Church Commissioner Questions: families, marriage, Lichfield, Nigeria

On 9th March 2023 MPs put questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, during his monthly question time in the House of Commons.

Best Start for Life Policy Paper

Dame Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): What steps the Church of England is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) family hubs and (b) the other policies in the Department of Health and Social Care policy paper entitled “Best start for life: a vision for the 1,001 critical days”, published on 25 March 2021. (903958)

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): My right hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner for families and young children. The Church strongly supports family hubs and their further expansion. The Church is already supporting many of the “Best start for life” recommendations through our messy church and toddler groups, and the Archbishops’ commission on families and households will report next month

Dame Andrea Leadsom: Is my hon. Friend aware that the 75 local authority areas in England that are taking part in the Government’s family hub and best start for life programme are required to work with not just the public sector, but charities, faith groups and volunteers, to roll out the support services to give every baby the best start for life? Can he tell us what connections there are between the Church and those local authority areas to make that a reality?

Andrew Selous: I am delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend says. I can tell her that the Church works commission chaired by the Bishop of Durham includes 15 major denominations and is working very closely with the National Centre for Family Hubs. Churches are already involved in delivering 18 out of the 24 areas for delivery, and the key to that is good local authority joint working. I am pleased to say that there is lots of momentum—long may that continue.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman join me in welcoming the new Bishop of Huddersfield, announced yesterday? We will give her a very good welcome in Huddersfield. Those family hubs are something that she is very keen on, because she was part of their creation.

Andrew Selous: I am delighted to welcome the new Bishop of Huddersfield, and I am equally delighted that she is keen on family hubs. She will have a crucial role to play in making sure they succeed in the hon. Gentleman’s area.

Family Relationships, Parenting and Marriage

Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con): What steps the Church of England is taking to help support family relationships, parenting and marriage. (903963)

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church will always support marriages and family relationships that are committed to mutual flourishing —Jesus’s first miracle was, after all, at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. The Archbishops’ commission to strengthen families and households will report next month.

Nick Fletcher: The 2021 census has shown that people living on their own are more likely to be renting, less financially secure, have lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety. Some 60% of people living alone are men. Marriage is a sacred bond between man and woman. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should promote marriage at every opportunity and bring back tax allowances to suit?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend is right to look at all the measures that can support marriage, given that in the UK 23% of households are lone-parent households, compared with, say, 13% in the Netherlands. He is also correct that there is a lower burden of family taxation in France, Germany and the USA. There will be a range of measures to support marriage in the Archbishop’s proposals next month, which I hope my hon. Friend will support when they are published.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Can I say how very pleased I am to hear that answer from the hon. Gentleman? I am one who believes very much in the sanctity and importance of marriage. I have been married for 35 years to a long-suffering wife, Sandra. My mum and dad were married for 60 years, and Sandra’s mum and dad were married for 60 years, so we believe in marriage and its importance, as do others in this Chamber. What is the hon. Gentleman able to do to ensure that those having difficulties in marriage can have Relate discussions to ensure that their marriage can last for all their lives?

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to my friend the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. It is certainly my hope that churches across the country will be involved in the best possible marriage preparation, but also marriage support, because all of us get into bad habits, including the hon. Gentleman and me, and need little pointers and reminders from time to time.

Mr Speaker: I call the Father of the House.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I am not sure this is the right place to advertise virtue or claim vice.

Can I put it to my hon. Friend that the Church of England Children’s Society 50 years ago supported the social entrepreneur Bob Holman in establishing family centres? Can we praise the Church and all its parishes for the way they help to support the confidence and competence of parents, who often go through difficult situations?

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the Father of the House for reminding us of that important fact and of what the Church has done in the past, and I hope he will be equally supportive of what our right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) is doing with her fantastic initiative on family hubs. That is an important continuation of that early work.

Outreach: Lichfield Diocese

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If he will meet the Lord Bishop of Lichfield to discuss outreach work in that diocese. (903964)

Andrew Selous: I would be delighted to meet Michael Ipgrave, the new Lord Bishop of Lichfield, and I look forward to doing so very much indeed.

Michael Fabricant: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. In fact, I was present in the other place when the now Lord Bishop of Lichfield, Michael Ipgrave, was introduced. We have many outreach projects in Lichfield. There is the St Michael’s church project, which has set up a film club that meets every month, and it offers a meal and a warm space. There is “Burntwood Be A Friend” and so many others. Is there any manner by which different dioceses can learn from each other?

Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend for his continuous support for not just the cathedral, but the whole diocese of Lichfield. He makes an excellent point about sharing best practice. Dare I say it, but in public life and in government, we often do not do that as well as we could, and it would be good if the Church could show the way and lead as an example in that area. He is absolutely right.

Same-sex Relationships: General Synod Decisions

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What steps the Church of England is taking to implement the decisions of the General Synod on same-sex relationships; and if he will make a statement. (903966)

Andrew Selous: At the General Synod last month, it was agreed that the “Prayers of Love and Faith” would be finalised, that pastoral guidance for clergy would be produced, and that a culture of welcome towards LGBTQI+ people would be embedded throughout the Church.

Mr Bradshaw: I would be grateful for an assurance that there will not be any backsliding on the timescale on that, and that the pastoral guidance will deal finally with the issue of priests being able to marry and be freed from the current celibacy rules.

On a wider issue, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that a number of provinces in the global Anglican communion have in effect made a unilateral declaration of independence from the Church of England. A small number of parishes here have begun to withhold their money from their dioceses in protest at these very small steps forward. Is it not increasingly clear that a small minority in the Church of England will never be reconciled with treating lesbian and gay people equally, and it would be better to let those people go, so that the Church can focus on the majority of Anglicans in this country who support treating lesbian and gay people equally?

Andrew Selous: The pastoral guidance is being worked on, and the bishops remain committed to implementing their response to Living in Love and Faith, which the General Synod approved last month. The timing may depend on the July Synod’s response to the pastoral guidance and “Prayers of Love and Faith”. The Synod is a democratic body and, like this Parliament, its decisions cannot be guaranteed in advance.

On the second part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question, he is correct that our proposals do not go far enough for some and go too far for others. There have always been disagreements in the Anglican communion, as there have been in the Church of England, and we need to learn to disagree well.

Nigeria: Killing and Abduction of Christians

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Whether representatives of the Church of England have had recent discussions with the Church of Nigeria on taking steps to help tackle the killing and abduction of Christians in that country. (903967)

Andrew Selous: The murder and abduction of Christians in Nigeria is distressingly common, totally abhorrent and has gone on for far too long. The Bishop of Guildford was in Nigeria last November to support the Church of Nigeria, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who knows Nigeria well, stays constantly in touch with the situation there.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Clearly, the recent election in Nigeria has led to a complete spike in terms of violence, particularly towards Christians. What attempts are being made by the Church to reach out to Christians in Nigeria to assure them of our support, and to the victors of the election to make sure that they safeguard Christians in that country?

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that matter before the House. He is right to do so. I know that the Church of England and the Anglican communion will do exactly what he says. It is worth putting on the record that, even before the elections, 21 Christians were killed, and churches, houses and food were destroyed. In November last year, female students at the state university were raped in Bokkos and in January Catholic priest Isaac Achi was burned to death and another priest was shot and injured in Paikoro. Open Doors believes that Nigeria has the highest recorded level of violence against Christians in any country.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Of course, violent Islamist militants are not the only threat to Christians in Nigeria. The so-called motorbike bandits that operate in the border areas are abducting women and causing all kinds of violence. In the middle belt, Christian farmers face mass displacement and murder. It is not just about sending solidarity through the Church of England to Christians in Nigeria. What more can the Church of England do to influence the British Government and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to do more to assist Nigeria in defeating those militants who are persecuting Christians?

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in this matter, which needs as much attention as we can give it. The Government are actively implementing the Bishop of Truro’s recommendation that the Church of England checks regularly with the Government that all those implementations are being put into place. He is right to mention that. It is ongoing work, incredibly serious, and we need to keep focusing on it

via Hansard

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