Church Commissioner Questions: ordinations, church schools, modern slavery, metal theft, inter-faith relations, London churches

On 12th July 2018 Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, answered questions from MPs on ordination numbers, church schools, modern slavery, metal theft, inter-faith relations and growth of the church in London. A full transcript is below:

Church Commissioners

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

Ordination Numbers

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab):
1. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what progress the Church of England has made on its target to increase ordinations by 2020; and what proportion of recent new ordinands are women. [906397]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman):
I would first like to congratulate all those ordained deacon or priest last month. Within the hon. Lady’s diocese of York, four women and three men were ordained priest, alongside eight women and two men who were ordained deacon. Nationally, the Church of England is on target to increase the number of people who are recommended for training in 2020 by 50%.

Diana Johnson: I thank the right hon. Lady for that answer—it is good to hear that the stained glass ceiling is being well and truly smashed. However, is it not about time that, in the evolution of the established Church of England, the special arrangements that were put in place for those who do not accept the equality and ministry of women were abandoned?

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church has come to an accommodation on that issue. I think that the gradual increase in the number of women who are coming into ministry, and people’s experience of being ministered to by a female priest, is in itself changing social attitudes in a holistic way. I expect to see more and more women coming into post, and therefore more and more people getting used to seeing them there.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What are the main barriers to women becoming ordinands in the Church of England?

Dame Caroline Spelman: There are no barriers to women becoming ordinands in the Church of England. As I have just explained, there has been a sharp increase in the number of women coming into ministry, and the overall number of ordinands entering training has increased by 14% over the past two years. The number of women under the age of 32 entering training has actually increased by 27%, which shows that it is an increasingly attractive vocation for younger women who look forward to a career in the Church as a female priest.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I hear what the right hon. Lady says, but will she also consider the impact of the number of churches that new ordinands have to look after? It is a real worry, given the pressure we are putting on these poor people, particularly if they are not full time, in order to carry out their ministry.

Dame Caroline Spelman: It is obviously a pressure for male and female priests, who might find themselves in charge of eight or 10 very small, rural ministries. The Church has looked at how sustainable that is, and the status of some churches has been changed to that of festival churches, which are open only on the high days and holy days of Christmas and Easter, to try to ensure that the workload is sustainable. It is something the Church Commissioners have very much in mind, alongside training more ordinands.

Church of England Schools: Creative Learning

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op):
6. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to encourage the development of creative learning in its primary schools. [906402]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): As the largest provider of education in England, with 4,700 schools, the Church’s “Vision for Education” sets out a commitment to educate the whole child. That includes nurturing

“academic habits and skills…and creativity across the whole range of school subjects”.

This involves a commitment to educating for character rather than a sole focus on academic subjects.

Mr Sheerman: Those are words that give me great encouragement, but is the right hon. Lady aware that in many schools the art of creating and making things has almost disappeared with the abolition of design and technology from the curriculum? Will she look into the Victoria and Albert museum’s new education foundation? It is doing very interesting work on making things in schools—and, of course, it is led by a chap called Tristram Hunt.

Dame Caroline Spelman: That is a name with which we are all familiar. I found that the only way of maintaining any sort of control in a Sunday school class was to do arts and crafts, which seemed to absorb everyone. I am a strong advocate of that kind of practical creativity, but I will certainly look into what the V&A is advocating.

Modern Day Slavery

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con):
7. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what progress the Church of England has made on its work to tackle modern-day slavery; and what steps the Church of England is taking to educate school children on that issue. [906403]

Dame Caroline Spelman: I am very grateful for that question, because it allows me to pay tribute to the work of the Bishop of Derby, who has just announced his retirement, but who has been the Church of England lead in the House of Lords in tackling modern-day slavery. It was Bishop Alastair who pioneered the idea of creating an information pack for children in schools so that they could understand the horror of the history of slavery and this country’s involvement in it. He did that in the diocese of Derby, but we have learnt a great deal from it, and the scale of the initiative will now be extended.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): On a recent visit to Romania, the ministry in charge of Romanians abroad was very concerned about the number of women who were being trafficked for sexual purposes across the European Union and the number of children who were being forced into modern-day slavery. What more can the Church do to highlight the problem and combat it?

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church of England has always had a great heart for the marginalised, the excluded and the vulnerable. Through the “We see you” campaign, we are starting to raise awareness in society of what we often do not see around us. The Church is working in all schools to raise children’s awareness of this modern form of slavery, together with the charity Just Enough UK—as much as anything, to help them to protect themselves from becoming victims.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): [10.] Commercial sexual exploitation involving trafficking is widespread. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time to consider supporting the Nordic model and making it illegal to pay for sexual services, in order to reduce such exploitation? [906406]

Dame Caroline Spelman: My personal view is that the approach taken by countries such as Sweden, Norway and, more recently, Canada and Ireland to outlaw paying for sex is a policy worth looking at, and is infinitely preferable to the approach taken in countries such as Germany, which has liberalised prostitution. That is a personal view and not necessarily the view of the Church of England, but it can have escaped no one that sexual exploitation is a horrific aggravation of the crime of modern slavery.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) wants to ask about the Clewer initiative, on which he has a related question which might otherwise not be reached. I am all agog. Let us hear the fellow.

Mr Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): [11.] I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker, particularly for mentioning the Churches’ Clewer initiative, which encourages members of the public to use an app. Admirable though that is, does my right hon. Friend think that it should have been left to the Churches to take the initiative to protect vulnerable people from exploitation in unregulated hand car washes, or should regulatory bodies themselves have taken such a step? [906407]

Dame Caroline Spelman: My hon. Friend is an assiduous member of the Environmental Audit Committee, which has launched an inquiry into abuses in unregulated car washes, and I can only commend his work and that of the Committee. Hopefully, in return, he can commend the ingenuity of the Church of England in making a leap into the digital age and developing an app that helps all of us to identify circumstances which we suspect may involve slavery or exploitation. That is but one example, and I imagine that other apps could be created that would really help us to stamp out modern-day slavery in our society.

Churches: Metal Theft

Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
8. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what advice is being made available to churches to better protect their buildings against metal theft. [906404]

Dame Caroline Spelman: Since I last answered a question on this subject in April the largest concentration of reported attacks on churches for metal theft has been in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. While we are starting to see small numbers of people being prosecuted for these crimes, the value of the thefts is considerable and the cost of replacement and repair is high.

Chris Davies: Can my right hon. Friend confirm what partners the Church of England is working with to tackle metal thefts across its parishes?

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church cannot do this on its own, and it works very closely with Historic England, the police and its insurers alongside the Home Office in order to provide advice and guidance to its parishes. All dioceses now advise their churches to install deterrents such as alarms and cameras. I am pleased to say that the Church in Wales similarly endorsed Historic England’s metal theft guidance.

Inter-faith Dialogue

John Grogan (Keighley) (Lab):
9. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent steps the Church of England has taken to promote inter-faith dialogue. [906405]

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church of England continues to take active steps at local and international level to promote inter-faith dialogue. The Church works through organisations like the Council of Christians and Jews and the Christian Muslim Forum alongside close working with the Office of the Chief Rabbi and senior Muslim clerics.

John Grogan: Does the right hon. Lady agree that many Church schools, both C of E and Catholic, with multi-faith intakes, such as Our Lady of Victories Catholic School Keighley, pupils from which came down to Parliament last week, including many Muslim pupils, bind our communities together from a young age and teach respect for others?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I could not agree more. Church of England schools are open to the whole community and reflect the demographic profile of the community they serve. Thus in some parts of the country 80% or 90% of pupils in a Church of England school may be Muslim. If you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, I would like to commend what the new Home Secretary had to say about his own education as a Muslim in a Church of England school, and how important a part of his own upbringing was an awareness of religious literacy in our world today.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: It might be thought to be a helpful prompt if I advise the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) that inter-faith dialogue can embrace the subject of the evils of modern-day slavery, in which I know she has an intense interest.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I was very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend’s response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). Does she agree that trafficking women into prostitution is a most heinous form of violence against women and girls and that, if we are to review the law on prostitution, a priority must be to improve exit strategies for these exploited women?

Mr Speaker: And one would assume that it was a matter that fell within the rubric of inter-faith dialogue.

Dame Caroline Spelman
We need to understand, in the world today more than ever, the different faiths of the world and their tenets, and be respectful of the fact that 84% of the world’s population adhere to one of the great religions of the world. By working through religious institutions in all these countries, which should all condemn outright slavery in all its forms, I hope that we can work together internationally to bring an end to the terrible exploitation to which my hon. Friend refers.

Church Building

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab):
12. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what progress the Church of England is making on building new churches in London. [906408]

Dame Caroline Spelman: This is a bit of good news. The Church Commissioners have made £27 million available for the creation of up to 100 new churches. I am pleased to say that eight new churches are to be created across all the London dioceses, and already 100 new worshipping communities meet outside formal church buildings in a fresh expression of “church.”

Stephen Timms: Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the Church of England is now building its first new church buildings in London since the 1950s to accommodate not decline, which is widely understood to be what is going on, but a very sharp increase in the number of people attending public worship?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I can do a bit of myth busting here. The Church is not in fact closing more churches than it is opening; interestingly, it is opening almost as many new ones as we are needing to close older ones. But that is often to serve gaps in provision and new communities. At the recent Synod I attended over the weekend in York there was an interesting fringe meeting about the planting of new churches on estates and evangelism on estates. We often build new housing developments, but we do not put a church community building in the heart of those communities. That is why the commissioners have seen fit to make extra resources available for the creation of new churches in areas where demand is high.


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