On 13th October 2016 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, answered questions from MPs on school admissions, ecumenical relations, community cohesion, refugees, LGBT pastoral care, Scrooby parish, same sex marriage and cathedral repairs.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
1. Whether the Church of England has assessed the potential effect of changes to the cap on faith-based admissions on Church schools. 
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): The Church has 4,700 primary and secondary schools that seek to provide excellent education to 1 million pupils each year. These are not faith schools for the faithful but Church schools for the whole community, and the Church does not propose to change that. The 50% cap applies only to new free schools that are oversubscribed. The majority of our new free schools, like many of our existing schools, do not have any faith-based oversubscription criteria.
Chi Onwurah: I welcome that answer. Newcastle is a city of diverse, strong and generally united and mutually respectful communities, and our faith communities make an important contribution. The rise of hate crime since the referendum emphasises the importance of teaching that we have more in common. Mrs Davison, the head of St Cuthbert’s in Newcastle, tells me that that school’s mix of students from varying faiths and none assists inclusivity and enrichment, and ensures that the school is representative of the community. Do the commissioners agree that the proposed changes threaten the benefits of inclusivity at this crucial time?
Dame Caroline Spelman: I share completely the hon. Lady’s concerns about the rise in hate crime following the referendum. Every Member in this House is concerned about that. I point her to what the Secretary of State for Education herself said about the education that Church schools provide:
“They have an ethos and a level of academic attainment that we are trying to achieve more broadly across the whole system.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 22.]
Church schools provide education for the community as a whole, not just those who go to church.
Anglican and Catholic Churches
Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)
2. What assessment she has made of the effect on relations between the Anglican and Catholic Churches of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to Assisi and Rome in October 2016.
Dame Caroline Spelman: The Archbishop of Canterbury recently visited Assisi and Rome to deepen and strengthen relationships with His Holiness Pope Francis, and the relationship between the worldwide Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church. That visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Anglican centre in Rome, which was itself the beginning of a process of healing and reconciliation.
Victoria Prentis: I thank the right hon. Lady for her answer, but if I may, I will seamlessly move to relations with the Orthodox Church. Does she agree that the visit of Patriarch Kirill in the next week give us an opportunity to build bridges with the Orthodox Church at a time when our relationship with Moscow is perhaps not all it should be?
Dame Caroline Spelman: The hon. Lady is right. The Archbishop of Canterbury believes that deeper relations between all Christian Churches is a contribution to the peace that we all desire in such turbulent times. The visit by the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ is an opportunity not only to celebrate the 300 years of Russian Orthodox worship in London, but no doubt to discuss current affairs.
Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
3. What steps the Church of England has taken to build community relations and to counter extremism. 
Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church of England, through its presence in every community and its large network of schools, is an enormous asset in building community relations. As we have just discussed, Church of England schools play a leading role in value-based education. That building of trust, awareness and community is an important bulwark against the spread of extremism.
Chris Davies: With extremism being such a great threat to the UK, what plans does the Church of England education office have to expand its “What if Learning” approach, which was recently successfully piloted in more than 20 schools?
Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church promotes a number of schemes around the country to counter extremism and improve relations. The “What if Learning” scheme in schools has proved to be a good example of how we can help children from a very young age to understand the important principles of our society and the tolerance that we need to show to others of different faiths and points of view. We must also think about how we reach adults. I commend two schemes: the Church’s Living Well Together initiative, and the Near Neighbours initiative. I should like to take this opportunity to invite colleagues to hear more about those initiatives on 23 November at 4 pm, after the autumn statement, in the Jubilee Room.
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Recent research on extremism suggests that a sense of humiliation, particularly among traumatised communities and individuals, is a major driver of extremism. Are the Church Commissioners aware of the need to look at bullying and traumatisation?
Dame Caroline Spelman: The hon. Lady is right that humiliation is a strong emotion that can lead to people taking strong positions and actions as a consequence. The Church is not just looking at that, but has rolled out those important initiatives. I commend to her initiatives such as Near Neighbours, funding for which came from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which demonstrated that, in our cities, there is a great opportunity to bridge the gap and speak into the humiliation that some people feel.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is imperative that those of other faiths are not left isolated in our communities, and that more help should be offered to facilitate community events to establish relationships that span the divides of religion?
Dame Caroline Spelman: The hon. Gentleman can speak with feeling on that subject. One of the most important things that the Christian denominations can do is work together to reach across to people of other faith, with whom we have a great deal in common, and defuse some of the misrepresentations of those faiths, so that the wider secular aspects of society know that we can speak and live in harmony.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
6. What steps the Church of England is taking to assist with refugee resettlement in the UK. 
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): The Church of England is working on two main levels to assist refugees being resettled under the vulnerable person relocation scheme. The Home Secretary went to Lambeth Palace on 19 July to launch the new scheme for community sponsorship, which demonstrates the importance the Church attaches to action as well as words.
Mr Hanson:The Church nationally has been very active on refugees. Parishes such as Holywell in my constituency have been very supportive and active, too. The Home Secretary has now apparently made a commitment to accept child refugees to the United Kingdom. What steps can the Church take to help with resettlement, particularly in the field of fostering?
Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church has reached out through its parishes to provide practical help—clothing, food and English language lessons—for the refugees in our midst. To be practical about expediting reuniting children with their families in the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury has sent a youth worker to Calais. There is a call in all our parishes for more foster parents, so that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children can have a warm welcome and a safe home in our country.
LGBT Christians: Pastoral Care
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab)
7. What discussions the Church Commissioners have had with the Church of England on the pastoral care of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians.
Dame Caroline Spelman: I am unable to answer on the work of the Church in Wales, but the chaplaincy there recently launched in the diocese of St Asaph. It is true that the Church of England is operating a similar number of smaller scale projects. The best example I can think of is in Manchester, where a monthly communion service operates in some parishes specifically for the LGBT community.
Susan Elan Jones: I am delighted that, although the Church Commissioners’ writ does not run in the Church in Wales—we are not seeking to change that—the right hon. Lady has already noticed the excellent work of the diocese of St Asaph LGBT chaplaincy. Does she agree that now is the time for those of us who are Christian but not of the LGBT community to give more careful consideration to these issues?
Dame Caroline Spelman: Yes, absolutely. It is completely in line with the policy of the Church of England. The House of Bishops has consistently encouraged the clergy to offer appropriate pastoral support, including informal prayer with LGBT people, Christians and others. I think that that injunction is on us all.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab)
8. When the Church Commissioners plan to visit Scrooby Church.
Dame Caroline Spelman:The hon. Gentleman knows very well that I need no excuse to visit his beautiful constituency, having fought the election there in 1992. I was back there this summer visiting friends at Hodsock Priory, which I know he is aware of. The important and beautiful church at Scrooby is home to the festival that will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers. I have looked into the needs that it may have. I suggest we work together to ensure that the event is a great success.
John Mann: The right hon. Lady is very welcome to re-tread the streets of Scrooby, and if she does, she might care to bring one of the many descendants of the pilgrims with her. If, with her good contacts, she could arrange it, the most popular would probably be Mr Richard Gere.
Dame Caroline Spelman: If only! I know that what the hon. Gentleman is looking for specifically from the Church Commissioners is some assistance with the improvement to the facilities. I have looked into this question. The church hall has facilities to ensure that the event is a success, but perhaps if he encourages the church wardens to contact me or Church House, we can make sure the event is a great success, with or without a celebrity attendance.
Priests: Same-sex Marriage
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
9. What the policy of the Church of England is on priests in same-sex marriages; and if she will make a statement. 
Dame Caroline Spelman: I suspect the right hon. Gentleman wants to ask me, as he did before, about a specific case, but the case of Canon Pemberton is still pending a judgment from his appeal, so I am afraid I will be unable to comment on it in any detail. The Pilling report was commissioned by the Church of England at the start of a shared conversation about sexuality, which reached its conclusion at the Synod in July. The House of Bishops has asked for a summary to be created by the bishops reference group.
Mr Bradshaw: But with a growing number of priests, including now one bishop, deciding commendably to be open about their sexual orientation, and indeed their marital status, why is the Church of England spending our money pursuing a legal case against Canon Jeremy Pemberton simply because he is married?
Dame Caroline Spelman: Obviously the Church is on a journey with this issue, as many of us have been, but I would gently point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Church was not the plaintiff. Canon Pemberton was the plaintiff and therefore the Church had to defend itself in a legal process. The initial case was lost and now Canon Pemberton has sought to appeal. There will be significant costs attached to that, but the Church did not initiate those legal proceedings.
Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
10. Whether the Church of England has made an assessment of the effect of the first world war centenary cathedral repairs fund on the fabric of English cathedrals. 
Dame Caroline Spelman: Last month I attended, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), a service of thanksgiving for the world war one centenary cathedral repairs fund at Lichfield. Without the generosity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), it would not have been possible to effect the kind of repairs that many of our cathedrals have required just to remain open.
Pauline Latham: Derby cathedral is such an important asset to the city, bringing visitors and businesses to the wider region. Without the financial support of the world war one cathedral fund, the cathedral would potentially have faced closure to the public, due to the condition of the electrics and the roof. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the trades, craftspeople and apprentices who have worked to keep the cathedral open and to secure its future for at least the next 100 years? It is much improved.
Dame Caroline Spelman: I would be very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating them on all that remarkable work. In fact, Derby cathedral has received the third highest amount of world war one grant funding to date—nearly £1.4 million—to effect, as she said, roof repairs and completely refurbish the interior. There is no question but that these repairs have created jobs for skilled craftsmen and ensured a sustainable future for our cathedrals.