The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, answered several questions in the House of Commons yesterday, including these on women bishops and the related topic of how representative is the House of Laity.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of whether the informal discussions amongst General Synod members in February 2013 will lead to significant progress on enabling women to become bishops.
Sir Tony Baldry: I refer the hon. Lady to the letter from the secretary-general of the General Synod, which was placed in the Library of the House on 19 December. I understand that the working group established by the House of Bishops had a good first meeting on 3 January. It meets again next Wednesday. The facilitated discussions in early February will be followed immediately by a further meeting of the House of Bishops. I know that all concerned understand the urgency of the situation.
Diana Johnson: But does the hon. Gentleman accept that the document that was produced and put in the House of Commons Library shows no acceleration of the usual glacial way in which the Church of England operates? Does he also accept that in 2015 we could still find ourselves dealing with an unrepresentative laity stopping the Measure? Surely we can do more something more quickly.
Sir Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady is being uncharacteristically uncharitable. Anyone present at the meeting in the Moses Room with the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate would have been left in absolutely no doubt that the Church is determined to take the matter forward with all due speed and diligence. A working group was set up immediately and facilitated discussions will take place next week. It is important to try, as quickly as possible, to find a way forward that enables fresh legislation to be brought before the General Synod in July.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): What steps are being considered within the Church of England as to how the House of Laity may be made more representative of church congregations.
Sir Tony Baldry: Last year, the Synod voted to explore alternatives to the present system under which the House of Laity is elected by deanery synod members. I understand that the report, with options for change, will be discussed by the synod at one of its meetings this year.
Martin Vickers: I thank the Church Commissioner for that reply. The unrepresentative nature of the House of Laity is clearly holding the Church back, involving it in interminable, internal debates. Very few congregations are aware of the process of election and very few members of congregations get involved in election. Will he use his good offices to ensure that, as a matter of urgency, new proposals are brought forward?
Sir Tony Baldry: I think my hon. Friend’s comments will be shared by many throughout the Church, which is why it is exploring alternatives to the present system under which the House of Laity is elected by deanery synod members. I am sure that the comments my hon. Friend makes will be borne in mind when that report comes to be debated later this year.