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The Church of England is involved in reconciliation work, both at home and abroad, and most recently on the international scene, the leadership of the Church of England has worked with the Roman Catholic Church on peace-building in Sudan, convening a meeting of Sudanese leaders in the Vatican. The Archbishop of Canterbury identified reconciliation as one of the key priorities for his tenure.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the veracity with which you have chaired this House and the firm but kind way in which you have held that office. We recognise your service, but also the sacrifice you have made for this Parliament and our democracy.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her reply and also wish her well in her retirement. Our communities are divided and so many people across our country are broken at this time, so what is the Church of England doing to drive forward a process of peace and reconciliation for the future of our country?
There is an active proposition to initiate a reconciliation process, run out of Coventry. The cathedral of Coventry has a mission for peace and reconciliation because of its heritage. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spearheaded this offer. I do not know much about retirement, but I have offered to help with this process, because there is no doubt that we need to heal the divisions in our society. The Church has the necessary infrastructure—a cathedral in every city; a church in every parish—to help us to do this.
May I also pay huge tribute to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, who has done an amazing job?
With regard to paying tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury and His Holiness the Pope, I was in the Vatican representing the Prime Minister. The work is amazing. Does the Second Church Estates Commissioner agree that one key thing that we need to do is to ensure that our diplomats have appropriate religious literacy training so that they can carry on such work on religious reconciliation around the world?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I certainly welcome him to this Question Time in his role as the special envoy for freedom of religion and belief. He can do important work within the Foreign Office to deliver on promises that officials will be required to undertake religious literacy training before postings to countries where it is really important to understand the role of religion in the culture and life of those nations.
What is the Church of England doing to help women leaving prison to strengthen family and community ties?
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to say on behalf of colleagues that we are hugely grateful to my right hon. Friend for her service to us here and to the Church in her role as the 41st Second Church Estates Commissioner. She has listened and acted as a wise counsel and an adviser behind the scenes to the Church, the General Synod, the Government and the many colleagues here who have raised concerns with her about the big questions of the day: the persecution of Christians overseas, Church schools and buildings, and strengthening our communities.
My right hon. Friend has helped the cause of getting mothers’ names on marriage certificates and has been a great all-round advocate for the role of faith in public life—not forgetting, too, that she was our first female Second Church Estates Commissioner. She will, I am sure, continue to be a positive voice and a presence for people of faith outside this place, and she will be greatly missed here.
Those are such kind words, and I will treasure them; I really appreciate the thought that went into expressing them. On the work of our prison chaplains and in particular the focus on ex-prisoners being reconciled into their communities, my hon. Friend is right. I did in fact host a meeting in Parliament with Bishops Christine and Rachel of Newcastle and Gloucester respectively, which focused on the great need there is to provide a suitable transition for women as they leave prison and return to the community and to address some of the long-standing issues from which they suffer. I commend the work of the Re-Unite project in Gloucester and the Anawim women’s centre in Birmingham; they are doing a remarkable job in helping these women make that transition.
Fiona Bruce has offered a beautiful tribute, but every word of it was richly deserved by the right hon. Lady.