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Dr. Godman: I am exceedingly grateful to my hon. Friend for showing her characteristic courtesy by giving way to me. May I point out that I was misquoted by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow)? If she cares to read the Official Report, my hon. Friend will see that what I am saying is the truth.
Mr. Swayne: I rise to speak in favour of amendment No. 15. I started with rather greater enthusiasm for that amendment, having made the same mistake as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and believed that it was a wrecking amendment. I have now heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) correct the hon. Gentleman.
Despite opposing the principle of the Bill, I acknowledge the force of the amendment. It appears to deliver a compromise that should be acceptable to those on both sides of the argument, by delivering the remedy to the problem in Inverclyde that the Bill is designed to solve and at the same time addressing absolutely the reservation held by those who oppose the principle of the Bill, which is that we do not regard it as proper for a member of the ordained ministry of either the established Church or the Roman Catholic Church to hold a position as a Member of Parliament.
Mr. Mackinlay: It is a matter relating precisely to the amendment. It mentions "episcopal ordination", which almost exclusively relates to the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. That is my reason for asking, from a sedentary position, "Why?" A Methodist minister is not covered by the provision, yet the same arguments about compatibility advanced by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and, I assume, the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) apply. The difference is purely a matter of rubric, relating to the question of the laying on of hands and the episcopal succession. It is an absurd distinction.
Mr. Swayne: It is a distinction rooted in an historical context. I shall come later to the hon. Gentleman's question about "episcopal ordination", but I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) wants to intervene.
Mr. Gummer: The amendment is even worse. A Methodist minister ordained in America is ordained episcopally; therefore, the amendment would exclude an American-ordained Methodist minister, but not an English-ordained Methodist minister. The argument is not about the episcopacy, but about whether the episcopacy is within the apostolic succession, which is a wholly
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I know that I come rather late to the debate, but at least I come with an open mind. I have a great deal of sympathy with the question raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) says it is improper for a priest of the Church of England to serve as a Member of the House of Commons. Will he be so good as to explain his reasons to those who, like me, have great difficulty understanding why it is improper?
Mr. Swayne: The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) said that it would be highly unlikely that a clergyman--according to my understanding of the amendment, a priest of either the Church of England or the Church of Rome--could fulfil his role as a priest and carry out the duties of a Member of Parliament. However, the hon. Lady recognised that that might apply equally to any number of other callings--if calling is a proper word to use in that respect--and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) will find that he has some sympathy with that point.
From my point of view, they are clean different things: there can be no comparison between functioning as a clergyman of the established Church or the Roman Church--a very special role, administering sacraments and occupying a leadership role in what I suppose we would now call a faith community--and carrying out an occupation that involves political controversy and political leadership.
Mr. Swayne: Obviously, since I support the amendment, I would say that it is a question for us and one on which the House should divide. Equally, I think that it is a matter of some impertinence on our part to intrude on the decision-making processes of the Churches. The Church of Rome has a clear position: it does not believe that it is proper for its priests to hold any sort of elective office of the sort to which the Bill would welcome them. Therefore, to introduce the Bill strikes me as impertinent.
Mr. Gummer: Surely if the Church of Rome makes that decision, it is not up to us at all--the matter has been sorted out. However, my hon. Friend must explain one simple issue arising from his argument: if I were,
Mr. Swayne: I disagree profoundly with my right hon. Friend in that respect. I share the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth): I believe that consensus is no friend of the legislative process. The House should divide as often as possible and propositions should be tested by vociferous and rigorous argument. I am prepared to extend that principle beyond the confines of the Chamber to the positions that I take among my constituents: I am prepared to argue robustly about clearly political and ideological questions. I do not therefore believe it would be proper for me to occupy such a position and behave in such a way and, at the same time, to attempt to perform some priestly function and expect constituents with whom I might have profound disagreements--perhaps outside the bounds of good will, as is often the case in politics--to come and kneel at the altar and take the sacrament from my hand. That would be an abomination.
Mr. Bercow: Methinks my hon. Friend doth protest too much. None can gainsay his qualities of robustness, eloquence and ideological purity; in his company I have often greatly enjoyed dividing the House and ordinarily I am in agreement with him. However, did he not give the game away a few moments ago when he said that the practice of a priest and the pursuit of other, outside occupations were, from his point of view, clean different things? Does he accept that, in a matter of this nature, his point of view is not the basis of statute?
Mr. Swayne: I am saying only, as Martin Luther said, "Here I stand. I can do no other." Of course I speak only for my own point of view; none the less, it is a point of view that I am prepared to press in the Lobby.
Mr. Mackinlay: The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) referred to worker priests. Had he been in the Chamber earlier, he would know that I referred to them. We have at least three diligent and highly regarded, albeit controversial, worker ministers in this place. They are Presbyterian ministers from Northern Ireland. The only distinction is that they are not episcopally ordained. Their pastoral functions and qualities are the same as those of Church of England priests or Roman Catholic priests.
The hon. Gentleman heard the argument of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), whom he is supporting. She alleged that the responsibility of pastoral care led to a conflict in terms of time--