Thursday, 22 November 2012

House of Commons discusses women bishops

Sir Tony Baldry, Second Church Estates Commissioner, answered an urgent question tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson on women bishops on 22 November 2012.

Watch a video recording of the ensuing debate (lasts about 34 minutes) via the Democracy Live website here.

The Hansard transcript of the debate is now available here.

Initial media reports:

Yesterday there were also exchanges with the Prime Minister during Question Time, details are below the fold.

From Hansard record, here:

Q11. Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share my deep disappointment, and that of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the Church of England yesterday failed to make proper provision for women bishops? It was a sad day for our national Church and our national character, particularly given that 42 of 44 dioceses voted overwhelmingly in support of women bishops. Is the dangerous consequence of that vote not the disestablishment of the Church of England but simply disinterest?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend speaks with great expertise and knowledge. On a personal basis, I am a strong supporter of women bishops and am very sad about how the vote went yesterday. I am particularly sad for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, because he saw this as a major campaign that he wanted to achieve at the end of his excellent tenure of that office. It is important for the Church of England to be a modern Church that is in touch with society as it is today. This was a key step it needed to take.

……. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Following the Prime Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) a moment ago, and given that the Church of England is the established Church, will the Prime Minister consider what Parliament can do to ensure that the overwhelming will of members of the Church and of the country is respected?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly look carefully at what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The Church has its own processes and elections. They might be hard for some of us to understand, but we must respect individual institutions and the decisions they make. That does not mean we should hold back in saying what we think. I am very clear that the time is right for women bishops—it was right many years ago. The Church needs to get on with it, as it were, and get with the programme, but we must respect individual institutions and how they work, while giving them a sharp prod.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 1:23pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

Several of Tony Baldry's answers repeat that Parliament will not pass a measure making women second-class bishops. There has to be a proposal before Parliament can act. But these replies are the clearest possible signal that the Church must produce a one-clause proposal.

Meanwhile, I hope that Reform and FiF Synod members are confined to a darkened room with only the speech by Claire Perry for company.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 2:19pm GMT

PS (sorry for second bite) - the end of the written transcript has now been uploaded. The following was not on the earlier version. Very telling:

(also on audio transcript beginning at 30:18)

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab):

Does the hon. Gentleman share my sadness and that of many other people that the Church has made itself appear so out of touch and anachronistic in its decision making? The head of the Church of England is a woman, but in the 21st century we cannot have women bishops.
Sir Tony Baldry:

I agree. It is a great sadness. I suspect that every right hon. and hon. Member has recently had representations from Church members on same-sex marriage. If the Church of England thinks that Parliament will listen to it with considerable attention on moral issues such as same-sex marriage and so on when the Church of England seems to be so out of step on other issues of concern to Parliament, it is simply deluding itself.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 3:15pm GMT

One questioner referred to a "very stormy meeting yesterday between parliamentarians and the bishops."

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 3:23pm GMT

Having now read the Hansard transcript: The debate was brutal for the Church of England. It reflected a great deal of pent-up frustration, among both Government and Opposition.

The posters here who say, in effect, "Misogynist? Not at all," would do very well to read the debate and see how their position is regarded up and down the country and on all sides of the Commons. One MP used the word "contemptible."

Sir Tony Baldry kept emphasizing that no legislation will pass if it makes women second-class bishops. He made that point months ago in connection with the Bishops' amendment.

So perhaps the simplest course now would be for Parliament to simply hasten the next Synod election.

Then everyone will know that the new Synod is being elected in what will be, essentially, a referendum on women bishops. Knowing this should mobilize the laity to vote.

Parliament will not have told the Church what to do, but it will have cut the Gordian knot into which this Synod has now wrapped itself.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 3:53pm GMT

Sir Tony Baldry keeps stating that 42 out of 44 diocese voted overwhelmingly for the proposed legislation and that the General Synod's voting figures did not reflect this.

But didn't the dioceses vote by simple majority?... Maybe Simon can recall the actual voting figures in each diocese - what was majority overall at diocesan level?

Posted by: RevDave on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 4:44pm GMT

Here are all the voting figures from the dioceses

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 5:28pm GMT

So the vote in the order of laity, across all 44 dioceses, was 1664 to 489.

That is 77 percent to 23, or more than three quarters in favor.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 5:56pm GMT

Oh - a moratorium on appointing/consecrating bishops NOW but not whilst the HoB has had a ban on openly (honest) gay or civilly partnered candidates!

Posted by: Commentator on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 6:48pm GMT

Based on the figures that Simon linked to - 1664 of the laity voted for the motion, 489 against (plus 72 abstentions) - so 75% voted in favour.

Posted by: magistra on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 8:33pm GMT

Well the knock-on result for gay marriage is to be welcomed. And hopefully the C of E will stop shooting itself in the other foot and learn that the Holy Spirit will blow where she will.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 8:40pm GMT

Thanks, Simon, for the link.

Looking at the figures and doing the sums it turns out that the percentages in favour were:
Bishops 81%
Clergy 71%
Laity 74%

The grand total of all votes gives a winning percentage of 73%

Besides London and Chichester, where the motions were narrowly lost, there were very narrow wins in Blackburn (lost in Bishops and very narrow win in clergy and laity), and Sheffield (lost in laity and very narrow wins in other two houses). Winchester and Manchester were also fairly close run things.

These apart, the striking thing about the numbers is how strongly the motion was carried in all the other dioceses. Bristol is notable for being the only diocese that had no votes recorded against the motion.

So don't let anyone tell you that the 42 out of 44 diocese result masks a much less convincing picture. The national picture is of very considerable support for women bishops across the board, with a few centres where opinion is much more finely balanced. Even in the dioceses where the motion was lost it was a very close-run thing. But there is not one diocese where the numbers against even remotely look like the reverse of all those dioceses in favour.

The laity who voted the Measure down were indeed acting against the national mood and the will of the substantial majority of faithful members of the Church of England.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 10:33pm GMT

I just hope that as those who voted against return to their homes they reflect on the damage they have done to the CoE's image and mission. But I do not hold out much hope that they have such vision

Posted by: confused sussex on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 10:42pm GMT

Shouldn't Parliament intervene now that the BBC has appointed yet another male Director General? How does this square up with the much vaunted Equalities Act?

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 11:22pm GMT

"Shouldn't Parliament intervene now that the BBC has appointed yet another male Director General? How does this square up with the much vaunted Equalities Act?"

Is your theology as bad as your logic?

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 12:38am GMT

Admittedly I am an outsider, and from a country without an established church. But it seems like this sort of political pressure over the Church's government should be highly objectionable to all in the Church of England regardless of whether they support or oppose women bishops. It is easy to imagine the shoe being on the other foot, and a Thatcherite government blocking the appointment of any bishops who do not share their economic program. I would have expected either sort of interference, from the left or the right as the fashion might be, to be the sort of thing that would unite all sides in the Church. At any rate, either sort of interference would be a far cry from Churchill's assessment of himself not as a pillar of the church, but as a flying buttress that supports it from the outside.

Posted by: Quiet American on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 1:35am GMT

If ever the advice of the late Clive Dunn from Dad's Army needs to be heeded it is surely NOW !
The Established Church seems to be in the grip of mass hysteria and a sense of pandemonium has taken control following the recent General Synod vote. If this is the Church that the Lord promised that "the gates of Hell would not prevail against" then it doesn't seem to be currently behaving as such!
"An issue, an issue - we all fall down."

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 5:06am GMT

With the BBC, the issue would be *proving* that it was discriminating against women/ethnic minorities etc, i.e. that it had turned down the best candidate for a job because they weren't a white male. We know that for previous appointments as DG both men and women have been shortlisted, so the BBC aren't in principle opposed to female leadership. The BBC (and many other organisations) look more like where the Church of England will probably be 20 years after accepting women bishops: in theory all jobs are open, in practice, somehow the best ones always go to men. Prejudice in the Church of England against women isn't going to go away immediately after women have been allowed to become bishops: in fact the first women bishops are going to need extremely thick skins and probably have to accept routine abuse.

Posted by: magistra on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 7:33am GMT

has the Bishop of London emerged from his sick bed yet? Has he said anything?

Posted by: Perry Butler on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 8:25am GMT

My own views as a trad AC to one side, I do wonder why Tony Baldry (my MP)feels that he can pass comment so strongly without resigning his post - whether he likes it or not, as 2nd Church Estates Commissioner, it's his job to represent Synod to Parliament, not to publically go the other way around, however strongly he feels.

Perhaps more interesting are the comments last night from Frank Field. I've never quite understood how he could have been so instrumental in securing the previous Act of Synod and yet have recently been so determined the current legislation didn't require the same accommodation.

In 24 hours, he seems to have gone from "a single clause is the only way forward" to last night's performance on TV where everything seems to be back on the table - I think the phrase used was "stuff the opponents' mouths with gold".... trans. "give them anything they want to get it through."

Even as an anti WO AC I'm not sure what I think about that, but there you go. Interesting times....

Posted by: primroseleague on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 8:46am GMT

@Quiet American - is not the Government interfering but the whole of Parliament asking questions about the actions of the established church. Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, happens to be a Conservative but the debate yesterday was not divided on party political lines.

The Church of England is part of the Establishment, and 26 Bishops sit in the House of Lords as part of the legislature. The synod's powers to pass laws are delegated from Parliament. Parliament therefore has every right to scrutinise what the C of E does. There is a way of avoiding such scrutiny which would be for the C of E to be disestablished but this would be very complicated. It would certainly remove the right of Bishops to sit in the House of Lords and would probably see an end to Bishops participating in state business (such as the chairing by the Bishop of Liverpool of the recently ended enquiry into the Hillsborough disaster, or the participation of the Archbishop designate, Justin Welby, in the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

Of course many people, inside and outside the C of E, would say disestablishment was the best thing, but whatever your views on that, as things stand, the Church of England is part of the system as its own website describes:

Posted by: Pam Smith on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 8:47am GMT

Quite so, magistra - but there's a big difference between "in principle" and in practice. Now that we have reached the enlightened and liberated 21st cenury - the list of female Directors General of the BBC is still non-existant. Before Parliament thinks of intervening in the affairs of the Church following the Women Bishops vote - perhaps Mr. Cameron would first like to cast the eye of equality over the make-up of the current Cabinet.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 8:49am GMT

The difference, Father David, is that the BBC has not voted to debar women from even being considered for the post. In an ordinary discrimination case, the issue of fact to be resolved is whether the failure to promote was motivated by legitimate business concerns or discriminatory motive. That issue is not present here.

Religious liberty is a genuinely fundamental social value, and deserves respect. That said, does a church which discriminates deserve the benefits of establishment, benefits denied all other sects?

Posted by: John Wirenius on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 11:25am GMT

I don't get the "42 out of 44 dioceses" maths. Obviously the vast majority of dioceses were in favour of this piece of legislation, but so was the vast majority of General Synod.

If you asked in how many dioceses a 2/3 majority was secured in all three houses, not counting abstentions, thus applying the same rules as to General Synod, would the answer not be 33 out of 44?

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 12:22pm GMT

"Shouldn't Parliament intervene now that the BBC has appointed yet another male Director General? How does this square up with the much vaunted Equalities Act?"

Motes and Beams Father David.

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 12:37pm GMT

"Shouldn't Parliament intervene now that the BBC has appointed yet another male Director General? How does this square up with the much vaunted Equalities Act?"

Allowing women bishops will not make it illegal to appoint male ones.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 2:18pm GMT

Those 'conservative traditionalists' on this site who are upholding the legality of parliament intervening in the government of the church don't seem to understand that those of us who are 'liberal progressives' on this issue are not questioning the legality of parliament's (potential ) action. We are questioning whether a community of followers of Jesus ought to rejoice to see this happen.

After all, next week it might be your favourite theological conviction that parliament decides it doesn't like.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Friday, 23 November 2012 at 6:06pm GMT

"@Quiet American - is not the Government interfering but the whole of Parliament asking questions about the actions of the established church."

Note: here in the States the distinction between the government and the legislature doesn't apply. When Americans speak of "the government" we generally mean the whole State bureaucracy, not simply the group in control of the legislature or executive. I don't know how Quiet American meant the word, but I thought it was worth calling attention to this aspect of the common language that divides us.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 2:01am GMT

"[N]ext week it might be your favourite theological conviction that parliament decides it doesn't like."

Perhaps conservatives should have borne this caution in mind in 1993.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the cry of "don't run to Parliament" rings a bit hollow.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 2:31am GMT

Of course Frank Field's Equality Act (2010) Amendment Bill, which was tabled on Thursday, and which would remove the Church of England's exemption as to women bishops, will not likely get to third reading.

As of Thursday, however, the following MPs were supporting the bill. It is an interesting list, as it contains two Tories and a Lib Dem.

Frank Field (Labour—Birkenhead)
Diana Johnson (Labour—Kingston upon Hull North)
Natascha Engel (Labour—North East Derbyshire)
Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru—Dwyfor Merionnydd)
Andrew George (Liberal Democrat—St. Ives)
Nicholas Soames (Conservative—Mid Sussex)
Roberta Blackman-Woods (Labour—City of Durham)
Eleanor Laing (Conservative—Epping Forest)
Helen Goodman (Labour—Bishop Auckland)

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 3:26pm GMT
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