Christianity in Public Life

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:19 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 4:19 pm, 11th March 2009

I congratulate Andrew Selous on securing this debate, which I am sure every Member will agree has been stimulating and thought-provoking. A leading member of the all-party group on Christians in Parliament, he has brought his experience and knowledge to this debate.

I shall begin by stating what I believe. Britain today, as it has been throughout its history, is a wonderfully diverse country with a number of faiths, but it sees itself predominantly—I choose my words carefully—as an implicitly Christian nation. My hon. Friend Mrs. Hodgson mentioned the 2001 census in her tremendous and thought-provoking intervention. In the last census, which was not too long ago, people of this country had the opportunity to register the fact that they had a faith or that they had no faith. Some 74.6 per cent. of people chose deliberately to describe themselves as Christian, and 5.4 per cent. claimed adherence to a religion other than Christianity. At this point I should like to say that I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the Jedi knights, on which Mr. Goodman elaborated.

Not all those who identify with a faith are regular worshippers. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that for a great many people, religious background is an integral part of self-identity. Their faith can provide them with a comfort and a sense of moral purpose. One of the key themes of today's debate is that a number of people are drawn by their faith into public life as a means of bettering the condition of society. The relationship between politics and faith-based morality has been and is a strong one.

Politics should not be merely bureaucratic or managerial in its intent and purpose, but should be enlivened and deepened through a sense of value, principles and morals. Harold Wilson famously said that the Labour party is a moral crusader or it is nothing. Today's Labour party, which was born of the marriage of trade unionism, nonconformist religion and politics in the age of the industrial revolution, remains strongly committed to the principles of furthering progressive politics through such means as eradicating poverty, increasing equality and improving opportunity for all.

Some people draw their moral compass through faith and others through secularism. Let me elaborate on that. Very often people are drawn to public life through their faith. Certainly in the fields of international development, environmental campaigning and the politics of climate change, faith groups have played an enormous role, particularly in the Jubilee debt campaign and the hugely successful Make Poverty History campaign, which the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire mentioned in his opening remarks, as well as monitoring progress and putting pressure on politicians to achieve the millennium development goals.

In my own constituency, the Hartlepool for Global Peace and Justice group, which is a predominantly Christian group, works hard and effectively to promote international development. It was instrumental in ensuring that Hartlepool became a fair trade town, which is something that councils and local housing institutions now push actively. It is appropriate to mention that, given that fair trade fortnight has just finished. Such groups have a real role to play in local politics.