Here is the exchange on women bishops.
The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
2. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What progress has been made by the General Synod of the Church of England on legislating to enable women to enter the episcopate.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): Yesterday, the General Synod voted by 378 votes to eight, with 25 abstentions, to approve a new package of proposals that will enable women to become bishops in the Church of England.
Andrew Stephenson: This is obviously very welcome news. Can my hon. Friend give us an idea of the likely time scale for the introduction of the change?
Sir Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend is right; this is very welcome news. As a result of the vote yesterday, I am confident that this House will have an opportunity to pass the necessary legislation in the lifetime of this Parliament.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): While I of course welcome the progress that has been made, may I point out that if the same arrangements were put in place for a black bishop’s leadership to be challenged and for the case to be taken to an ombudsman, there would rightly be outrage?
Sir Tony Baldry: I am not entirely sure what point the hon. Lady is trying to make. The proposals put forward by the General Synod have had overwhelming support. If she looks at the figures, she will see that they have complete support throughout practically the whole of the Church. Perhaps she would like to discuss her concern with me outside, because I do not really understand the point she is trying to make.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I, too, welcome the fact that the Church has at long last made progress on the matter of women bishops. I know that my hon. Friend has seen the report by Professor Linda Woodhead entitled “Telling the truth about Christian Britain”, which makes rather depressing reading for those of us who are members of the Church. Is he confident that the Church can now move on from these endless internal debates and start preaching the gospel and working for the good of society?
Sir Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The sooner we can resolve the issue and have women deacons, priests and bishops in the Church of England, the sooner the Church will be able to move forward and fulfil its broader national ministry.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): After the disappointment of last year, this is indeed welcome news. Perhaps those members of the clergy who still have reservations—I hope that they are few in number—should come to the House of Commons and see the exhibition in the Admission Order corridor showing the struggle that women had to get the vote and the right to be elected to the House. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, now that the Church of England is taking this welcome step, other religions and faiths that discriminate against women—I could list them, but I will not—should follow the same path?
Sir Tony Baldry: May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that it is slightly more complex than he suggests? Some of those who are opposed to women bishops are themselves women. They are conservatives and evangelicals who have theological objections because they believe in male headship. I do not think that we can necessarily castigate people who are against women bishops as being against women. The good news is that we now have a way forward that will enable us to have women bishops—I hope by the end of this Parliament.
John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The congregation of the Church of England has been in headlong decline for a long time, and that is continuing. How likely is it that that trend would be reversed were the Church of England by some chance to pursue its existing policy of barring women from being bishops, which most people think is redolent of a past era?
Sir Tony Baldry: I am glad to say that a large number of parishes are growing. The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear that his primary mission is growth. We want to see the Church of England grow. Hopefully, now that we have resolved the issue of women bishops, everyone in the Church of England and everyone who supports it can focus their intention on that growth.