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New Bill on women bishops introduced in the Commons

15 March 2013

All together: Diana Johnson MP (centre, with scarf) last week meets clergywomen from the East Riding, and the Suffragan Bishop of Hull, in York diocese, the Rt Revd Richard Frith (rear of picture)

All together: Diana Johnson MP (centre, with scarf) last week meets clergywomen from the East Riding, and the Suffragan Bishop of Hull, in York dioc...

A BILL that would amend the law to allow women to become bishops in the Church of England was introduced into the House of Commons on Wednesday. It will have its Second Reading on 3 May, but is unlikely to progress further unless it receives Government support.

The Labour MP Diana Johnson moved a Ten Minute Rule Bill, Bishops (Consecration of Women), on Wednesday. The Bill would "extend the Church of England's 1992 General Synod decision to allow women to be priests so that women could now assume the more senior role of bishops in the Established Church", a statement from the MP's office said.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Ms Johnson said that she did "not seek to have Parliament intervene in church affairs lightly, but the matter around discrimination is very serious, and we must speak up".

The failure of the General Synod to pass the draft women-bishops Measure (News, 20 November) meant that "we're now entrenching sex discrimination in our Parliament by reserving 26 places in the other place [the House of Lords] for men only. This is the only part of Parliament where women are not allowed to take their place."

Ms Johnson said that the consultation document published last month by the women-bishops working group Women in the Episcopate: A new way forward (News, 15 February) "lacks a sense of urgency for change".

"It's become clear that the Church needs to act much more quickly to sort out this problem, and I believe that Parliament needs to be very clear about its view to assist the Church. In the words of Elvis Presley, we now need 'a little less conversation, and a little more action'."

The Conservative MP Edward Leigh, a Roman Catholic, spoke in opposition to the Bill. It would be "extraordinarily dangerous" for Parliament to interfere in matters of doctrine. "Let's recognise that the Church of England will move at its own pace, and let us as politicians not interfere in its order."

The campaigning group WATCH issued a statement last Friday in support of Ms Johnson's Bill, which it described as "timely in reminding the Working Group, and the House of Bishops, that legislation for women to be bishops must be passed by the Synod sooner rather than later".

The Catholic Group in the General Synod published a response to Women in the Episcopate last Friday. It said that the Measure that fell in November "was just too complex", but questioned "how a single-clause Measure, or any other draft legislation which made less adequate or less secure provision than the failed Measure, could attract sufficient support to pass at Final Approval in Synod".

The Catholic Group said that it "would want to see an inclusion in the Canons of the Lambeth Conference Resolution to the effect that both those who support the ordination of women, and those who do not, are loyal Anglicans".

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