Places of Worship: Covid-19

Housing, Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons on 16th November 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

What assessment the Government have made of the transmission rate of covid-19 in places of worship where social distancing restrictions were in place.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We are grateful to our faith communities for their efforts in ensuring that their places of worship are as covid-secure as possible. However, the view of the scientific community, including the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, is that there is a greater risk of the virus spreading indoors and where people gather. Regrettably, this means that places of worship are currently closed for communal prayer but remain open for individual prayer.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

I thank the Minister for her reply. Given the serious implications of criminalising worship and the hardship it has caused churches and religious communities, will the Government commit to publishing their evidence base and to consulting fully and widely with faith groups before any future decisions on applying restrictions to worship are made?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I do not underestimate the concern that this has caused for our religious communities, but the evidence from the scientific community, including SAGE, shows that the virus spreads quicker indoors and where people gather and interact. We are incredibly grateful to those who have taken part in the places of worship taskforce for their support and advice. We continue to call on their expertise and that of all major faith groups ahead of the regulations ending on 2 December, and we will continue to have those conversations over the next two weeks.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Faiths, Women and Equalities)

The Government created a places of worship taskforce in May, but the taskforce has been ignored and has repeatedly not been consulted on these very consequential decisions during the pandemic. Does the Minister agree that our people of faith do not deserve to be an afterthought for the Government but must instead be respected, and will she commit to the Government meeting weekly with the taskforce to avoid this problem being repeated?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I have to disagree strongly with the hon. Lady’s assertion that the taskforce has not been consulted. It has been led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. We have listened to the views of the community leaders and individuals around the table, and evidence has been shared. I can agree to her call for a weekly meeting, because the taskforce already meets weekly.