What assessment the commissioners have made of the funding implications of a General Synod vote to allow women bishops; and if he will make a statement.
It is very appropriate for the Church, in this season of Advent, to prepare for the arrival of female bishops, and it is proper and reasonable to provide for those who cannot accept the ministry of women in the episcopate. But in addition to its theological and practical flaws, would not the proposal for a new, third province parallel to Canterbury and York cause serious financial damage to the Anglican Church at every level—from the lowest and humblest parochial church council, such as that on which I serve, to the most elevated of bodies, such as the Church Commissioners, on which my hon. Friend serves?
The question of a third province would doubtless appeal to Michael Fabricant, who is in his place. The General Synod will be asked at its February meeting to take note of the report, and in principle, the decision as to whether it wishes to remove the legal obstacles to women's ministry in the episcopate will come later in the session. The wider point that my hon. Friend makes will of course be taken fully into account.
But does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the Church of England should have learned its lesson about separate arrangements for those who disagree with the general opinion of Synod, and that it would be very helpful if, in the interest of the good governance of the Church, the commissioners undertook a survey of the options mentioned by the Bishop of Rochester in his recent report? That survey will hopefully show that people will not be forced to come to a particular conclusion that is based on money, rather than on the very good sense that the Synod will demonstrate when it agrees to women bishops.
I take note of the hon. Gentleman's point, which reminds me of a comment that you will be very familiar with, Mr. Speaker. I have no instructions to give other than this House directeth me, although in this case it is question of how the Church of England directeth me. On the financial implications, the Church is giving the Bishop of Rochester's report serious consideration and the archbishops have commended it for prayerful study. There is a very long synodical process through which we shall reach the question of women bishops, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's point, along with the other points raised, will be taken fully into account when Synod meets in February.