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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, after 50 years, devolution in Northern Ireland became unsatisfactory and so was abolished. Do the Government have any plans to intervene in a more intermediate way in the event of unsatisfactory activity by a devolved institution?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I know of no plans for such intervention. The experience of the past few years has shown that devolved administrations can take different positions from that of the UK Government. All of that simply adds to the richness and opportunity that we had hoped that devolution would produce.

Lord Jones: My Lords, does my noble friend say categorically that central government do not intervene?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: Yes, my Lords, we do not intervene. We leave matters inside the jurisdiction of the devolved administrations.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the Minister's reply mean that the Scottish Executive can provide free care for elderly people in nursing homes, in contrast to the situation in England? If so, are the Government ready for an exodus of senior citizens northwards across the Border, for the good of their pockets as well as their health?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, it is not only in long-term care for the elderly that we look to a different policy in Scotland now; it is also the case with student tuition fees. Wales has a different policy on

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prescription charges. That is within the rights of the devolved administrations. Presumably those decisions, taken democratically, were judged to be best for the local situation in those administrations. That is exactly what the devolutionary settlement was produced to provide. We are happy to see the devolved administrations take those kinds of decisions if they are in the interests of their citizens.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords—

Lord Sewel: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Benches!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I think it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I speak from the perspective of the National Assembly for Wales. Do the Government have plans to ensure that draft legislation applying to England and Wales will, in future, contain an appendix summarising the parts of a Bill which do or do not apply to the National Assembly for Wales in order to ease the interpretation of complex legislation in those two areas of the UK?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am not aware of any plans of that nature. If it is the case, I shall write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Sewel Motions are very good things, in that they show that the two Parliaments are working together? They exist to enable the Westminster Parliament to legislate in a devolved area with the approval of the Scottish Parliament. In other words, the devolution settlement has brought about exactly the right type of co-operative, efficient working between two parliaments.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for clarifying that matter. I restate my experience as a Minister and assure your Lordships that there is an easy relationship between Ministers in the devolved administrations and those here in London.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill, which contains Substantial Clauses relating to Wales, received its second reading in the other place before it was fully approved by the National Assembly for Wales? While there is nothing illegal about putting the cart before the horse, does the Minister agree that it is not an ideal way to proceed and that the issue might well be considered by the Constitution Committee, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and his Select Committee on the constitution are looking at

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these matters. I welcome their closer scrutiny. Devolution has been in place since 1999. There will be lessons to be learnt and if there are better ways forward I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, will point us towards them.

The Church of England and the Sex Discrimination Act

3.21 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the time is right for a review of the Church of England's exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we have no plans to review Section 19 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, relating to organised religions generally.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree with her right honourable friend the Home Secretary that it is unacceptable that there should be discrimination against women in any part of British society? Is it not therefore unacceptable that women priests in the Church of England are subject to humiliating discrimination in their conditions of employment? Why is it still possible for a parish to decide that they will not even consider a woman for the position of their parish priest? Is it not time for the Government to reconsider that point?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with the Home Secretary's statement that it is unacceptable for women to be discriminated against. However, your Lordships will know that it has been the policy of successive governments, particularly since the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974, to leave internal church affairs to the Church itself. The position of women priests is a matter for the Church and I am confident that the Church of England is dealing with the issue, mindful of the Government's commitment to promoting equality. We shall continue to keep the legal position under review in the light of developments in EU law.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if the clergy were treated as employees and covered by the relevant sections of employment legislation, the problem of gender discrimination would not be as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has described?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have a difficulty, because there is case law that indicates that members of the clergy are not employed in the normal sense of the word, but are following a vocational calling. They do not fall within the normal

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construction of an employment contract. That is the reality of the situation. Since the establishment of the Church of England during the reign of Henry VIII, the introduction of women priests has been an issue. However, recently that issue has been resolved in part by the Church.

Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords—

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Bishop!

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: After the noble Baroness.

Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords, I hate to fight it out with my noble friend the right reverend Prelate. In framing her reply, did the Minister take into account any of the experience in the Anglican Communion in other places or experience in other free Protestant Churches in this country, which have had women in leadership positions for a long time without any noticeable disintegration?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am confident that the right reverend Prelates and others who make up the General Synod are conversant with that view. Your Lordships will know that a debate in the General Synod in November 2001 drew attention to what some would see as an anomaly in the safeguards for parishes in the 1993 Measure. Following that debate, some individuals and organisations within the Church of England have begun to suggest the need for a review of the Measure, or parts of it. Careful consideration is being given to the best way of responding to those suggestions. Whatever is decided will need to take into account the views of those in favour of the priestly ministry of women and those who have conscientious objections to it, as well as the continuing need to preserve the unity of the Church, while also ensuring that women priests are fairly and properly treated. Perhaps reconciliation is something that the Church will have to practise as well as preach.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, is the Minister aware that less than eight years since the General Synod's legislation permitting women priests came into force, the latest figures show that out of a total of 13,200 parishes in the Church of England, fewer than 1,000 rely on the safeguards for those with conscientious objections? I am glad that the Minister accepts that the Church itself should decide whether and when it would be appropriate to review those provisions, which were closely scrutinised by no less a body than the Ecclesiastical Committee at the time. I am also pleased that the Minister accepts that the Church will be able to safeguard its unity by taking into account the conscientious objections of some to women priests and by encouraging the ministry of those who have been given such encouragement by the

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widespread acceptance of women priests. Is she aware that we are already talking about the possibility of including women in the episcopate?

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