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Volume 650: debated on Thursday 29 November 2018

I am so glad the hon. Lady has asked that question, as this Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. We all look forward to Christmas. The Church of England reached over 6.8 million people with last year’s Advent and Christmas campaign. This year, the Church has launched a Follow the Star campaign. Details of that can be found on the Church website, or indeed in hard copies made available through Church House Publishing.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, and I endorse the importance of Follow the Star to advertise services and signpost the campaign that the Church is running. I say to the right hon. Lady, however, that universal credit is being rolled out in my constituency just before Christmas. I am really concerned about the rising number of people attending the food bank, and I am also concerned about rising levels of homelessness and loneliness in the community. Does she think the Church of England could do more to take practical steps to convey the Christmas message in our communities?

The hon. Lady enables me to give the answer I so much wanted to give to Question 9, which had to be withdrawn at short notice. The Church has surveyed the social action projects in its 16,000 parishes, and 33,000 social action projects are under way in precisely the kind of areas the hon. Lady mentions—food banks, night shelters for the homeless and debt counselling. Indeed, this is living out the message of Christmas to the needy.

The message of Christmas is one of renewal and hope. Will my right hon. Friend bring a message of hope to people with autism in prison? It is essential that those who minister to them understand the condition. In the new year, will she look at ensuring that all prison chaplains are trained in autism? In that way, the Christmas message could be extended into 2019.

The message is that Christmas is for all, including inmates in prison. My right hon. Friend has campaigned so hard for those with autism. Our chaplains are given guidance on helping prison inmates with autism.

I must finish with a heart-warming story for the House, which perhaps those who read The Guardian will have spotted. The Dean of Salisbury cathedral provided stonemasons to a local prison who trained the inmates in how to fashion their own war memorial, and he inaugurated it in time for the Armistice. I just want to reassure the House that, for practical reasons, the number of chisels was counted on the way in and on the way out.

Many children will be in church over the Christmas period, particularly at events such as Christingle services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a great opportunity for the Church to spread the message to our young people in the hope that they will retain that message throughout their lives?

The Church of England has seen increasing attendance at its church services. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that crib services and Christingle services are very important for small people.

I would like to encourage you, Mr Speaker, to have a look at the Follow the Star campaign. It is different for a change: it does not start on the first day of Advent, but covers the 12 days of Christmas. When you and I have finished washing up after our Christmas lunches, we might sit down and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and make sure that our children do get it.

I shall always profit from the right hon. Lady’s counsels, and I solemnly commit to take that advice on Christmas day.