SENIOR MPs have threatened to remove the Church’s exemption from equality laws if the General Synod does not vote in favour of women bishops.
The former Labour minister Frank Field MP has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) welcoming the legislation currently being considered by dioceses, and noting that it is likely to come before the General Synod in July 2012.
The EDM “calls on Her Majesty’s Government to remove any exemptions pertaining to gender under existing equality legislation, in the event that the Measure has overwhelming support in the dioceses, but fails, through a technicality, to receive final approval in General Synod”.
Mr Field said that he had been led to draft the EDM because of fears that, despite support in the dioceses for women bishops, the legislation would be blocked when it came back to the Synod.
He said: “What troubles some of us is that clever dicks in Synod will get to work and will defeat this. We [Parliament] wait for what Synod sends us, but if there is an overwhelming view that the Church wants women bishops, and then it doesn’t come to us, we will say that is fine, but we would move to cease to allow the Church to be exempt from equality legislation.”
To be approved, two-thirds of each of the Synod’s three Houses — clergy, laity, and bishops — must vote in favour. It would then have to go to both Houses of Parliament and an Ecclesiastical Committee for consideration.
Mr Field’s EDM has so far been signed by a cross-party group of 14 MPs, including the former Labour minister David Blunkett, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes, and the Conservative MP Peter Bottomley.
EDMs are generally seen as expressions of opinion by MPs, and are unlikely to be debated or acted upon without a large groundswell of support in Parliament and outside.
None the less, the wording of this EDM has caused consternation among some in the Church, even among those who support legislation for women bishops. Some have called it “misjudged”.
Traditionalists, including the Revd Julian Mann, who runs the blog Cranmer’s Curate, said that the EDM “could well turn out to be a boost for traditionalists on the General Synod.
“The fact that Mr Field et al. have intervened in this coercive manner in the affairs of God’s Church does add to a growing sense that Caesar has got too big for his boots in trying to tell God what to do. That surely could well be turned to advantage by opponents of women bishops on the floor of the Synod.”
The group WATCH (Women and the Church), however, welcomed the motion. The head of WATCH’s campaign, Hilary Cotton, said: “The EDM voices what most people outside the Church think, as well as most within it: women should be bishops, and should be bishops on the same basis as men.”