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Church Commissioners

Volume 536: debated on Thursday 24 November 2011

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Food Banks

The Church is heavily engaged in food banks across the country. There is a national network of food banking centres in towns and cities. Food banks give out nutritionally balanced emergency food to people in crisis. Food banks also offer additional support to put people in touch with relevant agencies that can offer further support.

In South West Bedfordshire, churches in Dunstable and Houghton Regis have just agreed to set up a food bank, and churches in Leighton Buzzard run a homeless service. Churches in those towns also support street pastors. Churches throughout the constituency are taking part in the “Let’s Stick Together” initiative run by Care for the Family. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an amazing record of achievement in contributing to our local community?

I hope that churches across the country will seek to engage with and support their local communities whenever they can. The churches that my hon. Friend cites in his constituency are an excellent example. Local churches can support food banking in several ways, including through the direct giving of food donations, and through volunteering and working where necessary to step in to assist those in need. I hope that we can do that right across England.

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the Bishop of London on his support for the “Feeding the 5,000” event in Trafalgar square last Friday? That organisation looks at how we can use the phenomenal amount of food that goes to waste in this country to feed people who are in food poverty.

The Bishop of London’s leadership on that initiative is excellent, and it is an excellent initiative.

Church Buildings (Theft)

5. Whether the Church Commissioners have considered English Heritage’s guidance on (a) theft of metal from church buildings and (b) replacing lead with modern materials. (82264)

The theft of metal from churches continues to be a very serious problem. About 10 churches a day suffer from theft. Insurance payouts for the theft of metal from places of worship have increased by 70%, and according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the full cost of metal theft to the domestic economy across all sectors is upwards of £770 million.

The latest English Heritage guidance note on the theft of metals from church buildings states that

“support for the use of…non-traditional materials…would be exceptional.”

However, the guidance note on solar panel installations is relatively liberal. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hard to reconcile the two, and does he understand why Hambleside Danelaw, an alternative roofing manufacturer in my constituency, is clear that the guidance is not in the interests of churches, their congregations or the wider good?

On the substantive issue of the theft of lead, the Church remains convinced that making cash scrap metal transactions illegal is the single move that will have the greatest impact on reducing that crime, and it is pleased to see that proposal gaining wider acceptance. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday that the answer

“lies in looking at how the scrap metal market is currently regulated.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 296.]

I undertake to investigate in detail my hon. Friend’s specific point about Hambleside Danelaw, and I shall write to him.

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the greatest tragedies about the loss of metal from war memorials, whether they be on Church property or elsewhere, is that there is currently no central record kept of the people whose names are recorded on them? Will he undertake to ask the Church Commissioners to work with the Imperial War museum, and indeed the Ministry of Defence, to provide a central register of those whose names appear on war memorials?

I would hope that in the run-up to 2014 to 2018, the centenary of the first world war, churches across the country will not only work on updating, conserving and repairing war memorials but give thought, as many communities are, to updating the records of those who lost their lives in the first and second world wars. The theft of inscriptions from war memorials is a detestable offence, and a further example of the need to tackle the theft of metals as urgently as possible.

Christians (Pakistan)

The Church of England is very aware of the issues facing the Christian community in Pakistan. Two dioceses in the Church of England have strong diocesan links in Pakistan, the diocese of Manchester with Lahore and the diocese of Wakefield with Faisalabad. Four members of the Manchester diocese are currently visiting Pakistan. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pakistan focus group was formed in 2006 to keep him informed of issues of significance in relation to Pakistan, to assist him in representing his views appropriately in Pakistan, England and elsewhere, and to maintain positive relations in support of the Church of Pakistan.

I thank my hon. Friend for that full answer. What initiatives have been taken to increase awareness among Pakistani-background Christians and Muslims in the UK of how they can support inter-faith religious harmony?

The Archbishop of Canterbury is very much concerned about the importance of good relations among Pakistani-background Christians and Muslims in this country. When Christian leaders from Pakistan visit the UK they are introduced to prominent Pakistani-background Muslims so that they are aware of the situation, and to encourage them to use their influence and contacts in Pakistan to support persecuted religious communities. The Church of England sent a delegation of both Christians and Muslims from the UK to Pakistan in 2009 on the invitation of the Government of Pakistan, to visit Christian and Muslim community leaders, Government Ministers and officials.

Women and the Episcopacy

7. What assessment the Church Commissioners made of the number of dioceses which have voted in favour of the proposed legislation on women and the episcopacy. (82266)

The result of the reference of the draft legislation to the dioceses was that out of a total of 44 dioceses, 42 approved of women and the episcopacy.

How will the exceptional level of support from both the laity and the clergy be reflected in the passage of the legislation through the House?

I think that it is clear that there is overwhelming support for women bishops. The outcome of the recent vote in the dioceses will be reported formally to the General Synod in February, following which it will be asked to approve any necessary final adjustments to the drafting of the legislation. I certainly hope that during the lifetime of this Parliament it will be possible for me to bring forward a Measure to the House so that we can approve women bishops in the Church of England.

St Paul’s Cathedral (Demonstrations)

8. What discussions the Church Commissioners have had on the effects of demonstrations outside St Paul’s Cathedral. (82267)

I understand from the Bishop of London and the chapter of St Paul’s cathedral that they are in daily contact with the City of London corporation and the City of London police, as well as with the protestors. The chapter of St Paul’s and the Church are committed to working towards peaceful solutions with the protestors and the authorities concerned.

Would not that be the best way, to have a continued dialogue, bearing in mind the fact that many if not all of the demonstrators and the people who have set in—I have visited them—feel very strongly indeed about the growing inequality of wealth in our country?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Those concerns have been well reflected by the comments made by the dean and chapter of St Paul’s.

The London demonstration seems to be adding to an air of tension between Church and state, and there are other examples of bishops becoming much more involved in Government policy. What role can my hon. Friend play to calm that quite worrying situation?

My hon. Friend must remember and recognise that both archbishops and a number of bishops are Members of the other place: they are Members of Parliament and are entitled to have their views heard. I would suggest that every archbishop and diocesan bishop is a significant leader within their community. They are entitled to speak out and be heard by the country and the House. The Church of England is a national church and the bishops are part of the national voice of this country.

2012 Olympics

The ecumenical organisation More than Gold has been set up to help churches to engage with the Olympics. There are more than 400 Church of England More than Gold champions, which means that more than 400 churches are already organising activities using More than Gold resources.

Would it not be appropriate for churches across the country to follow the magnificent lead of the joint churches in Bassetlaw, who are at the heart of preparing Olympic participatory activities, and are inviting the community into church grounds so that the Olympics can be fully and actively celebrated?

That is a fantastic example by the church in Bassetlaw, and I hope that every church will replicate it in all sorts of ways, such as by providing volunteers for the Olympics and hospitality programmes, hosting one of the many mission teams that are coming from overseas to help to give extra impact to activities, and linking hands with other churches to run community festivals and hospitality centres. I very much hope that every church in England will consider how they can use the Olympics as an opportunity to engage with the wider community.