Church Commissioner Questions: Persecuted Christians Review, Sri Lanka attacks, Cathedral Fire Safety

On 9th May 2019 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, answered questions from MPs on the Bishop of Truro’s review into persecuted Christians overseas, the attacks on Christian worshipers in Sri Lanka, and fire safety in cathedrals. The exchanges follow:CCQs 9519

Church Commissioners

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

Persecution of Christians: FCO Global Review

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What response the Church of England has made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s global review of the persecution of Christians, announced in December 2018. [910763]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): The Church warmly welcomed the decision by the Foreign Secretary to launch an independent review of his Department’s support for persecuted Christians, which is being chaired by the Bishop of Truro. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster made a joint submission to that review, setting out practical recommendations for how the Government could take action to protect Christians facing persecution and to promote freedom of religion more widely.

Diana Johnson: The Sri Lanka terrorist attacks brought home the FCO’s recent review findings that Christians are suffering persecution at near genocide levels. Alongside the growing Christianophobia, there are growing incidents of Islamophobia—such as at Christchurch—and antisemitism. What more can the Church of England do in co-ordinating international action across all faiths to combat hatred and violence against different faith communities by varied manifestations of the far right?

Dame Caroline Spelman: That interim report, which I recommend colleagues read, is quite a shocking revelation about how extensive the persecution of Christians and other minority religions around the world is. Just yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury invited the Foreign Secretary and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Lambeth Palace to discuss international religious freedom. The meeting included the Chief Rabbi and representatives of other faiths, because, as the Bishop of Rochester said in another place, it is almost impossible to predict when such terrorist attacks will occur and where.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has commendably authorised that independent report, but does my right hon. Friend agree that unless the Department for International Development also engages with the interim report and with the recommendations in the final report when it is produced, this country will never achieve what it could achieve in addressing this issue internationally?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I do agree. In fact, one of the key points of the Church of England’s submission is that there needs to be a joined-up approach more widely, right across Government, to the challenges of keeping freedom of religion and belief. That is why, with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), I visited the former Minister who was jointly responsible at DFID and the Foreign Office to make sure that civil servants receive the right kind of training so that they really understand the threats that persecuted religious minorities face.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Lady will be very aware of the situation in Sudan at the moment, with such a complex outcome following the removal of Bashir. Will she urge the Archbishop of Canterbury to look at the possibility of an early visit there to make sure that Christians in Sudan are protected?

Dame Caroline Spelman: This allows me to share with the House a bit of good news on a rather serious and depressing subject, which is that the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with Pope Francis, brokered a meeting in Rome of the key players from the Sudanese conflict zone. Those talks made really significant progress in bringing about peace in countries where a war has claimed over 400,000 lives.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): International aid spending to recipient countries needs to be cut unless effective action is taken against attacks on Christians. Do the Church Commissioners agree?

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church Commissioners are completely supportive of the statutory requirement in our law that 0.7% of our total income as a country should be spent on the world’s poorest people. In fact, DFID’s programmes do direct themselves to the support of vulnerable minorities, but obviously the point of the report commissioned independently by the Foreign Secretary is to see how much more effective we can be at tackling the threats to religion and to people’s freedom of religion and belief.


Christian Community in Sri Lanka

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What support the Church of England is offering to the Christian community in Sri Lanka in response to the recent terrorist attacks in that country. [910770]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): These were appalling and despicable attacks, and those affected were in the prayers of millions right around the world on Easter Sunday. They were clearly directed at the Christian community in Sri Lanka not just in their churches, but in secular environments such as hotels where they were having Easter Sunday lunch. The Anglican Church in Sri Lanka is small but active, and it is working closely with the Anglican communion to build its capacity in the local community and to better protect itself.

Helen Goodman: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. It is indeed tragic that 257 Christians were killed in the attacks directed at them on Easter Day. Everybody is entitled to freedom of religion and belief. Does she agree that the message we should send out from this House is that no faith sanctions conflict against another?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. I could not put it better myself.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend pass on to Christians in Sri Lanka just how much we admire their peaceful and dignified response, and indeed that of all Sri Lankans, to this atrocity?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I certainly will pass that on. The Archbishop of Canterbury immediately called the Bishop of Colombo after these attacks, and has offered support and help to bring the perpetrators to justice. The bishop himself has called for

“the safety of places of religious worship and to prevent any individuals or group taking the law into their hands or provoking acts of intimidation or violence against any community or group.”

This remains crucial in that country.


Cathedrals: Fire Safety

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con): What steps the Church of England is taking to increase fire safety in cathedrals. [910772]

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What steps the Church of England is taking with the Government to ensure the fire safety of cathedrals and churches following the Notre Dame fire. [910774]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): Fire safety is a concern for all historic buildings, and they are particularly vulnerable during renovations or building works. Since the Notre Dame fire, the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division has worked with the Cathedral Architects Association to ensure that its records are up to date. It will continue to work closely on that issue, and a national conference on the matter is being considered.

Sir Desmond Swayne: George Osborne, the former Chancellor, found £40 million for the fabric of our cathedrals. Are we ensuring that that money is spent effectively, and that cathedrals work closely with local fire brigades?

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church of England was deeply grateful to the former Chancellor for the £40 million of funding on the commemoration of the centenary of the first world war, and it resulted in important repair work to some of our most iconic buildings. For example, Lichfield cathedral was completely rewired, and it might otherwise have had to be closed because of the fire risk it represented.

Daniel Kawczynski: What steps are being taken to support the creation of 3D laser maps to record our notable historical buildings and provide an accurate record of their construction in the event of damage?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I wonder whether my hon. Friend has enjoyed watching the TV programme “Ancient Invisible Cities”, where scanners are used to reveal what lies behind ancient buildings such as pyramids. I must tell the House, however, that such methods are very, very expensive. Lincoln and St Albans cathedrals have done that, but there are many other ways to try to be sure of the data on our cathedrals. We have good archives, maps, photographs and accounts that often give an excellent record of what lies behind those magnificent stones.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman’s impassive countenance suggests that he is not at this time willing to vouchsafe to us his viewing preferences, but they have been hinted at by the right hon. Lady, and perhaps he will update us on the matter in due course.

via Parliament.uk


A written question from Rehman Chishti MP on the review into persecuted Christians was also responded to by Dame Caroline on 9th May:

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham): 910766 To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what progress the Church of England has made on tackling the persecution of Christians throughout the world.

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church of England welcomed the decision by the Foreign Secretary to launch an Independent Review into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s support for persecuted Christians.

On behalf of their two Churches, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster made a joint submission to the Review. They set out a range of practical recommendations about how the Government could take meaningful action not only in protecting Christians facing persecution but also in promoting freedom of religion and belief more widely.

Their joint submission can be found here: https://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/news/latest-news/anglicans-and-catholics-make-joint-submission-foreign-office-review-persecuted