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Mr. Mackinlay: Is not that why--as I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm on Third Reading--after the disestablishment of the Church in Wales, an Anglican priest who is ordained and serves in the Church in Wales can be elected to the House, even though he is episcopally ordained?

Mr. Gummer: That is exactly true. A clergyman of the Church of England ordained outside England, whether in Scotland, Wales or Papua New Guinea, is not covered by the same circumstance. That important distinction enables me to explain why I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) is wrong.

Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, as I seek information. I am sure that his explanation of why Catholic priests were disqualified from membership is right, but when the various other disqualifications on Catholics were removed, why was that prohibition not removed?

Mr. Gummer: I dealt with the point when my right hon. and learned Friend was inadvertently absent from the Chamber. Unfortunately, all those disqualifications have not been removed, which is one of the reasons why I am so unhappy about the Bill. I would have hoped that this was an opportunity to get rid of a range of disqualifications on Catholics. For example--I shall give just one brief example, as I wish to keep to the amendment--no Catholic church may ring a bell. That would be contrary to the law.

There are a series of such disqualifications. It would have been more proper for the Government to introduce a single, simple, one-clause Bill that lifted all the disqualifications that distinguish Her Majesty's Catholic subjects as against other subjects. Hopefully we would vote on such a Bill with no discussion at all. My objection to the present Bill is that that opportunity, which the Government should have taken, was not taken. However, that is not for this debate.

I shall explain why I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald is wrong. The problem with the amendment is that it makes a statement in English civil law about what is a fundamentally ecclesiastical matter. I am among those who believe that there is a distinction between those who are validly ordained and those who are not.

I ceased to be an Anglican and became a Catholic because I believed that the Church of England had ceased to be able validly to ordain priests. That is why I became a Catholic, but it was an ecclesiastical, not a civil,

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decision. It is a fundamental matter of faith, more important than any civil decision that I could make. I do not underestimate such a decision; I merely say that it is different in kind.

A Catholic teaches that a priest ordained in the Catholic Church is ordained in the apostolic succession and is therefore able validly to administer the sacrament. Many Anglicans take the same view, and all the Orthodox and Armenians do. The amendment would make a distinction between those who do--actually or in their formularies, validly or because they think validly--and those who do not.

My problem with the amendment is that I do not understand what that has to do with standing for Parliament. I passionately believe in the distinction; I believe that there is a fundamental difference between a priest of the Catholic Church and the hon. Member for one of the Northern Irish constituencies who is, in a sense, self-ordained.

Mr. Hogg: Two Northern Ireland Members.

Mr. Gummer: No, the particular man is self-ordained because he decided to set up his own Church. That is a perfectly reasonable decision for him to make, but there is a difference between that view of ordination and the historic view of the Catholic Church. The difference is not a secular one; it is an ecclesiastical and religious difference. It is still a vital difference--more vital than any secular thing that I can think of.

Let us not mix the two issues up. We do not enhance the validity of the orders of Holy Church by saying what Parliament thinks about it. It does not matter two hoots to the validity of the orders of the Catholic Church what the House of Commons believes about it. If that were the case, none of us would be here. There was a time when the House of Commons said that not only were those orders not valid, but it would chop our heads off if we were found.

Let us not start saying that what Parliament thinks about the doctrines of Christ's Church is important. It is not.

Miss Widdecombe: What about the established Church?

Mr. Gummer: I shall deal with the established Church in a moment. I am dealing with my right hon. Friend's denomination.

Miss Widdecombe: And yours.

Mr. Gummer: And mine. My right hon. Friend should not object to my setting out the historic fact. We are not here to tell the Catholic Church what is valid and what is not. That is for God's Church to decide, not for us.

Miss Widdecombe: All this would be welcome if Parliament had never taken any view about Church matters or about who might or might not sit in Parliament, but, as I pointed out from a sedentary position, we have an established Church. My right hon. Friend and I, together with a collection of non-believers and adherents of other Churches, went through the Lobbies to decide

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on such issues as the ordination of women as priests and divorced clergy. He did not take the view then that that was not a proper matter for us to consider.

Mr. Gummer: That is not the issue that we are discussing now. I shall deal with the nature of the established Church in a moment. I am speaking about a Church that is not established and which is not and never has been under the jurisdiction of the House. Indeed, it has been specifically as it is because it does not hold that established view, and it is unacceptable for us to purport to say what its priests should be allowed to do.

I now move from the Catholic Church to the Anglican Church. [Hon. Members: "It is the other way around."] The truth is--[Interruption.] The joke has been made, so I shall continue. I shall move in my speech from the Catholic Church to the Anglican Church, and I do so with care. The Anglican Church is the creature of the state. The Church of England was created by the state as a result of a series of factors, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. That is the truth of history and it is a perfectly respectable position. Historically, there was a twofold reason why clergy of the Anglican Church in England--the Church of England--were denied membership of the House. First and primarily, they held offices of profit under the Crown, or if they did not, they were hoping to do so, which was even worse in terms of the fear of simony. Secondly, it was thought that they were represented by the Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords. Those were the two reasons why they were excluded.

However, we now have the following problem: should a person who does not have an office of profit under the Crown, but who has ceased to be a practising Anglican clergyman, be denied membership of the House? It is extremely difficult to claim that such people should be so denied. Indeed, they have not been prevented from becoming Members of the House in the past. There have been hon. Members who were ordained as Anglicans, but as they had cast aside their orders, nobody saw fit to take their cases to court. We know that to be true. In any event, is not it most illogical to say that when the Church of England has decided that something has finished, Parliament can decide that it should not end? That is what is being suggested by those who argue that a laicised Anglican clergyman can be regarded as a lay person by the Church of England, but not by Parliament.

That is a reversal of any sense, and I am not in favour of it. It is much more sensible to argue that it is for the Church of England to decide that Anglican clergyman cannot be Members of the House, if it wishes to do so. Similarly, if the Catholic Church continues to say that its priests cannot be Members of the House, that is for it to decide. However, if people present themselves as candidates and are elected, whether they were once ordained or whatever, it is not for the House to exclude them. That should be the proper procedure, which is why I find the amendment unacceptable.

We must face the issue with which my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) dealt: the different roles that are involved. There is a difference between the role of an episcopally ordained priest and that of a Protestant minister. I point that out in case the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan)--I am sorry that she is not present--feels that I am being dismissive. I think that one has to be honest about people's pretensions. I mean that in a non-offensive way. People have particular

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views about their ministry. The views held by Catholics about their priests are different from those that, for example, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) would have about a minister. Indeed, as was suggested earlier, he would be displeased if one were to suggest that he was in any way a priest, and he makes that view very clear.

3.15 pm

A minister carries out a series of pastoral duties, including the preaching of the ecclesiastical doctrines of his particular Church, and a priest administers the sacraments. That is a very important distinction, but it cannot be of importance to parliamentary representation. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West is not right to suggest that somebody who is ordained as a priest cannot be a Member of the House of Commons, but that is not the case if he is made a minister. I do not believe that that is sensible, although I understand that it is emotionally clear. Becoming a priest is the highest demand that can be made of anybody. For me, it is odd that somebody who has been made a priest would want to do something different afterwards. However, some people have no decision in the matter and it is not for me to say in this secular House--at least, it is secular in that sense--that such a person should be prevented from becoming a Member of Parliament. It is for his religious superiors to make that decision.

With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West, I think that he is mistaking his vocation. As a Member of the House of Commons, it is not for him to say what our ecclesiastical superiors, either in the Church of England, to which he belongs, or in the Catholic Church, to which I belong, should decide. Our job is to ensure that if somebody is allowed to stand by somebody else, by his own conscience or whatever, he should not be stopped because he was episcopally ordained.

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