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Places of Worship: Covid-19

Volume 681: debated on Monday 5 October 2020

What steps his Department has taken to help places of worship open safely during the covid-19 outbreak. (907012)

What steps his Department has taken to help places of worship open safely during the covid-19 outbreak. (907018)

As Communities Secretary, ensuring places of worship can reopen and remain open has been a priority for me and my Department. Their contribution to our country as places of solace, as well as for significant moments such as weddings and funerals, is clear to us all. Places of worship remain open today for more than six people for communal prayer and services with existing covid-secure requirements continuing to apply.

During this pandemic we have seen a sharp spike in Islamophobia, from blaming Muslims for the spread of covid-19 to fuelling online hate. I am sure the Secretary of State will want to join me in commending the community for its patience and hard work in these difficult months. Given that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has previously highlighted the good work of the Muslim Council of Britain in reaching minority groups that the Government are unable or unwilling to reach, can he outline what discussions he has had with the MCB and other Muslim organisations on the safe reopening of mosques?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I want to praise and thank the Muslim communities throughout the country for their forbearance. We have worked closely with them through our places of worship taskforce that the Prime Minister and I set up. I have had the privilege to meet representatives from mosques, including the London Central Mosque on the eve of the Eid celebrations, to thank them once again for their forbearance. We have put in place detailed guidelines to help mosques to reopen safely and will continue to work with Muslim groups in the weeks and months ahead.

It is clear from what the Secretary of State has said that he recognises that in these troubled times places of worship are more important than ever in providing for the spiritual and material needs of their congregations and in combating loneliness and mental health problems. However, they face their own challenges in making their premises safe for their worshippers and meeting the costs of that as well as for their own people. What help is the Department giving directly to places of worship to facilitate that provision, and is it engaging with them regularly to ensure that this can be effectively implemented?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a series of very important points. At the start of the pandemic, I recognised that places of worship needed to be prioritised. They should not be relegated behind other activities, whether shops, casinos or other important things that we want to keep open to protect people’s livelihoods. Places of worship matter for those with faith, and we needed to ensure that they could reopen. I worked extremely closely with faith leaders through our places of worship taskforce. That work continues, and we have very good relationships with all the major faiths. The guidelines are in place and are now extremely detailed. They cover not only basic guidelines for all faiths, but very detailed guidelines for individual practices for particular religions. We saw that prominently recently, for example, with the Jewish holidays, when we worked out detailed guidelines for Yom Kippur. We will continue to work closely with faith leaders in the weeks and months ahead.

Since reopening, mosques have incurred the cost of PPE, which is an additional financial cost to them, along with deep cleaning several times a day after members and visitors visit. The Muslim Council of Britain estimates that it has already given out £500,000 in small grants, but there are far more mosques in need than those funds can reach. What action is the Secretary of State taking to financially support places of worship to reopen in a covid-secure way?

Alongside other charities, places of worship are able to apply to the £200 million coronavirus community support fund, which has helped organisations providing essential services for vulnerable people affected by the current crisis.