Christianity in Public Life

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:03 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 3:03 pm, 11th March 2009

I will. Even though we do not agree politically, we both respect Ben and all he does, and I thank my hon. Friend—in this respect—for highlighting what that wonderful organisation does in all parts of the world. We must recognise that aspect, too, because we are talking about Christianity in public life not just in this country, but in the wider sphere.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is not directly responsible for the role of religious buildings in communities, because that has been parked with the Treasury. However, it is worth mentioning their role because it affects communities. We underestimate the fact that a religious building is often the single most important building in many communities. All hon. Members know that we have been arm-wrestling the Treasury for some time on the subject of Anglican churches. I respect the fact that that does not include other denominations, such as Catholicism and non-conformism, or other religions, but we have been trying to arm-wrestle money, or at least tax exemptions, to secure recognition that in many of our communities such buildings are crucial institutions.

Religious buildings are often the last to receive any form of public support, which is quite wrong when they undertake huge amounts of community work. I am quite happy to have the condition laid down that if they receive public money, they should be available to the public. That is what Christian institutions should do anyway; they should reach out to people of all faiths and none, but we cannot allow those cornerstone buildings of our communities to be funded almost literally on a wing and a prayer. Many of them are enormously important in terms of their architectural heritage and their whole being—the way in which communities relate to them and use them—so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will chase that up with the Treasury and clarify the issue.

There are three different bids on the table: the Treasury's own analysis, one from the Church of England, and one from English Heritage. I hope that a few heads will be banged together and that we achieve some clarity, because we cannot have Christianity in public life unless we have a place to go to witness it and to talk to people, regardless of whether we do so for a religious purpose. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that as a nudge to talk to the Treasury, as we too often lose such buildings not because other people take them on but because they fall down. They have to be turned into mausoleums, but they are really important buildings, so I hope that my hon. Friend will take on the issue, and that those buildings will become a real edifice for the way in which Christianity functions in our society.