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Church Commissioners

Volume 719: debated on Thursday 8 September 2022

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

Ukrainian Refugees

Six bishops and hundreds of clergy have Ukrainian evacuees living with them, and the Church of England is using vacant vicarages in a number of places. Churches are also actively involved in recruiting new hosts where needed.

Over the summer, I was delighted to meet Reverend Peter Godden at St Dunstan’s church in Monks Risborough—England’s oldest recorded parish—to hear at first hand about some of the incredible work that the church and wider deanery is doing to support 130 Ukrainian refugees who have been welcomed to the wider Princes Risborough area in my constituency, such as English lessons, a conversation café and a children’s summer week. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking all our churches for the work they are doing to support our Ukrainian friends? What more can the Church of England do to support churches such as St Dunstan’s in their work?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the interest that he takes in and the support that he gives to his local churches. It is wonderful to hear of the practical compassion in action of St Dunstan’s in Monks Risborough and St Mary’s in Princes Risborough. I know that those churches are making a big difference to the lives of Ukrainian refugees. I assure him that the Church is actively seeking new hosts where some families want to pass on that responsibility and it will keep on with this important work.

As we approach the six-month point, what action can the Church take to encourage members of their congregations to step forward—and the congregations themselves to support them—where some initial sponsorships are not renewed?

My right hon. Friend asks a typically pertinent question. I reassure him that many dioceses are developing schemes to rematch sponsors and Ukrainian refugees as the initial six-month placements draw to an end. We are also funding other support programmes for Ukrainians, for which I am extremely grateful. We must all guard against compassion fatigue.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my parish church in Huddersfield is playing a very good role in helping Ukrainian refugees, but in a sense the honeymoon period is over? People from Ukraine in my constituency told me last week that they need help with permanent housing, with education and with the translation of their qualifications into English qualifications. They also very much need to use their high skills to help the community.

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has told the House. I know that he takes a supportive interest in what his local churches do in this important area. He is right in everything he says. The Government will play their part, and I can assure him that the Church will absolutely continue to be there at a national and local level to do everything that is needed.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his deep interest in these matters, which is much appreciated. Following on from what other hon. Members have said about the integration of Ukrainian refugees, has consideration been given to allowing the use of parish halls free of charge for English lessons and as community hubs for small pockets of rural Ukrainians to meet?

The hon. Gentleman makes typically sensible suggestions. He has put them on the record, and I know that the Church will do everything possible nationally and locally. He has made good suggestions.

Persecuted Christians: 2019 Report

2. What steps the Church is taking to help implement the recommendations of the report of the Bishop of Truro on support for persecuted Christians published in 2019. (901368)

I thank my right hon. Friend for her sustained and long-term interest in freedom of religion and belief for Christians and people of all faiths around the world. At the Lambeth conference, the Bishop of Chelmsford, herself a Christian refugee from Iran, spoke about the need to challenge some of the darker elements of faith leaders who condone persecution.

In the light of the conclusions of the independent review assessing the implementation of the Bishop of Truro’s report on supporting persecuted Christians around the world, what improvements would the Church like to see in relation to the envoy for freedom of religion or belief? My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) has done a wonderful job, but we want to see the post established on a permanent basis, with greater capacity to engage across Government and resources to match.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising an extremely important point. Our hon. Friend the faith envoy, who is in the Chamber, does a fantastic job. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the Church remains completely committed to the full implementation of the Truro review, especially recommendation 6, which is to make the envoy a permanent position with “appropriate resources and authority” to work across Government.

Now that the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) has been named, I think we ought to bring her in.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) for her question and my hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner for his answer. The recent independent review of progress on Truro has confirmed that there is more to be done before FORB becomes firmly embedded in the work of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. One area that was highlighted is the need for better engagement with stakeholders, among which the Church is key. Would the Second Church Estates Commissioner be willing to join me to discuss the matter at a meeting with an FCDO Minister, which has been agreed?

I should be delighted, and I would like to bring our bishops who lead in the area and senior officials from Church House to that important meeting.