The right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
A lot happened in the diocese of Blackburn over the Christmas period. In my hon. Friend’s constituency, the Colne and Villages parish held a Christmas café, and many parishioners also worked with local businesses and schools to support food banks. I am told that one local business in Pendle donated more than 60 hampers of food, toys and clothes, which were then distributed by the local ecumenical Church network.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I have in the past mentioned the work of St Philip’s church in Nelson and its food bank. Does he agree that although food banks are particularly important over the Christmas period, they do not tackle the root causes of food poverty? Will he say more about the Church Commissioners’ work to rebalance the Church’s activities towards addressing the underlying problems and finding long-term solutions to food poverty?
The Church urban fund would acknowledge that food banks do not tackle the causes of food poverty. We need to know more about why people use food banks, which is why the Church urban fund is undertaking detailed research on this matter. The report was published in September.
The 100 Church treasures campaign seeks to protect 100 of the unparalleled array of artworks, including monuments, wall paintings, stained glass, textiles and mediaeval timberwork, which are at risk in our parish churches, in order to keep our buildings open, and our national and local heritage on public display for years to come.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. It is remarkable that for only £3 million 100 Church treasures can be preserved. Obviously, I am particularly interested in what is happening to those in the Durham diocese: the William Morris carpet at Monkwearmouth; the Church masonry at St Hilda’s church in Hartlepool; and the painting in Holy Trinity church in Darlington. Some of those communities will find it difficult to raise the money. What more might we do to support them?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: for quite modest sums, really important pieces of national heritage can be protected. Let me deal with just one of the examples she mentioned. Holy Trinity church in Darlington needs just £16,000 to restore a painting by the wartime artist John Duncan. The whole point of this campaign is to try to lever in funds from other donors, trusts and individuals who might not normally give money to supporting Church heritage but who would be minded to give money specifically to support a particular piece of artwork or heritage in this way. The campaign is already having some success.
Violent Attacks on Clergy
I think we all recognise the excellent work that the clergy do in our local communities. Unfortunately, at times, they do put themselves in harm’s way. Would the right hon. Gentleman support a Government review of these attacks, and is it time to look at designating them as religious hate crimes?
As the hon. Lady says, clergy are often on the front line in supporting the most vulnerable in the community and, sadly, that sometimes results in their being attacked. I wonder whether she would mind if I discussed this matter with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to see whether they feel that such a review is necessary in these circumstances.
The diocese of St Albans has supported a number of projects, particularly those working with homeless people in Hemel Hempstead, St Albans, Stevenage, Bedford, Luton and Watford. The annual December sleep-out, which was supported by my hon. Friend, has managed to raise nearly £1 million over the past 20 years to support homeless people in the diocese of St Albans by making funding grants available, encouraging volunteers and helping to raise further money.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the staff of the diocese, the volunteer organisers, security guards and the Women’s Institute, which provided hot soup all night for all of us on the sleep-out? The money raised has helped a lot of local homeless charities, not least Linton-Linslade Homeless Service, which does such good work in my area.
Indeed. Churches throughout the country support a whole number of initiatives that encourage large numbers of volunteers. I know that my hon. Friend is patron of the Linton-Linslade Homeless Service, which offers short-term emergency shelter, supplies and support to people who are homeless or about to become homeless and does invaluable work in the area.
Grade I Listed Churches
The most significant funder of repairs for grade I listed churches is the Heritage Lottery Fund, under the grants for places of worship scheme. The Wolfson Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Veneziana Fund also provide funding in some circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the incredibly diverse array of grade I listed churches in the Bassetlaw constituency. Would he be prepared to use his good offices to ensure that the Church Commissioners can better advise the volunteers running those churches on how to access the funds and that the north of England and the more deprived communities get a fair crack of the whip?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. He is fortunate in having 26 fantastic listed churches in his constituency. Some, such as All Saints, go back to the 10th century. I entirely agree that it is very important that parochial church councils and others know how to access funds such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, and I will discuss with the churches and cathedrals division at Church House how we can better promulgate the way that that advice can be obtained.
I think everyone in this House would wish to see religious tolerance supported. After all, the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford is a daily reminder of those who were burned at the stake for their beliefs. It was not far away from here, at Tyburn, that people were hanged, drawn and quartered for their religious beliefs. Indeed, one has only to see the plaque in Westminster Hall to remember where Sir Thomas More was put on trial in part for his beliefs. In this country, we have learned through the Reformation and the counter-Reformation and beyond the essential need for religious tolerance in our nation.
As well as discussing religious intolerance with Government Departments, will my right hon. Friend discuss it with St James’ church, which has held a shockingly anti-Israel exhibition over the past couple of weeks? Far from promoting religious tolerance, it did much to undermine it.
My hon. Friend raises a conundrum: to what extent should the tolerant tolerate the intolerant? The demonstration at St James’ Piccadilly was not against Judaism or Jews but against the illegal occupation under international law in the west bank and some of the settlements. In this House, we must be careful about what is seen as religious tolerance and about not tolerating intolerance or breaches of international law.
On the subject of religious tolerance, what discussions has the Commissioner had with media outlets such as TV and radio with regard to Christian programming? Does he agree that it is important to retain a level of programming that reflects the Christian status of this nation? What can be done to promote such programming?
To be honest, I do not think that Christians do too badly. If one gets up early enough, one finds a perfectly good programme between 7 and 8 o’clock on BBC Radio 4 every Sunday. I do not think we can feel that we are in some way discriminated against by the broadcasters.
Christian Celebration of Christmas
The House will, I am sure, have noticed that the Archbishop of Canterbury used his first Christmas day sermon to condemn the treatment of Christian communities in the middle east. Archbishop Justin said that the persecution of Christian minorities represented injustice and observed that Christians
“are driven into exile from a region in which their presence has always been essential”.
Sadly, Christians are attacked and massacred, and we have seen terrible news from South Sudan, the Central African Republic and elsewhere, where political ambitions have led to ethnic conflict.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In the light of the escalation in religious persecution in many countries across the world, will he kindly arrange a meeting with the appropriate Minister and bishop responsible for foreign affairs and international development to highlight the need for the Department for International Development to form a policy to address such issues and that of freedom of religion as a fundamental human right?
I should be happy to do so, but taking human rights violations into account when aid decisions are made does not necessarily mean refusing to give aid to countries in which such violations take place. It may be in precisely these difficult contexts that we need to be engaging with aid, as religious persecution is often linked to problems in education, economic development and conflicts over natural resources where aid can and does make a huge difference. My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point that is worth pursuing with ministerial colleagues in DFID.