Church Commissioner Questions: LGBT+ equality, civil partnerships, church buildings, church schools and universities, HS2, Christians in Nigeria

On 6th February 2020 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, answered  questions from MPs in the House of Commons, on behalf of the Church Commissioners.

Questions were asked about LGBT+ equality, civil partnerships, church buildings, church schools and universities, HS2, and Christians in Nigeria.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

LGBT+ Christians in the UK

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)

1. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church is taking to support equality for LGBT+ Christians in the UK.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): Before I answer the hon. Gentleman, I would like to pay a short tribute to my predecessor, Caroline Spelman, who demonstrated humanity, helpfulness and humour, all qualities I will do my best to emulate in this role.

This is a timely question from the hon. Gentleman, in LGBT history month. The Church has worked with Stonewall to produce the “Valuing all God’s children” guidance, which proactively combats homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

Stephen Doughty: I thank the hon. Member for his answer and join him in his tribute to the former Member for Meriden, with whom I worked on many issues. I totally agree with the comments he made about her and wish her well for the future; I am sure she has a big role to play in the country. However, the comments that he made do not reflect the pastoral guidance that the Church issued in recent weeks, which the archbishops have apologised for and which suggested that sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage fall

“short of God’s purpose for human beings.”

Does he recognise the great deal of concern within the Anglican communion that this potentially pre-empts the Living in Love and Faith discussions, which are ongoing, and sends a message of non-inclusivity at the start of LGBT history month, which is greatly regrettable?

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman will probably be aware that the archbishops issued an apology for the way that that pastoral statement was issued. He is aware of the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project, which is looking very closely at all these issues and will be reporting later this year.


 

St Mary’s Graveyard, Stoke Mandeville

Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con): To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what representations Church authorities have made to (a) the Department for Transport and (b) HS2 Ltd on the exhumation of graves on the site of the old church of St Mary’s, Stoke Mandeville.

Andrew Selous: I recognise the sensitivities in this issue and I can tell my hon. Friend that an agreement has been reached between the Secretary of State for Transport and the Archbishops’ Council about the exhumation of graves and the reburial of remains in consecrated ground. I can assure my hon. Friend that this will be done with dignity and respect.

Rob Butler: My constituent Mrs Bradley’s great great grandfather is buried at St Mary’s, Stoke Mandeville, and she was very distressed to learn by accident that the graves were to be exhumed by construction work linked to HS2. How will the Church of England monitor this to ensure that the exhumations are carried out in the way that my hon. Friend has just described, even on deconsecrated land?

Andrew Selous: I am extremely sorry that Mrs Bradley found out about the exhumation of her great great grandfather by accident, and we will announce the location of reinterment in consecrated ground in due course. I can tell my hon. Friend that in all cases this will be as near as possible to the original grave or graveyard and that the law requires that HS2 put up a memorial for all those who are reinterred.


Church Schools and Universities


Stuart Anderson (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): What recent assessment the Commissioners have made of the effectiveness of the contribution of Church schools and universities to the education system in England. 

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church of England educates 1 million children every day, runs a quarter of all primary schools and operates 4,644 schools in total, 91% of which are good or outstanding. There are also 15 universities in the Cathedrals Group in England, which educate 100,000 students and train 40% of all key stage 2 and 3 teachers.

Stuart Anderson: What help might the Church be able to give for the much-needed further education learning quarter in Wolverhampton?

Andrew Selous: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The Church strongly supports investment in further education and the Wolverhampton education quarter is an imaginative proposal to benefit the city. While we are at a very early stage of possible Church involvement, I know that the diocesan director of education and senior local chaplains will be very willing to meet him to discuss the proposal.

Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman update us on what strategic national work the Church might be doing with the Department for Education to support local schools that are experiencing changes to school rolls due to population changes? Otherwise excellent schools, such as St George’s and St Michael’s in my constituency, are having to experience differences in their local population. What strategic work is going on nationally to support the local work that is so necessary?

Andrew Selous: Being relatively new in post, I am afraid that I am not immediately aware of that, but I am very happy to raise the hon. Lady’s concerns with Nigel Genders, our director of education at Church House, and I will get back to her.


Christians in Nigeria

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con): What steps the Church is taking to assist persecuted Christians in Nigeria. 

Andrew Selous: The Archbishop of Canterbury knows Nigeria well and has visited it on a number of occasions. He is extremely aware of the local tensions and context of this issue. The recent attacks in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram and Islamist militia are a source of profound concern to him and the Church.

Sir Desmond Swayne: Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the progress in implementing the Bishop of Truro’s findings?

Andrew Selous: I know my right hon. Friend takes a very close interest in these matters. Ten of the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro’s review have been, or are being implemented, and the others are being worked on. Our diplomats are using the review to engage their host Governments wherever there are abuses of freedom of religion or belief.

 Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab): The UK hosts Christians from all over the world, from Lebanon to Sri Lanka, and in Lewisham East we have a vibrant Nigerian Christian community. It would be a shame if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not tap into the knowledge and culture available at home in the UK better to serve persecuted communities abroad.

Andrew Selous: I thank the hon. Lady very much for that excellent suggestion. I will certainly feed back to Church House and Lambeth Palace the point she helpfully makes.


Civil Partnerships


Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Whether the Commissioners were consulted on recent guidance by the Church on civil partnerships; and if he will make a statement. 

Andrew Selous: I am accountable for the Church of England in this place. The Church Commissioners are not consulted on announcements by the College of Bishops. The archbishops have since apologised for the division and hurt caused by the pastoral statement.

Mr Bradshaw: Regardless of that, I think it was discourteous of the bishops not to inform the Second Church Estates Commissioner. The legislation was passed overwhelmingly in this House with all-party support. It is bad enough that the Church still treats its LGBT+ members as second-class Christians, but to say to the child of a heterosexual couple in a civil partnership that they should not exist because their parents should not have had or be having sex is so hurtful. Will he tell the bishops that unless this nonsense stops serious questions will be asked in this place about the legitimacy of the established status of the Church of England?

Andrew Selous: I will certainly feed back the right hon. Gentleman’s strongly felt concern on this issue to the College of Bishops. In their apology, the archbishops did recognise that the pastoral statement had jeopardised the trust that has been built up as part of the Living in Love and Faith project, which is intended to discern the way forward for the Church of England on this issue.


Church of England Free Schools

Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Commissioners on increasing the number of Church of England free schools in England.

Andrew Selous: The Church has been a successful partner in the free schools programme since it began. Dioceses work hard to help these new schools to open. The Church is also keen to support new alternative provision and special schools through the free schools programme.

Greg Hands: The fantastic Fulham Boys School will finally open at its new site in September, after a 10-year campaign. It is a Church of England-sponsored free school whose co-patrons are myself and Graham Tomlin, the Bishop of Kensington. However, the latest wave of free school applications shows very few involving the Church of England. What can my hon. Friend do, in his role, to persuade the Church to sponsor more free schools?

Andrew Selous: The Church of England educates a million children. It runs a fifth of all schools in England, and 91% of those are good or outstanding, which is just one of the reasons why they are so popular with parents. The Church is the largest sponsor of academies in England, with 900. I am delighted to learn that there has been a happy conclusion to Fulham Boys School’s search for a new site, and I know that lots of parents are very happy with the school.


Church Maintenance: Bosworth

Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con): To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Commissioners are taking to support the maintenance of churches in (a) Bosworth constituency and (b) the UK.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): Lowest income communities funding supported mission and ministry in Holy Trinity and St John’s churches in Hinckley in my hon. Friend’s constituency in 2019. Across England from 2020 to 2022, £82.1 million will be allocated by the Commissioners as lowest income communities funding, with a further £82.1 million in strategic development funding to support diocesan plans.

Dr Evans: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for talking about the repairs that are going on in churches in my constituency and across the country, but churches in Hinckley and Bosworth, and indeed across the country, face the risk of having their roofs stolen. This is an ongoing problem; it has not gone away. I would be grateful for his comments on what the Commission is doing to try to prevent this.

Andrew Selous: I am exceedingly grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point, because it is a real issue for churches up and down the country, many of which cannot get insurance if this happens on a second or subsequent occasion. The Church has asked the Government to review and strengthen the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. Initially, the Act dramatically reduced thefts, but changes to serious organised criminal behaviour have led to increases, and I will be asking what plans the Government have to amend the Act.

Via Parliament.UK