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Church Commissioners

Volume 663: debated on Thursday 25 July 2019

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

Behaviour on Social Media

The Church of England supports the Government’s aim to make this country the safest place to go online and has submitted evidence to the Government’s Online Harms White Paper. On 1 July, the Church launched its digital charter, which thousands of individuals around the globe have signed up to and which the Government have welcomed and support.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that she will share my serious concern about the level of hatred, intolerance and rage that appears online, especially on Twitter, sometimes with devastating consequences for young people who are very vulnerable. We have seen tragic examples of that. Will she take our appeal to the Church of England, asking that it does everything possible to work with other organisations to try to instil and inculcate in the next generation the importance of behaving normally and politely on social media?

As one of the largest providers of school education, the Church of England is encouraging all its schools to support the digital charter initiative. However, safe internet use applies to people who have faith or have no faith at all, and those of all ages. All Members of this House will be aware of the hate and hostility that many in this Chamber face on a daily basis. I urge all colleagues to consider joining up and supporting the digital charter so that we can foster a more positive experience for people online.

Can I urge the right hon. Lady to make sure that all the bishops—we seem to have a lot of them in the Church of England now—lead this campaign? I am sure that Rose, our wonderful chaplain, is going to be a very energetic Bishop of Dover. We all wish her well and will miss her, but let us get these bishops doing a bit of leadership on issues such as social media.

The bishops are all participating in social media and they are signed up to this charter. Let me share with colleagues some of the things that the charter advocates: that “what we post online” ought to be “fair and factual”; that we should engage constructively and think “the best of people”; that we should consider “the language we use”; and that we should

“use social media in a way that genuinely engages others.”

These are good principles.

Since the Speaker’s Chaplain has been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, I say for the record that I condemn absolutely the very unpleasant article in The Spectator about the Rev. Rose, who has served this House outstandingly; I spring to her defence.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady. I am bound to say to her that I do not read the organ in question and therefore I am not familiar with that piece. I have no idea about it and frankly have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever. I know the Rev. Rose extremely well. She has proved to be a magnificent and enormously popular servant of this House. She will be a wonderful bishop. Dover’s gain is our loss, and we should take vicarious pride in the fact that someone valued and cherished by us is valued and cherished by the Church of England. Scribblers scribble; they matter, frankly, not a jot.

Telecommunications Masts in Parishes

2. If the Church of England will expedite the process by which parishes apply to host telecommunications masts. (912172)

Following on from my right hon. Friend’s question to me last month, I raised these concerns with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and I have met with BT, EE and some of the small providers, including one from my right hon. Friend’s constituency, to discuss the challenges of providing reliable rural communications infrastructure.

Will my right hon. Friend also have a go at the Ministry of Justice and ask it to put sufficient resource into the tribunal system, so that case law can be expedited to make the new telecommunications code work?

I absolutely say yes to that. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would like to join me in going to meet the new occupants of the positions concerned. It appears clear that the new digital code tends to favour large providers, and the consequence of their preference for using existing infrastructure is a greater digital divide.

Churches, by their very nature, are historically and architecturally important, and new telecommunications masts could have an impact on buildings. What is being done to preserve these buildings and ensure that their architectural and historical value is retained?

That is a very important question, because the Church of England has put its entire infrastructure at the disposal of providers, so that we can, using towers and spires, beam a signal into notspots. Historic England is quite comfortable about listed buildings carrying small signal boosters, which are not intrusive.