Will MPs question the Synod's decision?

  • 21 November 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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The failure of the Church of England Synod to approve women bishops (one of the three houses didn't quite attain the required two-thirds majority) came up at PMQs today, when both Sir Tony Baldry, who speaks in the Commons for the Church Commissioners, and Labour's Ben Bradshaw, expressed their disappointment.

David Cameron declared himself a supporter of women bishops, and agreed - but added that the decision of the Synod had to be respected.

A few moments later Labour's Diana Johnson raised a point of order, requesting a statement from Sir Tony, but was told that only ministers could make a statement.

It's pretty clear that quite a few MPs disagree with the result of the Synod's vote; but can Parliament do anything about it? Perhaps.

Keep an eye on a rather low profile organ of Parliament, the Ecclesiastical Committee, which exists to give the parliamentary stamp of approval to legislation on the established Church. It must be said it's not the most hyperactive committee in Westminster, reporting perhaps once a year on some church-related matter, and at least one of its members was unaware that he was a member.

But all the same, it could be the vehicle for expressing parliamentary disapproval, perhaps by blocking some forthcoming piece of church legislation. In the 1990s controversy over women priests, the Ecclesiastical Committee was firmly in the "no" camp, but insiders tell me the balance of opinion has changed since then.

There are some quite assertive MPs on the committee - Sir Tony, Ben Bradshaw, Helen Goodman and Simon Hughes, among others. If they want to kick off, they have the experience and self-confidence to do it.

UPDATE: Ben Bradshaw has just said on The World At One that Parliament has a right to weigh in because the Church of England was the established church of the state. He's asking for advice from the clerks of the Commons on how Parliament could intervene. Could a recent Ten Minute Rule Bill, that Mr Bradshaw cited, to permit women bishops be revived? Could the Church's exemption from equalities legislation be repealed?

UPDATE 2: Labour's Diana Johnson has put down a Commons urgent question on the women bishops vote. If it's granted, it will be for Sir Tony Baldry, the MP who speaks in the Commons for the Church Commissioners, to answer. Apparently it is in order to direct an urgent question at him - but it's not a done deal that Mr Speaker will allow it. A further UQ to the Equalities Minister, Maria Miller, or to one of her deputies, may follow.

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