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'or Bishop of the Church of England'.

The Second Deputy Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, in line 1, after first 'of', insert 'a see in'.

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Amendment No. 6, in schedule 1, page 2, line 8, at end insert--

'or Bishop of the Church of England'.

Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, in line 1, after first 'of', insert 'a see in'.

Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 13, at end insert--

'or Bishop of the Church of England'.

Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, in line 1, after first 'of', insert 'a see in'.

Amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 18, at end insert--

'or Bishop of the Church of England'.

Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, in line 1, after first 'of', insert 'a see in'.

Amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 23, at end insert--

'or Bishop of the Church of England'.

Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, in line 1, after first 'of', insert 'a see in'.

Amendment No. 10, in schedule 1, page 2, line 28, at end insert--

'or Bishop of the Church of England'.

Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, in line 1, after first 'of', insert 'a see in'.

Mr. Fallon: It is an extraordinary side effect of this Bill to enable David Cairns properly to contest his seat in Scotland that the Government should now propose that any bishop should be able to become a Member of this House. That is an enormous change, and something that certainly requires further consideration.

The Minister has prayed in aid of the change that he has recommended today the Home Affairs Committee report, but that same Select Committee report was careful to exclude not simply the senior diocesan bishops but all serving bishops from the change that is proposed. Indeed, the change was not recommended by Professor Blackburn, on whose paper the Committee relied. The House would be making a serious mistake if it allowed bishops to become Members of Parliament.

Of course, we are not simply talking of those senior diocesan bishops who are already represented in the House of Lords. Another 16--we may call them junior diocesan bishops--may well in the fullness of time move through to the House of Lords. Two other bishops may not--the Bishop of Sodor and Man and the Bishop of Europe. There are many suffragan bishops; there are also honorary assistant bishops. We would need to think carefully about suddenly allowing bishops to become Members of this House.

It seems to me that there would immediately be a recipe for a conflict of loyalty. Under the Bill, a diocesan bishop could be, say, a Labour Member of Parliament, and his suffragan bishop could be a Conservative Member of Parliament. We would have not only a conflict of loyalties between their duties to their Church and to their Parliament but a conflict of loyalties between bishops within the same diocese. If a junior diocesan bishop were elected to this House and a month later a senior diocesan bishop happened to retire, as the Bishop of Chichester has just done, and if the junior bishop was next in line of seniority to move through, he would have to cease being

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a Member of this House, even though he had been elected by his constituents, and proceed up the Corridor to the other place.

It is technically possible under the Bill for a senior diocesan bishop to retire and stand for election to the House of Commons all over again. It gives a new meaning to the phrase "flying bishops"; we could have bishops flying up and down the Corridor. I know that Lords Home and Hailsham sat in both Houses twice, but the House ought to think carefully before having bishops here, in the other place, and then back here. Why should a constituency that has elected a bishop to serve it here in Parliament suddenly face a by-election because that bishop becomes senior enough to proceed through to the House of Lords? That would inflict a wholly unnecessary by-election on that constituency simply as a result of the rotation of diocesan bishops.

Mr. Hogg: I remind my hon. Friend that there is a precedent for that difficulty. In a previous incarnation, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) exposed his constituency to a by-election. Indeed, under the old regime, any eldest son of a peer who was elected to the House of Commons and then saw his father die would cause a by-election. We have been here many times before, and the House thought that the situation was wrong in that case. It is wrong to advance the argument now.

4.30 pm

Mr. Fallon: I take it from that intervention that my right hon. and learned Friend agrees with me. Under the Bill, we are putting the House in a position that, as he points out, was corrected in the case of hereditary peers. That is what the Government will do. It will be possible for bishops to become MPs, to move through to the House of Lords and then to come back to this place. That puts the House and the constituencies that would be involved in an absurd position--simply because of the drafting of the measure.

Those anomalies might arise if we allow bishops to become MPs. There are also two substantive arguments against bishops becoming Members of Parliament. First, they obviously already have their own place in the legislature; they have reserved seats and special arrangements in the other place--the only group to do so. The House of Bishops is collectively represented. I do not wholly agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who referred earlier to the fact that some bishops were in the other place while others were not. The House is collectively representative, so because of the rotation principle, all the bishops would have the opportunity to sit there in the fullness of time. It is not right that they should also have an entitlement to sit in this place.

Mr. Bercow: I presume that my hon. Friend wants his amendment to receive a response from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Does he agree that that might be difficult as the hon. Gentleman is not at present in the Committee? Is it the intention of the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, to respond?

Mr. Fallon: I shall have to leave that matter to Members on the Treasury Bench to sort out among

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themselves. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office is present in order to answer my second substantive argument, which I was about to develop.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): We shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives an adequate reply to his important amendment.

Mr. Fallon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that assurance, from which I assume that it does not matter which Minister responds.

My first substantive argument is that the bishops of the Church of England are collectively represented in the other place in any event; they thus do not need the additional facility of seats in the House of Commons.

Mr. Stunell: Is it the hon. Gentleman's view that those hereditary peers who were unsuccessful in the ballot for places in the Lords should also be disqualified on the grounds that they have representatives in the other place?

Mr. Fallon: I was coming to that point; it relates to my second substantive argument, and offers a good illustration of the mess the Government have got themselves into. We cannot admit bishops to this place without also considering the effect on the composition of the other place--the problem to which the hon. Gentleman draws our attention.

The Wakeham commission includes recommendations on those senior diocesan bishops. The report recommends that their number should be reduced from 21 to 16 and that five seats should be made available for members of other denominations. It also recommends that the principle of rotation and seniority be ended and that, somehow, the new Appointments Commission should be able to select the membership of the bishops' Bench by the process of "ecumenical instrument"; to be organised by a group known as CTE--Churches Together in England.

I am a little hazy on that point; I do not understand what is wrong with the principle of rotation and seniority. However, perhaps we should leave that aside.

The measure is a recipe for conflict. If there were bishops in this place and bishops in the other place, and if suffragan bishops and their senior bishops from the same diocese represented different parties in this place, that would seem muddled.

It may be that there is an agenda behind this sudden change. Perhaps the Government really want to drive bishops out of the House of Lords altogether. If we let the measure through, the Government could say, in a few years, that we need not have bishops in the House of Lords at all because they are entitled to stand for the House of Commons. Perhaps that secret agenda is at work in this measure.

If I were involved in the higher reaches of the Church, I should be extremely worried about that point--not only might the number of bishops be diminished, but there is a threat to their position altogether. Once we have bishops as MPs, someone is bound to ask why we should also have bishops with reserved places in the House of Lords. That is inconsistent.

The measure is muddled; there will be an important side effect that has nothing to do with David Cairns. That matter should have been considered much more

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carefully--perhaps by a Speaker's Conference, but certainly as part of the more general implementation of stage 2 reform of the House of Lords. I urge the Committee to accept the amendment.

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