaker, and he did not want to be there. It makes us question how representative the House of Laity is.

Democracy is a wonderful thing. I was reflecting on that a few weeks ago, because the elections for police and crime commissioners and the vote on women bishops more or less coincided. We had a wonderful result in the Humberside police force area, but the winning candidate received fewer first-choice votes than the loser, while in the Synod, the votes for women bishops were greater in number than those against. We have to reflect on the system that is used. I am encouraged by the noises that I hear coming from the Church saying that changes are afoot. I sincerely hope that the Synod, particularly the House of Laity, becomes much more representative in the not-too-distant future.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): On democratic systems, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) mentioned the rule for having a two-thirds majority in all three aspects of the Church. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is completely out of touch and that there should be a single majority, as when Members of Parliament are elected to this place?

Martin Vickers: My instinct is to say yes, but having just reflected on different voting systems and the potential outcome, I recognise that we need careful thought on how we proceed. I very much hope that the Church will, at a very early date, make alternative proposals.

The important thing is that we quickly move on from this. I mentioned the average person in the pew. We desperately want a Church that proclaims the gospel and cares about its mission in local communities, and at a wider level about being recognised and appreciated by the great majority. It may well be that a smaller number of people than not so long ago will admit to being a Christian, and that is sad, but it is certain that that number will not grow if the Church is seen to be concentrating on these interminable internal arguments in which the wider world is not the slightest bit interested. I want the Church of England to play an important role in our society, because it is vitally needed. As we see time and again at a national and a local level, it brings people together both at times of thanksgiving and in difficult circumstances. There is clearly a role for the Church to play in its mission not only to believers but to non-believers and agnostics.

I urge the Church to move as quickly as possible to revise the election procedures, particularly within the House of Laity, so that the Synod becomes more

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representative. The message needs to come from this House that we are concerned about the situation and want to nudge the Church in the right direction, and hope that it moves in that direction, but we should not completely rule out taking the matter into our own hands.

5.48 pm

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I do so with some trepidation. Although I am a Christian, I am a Roman Catholic, and we do not tend to have too many debates about democracy in the Church of Rome.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) rightly said that although the figure has dropped, 33 million people in this country still regard themselves as Christian. It is therefore right that the House of Commons discusses issues regarding the Christian Church and Christianity. I have a great deal of time for the Anglican Church. It is a great force for good in the world, and in terms of international development it has done a great job for people who suffer. In my own country of Wales, it is a remarkable institution. Yesterday the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, rightly expressed some confusion as to exactly what the Government are intending to do in relation to the disestablished Church in Wales as regards same-sex marriages, but I am sure that they will be able to sort that out as time goes by.

When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Church of Ireland—the Anglican Church there—played a hugely important role in the peace process, particularly under Archbishop Robin Eames. As I have said, I am not an Anglican, although my mother was, but my personal experience is that the Church is a great force for good.

One might think that, as a Roman Catholic, I would oppose women bishops. I actually do not take any particular view on what the Church of England should do; it is a matter for the Church. Logic tells me, however, that if we have women priests, we should have women bishops, and I think that the majority of practising Anglicans think so too. I understand, however, that there are people in the Church of England who do not share that view, and they need to be safeguarded somehow. I guess that a compromise will eventually be found.

The thrust of my remarks is to ask what Parliament should be doing about this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) made an impassioned, powerful and sensible speech on the issue. I do not necessarily agree with everything he said, but I understand the passion with which he made his arguments. As parliamentarians, we need to take great care with anything we do in relation to a Christian Church, even though that Church is established. The Anglican Church in Wales is not established, so this does not apply there, but the Church of England is established, and it is different for that reason.

In the 25 years I have been in this place, I have never voted on any Church of England Measure. That is not because I did not have a view on those matters, but because I believe that, as a Catholic, I should not vote on them. Also, as a Member of Parliament representing a Welsh constituency, where the Anglican Church is disestablished, I do not feel that it is appropriate for me to take part in such votes. I will continue not to vote on any such issues until I finish in this place.

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We are in a rather muddled position at the moment. The Church of England is established, which means that there are bishops in the upper House and that certain things have to happen in the House of Commons. However, the composition of the House of Commons is very different now from what it used to be. Many Members are not Christians, never mind members of the Church of England. Is it really right that they should take part in decisions on what a Christian Church should do? I worry about that. I believe that common sense will prevail at the end of the day, however, and that debates such as these might prod the Church of England to reach a speedy conclusion on this matter.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): This has been an incredibly damaging episode for the Church and, as other Members have said, we should reserve the right to act. However, the right hon. Gentleman has said that it is highly valued as an institution, and the best way by far for the Church to reverse this terrible public relations damage would be for it to resolve the problem itself.

Paul Murphy: That is the feeling that lay behind the thinking of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) when he was Prime Minister. He said that he would not take part in choosing bishops of the Church of England, and that that should be a matter for the Appointments Committee. I believe that he was right. I do not see why a Methodist, a member of the Church of Scotland, a Roman Catholic or someone with no faith at all should decide whom the head of the Church of England should be. That would be incredibly wrong in this day and age. The Church itself should make that decision. I accept that there are strong views on this issue, but as I said, I believe that this debate will have some value in that it might prod the Church of England into reaching a speedy conclusion.

Chris Bryant: I rather sympathise with my right hon. Friend’s take on the state of the Church in relation to its established nature, not because I want it to be disestablished, but because I think that there could be different ways in which it could be established that were more akin to the established nature of the Church of Scotland. In Scotland, Parliament never decides on any such matters. The truth of the matter is that, as the law and the settlement stand, if women bishops are to happen, that decision will have to come through here. If there are more concessions, I cannot see that getting through Synod or through here.

Paul Murphy: I understand the problems. I am in a difficult position in relation to the establishment of the Church of England. On balance, I think that it should remain established, but that the settlement of establishment might have to be changed, as my hon. Friend has just suggested. Its establishment sends a signal that we are, I hope, still a Christian country. The fact that it is established underpins that. However, I beg Members to be conscious of the fact that it must still be the Church itself that makes this decision. We might have our views on the matter, but we are not members of Synod—except for one or two of us—and should not be in a position to take that final decision. So this is a word of warning—

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a kind word—for the Church of England and for Members on both sides of this House who hold strong views about this.

5.54 pm

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I support wholeheartedly the argument for women bishops and believe strongly that it will happen; the question is not if, but when. The recent decision was a great disappointment. It is a great honour and privilege to follow three of the finest speeches that I have heard in some time, by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy).

I was a lapsed member of a religion. It was well and truly bred out of me by having to go twice a day and three times on Sundays as a child. It may have also been assisted by the fact that I discovered horse racing, and my talent as a bookmaker did not endear me to the local vicar where I went to school. When I became a jockey—a very poor one, I admit—many people prayed that I would improve, because I kept losing on favourites, which upset them tremendously.

I have now reverted to the faith and am an enthusiastic member of the Church of England. I rise to speak not because I believe that I have a great deal to contribute to this debate, but because I want to address one specific issue. I urge that the Church be allowed to resolve this matter—I strongly endorse this—of its own volition and in its own way. It concerns me desperately when the state starts to interfere with matters of the Church. I accept entirely the points made by the right hon. Member for Exeter and endorse the comments made by some of those who intervened on him. It is accepted that this place has a role to play, by reason of its statutory controls, in overseeing and ultimately endorsing the Church’s actions. However, we would take a large and significant step—in this I disagree with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—if we attempted to mandate, order or empower the Church to take any action that it could manifestly resolve itself.

It is self-evident that rights are often won very slowly. Some parties to the argument wish the debate to move speedily and for the matter to be resolved. I am one of them, but that does not mean that I should tell the Church how it should behave such that it would not be able to resolve its own difficulties itself. In that respect, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who said after a previous debate:

“This is not an issue which can in any way be parked for the next couple of years or so, waiting for another round of synod elections…This has to be an issue that has to be resolved as soon as possible.”

That implies that Parliament should get involved, but I disagree.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): That was certainly not the implication. With all due respect to my hon. Friend, he has misunderstood what I said. I was saying that the Church has to get on with it, and I am very glad that it is getting on with it, as evidenced by this week’s meeting of the House of Bishops and the programme of work that it set out.

Guy Opperman: I am happy to take that guidance and clarification, because some people will have interpreted some of our debates and the questions that have been

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asked over the past month or so as giving the impression that we wish to get involved, rather than allowing the Church itself to make those decisions. I endorse entirely my hon. Friend’s point that the Church has bravely taken the step to expedite matters as fast as possible. Tomorrow, some of us will meet Bishop Justin Welby, who I understand is anxious to resolve the matter as quickly and efficaciously as possible.

It is right that we discuss this issue. We should take this opportunity to celebrate the role of women in the Church. It is patently obvious in my constituency that their presence has transformed the Church and improved it immeasurably. The Church is much more open and is much enlivened by the presence of females leading the congregation. That can only be a good thing.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I broadly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s argument that it would be better if the Church resolved this matter itself, but does he not accept that there will be limitations on that, given, for example, that there is currently a bloc of Members in the other place, all of whom happen to be men? There is a limit to how long that can continue.

Guy Opperman: I would go further. I see it as the natural progression from this debate that there will be women bishops, that there will be women bishops in the other place and, ultimately, that there is the potential for women archbishops, although I have no doubt that that will not happen speedily. I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman says and he moves me on to my next point, which is that there cannot be partial equality. Eventually, equality must be total. In that respect, what goes on in the other place must follow what is taking place in this debate.

As one of my female priests put it to me, the Church is not actually about the House of Laity, but about the work that it does locally in its parishes. That is the most important part of its work. In my constituency and across Northumberland, I am certain that it is providing a fantastic service. Although I may have been a lapsed sinner in respect of the vices of horse racing, bookmaking and being a poor jockey, I am happy to now be in the right place.

6.2 pm

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): When I first heard the result from the Synod, I was surprised, not only by the sense of despair but by the amount of joy that I felt. The joy was caused by seeing so many people, particularly women, taking the result seriously. I thought that it would be dismissed as another little local difficulty for the Church and that very few people would pay much attention to it. I was genuinely surprised and pleased by the number of women who are not Church members who were affronted by the decision.

I was surprised by my despair over the decision. The Church of England had just gone through the establishment of a commission to appoint a new Archbishop of Canterbury. The commission came to the conclusion that the guy who had hardly got his clothes on as a bishop should be given the top job. Given that the Church thinks that God moves in mysterious ways to guide its decisions, if that was not seen as the powers that be suggesting to the Church that the gene pool was pretty poorly based and that it would be foolish to

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continue to hide itself from half the human race when it comes to questions of leadership, one despairs at the experts in the Synod who are supposed to read the times better than the rest of us.

The result of the commission was, in the words of a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), to appoint a “holy thug”. We are into very interesting times with this new archbishop. He is already showing his leadership by suggesting that the Church will confront this issue and be encouraged to remake the decision.

If I may, I will make two points about the remaking of the decision. There are moves that should legitimately be made by the Synod and moves that we should make. I do not favour, at this stage, interfering with the Synod’s processes. Therefore, I do not think that we should change the rules of the game by changing the canons or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) suggested, changing the legislation in such a way that it makes it inevitable that there will be women bishops. That move is long overdue and, as my Roman Catholic right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) said, once the key decision has been made and there are no theological objections to women being priests, there can be no theological objections to their being bishops. Bishops are those in ministry who are given additional responsibilities. The nature of their task is not different from that of a priest—indeed, it may not be as important as that of a local priest—but they have added responsibilities.

What areas should hon. Members and the synods be concerned with? The synods, I hope, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter said, will follow the diocese of Bristol and table motions of no confidence in the current Synod. Presumably at some stage such a total of dioceses will have done that that the Synod will have to be dissolved and new elections fought. Clearly, those elections will be fought on the issue of women bishops, and I look forward to that very much. When the new Synod gets down to business, it might look at the extraordinary procedure to which it subjects itself when trying to pass reforms, which is very harmful.

The message is that the Synod should get on and start reforming itself, but that must come through the parishes and the dioceses. At some stage, the dioceses will force the hand of the Synod. To those who say that they cannot afford it and that the Church must stumble on like this for a number of years, I say that that is an appalling argument to put forward and I hope that the Synod will not pay attention to it.

What can hon. Members do? Two suggestions have been made about how we might act. One was that we should withdraw the privilege that this place gave to the Church to discriminate against women 37 years ago. If one reads the debates, this place was convinced by the argument that the Church needed a bit more time to sort out the matter. Most of us would think 37 years—quite a few Parliaments—is long enough for it to have sorted itself out. I therefore hope that Members who agree with that approach will support the Bill that I have promoted, whose Second Reading will be on 18 January, to limit that privilege and say that the Church has had its time and that we will act legitimately in that area.

The second measure, which has also been hinted at, was presented as a Bill today and will also have its Second Reading on 18 January. Under the present

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circumstances it is totally proper for this House to say that no more writs can be issued to allow male bishops to take vacancies in the House of Lords. My short Bill proposes that the power to issue such a writ will go to the archbishop, who will choose from senior women deans to fill places in the House of Lords. We will have what would have been in the pre-reformed Church—




and those deans can take their place in the House of Lords.

I hope that hon. Members feel—this is the theme of the speeches we have heard this evening—that we should not cease to be concerned about this matter, but that we must be careful to keep to legitimate activities and not interfere with the Synod’s powers to expedite the measure and reform itself. Unless we get real movement on that, I hope that hon. Members who support both those measures will be in the House on 18 January not only to wish but to ensure that those Bills are speeded on to the statute book.

6.9 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) for leading the debate so well and to the Backbench Business Committee for choosing it.

I will declare my interests. I was baptised into the Church of England and confirmed into the Church in Wales—the latter makes me much more comfortable, because I support disestablishment. I am chair of a Church primary school, nominated by my diocese, Southwark, a trustee of a Church secondary school in my constituency and a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee in Parliament.

Like everybody who spoke immediately after the Synod’s decision, I despaired at the folly of the Church of England in making a huge public mistake. After so long, everybody was clear about the view of the Church as a whole. We have heard that 42 of the 44 dioceses are in favour of women bishops, and we have heard the view of the leadership, including Archbishop Rowan Williams, who did everything he could to ensure that the change was delivered during his time as Archbishop, for which we thank him.

I come from the evangelical tradition, and many evangelicals support the ordination of women as both priests and bishops. The situation is not one category in favour and another against. In the church to which I belong, St James in Bermondsey, which would be classed as an evangelical church, I do not think there is a single person who does not support the ordination of women as bishops.

Evangelicals look back to the scriptures, as does everybody else who gets involved in this argument. Although I understand why people have come to the view that they cannot accept that there can be women priests or bishops, that has very little biblical foundation. Nothing in my New Testament says that Christ set up a structure by saying, “You will have churches, and you will have deacons, priests and bishops, and they will all be men.” I may have missed something, but I have read the whole New Testament at one stage or another and there is nothing that says that. Although a tradition of having men has built up, some of the early leaders of

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the Church right from the beginning, when Christ was executed and rose again, were women. Indeed, in the early days some Churches had women bishops, for heaven’s sake. I do not understand why we are having to revisit this issue after so long.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I find myself agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman. It has always surprised me that women seemed to have a good, established position in the early Church, right up until it was legalised and then became the state religion of Rome. That leads me to feel that we should overturn the centuries of discrimination against women in the Church, possibly by disestablishing it. Maybe, once it is disestablished, it will be able to see a proper route to incorporating women as a proper and fundamental part of the Christian family.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Lady and I are on the same wavelength on that. I understand the arguments for establishment, but I believe that a radical Church should not be part of the establishment. We should be outside the establishment campaigning for Christian values, but we have ended up being in the establishment by accident. That is a debate for another time, and we will not resolve it today.

One paradox is that the established Church of England has decided not to have women bishops when the head of the Church of England, the supreme governor, is a woman. The whole thing is inconsistent. There is another anomaly in the argument that, because of the relatively recent history of the Church, only men can be priests, and that people want to be under the pastoral responsibility of a male bishop. The Church has provided that option in relation to priests, and it works. Now it has come up with a similar proposal for those who want a male bishop. It seems to me that if the first worked, the second is likely to work. I ask people to be generous and less suspicious and untrusting. It is understood that some people have a different view, and everybody has tried hugely hard to accommodate it.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I remember my wife, as a female Secretary of State, taking the present Bishop of London to see the Queen to present the bishop, who would not ordain women, to be head of the Church of England.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Church of England decided not to have women bishops. The fair way to put it is that the Church of England Synod decided by a very large majority to have women bishops, and it is now a question of how and when, rather than rejecting that.

Simon Hughes: I agree.

I am clear that, in theory, there is no objection to women priests according to the Bible and Christian teaching. I am not a theologian, but the theology seems clear to me. However, it also seems to me that the Anglican Church has accepted women bishops all around the world. According to the information that I have, there are five Anglican provinces that already have women bishops, one of which has a woman presiding bishop—New Zealand and Polynesia, Australia, Canada, southern Africa and the United States. There is also the diocese of Cuba, which is not in any province.

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A further 12 provinces have agreed that they can have women bishops and they are not, as it were, the usual suspects—Bangladesh, Brazil, central America, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, north India, the Philippines, Scotland, Sudan and Uganda. If I may say so, for heaven’s sake, if all those places have dealt with the theological argument and concluded that this is possible, then the Church of England is far from leading the Anglican communion; rather, it is following behind. There is a remaining group of provinces that have not yet accepted that they can have women bishops, but which have women priests, so they are clearly on the way. It therefore seems that many people in the Anglican communion have addressed this issue both in theory and theology and in practice.

Let me repeat what has been said strongly by others. My experience is that the Church has benefited enormously from allowing women into the ministry of the priesthood in the last 20 years, not just through their life experience, pastoral, academic and intellectual qualities and preaching ability, but simply through the sheer numbers. The right hon. Member for Exeter, who opened the debate, referred to that. At the moment, 20% of ministers in the Anglican Church are women. Across the Christian denominations in the UK, 20% is the average—the Methodists have 40%, but the average is 20%. In 2010—the last full year—more women than men were ordained as Anglicans into the priesthood for the first time. There are now 50% more women in the Church of England in full-time parochial appointments than 10 years ago. One in five of the paid clergy are women. All the evidence is that people are saying—from evangelicals to those in other parts of the Church, from women to men, from old to young—that they believe there should be women bishops in the Church.

The Church desperately needs more people willing to be its priests, its bishops and its leaders, to get out there and do the job of preaching and teaching. To say that women cannot be allowed any further than the first two rungs of the ladder—that they cannot be in the leadership—is ridiculous. It is to deny a pent-up opportunity that all of us who have watched women at work in the Church have seen—and I would not be forgiven if I did not say that among them is my wonderful sister-in-law, who is currently a chaplain for a hospice in Essex and who has served in the Chelmsford diocese for many years as a wonderful priest and member of the Church.

Let me refer to what we do now, because that is the question. I do not think we should take over the role of the Church of England now, not just because I believe in disestablishment, but because I think it would be inappropriate. I share the view of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field)—that we may however want to take control of what happens at the other end of this building in deciding who is admitted to represent the Church of England as bishops. It has long been anomalous that in the House of Lords—the Lords itself is anomalous—one bloc has to be all-male. That seems inappropriate.

Government and Parliament need to offer their best offices to the Church of England so that the new proposal—which the bishops mercifully have today announced they will make for Synod next year—can receive their support and technical advice and therefore pass both the Synod and this place. The bishops need to know in advance—I pay tribute to other colleagues on

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the Ecclesiastical Committee—that what they come up with will not be tripped up in Parliament, and we need to know in advance that it is compatible with our principles of equality, of which colleagues have spoken around the House.

The majority of people who go to church in this country are women. The leadership that the country calls for must include the majority of people in Britain, who are women. I hope the Church has learnt its lesson. I have every confidence in the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate, who is coming to meet us tomorrow. I hope that by this time next year we will be celebrating not just the change in the Church’s rules, but the beginning of a transformation that will embolden the Church, improve it and increase the effectiveness of the ministry of the Church to proclaim the gospel to everybody, which is best done by everybody who is capable of doing it.

6.19 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I begin by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) for securing this debate. I am very pleased to be able to take part in it. My Durham constituency is an ecclesiastical and Anglican centre, so this is a matter of great importance for a number of my constituents. I am tempted to spend a few moments just highlighting the beauty and spirituality of Durham cathedral, but I have a feeling that you may rule me out of order if I did, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would, however, recommend that all Members visit the cathedral at some stage.

It was some considerable time ago—1992, so 20 years—that the General Synod first voted to allow women to become priests. Without legislation to extend this to include bishops, a glass ceiling has been created for women in that their careers in the Church are limited purely by their gender. A number of us hoped that this situation would be rectified in November this year; unfortunately, the General Synod voted no, although narrowly, to women bishops. This is somewhat surprising, given the great advances made by women in the Church of England. The most recent data show that more women priests are being ordained than men—290 women were ordained into the priesthood in 2010, compared with 273 men. Partly because of this growth in the number of women priests, the result in November was particularly devastating, especially when considered alongside the view that has been expressed since—that it could be 2015 before this matter is considered again.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this has been a real blow to a great number of women who have dedicated their lives to the service of the Church. Given that there are some real difficulties in reconciling different views on the apostolic succession and the laying on of hands, is it not absolutely crazy that with ground having been conceded on the issue of ordaining women priests, they cannot then move up through the organisation to become bishops?

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that excellent point. I shall come on in a few moments to the difficulty of finding a compromise other than the one considered in November.

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I am going to argue that the Synod needs to reconsider its decision as a matter of urgency. This time, it will I hope come up with the right answer, which is to allow women to become bishops. The change needed is really a simple one. All it needs is the simple repeal of the clause in the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 that states:

“Nothing in this Measure shall make it lawful for a woman to be consecrated to the office of bishop.”

As I say, this simply needs to be repealed.

Unlike some Members, I think that because the Church is established, this is a matter for Parliament. What I want, however, is for the Church to resolve the matter first. It seems to me particularly important for it to do so. I also think we have to recognise that the Church has had a pretty long time to do that—[Interruption.] Yes, a very long time to do it. The specific Measure before the Synod in November had been considered for five years, during which many legislative committees had brought together members of the General Synod who supported women bishops and those who opposed them, but no agreement other than the compromise before the Synod in November was agreed. If those five years of talks did not reach any other conclusion, prolonging a decision further is unlikely to get any other one put in front of the Synod. This suggests that action simply needs to be taken now. As the campaign group WATCH—Women and the Church—highlighted, this creates a difficulty. Those who support women bishops require women to be bishops on a par with their male colleagues, with no legal no-go areas. Those who will not accept women bishops require legal separation from women bishops.

As I have said before, I think that if another compromise were sought it would prove elusive, and that it would be better to consider how a general Measure supporting women who wish to become bishops could proceed. I should like that to happen quickly, because a number of constituents have written to me about the matter. Although I knew that there was a very strong Christian community in Durham, I was surprised by the number of letters that I received and the anger that was expressed in them. Perhaps I should start with the Bishop of Durham himself, the Right Rev. Justin Welby. He is soon to become Archbishop of Canterbury, and I think that Durham’s loss will be the country’s gain.

Mr Frank Field: Is it not extraordinary that, although he has already been appointed, he will not take up his post until Easter? Would it not be a good move for the Synod, having elected a new leader, to put him in post speedily, particularly when he has a reforming programme to accomplish?

Roberta Blackman-Woods: That is an interesting point, and if I were not about to lose a really wonderful Bishop of Durham I might well agree with my right hon. Friend. In this instance, however, we are in no hurry to get rid of our bishop, and I am quite pleased that he will be with us until Easter. I suppose that it might be to the greater good for him to move earlier, but I am sticking to my position, which is that we need his ministry in Durham for as long as possible, and certainly until we have someone else to take his place.

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I was about to tell the House what the Bishop of Durham said, which I think is very important. He said: