Christianity in Public Life

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 2:30 pm, 11th March 2009

I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from. I think that he, like me, heard the Bishop of London speak yesterday, when he advocated that politicians show a degree of reticence about speaking a great deal about their personal inspiration. We lead by example and we should be open about these matters, but that tradition of British reticence has something in it.

Let me return to my central point, which is the contribution of the Christian community to the marginalised and the most disadvantaged. I wonder whether other Members do the same as I do when constituents come to see me on a Friday, having found that their benefit application has not been processed. I say that with the best will in the world and I know that Jobcentre Plus staff work hard, but a family in that position might have no food in the house for the whole weekend. That was a real problem to me when I was a new MP, because I did not know what to do, until someone helpfully pointed out that Salvation Army centres often have food to give out in such circumstances. I am extremely lucky to have in my constituency Salvation Army centres in both Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable, so I know what I can do to help my constituents. A colleague told me today that the Vineyard church does the same in her constituency.

I praise the work of food banks up and down the country. I have had contact with the Trussell Trust, from Salisbury, which also operates in Swindon. It is trying to set up a network of food banks across the country and it happens to be run by a Christian organisation. That sort of work is tremendously valuable. We all accept that there are limits to what the state can or even should do, but that sort of partnership working is critical if we are talking about families who might otherwise go without food on a Friday night.

On work with the homeless, last September I spent some time with the Watford New Hope Trust, an organisation that involves a group of Christians from many different churches in Watford doing the most fantastic work. In the field of criminal justice, I wonder if the Minister is aware of the excellent street pastors initiative? I do not know whether it operates in his constituency, but it is starting to set up in mine. It has some support from the Home Office and I saw in a written answer that it received a small grant. That organisation works closely with police forces across the country.