Friday, November 30, 2012

Leveson and liberty

That some in the press behaved disgracefully and recklessly there can be no doubt. That a few behaved illegally with regard to phone hacking or data theft appears most likely. But Lord Justice Leveson appears to be ignorant of the fact that there are already laws covering such abuses of power. Even more bizarre is that the journalists he has in his sights are those who work for the (declining) mainstream press: Blogger and Twitter are not to be covered by his proposed regulation, which leaves the intrepid Guido Fawkes to investigate away (recklessly) with impunity..

His Grace writes a quarterly column for Freedom, the distinguished journal of The Freedom Association. The article below appeared in their most recent edition. In light of Leveson's proposals for statutory regulation of the press (which he insists is not statutory regulation of the press), it seems apposite to reproduce it today, for the moment a free press is placed beneath any 'independent' body - a statutory regulator - we will see, as sure as night follows day, freedom of speech gradually ratcheted away, for a journalist with the threat of prison hanging over him is less likely to be 'robust' in the acquisition of information in pursuit of the truth:

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties,” wrote John Milton in his Areopagitica – a speech to England’s Parliament in 1644. In a fractious time of political division and religious dissent, he was making a plea for the toleration of diverse views, no matter how offensive those views may be. He grasped that the freedom to speak contrarily is a foundation of our liberty; it is the cornerstone of liberal democracy.

Milton’s worldview was Protestant: his theology was that of the Reformation; his truth pointing towards that of the Enlightenment. Without the freedoms of speech and expression, nothing could be changed: the prevailing orthodoxies – religious, social, moral and political – thereby become infallible doctrines and immutable laws, defined and determined by an elite priestly caste.

The one caveat identified by both Milton and JS Mill as a justifiable limit to free expression was the ‘harm’ factor: nothing should be censored provided that none is injured, and so Parliament legislated over the succeeding centuries not only against bodily harm, but also against the incitement to harm.

But all matters of opinion were to be tolerated for the good of society. Those opinions may be insulting, unfavourable and offensive, but without the toleration of such there can be no freedom of opinion, both on truth and that of utility. In a 1999 court judgment, Lord Justice Sedley reiterated this right, and quoted Socrates and two famous Quakers in doing so. He said: “Free speech includes not only the offensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, providing it does not tend to provoke violence.” There is no breach of the peace if what is said is merely offensive.

The world has seen too many examples of state control and censorship of unofficial utterances. Society is all the better when the freedom reigns for people to spout their offensive / irritating / contentious / eccentric / heretical / unwelcome / provocative views. The alternative is to be burnt at the stake – literally, in centuries past, or metaphorically in the present. We draw the line at prejudice, irrational discrimination or incitement. Or we used to, before the development of the concept of ‘hate speech’.

Mill expounded the manifest benefits of ‘searching for and discovering the truth’. But what further knowledge may be gleaned if a false opinion may not be challenged, for fear of the hearer being offended and the speaker arrested? How may truth be discerned if error may not be refuted, lest the refutation be deemed ‘hate’? Since most opinions are neither completely true nor completely false, only by a robust exchange in free expression can competing views be aired and partial truths made more whole.

It is profoundly concerning that people are being investigated by the police – even children – for posting jokes in bad taste on their Facebook pages, or sending out impolite Tweets. It is even more concerning that adults are being imprisoned for doing the same, as in the case of Matthew Woods, who posted an offensive joke about April Jones, the little girl who went missing from Machynlleth.

Certainly, missing children are no laughing matter, and Mr Woods has shown himself to be a heartless and unfeeling brute. But imprisoned? Criminalised for failing to empathise with April Jones’ parents? What is this emerging emotional correctness?

It wasn’t so long ago that The Freedom Association was railing against the Royal Mail for illegally withholding millions of letters and parcels while the whole nation mourned the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The grief was ubiquitous – teddy bears and flowers strewn on spontaneous shrines the length and breadth of the country. Emotional correctness demanded conformity: TFA alone introduced a note of jarring dissonance. But the thought of Norris McWhirter being prosecuted and imprisoned today for being offensive or insensitive is absurd. That Diana died was tragic. That the Royal Mail chose to indulge the nation’s collective grief by suspending its services was inconvenient. But that people might be criminalised for finding the whole circus distasteful, and then turning to Facebook and Twitter to spread their vicious satire, is a fundamental offence against freedom.

If a teenage boy can be cautioned by the police for tweeting about Tom Daley failing to win an Olympic gold medal, or a blogger arrested for criticising his local councillors, do we not effectively have a social media patrolled by the police? If the Malicious Communications Act 2003 can be used to censor ‘bad taste’, why may it not be used to suppress minority political views? If Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 outlaws ‘insulting words or behaviour’, why may it not inhibit all rational discourse on Islam or Mohammed; Mormonism or Scientology?

O, hang on...

Channel 4 recently pulled the plug Tom Holland’s documentary Islam: The Untold Story. Mr Holland received threats and abusive tweets, merely for investigating the history of the religion, and so the spineless C4 decided that this story of Islam will remain untold. Thus, ever so subtly, the airwaves of Britain are being incrementally subject to Shari’a: Islam may not be critically discussed; its history may not be investigated; its precepts may not be debated.

Last year the owner of a café was told by police to stop displaying ‘offensive’ Bible verses. In 2008 a teenage boy was arrested for describing the Church of Scientology as a ‘cult’. He was part of a peaceful demonstration, but the police confiscated his placard, deeming it to constitute an expression of ‘hate’.

We must thank God that we have no Mormon politicians, for next year the West End plays host to The Book of Mormon, a satirical musical from the creators of South Park. Doubtless it will cause much offence and someone will feel insulted, and the entire population of Salt Lake City might threaten to descend upon the theatre to protest. But even if they don’t, we can count on the police to intervene, for the Lord Chamberlain has returned, helmeted, dressed in blue, intent on stifling debate, crushing dissent, and inculcating a sinister and illiberal self-censorship.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Today, all freedom-loving people are UKIP

If His Grace were resident in Rotherham, today he would vote UKIP. Not because he agrees with all of their policies (see here); not because they’re more intuitive conservatives (see here); and certainly not because they’re necessarily any nicer than Conservatives (indeed, there are utterly repugnant people in both parties, for in politics it rains on both the unrighteous and the even less righteous).

No, today His Grace would break with his life-long political allegiance because Rotherham has become a microcosm of overbearing statist bureaucracy, illiberal interventionism and egregious political correctness. When a local authority presumes to remove vulnerable foster children from two loving parents solely on the basis that those parents are members of UKIP, all freedom-loving people everywhere must realise that we are all UKIP, or we are all in chains.

Nigel Farage has his faults and detractors, but no-one can doubt the fact that he has steered his ship to double-digit delight in many opinion polls, often surpassing the approval ratings of Nick Clegg and the ‘official’ third party in UK politics. This high tide of support is overwhelmingly coming from despondent Conservatives, who ae slowly waking up to the fact that David Cameron is actually more Social Democrat than Conservative; more third-way Blairite than convicted Thatcherite; and, for all the glorious rhetoric, just as Europhile as the most enthusiastic of his prime ministerial predecessors.

If UKIP were to develop anything like the LibDem machine of local activism, focusing on community priorities to take seats in local government, they would be well on the way to winning seats in Parliament. But they don’t think strategically: their scatter-gun approach is damaging the Eurosceptic cause just as much as Cameron’s obsession with ‘modernisation’ and ‘detoxification’ are clouding conservatism and alienating Conservatives by the thousand. Apparently, even if it were to be offered, there will be no election 'pact' with the Conservatives until Cameron has apologised and been replaced as party leader. How are such dogmatic ultimata in the national interest?

Nigel Farage’s decision to stand in Buckingham against Speaker Bercow was more theatre than politics. And his show was a flop, especially considering the number of (former) fishing constituencies which are crying out for a concerted UKIP campaign tour around their decimated/eradicated industries. With the right candidate, UKIP could win there. But they have neither strategist nor strategy: there is no UKIP Lynton Crosby, as there is no dedicated core of local activists with the time, means or tenacity to think and plan patiently in long years rather than simply entertain over a few ephemeral weeks.

Recent by-election polling has been encouraging, but a loss is still a loss: a national electoral breakthrough remains something of a distant dream. Or perhaps not too distant, for 2014 sees the next round of Euro elections and, this being the only election when people are thinking about ‘Europe’ more than health, education, the economy, law and order and immigration, UKIP might well top the poll. In 2009, they came second to the Conservatives, so it’s not at all inconceivable, especially if they were to become the repository of those thousands of protest votes which traditionally went to the LibDems. The death of the yellow parrot may be good news for the purple meerkat.

So, to Rotherham, and today’s parliamentary by-election. It has been safe Labour territory since 1933, and the shame of Denis MacShane would not ordinarily have been sufficient to wrest the seat from whichever donkey-with-a-red-rosette was selected to stand there. But the UKIP fostering row has changed the perception of Labour in its white, working class heartlands, which are already grumbling about the rising number of Eastern Europeans taking their houses, jobs, dentist appointments and school places. And people don’t like an officious council bully, especially when children are involved. Where two or three are gathered together in political disaffection, there is UKIP in the midst of them. The electorate might even now prefer a crank, gadfly, fruitcake, loony or closet racist to any of the bland, uniform ‘mainstream’ candidates.

Did His Grace say ‘mainstream’? Ah, the real ‘third force in British politics’ has at last been recognised by inter alia Michael Gove, who has done more in a weekend to detoxify UKIP than David Cameron has managed in seven years with his own party. It is no longer sad, mad or bad to oppose mass immigration, reject multiculturalism or insist that marriage is heterosexual. It is no longer bigoted or backward to demand racial integration, selective education or low taxation. It is no longer extreme to wave the union jack, criticise the burqa or express a desire to leave the European Union. After the Olympic flag-waving fervour of this past summer, the people’s consciousness of sovereignty has resurfaced; patriotism has gone mainstream; nationalism is reasserting a political identity.

UKIP may profess a muddled libertarian philosophy, but their politics are increasingly coherently conservative. And no other ‘mainstream’ party is defending the liberty of the individual and freedom from the state. On the contrary, we appear to have a Conservative/LibDem coalition which is about to propose state regulation of the press. Enough of this. Today, in Rotherham, His Grace would vote UKIP.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Palestinian statehood means the eradication of Israel

On 29th November 1947 the United Nations voted in favour of establishing a Jewish state called Israel. Exactly 65 years later, on 29th November 2012, there is to be a further attempt at the UN to vote into existence an Arab state called Palestine.

Let us not be mistaken on the significance of this: the state of Palestine will not be content to perch in peace upon the rolling hills of Judaea and Samaria - it will aggravate and agitate to extend its borders to incorporate Jerusaelem's Old City, including many sites sacred to both Christians and Jews. While the rest of the world recognises Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel, Palestine will eventually declare Jerusalem as its own capital.

If this point is not ceded, Hamas in Gaza will continue to rain down missiles upon Israeli towns and villages, indiscriminately annihilating random civilians. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has said that the Palestinian state must be along the pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, and that all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan, and 'from the north to the south' belongs to them.

That doesn't sound much like a two-state solution: indeed, the land from the Med to Jordan, and from Egypt to Syria, is currently known as Israel. The Hamas vision for Palestine is predicated upon the non-existence of Israel.

No doubt when Mahmoud Abbas makes his appeal at the UN to recognise a Palestinian state, he will be lauded and applauded. But let us not fool ourselves that this is any kind of peace plan. He wants East Jerusalem as the official capital, and that strikes directly at the heart of Israel's identity and Jewish destiny.

If, on 29th November 2012, the global elite decide to speak into existence the State of Palestine, it will be a step toward the erasure of Israel's sovereignty: that the threat to Israel is then existential we should be in no doubt.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Political Kidnapping - UKIP goes global

Monday, November 26, 2012

UKIP fruitcakes and racist Tories

Some years ago, Conservative leader Michael Howard dismissed UKIP members as 'cranks and gadflies'. David Cameron more recently went a step further, calling them 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly' (- we will return to that 'mostly'). As UKIP continues to rise in the polls - merrily surfing a perfect wave of economic meltdown in the Eurozone; concern over judicial activism in the European Court of Human Rights; and widespread disillusionment with the main political parties - the Conservative Party must choose whether to ignore or engage with this populist phenomenon; whether to respect or disparage its political agenda and programme for government.

Daniel Hannan MEP has long advocated some sort of electoral pact: "Few Conservatives disagree with UKIP policies," he writes. "Sixty-two per cent of Tory voters and 78 per cent of party members want a free trade deal with the EU rather than full membership. Most look just as kindly on Nigel Farage's domestic agenda: tax cuts, grammar schools, localism, withdrawal from the ECHR. Their complaint is that, by standing candidates at local and parliamentary level, UKIP, without winning seats itself, keeps allowing Leftie Europhiles to be elected."

It is a theme taken up today by Michael Fabricant MP: "The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is now a significant contributory factor in costing the Conservative Party victories in marginal seats," his report says. "It is time to consider actively whether a rapprochement might be possible before the 2015 general election."

The deal proposed appears to be a referendum in the run up to 2015 (ie this side of the General Election) and, in return, UKIP would not field candidates against Conservative candidates in their target marginal seats.

This is attractive, but would probably divide UKIP: many members would relish a pre-2015 referendum, as opposed to some vague 'cast-iron guarantee' of one after the election... should the Tories win, and should the referendum commitment not be sacrificed on the altar of another coalition agreement. But equally many UKIP members would be reluctant to give pro-EU Tories a free run in their target marginals: the party, they would say, is no longer a single-issue pressure group, but a credible, mainstream political party advocating inter alia selective education, low taxes, capped immigration and (not insignificantly) opposition to same-sex marriage.

The problem is that the Prime Minister is of the view that UKIP members are racist - mostly. No10 appeared to withdraw this allegation over the weekend, in the wake of the Rotherham fostering scandal (when Michael Gove referred to UKIP as 'mainstream'). But then the retraction was retracted, and Cameron's prior assertion reiterated: UKIP is indeed racist - mostly.

This qualifying 'mostly' is important, for it is an expression of quantifiable majority. Cameron is making explicit the belief alluded to by former Chairman Baroness Warsi, who alleged last May that there was a correlation between the rise of UKIP and the decline of the BNP. There appears to be a widely-held belief among senior Conservatives that UKIP is, to quote Avenue Q, 'a little bit racist'.

His Grace wishes to be frank..

He has spoken at many UKIP gatherings over the years, despite being known to be involved with and committed to the Conservative cause. And he has met the odd crank and gadfly at these gatherings, who more often than not berate him for his determination to remain a Conservative even as his party ceases to be so. He has also encountered the occasional fruitcake, the odd loony, and one or two racists - not overly closeted; more out and proud. Their target is often Muslims, as opposed to Islam, though they never appear to know any and their knowledge of the Qur'an is based on a Daily Mail theological exegesis. And they also appear to want to belong to a nation rather more mono-ethnic than the one they manifestly inhabit, preferably led by Churchill (or Thatcher, at a push), in which everyone plays cricket, drinks warm beer and goes to Church (preferably the CofE).

Of course a few UKIP members are racist, despite it being constitutionally a non-racist party. But then there are avowedly non-racist members of the BNP, who simply believe that it's the only party prepared to tackle an unwanted tide of immigration. And there are one or two racists in the Labour Party, too, whom Gordon Brown identifies as 'bigoted'. It's probably not possible to be a racist LibDem, but the Avenue Q factor is doubtless still in play.

His Grace happens to know one or two racist Conservatives, as well. In conversation a few years ago, one (a peer) referred to a colleague as 'the nigger in the woodpile'. And another (an MP) said he was 'sick of hearing about Muslims'. Now, you might say, these were merely private conversations, and so completely without proof. Further, you might argue that the first of these is a common turn of phrase - unpleasant and ignorant usage, perhaps, but nothing more. And the second expression is a feeling with which the majority of the country might sympathise: you don't have to be racist to have had enough of the media's obsession with Islam and Muslims, not least because Islam is not ethnically defined.

But His Grace also has in his possession an email from a senior (professional) figure within the Conservative Party in which he refers disparagingly to 'the Asian tribes of (insert town)'. The juxtaposition of 'Asian' with 'tribe' is manifestly derogatory in the context, conveying nothing but contempt for the primitive Asian instinct with an inference of inferior intellect and understanding.

Of course, the existence of such proof of racism within a solitary email ought not to tarnish an entire political party. But the Prime Minister has never adduced any evidence that UKIP is made up of racists 'mostly'. Might it not simply be that both UKIP and the Conservatives are racist rarely, and allegations to the contrary are just part of the fractious turf-war between two mainstream right-wing parties vying for supremacy? 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

UKIP foster carers banned: could conservative evangelicals be next?

This is a guest post by the Rev'd Julian Mann:

The news that two foster carers have had the children they lovingly cared for taken away by Rotherham Borough Council because they belong to UKIP raises a question: could conservative evangelicals be banned as foster carers because of their opposition to women bishops?

As was very clear in the exchange in the House of Commons following Tuesday's sinking of the women bishops' measure by the General Synod's House of Laity, the conviction that the pastoral leaders of local churches and of dioceses should be male is utterly despised by the politically correct establishment. UKIP's opposition to multi-culturalism was cited as the reason why the two foster carers in Rotherham were banned; why should not the opinion of conservative evangelicals about male headship in the family also fall foul of social workers?

That would be very sad indeed for children needing a loving home, because conservative evangelicals thinking about the complementarity of the sexes should in theory at least lend itself to good parenting. That does not mean that all conservative evangelicals are good parents - there is a variety of factors that make for good parenting, ranging from the moral to the relational to the psycho-emotional. But this is to argue that the conservative evangelical conviction that children need to grow up with the love of a married father and mother and that the man and the woman each bring their own distinctive God-given contribution to the nurture of children makes for excellent parenting.

The idea that fathers are the servant leaders of their wives and children also leads to a responsible, hands-on approach to family life by conservative evangelical men. In a society devastated by fatherlessness, who would complain about loving, leading fatherhood, unless they were motivated by socially Marxist dogma?

Conservative evangelical men and women should not be ashamed of their convictions in the teeth of the opprobrium now being poured on them for their biblical convictions. Male headship is clearly taught in the New Testament, and not just by the later epistles of St Paul. His first letter to the Corinthians is an early epistle, recognised by both conservative and liberal scholars to have been written in Ephesus in the early 50s AD, and that clearly teaches male headship.

God willing, more conservative evangelical married couples will become fosters carers and bring the love of the Lord Jesus Christ to vulnerable children.

 Julian Mann is vicar Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

His Grace's 'appearance' on BBC Question Time

Friday, November 23, 2012

Women Bishops - Sir Tony Baldry responds to parliamentary questions

Sir Tony Baldry MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner, has answered questions about women bishops in the Church of England. Full text of questions and Sir Tony’s answers are here in context:

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) (Urgent Question): Will the Second Church Estates Commissioner make a statement on this week’s decision by the General Synod on women bishops?

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): Yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear at the General Synod of the Church of England that the Church of England could not afford to “hang about” over the issue of women bishops and observed starkly that

“every day that we fail to resolve this issue…is a day when our credibility in the public eye is likely to diminish”.
Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham and the next Archbishop of Canterbury, said:
“The Church has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the principle. It is a question of finding a way that…is the right way forward.”
It is important for the House to recognise that there is overwhelming support in the Church of England for women bishops to be consecrated. The draft Measure rejected earlier this week was supported by clear majorities in 42 of the 44 dioceses in England. As I have repeatedly said, it is impossible for me to explain to parliamentary colleagues how a Measure that has had the clear support of 42 out of 44 dioceses failed to pass in the General Synod. Let us take all the votes passed in the General Synod: 324 members voted for women bishops, and 122 against; 94% of the bishops who voted on Tuesday supported the Measure, as did 77% of the House of Clergy; and even in the House of Laity, 64% were in favour. The Measure was lost by a handful of votes among the laity, because for the Measure to pass it had to clear the hurdle of a two-thirds majority in each House of the General Synod.
Speaking for the whole House, I am sure, my right hon. Friend and fellow Church Commissioner, the Prime Minister, made it clear to the House yesterday that the
“Church needs to get on with it, as it were, and get with the programme”—[Official Report, 21 November 2012; Vol. 553, c. 579.]
He observed that the Church of England needed a “sharp prod”.
I appreciate that frustrations exist in the House on this matter—a frustration that I share—and I think that the following needs to be understood. First, this is not an issue that can in any way be parked for the next couple of years or so, while we await another round of Synod elections. It must be understood that this issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible. I hope that it will be convenient for the House if I seek to arrange a meeting in the near future for concerned Members, together with the Bishop of Durham, the archbishop-designate, to explore how this matter can be resolved as speedily as possible.
There have been some suggestions in the press that it is impossible for the Church of England or General Synod to return to this issue until after a new General Synod has been elected in 2015. That is not correct: the rules prevent the same Measure from being reconsidered by the General Synod without a special procedure. It is perfectly possible for a different and amended Measure to consecrate women bishops to be considered by the General Synod. Although this is for the Church of England to resolve, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, I suspect that there will also be those in the Church of England who will wish to consider whether the election process to the General Synod is sufficiently representative, particularly of the laity of the Church of England, as Tuesday’s vote clearly did not reflect the overall and clear consensus of dioceses across England in support of women bishops.
It is my earnest hope that during the time I serve the Queen—whose appointment I am—this House and the Church of England as Second Church Estates Commissioner it will prove possible for me to bring before this House a Measure that will enable women to be consecrated bishops in the Church of England.
Diana Johnson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response to the urgent question, and I know that he is as disappointed as I am at having to speak on this matter today. May I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to raise this important matter on the Floor of the House today?
It appears to me and many others that the theological arguments over women priests—and therefore their position in roles of authority—were settled 20 years ago in the Church of England. The next natural step, on which I think there is agreement across the House, is to see some of the excellent ordained women priests now move into positions of leadership in our Church as bishops. Just as discrimination in the wider community is wrong, as it keeps the talents and abilities of all from flourishing, so it is important in the established Church that the talents, experience and skills of both men and women are used and that the Church is led by the very best, not just those who happen to be male. There should be no stained glass ceiling for women in our Church.
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 by this decision. It appears that a broad Church is being held to ransom by a few narrow minds, but as the hon. Gentleman said, the vast majority of members of the Church want to see women bishops. He set out clearly the votes that were cast at both diocesan and General Synod level. I was pleased to hear him say that there are questions to be asked about the convoluted decision-making structure in the Church, and in particular about the representative nature of the House of Laity, and whether an overhaul of the electoral system needs to be considered. The decision made by an unrepresentative minority in the House of Laity means that this essential modernisation of the Church of England has potentially been put back for another five years or more, with no guarantee of progress even then.
In fact, I think positions will become even more difficult. Many campaigners felt that they had offered concessions to accommodate those of different views and will perhaps now take a much less conciliatory approach, as they feel that the concessions have been ignored, with no willingness to compromise. As the Church of England is part of the constitutional settlement of this country, it is important that Parliament has regard to what the decision means for the country and the Church’s role in law making. With the decision made, we now see the entrenchment of the discriminatory nature of the 26 places in the upper House reserved for Bishops, who can only be male. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this cannot be right, and that Parliament and the Government have to consider what we should do, especially in light of the Government’s decision to abandon any wider reform of the Lords? Does he further agree that we must also consider whether the exemption from equalities legislation for the Church of England now needs to be re-examined?
Finally, I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman’s resolve on the need to sort this out as soon as possible, as well as what the Archbishop of Canterbury said. I understand that there will be moves by the Church to spend some time thinking about how to proceed, but it is imperative that those in the all-male group of bishops do not talk just to one another, but work with and alongside senior women in the Church to find a way forward. Unlike the Prime Minister, I think Parliament has a role to play and should now look at doing all it can to support the Church at this time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees.
Sir Tony Baldry: I agree with almost all that the hon. Lady said. The really important point is that the whole House wants the Church of England to get on with this matter. It cannot be parked, and work needs to be done urgently to try to ensure that it is resolved as quickly as possible. In fairness, the House of Bishops gave the greatest possible leadership in the General Synod. However, as I sat there, the analogy that struck me was that it was a bit like Government Whips trying to talk to the Eurosceptics; there were those in the General Synod who, whatever the bishops said to them, were just not going to listen. So, in fairness, the House of Bishops in an episcopal-led Church was very clear about the need to make change. Those bishops work every day with women clergy in their dioceses and see the fantastic work that they are doing in the Church of England. That work must be valued and cherished, and we need to ensure that any changes do not square the circle by bringing forth proposals for women bishops who would be second-class bishops. I have made it clear to the General Synod on a number of occasions that Parliament simply would not approve any Measure that introduced women bishops as second-class bishops.
Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the whole House has sympathy with his position and great respect for the hard work that he has done in trying to resolve this matter. Does he agree that when the decision-making body of the established Church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society that it represents, its position as the established Church must be called into question?
Sir Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady makes a perfectly good point, and it is one that I have repeatedly made. As a consequence of the decision by the General Synod, the Church of England no longer looks like a national Church; it simply looks like a sect, like any other sect. If it wishes to be a national Church that reflects the nation, it has to reflect the values of the nation.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for doing a wonderful, and rather thankless, job on this issue over the years on behalf of parliamentarians. He was at the very stormy meeting yesterday between parliamentarians and the bishops. Peers and MPs of all parties were saying with one voice that if the Church does not get on and do this, Parliament will. Will he therefore convene an emergency meeting of the Ecclesiastical Committee, so that we can take legal advice as to what Parliament can do to help the Church to achieve the will of the people in the Church?
Sir Tony Baldry: It was because of yesterday’s meeting, and because I am conscious of the concerns being expressed on both sides of the House, that I would like to convene a meeting with the archbishop-designate. Justin Welby has great leadership skills, and it is he who will have to lead the Church of England in this matter. He needs to hear the voices from the House of Lords and the House of Commons that were heard in that meeting yesterday. We need to funnel our energies into helping him to resolve the matter.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker.
Can we all send our support, love and concern to all women who are ordained or hope to be ordained in the Church—including your chaplain, Mr Speaker, and all others? They must feel even more frustrated than we do, but we are not going to let them down. Given that, over the past 20 years, the Church has managed to sort out how parishes that did not want women priests could be looked after, does the Second Church Estates Commissioner not agree that it must be possible to resolve this issue? Will he invite the Minister for Women and Equalities to offer the services of the Government, not to tell the Church what to do but to offer it professional advice on how to deliver what the majority want, as soon as possible?
Sir Tony Baldry: I am sure that it must be possible to resolve this issue. The important thing is to continue to work at it until it is resolved. An increasing number of ordinands coming into the Church are women, and we need to have a Church in which everyone is valued. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is correct is saying that, at present, a number of women out there in the clergy are feeling undervalued. That is wrong; they are very much valued and cherished, and there needs to be a full place for them in our national Church.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Since I was ordained as a priest in the Church of England 25 years ago, women have become vicars, rectors, deans, rural deans and even archdeacons, so it is ludicrous that they cannot now become bishops. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we will have no truck with more concessions to the hard-liners who want to make women second-rate bishops. We need to speed this up. Would it not make sense to have a moratorium on the appointment of any more male bishops until there could also be women bishops—no nomination without feminisation?
Sir Tony Baldry: Of course, we could have done that if the Prime Minister still had control over the appointment of bishops.
Mr Bradshaw: Take it back then.
Sir Tony Baldry: It was of course the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) as Prime Minister who, without any proper consultation, renounced the ability of Downing street to have any influence over the control of bishops. I am encouraged by the suggestions from Labour Members that the Prime Minister should take back the power to appoint bishops, but I suspect that might create a few problems. I think everyone will have heard the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I think my hon. Friend was wrong in what he said about the Eurosceptics, because the Eurosceptics happen to be right. The important point, which I hope he will accept, is that it is not for this House to say how the established Church is run. We may well have our own opinion, but it is a very dangerous thing for the House of Commons to tell the established Church how to run itself.
Sir Tony Baldry: I say, in all friendship to my hon. Friend, that as I sat through the debates in General Synod, it struck me that the Eurosceptics and the conservative evangelicals had quite a lot in common in their approach. Nevertheless, he makes a serious point on which the House should reflect. Since 1919, it has been the convention that although Parliament has the ultimate control over the Church of England—it is an established Church, after all, and the Book of Common Prayer is but an annexe to the Act of Uniformity—the Church of England comes forward with its Measures, and if they are passed by the Church of England they will be approved or otherwise by Parliament. I am sure my hon. Friend will understand that if the Church of England is a national Church and an established Church, it is right and proper for Parliament to make clear its views and opinions to the Church of England and for the Church of England to hear what Parliament is saying.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I am not involved with the Church of England and I am a lifelong non-believer, but I want to say to the hon. Gentleman, whom I greatly admire for the stance he has taken, that it is simply impossible to understand how on earth it can be argued that if women are considered appropriate to be deacons and priests, as they have been in the last 20 years, they are not worthy to be bishops. It is simply impossible to understand that. Will the hon. Gentleman also accept that, for many of us, this opposition to women bishops bears comparison with the opposition 100 years ago to women having the right to vote and to sit in the House of Commons? It is an anti-women attitude—a feeling that women have no place in public life, in religion or in politics—that I find contemptible.
Sir Tony Baldry: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. In fairness, if he reads the comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday, he will find that the archbishop said exactly the same as him—that it is intolerable to have a situation where women can be priests, deacons, archdeacons and deans, yet not be bishops. In his own way, the hon. Gentleman is saying almost exactly the same as the Archbishop of Canterbury about this intolerable situation.
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): Probably not for the first time, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and in disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). I think that we are elected on a far more democratic basis than the House of Laity.
I believe that there is very strong support for this Measure both in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen). We share the most extraordinary Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, in the shape of the Rev. June Osborne. May we please urge the bishops to adopt the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Rhondda of a moratorium? It is in their control. They could do it themselves. I know that it would be a complicated process, but it would be less complicated than the fiendish voting structure that we saw yesterday.
If you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, may I add that my heart goes out to those women who will be standing up on Sunday and doing, in many cases, a superior job of bringing people to God and bringing the comfort of Christianity to their constituents? This is disgraceful. Please could we all share in some sort of message of support? There will be change. We are behind this change. It has to happen.
Sir Tony Baldry: I am sure that women throughout the Church will have heard the encouraging comments of my hon. Friend, and those of, I think, every other Member who has spoken so far.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I joined the Movement for the Ordination of Women in 1976, and I find it incredible that we are still having this argument 36 years later. I am very pleased that the Second Church Estates Commissioner understands our feelings about the urgent need for this Measure.
May I suggest that too many concessions have been made to those who are opposed to women priests? That is what has given them hope, and it is why they have continued to fight. It is simply unjust to do that at the expense of women in the Church.
Sir Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady’s comments demonstrate the difficulty of striking a balance between various groups in the Church of England, and trying to ensure that everyone feels that there is a continuing place for them in the Church. It has always been a broad Church, and as far as possible we want to keep everyone in that broad Church. However, I assure the hon. Lady that I know, and the House has made very clear, that Parliament simply would not pass a Measure that discriminated against women, squaring the circle by trying to make them bishops but second-class bishops. Everyone has to understand that.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): I think it important for Parliament to express a view, but I also think that it would be better for us to pass a short Bill requiring female bishops. We need to put the Church out of its agony, and to end the antiquated voting system to which my hon. Friend has referred.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is nothing new about female bishops? There is a ninth-century mosaic in a Roman basilica showing two saints, who are named, the Virgin Mary, and a fourth woman who is clearly described as Bishop Theodora: Theodora Episcopa. She was a female bishop. The Church has had them in the past.
Sir Tony Baldry: The occasions in the past when Parliament and the Church of England have gone head to head on matters of worship and doctrine—there were disputes about the prayer book in the late 1920s, for instance—are not happy precedents. I think it important for the Church of England to listen very carefully to what Parliament is saying. Although, in my view, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely right to say yesterday that the Church needed a “sharp prod”, I hope and believe that Parliament will give it time to sort itself out and get on with the issue, and I assure the House that we will do so as speedily as possible.
Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Speaking as one who is part of the wider Anglican communion, I am profoundly saddened and disappointed by the Church of England’s failure to make progress on the role of women in spiritual and public life. It leaves us with the continuing anomaly that seats for bishops in the other place are available exclusively to men. I simply do not believe that that is sustainable in a modern democracy. Does the Commissioner believe that we might, in fact, be doing the Church a favour by seeking to review its constitutional status?
Sir Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to remind us that the Church of England is part of a wider Anglican communion, and that the whole of the Anglican communion will be looking at how the Church of England conducts itself. I agree with the comments that have been made about the Church reflecting, and I think that everyone in it needs to reflect on how out of touch it now appears to Parliament—to every part and every corner of the House of Commons.
Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I pay tribute to the many women in my constituency who take part in the formal and informal structures of the Church. They are very important to rural life, and I know that my bishop—Peter Price, the Bishop of Bath and Wells—deeply appreciates the contribution of his large female work force.
I agree with what has been said about women on boards. Might the hon. Gentleman be able to explain to newer Members why this particular Church does not have to observe equalities legislation?
Sir Tony Baldry: May I correct a point that seems to be getting some coinage? The Church of England does not enjoy any particular exemption from sex equality legislation. Obviously, equalities legislation is entirely a matter for this House, but the legislation that applies to the Church of England applies to all faith groups in this country. If Parliament were to seek to change the legislation, it would apply to every faith group. That is clearly a matter for the House.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The bishops sit in the House of Lords on the basis of a moral authority, and they vote on a range of issues, including equalities legislation. It is now clear that the views of the established Church do not reflect the views of the British people, so is it not time that the bishops left the House of Lords? Is not the real problem that the Church of England is entitled, by right, to places in an unreformed, unaccountable and unelected House of Lords?
Sir Tony Baldry: I think it is rather tough that a number of people are taking out their frustration on the bishops, because the bishops gave clear leadership, with almost every single bishop who spoke and voted indicating that they want to have women bishops. They, too, are very keen to ensure that they are joined in the House of Lords by women bishops. There could be no clearer leadership in the Church than that given by the bishops of the Church of England on the fact that they want to have women bishops.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and agree wholly with what he was saying, and I particularly welcome the opportunity of parliamentarians meeting the archbishop-designate. May I link two points that my hon. Friend made? Speaking as a Eurosceptic and as someone who has stood, unsuccessfully, for election to the House of Laity, may I suggest to him that the House of Laity is about as representative of opinion in the pews as the European Parliament is of constituents? May I also urge him to move forward as quickly as possible with a review of the electoral arrangements for the House of Laity?
Sir Tony Baldry: It was my mistake for wandering down the route of commenting about Eurosceptics. One thing that we were enjoined to do in the General Synod was live in amity with all our colleagues, so I hope that I can always do that. My hon. Friend is correct in saying that a number of questions will continue to be asked about the arrangements for electing the General Synod, because we simply cannot have a situation where 42 out of 44 dioceses vote overwhelmingly for women bishops and that simply is not reflected in the vote in the General Synod and the House of Laity—that is simply unsustainable.
Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on all his work on this matter and thank him for it. I also wish to echo the sentiments that so many hon. Members have expressed about the contribution that women in the Church make in all our constituencies. Does he agree that the reaction that this has caused in the population as a whole, including on Twitter and in social media, has shown how important this issue is to the nation and how important it is that Parliament acts? I include in that the petition that has been started to raise the question as to whether there should be an automatic right for bishops to sit in the House of Lords if there are no women bishops.
Sir Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady clearly demonstrates that the Church of England has to be a national Church. It is the Church of the Remembrance day services, it is the Church of the coronation and it is the Church of which the Queen is head as Head of State and Head of the Church. One of the first things the Queen did during her jubilee celebrations was attend a meeting at Lambeth palace that was attended by all faith groups. What was very moving was that all those faith groups said that they felt confident in freedom of religion for them because of the role of the Church of England as the national Church. So the Church of England, as a national Church, is failing the whole nation and other faith groups if it does not reflect our national character.
Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): May I say, Mr Speaker, how much many of us supported the robust comments your Chaplain made in the media after this announcement was made? My oldest friend is due to be ordained in 2014, and the Church will be lucky to have her, as she is someone of huge talent. But surely the Church sees that it will not attract women of that calibre if they see that they will not be able to pursue the full extent of their talents.
Sir Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. We are very fortunate to have attracted into the Church over the past 20 years many women of extraordinary talent, leadership, skill and commitment. Indeed, the Church of England would not manage without their skill, leadership and commitment. We need to be able to continue to recruit people of that high calibre and I hope that we will continue to do so.
Mr Speaker: We are also all extremely fortunate in our Chaplain and I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) for what she said.
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and many people will appreciate the way in which he has put them. It is clearly unsustainable for us to have an all-male episcopate. Does he agree that the decision sadly risks damaging the reputation of the Church in the eyes of many of our constituents? Will he consider working with the business managers to find a way for this House to express its will and send a clear, unanimous and courteous message to the General Synod that it needs to think again?
Sir Tony Baldry: I shall certainly reflect on that interesting suggestion with the business managers and the Clerks.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): Given that a significant minority in the House of Laity have spoken and said that women are not competent to be bishops, will my hon. Friend, alongside me, call on that significant minority to launch an urgent review into the competence of its own head of the Church of England?
Sir Tony Baldry: Those who voted against women bishops at General Synod did so because of their own particular theological convictions. While acknowledging those theological convictions, the Church now needs to find a way to move forward as speedily as possible to ensure that women can be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman share my sadness and that of many other people that the Church has made itself appear so out of touch and anachronistic in its decision making? The head of the Church of England is a woman, but in the 21st century we cannot have women bishops.
Sir Tony Baldry: I agree. It is a great sadness. I suspect that every right hon. and hon. Member has recently had representations from Church members on same-sex marriage. If the Church of England thinks that Parliament will listen to it with considerable attention on moral issues such as same-sex marriage and so on when the Church of England seems to be so out of step on other issues of concern to Parliament, it is simply deluding itself.
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I must declare an interest in that my sister is a vicar in the Church of England in your constituency, Mr Speaker, and I personally own the living of a parish in Oxfordshire. Does my hon. Friend think that if Mrs Proudie had been the bishop rather than her husband, Obadiah Slope would have had a rather different career path?
Sir Tony Baldry: I suspect, Mr Speaker, that that is true. It is reassuring to discover that there are still Members of this House who own livings of parishes in the Church of England.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I caution my hon. Friend about comparisons between the EU and the Church of England, as the EU forces people to vote and vote again until it gets the result it wants. Clearly, the Church of England has shown itself to be completely out of touch with the views not only of Parliament but of the country at large. Is it not time now for the General Synod to review its whole decision-making process so that it can reflect the wishes of its members?
Sir Tony Baldry: The General Synod will have to reflect on the comments made by my hon. Friend and others about its effectiveness, about how it is elected and about whether it represents members of the Church of England, the broader community and society as a whole. Historically and even today, church wardens have been elected by the whole community because there is recognition that in every parish church wardens represent the community as a whole. We will have to consider how the laity elected to the General Synod can reflect the broadest range of society—certainly among those who are members of the Church of England and perhaps among the community as a whole. I am quite sure that will be reviewed in the coming months.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): As a Church of England believer, I have never understood how a woman can be head of the Church yet somehow women cannot be bishops. I urge that we consider bringing in a short Bill ordering that women should be able to be bishops in the Church of England.
Sir Tony Baldry: In the General Synod debate, part of which I sat through, there were some who argued that it was impossible for women to have headship, and I just could not understand how they sought to reconcile that with the fact that Parliament has made the Queen defender of the faith and that we are fortunate enough to have her not only as Head of State, but as head of the Church.
Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): This week’s decision reflects very badly on the Church, but also very unfairly; the Church, after all, is all the people who are part of it, not just one legislative committee. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that, given that a large majority of them have shown that they are as keen to have women bishops as we in this House are, the problem lies not with the members of the Church of England, but with the paralysis of its decision-making structures?
Sir Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend is right to remind us at the end of these questions that the overwhelming majority of members of the Church of England want women bishops. It is now beholden on us all, whether in the Church of England or outside, to try to ensure that happens as speedily as possible.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mr Speaker 'guides' Labour MPs on Church of England equality

MPs are queuing up in a concerted effort to impose equality upon the Church of England. Leading their ranks are Labour's Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant, who both doubtless have a further equality agenda in mind, just a little beyond the current vexatious one relating to episcopal gender.

This development is  concerning, not least because (unlike some other Christian denominations) the Church of England has its own democratic structures for debating change and enacting legislation, and it's not even as if all of those who voted against the recent proposal are opposed in principle to women bishops: quite a few were manifestly unhappy with the wording of the legislation put before them, which both sustained anti-women discrimination and merely exhorted 'respect' for the traditionalists. It was a bit of a fudge, not to say a dog's breakfast.

But, in the myopic world of Westminster, it was simply and straightforwardly a vote against women bishops, and this is offensive for it breaches equality law; in particular, it reserves 26 places in the House of Lords exclusively for men, and we can't be having that, can we? And so the Prime Minister said he would 'look closely' at what Parliament might do, and then ranted that the Synod should 'get on with it' and 'get with the programme'.

The programme, presumably, being the equality agenda.

Which is odd, because he is presently assuring religious institutions (including the Established Church) of certain exemptions from another bit of the equality agenda - presumably because he knows that the next government will simply seek to impose that bit of equality upon the Church of England as well.

Mr Speaker informed Labour MP Diana Johnson that it wasn't for Tony Baldry to explain the implication of 'continuing discrimination of having only men eligible to sit in the House of Lords as bishops'. He exhorted her to approach Equalities Minister Maria Miller, who would then make a statement to the House of Commons.

Which is odd, because she, too, is presently assuring religious institutions (including the Established Church) of certain exemptions from another bit of the equality agenda - presumably because she, too, knows that the next government will simply seek to impose that bit of equality upon the Church of England as well

There is an undoubted 'tension' between equality legislation and religious liberty in the hierarchy of rights, which His Grace has spent six years expounding. He knew it would come to this juncture (and, indeed, it will go further). The bizarre thing is that politicians are seeking to impose a ecclesio-theological belief (with a majority of 1) upon an institution which sets a much higher democratic bar (66%) because such changes are not as straightforward as amending the Dangerous Dogs Act: we are dealing with centuries of church history, theological tradition, and the Word of God. 66% is actually the sort of threshold that ought to apply in Parliament for all constitutional reforms, which might then act as something of a deterrent to those politicians who treat Magna Carta, the Act of Settlement and the Bill of Rights as if they were no more than ordinary statutes.

It ought not to be for a simple illiberal majority to determine that religious affairs of others. Yet Ben Bradshaw is clearly intent on Parliament intervening to 'ensure that the overwhelming will of members of the Church of England, and of this country, is respected'.

Forget the need to find a solution that might be acceptable to everyone: this is now the raw politics of power. His Grace never thought he would say this, but disestablishment is a far more attractive option than this discredited, dysfunctional and deficient parliament imposing its secular will upon the religious conscience of the Church of England.
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