Church Commissioner questions: Out of school settings, human trafficking, women bishops, House of Lords, poverty, church toilets

On 7th July 2016 Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP answered questions from MPs in the House of Commons, in her capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner. Questions were asked on out of school settings, human trafficking, women bishops, bishops in the House of Lords, poverty and church toilets.

Mr Speaker: Order. We come now to questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), representing the Church Commissioners, and to the right hon. Member for South West Devon—[Interruption.] I mean the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter)—it is only a matter of time—representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission.


Spelman CCQs June 2015 4Church Commissioners

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

Out-of-school Education Settings

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con)
1. What discussions the Church of England has had with the Government on plans to regulate out-of-school education settings. [905693]

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con)
3. What discussions the Church of England has had with the Government on plans to regulate out-of-school education settings. [905695]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Representatives of the Church of England have taken part in detailed consultations with the Government over the proposals to regulate out-of-school settings. I recently led a delegation of Back Benchers to a meeting at the Cabinet Office and we learned that this policy remains under review. I am hopeful that something will emerge that meets the key concerns that many of us have voiced.

Oliver Colvile: What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Government regarding the new portionality and the current role of existing regulations, such as data barring service checks, in out-of-school settings?.

Mrs Spelman: This is important because the Church of England provides 500,000 children with out-of-school education activities, which involves 80,000 volunteers. However, as hon. Members will know, anyone who works with children in out-of-school settings has to be subject to a careful check—the Disclosure and Barring Service check. There is no suggestion that our representations to Government in any way undermine our determination that children should be well protected, but we believe that they are in what the Church of England provides.

Andrew Stephenson: Religious organisations across Pendle, including Islamic education centres in Brierfield and Nelson, and the Barnoldswick Gospel Mission, which currently runs a Sunday school, have expressed concerns that the Government plans will be restrictive and prevent them from expanding their current educational work. In my right hon. Friend’s discussions with Government, has she received any further indications of a time scale for when these proposals may be brought forward?

Mrs Spelman: I am as anxious as my hon. Friend to have a rapid outcome on this decision, but, until a new Prime Minister is in place, Ministers are saying clearly that the final decision cannot be made. We received an assurance from the Minister for Schools that the Government have no intention of seeking to regulate religion or to interfere in parents’ right to teach children about their faith and their heritage.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Does the right hon. Lady agree that any Church activities—Sunday schools, Brownies, or Boys or Girls Brigades, to name a few examples—must not be unduly affected by the Government’s plan for out-of-school regulation?

Mrs Spelman: We impressed on Ministers that the kind of out-of-school activities that the Church provides, which the hon. Gentleman has just cited, are subject to rigorous checking processes within the Church. Indeed, we reminded Ministers that providing such out-of-school education in a domestic setting is governed by childminding regulations.

Human Trafficking

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
2. What recent steps have been taken by the Church of England to tackle human trafficking. [905694]

Mrs Spelman: The Bishop of Derby has been at the forefront of working to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery within the Church. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the pre-legislative scrutiny Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill. He has set up and been part of the Santa Marta process to improve collaboration between Churches and police forces in the detection of instances of human trafficking.

Henry Smith: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. What plans does the Church have to roll out that scheme to the rest of England. With Gatwick in my constituency, I would certainly like to see that.

Mrs Spelman: We all understand my hon. Friend’s concern because of his constituency’s location. The Church is building on the Bishop of Derby’s work and intends to launch the Clewer initiative against modern-day slavery in the autumn. It will be designed to combat modern-day slavery across England and provide parishes and dioceses with strategies to detect instances of modern-day slavery.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): One of the most powerful ways to get any message across is from the personal testimony of victims. A lot of people are realising that human trafficking is hidden in local communities, so what efforts is the Church making to identify and encourage Christian victims of human trafficking to bear witness in their churches and communities?

Mrs Spelman: When I served on the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, the hidden nature of trafficking became apparent, and Churches can lift the lid on the prevalence of trafficking in the society in which we live. It is incumbent on us all to have our eyes and ears open and to ask questions when we suspect that someone may be being exploited as result of trafficking.

Bishops in the House of Lords

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
5. If the Church of England will make it its policy that bishops sitting in the House of Lords do not participate in debates or vote on legislation that relates to Scotland. [905697]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I was slightly surprised by this question. I perfectly appreciate that the SNP is opposed to the House of Lords on ideological grounds, but I was unaware that it had adopted a narrow position on the Lords Spiritual. I expect the irony is not lost on the hon. Gentleman that he is exercising his right as a Member of this House representing a Scottish constituency to scrutinise the affairs of the Church of England—a scrutiny, I would add, that I welcome.

Alan Brown: I would point out that legislation on English votes for English laws means that I, as a Member of this House, cannot vote on issues that pertain to England only. [Interruption.] No, I cannot—my vote is discounted. I would therefore ask the right hon. Lady to reconsider the position on the Lords Spiritual participating in proceedings on legislation that affects Scotland.

Mrs Spelman: All Members of the other place are able to take part in proceedings on legislation put before Parliament, and bishops take that duty very seriously. They are independent, and they do not take the party Whip, so these things are up to each of them. At least two of them have family links to Scotland, which may give them a reason to have a closer interest. This may be the moment for me to come out in the Chamber as a half-Scot—my maiden name was Cormack, from the Clan Buchanan. I think that demonstrates the point that there are Members in all parties and in both Houses who have a great love for Scotland.

Women Bishops

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

6. What steps the Church of England is taking to encourage the appointment of more women bishops. [905698]

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)
7. What plans the Church of England has to promote women in leadership positions. [905699]

Mrs Spelman: As the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has assiduously asked me this question on several occasions, I am delighted to be able to inform him that a further six women have been appointed as bishops: the diocesan Bishop of Newcastle, with a seat in another place, and five suffragan bishops—of Taunton, Aston, Sherborne, Repton and Dorking.

Mr Sheerman: I thank the right hon. Lady for that excellent answer. As she mentioned, this is a bit of a campaign on my part. I want to fill the churches, and one of the ways we do that is by having more women bishops. However, how many are there out of the total number? What is the percentage? There are some very good women who have not been promoted yet.

Mrs Spelman: This is a campaign the hon. Gentleman is well able to take some credit for, and I am sure my predecessor is too. Some 18 suffragan bishops have been appointed, eight of whom have been women, which is 45% of all appointments.

Michael Tomlinson: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the new Bishop of Sherborne, Karen Gorham, to her place? Her first official engagement was a confirmation service in Lytchett Minster parish church, at which, I am proud to say, my son was one of the candidates. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that Karen Gorham’s appointment will encourage other women into leadership positions in the Church of England?

Mrs Spelman: Yes, indeed, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his son’s confirmation. An increasing number of younger women have indeed entered the priesthood. Some 47% of the clergy ordained in 2015 were female, and 22% of the women ordained in 2015 were under 40.

Mr Speaker: I hope the whole House wishes to congratulate Tomlinson junior. That is now on the record.

Disadvantaged Communities

Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con)

8. What work the Church of England is undertaking to help improve the life chances of people in disadvantaged communities. [905701]

Mrs Spelman: The Church of England’s House of Bishops recently published a new discussion paper, “Thinking afresh about welfare”, which is intended to help discussion across the Church as it engages with the Government’s life chances agenda.

Derek Thomas: The Church of England and other denominations and faith groups have always led the way in helping our most vulnerable people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that faith groups and voluntary organisations are ideally placed to help the Government improve life chances for all, including the homeless, young people and people with disabilities?

Mrs Spelman: Yes. The diocese of Truro is particularly committed to improving the life chances of children and young people living there, including on the Isles of Scilly. That is lived out principally through the schools, which are committed to building character and improving employment skills. However, I did just notice that there is a homeless breakfast initiative in Penzance, so these efforts are not confined to children, but also extend to adults.

Historic Churches: Toilet Provision

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab)
9. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the adequacy of toilet provision for visitors to historic churches. [905702]

Mrs Spelman: The Church Buildings Council has been promoting through its “Open and Sustainable Churches” initiative how parishes can adapt their buildings for wider community use. Most schemes for work in church buildings that the Church Buildings Council now see will include installing an accessible toilet if there is not one already present.

Mr Speaker: Let us hear the views of Mr Mann on the matter of toilets.

John Mann: Mr Speaker, imagine that you came to visit the historic Scrooby church to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers, and, as a modern man, drank tea or coffee on the way, which people did not do when these historic churches were built. It would be easy to be caught short. Many of these great historic churches lack toilets. Should not a fund be created somewhere to allow visitors the comfort break that may be required, given that we live in a modern coffee and tea-drinking era?

Mr Speaker: The House is very expectant. We really want to hear this answer.

Mrs Spelman: I am delighted to be able to say that the Church is making great progress with the provision of the facilities that the hon. Gentleman describes. Currently, 55% of the 31 listed Church of England churches in his constituency have installed new toilet and kitchen facilities.


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