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I should like to express my appreciation of the fact that we are talking, although for a shorter time than we would wish, about these matters in what I think the media call prime time and not in the early hours of the morning. I express appreciation also for the petition in support of the Measure, which was so ably presented to the House and supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). I shall seek to do my duty to the House and explain the Measure briefly. If I omit relevant points, perhaps the House will he forgiving.
The Measure, consisting of five sections and one schedule, is a simple one. It confers powers on the General Synod to make provision by canon for the ordination of women deacons. Section 2 confers a like power to end admission to the order of deaconesses, save, of course, those women already admitted. Section 3 has consequential pension provisions which I feel sure, whatever view it has of the Measure, the House will warmly approve. So that the matter may be clear and without any doubt, I draw attention to the specific provision in section 1(4):
Nothing in this Measure shall make it lawful for a woman to be ordained to the office of priest.
I commend the Measure on a number of grounds. It seems to be acknowledged by scholars—of course, as the House well knows, I certainly am not one—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I think that we were let off. In the early Church, the diaconate was open to men and women. That is well-documented. Members combined a service of community caring with leadership in Church worship. As recently as 1862, Bishop Tait's ordination of the first person to the office of deaconess was held to be a restoration of an ancient order. There is, therefore, historical continuity, which makes the office separate and distinct from any holy orders.
The 1978 Lambeth conference, and its predecessor, asked member churches which do not ordain women as deacons to take the necessary legislative and other steps to do so. The policy is already in operation in the Church in Wales. I understand that there are moves in this direction in the Scottish Episcopal Church and in the Church of Ireland. As part of its place in the Anglican communion, the Church of England is anxious to respond to this request.
I am grateful for the fact that the House is so comparatively full for a discussion of this matter, because sometimes outside the Chamber there is anxiety that it is no longer concerned about it. This is patently not so. Many hon. Members know that an increasing role is played by deaconesses of the Church of England, although they are lay women and not in one of the holy orders. They play a substantial role in public worship and in the general life of the Church. Their role is almost identical to that of the deacons, alongside whom they work. They assist in worship, they are trained together, and very often they are either ordained or commissioned in the same service.
The major function which deaconesses cannot perform at present and which differentiates them from the deacons is officiation at a marriage. I suspect that the famous man or woman in the pew would be hard-pressed to say what the difference in function is. They are not clergymen within the definition laid down by the House, and cannot at the moment officiate at a wedding service. If the House, as I hope it will, assents to my motion, once the canon comes into force, they will be able to officiate at a marriage.
Is it true that a male or female deacon may give a conditional blessing, but not a full blessing? I ask my hon. Friend to lay on the line, as I think he has done, that this is in no sense to be seen as a move towards the ordination of women. I say that, not to express a view, but because I think that that matter would create a deep schism in the Church, and the Church is not ready to consider it.
My hon. Friend is right on his first point. On his second point, 1 would not have been straightforward had I failed to draw attention to the fact that one effect of the Measure and the canon that goes with it is that women are to be admitted to the holy order of deacon. A deacon is a clergyman and, by the law of the land, because of Parliament's decision, a clergyman can officiate at a wedding.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a deaconess is at present two steps away from the priesthood? She cannot officiate at a marriage ceremony and she cannot administer the holy sacrament. Is it the case that if the Measure is passed a deaconess will be only one step away from the priesthood?
The two facts given by my hon. Friend are, as the House knows, absolutely correct, but the point on which I part company from him, in a friendly way, is over a deaconess being so many steps away from this or that. The office of deacon— perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to say this more fully in a moment—is one of distinction in its own right. It ought not to be considered an automatic step in this or any other direction.
Would it help the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) to be reminded that, instead of thinking of steps towards the priesthood, should the Synod pass a Measure allowing women to become priests, the House would have to consider it separately from this one?
Sir William van Staubenzee:
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. There can be no question of there being women priests in the Church of England without Parliament giving its assent to, I take it, a Measure broadly along the lines of this one. I want to concentrate on the Measure concerning women deacons. No legislation will come before this Parliament in relation to women priests.
The point is that many hon. Members see this as an inevitable halfway house towards the ordination of women into the priesthood. Will my hon. Friend confirm that when men become deacons, unless they act reprehensibly or in some way fall beneath the standard, they will inevitably become priests, whereas no matter how exemplary the conduct of a woman who has become a deaconess, she cannot become a priest? How does my hon. Friend think the Equal Opportunities Commission will react to that?
I have been trying to deal with a technical but important point, which I know troubles some hon. Members, which was picked up by the Ecclesiastical Committee. However, in view of the questions put to me, I shall reverse the order of my remarks.
I accept and understand that for many people, both inside and outside the House, looming behind this issue is the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood. They use the thin edge of the wedge argument or the inevitability argument. It is true that it is normal practice for a male deacon to be moved to the priesthood. In the diocese of Portsmouth and elsewhere much thought has been given to this. There has been a study by the House of Bishops for a permanent diaconate for men. The status of a deacon is seen to have real point in the modern Church and there are a few, but only a few, who want it.
I think that I can best set the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) at rest by saying that it is impossible completely to remove a suspicion, but the House has in front of it, in the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the voting figures of the General Synod on this matter. It is fair to say that the vote was overwhelming and to draw particular attention to the fact that at final approval, or as hon. Members would say, on Third reading, 36 bishops voted in favour and none against. For example, there were more votes against in the other two Houses, but they are not substantial and they are set out.
It is inconceivable that in the General Synod many people who, to my certain knowledge, are completely opposed to the ordination of women as priests, did not have in their minds the point which my hon. Friend fairly made. They were satisfied that the matter could stand on its own. However, if I am pursued and told, as I sometimes am, that the General Synod is a totally unrepresentative place—a charge which I reject—I can point out that this Measure and the canon were referred to 44 diocesan synods and that 42 of them approved. I am entitled to persuade the House that at what I can legitimately call grass roots, persons who unquestionably feel strongly that women should not be ordained as priests, nevertheless see the Measure as separate and distinct and as a step which ought to be taken on its own merits.
Mr. Eric S. Heifer:
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the figures in the report show clearly that the overwhelming majority of the Synod are in favour of this Measure? Does he not agree that that shows that this is a matter which ought to be left to the Church? I speak as an Anglican, because I get upset when I come into the House of Commons and find that all sorts of people who are not members of my Church are discussing and voting on issues which relate to my Church. I object strongly to that.
It is time that these matters were settled by the Synod of the Anglican Church. Ultimately this means disestablishment, which is necessary for the Church. The figures in the report underline my point that we ought not to be discussing this matter. It should be settled by the Synod, and if the Synod wishes to go further and ordain women as priests—with which I agree—that ought to be done.
Whatever else is in this Measure, there is nothing in it about the disestablishment of the Church of England. We must deal with the situation as it actually is.
I understand the feelings of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer). However, as he is a fair-minded man I am sure that he will not want to imply that that is the generally accepted view of the Synod. The General Synod both understands and has pride in the fact that in many instances it must come to Parliament for approval of its Measures, with the comparatively recent exceptions of worship and doctrine. I would not wish to leave the House, especially those who are opposed to this Measure, feeling that there is resentment on the part of the General Synod, because that does not exist.
My final point is narrower, but equally important. I am sorry to take up time, but I think that the House expects it of me. The Ecclesiastical Committee noted a difference which it felt ought to be exposed, and its report ably deals with this matter. At present a prayer is said at the ordination of a deacon, who must by definition be a man, which is generally known as the collect for the higher ministries. It foreshadows that a deacon may proceed to the priesthood. The rubric introducing it says that it "shall" be used. The Ecclesiastical Committee pointed out a conflict between this direction and the statement in the Measure, to which I have drawn attention, about the inapplicability of it to women as priests.
Therefore, the General Synod listened to the Ecclesiastical Committee. I am sometimes told that the General Synod does not listen enough, so I hope that on this occasion at least we shall get marks for having listened. The Synod amended the canon to provide an alternative rubric. This does not alter the prayer, but it does alter the rubric if it is a woman deacon who is being ordained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), who always adds such great intellectual weight to our debates, has asked me to explain to the House that he is unavoidably absent abroad. This is unusual for him. He has authorised me, as the person who led this point in the Ecclesiastical Committee, to say that he acknowledges that this change has been made at the request of the Ecclesiastical Committee, and on this point his reservations have been removed.
With the exception of conducting a marriage service, a deaconess in the Church of England today performs the same functions as a deacon. Many feel that where women perform the same functions as men they should have the same status. That is a matter separate and distinct from any question of the ordination of women as priests. Supporters of the Measure include persons who have strong views hostile to the ordination of women as priests. Surely it is out of keeping with a 1986 view of women that they should be accorded a status inferior to men, that they can only join a lay order and that they are denied the special grace of being in one of the holy orders. It is in that spirit that I commend the Measure to the House.
This is an important debate because it raises far wider issues than the one raised by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) in presenting the Measure. We are, as Parliament, first responsible—apart from our relationship to the Church of England, to which I shall refer—for the rights of women in Britain. We are also bound to consider, because the Measure deals with it, the attitude of the Anglican Church towards women. But also, necessarily, because of the nature of the Measure, we are hound to consider the legislative relationship of the Church to Parliament and, inevitably, the issue of the establishment of the Church. I want to touch briefly on some of those questions.
The campaign for the full ordination of women in the Church of England is not a new one but a very old one indeed. It was 70 years ago that Maude Royden sought permission to be ordained. It was refused and she became an assistant at the City temple in London, where she continued to preach until her death.
In the same year, 1916, Constance Coltman was the first woman to be ordained as a Congregational minister and she practised as a minister. The ordination of women since then has spread over a wide number of denominations.
I must admit to the House a long family interest in and connection with the ordination of women. In 1920 my mother, now in her 90th year, joined the League of Church Militant, the name of the organisation then seeking the full ordination of women. She was summoned to Lambeth palace in 1926 by Archbishop Randall Davidson and told that it was impossible that women could ever be ordained into the priesthood. Following that came the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women, which continued to argue the case, then the Society for the Ministry of Women in the Church, of which Bishop Montefiori was the Anglican chairman and my mother was once the Free Church president. Now we have the Movement for the Ordination of Women, which has been arguing the case in the Synod.
I would go further. During the war the Reverend Lee Tim Oi. a Chinese woman, was ordained by Bishop Hall of Hong Kong because in wartime circumstances nobody else could administer the sacrament in his diocese. It is to the eternal disgrace of the Church of England that after the war it threatened to withdraw its financial support from the Church in China unless the Reverend Lee Tim Oi resigned, which she did. She visited Britain a little while ago.
Meanwhile, other denominations accepted women as ministers. If 1 may be allowed one other family reference, 40 years ago this year my father, as Secretary of State for Air, appointed the first woman chaplain to the Forces, a Congregationalist, the Reverend Elsie Chamberlain, much against the opposition of the then Archbishop of Canterbury. When the Air Force list was printed he found, to his rage, that his officials had listed her as a welfare officer. He had the Air Force list pulped and reissued showing her as a full chaplain in order to establish that the rights of women could not be dismissed in that way.
Since then, Anglicans have accepted the ordination of women in other countries. There are women priests in the United States of America and the Episcopalian Church in Australia. They have been considering the appointment of a woman bishop in the United States and it is not impossible that at the next Lambeth conference the Anglican community will have to receive a woman bishop as a full member of that conference and the Archbishop of Canterbury will have to receive her in that capacity.
If my hon. Friend will be patient with me, these matters need to be put upon the records of Parliament.
The only churches that do not acccept the ordination of women in England are the Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Church of England in England. It is only the Church of England that resists the matter.
It is not for me, for a reason that I shall come to in a moment, to go in detail into the argument within the Church of England, beyond saying that the Bishop of London has played a wretched role and was recently censured in the Church for his intervention in a parish in the United States. He has stirred up prejudice against women in an established church which, I might add, is presided over by a monarch who is a woman, where the bishops are appointed by a Prime Minister who is a woman. Yet the hon. Member for Wokingham begs the House to believe that under no circumstances under the Measure, and he is correct, could a woman become a priest. That is the background against which we have to discuss the matter.
There has always been prejudice and obscurantism in relation to women's matters, but there is much sympathy. Everybody is always sympathetic to the principle—but not now. That was the way in which the House discussed the women's vote and now we are invited today to vote for a Measure that explicitly makes it unlawful for a woman to be a priest, and that has to be taken into account.
One of the factors — I can only say this from observing the scene—that leads the Church to object to the ordination of women is a fear of prejudicing reunion with Rome, although there is an Alliance for St. Joan in the Catholic Church and, judging from the speed with which the Catholic Church has moved on many matters, it is not inconceivable that it will ordain women before the Church of England gets round to it. But that is a matter for speculation.
I have very little time, and I am being non-controversial, so I shall not give way.
It is against that background that we are invited to examine this puny little Measure. Of course, for women who believe that progress step by step is better than nothing, they may say that when they are deacons they will be a step nearer to becoming priests. But, as the hon. Member for Wokingham made clear, and as paragraph 1(4) makes clear, the opposite is the case. Section 1(4) of the Measure makes it clear that
Nothing in this Measure shall make it lawful for a woman to be ordained to the office of priest.
Therefore, I can well understand the attitude of those women who believe that this is a gain and that the House should vote for it because it is a step forward. However, I hope that those who take that view will accept that the argument used to get it through will be that it is the very opposite. Not only is it the very opposite for women, but now we are told that there may be a new type of male
deacon who will never go any further. We are creating a special class of second-class men to go along with the second-class women in the Church of England.
The opposition to the Measure that we will have in full force in the course of the debate highlights the central question—the absurdity, drawn out by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)— that Parliament, the Members of which do not have to be Anglicans or even Christians, has the final word in deciding whether women should be deacons, priests or bishops in the Church of England. It is absurd for the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), who is a member of the Synod, having lost in the Synod, where at least he is surrounded by members of his own denomination, to appeal to Parliament, where anybody could be Catholic, Jewish, Sikh, Muslim or humanist, to defeat that Measure. That is what makes the establishment of the Church of England unacceptable.
The political control of the Church is a total anachronism. Over the years there has been quite properly a distancing between the Synod and Parliament and a greater formalisation of our relationship. But it is the Prime Minister who appoints the bishops. Anyone who has read the recent scandalous stories about the Archbishop of Canterbury must know that it was hoped that he would resign because of those stories, to pave the way for a more acceptable archbishop appointed by the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I give that as my opinion. If the Archbishop could be forced to resign, the Prime Minister could appoint a more acceptable Archbishop. That is why the Conservative party, which believes in privatising everything, but keeping the Church of England—
With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is not the first time that I have made this point. I spoke about it on the Bishops (Retirement) Measure. This issue on which we are asked to decide highlights the manifest absurdity that Parliament should have any rights in the matter. If any hon. Member were to suggest that establishment is so successful that we should nationalise the Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church and the Jews, people would say that it was a gross abuse of spiritual freedom and they would be right.
We are a nation of many religions and of none. This House is a Parliament of many religions and of none and the time has come to complete the steady progress of separation between the Church of England and Parliament. When the new Session begins, I intend to introduce a Bill based upon the Welsh church—
I abide by your ruling, M r. Deputy Speaker, but I must say that Members of this House have no moral right to vote on this Measure. I cannot vote against it because it represents a tiny step forward, although it is also an entrenchment of a law designed to see that that step cannot lead further. I cannot vote for it for the reason I have given.
Historically, all gains by women and all gains of progress in religious freedom have been achieved when people did something, not when they pleaded, as women have done for 80 years or more, with bishops, parliamentarians and the Synod to listen to them. If women wish to be ordained as priests in the Church of England, they must be ordained abroad or invite people who have been ordained abroad to preach here, as happened with the recent service in Church house in Westminster.
I am fully committed to women's right to be priests and bishops in the Church of England. I deny Parliament's right to prevent that from happening. Women who want that right must follow the course of the suffragettes and others who fought for their rights. Only that course will create the circumstances in which women can enjoy their full rights within the Church.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has widened this debate considerably and not uninterestingly. However, we do not have much time for the debate. Will you rule, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the House is considering the ordination of women to the diaconate, not the ordination of women to the priesthood? Will you narrow the debate to that specific point?
I listened with fascination to the fairly long speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). As someone who opposes this Measure, I found that speech a great support and help. Some months ago, when I first considered the matter, I was in favour of it, but in recent months I have reached the considered opinion that it is a dangerous Measure and it is the House's duty to oppose it by exercising its judgment, which is its constitutional right.
Hon. Members are a sort of longstop to the General Synod, to which I belong. In some ways, we more truly represent the man and woman in the pew than do some of the activists of the Synod who are not, as we are, elected by direct suffrage but who are elected indirectly. The House is usually at its best when discussing ecclesiastical Measures. Many non-Anglicans and, indeed, non-Christians are most anxious to try to be helpful and to do the best that they can for the Church of England. Church and state, if no longer one in England, are certainly closer than some people believe.
The voting in the Synod was heavily in favour of the Measure. However, the fundamentals of Christian doctrine cannot be established by mere majority voting. Surely in the Church of' England, as in the entire Catholic church, scripture and tradition are our only guides. If we approve this Measure, we shall be sending out a signal from this House to all England and to the Anglican communion throughout the world that this is but one stage in the process of the ordination of women as priests. In the discussion in the Ecclesiastical Committee, Earl Waldegrave and others made the same point.
The Measure will not necessarily create women priests eventually, but the general public do not read the small print. They, especially those who read the popular papers, will believe that after the Measure is passed it will only be a question of time before women can become priests. That would be a serious step which would have to be approved by the entire Catholic Church in a general council. It would also cause a fearful split in the Church of England, as it has done already in the Episcopal Church in the United States and elsewhere. It might fatally injure the Church.
In saying that, I am not opposed to women in general of women in public life. Everyone with a knowledge of church history must know the tremendous part that women have played in the Christian story. Furthermore, I fully recognise the value of the work done by deaconnesses. I also salute those women such as our Prime Minister— [Laughter.] — who have attained the highest positions in the land. But the diaconate and the priesthood are quite different; they are not secular appointments. We all know that women are different from, and complementary to, men. But I have found some of the pressure groups that are in favour of the priesthood of women extremely distasteful. Ecclesiastical politics should not be as rough as secular politics, and should not use the same pressure group techniques.
Finally, the Church of England must get back to basic Christianity: to preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, helping people to ask for forgiveness for their sins, and to teaching us all how to pray. Both in the House and in the Synod we spend a lot of time on less important matters, such as this measure, or even conditions in the Third world, South Africa or the atom bomb. We need a new John Keble to preach a new Assize sermon before the Church of England, if it goes on proposing changes so quickly, completely vanishes from the land, with churches left empty and the people of England engulfed in heathenism, looking up but not being fed.
As an addendum, I must point out that a change in a collect in the ordination service in the Book of Common Prayer will prove necessary if the Measure is passed. That book has already almost vanished from the Church's services and is available, in my experience, in only about one in six parishes. If this Measure is passed, I wonder how many more changes to the Book of Common Prayer will follow.
I hope that hon. Members' wisdom, common sense and experience will lead us to reject this Measure. I believe that it would drag the Church of England, which we all love so much, further into the Slough of Despond.
I have a personal interest in this Measure, as I am a member of the Church of England by baptism, but a member of the Church in Wales by confirmation, and so, arguably. I have experience of both.
As the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) made clear, the overwhelming view of the parliament of the Church of England was that this Measure should be supported. It met with no opposition in the House of Bishops and gained more than 80 per cent. support in the synod as a whole. No one has argued that a principle of scripture applies to this debate. However, there is a historical principle, which is that, as the hon. Member for Wokingham said, when the Church began there was a diaconate that included both men and women. Thus historical continuity is perhaps the firmest rock for arguing in favour of this Measure. Indeed, I believe that, as a result, it is impossible to resist the request made to us.
But there is another argument, which was put to the Committee by the Bishop of Rochester and others. That argument is that changes in society mean that there is a pragmatic reason for granting this request. On page 16 of the minutes, the bishop said:
Thirdly, this Measure must be seen against the background of quite drastic changes taking place in the total ministry of the church. When I became a bishop 25 years ago I had 100 more clergy than today but I had only three deaconesses, no women readers and no laity of either sex authorised to assist at Holy Communion. Today, I have 23 deaconesses, nearly 50 women readers and about 200 of the 600 laity authorised by me annually to assist at Communion are women.
An increasing number of women participate in the Church, so there is increasing pressure from women who feel called to participate in its ministry. As page 6 of the report says:
It is quite out of keeping with contemporary views of the position of women in society that where men and women are performing virtually identical functions the women should be accorded a status inferior to that of the men.
In theological and spiritual terms, women who cannot be ordained as deacons are denied the concomitant privilege of being in holy orders with the special grace that that may confer.
The Christian principles of tolerance and justice should lead us to accept this Measure. Behind the debate lies the question whether such a Measure would make more likely the ordination of women to the priesthood. But all hon. Members know that our procedures and those of the Church mean that the two issues have taken parallel but different courses. It would be wrong to allow one's adjudication of this Measure to be influenced by what might happen.
Certain things are fundamental, and certain things change. There is an awkward theological debate about whether the ordination of women to the priesthood raises a fundamental issue or merely reflects a change. As a result of the Pauline attitude to women and the teaching of St. Paul, that is a very difficult argument. I can see no theological reason against women becoming priests. However, the Church has made it clear that that argument should not be adduced today. As the hon. Member for Wokingham said, well-known senior members of the Church of England have made it clear that they are against the ordination of women to the priesthood but are happy to vote for this Measure.
It has taken a long time for this provision to reach the House. The committee set up by the Lambeth conference recommended to it in 1920 that this Measure should be taken. It took another 58 years, until the Lambeth conference in 1978, for the conference to resolve that such a step should be taken. As we have heard, the Church in Wales took the same step in 1980, and the Episcopal Church in Ireland and Scotland is well on its way. Progress has been slow, and even in very recent history, there have been delays. I do not criticise that, but it has been frustrating.
People have written to me, and no doubt to other hon. Members, reminding me how disappointed women will be if the measure does not succeed. Women who have been working as deaconesses and who have been doing the same work as their male counterparts in all but one material respect will be very disappointed if the House says that the status appropriate to what they do is not available to them. After all, they feel called to do their work.
The report makes it clear that there are also practical considerations. Men and women who train for work in the Church as deacons and deaconesses now train in the same theological colleges. That was not so 20 or 30 years ago. They have similar functions, and the number of men and women involved is much more equal.
As the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) said, a change will have to be made to a collect, because at present it suggests that ordination as a deacon automatically leads to ordination as a priest. That would have to go. That is the clear implication, if we are creating, as Portsmouth diocese has pioneered, a new tier of people who will remain deacons. We have created a new tier of lay workers or non-stipendiary ministers, and the Church is always seeking to expand the number of those working in its ministry.
Most important, it would be a gross abuse of the rights and authority that this House has over the Church if it told women that they were to be deprived of equal treatment, especially as the House is even more dominated by men than the General Synod is. Historically, it is accepted that women in the Church can be deacons.
This is a measure whose time has well and truly come. We must remind people that if they are afraid that precipitate moves in the other direction might split the Church, so there is a terrible fear among those of us who are concerned for the Church as a whole, that to deprive a large number of women who feel called will also weaken the Church in its own way.
If we are about maximising the ability of men and women to preach the gospel of love and justice — the Christian gospel—we must maximise the contribution of as many people as possible. To deprive women of equal status to do that would weaken the Church and reduce in number and in commitment the forces of those who are seeking, with status and authority, training, dedication and vocation, to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth.
I hope that the measure will be overwhelmingly supported.
I come to the same conclusion as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Politicians are often accused of speaking in code—of talking energetically about one subject when thinking about another. Leaving aside examples nearer home, a classic example of that was when Chairman Mao turned his fire on Confucius, who had been dead 2,500 years, to launch the cultural revolution. The same argument is true of this Measure. The argument has nothing to do with the ordination of women deacons, but everything to do with section 1(4) of the Measure. It is like the skirmish of Fort Sumter before the great conflicts of Shiloh and Gettysburg. My analogy of civil war — and American civil war at that — was deliberately picked. No one will appreciate the topical reference to that more than the Bishop of London.
Those who wish to block the Measure are really concerned about women priests, or even women bishops. That is the truth and everyone in the House knows it. It is the classic wedge principle argument, which was clearly articulated in the proceedings of the Ecclesiastical Committee. The House should refuse to break that code and should solemnly take the Church at its word. Both the Bishop of Rochester and the secretary-general of the Synod urged the Ecclesiastical Committee to accept the measure on its merits rather than to see it as a Trojan horse from which would jump an army of priestesses to divide the Church of England.
If it is seen on its own, there is an unanswerable case for the House to pass the Measure tonight.
First, the Measure presents no theological problem. As a High Churchman, I sought the guidance of two very senior bishops in the Catholic wing of the Chruch. Both confirmed to me that there were no theological objections to the ordination of women to the diaconate and that no bishops opposed the measure. Both bishops are strongly opposed to women priests. Speaking as an Anglican, I respect the guidance of bishops on matters of order and doctrine. It is to those who stand in the apostolic succession that an ordinary Christian must look for guidance on the Catholic faith, rather than to majority votes in the General Synod.
It is plain from the early history of the Church that women undertook this service of physical and spiritual support. Although the first seven deacons were men, Paul's Letter to the Romans refers to Phebe as a fellow Christian who held office as a deacon in the congregation at Cenchreae. The actual words are "Ousan Diakonon Tes Ekklesias" — being a deacon in the Church. The author of the First Letter to Timothy, be it Paul himself or one of his disciples, equates equally the conduct of deacons and their wives. Some readings of that text when translated use the word "deaconess", as a footnote in the New English Bible puts it.
I think that the position of Phebe is quite clear—being a deacon in the Church. That is sufficient evidence.
At a meeting in this building last week, I asked the Archbishop of York if ordaining women to the diaconate would cause any problems with Rome. He assured me that it would not. Pope John Paul himself has made it clear that the ordination of women priests would he a major stumbling block, but since Rome unfortunately still regards all Anglican orders as invalid through defect of intention, perhaps that should not be our most immediate worry.
There are no serious practical objections. To all intents and purposes, deaconesses already carry out all the functions of deacons except marriage, which deacons hardly ever carry out anyway. They can conduct funerals. They can, of course, baptise —any layman can do that—and they can take any service except communion.
The Bishop of Rochester told the Committee that in 25 years the number of lay people authorised by him to administer the chalice at communion had risen from none to 600, of whom 200 are women.
As a layman, and not even licensed as a reader, I have a certificate of authorisation from the bishop of my diocese to administer the chalice, and I am likely to undertake that great duty at least twice before the end of this year. If I can do that without any formal training, surely it is reasonable that a man and a woman who have received identical and lengthy training at a theological college as deacon and deaconess, and who will in practice carry out the same duties after the bishop has laid his hands upon them, should be treated equally in canon law.
The truth is that the Church needs all its human resources, both clergy and laity. There are no serious objections to allowing women to be ordained as deacons. Having said that, and believing that the House should allow the Measure to pass, I must add that I am not impressed with some of the defensive arguments which have been used in its favour. Certainly, I see very little prospect of a permanent male diaconate, or any obvious point in it, despite the talk about experiments in Portsmouth and so on. Equally, those who say that the Church should sort out whether it wants a permanent diaconate before ordaining women as deacons are in practice asking for indefinite deferment. I doubt whether the Church has the slightest intention of seriously addressing that issue directly. It will be left, I am sure, to the decisions of individual bishops and individual candidates for ordination as deacon.
Some men may, indeed, decide to stay as deacons, but I cannot see why there should be any hard and fast rules about that. A man may initially have intended to remain a deacon, but if he feels the strong call to the full ministry of priesthood, assuming that he is suitable, I cannot envisage a bishop refusing to ordain him priest after the normal examination. I cannot see any prospect of deliberately creating a permanent male diaconate just to balance the women deacons. What would be the point of it? Certainly it would have no theological virtue.
Obviously there are women in the Church, and indeed men, who hope that this Measure will be the first step towards women priests. But they may be disappointed. There is certainly no guarantee that such a Measure will command the necessary majority in the Church for it to be presented to the House. That would he a very different step from what we are being asked to do tonight. To a significant body of opinion in the Church, that would be a major theological impediment.
It is worth remembering that these are issues about which committed Christians feel very strongly indeed. On matters of faith, Christians throughout 2,000 years have followed the words of the Apostle Peter—we ought to obey God rather than man. I do not believe that the General Synod or this House has the unilateral power to change the order of priesthood which belongs to all Catholic and orthodox Christendom. I believe that a major issue of faith and order of that kind can be settled only by inter-Church agreement and preferably by a general council of the Church. That is how all the greatest issues have been resolved by Christians and how the Holy Spirit led the Fathers of Nicaea, Constantinople and Chalcedon to define the doctrine of the Trinity itself. While that might seem an impossible or visionary suggestion for divided Christendom, there has been 30 much progress in recent years that no one should rule out a great step of that kind.
We can all recall the Pope and Dr. Runcie praying together in Canterbury cathedral four years ago. Who would have dreamt 25 years ago that that would even be possible? The Emperor Constantine was not even baptised when he summoned and personally presided over the Council of Nicaea. It is doubtful that he was ever really a believing Christian. His successor was an Arian, and he in his turn was followed by Julian the Apostate.
It was through such unpromising material at that time, however, that the doctrine of the Trinity was defined. Who are we to say that the mind of the entire Church cannot similarly be discovered in God's good time, which may not be very long? Men and women no longer kill one another over whether the Greek letter iota occurs in a Greek word, but that does not mean that devout Christians do not feel strongly about their faith. The nuns and priests who went to the Nazi gas chambers in place of others were showing that the Holy Spirit is still stronger than man's cruelties and barbarities. We can and must avoid the dangers of yet more splits in Christendom.
Women have waited for 2,000 years before being called to the Christian priesthood. If it is God's will that they should be so called and thereby to the episcopate as well, we can all ponder and pray a little longer until this great matter can be resolved by the Church as a whole. It is not for the Anglian Synod or for the House, in my view, to force the pace. It is worth remembering one of the few rabbinical sayings in the New Testament attributed to Rabban Gamaliel, which is as follows:
If this idea of theirs or its execution is of human origin, it will collapse; but if it is from God, you will never be able to put these men down, and you risk finding yourselves at war with God.
No harm will be done to the unity of the Church or its doctrine and order by letting this Measure pass. We should do so, however, on the very conditions which the Church itself has offered—that women deacons are appropriate and right, but that the issue of women priests remains to be resolved.
Unlike the hon. Members for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). who intervened in his speech, I do not believe that the House is called upon to resolve any profound issues of theology or to investigate the relevance of the early history of the Church. I think that we are called upon to exercise the function of a legislature; the legislature for the time being perhaps of the Church of England, but still a legislature with a duty to make sound law and law which achieves only the intended purpose and the purpose that is desired by those who put it forward. It is on that ground, and not without assistance from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), that I would argue that it would be right for the House not to pass this Measure.
In accordance with both the wording and the rubric of the ordinal on which clerks in holy orders are ordained, it is made clear that the order of deacon is a prelude to the priesthood. There is no doubt about that, and that is clear in the wording of the Prayer Book. There is a general feeling, which has been referred to already, that that link of a diaconate with the other holy orders is to a large extent, and increasingly, obsolete, and that it would be right for men and women to be able to perform on equal terms in the Church those offices that are associated with the title of deacon or deaconess, and to do so without any commitment or necessary connection with the intention or likelihood of proceeding to be priested.
If such a Measure were proposed, I would feel that it should be accepted and would heartily agree with it. The fact is, however, that the General Synod has not proceeded in that way. It has not produced for our consideration a Measure which creates a new diaconate separated deliberately from the rest of holy orders and a diaconate in which, as is right and proper, women and men may be on an equal basis. Instead, it has proceeded in an entirely different way by seeking authorisation for women to become deacons, of which the meaning and significance is unambiguous, which means that they thereby become clerks in holy orders.
Like most hon. Members, I have studied with great care the report by which we are assisted from the Ecclesiastical Committee. I think that everyone who has done so must be impressed by the anxieties that were felt by the minority, who remained unable to recommend the Measure to the House, as well as by the circumstances in which the Committee as a whole brought itself to do so. I want to refer to the condition by which the rest of the Committee — the majority within it — consented with obvious reluctance to commend the Measure to the House. This was that the General Synod should itself approve a canon which would alter the Prayer Book and thereby alter the worship and doctrine of the Church of England.
If we pass this Measure on the basis of an assurance that the law of the Church of England will be altered by canon, we are in effect illicitly devolving the legislative function of the House in relation to the Church of England in a way which was not envisaged 12 years ago when the worship and doctrine Measure was passed.
The issue of the priesting of women is one which has not been resolved by the Church of England. Indeed, during the period in which the Measure before us was in gestation there was observable a considerable change of pace, if not of heart, in the General Synod. It seems incumbent upon us, therefore, not now to put on the statute book of the Church of England a Measure of which the clear and logical implication is that it shows an intention to proceed to the admission of women to the order of priesthood.
After all, if we pass this Measure, what is the answer to the question, "Why, rather than permit the Church of England to have an order of deacons unconnected with the priesthood, pass a Measure which specifically makes it possible for women to be admitted to the order of deacon?" We should be obliged to recognise that in doing that by implication we have passed a Measure which decides by a side wind a major, fundamental and far-reaching issue which the Church itself has not decided and on which it has made no request to the House.
The time may come when we shall have before us a Measure which directly addresses itself to the question which I have posed. In the meantime, I think that we should do wrong by the Church of England, by the people of the Church of England, by the General Synod and by our function as legislators if we passed a Measure which by implication abridged the debate which has not yet been concluded, and by implication reached a decision which is not before us to take. I hope that we shall not do that this evening.
The House has been invited to approve a Measure which has already been approved by the Synod, but it has not come straight from the Synod to the House. I remind the House, as we have just been reminded by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), that the Measure has been considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee. That is not a Committee which has an especially high profile in this place, and perhaps it is as well to remind ourselves that it is a somewhat unusual body in that it is a Committee of both Houses. The House might he aware that 15 members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor— those are Members of the other place—and 15 members are appointed from this House by Mr. Speaker. The purpose of the Committee is to examine carefully the Measures that are passed by the Synod and presented for Parliament's approval.
It has been my privilege over the past few years to be a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee. In the short time that I have been a member of it I have been impressed by the attention which it gives to Measures and the diligence with which it approaches its work. It spends a good deal of time examining each Measure carefully and, having done so, and if it is not entirely content with that which is involved, it notifies representatives of the Synod to appear before it to be cross-examined in as effective a manner as any witness is cross-examined before a Select Committee. In this instance representatives of the Synod, led by the Lord Biship of Rochester, were cross-examined most carefully about the intentions and thinking behind this Measure.
One result of that cross-examination was the comments in paragraph 7 on page 4 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) has already referred. As a result of our discussions an undertaking was given that the collect that comes at the end of the service would not be used when women were being ordained as deacons so as to remove any possible doubt whatsoever as to the intention of this Measure. In this respect—here I take up the point made by the right hon. Member for South Down—the closing words of paragraph 7 state:
It is a point to which the Committee attach considerable importance and their opinion that the Measure is expedient is given on the assumption that this modification to the draft canon will be made.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham is responding to the debate, perhaps he will give us that assurance, as that change does not appear in the schedule. I understand that it will come subsequently.
As a result of the most careful examination, the Ecclesiastical Committee has recommended that the Measure is expedient. It was not a decision reached with reluctance, as the right hon. Member for South Down implied. There were certainly one or two reservations among individual members, but it was a clear decision reached by the Committee after the most careful consideration.
Of course this House and the other place have the last word, but I suggest that the House should not lightly overturn a conclusion of the Ecclesiastical Committee, which studied this matter most carefully on its behalf.
The issues of priests and deacons are very definitely separate. That has been said not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham and the synod but by others including the Bishop of London whose views on the ordination of women as priests are very clear. He has indicated that he is in favour of this Measure. The Roman Catholic Church has made it clear that if women became ordained priests in the Church of England that could erect a substantial barrier towards closer relations between the two Churches, but to the best of my knowledge it has raised no objection to this Measure.
After all, what arc we talking about? The fact is that both deacons and deaconesses play an important and increasing part in the affairs of the Church. As has already been said, the only difference between deacons and deaconesses is that the latter cannot perform marriages simply because of the wording of the Marriage Act.
Women deacons would acquire no new functions or jurisdiction other than the one that I have just mentioned, but their status would be comparable with that of a male deacon. They still cannot proceed to the holy order of priests. They can remain deacons as males may remain deacons. As has already been said, there are increasing steps towards the idea of permanent male deacons who in my view could perform an extremely useful service in the church.
All this must be apparent to the man in the pew if he simply examines the facts that I have summarised. But what will it look like to the woman in the pew if this Measure is lost? To put it mildly, it will look like a studied, calculated slight. Although the synods of the dioceses support the Measure by an overwhelming majority; although the bishops support it unanimously; although this policy has applied in the Church in Wales for the past five years; although increasing reliance is placed on deaconesses to hold the parishes together; and although women greatly outnumber men in the congregations, it is being suggested that the admission of women to the order of deacons is to be banned simply because they are women.
If this Measure is lost tonight the reputation of deaconesses will certainly not suffer, but the reputation of this House will.
I am glad to have the opportunity for a few minutes only of contributing to the debate, particularly as I am a woman Member of Parliament and, after all, the debate is about the ordination of women.
In May this year I had the pleasure and honour of sponsoring an exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall entitled, "What are Women doing in the Church of England". I see from the nods opposite that some Conservative Members may have looked at that exhibition and benefited from it. I found it most rewarding.
The exhibition sought to make a contribution to the process of breaking down the stereotyped images of women that persist both inside and outside the Church of England. For many people the image of the Church remains that of a male-dominated institution with women — as they do in other walks of life — carrying out traditional servicing tasks such as flower arranging, cutting the sandwiches and making the tea. As with so many other areas of life, women in the Church fulfil those basic and essential tasks.
In addition, however, they are also fulfilling the role of deaconesses as full-time parish workers and church social workers. We must emphasise the very real contribution that deaconesses are making in that way. There are women as hospital, prison, college and even armed services' chaplains. In fact, the number of women offering themselves and being selected for the ministry has doubled over the past 10 years.
In common with women in every sphere, women in the Church of England bring their own strengths and wisdom to their work. Sadly, in common with women everywhere, their contribution is often undervalued, unrecognised or, at worst, rejected. The debate that has been aroused by women seeking ordination as deacons in the Church of England has mirrored the many historic struggles that women have waged over the years, and the prejudice and hostility that has been expressed by some who oppose this Measure has also been evident at every stage of women's long march towards the very modest goal of equality.
Equality is a concept that women have been forced to extract bit by bit — from the removal of women's common law status as minors, to the right to enter the universities and the professions, the Married Women's Property Act, the vote, the right to stand for election and the right to equal pay for work of equal value. Every right had been fought for by women for women, and nothing has ever been given without a fight. We are still struggling to eradicate injustice against women, and I am proud to be part of that struggle.
Each small triumph for women has, then as now, been accompanied by dire warnings of the consequences for women and men—indeed, for society as men believe they see it—that will result from such challenges to the so-called "natural order". It is truly amazing that so little regard is given to the profoundly offensive and deeply wounding effect that such remarks have upon women—and they are offensive and wounding. It is even more amazing to hear what can only be described as an almost primitive fear of this Measure from members of an institution whose constitutional head has for the past 30 years been a woman.
We know that the Queen appoints archbishops and bishops on the recommendation of the Prime Minister—another woman. We have Her Majesty as defender of the faith; yet women are not acceptable as deacons. They are acceptable as servicers and defenders of the faith—with a small "d"—but they cannot enter the heart and soul through holy orders.
The Measure is a modest one. It has already been passed by the General Synod and with overwhelming majorities in the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity. Virtually all members of the Synod, down to the grass roots level, have overwhelmingly supported Measures to ordain women as deacons. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and Ladies present will have had letters from bishops and ministers. We have had pleas from our localities to pass the Measure.
Many hon. Members have pointed out that the Measure clearly distinguishes between the issue of women as deacons and that of women as priests. Women as priests is a matter which we may or may not come to at some subsequent stage. As the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) said, we are discussing the ordination of women deacons, and that is what I shall stick to, as I hope all hon. Members will.
I should like to read a brief quotation from Deaconess Diana McClatchey's evidence to the Ecclesiastical Committee. She could not have put it better when she said:
At the moment a woman and a man who have been trained together and who have done exactly the same preparation and have passed out of theological college together kneel side by side at an ordination service; both receive the prayers of the congregation for their respective offices of deacon and deaconess. Hands are laid upon them. One rises a clerk in Holy Orders and the other remains a lay person—it is as simple as that—even though they will go and do the same thing in the coming year.
I feel sure that the House will not turn its back on the overwhelming support for the Measure which comes from the Church of England, nor on the 600 or so deaconesses who await our decision — a decision of this, I have to say, male-dominated House of Commons. The decision is also awaited by many women who are not deaconesses but members of congregations, and women who are not members of congregations. The matter is of deep concern not only to deaconesses and churchgoers; it affects the dignity and status of every woman in the country. Each advance affects us all. In asking the House to pass the Measure overwhelmingly, I ask hon. Members to remember that.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I am no theologian, but I shall make three observations. The first is that it never ceases to interest me when I behold the point at which people decide that they will stop in their consideration of life. For example, I believe that some of the voices we have heard against the Measure would have been heard equally well against translating the Bible into the common tongue or against the proposition that the Gospel should be taken to the gentiles. Where we stop in the evolution of God's grace is much more a matter of personal predilection than one that has any real doctrinal basis.
I speak in this debate partly because my grandfather was a member of the 1920 committee that recommended that women should be ordained as deacons. He went on later to he rector of St. Margaret's Westminster.
Secondly, I am interested in people's anxieties about splits in the Church. It is some six years since my aunt retired as a minister of the Congregational Church. While she was entirely clear about her calling as a minister of the church, the Church of England in which she had been born and brought up would not allow her to practise her calling. When we in the Church of England look towards the unity of the Church, frequently we look too much to the Roman Catholic Church and too little to those churches, that are expanding all over the world, which have left the Anglican communion or have grown out of the Anglican communion partly because of the rigidities that we have forced on it.
Thirdly, there is some anxiety about the rate of change. Perhaps I can put it this way: it is a long time to wait for the thick end of the wedge if we are only at this late stage considering the possibility of restoring the position as we understand it to have been in the early stages of the Church, before women ceased, probably about 150 AD, to be recognised as deacons. For those reasons, and others that I shall not go into in this short debate, I shall support the Measure.
I would not normally intervene in such a debate—I shall keep my remarks to a few points—but, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I do not believe that we should debate measures such as the Deacons (Ordination of Women) Measure in Parliament, mainly because we live in a multi-creed society. Against that background, it can be seen as socially divisive to maintain an established Church and have a state religion which allows politicians at Westminster to poke their secular noses into matters which might concern them in their congregation but should not concern them in Parliament.
I shall be pleased to see the day when the Church of England becomes disestablished and we can leave Church matters to the Church. I shall not enter into that argument at this point, because it is very much for the future. I wish to speak because I have a constituency interest. Newham has a dynamic deaconess called Ann Eastor. She is well known in our community. She undertakes all the pastoral work at St. James's, Forest Gate, with the exception of communion and marriages—I regret to note that fact—and she is in regular attendance at Newham general hospital giving support to women in the maternity unit. It is on her behalf, in addition to the obvious principle involved, that I shall support the measure.
Although the House clearly has the power to reject the Measure—as the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has invited us to do—I think that it would be both unwise and mischievous for it to do so, in view of the overwhelming support for the Measure in the diocesan synods, where 42 out of 44 approved it. Looking at the General Synod figures for the meeting in July 1985, one sees, as the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) said, that the House of Bishops voted by 36 to nil, which is a fairly hefty score. It included the vote of the Bishop of London. Quite frankly, if the Bishop of London votes for a measure, one can be certain that it is not revolutionary in any sense. The House of Clergy voted by 147 to 49 and the House of Laity by 137 to 34. Clearly, there is overwhelming support in the Synod and in the country as a whole.
I have read the evidence given to the Ecclesiastical Committee. I was especially taken by the points made by the Bishop of Rochester. He said, quite rightly, that this development is part of a process which began in 1861 when the first deaconesses were authorised. At that time it seemed inconceivable to have a woman Prime Minister, a woman High Court judge or a woman Cabinet Minister. Women did not have the vote. We are talking about the position today. Women constitute the majority of the population. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said, quite rightly, women are grossly under-represented in this House, both in terms of those who are right hon. and hon. Members and in the number of hon. Members present tonight. There is something absurd about this House, stuffed full of grey men in grey suits—I am one of them, so I do not dissociate myself from the comment— actually discussing something that primarily concerns the interests of women in the Church of England. What women are asking for is perfectly reasonable and acceptable in today's world.
The Measure affects the status of women in the Church. During the brief meeting that we had with the Archbishop of York, when the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) asked about early Church practice, I intervened to show that the Bible, rather like statistics, can produce any form of support that one wants for any argument at any given moment. Therefore, one will not quote the Bible as the source, although one could, by referring to Phebe in St. Paul's Letter to the Romans.
The case for the Measure is based not on biblical history but on modern day equity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking said, women are selected and trained in exactly the same way in theological colleges as men, but they are then treated differently when women are made deaconesses and are not in holy orders while men are made deacons and are in holy orders. If women become deacons, they will be entitled to call themselves Reverend if they so wish and to wear a clerical collar, although perhaps it would be offensive to give the term "dog collar" the feminine equivalent.
However, there are matters of greater importance because, as the right hon. Member for South Down said, as clerks in holy orders, women will be empowered to conduct marriage services. Deaconesses already have the authority to conduct burial services. They can send people from the world, so they should be able to join people together in happiness in the world. They will have the same authority and status as deacons currently enjoy. Equal status for equal work is a wholly reasonable demand, and we should support the Measure.
At this late stage in the debate, I shall resist the temptation to pick up some of the interesting side issues that have been raised; instead, I shall concentrate on two overwhelming reasons why the Measure should be rejected. I very much follow the line of argument adopted by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), but I wish to identify it in this way.
First, if the Measure passes, under the law of England there will he, for the first time, two categories of deacon. Hitherto, in the entire history of the Church, the orders of bishop, priest and deacon have been indivisible. If the Measure is passed, in the Church of England there will be two categories of deacon—first, those who can and will move on to the priesthood and, secondly, those who will be incapable, though deacons, of doing so. The distinction between the two will be entirely one of sex.
Men will, as now, be able to proceed, and normally will after one year, to become ordained as priests. Women, though deacons and able to fulfil the entire range of diaconate functions, will not be able to. There is little doubt in my mind that if we pass the Measure, because of that distinction, there will be those who will go to the courts and say that the Measure should be read alongside other statutes that lay down sex equality. In other words, there is a real danger that the main result of the Measure will be confusion arising from litigation. The House should be in no doubt that what is proposed is the creation of two classes of deacon — one male, one female. That cannot be right.
My second reason for asking the House to oppose the Measure is simply this. It was made clear in the discussions before the Ecclestiastical Committee that the Church of England was at this time considering a revision of the functions of the order of deacon. My hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner referred to experiments in the diocese of Portsmouth and elsewhere whereby it would be envisaged that certain deacons would not go on to the priesthood in due course, as is the usual, and indeed the almost inevitable, progression at present.
If that is so, and if the Church of England is looking for a redefinition of the diaconate order, that should be done before the House and the Church as a whole consider the role of women in that diaconate order. If the Measure goes ahead, we shall be putting the cart before the horse. Of that nobody should be in any doubt. It is probably the case that the Church of England is not considering too seriously a revision of the diaconate order. Indeed, there are no Measures before the Synod that would do that. Although an experiment may be taking place in the smallest diocese of the Church of England, it may be a long time before anything proceeds there.
For both those reasons, the House would be well advised to ponder and to realise that if we pass the Measure, we shall go down a wrong path. There are those who argue that it is hardly the business of the House. I am a baptised and confirmed member of the Church of England. I have been a church warden and am the son of a clergyman in the 45th year of his ministry. I glory in the fact that we have an established Church in this country. Again and again down the centuries Parliament has saved the Church from itself, from the time of the great Henrician statutes. I have no doubt that we have every right to say to the Church of England today, as Parliament has said again and again in the past, "You are wrong in what you are proposing. Think again." We should do so now on this Measure.
Unlike the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell), I wish to comment on the main themes of the debate. In doing so, I shall pick up the theme introduced by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), because it is the first time in an ecclesiastical debate that I find myself disagreeing with him. There is always a danger in trying to simplify any of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments, and no doubt he will be quick to his feet if I distort some of what he was trying to say.
I thought that part of the argument that the right hon. Gentleman put forward in advocating the rejection of the Measure was that the Church itself had not thought out carefully enough the implications of what we were being asked to approve. As he said that, I was reminded of the comment by Aneurin Bevan. He had been listening to the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and said that the problem with listening to him was that it was like a trip round Woolworth's; everything is in place and nothing is priced over sixpence. In life, it is difficult to fit everything neatly into place. Indeed, it is wrong for us to think that God acts as super-manager of a local Woolworth's store.
I disagreed with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), who made an erudite speech, in that his defence of authority seemed to leave out the basis that the Church in England claims for its authority, which is the Reformation. If we, in our supposed wisdom, were establishing a Church in this country, it is doubtful, given how many of us view the nature of a Church, that we would make it an established Church. However, that is how history has turned out, and as the hon. Gentleman said, the wisdom of that decision has been shown, in that on many occasions it has been the secular arm of the state that has saved the Church.
I have no hesitation in approaching the second theme of the debate, which was put so forcibly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Attractive as his invitation was for each of us to wander down memory lane with him on past achievements of women in the Church or the horrors of establishment, I beg us not to do so. I have voted against every measure of privatisation in the House and I view disestablishment of the Church as a measure of privatisation in that it would be taking something that belongs to the nation and giving it to the sects.
One of the sad things about the Labour party and the Church of England is that debate seems similar in both organisations. The thirst for the sect to have authority seems to know no bounds. We have every right and a duty seriously to consider every Measure put to us by the Church. If we believe that a Measure is unwise, we should reject it. We have not had such arguments in this debate.
In his speech the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), as usual, put his finger on an important point, hut, if he will forgive me for saying so, he did not take his argument through to a conclusion. He asked a question that is often in my mind about what constitutes the basis of authority within a Church. The hon. Gentleman mentioned two. One was scripture and the other was tradition. I am sure he listened carefully to the speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton. In that speech, the question was firmly answered on both criteria. In terms of scripture and tradition, and because of the evidence, we ought to give an overwhelming vote in favour of this Measure.
There is further evidence for an Anglican to draw on in the wish of the Lambeth conference to initiate this Measure. Some would say that it is a reactionary Measure because it goes back to what was rather than establishing something new. Given that we do not have synods of bishops in the Anglican community, our Lambeth conference is the nearest we can get to that. Anglicans listening to the debate ought to consider the request by most of the bishops of most of the Anglican communities in the world for this Measure to be accepted. We ought to consider that carefully before we vote.
The matter of authority, which is my third theme, was properly raised by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge. The evidence put forward suggests that we should say that authority in scripture and in tradition is behind this Measure. That leads me to my last main point, the issue of women priests. That has been the backcloth to this debate and even those hon. Members who told me, though they are not present in the Chamber, that they would speak in favour of the Measure, made speeches about the ordination of women to the priesthood. The speeches were such that I felt that I could not have heard them correctly outside the Chamber and that they were trying to stir up the Government Benches to get a "No" vote.
Let us be clear. We are told that this Measure has nothing to do with the ordination of women into the priesthood. I hope that I will live as part of the Church to see women priests. I plead with those who will be campaigning with us for that Measure not to use the passing of this Measure as a reason for the ordination of women priests because there are other reasons for that. One of the main causes of anger in the House against the Synod is the highly political way in which it has presented Measures to us and has said that they are limited Measures and would not be added to. As soon as we have passed the Measures, as with the reform of the Prayer Book, the Synod has come back and said that we must concede a further reform, that we allowed it to do the experiments and suggested an alternative Prayer Book and that now we are denying it a reform.
I ask of those in Synod a standard of political debate of the sort that they expect from their elected representatives in Parliament and that they take the debate at its face value. This is not a debate about women priests but about a Measure to allow the ordination of women deacons. I hope that we approve of that Measure.
I shall conclude by touching on the point made by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). He told the House about the deliberations of the Ecclesiastical Committee and he asked whether the canon was ready and prepared. The answer is yes. He told the House about the long and considered debates in the Ecclesiastical Committee about this Measure. The Committee concluded that we should approve the Measure, but it would be wrong for anyone to quote the figures of the Division on that conclusion. On practically every Measure that we considered in Committee some of us found ourselves in the minority. On this occasion as on others, the minority was such that the Measure could be recommended to the House.
In the light of the arguments that have been put forward I hope that the House approves the Measure. There is much evidence in scripture and tradition in support of it, and while we have every right to reject it, we certainly cannot reject it on the arguments that have been raised against it in this debate. I hope that the vote will result in a large majority for its affirmation.
We have heard some scholarly and profound speeches but my few words will be intensely practical. I shall not go down the road taken by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) by giving anecdotes about my family's association with the Church, although the eldest sons in my family have been priests in the Church for five generations.
Many hon. Members feel strongly about this Measure, but I wish simply to support the General Synod of the Church of England. This Measure does not open the door to the ordination of women to the priesthood. We are told that until the 12th century the diaconate was a distinct and permanent order of men and women and that it was part of the Church's historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. The diaconate has its own defined duties and this Measure is simply a move to reassert the rightful status of the diaconate.
The report by the Ecclesiastical Committee says that the first deaconess in the Church of England, Elizabeth Ferard was dedicated in 1861 by the then Bishop of London. It goes on:
The admission of women as deaconesses was seen not as a departure from doctrine or practice but as the restoration of a ministry of service known to the primitive Church. Dr. J. B. Lightfoot, who later became Bishop of Durham in 1879, claimed that 'the female diaconate is as definite an institution in the Apostolic Church as the male diaconate'.
This Measure will put an end to the glaring injustice, illogicality and indefensibility of the present situation about women. Women are selected and trained on the same basis as men in theological colleges such as my own in Salisbury and Wells. They do what amounts to the same job as men and are even ordained alongside men when the bishop lays his hands on them in the same way. Because of their sex, they do not become clerks in Holy Orders like the men but must remain laity sitting in the House of Laity and unable by the law of the land to solemnise or attest marriages. That is an important point because it is pastoral nonsense. Many deaconesses know engaged couples much better than the priest who will marry them.
If one reads with any feeling the report called "Faith in the City" and looks at the proposals for the increased work of women in the church, especially in our inner cities, one will sometimes be filled with despair. It is despairing to think that we could prevent a great deal of such work in future.
The present position is unacceptably vague about women. For example the "Making of a Deaconess" section of the ordination service is ambiguous. The status of deaconesses is generally ambiguous in that, although they function in every way as clergy, they are not clergy. If deaconesses go abroad to provinces that have women deacons, they may not even be allowed to preach, being regarded as lay readers. Such provinces include Canada, Kenya, the Episcopal Church in the United States, New Zealand, Uganda, Japan, central Africa, Wales, southern Africa, Ireland and Hong Kong.
I have received many letters on the subject—as, I am sure, have all hon. Members. I shall quote briefly from two of them, as they have struck a particular chord with me. The first is from a lady in my constituency who says:
At present I am training alongside my husband at Salisbury and Wells theological college. Both he and I hope and pray that we shall be ordained together, as deacons in the Church of England, and therefore urge you to vote in favour.
The second letter is from a canon in my constituency who says:
Most of my experience has been as a missionary in Central Africa … and in Africa it is urgent that the status of women in the Church be raised, and many communities bereft of men should have women leaders. The Church in ex-British Africa still takes its cue from the Church of England. Please excuse the inadequacies of this letter: it's the first time I've ever written to an MP, but it's a matter on which I feel strongly.
We shall be doing nobody a service if we reject this Measure.
I am very glad to be taking part in this debate. I too, have received letters from constituents, including deaconesses who are serving in very deprived parishes. I am very glad to be representing them tonight, for they say that they wish to be ordained, as this Measure would allow.
It is important to emphasise that it is a limited Measure. It enables deaconesses, who now exercise their ministry as laywomen, to be ordained as deacons, not as priests. Also it enables bishops to ordain as deacons women who are training alongside men at theological colleges—a change that has taken place in recent years. Men and women now train together in theological colleges. They follow the same courses and receive the same qualifications. Therefore it is absurd that at the end of their training the treatment of women should be so different from that of men.
The Church treats lay deaconesses in the work that they do as though they were male deacons, yet they do not ordain them. Therefore, to vote for this Measure would put right an anomaly in the practices of the Church. Even more important, it would make it clear for the first time in English law that by virtue of her sex a woman is not thereby incapacitated from receiving the grace of holy orders. That is another reason why this important and significant step should be taken tonight. Other hon. Members have pointed out that it would be in line with the traditions of the Church of England.
Furthermore, it would also be in line with clear scriptural teaching of the kind upon which 1 was brought up. My father was a Baptist minister. My mother also conducted church services. She both preached and held holy communion services. The principles upon which I was brought up are clearly specified in the New Testament:
In Christ there is neither male or female.
To vote for this Measure tonight would demonstrate that the House recognises that principle, as the Church is seeking to do by putting before us this Measure.
It is not only in terms of the traditions of the Church and the principles of scripture that I hope the House will pass the Measure. As other hon. Members have clearly stated, it commands majority support in the General Synod of the Church of England, in the dioceses of the Church of England and among the lay members of the Church of England. It will he welcomed by active members of the Church and also by those outside the Church who look to it for guidance on how to conduct their lives. Women have been second-rate citizens in the Church of England for too long. Tonight I hope that we shall take a small step towards putting that right.
This House is a legislative body and it has given certain statutory powers to the General Synod of the Church of England. Those powers favour the status quo. A change would require a two thirds majority in each of the three houses of the General Synod If the General Synod passes a Measure, this House ought to endorse it, unless it touches on a wider constitutional issue—for example, the status of the Queen as head of the Church of England or the status of the Succession to the Crown Act 1707.
In the absence of a wider constitutional issue, this House should endorse a Measure that has been passed by the General Synod of the Church of England; otherwise the General Synod will say to this House, with some justification, that although the Synod has applied its mind and intellect to a Measure that has come before it, the House of Commons, after only a very short debate, has overturned it. If we overturn this Measure, sooner or later we shall come into conflict with members of the General Synod. They will ask themselves why they should devote time, energy and effort to drawing up Measures that Parliament then overturns.
I do not challenge the integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) or his comments, but he has failed to convince other members of the General Synod about the strength of his argument. If he has failed to convince members of the Anglian communion who have taken a particular interest in theological issues, the House should rightly regard his comments with deep suspicion.
As a general principle, the House should seek to endorse the views of the members of the General Synod, unless there is a very good reason for not doing so. I was not elected a Member of Parliament for Banbury to exercise my judgment on issues relating to worship and doctrine. I am not qualified to do so. For that reason, this House gave such powers to the General Synod. Therefore we should follow its guidance. There is overwhelming support for this Measure in the General Synod of the Church of England.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) referred to the diaconate of the early Church. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge and certain other hon. Members are staunchly against women playing a greater role in the Church, but who was it to whom the resurrected Christ first appeared? Was it not, according to St. Mark's gospel, to Mary Magdalene? Why should Christ have appeared to her unless he believed that women should play a greater role in preaching the gospel? On grounds of theology, therefore, the House should support this Measure. However, the fundamental point is that, having given statutory powers and responsibilities to the General Synod, the House should endorse its decisions and support with confidence Measures that have been passed by it.
I am a member of the General Synod. Nobody can deny the tremendous work that deaconesses have done over the centuries. I must observe, however, that the vote about which we have been told this evening was taken by the old Synod. There have been substantial changes in its composition since the election, and there are now more members of it who oppose the ordination of women.
The Measure will end the order of deaconesses. It is an important Measure, but it will bring about false hope among lady deacons as it is quite clear that this is the last but one step to being admitted to the priesthood. These proposals will create confusion in the Church—
|Division No. 298]||[7 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Alton, David|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Anderson, Donald|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Forman, Nigel|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Forrester, John|
|Ashton, Joe||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Forth, Eric|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Foster, Derek|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Franks, Cecil|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Fry, Peter|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Gale, Roger|
|Barnett, Guy||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Barron, Kevin||Garrett, W. E.|
|Batiste, Spencer||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Beith, A. J.||Gould, Bryan|
|Bell, Stuart||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Bendall, Vivian||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Greenway, Harry|
|Best, Keith||Gregory, Conal|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Griffiths, Sir Eldon|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Ground, Patrick|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Hannam, John|
|Boyes, Roland||Hardy, Peter|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Bright, Graham||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hayes, J.|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hayward, Robert|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Browne, John||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Buchan, Norman||Heddle, John|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Caborn, Richard||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Hickmet, Richard|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Hill, James|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Cartwright, John||Hirst, Michael|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Holt, Richard|
|Clay, Robert||Home Robertson, John|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||Howells, Geraint|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)|
|Cope, John||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Couchman, James||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Craigen, J. M.||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Critchley, Julian||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)|
|Crouch, David||Jessel, Toby|
|Crowther, Stan||John, Brynmor|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Jones, Robert (Herts W)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Dewar, Donald||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Dixon, Donald||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Dobson, Frank||Key, Robert|
|Dormand, Jack||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Dover, Den||Knox, David|
|Dubs, Alfred||Lamond, James|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward||Lang, Ian|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Latham, Michael|
|Durant, Tony||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Eadie, Alex||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Eastham, Ken||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Lester, Jim|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Lightbown, David|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Lilley, Peter|
|Flannery, Martin||Livsey, Richard|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Patchett, Terry|
|Lloyd, Tony (Strettord)||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Loyden, Edward||Penhaligon, David|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Pike, Peter|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Porter, Barry|
|McCrindle, Robert||Portillo, Michael|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Raffan, Keith|
|McKelvey, William||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Maclean, David John||Renton, Tim|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|McWilliam, John||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Madden, Max||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Madel, David||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Malone, Gerald||Rogers, Allan|
|Maples, John||Rooker, J. W.|
|Marek, Dr John||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Marland, Paul||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Rost, Peter|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Mates, Michael||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Maxton, John||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Mellor, David||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Michie, William||Sheerman, Barry|
|Mikardo, Ian||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Mills, lain (Meriden)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Shersby, Michael|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Shields, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Murphy, Christopher||Silvester, Fred|
|Nelson, Anthony||Sims, Roger|
|Newton, Tony||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Norris, Steven||Skinner, Dennis|
|Onslow, Cranley||Smith,C. (lsl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Osborn, Sir John||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Ottaway, Richard||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Page, Sir John (Harrow W)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Snape, Peter|
|Park, George||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Parry, Robert||Soley, Clive|
|Spearing, Nigel||Tracey, Richard|
|Speed, Keith||Trippier, David|
|Speller, Tony||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Spencer, Derek||Waddington, David|
|Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)||Wainwright, R.|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Squire, Robin||Walden, George|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Waller, Gary|
|Stern, Michael||Watson, John|
|Stott, Roger||Weetch, Ken|
|Stradling Thomas, Sir John||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Whitfield, John|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Wilkinson, John|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Winnick, David|
|Terlezki, Stefan||Wolfson, Mark|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Wood, Timothy|
|Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Yeo, Tim|
|Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Thurnham, Peter||Mr. Tony Banks and|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Mr. Tony Baldry.|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Neubert, Michael|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Powell, Rt Hon J. E.|
|Conway, Derek||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Farr, Sir John||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Gow, Ian||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John S||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Stokes, John|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Mr. William Powell and|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Mr. Peter Bruinvels.|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|