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Church Commissioners

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Church Schools and Universities

5. What recent assessment the Commissioners have made of the effectiveness of the contribution of Church schools and universities to the education system in England. (900640)

The Church of England educates 1 million children every day, runs a quarter of all primary schools and operates 4,644 schools in total, 91% of which are good or outstanding. There are also 15 universities in the Cathedrals Group in England, which educate 100,000 students and train 40% of all key stage 2 and 3 teachers.

What help might the Church be able to give for the much-needed further education learning quarter in Wolverhampton?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The Church strongly supports investment in further education and the Wolverhampton education quarter is an imaginative proposal to benefit the city. While we are at a very early stage of possible Church involvement, I know that the diocesan director of education and senior local chaplains will be very willing to meet him to discuss the proposal.

Will the hon. Gentleman update us on what strategic national work the Church might be doing with the Department for Education to support local schools that are experiencing changes to school rolls due to population changes? Otherwise excellent schools, such as St George’s and St Michael’s in my constituency, are having to experience differences in their local population. What strategic work is going on nationally to support the local work that is so necessary?

Being relatively new in post, I am afraid that I am not immediately aware of that, but I am very happy to raise the hon. Lady’s concerns with Nigel Genders, our director of education at Church House, and I will get back to her.

Christians in Nigeria

The Archbishop of Canterbury knows Nigeria well and has visited it on a number of occasions. He is extremely aware of the local tensions and context of this issue. The recent attacks in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram and Islamist militia are a source of profound concern to him and the Church.

I know my right hon. Friend takes a very close interest in these matters. Ten of the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro’s review have been, or are being implemented, and the others are being worked on. Our diplomats are using the review to engage their host Governments wherever there are abuses of freedom of religion or belief.

The UK hosts Christians from all over the world, from Lebanon to Sri Lanka, and in Lewisham East we have a vibrant Nigerian Christian community. It would be a shame if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not tap into the knowledge and culture available at home in the UK better to serve persecuted communities abroad.

I thank the hon. Lady very much for that excellent suggestion. I will certainly feed back to Church House and Lambeth Palace the point she helpfully makes.

Civil Partnerships

7. Whether the Commissioners were consulted on recent guidance by the Church on civil partnerships; and if he will make a statement. (900642)

I am accountable for the Church of England in this place. The Church Commissioners are not consulted on announcements by the College of Bishops. The archbishops have since apologised for the division and hurt caused by the pastoral statement.

Regardless of that, I think it was discourteous of the bishops not to inform the Second Church Estates Commissioner. The legislation was passed overwhelmingly in this House with all-party support. It is bad enough that the Church still treats its LGBT+ members as second-class Christians, but to say to the child of a heterosexual couple in a civil partnership that they should not exist because their parents should not have had or be having sex is so hurtful. Will he tell the bishops that unless this nonsense stops serious questions will be asked in this place about the legitimacy of the established status of the Church of England?

I will certainly feed back the right hon. Gentleman’s strongly felt concern on this issue to the College of Bishops. In their apology, the archbishops did recognise that the pastoral statement had jeopardised the trust that has been built up as part of the Living in Love and Faith project, which is intended to discern the way forward for the Church of England on this issue.

Church of England Free Schools

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Commissioners on increasing the number of Church of England free schools in England. (900643)

The Church has been a successful partner in the free schools programme since it began. Dioceses work hard to help these new schools to open. The Church is also keen to support new alternative provision and special schools through the free schools programme.

The fantastic Fulham Boys School will finally open at its new site in September, after a 10-year campaign. It is a Church of England-sponsored free school whose co-patrons are myself and Graham Tomlin, the Bishop of Kensington. However, the latest wave of free school applications shows very few involving the Church of England. What can my hon. Friend do, in his role, to persuade the Church to sponsor more free schools?

The Church of England educates a million children. It runs a fifth of all schools in England, and 91% of those are good or outstanding, which is just one of the reasons why they are so popular with parents. The Church is the largest sponsor of academies in England, with 900. I am delighted to learn that there has been a happy conclusion to Fulham Boys School’s search for a new site, and I know that lots of parents are very happy with the school.