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Church Commissioners

Volume 612: debated on Thursday 7 July 2016

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

Out-of-school Education Settings

1. What discussions the Church of England has had with the Government on plans to regulate out-of-school education settings. (905693)

3. What discussions the Church of England has had with the Government on plans to regulate out-of-school education settings. (905695)

Representatives of the Church of England have taken part in detailed consultations with the Government over the proposals to regulate out-of-school settings. I recently led a delegation of Back Benchers to a meeting at the Cabinet Office and we learned that this policy remains under review. I am hopeful that something will emerge that meets the key concerns that many of us have voiced.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Government regarding the new portionality and the current role of existing regulations, such as data barring service checks, in out-of-school settings?.

This is important because the Church of England provides 500,000 children with out-of-school education activities, which involves 80,000 volunteers. However, as hon. Members will know, anyone who works with children in out-of-school settings has to be subject to a careful check—the Disclosure and Barring Service check. There is no suggestion that our representations to Government in any way undermine our determination that children should be well protected, but we believe that they are in what the Church of England provides.

Religious organisations across Pendle, including Islamic education centres in Brierfield and Nelson, and the Barnoldswick Gospel Mission, which currently runs a Sunday school, have expressed concerns that the Government plans will be restrictive and prevent them from expanding their current educational work. In my right hon. Friend’s discussions with Government, has she received any further indications of a time scale for when these proposals may be brought forward?

I am as anxious as my hon. Friend to have a rapid outcome on this decision, but, until a new Prime Minister is in place, Ministers are saying clearly that the final decision cannot be made. We received an assurance from the Minister for Schools that the Government have no intention of seeking to regulate religion or to interfere in parents’ right to teach children about their faith and their heritage.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that any Church activities—Sunday schools, Brownies, or Boys or Girls Brigades, to name a few examples—must not be unduly affected by the Government’s plan for out-of-school regulation?

We impressed on Ministers that the kind of out-of-school activities that the Church provides, which the hon. Gentleman has just cited, are subject to rigorous checking processes within the Church. Indeed, we reminded Ministers that providing such out-of-school education in a domestic setting is governed by childminding regulations.

Human Trafficking

The Bishop of Derby has been at the forefront of working to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery within the Church. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the pre-legislative scrutiny Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill. He has set up and been part of the Santa Marta process to improve collaboration between Churches and police forces in the detection of instances of human trafficking.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. What plans does the Church have to roll out that scheme to the rest of England. With Gatwick in my constituency, I would certainly like to see that.

We all understand my hon. Friend’s concern because of his constituency’s location. The Church is building on the Bishop of Derby’s work and intends to launch the Clewer initiative against modern-day slavery in the autumn. It will be designed to combat modern-day slavery across England and provide parishes and dioceses with strategies to detect instances of modern-day slavery.

One of the most powerful ways to get any message across is from the personal testimony of victims. A lot of people are realising that human trafficking is hidden in local communities, so what efforts is the Church making to identify and encourage Christian victims of human trafficking to bear witness in their churches and communities?

When I served on the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, the hidden nature of trafficking became apparent, and Churches can lift the lid on the prevalence of trafficking in the society in which we live. It is incumbent on us all to have our eyes and ears open and to ask questions when we suspect that someone may be being exploited as result of trafficking.