On 17th June 2021 MPs put questions to Andrew Selous MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner. Text of the oral and written answers is below.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Whether the Church of England plans to support online and in-person communal worship as covid-19 restrictions are lifted. (901321)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church of England is strongly encouraging churches to support both in-person and online communal worship, and training has been given to thousands of clergy to enable this. It is up to local churches to decide how best to do this.
On 15th June 2021 the House of Lords heard a repeat of a Government statement on covid-19 rules.
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, regardless of matters of hindsight, does the Minister agree that prolonging the restrictions might be justified for certain reasons? I do not demur from that, but the prolonging of inconsistencies is a serious impediment to public adherence to the rules. You do not have to look very far to see where the discipline broke down a long time ago. For example—this is not special pleading; it is just at the forefront of my mind—you can sing in a pub but not in a church. This is what brings the rules into disrepute, and therefore people do not agree with them.
Secondly, can the Minister say something in response to Michael Gove’s reported comments about acceptable death rates? We have learned to live with acceptable death rates from flu and other seasonal diseases. Will the Government do some work on what might be an acceptable death rate from Covid in future and be up-front with the country as to what that might be? I think we can take it.
On 27th May 2021 the Bishop of Blackburn asked a question he had tabled on the link between covid-19 rates and high levels of poverty.
Question Asked by The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made as to whether there is a correlation between areas with high COVID-19 infection rates and high levels of poverty; and if there is such a correlation, what steps they intend to take to address this as part of their levelling up agenda.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Bethell) (Con): My Lords, the facts are heartbreaking. Covid, like many diseases, has hit hardest those who are most vulnerable: the poorest, the most disabled and those who work in some of the most difficult jobs. The vaccine rollout and community testing programmes have shown what the country can do, but there is much more to be done. That is why we are publishing a levelling-up White Paper, and health inequalities will be central to that.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and the work that he and colleagues are doing in a fast-changing scene. We know that it is not easy. Does he agree that care for the poorest, most disadvantaged and most vulnerable in the community is one of the signs of a healthy society? Can he be more specific about how equality of opportunity in the levelling-up agenda will be rolled out?
On Wednesday 26th May the House of Lords questioned Government on the local travel arrangement plans and the lack of consultation that had caused some confusion. The Bishop of Blackburn spoke from the experience of this in his diocese.
Andrew Rosindell (Conservative Romford): To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to ensure the future of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Andrew Selous (Conservative South West Bedfordshire): The Church Commissioners and other National Church Institutions have been in regular contact with the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral throughout the pandemic as they have with all the Anglican cathedrals in England. The Church Commissioners made additional financial support available to all cathedrals and dioceses throughout the pandemic over and above the financial support they regularly make available.
On 20th May 2021 the House of Lords debated the changes made to its working procedures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Bishop of Birmingham, as convenor of the Lords Spiritual, spoke about the effect on the Bishops’ Benches and more widely in the country.
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I share, from these Benches, our gratitude for all those who have worked so hard, with agility and rapidity, both the staff that serve the House and those who manage the business of the House, in a very challenging and, in fact, a unique time, as has been referred to several times already.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that every aspect of life has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Even churches have become hybrid. Families have been separated and have kept in touch by Zoom. Employers and employees are now negotiating home and back-to-work settings. Online parents’ evenings at schools have become more popular than ever. As has been said already, I join those who are at a moment of learning lessons from what has happened to us, unexpected and unprepared, over the past 15 months. This great disruption means that we will face further change, not just here but in society as a whole.
The decisions we have to make are about what to keep that has been beneficial, or surprisingly new and advantageous, and what to go back to, as what works well for our purpose today. We do so in the context of an uncertain journey ahead, on the road map, and also with the priority to keep everyone safe and well in this terrible time of virus, as I believe we have tried to do in this House.
On 18th May the Bishop of Manchester spoke in the fourth day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, focusing on proposals for policing, building safety and conversion therapy.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, whose wisdom I look forward to hearing more often, for an excellent maiden speech. I also refer to my interests, stated in the register, in policing and housing.
A number of Bills mentioned in the gracious Speech will require our police to enforce new laws and regulations. We have already seen considerable disquiet expressed regarding what might amount to a very significant reduction in the ability of the public to engage in peaceful political protest, particularly where such protests directly or indirectly impact on others. I will reserve more detailed comments on this Bill for when it reaches your Lordships’ House, although I note the wise comments made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. For now, I want briefly to lay it alongside my experience of 12 months of rapidly changing coronavirus regulations.
On many occasions, the precise boundaries between regulations—matters that police can enforce—and guidance, to which they can only direct our attention, have been seriously blurred. Meanwhile, ministerial statements have put pressure on our police to issue fixed penalty notices, but the Crown Prosecution Service is quite clear that an adequate chain of evidence will be almost impossible to achieve.
On 13th May 2021 the House of Lords heard the repeat of a Government statement on a Coronavirus Inquiry.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: The pandemic has highlighted the vital role that the faith and voluntary sectors play in our society, particularly in the poorest communities, but initially our engagement was not as well done as it could possibly have been. Will the Minister comment on how the Government intend to include the faith and voluntary sectors in the inquiry so that their role is guaranteed in the future?
On 8th March the Second Church Estates Commissioner responded to a written question from Jim Shannon MP on worship during the covid-19 pandemic:
Jim Shannon:  To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment he has made of whether the online broadcasting of services during the covid-19 outbreak has increased the number of people participating in worship.
In the House of Lords on 14th January 2021 the Bishop of St Albans received written answers to questions on vaccines for developing countries and the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia while the Bishop of Durham received answers to questions on the recent updated report by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England on Poverty in the pandemic.
Meanwhile in the Chamber, the Bishop of Birmingham raised the issue of devolution in England with the Government during Lord Young’s Oral question about the formation of a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission. Text below: