On 10th March 2022 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, answered questions from MPs in the House of Commons, freedom of religion or belief overseas, family hubs, supporting Ukrainian refugees, affordable housing, the Queen’s platinum jubilee, and the Commissioners’ Scottish landholdings.
Global Summit: Freedom of Religion or Belief
Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con): What role the Church of England has in supporting the global summit to promote freedom of religion or belief, to be hosted by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in July 2022. (905957)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church is making every effort to support that important summit to promote freedom of religion or belief. A debate was held on the lack of global religious freedom at last month’s General Synod and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), in her capacity as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, was able to brief Synod members on the huge cost of following Jesus in many parts of the world.
Caroline Ansell: Has my hon. Friend seen the 2021 research report, “Defeating Minority Exclusion and Unlocking Potential: Christianity in the Holy Land”, which reflects the significance of that community’s contribution to public value and welfare but also the vulnerability of its position? Does he agree that the forthcoming ministerial summit presents an excellent opportunity to discuss and debate its findings and recommendations?
Andrew Selous: I have seen the report and I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about its findings, which show the political and economic instability and the social intimidation that people are facing. The international ministerial meeting in July will provide an opportunity for that research to be widely shared and for the report’s concerns to be addressed.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): At the summit coming up this year, it will be really important to have individual stories from the countries where persecution is rife, whether that is China, India, Pakistan, Iran or other parts of the world. Will that be part of the conference?
Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who takes a very serious interest in these matters. He is absolutely right. The Archbishop of Canterbury has just been in Pakistan, including Peshawar, where Pastor William Siraj was horrendously murdered on 30 January this year. Those stories must be heard, and he is absolutely right.
Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con): What steps the Church of England is taking to support the people of Ukraine. (905958)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church is responding through prayer, giving and action. Parishes across the country prayed for peace on 27 February and are supporting humanitarian appeals. Chaplaincies across Europe are providing support to refugees now. The Church has sold its investments in Russian firms and there were no investments, I am pleased to say, in Russian sovereign debt.
Felicity Buchan: Churches throughout my constituency, including St James’s in Norlands, and indeed other faith institutions have been at the forefront of the humanitarian appeal for Ukraine. Can I ask my hon. Friend specifically if the Church Commissioners have plans to sponsor refugees as part of the upcoming humanitarian sponsorship scheme?
Andrew Selous: Again, I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I can tell her that the Church of England has been one of the major partners in the community sponsorship of refugees in the past and stands ready to do so again. We are urgently awaiting further details from the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on how the sponsorship route will work, and we certainly intend to be fully involved.
Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): What support the Church of England is providing to family hubs. (905959)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Bishop of Durham chairs the multi-denominational Church works commission, which is engaging with the Government on how churches can best participate in family hubs, as we believe that churches, other faiths and the voluntary sector all have a very important role to play in the successful delivery of family hubs.
Dr Cameron: Church groups have been supporting excellent 12-step programmes, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, for many years. The all-party parliamentary group on the twelve steps recovery programme from addiction, which I chair, is very keen to hear how the Church Commissioners are supporting mental health and addiction issues, including linking with 12-step programmes in family hubs.
Andrew Selous: Well, I would be delighted to arrange a meeting with the hon. Lady’s all-party group on this important subject. I can tell her that the Church works commission is already working with Government Departments and leading Christian charities on proposals to tackle mental wellbeing and loneliness. The diocese of Manchester, for example, runs a large-scale project to support young people’s mental health and has a mental health wellbeing youth worker. The Bishop of St Albans leads on our addictions work and has done particular work on gambling.
John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con): What steps the Church of England is taking to ensure that the Warroch Hill property in Perthshire contributes to the local environment. (905960)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Warroch Hill tree planting scheme will sequester carbon, protect water courses and reduce incidents of flash flooding. Local jobs have been created, and the biodiversity of the site is being significantly increased in comparison with its former use as an upland hill farm.
John Lamont: I very much welcome that response, and I also welcome the investment that the Church of England is making in Scotland, but what progress is the Church making to ensure that all of its investments—not only in Scotland, but across the UK—are contributing positively to the environment?
Andrew Selous: That is a very good and welcome challenge from my hon. Friend, and I can reassure him that the Church Commissioners are committed to the long-term stewardship of our land and seek to adopt best practice in meeting the global challenges of combating climate change and reducing biodiversity loss. Our forests are managed in accordance with the UK forestry standard and the UK woodland assurance standard, which also protect water resources and enhance soils. The Church, along with other major landowners, has also signed the National Trust’s nature-based solutions compact.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): What steps the Church of England is taking to provide affordable and sustainable housing on its estate. (905961)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): We are currently delivering 29,000 new homes, of which around 9,000 will be affordable. These can be small, edge-of-village developments, or major master-planned new communities with, for example, country parks, sporting and community facilities, allotments, schools, shops, healthcare facilities, libraries and cafés.
Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Clearly, there is a desperate need for social rented housing in this country, and the belief is that we need between 90,000 and 100,000 homes a year. The Church has enormous amounts of land. Will he encourage the Church to give up more of its land for social rented accommodation?
Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend for that important question, and his passion for this issue is shared by the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less. The Church Commissioners’ land portfolio has the potential to deliver around 30,000 new homes across England, and the Church is determined to play its part in tackling the housing crisis. Developments will have a mixture of market rate and affordable homes, and we are committed to building vibrant communities, learning from best practice in the Duchy of Cornwall and elsewhere. In the village of Shepherdswell in Kent, for example, 10 of the 13 new village homes will be affordable.
Andrew Bowie (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con): To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what joint projects have resulted from the Columba Declaration between the Church of England and Church of Scotland. (905963)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Columba Declaration has led to regular contact between the Churches, and the strengthening of both in serving their nations by co-operating on issues of public policy and promoting Christian life. One example of that is the Thy Kingdom Come partnership for nationwide prayer, adopted in November 2018. In Cumbria the Churches work together to form mission communities made up of all the churches in a locality.
Andrew Bowie: The Columba Declaration set out where the Churches of England and Scotland could allow close and growing co-operation in a multitude of areas, including where mutually supported work between the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs, and the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, could work to support refugees. In light of what is happening in Ukraine, has there been any discussion or co-operation about that, under the terms of the Columba Declaration, meaning that the two Churches might pool resources and effort to support refugees who are fleeing that terrible situation in Ukraine?
Andrew Selous: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question, and I reassure him that the two Churches have already been in touch with each other about supporting Ukrainian refugees. They will continue to share experience, and consider carefully whether joint action may be more effective as the situation develops.
Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con): What plans the Church of England has to mark the platinum jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen. (905964)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): Her Majesty the Queen is the supreme governor of the Church of England and a supreme example of a life of public service, inspired by her hope in the Christian gospel. There will be a national service of celebration at St Paul’s cathedral and special services and prayers across the country. The Church of England is an enthusiastic participant in the Queen’s green canopy initiative across all of its 42 dioceses.
Greg Smith: In celebration of Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee, St Mary’s church in Princes Risborough wishes to do something practical and expand its community initiatives such as community outreach, mother and toddler groups and over-70s’ lunch clubs. What can the Church of England do practically to support that great ambition?
Andrew Selous: I am delighted to learn about the excellent work that St Mary’s in Princes Risborough is already doing in the parish, and it would be a fitting tribute to Her Majesty to build on that good work. I suggest that, in the first instance, St Mary’s should get in touch with the director of mission and ministry in the Oxford diocese, who I am sure will have a number of practical suggestions of interest.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): May I say in passing how wonderful it is when we have a question session in which the people who reply are succinct and to the point. Perhaps we should get Ministers here for a lesson in how it is done. Will the Second Church Estates Commissioner tell us more about the plans to let this House know what the Church of England is doing in regard to the celebrations?
Andrew Selous: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that compliment. I repeat that there will be a national service of celebration at St Paul’s cathedral organised by the Church of England. That will probably be the focal point, but I know that there will be enormous celebrations in his constituency, in mine and, indeed, in every constituency across these islands, and I hope that the Church of England, churches and all faith groups will be at the heart of them.