AN MP has called for women priests to receive a boost to their pensions -- or they face a life in poverty.

Pendle MP Gordon Prentice told the House of Commons there was a concrete ceiling holding women down from taking posts as bishops or archbishops.

And he told Stuart Bell MP, who speaks for the Church Commissioners in Parliament, that women clerics should be compensated by boosting their pensions.

The MP said entitlement to a full pension was dependent on a 37-year stint as a cleric and that many women would have broken work records.

Stuart Bell told Mr Prentice that an Archbishop's review group was looking at the whole issue.

Speaking today, the Pendle MP said: "The Church of England is the established church, which is why we have these rather quirky questions in the Commons, but we still touch on real issues.

"The pension is linked to the stipend, which is itself below average earnings. The problem of priestly poverty in retirement is a real one -- they can't live on fresh air!"

Today, Martyn Halsall, communications officer for the Blackburn diocese, said it was a fact that women priests could not at the moment rise to become bishops or archbishops and that was a matter for the church nationally to decide by the General Synod.

Mr Halsall said there was an Archbishop's review taking place which would take into account pension issues and he would not wish to comment in advance of the findings. The Rev Wendy Oliver, 46, has been is vicar-in-charge of St Mary and All Saints, Goodshaw, and St John's, Crawshawbooth, for the past year.

Her parishes come under the Manchester Diocese. She said: "I do look forward to the day when women can serve a full and complete ministry with great anticipation, but it is not up to me to dictate to the General Synod what to do.

"I will probably be retired before we get this through, so it won't affect myself. In the Manchester Diocese we already have canons in the cathedral, but no area deans yet."

Mrs Oliver said her own church congregation was growing steadily.

She added: "Women can have just as good gifts in this line as men can and I think we are proving that by the fact our parishes are growing."

A spokesman for the Church of England said the House of Bishops had been asked to look into the theological implications of women being made bishops and a report was expected back to the General Synod in 18 months.

He added tht when the report into women becoming priests was called for, it then took a further 20 years for the General Synod to agree to them becoming ordained.

In addition, he said many women being ordained had accrued pensions from previous employers, but all deacons and deaconesses as stipend ministers would already qualify for the pension scheme.