19 March 2006 — As first reported by Ekklesia, a Ten Minute Rule Bill – The Bishops (Consecration of Women) Bill – will be introduced on Tuesday (20 March).
The bill, which was originally tabled by Chris Bryant MP, who was himself ordained, and formerly a curate in the Church of England, is intended to pave the way for the consecration of women bishops in the Church.
However, it was announced on 11th March in Parliament’s Weekly Information Bulletin that the bill would be introduced by Andy Reed, the Labour and Co-op MP for Loughborough.
The bill proposes the amendment of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 which currently makes it unlawful for women to become bishops.
Although such bills rarely go any further, Ekklesia was told that the new bill was aimed at the removal of the legal bar on women bishops and could be an important indication of Parliamentary support for a move by the Church of England to allow their consecration.
Several senior Government ministers are already understood to have voiced support for the bill according to Ruth Gledhill of The Times newspaper.
The religious correspondent has also suggested that if the Government did allow the bill through, it would create a constitutional crisis unparalleled since Parliament rejected the Church’s 1928 Prayer Book.
Due to the relationship between church and state, Parliamentary measures were required in the early 1990s to make it lawful for the General Synod of the Church of England to ordain women priests. However the bar on women becoming bishops remained in place.
Parliament cannot force the Church to consecrate women bishops, but the proposal may trigger a vote in the House of Commons, which would give an important indication of the extent of Parliamentary support for such a move.
Bryant said: “If there is a majority of 100 or 150 for this, it will give a strong indication to the Church that 2012 is a little far off. God may move in a mysterious way, but it would be good if she moved a little faster.”
He continued: “It is not for sinners such as politicians to tell the saints in the Church what to do. But it sticks in our throats when the Church preaches about equality and won’t institute it within its own ranks. No-one would ever think to say to a parish, you can vote not to have a black priest.”
The introduction of the bill comes a month after the Church of England’s ‘parliament’, the General Synod, overwhelmingly backed consideration of a compromise plan that could see the ordination of women bishops by 2012.
The bill also comes at a time when the relationship between church and state is being increasingly called into question. It was recently reported that Gordon Brown is planning to return the power to choose bishops to the Church of England for the first time since the reign of Henry VIII.
The bill has the support of Tory MP Robert Key, also a member of General Synod, Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes and at least 50 others.
Andy Reed MP, who will now introduce the bill has closer ties with Evangelicals than Bryant, many of whom oppose moves toward women bishops. He may have a better chance than Bryant therefore of gaining widespread support for the bill. Like Bryant he is a member of the Christian Socialist Movement.
Reed also has experience of steering a private members bill onto the statute books. The MP introduced a bill into the House Commons about tax relief for community and amateur sports clubs which was subsequently adopted by the Government and became law.
© 2006 Ekklesia. Posted on Religioscope with permission. An initiative of the Anvil Trust, Ekklesia is a not-for-profit think-tank which works to promote theological ideas in the public square. Website: www.ekklesia.co.uk