“It is a very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters.”

I also heard from Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, a vicar at Belmont and Pittington in my constituency. She said that she felt

“rejected by the church that accepted me for ministry”

but was not prepared to consecrate her as a bishop.

A letter from Richard Cheetham, a constituent of mine, is typical of many that I have received. He said:

“I find the whole thing a huge insult to women priests, and to women in general. Women can rise to the top positions in industry, commerce, education, and politics. Therefore I find the decision not to allow women bishops totally unacceptable.”

Mr Bradshaw: Is it not testimony to the strength of these women—and, indeed, that of other people who have been rejected by the Church—that they carry on, and stick with it? The strength of their faith, and their dedication to it, must be far greater than that of their male colleagues, given the way they stick it out, with good grace and good humour.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I agree with my right hon. Friend. In fact, I do not think that I received any letters or telephone calls from people saying that they were considering resigning, which, as my right hon. Friend says, is extraordinary in the circumstances.

I absolutely agree with Mr Cheetham and with others to whom I have spoken and who have written to me. The decision not to allow women to become bishops seems particularly absurd when we know that women priests and their ministry have been so very successful.

A recent article in The Observer highlighted the story of the Rev. Philippa Boardman, vicar of St Paul Old Ford church. When she arrived at her London church in the mid-1990s, St Paul Old Ford was derelict, its Victorian structure rotting away quietly after a decade of neglect. Under the watch of the enterprising new vicar, however, it was born again. It reopened as a thoroughly modern church-cum-community centre, with a gym in the attic and a café in the entrance. It also provides Zumba, WeightWatchers and after-school clubs. Last year, in recognition of her efforts, Ms Boardman was appointed MBE, and many members of the church community believe that she is also a prime candidate to become a bishop. Without change, however, that cannot even be considered.

I think that most of us who have women priests in our constituencies know what a fantastic job they do. In my constituency, Margaret Masson does a tremendous amount of community work. She sets up schemes to address the needs of older people, and she is at the heart of her community. I could mention others, too, but I will not take up the House’s time. My point is that women do a fantastic job at all levels in the Church. It is unfair that they are not able to become women bishops, and I do not think it is good for the Church either.

James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, said the Church would collapse if all the female priests in place now were somehow removed. Other Churches have made progress with this issue, and perhaps we have something to learn from the Church elsewhere. Some 29 female Anglican bishops have been consecrated worldwide. In

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many of the countries where that has happened, such as Canada, the USA and Australia, those who will not accept female bishops are offered provision informally and pastorally.

If we were to accept this approach, just one simple change would be required: the removal of clause 1(2) from the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993. I hope the Synod will consider that. I urge the Church to reconvene the Synod and reconsider its decision, and to allow all of us to benefit from the ministry of women bishops in the future.

6.31 pm

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): Having listened to the right hon. Members for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), and having heard before from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), I am filled with envy. I feel a little like the boy with his nose pressed against the pie shop window, looking inside at the good things within and feeling very excluded. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Exeter and those who have spoken in his support understand how fortunate they are. For them a decision on the issue—which has now confronted the Church for a number of decades—as to the acceptability, doctrinally and theologically, of women priests and women bishops is so obviously, decisively and clearly reached on one side.

They are extraordinarily fortunate to be able to reach a conclusion of such a decided kind, because some of us cannot do so, even after very careful and patient reflection. I fully respect the conclusion and the sincerity of the right hon. Member for Exeter, having listened to him today, and I ask him to accept that some of us cannot reach the same conclusion with the same decisive finality. Those of us who read the Bible and listen to what ancient texts say and hear the words of the Roman Catholic Church find it hard to conclude that the steps the Anglican Church has taken over recent decades are necessarily the right ones.

I know that the sentiments I express today are shared by many. I have received letters from people who feel the same way. Many of us also acknowledge that the decision taken some years ago to admit women priests to the Anglican Church is irreversible and the march of relentless logic will probably mean there should also be women bishops. However, that minority of whom the right hon. Gentleman spoke so critically includes many people of sincere Christian faith who wrestle daily with their consciences on this issue, and who appreciate with humility that there are hundreds or thousands—or possibly tens of thousands—represented on these Benches here today who have reached a contrary conclusion to that which their own conflict on this subject leads them to reach, and who feel that this is a matter so free from intellectual difficulty that they can reach such a conclusion.

In the presence of that, this minority feel some sense of humility but simply cannot bring themselves to dismiss the tradition of 2,000 years, the convictions of the Roman Catholic Church and the convictions of many millions of people around the world with the ease and facility that the right hon. Gentleman does. That they feel sincerely, I ask him to accept.

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The right hon. Gentleman was critical, probably rightly, of the fact that when people divide into the trenches, as they have on this issue, mistrust breaks out. He expressed concern that the negotiating position of the conservative wing of the Church is not held sincerely and these people do not wish to reach a conclusion. I can talk only about the letters I have received from the laity in the rural areas I represent. Many of them agreed with the position that he takes, but some did not. Those letters do not resonate with entrenched obstructionism; they seek a way forward. They sound with a sense of authentic pain. They are from people trying to grapple with an issue on which they realise they are in the minority, and they are seeking a way forward. It will test the leadership—

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab) rose

Mr Cox: Not just now. It will test the leadership of the Church, and I hope that this new leader of the Church is the God-sent thing he appears to be. I hope that he will be able to bring along the minority, among whose number I count myself, because the last thing that that minority wishes to do is see the Church they love riven by this issue. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman, and others in the House who, understandably, support so passionately their view, to entertain Christian compassion for the minority, who do not seem to have much of a voice in the debate today, nor had much of a voice in the statement the other day.

Mr Bradshaw: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr Cox: I will. I should give way to the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) first, but I will do that in a moment, if I may.

Mr Bradshaw: I assume from what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying—I hope he will forgive me if I am wrong—that the safeguards that already exist regarding women priests have kept him, and many others who did not and still do not want women priests, in the Church of England. What does he think was not adequate with the concessions being offered to the opponents of women bishops that would have prevented them from staying in the Church of England?

Mr Cox: I will come to that, because I intend to tackle the specifics in a moment. First, it is important that I set out the background to the remarks I intend to make, because I am approaching this, a matter relating to the Church, as beyond political propaganda and the crudity of political discourse; the things we are dealing with are precious to us all. They are part of our common bond of spiritual inheritance. For those who believe in the Church as I believe in the Church—an essential part of the fabric of our constitution that I cannot envisage ever being without—the fate of the Anglican Church is a crucial issue. We need to approach it in a spirit that tries to unite people, not divide them. The rules by which the decision of the Synod was reached the other day were created for a reason. Constitutionally weighted majorities are invariably introduced around the world, not only in the Church, but in countries, to protect minority opinions. That is why the Synod introduced the rule. People may argue with it now. They may say,

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“It is too high. It is unrealistically high. It puts into the hands of those who do not seek agreement too powerful a weapon”, but two-thirds majorities—weighted majorities—are there for a reason.

So fundamental a change after 2,000 years of tradition should receive a weighted majority. We cannot complain. We should not point the finger of accusation at the Church because those who conscientiously could not agree exercised their right not to do so. The rules were put in place by the Church so that decisions of this magnitude and gravity should be taken only with the overwhelming support of the Church; just because it failed to reach that threshold and the bar was not passed according to that majority, we should not complain. We should not say to the Church, “You have failed to do your duty.” The constitutional threshold was there for a reason: to ensure that when this change or any similar change on so fundamental a matter was introduced, it carried the overwhelming weight of the Church.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who spoke a moment ago and is no longer in his place, that it is inevitable that we shall have women bishops. The question is only how and when, but we must entertain the patience to allow the Church to make that decision on its own, for it will surely do so. We should not bully it or exert pressure on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury will forgive me for saying that although he says he did not do so, when I listened to him in the urgent question the other day, he seemed to go perilously close—I will not say to bullying, because that would be unfair—to putting pressure on the Church. We have 2,000 years of tradition and we have been discussing the question of women bishops for 40. That is not long set against 2,000 years.

We should have the patience and the compassion to allow the Church to work this out on its own. For my part, I daily see the extraordinary devotion and dedication of women priests in my constituency. I am humbled by their dedication. I see them serve remote rural parishes and fight for their communities. I see the good that they do and I grapple with this question of whether we should have had women priests and have women bishops. I try to persuade myself that we should and I am acquiescent in the inevitability that it should happen—resigned. Perhaps I acknowledge too that the doubts I have on that score are wrong, but I simply ask that those who are so fortunate as to have such conviction on this subject to understand that this conflict is serious. It is perhaps more serious than anything in politics, because it affects one’s Christian faith. That is why I urge the House to pause before it takes the step of weighing in to determine this issue on behalf of the Church. Let us allow the Church, guided we must believe by God, to reach this decision on its own in its own time. I believe it will do so.

Sir Tony Baldry: Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Cox: No.

If we have to wait until 2015, will it be so bad a thing?

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Yes, it will be for those women.

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Mr Cox: I accept that those women will have to wait for another two or three years, but I cannot bring myself to believe that that is the presiding imperative set against the harmony and unity of the Church. Although I respect the work that they do, I repeat that I do not seek to hold out—

Sir Tony Baldry: Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Cox: No, I will not.

Sir Tony Baldry rose

Mr Cox: No, not now.

Let me make it clear that I do not seek to prevent this step, but merely to argue that we should allow the Church to reach this conclusion and to heal itself on its own.

I repeat: it is no use complaining because a constitutional majority threshold was not reached. The liberals in the House and those in the House who believe in constitutionalism have no right to point the finger at the Church and say that somehow its systems are defective. That constitutional majority was not reached. It was set in place for good reason, to ensure that the whole Church, or as much of it as possible, was taken with the decision.

In 1998, the Lambeth conference resolved that those who could not bring themselves to accept the existence of women priests or bishops should nevertheless have rules created for them that allowed them to exist in the highest degree of communion with the Anglican Church. In 1993, the Ecclesiastical Committee, on which the right hon. Member for Exeter serves, accepted that rules should be created in perpetuity for those who took that view. We cannot break those promises but, equally, I agree with him that those who are on the conservative side must negotiate with sincerity. They must not set the bar so high that it is unacceptable to the majority. I appeal to those who have the good fortune to be in the majority to be tender towards those who are in the minority.

Sir Tony Baldry: Before my hon. and learned Friend concludes may I redirect him to answer the question that was put to him by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw)? What was it about the Measure, which had the overwhelming support of the archbishops and the House of Bishops, the vast majority of the House of Clergy and a clear majority in the House of Laity, that my hon. and learned Friend found objectionable?

Mr Cox: The Measure had the overwhelming support of the House of Bishops, the overwhelming support of the House of Clergy, but not the two-thirds majority required, in the laying down of which my hon. Friend must have participated. He cannot complain—

Sir Tony Baldry: That does not answer my question.

Mr Cox: I will come to my hon. Friend’s question. He cannot complain, and he certainly, in a genial and bluff manner, should not, as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, kick the Church into adopting a view that he represents when, in fact, the constitutional

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majority was not reached. That is the rule by which the Church agreed that the decision should be made. To begin to bully the Church into taking action to follow his convictions is wrong and unrepresentative of the Church as a whole.

To come to my hon. Friend’s question, first, the code that is supposed to exist was never written. How on earth can we vote something through, expecting protective measures to be written in future? Why did the Church not create the code, in draft at least, so that members such as me would be able to read it? It was not written. Secondly, there is an existing protection for Church councils to be consulted, including councils that have taken the view that they ought to be excluded from the jurisdiction in which women priests celebrate the Eucharist. The priest must consult the Church council before an invitation is extended to a woman to celebrate the Eucharist. That protection is to be removed under the current provision. How can we expect those on the other side, already feeling bruised as a minority and feeling that the Church does not necessarily want them—that may be the case, but it is certainly not the publicly professed view of the Church—to have confidence in Measures that are not written and which remove existing protections?

My hon. Friend asked for another example. As I understand it, if a Church council writes a letter of request asking to be excluded from the dominion of a particular bishop, a priest is able to veto that request. That does not give confidence to those parishes where a majority feel that they do not wish to be ministered to by a woman bishop. It cannot give confidence that they will be able to live according to their consciences.

I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury three examples, and I hope that he will deal with them. First, the code was never written, so one is asked to accept a series of protective measures that have not even been given proper detail. Secondly, an existing protection is removed—these are only examples—and thirdly, the priest in charge can veto the Church council’s view on the dominion of the female bishop.

I say again that I have no wish to engage in expressing divisive or entrenched views. I accept that women bishops will come. As for my doubts on this score, perhaps I will find that I am wrong when I see the good that they do and the astonishing devotion of some that I know. I hope that I am wrong. I am willing to be wrong, and willing to accept that I am. I profoundly hope that others of my persuasion will come round to the idea, and that the Church’s unity can be maintained. I simply ask my hon. Friend for some patience. I know that he and others have been patient for a long time.

Lyn Brown: For 1,700 years.

Mr Cox: Yes, I know, but we are talking about a minority. The change will come; I ask only for a little further patience, so that we can get the settlement right, and so that those thousands of people who are, as I am, in a state of uncertainty and doubt, can be brought along.

I ask hon. Members to contemplate what it must mean for a member of the Church, who is brought up to it, celebrates it daily, and loves it as so many thousands of us do, to feel that the Church is leaving us behind, and moving away from us. I know that there are hon. Members who disagree and do not feel like that, but

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others do. Imagine how it must feel. We are wrestling to come to the conviction that other Members have reached.


I can only say to the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who is commenting from a sedentary position, that I feel that I have already exposed far too much of my personal convictions, and have probably trespassed on her patience, but I did so because I believed, having listened to the debate, that this particular voice and body of opinion has not been represented in the House. I realised when I stood that what I said would not be popular, and would attract mirth, perhaps mockery; that some might be impatient with it; and that those on the other side of the debate have waited a long time.

I only ask that Members see the other point of view, and that the Church be allowed to reach this decision in its own time. I agree with the right hon. Member for Exeter that sincerity is necessary on both sides, and that the majority have come a long way in order to satisfy the concerns of the minority, but I ask for an extra effort. I ask for compassion. I ask for Christian patience.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. It may be helpful to hon. Members who have yet to speak in the debate if I set out the clear time constraints. The debate will end at 8.20 pm. I need to allow time for a number of speakers, so the wind-ups will start at 10 minutes to 8. There are five Members left to speak, and I intend to make sure that all of them get in. Rather than apply a time limit, I ask each Member to take less than 10 minutes—some may feel that they do not need 10 minutes—so that we can conclude the debate in an orderly fashion.

6.54 pm

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) on securing the agreement of the Backbench Business Committee to holding this exceptionally important debate.

I thought it would be appropriate to wear purple in this debate. I joined the Movement for the Ordination of Women 30 years ago and I found November’s Synod decision worse than disappointing. It is totally disgraceful that the whole of my adult life has seen this endless struggle over the position of women in the Church of England. I feel deeply sorry for women clergy up and down the country. In my own constituency I think of Jane Grieve, Brenda Jones, Linda Gough—fabulous women doing fabulous work. Even if they are not called to be bishops, the decision is demeaning and demoralising. Furthermore, as other hon. Members have said, women play a huge role in most parishes among the laity. I am sure women are the majority of the laity in the Church of England.

However, my greatest concern is for the mission of the Church. This country faces many challenges where the Church’s unique voice needs to be heard—how to bind fractured communities, how to address alienation and the inexorable rise of consumerism, and how to protect the natural environment. Who will listen to a Church when it behaves as Synod behaved last month? How much more time and energy must we spend on this question?

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We have all heard from many members of the public and members of the Church in recent weeks. Some of those who are opposed seem to believe that Members of Parliament are, by and large, in favour of consecrating women bishops because they see it as a justice issue, rather than a theological issue. Of course, some of the people who are opposed to women bishops think this will give the Church a new lease of life, and that is the last thing they want, but that is not, by and large, the view that we have heard.

On the concerns about theological issues, the views were very well represented by the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox). In the light of what he said, it is clear that we need to go right back to the beginning of the argument. Genesis 1 verse 27 says:

“So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them”,

and the passage goes on to say:

“Be fruitful and multiply”.

The notes in my Bible, which is the New Revised Standard Version—an ecumenical Bible recognised for use by the Protestants, the Catholics and the eastern Orthodox—say:

“Together men and women share the task of being God’s stewards on earth.”

I would like to remind the hon. and learned Gentleman how the passage ends:

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

Now let me whizz forward 3,000 years to the New Testament. I take my understanding from the much maligned and misunderstood St Paul, who wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthians that in Christ there is neither male nor female but all are one in the spirit.

Since when, I ask those who are opposed to the consecration of women as bishops, has justice not been a theological issue? The justice tradition is the glory of the Old Testament, and in the New Testament we see it radically re-envisioned. Let us take, for example, the beatitudes, the roles given to the three Marys, the Magnificat—

“he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden . . . scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts . . . exalted the humble and meek.”

Lyn Brown: I do not know whether my hon. Friend is going to get to John, chapter 4, in which Jesus reveals himself for the first time to the Samaritan woman. It is not to a man, or to one of the 12 nominated disciples, but to someone who was possibly the lowest of the low, a Samaritan and a woman to boot. For me, that speaks volumes about the equality of the New Testament message.

Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend gives another excellent example from the New Testament.

The legislation in Synod foundered on the adequacy or otherwise of the guarantees offered to those opposed to change. I cannot accept their self-description as a vulnerable and oppressed minority. In modern Britain, people have a choice about whether to stay or go. They do not face being burnt at the stake. If they are excluded,

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it is self-exclusion. There has been so much fence-sitting in the Church to keep a minority on board that the fence is now collapsing under the weight.

I also know that many people believe that it is extremely important to maintain the historic coalition of the Elizabethan settlement. I remind the House what Richard Hooker, one of the great theologians of that era, did and said. His argument was essentially that it was not about keeping everyone happy in the short term, but about having a coherent polity and coherent Church governance. That seems to me to be absolutely relevant to the position we find ourselves in today. All these exceptions, constraints, conditions and flying bishops are making the situation excessively complex. It would be impossible to know where authority lies in the Church or to give a clear picture of our theological view of the role of men and the role of women.

Hooker also said—I think it is relevant—that because things were ordained by God does not necessarily mean that they were ordained for all time. He felt that we should use our God-given reason to tell which points of scripture had what kind of authority. When the old way, which might have been right in its own time, might be wrong now, he said there was “some new-grown occasion”. I believe that we are now in a new-grown occasion. Of course growth can be painful—we all know that from personal experience—but it is also essential.

By far the best outcome would be for the Church itself to resolve the issue quickly. I know that Bishop Justin wants to address it straightaway, and I endorse everything my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) said about his capacities. It is right that the Church should resolve the issue itself, but if it cannot, that will inevitably raise profound questions about the established Church’s relationship with the state. I will put it simply. What do we want? Women bishops. When do we want them? Now.

7.3 pm

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I should begin by declaring an interest, one that is in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a church organist. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) rather surprised me last night when he told me that he has left in his will a stipend—hopefully a sizeable one—for me to play at his memorial service when the dread day comes.

The argument has been about Church governance and whether we should let the Church get on with it or take an interest in it ourselves. I am encouraged by the speeches that have been made, because they will allow the church to make its way through to achieving a resolution. When I was asked, prior to Synod, what members attending it should do, I told them to beware of the House of Laity; its members are representatives, not delegates, just as we are, and will vote as they wish. I said that because there is nothing unspiritual in recognising that the Church of England has to indulge in reason and discourse. I pray in aid Richard Hooker, whom the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) mentioned. He established that there were three pillars on which the Church of England rested—scripture, tradition and reason. His firm belief was that God’s purpose can be worked out as much through discourse

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as scripture and tradition, and that it was therefore absolutely right to indulge in that. I am not going to dissent from that view except to say that this has to be worked out at the level of the parishes, not at Synod level.

I was very much taken by the news that one of my local villages, which has a socking great abbey in the middle of it, but which is quite a small village now, was putting forward a petition to the Bishop of Oxford to try to get in place a simple, smooth process for resolving this issue. Within a few days, 1,500 people, which, by my estimate, is about double the population of the village, had signed the petition and were going to get a move on with it.

I come from a completely different wing of the Church than my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), but I would not dissent one iota from what he said about the way to tackle this and the process that needs to be sorted out.

7.6 pm

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I speak with some caution on this issue since, as I have mentioned in previous exchanges, I am not involved with the Church of England or with any other religious institution or establishment. Why, then, should I speak in a debate in which everyone except me is a religious believer and a member of some wing of the Church of England? If the Church were not established, I certainly would not speak in the debate. I would take the view that whatever rules a particular religion may have, that is a matter for it, not for me. However, the Church of England is an established religion, and bishops sit in the House of Lords as of right because that has been the custom and practice over a long period.

Moreover, whatever decision the Church came to, and certainly if it were in favour of women bishops, it would be necessary, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said, for Parliament to approve it or otherwise. Therefore, although it appears as though I am an outsider, as a Member of Parliament I am involved, as I was involved 20 years ago when the issue of whether women were to be ordained as priests had to come to the House of Commons. It will not come as a surprise to anyone, but I voted for that, and no one said to me, “Keep out of it: it is not a matter for you, you are not a religious believer and you are not involved with the Church of England.”

I could not disagree more with the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), but I respect what he said. I recognise his viewpoint, and he argued with all the skills that one would expect from a leading barrister. I listened to his eloquence, as I always do, with great interest, while not necessarily, and certainly not on this occasion, agreeing with him.

What I find so difficult to understand about this controversy is that the principle of women being ordained was accepted, and it has been a fact for 20 years. Inevitably, as a layperson, I must say to myself, “If women are ordained as priests, how on earth can it be argued that there should be a barrier to their promotion to bishop—or indeed to further promotion?”

The space around the Admission Order Office contains extensive displays depicting the struggle that women waged in order to obtain the parliamentary vote and to

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stand for election. Hon. Members who have not yet seen them might like to do so on their way out. I am sure that all of us, including the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon, would agree that tribute should be paid to those women who fought so hard 100 years ago and more, who went to prison and who starved themselves and in some cases actually died for the cause that they believed in. How right they were.

It was finally conceded at the end of the first world war that the other half of the adult population should have the right to vote and to stand for Parliament, but let us imagine what would have happened if the Government of the day had said, “Yes, you may stand for Parliament and become a Member, but if you are elected, you may go no further. You may not become a Minister.” That would have been illogical, but the issue of women bishops is no less illogical. The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon quoted scripture from his wing of the Church, and I understand that, but he himself acknowledged that the principle of women priests had been accepted. This is not a question of whether women should be ordained or not. That has been happening for 20 years and we rightly pay tribute to the contribution that they make, in my constituency and elsewhere, so why on earth should we prevent them from becoming bishops?

In December 1966, when I represented a different constituency, I had an Adjournment debate on the problems being faced by some black youngsters who were being discriminated against simply because of the colour of their skin. This was before the Race Relations Act was brought in under that Government. I now find myself, nearly half a century later, standing here speaking about discrimination against women. I believe that there should be substantial parliamentary pressure for a change to occur, bit it might come as a surprise to some Members that I do not believe that Parliament should necessarily override the decision of the Church. I want the Church itself to reach the decision. But—and it is an important “but” for most of us—it is necessary that the Church should come to the right decision very quickly. If it does not do so, there will be more and more impatience in the House and certainly outside it for parliamentary action to be taken.

It would be far better if the Church understood what was needed, and I believe that it does to a large extent. The vote that took place resulted in a two-thirds majority in two of the Houses of the Synod, with the House of Laity nearly achieving one. It has been quite clear from the debate tonight what the feeling of Parliament is on this matter—apart from the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon—and if the Church of England as a whole recognises the pressure and the concern that undoubtedly exist in this House, that will be all the more reason for it to come to the right decision promptly. I hope that it will do so.

Diana Johnson rose

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab) rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I am sorry; I am having a senior moment. I call Diana Johnson.

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7.13 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should like to start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) on securing this debate. I should also like to congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on allowing the debate to take place because of the importance of the subject. I want to say at the outset to the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) that my comments this evening might not be seen as tender, and that I am very impatient. I am also on the side of the oppressed—in this case, the women in the Church who are being discriminated against.

The Times this morning carried a report on the 2011 census, which showed that Hull, my home city, had had the largest fall in Christian belief in this country over the past decade, at 16.8%. The row that is going on in the Church over women bishops will just make the established Church’s struggle for relevance even more difficult as it seeks exemptions from the realities of the modern society that it wishes to serve. We all know that women are the mainstay of the Church in communities throughout our land. As has been said many times, the theological argument over women priests—and, therefore, their position in roles of authority—was settled 20 years ago. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), I was involved in that campaign to get women ordained. The argument was won, and since 1992 more than 3,000 women have been ordained as priests, which is a huge success for the Church of England—new wine in old bottles. The next natural step, as many people have said, is to see some of those excellent ordained women priests move into positions of church leadership as bishops.

Discrimination in the wider community is wrong and prevents the talents and abilities of all from flourishing, so it is important in the established Church that the experience and skills of both men and women are used. The Church should be led by the very best, not just those who happen to be male. As I said during the urgent question to the Second Church Estates Commissioner last month, the stained glass ceiling for women in our Church must go. As a result of the House of Laity being just six votes short of a two-thirds majority on 20 November, the Church of England now stands to be left behind by the society it seeks to serve and made to look outdated, irrelevant and, frankly, eccentric. It also stands to be left behind by the Anglican community around the world.

I want to remind the House of some of the arguments that have been deployed as to why we should not have women bishops. Some hold the belief that God created man to lead and that women are there to be his obedient helper. They take the view that the Church should be run by Adam and Steve, not Adam and Eve. Those in favour of women bishops more commonly draw inspiration from the theological arguments that both men and women were created equal in God’s image. We can also rely on facts that are usually painted out in biblical history. For example, in the early Christian Church, until about 400 AD, there were female priests and it was common for congregations to be led by women.

Theology and theological debate evolve over time. My celebrated predecessor in Hull, William Wilberforce, fought a 30-year campaign against the slave trade, with

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theological arguments for slavery deployed against him. Theological fundamentalists tried to resist the scientific work on evolution by Charles Darwin and others. Afrikaner theologians also made a case in favour of apartheid. Those who oppose gender equality in the Church often draw on literal, if selective, interpretations of the Bible, and I have heard personally from some such opponents in recent days.

The House might like to hear just a few of the comments I have received from those whom I call the three wise men. The first said to me:

“God actually knows better than you”.

Thanks, Mr Dave Croton—I am only a woman, after all, so what would I know? The second wise man said to me:

“The language of ‘equality’ seems to me to be profoundly unhelpful in this debate.”

Thanks, Mr Ian Colson—equality is often “unhelpful” to vested interests. Finally, I was told:

“How dare you seek to go against the will of Almighty God. Almighty God will hold you to account for what you have said in the day of judgment. Ask his forgiveness and beg for mercy.”

Thanks, Mr Jonathan Buss—I will take my chances on that one.

Forward in Faith has produced a briefing that is heavy on public relations advice for how opponents of change should lobby Members of this House on today’s debate. I will quote an example of the quality of its case:

“We do not, for example, have women in Premier League football teams but this is not seen as a failure in equal opportunities.”

We are asked to believe that the physical demands of being a bishop are like premiership football—and obviously beyond what women can do. I am not really sure that that is the strongest argument for a team that is fighting relegation.

I am worried about what will happen next. The decision made by a minority in the House of Laity means that this essential modernisation of the Church of England has potentially been put back another five years, with no guarantee of progress even then. A broad Church is being held to ransom by a few narrow minds, even though the vast majority of its members want to see women bishops. Some of those who tell us that they want to see change claim that it must not be rushed. However, this issue has been debated in the General Synod since 2000, so I do not think that the Church can seriously be accused of acting in haste on gender equality.

So what needs to be done? As long as we have an established Church, Parliament has a role to play in supporting it through its time of crisis. The Church and wider faith communities often seek to inform and inspire our deliberations in politics. It is now time for the Church to pause and reflect on how wide the gap has become between it and the society that it wishes to serve and influence.

As the established Church is part of the settlement of this country, this House should consider what the decision of the 20 November vote means for the Church’s role in our law making. The Synod’s vote means the entrenchment of the discriminatory nature of the 26 places in the House of Lords that are reserved for bishops who can only be male. Such sexual discrimination would not be allowed to determine membership anywhere else in the Houses of Parliament. In light of the Government’s

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deferral of wider reform of the other place, we have to question the role of the 26 bishops in this Parliament, unless the Church decides to ordain women bishops.

First, I agree that there should be a moratorium on the appointment of new bishops until this gender discrimination ends. Secondly, if the bishops want to send a clear message that they are engaging seriously with women in the Church, they should end the practice of meeting and voting in private when amending primary legislation, even though their standing orders allow the press and public to be present. Thirdly, it can no longer be right for the Church of England to be allowed exemptions from equalities legislation. We are all meant to be equal before the law, and nobody is above that law.

I have a message for the many friends who have worked so patiently for so many years to see women bishops. They should take up the fight with added vigour and less willingness to compromise with those who will never accept change and who never compromise themselves. They should seek inspiration from British history. Left to itself, the Church will not restart its slow, uncertain process on women bishops until July 2013. July 2013 will mark 125 years since a group of low-paid, exploited, mainly women workers went on strike at the Bryant and May factory in Bow. They won and changed history. One movement that followed the match girls was the suffragettes. The Church of England would struggle to exist without the voluntary work and good will of women all over the country, so what if the women of the Church of England had their own strike? Perhaps it is true that well behaved women seldom make history.

In conclusion, the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate has agreed to meet Members of Parliament and I will certainly be there. I hope that the all-male group of bishops will start to work with and listen to senior women in the Church, who have so much to offer. I hope that the House will support the one-clause Bill that I intend to bring forward in the spring to introduce women bishops. I will finish with the words of a former leader of the Labour party, John Smith, who was a man of great faith. He summed up what most women in the Church of England seek:

“A chance to serve, that is all we ask.”

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Before I call the next speaker, I apologise to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), whom I have known for a very long time. I was listening and reflecting on this excellent debate and not paying enough attention to what I should be doing, which is chairing the debate. I apologise that she had to prompt me on whom to call.

7.23 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I am delighted to follow all the speakers in this excellent debate. In particular, I should mention the lecture in divinity from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who chose to wear purple. It is no accident that she represents a constituency called Bishop Auckland.

I was not born into the Church of England. I was born in Glasgow into a Congregationalist family, where I was privileged to have as my first minister the very first woman minister ever ordained in Scotland, Vera

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Kenmure. It took about nine years before I ventured south of the border, but I remember my first occasion in an English church. I thought, “What a funny lot you English are. You actually allow men to be priests!” I could not believe that a man was standing there in the robes of a minister. It was an image that always struck me as very odd.

The ministry I received from Vera Kenmure 50 years ago was exceptional, and it was probably what convinced me, from absolute infancy, of the value of women’s ministry in the Church. When I came to England and entered the Anglican Church, after a short period I joined the Movement for the Ordination of Women. In fact, my now wife—she was then my girlfriend—and I joined MOW together.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) will correct me if I am wrong, but I think the first occasion on which a vote was taken on the ordination of women was in 1978. I will never forget that Una Kroll, who led the Movement for the Ordination of Women, listened in silence and in shocked horror to the vitriol that came across in that debate. There was vitriol against women who dared ask to be allowed to serve in their Church, and I remember that at the end of the debate Una Kroll stood up and said, “We asked for bread and you gave us a stone.”

A year or so later I remember listening to Una on the radio. She was asked whether because of the nature of the debate she still had the vocation and calling to the ministry that she had felt previously. I remember that her voice stuttered and she had obviously not reflected on that point until that moment. She said she was not sure whether she could still say that she felt God’s calling.

I listened with great care to the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) and I acknowledge the sincerity of his views. He asked for tolerance, for provision to be made and for understanding, but that tolerance, provision and understanding was not made in 1978 or beyond. My girlfriend became my wife, and as we marched down the aisle, the “War March of the Priests” was our introit—at that point both of us wanted to be ordained as priests in the Church of England. However, because of the nature and vitriol of the debate, many of us felt that we had lost that sense of vocation and that calling. Therefore, when the hon. and learned Gentleman asks for patience now, he is asking for something that he must accept he and his colleagues in the debate back then did not afford to us.

Mr Cox: First, in 1978 I was 18 and I was not participating in such debates. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that even if what he says is right—I deplore it if it were so and regret it profoundly—that is no excuse, reason or basis for not extending compassion and understanding now. That is simply to compound one sin with another.

Barry Gardiner: I accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman says and I do not hold him responsible for what happened then or for the loss of vocation that I or many others felt as a result. He is right to say that understanding and provision must be made within the Church now for those who cannot assent to the doctrinal

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excellence of the position that the Church has reached, which is that there is absolutely no distinction between the deaconate, the priesthood and the bishops. That is a fundamental theological principle. There are those who cannot accept it, and they have asked that provision should be made for them. Just as provision was made for those who could not accept the ordination of women in the first place, so it must be made for those who cannot accept the consecration of women bishops. However, that provision has been offered and rejected. It is now time for the Church to put its house in order and press forward with what it knows to be doctrinally accurate. That is why I greatly respected the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland made—she sought to base her arguments in theology.

The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon talked about the issue that confronts the Church of the consecration of women bishops. That is not the issue that confronts the Church; it is poverty and injustice in the world. This is a sideshow that should not occupy the Church. We should not have to debate it over and over again, year after year. It is nonsense, and it is not what the Church should be about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland spoke powerfully about the lessons from scripture. It seems to me that the fundamental heart of Christian theology is the power and the vision of the resurrection. I do not think anyone in the Church would deny that. Who were the witnesses to the resurrection? Women—it was the women who went into the garden and witnessed the resurrection, at a time when their word had no basis in Judaic law. They could not give testimony in a court, but our Lord had them as his witnesses to the resurrection to bear testimony to the entire world of the essential truth of the Christian faith. If that is not a vote for women to take up their place in the Church, I do not know what is.

Mr Cox: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Barry Gardiner: Not at the moment.

Two or three years ago, on Christmas eve, my wife and I went into our local church to celebrate midnight mass, and there was a woman celebrating. I have to say, she gave one of the worst sermons I had ever heard. It was dreadful. As we got into the car after the service, I turned to my wife and said, “You know, that was really quite inspiring.” She looked at me and said, “Are you mad? That was one of the worst sermons I have ever heard.” I said, “Yes, but just think—25 years ago, could we ever have imagined that we would be sitting in a conservative evangelical parish on Christmas eve listening to a woman priest give just as bad a sermon as any man? That is progress.” We went forward that Christmas eve with a renewed sense of faith, joy and possibility.

What happened a couple of weeks ago dashed that feeling and made us think, “For goodness’ sake, why can’t we get on with the purpose of the Church?” The purpose of the Church is to serve the world, not to keep looking in on itself. Fundamentally, the Church has made one great mistake in its history. It has always had a fixation with sex instead of love and power instead of service. I pray God that it will put it right quickly.

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7.34 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): This evening’s debate has been full of eloquent and incredibly passionate speeches. I pay tribute to everybody who has participated, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who secured the debate. It has been clear this evening and over the past couple of weeks that there is widespread agreement in this House—I accept it is not unanimous, not even this evening—that what was arrived at in General Synod a couple of weeks ago is not acceptable to Parliament. Today’s debate has also highlighted the prevailing view here that the Church should take speedy action to rectify the matter. It is also clear that the mood in this place is that if the Church does not act, Parliament should and will.

There might be some—my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) referred to this—who see that suggestion as unwarranted interference in the Church’s affairs or as undermining freedom of religion, but the Church of England occupies a special constitutional position as the established Church. That brings with it specific responsibilities, including making the law of the land. As has been noted, 42 diocesan bishops are entitled to sit in the House of Lords as Lords Spiritual, with 26 permitted to sit at any one time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) said, surely our Parliament must at every level be reflective of the society it represents. That is not compatible with the reservation of places in our Parliament that could only be open to men. Further, whether we like it or not, Parliament’s role in relation to the Church’s decisions cannot be brushed aside. Although the Church enjoys legislative initiative, decisions of the General Synod must be approved by Parliament. It seems clear that there would be no hope whatever of last month’s decision receiving the approval of this House. A rethink is therefore essential. The Church really has no option, as it has recognised.

If that threatened uncontained confrontation between Parliament and the mass of Church membership, we might of course be concerned about a brewing political and constitutional crisis. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter and others pointed out, it is important to remember that the majority of Church of England members want to see women bishops in the Church. That was the majority vote in all three Houses of the Synod. Only in the House of Laity was the requisite two thirds majority not secured.

This is not a situation where Parliament is pitted against the will of the majority of Church members. Indeed, many Church members, along with hon. Members today, have highlighted the special value they place on the contribution that women bring to the Church and the priesthood. They argue that it is right that women should also have the opportunity to bring their personal style and quality of leadership to the role of bishop. Those Church members point to the fact that the head of the Church is a woman—and not for the first time in its history. For those who care deeply about the status of the Church of England in the eyes of the country at large, there is regret and concern that the decision to refuse women bishops serves to present the Church as wholly out of step with society and remote.

The mood here is that action must be taken swiftly. Most hon. Members of this House have made it clear that they would not find it acceptable to wait until 2015

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for the Synod to begin revisiting the matter with a view to moving forward. That urgency also appears to be recognised by the Church. As parliamentarians, we urge the Church to take the most rapid steps to resolve the issue. I particularly hope that the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), will be able to enlarge on how the Church might approach that.

We on the Labour Benches will not accept any solution brought forward by the Synod that entrenches discrimination against women bishops. It will be important that in finding a new solution, the currently exclusively male House of Bishops consults extensively with women in the Church of England—in the clergy, in the House of Laity and, importantly, as hon. Members have said, in the parishes themselves.

If the General Synod fails to make progress, we on these Benches will support the Government to take the necessary action to ensure that the introduction of women bishops is not held back further by those—a minority—who do not reflect the views of the modern Church. We all hope that that will prove unnecessary, and that the Church itself will find the solution that is sought in this House, in wider society and, indeed, among the majority of members of the Church.

7.40 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): This has been an important and poignant debate, with powerful contributions and speeches from every single Member across the House who has been able to speak today. I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) on securing this debate and bringing it to us this afternoon and this evening.

It is clear from what has been said today and from views expressed over the last few weeks that the decision of the General Synod not to allow the appointment of women bishops has generated very strong feelings indeed, among those who wish to see women appointed as bishops in the future and those who want to retain the status quo. As our Prime Minister has made very clear indeed, the Government strongly believe that the time is right to enable the appointment of women bishops. Women already do a tremendous job within the Church of England, including in their role as members of the clergy, so it is very disappointing that a vote taken to address this issue has failed, despite a clear majority of Synod members voting in favour of the proposal.

The role of discrimination law in this matter has been raised. Let me make it very clear that there is nothing in discrimination law that would prevent the appointment of women bishops, should the Synod vote to do so. It is right and proper that the Church of England, just like any other religious organisation, is not exempt from having to comply with our equality law, namely the Equality Act 2010.

However, it is also right and proper that certain exceptions exist within the 2010 Act to recognise the specific nature of religious organisations and the unique role they have to play within our society. One such exception exempts religious organisations from certain parts of the Act’s employment provisions, where

“the employment is for the purposes of an organised religion”.

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This exception is used by a number of religious bodies, allowing Roman Catholics and orthodox Jews, for example, to appoint only men as priests or rabbis. Amending the 2010 Act to remove this exception with the intention of forcing the appointment of women bishops would potentially have effects going far beyond the Church of England alone.

Diana Johnson: I am listening to what the Minister says. In the light of what was said yesterday about the special legislation being brought forward for the Church of England with regard to gay marriage, how does what the Minister has just said fit in with yesterday’s statement?

Mrs Grant: The two issues are completely different and unconnected, and should not be conflated.

Amending that exception would risk seriously affecting the work of various other religious bodies in some extremely sensitive areas. In any case, our law enables women bishops to be appointed; that is not a stumbling block here.

Some Members have pointed out today that changing discrimination law is not the only option. The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty means that, in theory, it would be open to Parliament to legislate on Church of England matters without the involvement of the General Synod, for instance by amending canon law to require the appointment of women bishops. However, Parliament and Church work well together on so many matters. We would not want to disturb that balance by making impulsive changes, given the special relationship that exists between the state and the Church of England as the established Church of our nation.

The Government have made their views very clear on the matter of women bishops: we would warmly welcome their appointment. However, we respect the independence of religious organisations, and it is right that decisions of this sort about internal structure are ultimately matters for the Church of England itself to decide.

I particularly thank the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), for his earnest remarks about the position in which the Church finds itself today. I am heartened by his acknowledgement of the difficulties and emotions that the General Synod’s vote has generated and his determination to ensure that the Church resolves the issue as soon as possible, and I look forward to hearing from him again in a moment.

7.46 pm

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): I think that the whole House will be very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate, and to the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) for the way in which he introduced it. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who have spoken today, genuinely and with integrity and honesty, expressing a strong desire to ensure that we can collectively find the best solution for the Church.

The Church of England is a national Church. It is a Church for the nation, or it is nothing. It is a Church that exists in every parish in the country. It is a Church to which everyone can look for spiritual and pastoral guidance. It is the Church of Remembrance Sunday, it is the Church of funerals and bereavement and of joy,

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happiness and celebration, and it is also the Church that marks disasters when they occur. Because it is a Church for the whole nation, it needs to reflect the values of the whole nation.

I think that everyone within the Church of England recognises that until we can resolve the issue of women bishops, we will not be able fully to fulfil our role as a national Church, and we will not be fully able to concentrate on mission and growth, which must surely be the fundamental purpose of the Church. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), there are many issues that the Church must address, such as justice and poverty, from which we will continue to be distracted as long as we focus on the issue of women bishops.

After the vote in General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:

“a Church that ordains women as priests but not as bishops is stuck with a real anomaly, one which introduces an unclarity into what we are saying about baptism and about the absorption of the Church in the priestly self-giving of Jesus Christ.”

Earlier this week, the House of Bishops met at Lambeth palace and considered the implications of the recent rejection by General Synod of the legislation to enable women to become bishops. I say to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), and others who perfectly properly have said that women should be involved in the further deliberations, that it was absolutely appropriate that at those discussions with the House of Bishops, the House of Bishops benefited from the participation of Vivienne Faull, the Dean of York, Christine Hardman who chairs the House of Clergy, Dr Paula Gooder and Mrs Margaret Swinson, all of whom are senior women in the Church of England who had all previously served on the steering committee or a vision committee for the legislation.

The House of Bishops rightly started—as almost every contributor to this debate has done—by expressing gratitude and appreciation for the ministry of ordained women in the Church of England. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to women priests, deacons, archdeacons, canons and deans in the Church of England for what they do in rural areas, inner cities, hospitals and prison chaplaincies throughout the realm. Without them, the Church of England would have considerable difficulty in reaching, and ministering to, every part of the nation. The House of Bishops recorded its sadness that recent events should have left so many women in the Church feeling undermined and undervalued. I hope that if nothing else results from this debate, a message will go out to all women clergy in the Church of England that they are valued and appreciated by Parliament for the work they do for us all and for our community.

The House of Bishops acknowledged the profound and widespread anger, grief and disappointment felt by so many in the Church of England and beyond. I suspect that many Members will have been surprised by the wider resonance General Synod’s decision had in the community as a whole. In our constituencies, people who one would not normally have expected to take an interest in the Church of England came to us to express concern and disappointment at the decision.

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The House of Bishops clearly agreed that the current situation was unsustainable for everyone, whatever their convictions. I was grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) for making it clear that the view of everyone from all parts of the Church is that the current situation is unsustainable, because I think everyone acknowledges that in due course there will be women bishops. Indeed, General Synod agreed in 2008 that there should be women bishops.

The House of Bishops expressed its continuing commitment to enabling women to be consecrated as bishops and, I am glad to say, it intends to have fresh proposals to put before General Synod at its next meeting in July. This is not an issue that can be parked. This is not an issue that, as we lawyers would say, can just be adjourned generally to some other time in the future. It has got to be worked at until a solution is found.

I am glad to say that early next year the House of Bishops will be organising meetings, at which it intends to involve large numbers of lay and ordained women, to discuss how women might more regularly contribute to the Church, and further action will be taken in order to avoid any delay in proposing new legislation. The House of Bishops has also set up a working group drawn from all three Houses of Synod. Its membership, which is to be determined by the archbishops, will be announced before Christmas. That group will arrange facilitated discussions with a wide range of people of a variety of views in the week beginning 4 February next year, when General Synod was due to meet. I very much hope that all right hon. and hon. Members in the House tomorrow will take the opportunity at 9.30 am of going to the Moses Room in the other place to listen to the Bishop of Durham, the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate, because they will hear directly from him, as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, his clear and determined commitment that the Church of England will resolve this issue itself as soon as it can.

The House of Bishops will have an additional meeting in February, immediately after those discussions, and expects to settle at its May meeting the elements of a new legislative package to come to Synod in July. There has been, on occasions, some criticism of the bishops, so may I just say that the House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly in support of there being women bishops in the Church of England? The bishops have sought to give the greatest possible leadership in what is, after all, an Episcopal Church, where the bishops are meant to lead. The House of Bishops has been doing all it can, with God’s good grace, to give that leadership and will continue to do so.

The House of Bishops also made a number of observations that have been reflected in this evening’s debate. It concluded that in future for a Measure to succeed and command assent it will require much greater simplicity. If I may, I will write to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon; I do not want to have a fight now, because that is not in the spirit of this evening’s debate. I can say, however, that the draft code of practice was published earlier this year and there are very good reasons for the provisions to which he drew attention. However, his point illustrated that the whole thing had become so complicated on the protections that nobody was quite sure who was being protected, against what and by whom. I thought, as a member of General Synod, that one of the most moving

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speeches there was made by a female member of the clergy from the diocese of Oxford, who asked, “Why is it that the Church needs to be protected from me? What is it about me?” That went to something of the heart of some of the issues we had to resolve. Some of the protections had become so complicated, so I think that much greater simplicity will be required.

However, I think it was genuinely helpful that my hon. and learned Friend spoke in this debate, doing so with great sincerity, because I agree that it is also important, as the House of Bishops made clear, that there needs to be a clear embodiment of the principle articulated in the 1998 Lambeth conference that those who dissent from and those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate are loyal Anglicans. No one is saying that one form of Anglicanism is better than another; in so far as it can be achieved, everyone needs to be involved in this.

However, an important point made by both Front-Bench teams, and by many in this debate, is that we cannot square the circle by creating second-class women bishops. If we are going to have women bishops—everyone has agreed that we are going to have them—they have in every regard to be treated the same as, and have the same powers, rights, privileges and disciplines as, their male counterparts. One cannot have a category of second-class women bishops or in some way create a church within a Church to accommodate this matter. When I was first appointed as Second Church Estates Commissioner, I went to General Synod at York in 2010 and said, “I need to tell General Synod that if and when a Measure comes to Parliament, it will not get through if it is creating second-class women bishops. This is not whipped business and there is no way in which we will get a Measure through Parliament if there are to be second-class women bishops.” Although of course we need to recognise and seek to involve and include all the traditions, we cannot square the circle in that way.

The House of Bishops also agreed that there must be a broad-based measure of agreement about the shape of the legislation in advance of the beginning of the actual legislative process. The House of Bishops endorsed the view of the Archbishops Council, which had met the week before, that the Church of England must now resolve this issue through its own processes as a matter of great urgency. Some voices this evening, quite understandably, have suggested that if the Church of England does not act, Parliament might need to. It is my earnest prayer that over the coming months the Church of England can and will demonstrate that it can resolve this issue itself.

I have no doubt that there are those in the Church of England who will have heard the voices of people who are not just senior Members of this House but senior churchmen. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) is a very distinguished member of the Church of England and chairs a number of relevant committees and when he finds it necessary to present Bills to the House on the nomination of bishops to the other place, the Church of England should take account of that and listen. These are not enemies of the Church of England—everyone who has spoken in the debate is a friend and supporter of the Church of England who wants it to succeed. I am quite sure that it will listen to what Parliament has said collectively, which will ensure that the Church of England, House of Bishops and General Synod will address the issue with urgency.

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If any right hon. or hon. Lady or Gentleman has any concerns about that, I invite them to come and listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate tomorrow. They will hear from the Bishop of Durham a very clear message that there is determination to ensure that there are women bishops in the Church of England at the earliest possible moment.

8.2 pm

Mr Bradshaw: With the leave of the House, Mr Speaker. I shall be very brief. I sincerely thank our colleagues, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, for a worthwhile and quality debate. In particular, I thank the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox). It was very important that the dissenting voice was heard and it made for a much better debate. We had some wonderful contributions and it would be invidious of me to single anybody out.

I was very pleased by the contributions made by those on both Front Benches. It is very nice to see the Culture Secretary in her place, as she has come to listen without taking part. That is noted and, I hope, appreciated by Members. Last but not least, I thank the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry). We could not wish for a better Second Church Estates Commissioner. If anybody can help Parliament and the Church together through this impasse, it is he, and I wish him well.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of the Church of England Synod vote on women bishops.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Constitutional Law

That the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) (No. 2) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 7 November, be approved.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

STandards and Privileges


That Matthew Hancock, Oliver Heald and Julie Hilling be discharged from the Committee on Standards and Privileges and Mr Robert Buckland, Mr Christopher Chope and Fiona O’Donnell be nominated.—(Mr Syms.)


Wild Land and Wild Places

8.4 pm

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): The wild land and wild places of Britain have never been under as much threat as they are today from general development associated with increasing population, and particularly from the proliferation of onshore wind farms. The John Muir Trust is a growing and successful organisation that campaigns to protect wild places and has collected the names of 6,145 petitioners calling for the extension of national park boundaries or the creation of new

12 Dec 2012 : Column 417

national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to ensure improved environmental protection for the most valuable areas of wild land in Britain.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of citizens of the UK,

Declares that the Petitioners support the John Muir Trust’s call to extend National Park Boundaries, or put in place new National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and to ensure improved environmental protection for the best areas of wild land.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to extend National Park boundaries, or to put in place new National Parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty as called for by the John Muir Trust.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


Live Animal Exports

8.5 pm

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): My local community in South Thanet has had to endure the live animal export trade for 18 months. We have had all sorts of emergencies in our port, which is not equipped to sustain that trade. We have unfortunately suffered the slaughter of 45 sheep on the portside, after they were unloaded in an unsuitable area, causing many of them to break their legs. A ram was shot on board a lorry and then dragged out, after its horns were broken due to lack of space. A whole transportation had to return to its starting pointing in Northamptonshire without unloading the animals as the lorries were not fit for travel. A thousand of my constituents want to ensure that the House understands the strength of opinion in my constituency.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of the people of Thanet,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the export of live animals is an outdated and unnecessary practice; that over the last year, the UK has seen the number of animals

12 Dec 2012 : Column 418 being exported from our shores rise significantly; that the live exports trade has moved to the Port of Ramsgate and that the Petitioners believe that the majority of residents are vehemently opposed to the practice given the undue stress caused to the animals through long periods of travel.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to bring a halt to the export of live animals from the UK, ensure that animals are slaughtered as close to point of origin as practicable, and reduce the number of hours an animal is allowed to travel to a maximum of eight.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


Live Animal Exports

8.6 pm

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): The sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) are shared by many people around the country, including in my constituency. I have the honour of formally presenting on behalf of the residents of Truro and Falmouth a petition in identical terms.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of residents of Truro and Falmouth,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the export of live animals is an outdated and unnecessary practice; that over the last year, the UK has seen the number of animals being exported from our shores rise significantly; further that the live exports trade has moved to the Port of Ramsgate and that the Petitioners believe that the majority of residents are vehemently opposed to the practice given the undue stress caused to the animals through long periods of travel.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to bring a halt to the export of live animals from the UK, ensure that animals are slaughtered as close to point of origin as practicable, and reduce the number of hours an animal is allowed to travel to a maximum of eight.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


12 Dec 2012 : Column 419

Green Waste (Contamination)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Syms.)

8.6 pm

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The nation owes a debt of gratitude to its metal detector enthusiasts. As I will explain, individually and collectively they have identified a serious environmental disaster that must be averted.

At first glance, the concept of spreading garden waste across farmland seems to be an excellent idea—more “green” than burying it in landfill sites. The idea has been taken up with enthusiasm by councils across the country, encouraged by a combination of financial incentives and regulations to reduce, if not eliminate, landfill. Indeed, local authorities, spurred on by Government targets, compete against one another to see who can collect the most recycling materials. In principle, that is a worthy objective, but it has led to unintended consequences in the collection of so-called green waste from gardens. Once households had their own compost heaps. I still do. That is one basic we should go back to.

It is those serious, environmentally damaging consequences that I shall highlight this evening, in the hope that action will be taken with immediate effect by central and local government to prevent any further damage to the soil and water courses as a result of the contamination caused by discarded materials mixed in with what is often wrongly described as green waste and spread on food-producing fields.

I was first alerted to this worrying situation on 7 June this year, when a constituent, Mr Stuart Elton, attended my advice bureau. Metal detecting is his hobby. What he told me appalled me. Nowadays, when he and fellow metal detecting enthusiasts, with the permission of the land owner, go out looking for buried treasures from the past they are more likely to find a wide variety of metal, cut, crushed and mashed among the rotting green waste. That is not so much a needle in a haystack, but rather the contents of a scrapyard strewn across fields.

That led me to write to the president of the National Council for Metal Detecting, Mr John Wells. I was keen to learn more about the matter, both from a metal-detecting perspective and because of the obvious pollution and environmental consequences that my constituent had drawn to my attention. In due course, Mr Wells travelled from his home in Coventry to have a meeting with me at the House of Commons, which in turn led me to apply for tonight’s debate.

There was a time when the world of archaeology was variously sniffy or even hostile to those engaged in metal detecting, claiming that such activity was harmful to archaeological sites and discoveries. Quite often landowners were oblivious to what was going on. That is no longer the case. The National Council for Metal Detecting and its members have an excellent record of partnership working with all interested parties and have been responsible for some breathtaking finds that have added to the sum of our knowledge of the past. As I represent the first capital of Roman Britain, I am delighted to report that in Colchester we have an excellent metal detectors group, whose members epitomise best practice. It is currently full, with 100 members, and has

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a waiting list. As recently as 30 November, its chairman, Mrs Sue Clarke, was reported in the Colchester

Daily Gazette

as saying:

“Colchester is a great place to be part of a metal-detecting group. There is so much history around here. There is never a boring rally.”

The term “rally” in this context refers to members, with the permission of a landowner, going as a group to search for artefacts.

To get back to the subject of my debate—the consequences of the contamination of green waste—I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that the serious environmental and pollution issues literally cannot be covered up any longer. Not everyone in the green waste industry is up to the job, whether we are talking about deliberate deceit or failure to comply with the strict regulations. The Minister’s briefing will, I trust, include accounts of people being prosecuted for spreading pollutants and other contaminated material along with so-called green waste.

One example that I have been told about involves a company called Vital Earth GB Ltd, which, in August this year, was fined £75,000, with costs of £13,535, at Derby magistrates court for offences under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The compost delivered by the company to a farmer was found to be contaminated with mixed waste, such as plastics, paper and metals, including kitchen knives, bottle tops and cigarette lighters—not at all environmentally friendly, and not friendly to those engaged in metal detecting, either. The compost quality protocol states that if quality compost is mixed with other waste materials, the resulting mix will be considered to be waste, and will therefore be subject to waste regulatory controls. Spreading it across England’s green and pleasant land is not what should happen to it. After the court hearing in Derby, an Environment Agency official said:

“This is a serious environmental crime. By depositing controlled waste Vital Earth have fallen significantly short of their environmental duties. We will not hesitate to prosecute in such cases.”

Perhaps the Minister could state how many prosecutions there have been under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 against those who have contaminated fields with compost that contains contaminated materials. This serious crime of pollution, which affects fields growing crops for human and animal consumption, and watercourses into which the pollution leaks, is a matter that needs to be addressed with the utmost urgency.

Mr Elton told me that a colleague contacted him to say that

“a farm near Colchester is covered in the stuff and is virtually undetectable. How long will it be before the whole of the Colchester area is affected?”

This afternoon he e-mailed me to wish me luck with the debate, and added:

“Although it was my metal detecting interests that brought me to this problem originally, having seen the dreadful state of some of the treated fields I believe everyone would want to stop this non-biodegradable rubbish turning our countryside into one big landfill site.”

I have been provided with other eye-witness accounts that include references to finding, in “green waste” on fields, medical waste, such as bandages. Another metal detector enthusiast observed that

“many local historical sites are becoming saturated in aluminium and making it extremely difficult to recover metallic artefacts

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such as coins and brooches and that side of things whilst not as important as the food we eat or environment we live in...will affect our national heritage and academic learning from the past.”

Mr Alan Charlish, from the west midlands, reports that

“Despite the known problems of contaminated compost we in the UK are allowing the stuff to be spread across our fields without, it seems, any form of control. It is not only the obvious contamination that we as metal detectorists see all the time, such as old batteries, various metals, plastics, etc, it is also the unseen chemicals that are going in.”

He added:

“Left much longer the problems will become irreversible. The fact is that despite the claims that screening takes place there are so many contaminants that are entering the food chain via local authority recycling schemes.”

As if those problems were not enough, I have been advised that we must now add ash dieback to the unwelcome ingredients in green waste, because leaves from infected trees are apparently finding their way on to farmers’ fields. I understand that last week, a soil conference conducted by the all-party group on agro-ecology was held at the House of Commons. Various speakers discussed the need for good soil and protection of the environment.

In addition to drawing the Minister’s attention to that meeting, I wish to advise him of the magazine “Digging Deep” which is published by the National Council for Metal Detecting. In issue 9 Mr Wells sets out the concerns of his members about the problem that is the subject of my debate.

I sense that what I have told the House this evening is only a snapshot of a major national scandal. The UK is the fourth largest producer of cereal and oilseeds in Europe, with cereals grown on more than 70,000 farms. There are more than 42,000 beef and dairy farms in England and Wales.

In his article Mr Wells states:

“Green waste is biodegradable waste that can be composed of garden or park waste, such as grass or flower cuttings and hedge trimmings, as well as domestic and commercial food waste. The differentiation green identifies it as high in nitrogen, as opposed to brown waste which is primarily carbonaceous.

This definition identifies those elements that when composted singly or together form nitrogen rich material that when added to existing soil serves to enrich and aid development of plants and crops.”

Thus, in theory, the spreading of green waste on farmland is sensible. Sadly, the reality is different. As Mr Wells so rightly observes:

“The so-called green waste now being spread upon fields cannot be classed as green waste. A high percentage of the content is not compostable and needs to be controlled in exactly the same way as refuse going to landfill or incineration plants.”

In his article he explains how things go wrong in the collection of garden waste, its onward transfer to a contractor, and the manner in which it is then processed and finally spread on fields. Frequently, at each stage, there are failures, the consequences of which are catastrophic.

Elsewhere Mr Wells writes:

“Farmers, in the belief that they are doing the right thing for the community, are being conned, and have their land contaminated with plastic, aluminium, glass and all kinds of other products, containing chemicals and substances which not only destroys the appearance of the countryside but also puts at risk the health of wildlife, our waterways and our human beings.

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Thousands of tonnes of this toxic rubbish, containing syringes, bottles, gloves, toys, glass—some of which will not decay for hundreds of years—are being tipped on the fields each year.”

I conclude with a rallying cry from the president of the National Council for Metal Detecting, which I am confident will be echoed by every environmental campaigner in the country:

“The dumping of green waste on farm land is not only ruining our hobby, it is also contaminating the land for decades to come. If this continues, metal detecting in this country will become a thing of the past. The dumping of this material is nothing short of legalised fly-tipping—and has to be stopped.”

I invite the Minister to promise the necessary action to do just this.

8.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) for raising this worthwhile subject. He shows why there is a need to achieve a balance between encouraging the recycling of waste of all types and securing protection for people, animals and the natural environment.

No one should challenge the idea that it is right to encourage the treatment of green waste to produce valuable compost or soil conditioner. We strongly support measures that encourage the recycling of green waste. Over the past 10 years we have invested about £7 million in helping to develop new markets for quality compost. The composting sector in the UK has grown tenfold in the past five years as European and national legislation has encouraged local authorities to collect biodegradable garden and kitchen waste for processing into useful products, rather than consigning it to landfill. Let us not forget that organic waste sent to landfill produces methane, which has strong climate change effects. Composting is now a key component of many local authorities’ waste strategies, as my hon. Friend pointed out, as they work to improve the sustainable management of their waste.

The demand for composted products has continued to increase. The industry turned over an estimated £226 million in 2008-09, 36% above the figure for 2007-08. Agriculture is the most important single market for compost, accepting 1.8 million tonnes of a total production of 2.8 million tonnes in 2010. Green compost, when produced to the right quality standard and used in the right way, benefits agriculture, particularly on arable—cropped—soils. It replaces fertilisers or the use of peat and other material, thus conserving natural resources.

However, we must ensure that compost is produced to the right quality standard. That starts by ensuring that we keep green waste separate from other waste and avoid the introduction of contaminants, be they physical ones, such as pieces of metal, or less obvious ones, such as oil, rubber and residues found in street sweepings from the public highway. We need to ensure that the composting process is carried out in an environmentally sound manner and does not result in the production of polluting leachate that escapes into water courses or odours that cause a nuisance for those living nearby. The Environmental Agency has an important role in regulating composting and other waste recovery operations.

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As has been graphically described, we do not want contaminated waste spread on land. We have in place quality protocols that are supported by publicly available standards—PAS 100 for compost and PAS 110 for the digestate for anaerobic digestion. Those specifications allow only source-segregated biodegradable inputs, including biodegradable garden and kitchen wastes collected from households. The PAS 100 specifications include stringent limits on physical contaminants, such as metal, plastic and glass, that can be present in the finished composts. Those limits were revised down from a total of 0.5% of dry weight to 0.25% in 2011. They are now the toughest in Europe. If those standards are met, the output is considered to be completely recycled and is no longer subject to waste management controls. Producing waste to those standards helps producers to guarantee compost that is safe to be marketed or spread on agricultural land as a quality product and helps to improve confidence in composted materials among end users.

Sir Bob Russell: I must express disappointment at the Minister’s response so far. He is describing the theory, but the reality is what metal detecting enthusiasts from across England and their hobby group are telling me. What he describes is simply not happening out there in the field.

Richard Benyon: I think that the point I was coming to might answer my hon. Friend’s concerns. I will say now what I was going to say later: the Government are in absolutely no way complacent about this. We might have the most stringent standards in Europe, but we want to see that we are enforcing them. Having the most stringent standards is just a factor on a piece of paper; we are concerned with outcomes. I want to assure him that we will follow up any cases where we believe there has been a failure to comply with standards, and I will move on to explain how the principle that the polluter should pay will continue to be a key component of what we do.

Of course, not all compost needs to be produced to such a standard. Lower grade compost and compost-like outputs can be legitimately used on land, for example as mulch. In those cases, the compost remains a waste and its use on land is subject to environmental permitting or registered exemption controls in the same way as the composting process itself. That is monitored and closely enforced by the Environment Agency. We are aware of cases of sham recovery where, under the guise of composting, some operators have seemingly been more interested in disposing of unwanted materials than producing a worthwhile product. Where such cases are identified, the Environment Agency will investigate and consider enforcement action in accordance, importantly for my hon. Friend, with its enforcement and sanctions guidelines.

The controls on compost spread to land are in place, but we are keen to guard more generally against adverse impacts resulting from the spreading of a wider range of waste and non-waste materials on land. For this reason, officials in the Department and in the Environment Agency have set up a joint project to look at the impacts of other materials spread on land and whether we have the right controls in place. Nobody has total possession of all wisdom in this regard, and we are happy to take up any cases that we hear about from hon. Members,

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local authorities, or members of the public and organisations such as the one that my hon. Friend mentioned. In doing so, we will need to be absolutely clear about the rationale for any further intervention and avoid unnecessary or disproportionate regulation. We believe that there are sanctions in place that can deal with every one of the cases that he raises. If that is not happening, we as Ministers want to know why, and we look to him and others to provide cases that we can take up with the Environment Agency, which we will do with vigour.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Will the Minister consider the fact that it is possible to look at the outcome as opposed to the process and perhaps offer some facility for the Environment Agency to recognise the integrity of agricultural and food-producing land and to offer some protection for that land? We already protect water voles and all sorts of other things in a number of different ways. If we looked to the protection of the land, any offence on it could be worked against by the Environment Agency rather than trying to classify every assault on the land.

Richard Benyon: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. What Government have to do is to create standards, and we do that in accordance, in the main, with European designations on such matters. However, that is a very prosaic and rather unambitious reason to do it. We also do it because we want to do so. We want to see a healthy environment. We want our food grown in a healthy way, and we want to be mindful of the health of the consumer and, of course, the impact on the environment. We are very concerned with outcomes, so we are genuinely worried when we hear such issues raised. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, we are in no way complacent. We take our responsibilities very seriously. We are absolutely desirous of having good outcomes from all the measures that are in place. Many people say that far too many regulations are imposed on our food-producing industry and that we need to try to rationalise them, but we do not do that at the expense of the health of our environment or the consumer.

We have covered a lot of ground in the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester and the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt). I understand the attraction of metal detecting as a hobby, because a lot of people in my constituency do it. It is not only a good way of getting out into the countryside and doing a worthwhile activity; it is part of our agenda of more people having access to the countryside. It is also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester points out, a fantastic way of collecting and identifying some extraordinary artefacts. We have all heard some of the wonderful stories in recent years, especially in and around the ancient Roman city of Camulodunum, now of course Colchester. I appreciate the frustration of the members of the National Council for Metal Detecting and note its recent petition on the subject. I particularly note the concern of those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I agree that we cannot accept the inappropriate spreading of what is alleged to be green waste, or the wilful damage to our environment.

The Government have a fundamental duty to continue to support and encourage the recycling and recovery of

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waste so as to conserve natural resources. We also have a responsibility towards the established principle in modern society that the polluter pays. That is an important sanction against the kind of pollution that my hon. Friend has described, and I reaffirm that if he can bring us evidence of this kind of thing happening, perhaps from his contacts in the National Council for Metal Detecting, I can assure him that there will be no lack of will among Ministers or those in the Environment Agency to take up those cases.

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I hope that I have managed to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester and the House that there are good regulatory systems in place, and sanctions that should be working. There are also quality protocols which, if complied with, can add immensely to helping our environment. Where they are not being complied with, the perpetrators can be punished.

Question put and agreed to.

8.30 pm

House adjourned.