MPs are already turning their attention to the possible future
gender balance of the Bishops' Bench in the House of Lords.
During a debate in the House of Commons on women's contribution
to the ordained ministry in the Church of England, on Thursday of
last week, Caroline Spelman, the Conservative MP for Meriden, said:
"Many ordained women reported feeling that they are still regarded
as second best, which will persist unless we are successful in
getting a mix of men and women bishops in the Upper House."
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, told
the House that getting women bishops into the House of Lords "was
not something that can simply be resolved by a Measure of the
General Synod. It will require primary legislation."
The Government would "seek to facilitate as speedily as possible
what the Church of England feels would be most appropriate in these
circumstances", he said. He understood that the Bishop of
Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, was "in negotiations with
various groups to give some thought to how best that can be
The Commons debate was convened to mark the 20th anniversary of
the ordination of women. The first of 32 women priests, the Revd
Angela Berners-Wilson, was ordained in Bristol Cathedral on 12
March 1994. Mrs Spelman said: "The dire predictions . . . have been
proved wrong," and suggested that women priests had brought a
collaborative approach and creativity to the Church.
Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, suggested that the
Church consider holding open those sees that were currently vacant,
until women could be considered. He continued: "One hears rumours
that we are getting to the end of our talent pool, as regards male
suffragans who can be promoted to diocesan bishop."
Sir Tony quoted various statistics to the House - 23 per cent of
stipendiary clergy and 53 per cent of non-stipendiary members of
the clergy were women, as were 48 per cent of ordinands - but said
that challenges remained. There were "relatively few" young women
going forward for ordination, for example.
Votes in. Twenty out of 44 dioceses have now
voted on the women-bishops draft Measure. All have voted in favour.
In total, 97 per cent of bishops have voted in favour, and 93 per
cent each of the diocesan houses of clergy and laity.