The following exchange took place at Questions today in the House of Commons.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the likelihood of the Church of England making a decision on women bishops in 2012.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have had with Church of England bishops on the Women Bishops Measure.
Sir Tony Baldry: The General Synod will resume on 20 November the final approval debate on the legislation to enable women to become bishops. I will be voting for the Measure, and I hope and pray that at least two thirds of the members of every house of the General Synod will vote to ensure that, at last, we can have women bishops in the Church of England.
Simon Hughes: The message I hope this House will send via my hon Friend to the Synod is that not only do we want the Synod to make a final decision this month that clearly says women can be bishops in the Church of England, as a legacy of the outgoing archbishop and as a tribute to his work, but we need the Church of England to catch up into the 21st century if it is to do a good job for everybody. I hope that there is no more shilly-shallying, that the Synod gets on with it and that we get a clear decision so that we can move to having women bishops.
Sir Tony Baldry: I entirely agree with my right hon Friend. May I commend to his attention, and to that of other right hon and hon Members, an article written by the Archbishop of Canterbury in last week’s Church Times, which is available in the Library? He stated that
“a Church that ordains women as priests, but not as bishops, is stuck with a real anomaly, one that introduces an unclarity into what we are saying about baptism and about the absorption of the Church in the priestly self-giving of Jesus Christ.”
We have been waiting far too long to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England-now is the time to take action and resolve this issue, once and for all.
Mr Bradshaw: In his conversations with the bishops, will the hon Gentleman tell them that just because House of Lords reform has been abandoned they should not feel any less pressure to do this and that a failure to agree a Measure that gives women bishops equal status with male bishops would still lead to a severe constitutional crisis between Church and state?
Sir Tony Baldry: In fairness, I think that the House of Bishops recognises that, and when it met last it amended the Measure in a way that should commend support. Indeed, the bishops took a lead on that from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the same article, made it clear that he thought the ordination or consecration of women as bishops was good for the whole world. He said:
“It is good news for the world we live in, which needs the unequivocal affirmation of a dignity given equally to all by God in creation and redemption-and can now, we hope, see more clearly that the Church is not speaking a language completely remote from its own most generous and just instincts.”
There is clear leadership from the House of Bishops and from the archbishops that we now need to consecrate women bishops.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I hope that a strong message will go out from this House that we support women bishops and that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be drawn from the widest possible church in this regard.
Sir Tony Baldry: I am sure that that message will be heard by the General Synod.
John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The Church has spent many years avoiding this issue, so if the Synod fails to do the right thing, what does the hon Gentleman think the consequences will be for the future of the Church of England?
Sir Tony Baldry: I think that the consequences for the Church of England will be very grim indeed. I hope that the General Synod, and those who might be tempted to vote against this Measure in it, will reflect on that point.