HC Deb 13 February 1989 vol 147 cc24-68 3.41 pm
Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove)

I beg to move, That this House recognises the different but complementary roles of the Church and State in our society; and calls on all sections of the Church, including that by law established, to fulfil their leading role in the promotion of moral values.

I move this motion with some diffidence, as I have no wish, nor is it any part of my purpose, to give offence. I am conscious that I am one of the frailer vessels on the Ecclesiastical Committee and I am most grateful that other hon. Members are to take part in the debate. I very much regret the absence of the Ecclesiastical Committee members. The Committee is to meet the archbishops later today. In particular I regret the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) who has provided me with much help, encouragement and information, and who, I know, wished to take part in the debate. I acknowledge also my debt to the Earl of Lauderdale and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). None of them wishes, of course, to take any responsibility for my remarks.

All four of us are members of an organisation called Church In Danger, but the debate purposely goes wider than the Church of England, as is recognised by the presence of the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) who I am sure will lend wit, wisdom and a wider perspective to our deliberations. Despite the advice and fears of many of my hon. Friends about my temerity in raising the subject, I felt that I should take this opportunity to air matters that have been giving me cause for much concern.

Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman (Lancaster)

And many others, too.

Sir Hal Miller

The origin of the concern in my own case is the growing perception that Church spokesmen are speaking with a great deal of certainty in the realm of politics but with increasing uncertainty in the realm of things of the spirit. Thus, in the past year one diocesan newsletter in my diocese was headed "Tax Cuts are Immoral". Another was devoted to a consideration of our nuclear defence policy. Other bishops have attacked the deregulation of buses and the proposals that schools should opt out of local authority control and, most recently, I heard one bishop looking forward to attacking the proposals in the White Paper on health.

I am not, of course, objecting to the clergy's right to have political views or to express them, but they should not express those political views in their guise as clergymen or bishops, with the sacred authority thus implied. In other words, I do not believe that they have the right to speak on such matters from the pulpit or the throne. I find it odd and offensive that clerical spokesmen can, apparently, deny the basic beliefs of the creed, contemplate the ordination of divorced people—I speak as a divorced person—and purport to celebrate homosexual marriages.

It seems that the church is becoming a battleground—I nearly said playground—for activists with distinctively minority views. Labour Members are only too panfully aware, as reselection looms, of what that involves, and the Synod of the Church of England is in danger of attempting to give some of those views an elective authority that cannot stand comparison with the authority of this House. We ceded authority to the Synod to manage Church affairs without interference from the House, not to run political campaigns, however sincerely felt. I shall come back to the question of establishment later.

I have been a Member of Parliament for 15 years, during which time I have seen at least three political theories in action. I ask myself how the Church can safely abandon the eternal for the obviously temporal.

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Hall Miller

No, as I am still in my introductory phase.

This apparent increase in the Church's concern about the political has been accompanied, in a curious transposition of roles, by an increase in state concern for the moral, such as state insistence on religious education in schools, which was questioned in the House of Lords by one of the Lord bishops. There has also been state insistence on the responsibility of the individual in a variety of spheres, in which my hon. Friend the Minister of State has played a part.

Mr. William Powell

Is it my hon. Friend's experience that those churches where the strongest spiritual message comes from the leadership are the fullest and those where the political message is most enhanced are the emptiest?

Sir Hall Miller

My hon. Friend has made his point. My understanding is that the churches where there are enthusiastic beliefs have full attendances.

I want shortly to turn to where I see the solution lies to the seeming contradictions, but I want first to deal with the moral basis of our present system of democratic capitalism. I speak as one who was originally reared on the Christian Socialism of F. D. Maurice and R. H. Tawney, supplemented—almost redeemed, I might add—by William Temple. We are now seeing the worldwide realisation that Socialist centralised planning and Socialist management have not only failed to deliver the economic goods and the means of ministering to the poor, but that the price in terms of human rights has been too high to pay for illusory equality.

In Russia, we see a move to provide greater rights, but political freedom may give rise to more demands than the still shackled economy can meet, while in China, economic processes are being freed first, giving rise to greater political demands than the state can perhaps meet. Therefore, we should be thankful that we and other advanced economies are living under a system of democratic capitalism. A free economy is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for a free society. By itself, a free economy is not a sufficient condition for a free society. Just as I have departed from Socialism in advocating a free economy, so I am departing from libertarianism.

The individual in the free economy needs to recognise his responsibilities as well as his rights. Here we see the field of play for moral values. The Socialist will seek to impose such values, but the libertarian will deny them. History ruefully records that states are no more moral than individuals' actions. I speak as a former civil servant. There is no greater morality in public rather than private expenditure, and state monopolies are no more admirable and no more conscious of their customers than are private monopolies. We are up against the problem of self-will. As William Temple reminded us There is no Christian solution to the problem of self-will. It is what distinguishes us from the rest of creation. if we seek to deny it, we deny our creation. We have therefore to inform and guide it. That is the supreme role of the Church.

Too often, we politicians are presented with imperatives—for example, on abortion. I do not believe in abortion, and I hope that I would be able to sustain that belief in my own family life. But, as a politician, I must recognise not only that there is a minority of Church believers in this country but, more important, that there must be a policy to deal with situations in which abortions would otherwise be carried out in back streets, at high cost and with even greater danger to health.

Surely the Church can recognise original sin and self-will. How can the Church want us to legislate it away? We know that individuals have the potential for good and evil. Surely we should aim to increase the field of action of the good. Is it not our experience that individuals and small units—small groupings of people—when giving rein to the good, gain added strength? Should we not welcome possibilities for the provision of more flexible, more local bus services, for example, or return to schools more control over their own destinies? Should we not try to do the same thing in the Health Service? There should be more funding, certainly, but there should also be more say to those providing the service and more tapping of local enthusiasm, initiative and loyalty. Again, if tax cuts yield more revenue for more such expenditure, as has already happened, what is immoral about that?

As we achieve more economic freedom and more choice, the Church needs to remind us more of our responsibilities—our individual responsibilities. In our diversity of callings, we need the light of faith and the standards which the Church can provide.

So I come finally to the position of the Church of England, by law established. It is in a unique position to understand and minister to our needs, embedded as it is in our national life, being the result of the Act of Settlement 1700. As such it has a wider role than any other Church and in a real sense belongs to more people than merely to its members. Of course, it may, in effect, opt out of that position and responsibility. However, its schism would contain the potential for greater rifts. Therefore, I very much hope that its leaders will pull back from the merely partisan and the temporal and continue to promote the beliefs to which they gave express assent, as well as continuing to minister to us who have such need of them.

3.55 pm
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)

I welcome the fact that we are discussing this matter today. Although the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) has been moderate—I appreciate the fact that he says that he comes from a Christian Socialist background—unfortunately some of his colleagues, including some of his hon. Friends, still consider the Church of England to be the Tory party at prayer. They believe that politics should be left to Tory politicians and that only they have the right to be concerned with such matters. They believe that the Church of England should be concerned only with the saving of individual souls.

Their objective is either to maintain the status quo—as long as that equates with the present economic capitalist system—or, if changes are to take place, to remove the welfare state, trade union rights, the National Health Service, council house building and local authority rights in the interests of business, especially big business.

As somebody who was born into the Church—I am sure that I will die a member of the Church—I am passionately concerned with the interests of my Church. I believe that the Church has a right to involve itself in politics. Indeed, it has a duty to do so. The politics of the Church should be the politics of the early Christians. As Bishop Sheppard of Liverpool said in his book, there should be a "Bias to the Poor".

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove referred to Archbishop William Temple who said—I agree with him—that Christianity must criticise actual institutions in the light of its own social principles, because it aims, not at the salvation of individuals one by one, but at that perfect individual and social welfare, which is called the Kingdom of God or the Holy City".

The arguments that we shall hear today against the bishops—we hear them regularly from Conservative Members—were used against Archbishop Temple in the past. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that in 1934 William Temple wrote to The Times urging Neville Chamberlain, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, not to decrease income tax but to restore cuts which had been made in unemployment benefit. Neville Chamberlain was furious. That is perhaps a mild word to use. He was absolutely mad. He wrote to The Times: When I read that letter I thought it was a pity that the Archbishop should suggest, as it seems to me he did by implication, that MPs require to be reminded of humanitarian feelings which otherwise would not occur to them. The archbishop was right to send his letter. Members of Parliament, certainly some in the House today, have to be reminded of humanitarian feelings. If Christians are not genuinely concerned with the spiritual welfare of people, they must be concerned with the material needs of people. There is no contradiction in that.

Let me recall again the words of the Magnificat. It is much more revolutionary in some senses than the Communist manifesto. The Magnificat reads: He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. That does not fit in with some of the concepts which Tory Members may accept.

There was an interesting and great Roman Catholic professor of political economy of the university of Naples in 1890 who said in his book on Christian Socialism: According to St. Jerome, opulence is always the result of theft, if not committed by the actual possessor, then by his predecessors. That is not much different from what many Socialists have said in the past. I believe that to be true.

We should also remember that Acts 4, 32 states that the members of the first Christian communities were of one heart and of one soul, neither said any of them that aught of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. St. Cyprea in "Of Works and Arms" said: When at the first beginnings of the Church the mind flourished with great virtues, when the soul of the believers burned with a glow of faith yet new, then they had all things common, they initiated the divine law, the equality of God the Father. I believe that. That was why I am both a Christian and a Socialist. I do not find that the concepts I hold as a Socialist are any different from the beliefs I was brought up with.

Many Tory Members have got away from the basic concepts of the Christian Church. They have forgotten how it started and what it is about. It is true that at some stage it became the state religion, so turned into its opposite, like Marxism in Russia. It, too, became the opposite of what it began as. That is not new—unfortunately, it happens too often—but that does not mean that those who began the process—the early Christians and early Socialists—were wrong. It means that those who came afterwards distorted what those who began the process believed. That is what I have always thought. I see no difference between the two, and I find it difficult to understand the arguments of some Tory Members.

I do not disagree with what the Church has been doing recently. In the past I have been a critic of our bishops. Their report on the bomb was excellent. I am only sad that the Synod has overturned it. Fair enough, that is a democratic decision. I fully agree with chapter 3 of "Faith in the City" which deals with theological priorities.Paragraph 3.3 states: In this country we are confronted by an acute form of relative poverty—officially recognised as 'multiple deprivation'—that is particularly concentrated in the Urban Priority Areas, and that is caused to a great extent by circumstances beyond the control of those affected by it. There is a clear Christian duty to respond to this situation and 'remember the poor' in our urban priority areas. Can anybody disagree with that?

The report continues: It is against the background of the excessive individualism of much Christian thinking in the nineteenth century that we must place Marx's perception that evil is to be found, not just in the human heart, but in the very structures of economic and social relationships. This perception is also found to a notable degree in the Old Testament [from which … Marx may have derived it] where there is explicit recognition of the inevitable tendency of the rich to get richer and the poor poorer unless some constraint is imposed to limit the freedom of individuals to profit without restraint from a market economy. That is the right approach for my Church.

Today in Latin America, Asia and Africa there is a growth is what is called liberation theology. "Faith in the City" states: To all of us, the example of Liberation Theology opens up the possibility that new priorities, as well as new methods, can restore to us a theology, that is truly relevant to the needs and aspirations of people today. Therefore we have to apply the new theology to the situation that exists in Britain today. I accept that. We cannot talk about liberation theology only in Latin America. Hon. Members who saw last night's programme about the Sudan will have been made ill. Everyone who is a genuine Christian must have felt sick, seeing the poverty and misery that exists in the Sudan, Ethiopia, Latin America and various parts of Asia.

What about our poverty? We cannot act to solve the problem too quickly. We are a rich nation. What about our poverty? We have to do something about it. Therefore, I agree with "Faith in the City" that we must concern ourselves equally with what is happening in our own country.

One example is housing. When I think of the Government's record and policy on housing, and of the needs of our people, I remember what the report says about housing. In the section headed "Public Housing: the Way Forward", paragraph 10.72 on page 250 states: The great importance of the public housing ideal was that it broke the link between poverty and living conditions. The poor did not have to live in poor housing. But this link is now being re-established … Net capital spending was cut by 44 per cent. in volume terms between 1975–76 and 1979–80 and by 52 per cent. in cash terms between 1979–80 and 1984–85. The result is that the number of new homes started in the public sector has dropped over the last decade from 174,000 in 1975 to 38,000 in 1984. At the same time there has been a shift in expenditure away from the metropolitan districts and London in favour of the shire districts.

In the conclusion to the chapter on housing, the report states: What is beyond dispute we believe is that a continuing emphasis upon home ownership alone will not solve the housing problems of the urban priority areas. That is liberation theology as argued by the Church in Britain, and I believe that it is absolutely right.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The passage which the hon. Gentleman, perfectly understandably, has just read to the House is the best illustration that one could find of where the Church—the best motives—is commenting upon matters that are very much within the judgment and responsibility of politicians, whether at local or at national level. Some of us would have been much happier if "Faith in the City" had directed its attention to saving the souls of the people rather than making political judgments on how housing might be improved.

Mr. Heffer

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman said that, because he has made my point for me. If they want to save souls, they had better house the people properly. If they want to save souls, that had better give the people decent jobs and full employment. If they want to save souls, they had better become concerned with personal relationships and what is happening at home. That is what Christianity and Socialism are about. The hon. Gentleman has attacked the report, just as some of his hon Friends have attacked the bishops, precisely because they have asked vital questions that are apposite to the needs of the people. I believe that the Church has come down, rightly, on the side of doing something about the problems.

In his book "Essays on Christian Politics and Kindred Subjects", William Temple said: It is not possible to limit Christianity to the individual alone. Christianity appeared in the world as a society. It was not indeed a society with a finished constitution presenting what officers it should have, or what its specific aims should be. I agree with that.

Unlike some people in Moslem and other countries, I do not believe that Christians want to have a theocratic state. I do not agree with the Christian Democrats in Europe, who wish to involve themselves in political affairs and say, "This is what we shall impose on society." The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is as good a Christian as I am. I accept that people who have different political views are sincere Christians. We may argue about our interpretation of Christianity, but I do not want us as Christians to say that we shall impose our views on other people. I am sure that most other hon. Members will accept that. It is a question of our basic ideals of Christianity.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the basic ideals of Christianity is that there should be one man and one woman for life?

Mr. Heffer

I do not argue with that. I have done rather well in that regard. But I believe that Christians should have compassion and understanding for people who may move in different directions from ourselves When Conservative Members have strayed, I have been asked by the press for my views. I have said that it is a matter for them, not for me to sit in judgment. I am not God and I do not pretend to have Godlike powers. I look to Him to help me to come to my views on issues, but I do not sit easily in judgment on other people. One great problem is with people who suddenly find morality. That does not relate to the basic concepts of Christianity.

The Church has gone through many evolutionary phases. At times, it has become the opposite of what was intended. It began as the society of the poor. Later, it was transformed into the religion of the state, and it became all-powerful. A powerful universal state within states was defined by those who wanted to get back to its original principles. During the middle ages, a feeling developed that Christianity should be the poor man's charter. That feeling became the chief contributory cause of the rise of all the movements, whether they were Catholic or supposedly heretical, Franciscan or Waldensian, which were in being from the 13th century onwards. In Britain they were embodied in the ideas of Wycliffe and, in a practical way, in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Troelsch, who studied these movements, was led to describe the period of the later Middle Ages as the "Laiechristentum"—the time of the common man's Christianity.

Political struggles and involvement have been endemic in Christianity from the very beginning, and whether some like it or not, that is still the case today. The rise of Protestantism was part of the struggle for political freedom, for democracy and for the right to speak freely, which is now accepted by most Christians, no matter to which branch of the faith they belong.

The Church has a number of currents within it, the basic concept being the creation of God's kingdom on earth and need to create a society where things are owned in common and where people act together for the commonweal. At the same time, individuals have rights and minds of their own, and they must be given every facility to use them. That is the important point about Christianity. We were given free will. We must use that free will for the benefit of the mass of the ordinary people in society—the poor and the oppressed. I believe that the individual's rights must be part of the collective whole. Those rights, together with the obligations, must be accepted by all.

I shall read extracts from two poems which I believe are essential in understanding why the church and christianity must be involved in politics. George Lovelace, the leader of the Tolpuddle martyrs, was a Methodist preacher. I have never been a methodist, although my mother-in-law is one. After seven years transportation, which was, as it were, given to him by the State at that time, he responded with a poem, "God is Our Guide": God is our guide, from field, from wave, From plough, from anvil, and from loom; We came, our country's rights to save, And speak a tyrant factor's doom; We raise the watchword liberty; We will, we will, we will be free. God is our guide! No swords we draw. We kindle not war's battle fires. By reason, union, justice, law, We claim the birthright of our sires; We raise the watchword, liberty, We will, we will, we will be free!!!

George Lovelace was concerned about the morals of his children. He wrote to his wife Betsy: Be satisfied, my dear Betsy, on my account. Depend on it, it will work together for good and we shall yet rejoice together. I hope you will pay particular attention to the morals and spiritual interest of the children. Don't send me any money to distress yourself. I shall do well, for He who is the Lord of the winds and waves will be my support in life and death.

I shall now read from the hymn or poem, however one looks at it, "Jerusalem" by Blake. It is something which we all sing with fervour in our churches and in our meetings. We must think about what it means: And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England's mountains green? And was the Holy Lamb of God On England's pleasant pastures seen? And did the countenance divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark satanic mills? Bring me my bow of burning gold! Bring me my arrows of desire! Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire! I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land. That is what I believe. I believe that Christianity is about transforming society to make it better. The Church must be involved in politics. It must concern itself with what is happening around us. It must become up to date. If it has to decide on such issues as whether there should be women priests and whether those who are divorced should hold positions in the Church, it is because it must live in modern society. It does not mean that the basic concept is wrong, but that we must accept that the Church must be involved. If it is not involved, it cannot make the contribution that it should in building a new society—in building that Jerusalem—and creating a new world. That is what I believe, and that is why I became involved in this debate.

4.24 pm
Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I know what a good Christian and Englishman the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is, and I share his love of history. However, in all our history we are usually two sides—he would have been a Roundhead and I would have been a Cavalier, but still part of English history. I was much moved by what he said about "Jerusalem". Conservative Members sing that hymn, too.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) on thinking of this motion and on introducing it so well. We rarely debate these important matters, but I have occasionally done so on Adjournment debates. This subject is vital to our health as a nation and it is good that we should spend this afternoon considering it in detail.

When we consider today the condition of England on the one hand, we see a nation that has never been so prosperous, but, on the other, a society bedevilled by crime—much of it violent—drug-taking, drunkenness, vandalism, thuggery and gross dirt and untidiness in our streets and many other public places. Apart from other grave moral failings which have not been mentioned, there is divorce, which is increasing alarmingly, the break-up of families and also, I am afraid, some dishonesty, whether in high places or in low. We appear to have lost in our national life a lot of that cohesion in our towns and villages, which I remember as a boy before the war. We are not as neighbourly as we used to be, perhaps because of modern means of transport and the fact that people move house so often.

It is not, of course, all bad. For example, more is given to charity than ever before in our history. If there has been a falling-off in standards of behaviour and in our manners, why is that so? I believe that it must be because of the failure of parents in the home to bring up their children in the Christian virtues and with the appropriate moral standards.

The Church clearly has a great responsibility. Unfortunately, not only has the number attending services been falling for years, but the number of baptisms and confirmations has too. Although poll after poll shows that most people still believe in God, the Church is irrelevant in their lives.

I have always loved the Church. It supported me in the various crises of my life. I believe that in the end religion is a personal matter, although it has its social side. Ordinary people want to know about fundamentals—why they were born, what they are doing on this earth and how they can cope with tragedies if they come along. They want to know, too, how to deal with sin and evil and to know the means of salvation. Those are the essential matters about which they want to hear from the clergy. But do we hear about those things from our bishops and the clergy? Do they, for instance, denounce the rising divorce rate, fornication or selfishness, or do they hesitate to condemn such matters because it is, perhaps, not fashionable to do so'?

I often feel that the Church tries to compromise too much with the liberal and progressive thinking of the modern age, and hopes by that means that it can fill its churches. I am sure that that is not the right approach. The Pope certainly does not take that route. Perhaps we need among our bishops more John the Baptists.

I believe strongly in the establishment of the Church of England. To dismantle it would be enormously costly and complicated. It would do damage to those occasional churchgoers who in the last resort still depend upon the Church. The Church of England is a marvellous institution. It has a network of parishes covering the entire land and it is available to everyone who wishes to avail himself of it.

I am glad that the bishops are still in the other place, as that reminds us of our Christian heritage as a nation. That does not mean that I agree with everything that they say. There is something wrong with our present system of appointing bishops. Many committees are involved and there is the baleful influence of the General Synod. The old system of the Prime Minister's ecclesiastical secretary taking soundings from all quarters was much better and ensured that all sections of the Church had a fair share and not only the modern section, as now. It is hard, for example, for a Prayer Book man or a man opposed to the ordination of women to be made a bishop or a dean. I was surprised and delighted the other day when I saw that the chaplain of the fleet had been appointed Bishop of Sodor and Man. The chaplains in the services know about life and death; they are familiar with real life. I am glad to see that one of them has been promoted.

We hear that not enough priests are coming forward for ordination and that the standard generally is not high enough. Pay has been much improved but it is still too low when compared with that which is received by many affluent factory workers.

We have heard much today about the Church and politics. Many of the clergy, including the higher clergy, seem obsessed with politics, to the detriment, I believe, of the spiritual. I accept that religion must cover all aspects of life, including politics, but politics alone is not enough and can be harmful. When an all too absorbing interest in politics is compounded by a lack of traditional Christian belief in a Church leader, we have a recipe for disaster. Some time ago there was a meeting between business men and the bishops and clergy. The churchmen asked, "What do you want of us?" The business men replied, quite simply, "Preach the gospel." That sums up my criticism of the present Church leaders.

What is called the Thatcher revolution of the past 10 years is liberating the energies of individuals who give of their best in their careers for themselves and their families on this earth. Why is the Church not making a similar appeal to individuals in spiritual terms? The Church still seems to cling to collectivist solutions, usually meaning more taxpayers' money being directed to every problem, although this has failed so often in the past and notably, and unfortunately, in Scotland. What ecclesiastical leader has there been in the past 10 years to have anything like the influence that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had in the secular sphere, from the shop floor upwards? Would that we could have a leader in the Church as we have in politics.

Our schools bear a heavy responsibility for bringing up people in the Christian traditions. Church schools are vital, but all schools in England should teach Christianity and Christian morals. Unfortunately, that does not happen everywhere nowadays. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is trying hard in that regard.

Unfortunately, the prestige of the clergy has declined since I was born in a country rectory over 70 years ago. Equally unfortunately, the prestige of the teaching profession has declined also. We need our best people in these two professions. We must do all that we can to raise their standing and the respect in which they are held by the public, and above all by the parents of our children.

What about we politicians? What example are we setting? Is it an inspiring example in faith and morals? I shall spare my colleagues any further remarks on that difficult and delicate subject. In recent years, relations between the Church and the House have deteriorated. The Church of England has appeared soft on certain moral issues such as homosexuality among the clergy. A dangerous conflict is arising about the ordination of divorcees while their former spouses are still alive. I have often felt that the ordinary Back Bencher appears more rigorous in these matters than some members of the clergy. That is a sad state of affairs.

Hon. Members may not realise that in some senses they are more representative of the man in the pew than members of the General Synod. I remember how hard some of us fought to try to save the Book of Common Prayer. We prophesied that it would disappear. It has now done so in about four out of every five of our churches, to the irreparable loss of the whole of England.

If bishops did their job properly, there would be no need for the General Synod. The laity could make their views known at parish level. I joined the Synod some years ago on the basis of, "If you can't beat them, join I hem." I have been somewhat disappointed. The Synod meets too often, it seldom discusses basic issues and it is frightfully expensive for the parishes to maintain. Moreover, it is building up a bureaucracy which poses dangers to the well-being of the Church. The Synod takes up too much time of the bishops and the higher clergy. Preferment often seems tied to performance in the Synod instead of in the field. I once asked a chaplain on the Falkland Islands what he thought of the Synod—I hesitate to quote his reply.

I cannot end on an altogether sad note. In spite of the secular and materialistic age in which we live, there is still a longing for religion among many people. Somehow the Church has to appeal more to the hearts and minds of men and women. It must concentrate on essentials. A great evangelical crusade is required in many parts of our land where religion has almost vanished.

I believe that we are still at heart a Christian nation. Christianity has helped to shape our national character and there is still a haze of Christianity over this island. We must all of us in this place help the Churches all that we can to return to historic Christian roots; otherwise, our future will be bleak indeed.

4.38 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) has placed this matter before us for debate this afternoon. As the debate unfolds, we will hear a variety and diversity of Christian views ranging from Christian Socialist to High Tory. There is a great diversity of Christianity in the United Kingdom. There are the established Churches in England and Scotland—the one Episcopal, the other Presbyterian; there is no established Church in Wales or Northern Ireland and in all four nations there is a great diversity of Christian views and denominations increasingly working together.

I speak as a nonconformist, a dissenter, a Free Churchman. I do not have the hang-up about bishops which Conservative Members seem to have. Conservative Members seem to attribute an authority to bishops which causes them to react with increasing violence to anything which a bishop might say with which they disagree. The most vivid example of that must be the comments that surrounded "Faith in the City".

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) said in response to "Faith in the City" that The Church of England was now being run by a load of Communist clerics. A Cabinet Minister was quoted as saying that "Faith in the City" was "pure Marxist theology."

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

Who was the Minister concerned?

Mr. Beith

I am sorry to say that he was not identified. I hope eventually to discover who it was. However, I can identify the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), who questioned whether bishops, although decorative, were any longer entitled to be taken seriously as political commentators with a built-in right to sit in the House of Lords. I often think that it will not be the radical dissenters who disestablish the Church of England, but the Tory party as it discovers increasing disagreement between itself and a body which it somehow expects to support it. It is strange that Tory Members seem to believe that the Church of England exists to support them and give succour to their views.

There is a necessary diversity of Christian views on political solutions. It is inevitable that Christians applying their belief to politics will come up with different solutions and views.

There is also a diversity of religions in the nation, not all of which are Christian. I do not accept the view of those who claim that in an increasingly multicultural Britain Christian values have no relevance. That is a fallacy based on a mistaken notion about multiculturalism in Britain.

One of the products of multicultural Britain is a very large and strong West Indian-based Christianity which is vibrant and sees Christian values as highly relevant to modern society. There are also many Moslems who have much common ground with Christians in their belief about the importance of moral values. The Christian Churches should not go into retreat on moral issues simply because we now have a more diverse nation with Christians of other traditions and others with non-Christian religious views.

When the Prime Minister addressed the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, I saw evidence of this Tory desire to claim the support of the Church. I feel compelled to remind Tory Members that the Christian gospel is about challenge. It is about challenging individuals in personal responsibility, behaviour and spirituality. It is also about challenging those in authority to assess what they are doing in the light of very different claims to those which now seem to dominate them.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove said that he did not question the right of clergy to hold political views—well, there is a concession for a start—but they should not express them in their clerical capacity. I wonder what the hon. Gentleman would have said to the Old Testament prophets. What would he have said as they railed against the evils of the societies in which they found themselves?

Perhaps he would have said, "You are not entitled to express these views in your capacity as a prophet. You may hold them privately, but you may not express them." What would the hon. Gentleman say to the priests in Poland who have supported Solidarity? I suppose he would say, "Of course they are entitled to hold those views, but they should not express them." Surely not. The Prime Minister has often welcomed the way in which the Church in Poland has supported Solidarity and she has welcomed the great alliance between Christianity and the desire for self-expression and democratic rights in Poland.

What would the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and his Friends say to Mother Teresa because she poses a challenge to our society on homelessness and abortion? She demands that we think again about those issues. Would Tory Members say that she has no right to say those things in public because she is a member of a religious order and should therefore keep those things to herself? Surely not. Prophetic words uttered by a remarkable Christian like Mother Teresa or by people whose prophetic voices have an authentic ring are where we are most likely to find the authenticity of the gospel.

The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) suggested earlier that most Churches were most full where Christianity was not considered to be relevant to politics or having a message about politics. I attended the remarkable and vast gatherings of the Spring Harvest evangelical organisation where many people feel very deeply about current moral and political issues.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the point was that the emptiest Churches were those where the doctrine of Christianity was not preached, in other words where secular doctrines were preached to the exclusion of Church doctrine?

Mr. Beith

That was not the point as I understand it. Perhaps the hon. Lady is thinking of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes). I was referring to a point made earlier by the hon. Member for Corby which seemed to carry the import which I have attributed to it.

Petitions are pouring in at the moment from active Christian Churches all over the country about people in South Africa who have dissented from military service in the South African defence forces because of their disagreement with the system in that country. They are coming from active congregations who believe that there is a relationship between the gospel and political issues.

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that I was invited to visit a parish church in Lancaster to give a sermon. That church was packed to the gunwales.

Mr. Beith

I am not at all surprised and quite delighted about that. Having co-authored a book with the hon. Gentleman on those issues, I would have expected a crowd to gather to hear him.

Dave Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Beith

I do not think that this point requires a sequence of interventions.

The note of challenge is bound to be seen as a challenge to this Government. It would be a challenge to any Government, but there are particular challenges for this Government. The most powerful challenge is that the Government appear to have adopted the concept of "passing by on the other side" as an objective of public policy. They believe that that is desirable, but that concept threatens many areas of public policy.

The Government's attitude to apartheid in South Africa and the desirability of acting with other nations to bring pressure to bear on South Africa is that they should leave well alone and stand well back from it. The Government's attitude to many aspects of homelessness is one in which they say, "Well, we'll see what the private sector can do and leave it to them to solve the problem." That attitude is very obvious today in the battle over the funds for hostels which provide for people with special housing needs—for example, women with children who have had to leave home or who have been turned out because of domestic violence and young people with nowhere else to go. Those hostels are unable to meet their commitments on the proposed level of Government funding.

There is a similar willingness to "pass by on the other side" in relation to poverty and the Health Service. I sometimes think that the Prime Minister would have said to the victim in the Good Samaritan story, "Why haven't you got private health insurance? You wouldn't have had to worry."

Mr. John Patten

That is cheap.

Mr. Beith

No. The Prime Minister has given her own interpretation of the Good Samaritan story. She said that the main point is that the Good Samaritan could only provide help because he had prospered, had the means to put the victim in a hotel and could provide for him to stay there for a few days.

There is another side to the story. The dominant aspect in the New Testament is that if we see someone suffering, we must do something about it.

The criticism we make of the Government is that, while we recognise the desirability of helpng people to look after themselves to the greatest possible extent, if there is deprivation, suffering, homelessness and ill-health, for the state to stand by and not take the action that it could is a form of passing by on the other side.

The Gospel imperatives ask the question: Lord, when saw we thee hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee: Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. The imperative is very clear, and the state cannot stand back and say, "We do not intend to do very much, because we believe that the private sector will solve the problems for us—even though there is no proof of that."

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

Between 1974 and 1979, we saw examples of the state attempting to take on certain responsibilities, and to solve problems that had been with us for some time. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about those problems, but a successful way of managing them could not be found in the years between 1974 and 1979. The Prime Minister herself said that for the state to operate, individuals within it must carry out their responsibilities in conjunction with the state. What is wrong with that?

Mr. Beith

As a general proposition, I do not dissent from it, but between 1974 and 1979, the Health Service was, in some respects, in a better state than it is today. If the current Health Service proposals are implemented in full, its deterioration will be much worse.

The hon. Gentleman was seeking some common ground with me, and I wish to establish that common ground. I believe that individuals should be given the greatest possible opportunity to look after their own affairs. I believe that in respect of individual rights, for example, individuals should be protected from an overbearing state. I regret the fact that Conservative Members do not join us in safeguarding individual rights through a Bill of Rights.

I believe also that the tax system should be reformed, so that those having the lowest incomes are given an opportunity to look after themselves, and do not find that they are bearing the heaviest relative burdens that the tax system imposes, so that they too may exercise more responsibility and self-reliance. Getting the balance right, and ensuring that people can behave responsibly—and are given the opportunity to do so—without the state passing by on the other side, is difficult. The criticism that many in the Churches are making of the Government is that they have got the balance wrong: they do appear to be passing by on the other side.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

The hon. Gentleman says that under the last Labour Government—which his party actively supported during that Government's last two years—the National Health Service was in better shape. That comes as a surprise, given that the Health Service was then funded by 40 per cent. less in real terms than it is today, with 60,000 fewer doctors and nurses, and with a 30 per cent. cut in its hospitals' capital growth— compared with a 30 per cent. increase in spending on the capital programme under the present Government. How does the hon. Gentleman explain that?

Mr. Beith

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman goes round the hospitals of this country and asks those who work in them whether they think that the Health Service is better now than it was a decade ago. He will find a degree of anxiety verging on despair.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to debate the second motion on the Order Paper. Without seeking in any way to tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, how to do your job, I shall be grateful if you will ensure, in view of the important debate on town and country planning that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to reach, that discussion of the Health Service does not take up too much time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but the motion now before the House is all-embracing. If there are fewer interventions, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) could proceed more speedily.

Mr. Beith

I will take the hon. Gentleman's hint and not give way for a while. In the interests of lively debate I gave way extensively.

The question of passing by on the other side is not the only one on which many Christians wish to take issue with the Government. There is also the matter of general moral values and the belief that the state, while not legislating on moral values, can to a large extent uphold them. There is much anxiety among Christians about a get-rich-quick morality that seems to supplant older values that one thought had a place, even in the philosophies of Conservative Members. A whole series of incidents emphasises that fear.

Today's newspapers report yet another stage in the saga of the sale of cemeteries by Westminster city council. The idea that it is proper for a public body to sell off its cemeteries for 15p, see £1 million profit made out of them, and then try to silence the official who could reveal much of the truth of what went on and who has been critical of the councillors involved shows that a different kind of morality prevails than many Christians feel is appropriate.

On Sunday trading, we see the Government's apparent determination to bring about a state of affairs where Sunday will be like all other days, with those working in the retail trade having no protection for their family life. That is seen by many Christians as an assault on basic Christian values and on a basic aspect of our society.

In saying that such matters pose a challenge to a Conservative Government, I am not saying or suggesting that Christianity poses no challenge to people who hold other political views. I would have been more impressed if Conservative Members had shown more awareness of that. I see a challenge to my own political beliefs. There is also in the Christian gospel a challenge to Socialist beliefs. If either of our parties were in government, we would expect the Churches to be critical of some of the things we were doing—perhaps because we were not doing enough of something or underestimating important values.

There is criticism also of Parliament as a whole. For an issue of such moral importance as abortion, affecting whether or not life can proceed, to be one that Parliament is unable to decide because its own procedures fail to allow a widely supported private Member's Bill to be decided upon is an indictment of this House. Many Christians find that intolerable and impossible to comprehend. If the House does not take action to ensure that it can legislate—it was only able to do in 1967 because the Government provided time—that will be an affront to many Christians.

The Churches promote moral values and spirituality, and will continue doing so. However, in doing so they are bound to come into conflict with the Government of the day. They are bound to come into conflict with the present Government and with future Governments. When I hear suggestions that the Churches are wrong to come into conflict with the Government, and are wrong to speak out when they do, I am very fearful. That is not the way we should speak to the Churches of this country.

4.56 pm
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

One of my ancestors killed Thomas à Becket. Others left France in 1698, on the repeal of the edict of Nantes, to save themselves from the vengance of the French king against the huguenots. Therefore, in my blood I have always been conscious of 700 years or more of conflict between Church and state. Perhaps that is why I am wholly unable to support the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller)—although I welcome his courage and determination in presenting for debate a subject that can never be explored too often.

As a communicant member of the Church of England, I cannot see any good reason for continuing the long-established tie between Church and state. I rest my case on the Magna Carta which, right hon. and hon. Members will recall, states that the English Church shall be free. Is the Church honestly free, when No. 10 Downing street appoints its bishops? If No. 10 does not appoint the bishops, can somebody tell me who does? No. 10 is meant to do so.

Recently, as a member of the House of Commons prayer group, I was fortunate, with other hon. Members, to be part of the national prayer breakfast group in Washington. There were 134 Christian churches represented there, among the Christian-based prayer groups of 134 Parliaments. I dare swear that not one of them, other than the British Church, is subservient to its state.

Last summer, the matter was brought home strongly to me when the Copyright Bill, on which we all laboured so mightily, went to the House of Lords. It had come from there in a terribly tattered state, and was returned there by this House in a much better one. My interest is computer software, and I went to the House of Lords to check that nothing dreadful happened to any of our precious amendments to the Bill. I looked over from my stance as a Member of the House of Commons to see a pair of muslin sleeves and a billowing cloud of red silk leaning back on the Benches, gently snoring as if "Barchester Towers" were still in the writing.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

It is.

Miss Nicholson

I hope not—I would be appalled.

I believe most strongly that the time is long past when the Church of England should have been disestablished from the state.

I also disagree with the motion because we live in a multi-faith society. The year 1871 was a splendid year, when one of my great-grandfathers crossed the Floor of the House from the dying Liberal party to the reviving, thriving Conservative party, to join another two of my great-grandfathers, who had so rightly tempted him over.

My fourth great-grandfather took the cloth and became a curate in London. I bought my house in London because it was at the end of the street where he had been curate. When I went to church and told the vicar, he looked down his nose and firmly said, "Which curate? In 1871 we had six." My goodness, how the Church of England has tumbled since then. I want a stronger Church of England, not a weaker one.

Today, we live in a multi-faith society. Many faiths with many glorious writings, preachings and teachings form that society. For that reason, the motion is too narrow. It talks about the Church's leading role in the promotion of moral values. What morals? Morals are only customs. Today, the young most certainly will not listen to talk from Parliament—a Parliament that includes the Church—on their sexual behaviour, and nor should they. That is a matter for the individual.

What matters are the laws that we pass, which should ensure, in my view as a practising Christian, that the state gives the best possible credence to the values that we place on each other. As many people say—and I believe it to be true—our society's values are derived from many wider sources than mere Christianity. I am tempted to ask, "Why on earth involve the Church in the promotion of moral values?"—if that is the aim.

The Church is riddled with faults. The Christian Church has long been known as the combative Church which created violence, war and assaults. We need only look at St. Paul's Gospel to see that, according to him, all men and women are not equal before God, as they are in Christianity. The Church has been notably untruthful. It has been involved in creative accounting of the most amusing sort. In the 15th century—not that I was there then, I hasten to say, but I have read my history books—the Christian Church in France sought and obtained deliverance from fish on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, on the ground that anything shot within 15 miles of the sea shore counted as fish.

We have to agree that the Church is made up of very ordinary people, and people are often wrong. They are sometimes wrong in simple ways—even in their translation of the Bible. For example, Joseph's "coat of many colours" did not contain many colours but it had long sleeves, which at last makes sense of that chapter of the Bible. Joseph had been promoted over his brother: workmen had short sleeves, the overseers had long ones. It was a case of "jobs for the boys".

The Church should, and must, be involved for a much deeper and more valid reason, which is that it is the embodiment of Christianity. Therefore, to me as a Christian—I shall not go into why, because it would take too long—the twin leading roles of the Church are not those in the motion, but to teach us the worship and love of God, who is all around us in every possible way, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Those must be the reasons for involving the Church in our lives in any way, shape or form, be it in politics or any other aspect of our public or private lives. From those two New Testament commandments from Christ spring the practice and principles of public and private morality.

The concept of the public good surely comes from the notion of "Love thy neighbour". It makes us sensitive to our neighbours' needs and it gives us the determination of will to do everything that we can for the good of our neighbours.

It is sometimes difficult to believe that we in Parliament have any Christian principles at all. At my Sunday school I was taught certain concepts of behaviour that fell within the Christian pattern: for example, the lack of hatred of other people and the lack of screaming, noisiness and horribleness to each other. I have to say that I have been in Parliament for 20 months and such behaviour, almost more than anything else, has been the order of the day. Yet we pretend that we are following Christian principles. Is it really too late to reform Parliament and to make us be just a little more Christian towards each other? I do not think so—I think we could well achieve that.

I am glad that we do not have the Ecclesiastical Committee with us today. We can speak as perfectly ordinary Christians, with our weaknesses. We might have felt hampered if we were before an Ecclesiastical Committee with its firm role of putting forward goodness. I am delighted that it is away on synodical business. The only weakness of my proposal to disestablish the Church is that it will fall into the clutches of that dull body, the Synod. I would that more Back-Bench Members from both sides of the House belonged to the Synod, because that would make it a more interesting, cheerful and spicy place.

Christianity also gives people the strength to be bold. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned the Church in Poland. I was fortunate enough to meet the elected President of Poland in Washington. It is marvellous that such a post exists. The man is a strong Christian. He told me, for about half an hour, how his Christian principles gave him the strength to return to Poland to debate with Solidarity and the non-elected Government.

Christianity gave the head of the Methodist Church in Japan, whom I also met in Washington, the strength to write the most bold and challenging letters to Japan's Prime Minister complaining desperately that Shintoism appeared to be part of the Emperor Hirohito's funeral rites. Shintoism is the worship of the Emperor that was outlawed after the second world war. That brave man had also written to the White House. The first visitor to the new order of President Bush at the White House was Japan's Prime Minister 10 days ago.

Christianity has given the nuns in southern Africa whom I know so well the strength to continue their missionary activities. Church of England missionary activities are long outdated, and as a Christian, I deeply regret that. If we believe in Christianity, we should certainly want to convert people to our faith. If we do not, why bother to pretend that we are Christians? It gives those nuns the strength to try to convert people from their sometimes miserable behaviour, in terms of what they believe and whom they worship. It also gives the nuns the strength to combat that worst of all evils, apartheid, and to do it with courtesy, dignity and Christian morality. Christianity gives us great strength to help other people.

Let me return to my theme of the disestablishment. Once before, the Church of England can, with far greater power and much louder voice, help to set the political agenda. In my view, the eradication of poverty has to be at the top of that agenda. I believe strongly that we have at last, through the exercise of, dare I say it, Conservative principles, been able to make this country much wealthier. Now, we can and must turn to the eradication of poverty, not just in the United Kingdom but in the developing countries as well.

The difference between the two sides of the House is not in the eradication of poverty but in how we achieve it. I still detect in the Opposition a delightful but outdated and irrelevant paternalistic concept of giving to others to try to help them in their poverty. But we cannot buy off poverty. If that were possible, it would have been bought off years ago. We have to be far cleverer than that. With our determination to help others and our Christian principles at the fundament of what we do, we must devise ways of helping people to conquer their own poverty, giving them the dignity of looking after their own affairs and helping them to reach that most splendid and proper position—the true dignity of being a human being.

Therefore, I have to oppose the motion, although I applaud the sentiments and concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove. I particularly applaud his goodness and integrity as a human being, which are based on his fundamental Christian ideals. But for me, the primary task of Christianity must be the love of God, and the living out of Psalm 104: Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord. To do that I believe that the Church of England should be cast adrift from the state so that it can once more help people in the United Kingdom come to God, worship God and help us all love our neighbours and ourselves, and in this place through the proper discharge of our political responsibilities.

5.11 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

This is the first debate in 40 years that covers the relationship between Church and state. We have had various discussions about Church Measures and about individual questions, but the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) has done us a service by opening up the possibility for a very wide-ranging debate, which in most countries would be taken for granted.

The idea that we should discuss religion only every 40 years—I have been a Member of Parliament for 39 years—is strange when we consider the enormous political power of religion in other parts of the world. The Vatican has always been powerful. It sent an army here to deal with Pelagius, the first heretic, and to put down Pelagianism. The born-again Christians in America are supposed to have been behind President Reagan and the born-again Moslems in Iran now support the Ayatollah Khomeini. The fundamentalists are burning Salman Rushdie's book because they believe that the blasphemy laws should protect the reputation of Mohammed. The argument between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites is mostly unknown here and not understood in Britain although they each represent a very powerful political force. Although the conflict in Northern Ireland is not primarily about religion there is certainly a theological dimension.

Socialism is a faith too. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove said that he started as Christian Socialist. My definition of a faith is something for which people will die, while a doctrine is what they will kill for; there is all the difference in the world between a doctrine and a faith. People will kill other people because they will not accept their doctrines, but they will die for their faith. I have never heard that anyone has been prepared to die because they held a particular view about the size of the public sector borrowing requirement or what should be the basis on which economic policy was formed.

This debate involves high political argument at a rather more fundamental level. I was brought up to believe that the whole story of the Old Testament was that the kings exercised power and the prophets preached righteousness. That conflict has annoyed some speakers. We are discussing the relations between Church and state, between politics and faith and of each with each other. Although I make no complaint about it, the hon. Member for Bromsgrove made a very strong attack on the Church because Church leaders ventured to have a view on atomic weapons which could obliterate mankind if wrongly used; and on inner cities, where terrible suffering is experienced in this so-called rich society. The archbishop was criticised for preaching reconciliation in the service at the end of the Falklands war. Although the matter has hardly been touched upon, there has been savage anger that a woman should have been ordained as a bishop in the United States of America, and there has been criticism of the social message of Christianity.

The debate takes us back to the reason why the Church of England was established. I have introduced a Bill to disestablish the Church, and I hope that the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) will be a signatory to it when I reintroduce it this Session. I know that it has widespread support. Henry VIII nationalised the Church of England because he was not prepared to have a power outside his own control with command over the hearts and minds of his subjects. There had to be a priest in every pulpit telling the faithful that God wanted them to do what the king wanted them to do. The Church of England was established for exactly the same reason as the Conservative Government nationalised the BBC—it was not a Labour Government that did that. The Conservative Government wanted a pundit on every channel telling people that there was no alternative to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted them to do.

I listen to the economic commentaries every night. At first I was puzzled. Dominic Harrod tells us every night what has happened to the pound sterling to three decimal points against a basket of European currencies. I have never seen a basket of European currencies, but I shall take one next time I go on holiday. Dominic Harrod tells us that every night, and in the morning we see pensioners hurrying to the post office to sell their deutschmarks and buy their yen. It is witchcraft from those who believe that capitalism, Christianity and democracy are indivisible. I say that not as a criticism solely of the Government Front Bench because I see that political infection coming into the policy reviews of the Labour party, so I hope that no one will think that I am making a party political point.

The Dow Jones industrial average exercises greater influence than the Ten Commandments. It is a choice for Mammon against God. Christian Socialists might wish to make that point. We are told about the Bible. My favourite picture in St. Stephen's Hall, of which I have many copies at home, is of Wycliffe's Bible. The House would not allow the Bible to be made available to the public until the middle of the 16th century. When the New Testament was first translated, Tyndall's Bible was smuggled in in bales of hay. Only one copy remains in the Baptists' college in Bristol. One of my proudest possessions is a reproduction of it. It was a Marxist, Allende in Chile, who first made the Bible available to the people there; the bishops did not want the faithful to have a chance to go back to the text. That is why I have never been able to take episcopacy into my system, and I believe in the priesthood of all believers.

Ultimately, politics, debates and legislation always reflect the guiding principles upon which society wishes to rest. Policies may change with circumstances, and no one is more disposable than a politician. Democratic institutions are more fundamental, but ultimately everything will reflect the principles on which society bases itself. A society is either a community or a jungle. We are now in the process of telling people that they have no responsibility for one another. Society has been encouraged for a variety of reasons to abandon that sense of responsibility.

There was a little discussion about the Prime Minister complimenting the Good Samaritan on his wealth: if he had not been rich he would not have been able to help. I am awaiting her comment on the widow's mite for she had no wealth to give but gave all that she had. It cannot be morally right for any Member of Parliament, Churchman or citizen to see a world and society which puts the accumulation of wealth above the most pressing human need.

I was in New York before Christmas. It was the coldest 12 December on record. It is the richest city in the richest country in the world. Homeless people were living on the streets in cardboard boxes.

Mr. Heffer

It happens here.

Mr. Benn

Indeed it does. I am giving the New York example first because the police were arresting homeless people and putting them in warehouses. Some drug addicts attacked each other, so the poor resisted arrest. In the New York Times that day were identical pictures, but they were of homeless people in Armenia—a much poorer country—after an earthquake.

I do not know how society can accept homelessness or the plight of the poor and dispossessed. How can we justify expenditure of enormous sums of money on nuclear weapons when 15 million babies die every year for lack of a vaccine to prevent diarrhoea'? What do we say to bishops who speak out against it? That must be the connection between moral values and political decisions.

There are many views of the Church. One is that its task is only to invite people to seek personal salvation. I can understand those who think that that is all it is about, but there is an element of escape in saying, "Whatever happens to anybody else, I will be saved." There is another view—it is probably even more popular—which is that, if only the rich are kind and the poor are patient, it will be all right when we are dead. I suppose that Socialists say to that type of Christian, "We want it before we are dead. We want it now." That must mean that some of the qualities attributed to the kingdom of heaven should be brought forward to life on earth. It is out of that view that liberation theology, which is immensely powerful in the world, has drawn its strength.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is a scholarly man, and I thought his speech excellent. He took us back to the peasant's revolt and the reverend John Ball who asked: When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? Where in the book of Genesis is there any justification for the class system'? We can carry the thread through to Don Camaro in Latin America who said: If I give food to the poor, I am called a saint; if I ask why the poor have no food, I am called a Communist. There is today the most powerful alliance between Marxists and Catholic priests. There are many people who believe that Karl Marx was the last Old Testament prophet.[Laughter.] The House may laugh, but there are many Christians who believe that. We cannot blame Marx for what happened in Stalin's Russia, any more than we can blame Jesus for what the Inquisition did.

People with profound ideas and faith may create institutions which abuse their power. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton drew attention to that fact. Churches are human organisations. They are bureaucracies. They are like the Labour party: Churches have bishops; we have regional organisers. They both look all the time for heresies. I am not sure that the Church militant would survive with the present national executive committee of the Labour party. I have a feeling that it would be out on its ear. Some of the speeches that I hear made in my party about dissenting Socialists are not so different from what the hon. Member for Bromsgrove said about dissenting bishops. It is always a struggle to allow people to speak their minds, based upon their faith.

One of the most painful and difficult things for the House to remember is that all our liberties were won by breaking the law—by breaking laws passed by Parliament. I refer to the laws which allowed Catholics to persecute independents, or those which allowed independents to persecute Catholics. Jews were kept out of the House. All our rights were won in the name of religious freedom, so the preservation of religious freedom is of great importance.

We now have many religions. We have Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Moslems, Hindus and humanists. If we are to live in peace in a very small world, I believe that we have to teach all religions in all schools so that people have an opportunity to understand what moves the families from which their fellow students come. It is terrifying to me to think of the possibility—I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bromsgrove intended it—of Christianity being taught and other religions in some way lying below the line. In the world in which we live, whites and Christians are a minority. We have to learn about the religions of the world. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West made that point.

Disestablishment is long overdue. Were I to come forward as a member of the hard Left and say, "Establishment has been so successful that we intend to nationalise the Catholic Church and Jews," people would say that I must be mad, and they would be right. What is wrong with establishment is that a Church which should be performing a prophetic function has its leaders appointed by the Prime Minister of the day. I know that it is dressed up in synodical conventions and committees and, as with proportional representation, she can say, "No. 1 or No. 2" on the ballot paper when it arrives at 10 Downing street through the ecclesiastical secretary. I attended the enthronement of the Bishop of Bristol—Bishop Tinsley—when I represented a Bristol constituency, and I heard them order the cathedral to elect him. The appointment is under the power of the state.

It is ludicrous that the House should decide on the liturgy, but we still have ultimate responsibility for it. It is ludicrous that we should pass Measures about the retirement of bishops. We shall have to pass a Measure to allow women to be ordained—they will be ordained—when the House is not necessarily made up of Christians or people of any religious conviction. Since I gave a lecture on disestablishment and introduced my Bill, I have had more correspondence on that subject than almost anything else that I have done because it touches on the central question of what the relationship should be between the kings and the prophets—those who make the laws and those who try to preach righteousness.

I do not suppose that there will be a Division on the motion—the hon. Member may not wish to press it to a vote—but I am grateful to him for allowing us to have this brief debate on an issue which is central to the future of society. I venture this last thought. When the history of the 20th and 21st centuries comes to be written, it will be of Christians and Marxists against capitalists and militarists, and the former will turn out to have upheld the long-term survival of humanity and the preservation of those values which are associated with the teachings in the New Testament.

5.27 pm
Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North)

I apologise to the House for my absence from the beginning of the debate—I notified Mr. Speaker. I was giving a Lent lecture at the chaplaincy of higher education in Manchester, so perhaps I have as good an excuse as I can have.

I support the motion and the established Church. One might expect a Conservative Member to begin a speech in a debate such as today's by indignantly protesting from the very beginning: Church of England bishops are in danger of over-estimating their importance as spokesmen and decision-makers. I do not intend to do that—the quotation was from John Habgood's book. "Church and Nation in a Secular World" which he wrote as a previous tenant of the mighty bishopric of Durham.

I use the quotation to illustrate that it is not just the doctrinaire Right who recognise the danger in churchmen overstepping the mark and to introduce my few remarks in the spirit of moderation which that gentle barb, when seen in the context of the rest of John Habgood's book, implied.

It is no surprise that the Anglican Church has from time to time been at odds with the state to which it is so uniquely attached. Like two headstrong would-be bridegrooms anxiously wooing the bride, in the shape of the English people, Church and state clash and counter-clash over the centuries with ideas and opinions. That tension should be of no surprise to the Church for it reflects a tension within itself about how it might express the work of Christ in everday life. The Church and Christians are not an exclusive body shut away from the world—we are citizens of two kingdoms, with responsibility in each.

Within Anglicanism the strands of quietism and activism can claim the classic authority of scripture, tradition and reason, as well as example. John Whale, in a section of his work "The Future of Anglicanism", contrasts the life of Charles Kingsley, the radical east-end activist at work in the appalling conditions of his time, with that of Augustus Hare, who ministered in a different way amidst rural poverty, his dominant concern being to urge the Christian life and the Christian hope"— one the activist, the other the quietist, exemplifying the sort of crisis that individual Christians and the Church continually face.

To what extent should we focus on the individual gospel of redemption, Christ's great commandment to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy mind", and to what extent do we pursue socially, communally and politically the second great commandment to love thy neighbour as thyself"? I do not think there is any conflict between these two. Indeed, they were given together to us by Christ and must be taken so. There are many Christians throughout this country and throughout the world who bind the two together in their everyday lives.

But clashes there have been between Church and state, and I believe that these are healthy and inevitable if conducted properly and handled in the right spirit—that is, in His spirit. Where they are not, warning bells will sound on each side.

So far as the Church is concerned, it must be cautious not to lose its authority. In the secular world of politics the Church has a voice, but it is an amateur voice, however authoritative it believes itself to be. In recent years certain parts of the Church and certain of its spokesmen have been ensnared by the never-quite-forgotten trap of strongly favouring one form of secular solution to express certain biblical principles over another. The risk of the social gospel is that it can tend to over-estimate the importance of the collectivist approach to man's problems, relate social problems and difficulties to the economic organisation of society, and thus conclude that a different economic order is as necessary for effective action as the gospel. The worth of the individual and the transforming effect of the power of Jesus Christ in his or her life—with the consequential capacity to change the human environment around him or her—are neglected.

There is another danger, which is closely allied to the first, and it is to believe that politicians are so responsible for everything that only they should be looked to for solutions, whatever the problem may be—whether international or domestic, whether it concerns freedom from hunger or freedom from lawless, drunken behaviour. This is a dangerous view, for over-optimism about the power of politics to solve social problems leads, as a result of the experience of repeated failure, to cynicism and apathy and the consequent loss of a mature public involvement in political debate.

If these are warnings for the Church, there are also warnings for the Government of the day about being too heavy-handed in dealing with criticism from the Church. Governments have no monopoly of wisdom. They cannot do everything, nor can they see every problem. The social conscience of the Anglican Church, developed in parallel with other Christian influences of the 18th and 19th centuries, finding its finest parliamentary flowers in Wilberforce and the Clapham sect of social reformers, can still rightly tug at the cloak of defensiveness or complacency with which any establishment may clothe itself. We cannot, therefore, look back and praise the work of Wesley, Kingsley, Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Fry and others for seeking to put right the social wrongs of their time through public campaigns of political activism, and claim now that all such work is done and that those who take up such crosses in the present day are either politically motivated or misguided.

Instead of concentrating on the differences between us and the arguments inevitable in any healthy family relationship, we should be looking to what we can do together. We cannot be in any doubt about the size of the task that we face. There is much materially in society that we on these Tory Benches, and possibly people in the country at large, recognise has never been at a higher ebb, much for which this Government can rightly claim credit. But there is also a tide of human spiritual degradation that has never been so low—with homeless, hopeless, drug-ridden youngsters in too many cities, and women in fear from rape and assault, not daring to catch the eye of their fellow passengers, in too many trains. This is a situation that shames nation, Church and state alike.

Starting from this point, we might do three things. First, we might recognise that we shall differ in our respective solutions, both in this House and outside, and in this recognition of diversity let us realise that our Lord glories in the diversity of His creation. We were not made the same, so it is no wonder that we do not think the same. We can argue our case in the proper spirit and seek the best source of action, respecting each other's position, and not always seeking to denigrate or ridicule any contrary political argument.

Secondly, we can both surely pursue absolute values in human society—the common creed that must be the basis for a secure civilisation. Here there is some legitimate criticism of the Anglican Church for not seeming to stand for absolute values, for ever qualifying and making relative even such matters as the wrong to be seen in lying and stealing. There are values that are classless and timeless, held and broken by families in all circumstances and in every part of the realm. It is not right to accept different standards of moral behaviour because of environmental circumstances. Violence and theft are wrong wherever they exist—not to be tolerated in Toxteth or Broadwater Farm or in the lager-swilling suburbs of the home counties, and the more strongly the Church and the state can stand together for absolute values, the better it will be for society as a whole.

The Ten Commandments are not relative—they are the Ten Commandments, not a voluntary code of practice or a set of guidelines upon which Moses was required to report back to plenary session in the wilderness, there mandated to accept Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 unconditionally; to negotiate on No. 8; to reject Nos. 7, 9 and 10 on the grounds that they were incompatible for a nomadic, economically deprived group; and definitely to reject No. 4—about keeping the Sabbath holy—because, with so much walking through the desert to be done, the Sabbath was the only day to get out with the family and drop down to the garden centre and the do-it-yourself tent. So, there are some absolute values to be held.

Thirdly, Church and state must find the issues of the day on which to join, for it is concerted action alone that can produce the best results. This is surely the great lesson of 19th century social legislation, which is such a pride to us now, that stopped such a number of evils in their tracks. Each can bring its own strengths to bear on modern-day problems. The state has all its formidable legislative powers built on the rock of democracy and the will of the people. The Church has the redeeming power of our Lord Jesus Christ flowing through it. Together, Church and state have achieved great things in the past. It is well to remember this when we occasionally debate the spats and fights that punctuate their great union.

I shall close, if I may, with a small passage from Job, which might be a fitting epitaph not just for politicians but for any of us, if we could possibly live up to it. Job is speaking of a previous time before his difficulties, and he says this: When I went to the gate of the city and took my seat in the public square, the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet; the chief men refrained from speaking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow's heart sing. I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth. If any politician in this House could go to his grave with that as an epitaph, he would have done his job. I suggest that it is a moral and a lead, not only for us in this House in respect of the way in which we do our work, but for any individual in society, to try to live up to those standards also.

5.39 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), whose wit and lightness of touch complements so well his deep faith and commitment. His is a very difficult speech to follow. I very much enjoyed, too, the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who, I was delighted to hear, wishes to privatise the BBC. I was just six when he entered the House. I was then a pupil at the cathedral school in the shadow of Salisbury cathedral. He spoke with the wisdom of years, which I acknowledge. I wish only that his brand of wisdom was as benevolent as his delivery.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) spoke about "Barchester Towers." I commented that "Barchester Towers" is alive and well and continues to be in Salisbury. I have a letter that Charles Dickens wrote to my great-grandfather, who had the temerity to ask the great man to write a biography of Trollope. It would have been rather fun if he had. but "Barchester Towers" is still there. I have an ambition—to write a sequel that would be called "Barchester Spires", because an ex-Prime Minister would be in the plot and it would get very exciting.

I differ fundamentally from previous speakers, in that I do not claim the Church of England as my own, though it claims me. A number of speakers missed the point, including the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was unintentionally offensive when he referred to passing by on the other side being a Government doctrine. I believe that we are witnessing a return to a sense of personal responsibility. There can be nothing more in tune with that parable than the Government's policy of active citizenship. It was the state that crucified Christ. We have seen models of state that failed year after year.

There is no monopoly of virtue over the Westminster city council's sale of three cemeteries—not, at least, for a Methodist. There was a very sad case in my constituency. A Methodist church was sold for executive housing development. All the tombstones were removed to make a nice garden. We should be careful before we criticise each other about such issues.

I must declare my interest. I am steeped in the Church of England and I have known for a long time that it is not the Tory party at prayer. That was always obvious when I looked around the congregation in Salisbury cathedral. From Monday to Saturday we would be canvassing on the doorsteps, but on Sunday all the political parties would kneel down together in the cathedral, which was a jolly good thing. There are occasions, however, when that goes a little too far. On one occasion I was singing the creed in the Eucharist when a constituent tapped me on the shoulder because he wanted to speak to me about a particular problem.

Criticism comes in all shapes and sizes. I have been accused by the Democrats of going to church during elections for electioneering purposes. That was a bit ripe, since I have been going to Salisbury cathedral since 1946, but never mind. I was told by a wise old canon soon after I had been elected not to take on Mother Church. That was a very wise thing to say to a young politician but it begs the question, what is meant by the Church? For me, the Church is certainly not just the clergy and it is most definitely not just the Synod. It is all the people of this country who may or may not aspire to church attendance.

I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Halesown and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) only over his reference to the decline in the number of people going to church. It is true that there are fewer committed regular churchgoers. It is also undeniably true that far more people are going to church for the great festivals than has happened for many years. That is the case in Salisbury and I believe it to be true elsewhere. I include in any definition of the Church all the other churches, besides the Church of England. We are not exclusively addressing the Church of England in this debate.

Synodical government is terribly unsatisfactory. There are limits to democracy, and religion does not lend itself very well to democracy. The hon. Member for Walton made that point when he referred to the book "The Church and the Bomb." My bishop was a major author of that work, in which the Church set out its position. We may disagree with it, but at least it is a clear view. Then democracy became involved in the form of the Synod, which overthrew the doctrine that had been propounded in that book. There are occasions when democracy is not the answer to all our problems.

I suspect that, as with every other walk of life, there are silly politicians and silly churchmen. There are churchmen who think that they are six feet above contradiction and there are politicians who think that they are above the electorate whom they are supposed to serve. No one is immune from criticism. That is one of the problems that we face. I do not claim a monopoly of virtue. I do not claim possession of the Church of England, and the Church of England should not claim that it alone knows the route to salvation by means of its particular social policies.

I believe also that ordination is indivisible, in the sense that once a person has a dog collar around his neck, although he may put on a collar and tie on Monday, he is still a parson and that means something. I shall return later to that point.

The clergy have a right to comment on politics. I have always argued that they have a duty to do so. I have no difficulty over that. When a new incumbent or minister arrives in the constituency, I always drop him a line, if I am made aware of the fact, and welcome him. I give him my home telephone number and ask him to get in touch with me if there are any issues that I should know about, or if he has any views on national political issues that he thinks I should know about. My father, who was a priest in the Church of England, was a rural dean in Plymouth during the war years. At the height of the blitz the local Member of Parliament toured the devastated areas and was extremely critical of my father. He wrote to the bishop and complained that my father should be a social worker, not a priest, because my father was, apparently, interfering in the housing problems of the day as a consequence of the blitz.

Parish priests are sometimes frustrated almost beyond patience not because they have too little to do but because they have too much to do. Expectations of what a parish priest can do are too great, particularly if their parishes consist of up to seven previous parishes, churches and village communities. However, I echo the opening words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller)—to whom we are grateful for allowing this subject to be debated—that there is great uncertainty in the Church about moral issues but enormous, overweening certainty about economic and political matters. That is a genuine problem for me. I do not mind being criticised for what I believe is the right way forward economically and politically, but I find churchmen criticising a particular Government policy difficult to take—as though their views were uniquely in parallel with Christian belief. They do not like being criticised, however, if they say it from the pulpit. Both sides must consider that point very carefully.

My diocese is very lively and has a particularly lively diocesan director of social responsibility. He is no doubt an expert on theology but he has also become, he believes, an expert on rural deprivation, housing, broadcasting, Sunday trading and anything else that one cares to mention. He sees that as his role. It may be his role to be on every demo and to have his photo in the local paper every week showing him standing outside defence and other establishments, whether they be connected with cruise missiles, chemical warfare, housing, or anything else. It does not matter, so long as he is seen to be at the forefront of publicity.

Whether he is right or wrong about the matter in question and whether he understands the argument is irrelevant. I am convinced that for most of the time he does not know what he is talking about, but that does not stop me going to church and it certainly does not solve the problems. That is fine, but please may we have more dialogue between those who hold different points of view? I am not going to be chased out of the Church or remove my bottom from the pew just because a priest tells me that he disagrees with my politics. That is the robust attitude that we should take carefully.

The media have a role in all this. Why is it that my hon. Friends so often become upset by bishops? I am used to bishops and all sorts of clerics, so they tend not to worry me too much. But the Bishop of Durham has become more than the average bishop. He has become a party political focus. He may be acting in the grand tradition of the Prince of Bishops of Durham, although in the old days they were against the Scots, not on the same side—but no doubt we could debate that issue for a long time. I know from talking to Opposition Members that the Bishop of Durham performs an extremely important function for party political debate and focus in the north of England and gives a great deal of hope in areas where there is a good deal less prosperity than there is down here in the south. That is fine, but, as ever, it is perhaps the way he says it rather than the message that annoys people. One of the reasons why I was so delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove initiated this debate was that only 10 days ago, I had been surprised to see an article in my local paper, based near the south coast, headed: Bishop of Durham lashes Maggie. The article said: The Bishop of Durham, speaking in Southampton last night, launched an attack on the Thatcher Government. Even by the controversial standards of the Right Rev. David Jenkins, it was sustained and savage criticism. He accused the government of 'intellectual and administrative thuggery' in a regime which was becoming more and more tyrannical…The Bishop also condemned the fact that in a country of the 'pre-dawn knock on the door and aggression towards the innocent' it took 100 policemen to remove deportee Viraj Mendis from a Manchester church sanctuary. That is fine, if it is his view. I am not sure that it adds much to the sum total of human wisdom, but it illustrates why people become upset.

Let us consider the issue of sanctuary. We all know the historic basis of sanctuary. It went away a long time ago and was limited, at best, only to 40 days. Ironically, the city fathers of Manchester refused to accept sanctuary when it was on offer. I was surprised to see in The Journal only last Thursday an article saying that students of Salisbury and Wells Theological College held an act of witness in The Close in support of the principles of sanctuary. A radical lot, clearly. The witness was followed by a short vigil on the Guildhall steps to dedicate the Christian commitment to the cause of sanctuary, and was attended by members of churches and other sympathetic organisations in Salisbury.

I did not receive many letters on the issue when it was to the fore. I did, however, make a few comments in the House on the Monday when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his announcement, and I was much heartened to see a splendid article by the Bishop of Kensington, John Hughes, in the Evening Standard of 20 January in which he said: To portray the police in the present Manchester case as acting other than on behalf of a lawful society amounts to a gross distortion. We are left wondering whether the rights of the refugee or the desire to disrupt our society and discredit its laws are those uppermost in the protestors' minds…The rights of a Church to speak to society depend on the respect it can generate among ordinary folk whose instinct is that the qualities of justice and mutual responsibility for peace and order are an absolute 'must' if life is to be worth living. When I had spoken on that Monday, I was in a state of some agitation and thought that I might be flooded by letters telling me how wrong I was. Of course, I was not.

Mr. Heffer

I am fascinated by what the hon. Gentleman has said. Will he cast his mind back and consider whether Herod might have said something like that about Jesus?

Mr. Key

I cannot speak for Herod, although he might have said that. One of the problems with the Bible is that one can pick out phrases that lead down opposite avenues. That is one of the mysteries of Christianity and we should, perhaps, explore that at a later date.

I was delighted when some of the most well-known commentators on Church affairs started saying that the Church had scored an own goal in the Mendis affair. Gerald Priestland in The Sunday Times said: Certainly it is the duty of the churches to demand that human values be given more consideration than they are. But Mendis was a bad example, foolishly adopted, probably to the disadvantage of much humbler and less publicised cases. Church sanctuary was a very limited privilege in the past, and today it is a romantic myth. What is to be feared is that it will now be copied in mosques and temples, with far more inflammable consequences, reviving all the blasphemies of racism which need to fade out and be forgotten. I could not say it better myself. There are also letters in support, including one from a canon in Dorset who said: I am sure you are speaking for the majority of C/E members in what you said. I am distressed to find that all the church spokesmen on this matter have supported the idea of sanctuary and that the opinion of the rest of us has been excluded—except when somebody like you speaks for us! An enormous body of opinion does not follow the much-publicised leadership point of view or the commentators who currently rate the headlines.

For a long time, I have felt a tremendous conflict. I am the first person to admit to being confused about where the Church is trying to go at present. I am confused in so many areas of life because my traditional education and upbringing have been not only challenged but positively blown apart. When I sit in Salisbury cathedral on Sunday—or in other churches—I look round at the tombs of crusaders and the memorial tablets to 19th century missionaries. I cannot understand why the crusaders and the missionaries have been debunked by the current trendies of the Church leadership. I would have thought that we still have a responsibility for mission. With the crusaders, the politics of the day interfered with the message of the gospel, but the disrespectful way in which hundreds of years of English history are written off by the current interpretation from Church leaders leave me somewhat gasping. No doubt someone will hear my cry and seek to educate me.

As other hon. Members have said, it is astonishing that we are now supposed to think that the Church of England has no monopoly on the right way to live and that all of us must muck in together with other religions, which are all of equal value, and that we should not, therefore, bother about missionaries. That is an extraordinary concept. I have been associated with several missions—some high Tory and others Methodist.

That issue also touches on the question of religious education. When the Education Reform Bill was in Committee, we debated religious education long into the night and I remember having several altercations with the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong). I believe that the Bishop of London got it right. I have to admit that there are many issues on which I disagree fundamentally with him, but he was right when he argued that to understand anybody's religion we had to be able to understand our own first, and that is the prime reason why I believe that schools should have a daily act of worship and that the Church should actively promote that.

I have had many arguments with professional religious education teachers. I taught religious education in a purely amateur way for many years when I was a schoolmaster and we covered many topics, not exclusively scriptural, as most other teachers would readily admit. The problem is that so many religious education teachers today do not see it as their duty to teach Christianity. They mention it in passing and give it equal status with other great faiths of the world, but they see it as their duty not to promote Christianity over other faiths. I find that bizarre and I would expect the Church of England in church schools to be saying something different. No one has yet convinced me that they are right to be denying our children that part of their heritage and that guide for their future.

Just occasionally, I should love to see a little more understanding of what the Government are trying to do. Occasionally, it might even be possible to hope that there might be a little faint praise from Church leaders about what we are achieving in this country, but we do not get such praise now, nor do we get a fair crack in the media. I mentioned that the media have a responsibility. Every hon. Member will know that when the media get it wrong there is precious little that we can do to put it right.

Quite recently, I was a little astonished by my own local paper, with whom I have few quarrels. I attended a meeting called by an elder of the United Reformed Church to discuss broadcasting. I was delighted that over 100 people were present, and we managed to get down to the issues in the broadcasting legislation. I said quite specifically that there is nothing in current law which says that we must watch Harry Secombe on Sundays, that such programmes must be shown, but that, of course, when franchises are being considered, that sort of programming is seen as desirable and competitive. I said that, as I saw it, nothing in the broadcasting legislation would compel religious education or religious programming in future and asked, if we do not need it now, why should we need it in future?

That became a headline in my local paper. It said: MP raps"— I do not rap anything often— lack of TV religion. The article stated: Mr. Robert Key said he regretted the absence"—religious programmes—"of and urged members of the multi-denominational council to pressure the Government for their inclusion. I am quoted as saying: 'Likewise, there should be written into any future act that religious programmes must be broadcast'". Well, I never said it, I would never say it, and I do not believe it. I have now put the record straight.

There are many issues on which we need to listen a little more carefully rather than shout at each other.

Mr. Heffer

I am fascinated by what the hon. Gentleman said about the article in his local paper. The hon. Gentleman previously read a quote about the Bishop of Durham. Was the quote about the Bishop of Durham as incorrect as the quote about the hon. Gentleman? Obviously, the press got the hon. Gentleman totally wrong. Could it have got the Bishop of Durham wrong, too?

Mr. Key

I should be delighted if his Lordship would write to me and tell me. I do not mind whether what the Bishop of Durham said was right or wrong. He has every right to make such statements. If he is wrong, no doubt he will write and tell me so. [Interruption.] We shall have to wait and see whether he writes to me to confirm or deny what he said. I certainly did not say what I am reported to have said.

Talking of tolerance, we must remind ourselves that different Christian denominations have quite different views on issues on which Christians do not always agree. Sunday trading is one such issue. I feel strongly about that issue. I was not able to support the Government on the last occasion when the issue came before the House. There were two reasons for that. One was that I was under great pressure from the Christian community in my constituency. Therefore, some have said that I am a wimp. I do not think that I was a wimp. It was a genuine reaction to a large body of people in my constituency who felt strongly about an issue.

The other reason was that a national chain of shops in my constituency was forcing 17 and 18-year-old employees to work on Sundays when they had not been contracted to do so. That chain of shops said, "If you do not like it, take us to court." That would have involved a civil action which the young men in question could not possibly contemplate. It was a disgraceful performance by that chain of shops, and it made up my mind. Until we have a sensible set of proposals on the table, I cannot support the issue.

I have been making my position absolutely clear. I do not hold that position on theological grounds, for the good reason that the theology is totally unclear. The rug was pulled from under my feet. Within a few weeks of that crucial vote, the dean and chapter of Salisbury cathedral admitted that, for years, they had been trading illegally on Sundays and did not know that they had to have a licence, whereupon they promptly applied to the district council for permission to open a second shop to trade in the cathedral on Sundays. I felt a little alone on the issue.

I do not think that there is a paticularly Christian argument against Sunday trading. The minority of practising Christians in this country should recognise that we will do our case no good by imposing compulsion on non-Christians or non-practising Christians, rather than seeking to convince them of the merits of our case. One has only to look across the border into Scotland to see the total deregulation which has worked for years in a Calvinistic country. It seems to work rather well. My late father-in-law, who was a priest in the Episcopal Church of Scotland, wondered what all the fuss was about here.

I do not wish to trivialise the issue, but I must point out that the Sabbath used to be Saturday, anyway. I thought that we were told: Six days shalt thou labour". The Bible does not say that one must have one's day off on Sunday. Many people cannot have a day off on Sunday, and must choose another day of the week. I am prepared to listen to some sensible compromise that will put the law into repute, instead of disrepute, and will allow Christians to worship on Sundays without being forced to work. We shall see whether that will solve a problem which is so divisive among many Christians.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

My hon. Friend is obviously anxious to get into a discussion about planning and development policies. There is an opportunity to do just that a little later.

Mr. Key

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I will oblige him.

The diocesan director of social responsibility for Salisbury has issued a long letter to the county council on the development of a rural strategy for Wiltshire. It includes planning and development. In the second section of his letter, he talks about planning and development, and the effect on housing, education, employment, agriculture, the environment, transport, personal care, leisure facilities, and so on. It is yet another example of the difficulty that I face in being told that I should think about political issues from a religious point of view.

We cannot expect a monopoly of virtue in any denomination of the Christian Church. We must be more tolerant about Church and state relations. It may be true that the number of committed members of the Church of England who go to church every Sunday has declined, but I am reliably informed that more people go to church on Sundays than go to football matches on Saturdays. No doubt, when we have the new arrangements for identity cards, there will be even fewer people at football matches and even more in church.

However, at the same time, there has been a remarkable increase in attendance at other churches and denominations and a growth in the home church movement—those who happen to believe that churches are more of a hindrance than a help and that the same goes for the priesthood. A massive number of people are now more interested in Christianity than ever before.

I draw the attention of my doubting friends to what is going on in our parish churches. In the gentlest possible way, I ask some of my hon. Friends to examine their consciences. When did they last go to church? What did they hear when they got there? A great deal of ordinary, humdrum, essential, critical, crucial religion is going on in our parish churches. It is not as though, every Sunday, the entire Church of England launches a tirade against the Government, and against Members of Parliament in particular.

I was deeply moved by the sermon that I heard in my village church yesterday. The congregation were told that one of the great virtues about being a Christian in this country is that someone can stand at the foot of the Cross and spit in Christ's face, and He would forgive him. Someone can stand on a soap box and yell at the Prime Minister, and not be thrown into prison. That was an important message to many people. Above all, it was a lesson of tolerance.

I am tolerant of the way in which the Church of England is acting in some respects at the moment. For instance, as one whose father was a bishop, I have no difficulity in accepting the prospect of women bishops in the Church of England. Sex is a complete irrelevance in such issues. I was happy when I heard about the enthronement of a female bishop in America this weekend. I was born a member of the Church of England and will live and die a member of the Church of England. Christianity is so much greater than any individual, any Church or any Church leader. Many of us support the Church of England in spite of its current leadership, not because of it.

Finally, it would be helpful if, in the spirit of not pretending that either party in the House has a monopoly of virtue, more people outside the House could know the words that we use to start our proceedings in this Chamber every day—that is, those of us who come. In the Prayer for Parliament, we pray: We thine unworthy servants, here gathered together in thy Name, do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations: And grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same, in true Christian Love and Charity one towards another". Amen to that.

6.10 pm
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I should like to make just one point at the conclusion of the debate, but it is one that I feel strongly. None of my hon. Friends has suggested—nor would they dream of suggesting—that bishops and clergy should not comment on the current state of the human condition in this and other countries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) said in his perfectly delightful speech, we are citizens of two kingdoms; we have duties to both." I agree with absolutely every word that he said.

However, what some of us find inexplicable and distressing is that all too often the clerics appear to pay infinitely more attention to that than they do to the basics of the Christian religion. It is the duty of a university professor to create controversy, and it is the duty and privilege of bishops to strengthen the faith of their flocks and to seek to bind their members together. I pray that they will do so

6.11 pm
Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate and I should like to thank the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) for initiating it.

Hon. Members may wonder why on earth I am speaking from the Opposition Dispatch Box. That has struck me several times this afternoon. I am not an Anglican—nor, in the words of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), was I born into the Anglican Church. Like the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) 1 am a nonconformist. I grew up in that tradition. Therefore, I come to the Dispatch Box with some trepidation.

Much of the confusion that has surrounded such debates for centuries is reflected in the Chamber today. I was brought up in a household with straightforward views on such issues. Our household and community expected that the Church, and local and national Government would be involved in the moral issues of the day, although there was never any question or discussion about how and why. It was simply accepted; it was part of our life. The personal, political and moral were seen and experienced as part of the whole. They were interlocking relationships that could not, and cannot, be divided.

It was made clear to me from an early age in many different ways that all of us have a responsibility to be involved in public service. Our lives were seen in terms of a pattern of public service. I never experienced any arguments about whether the Church should be involved in the social order: it was simply accepted.

William Temple has been quoted many times and I shall not avoid doing the same. He stated that the church is bound to 'interfere', because it is by vocation the agent of God's purpose, outside the scope of which no human interest or activity can fall. The debate should centre on that. I have often been told that we have not only a responsibility to be involved—not only does the Church have a responsibility to comment on or to be involved in the social order and the social world—but that if it does not take that responsibility it is missing the heart and core of God's purpose for it.

We have heard many of the different ways in which hon. Members regard what I see as not only a responsibility, but a duty. It will not surprise hon. Members that I disagree with some of the things said by Conservative Members. I agree with the basic premise of the hon. Member for Salisbury—he wavered from it a little, but we all do that sometimes—that there must be diversity and that none of us should be on the defensive about what the Church is saying.

I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, that the Church should "challenge" us. Indeed, one of its prime duties is to challenge us and to make us think about the way in which we perform our duty and meet our responsibilities in society.

In preparing for the debate, I inevitably thought about what the Government have been saying about the Church. I accept and welcome the fact that this is not a Government debate, that it has been initiated from the Back Benches. I am confused by the Government's attitude. The Church has been castigated for commenting on the effect of Government policies on the citizens of this country. I do not understand that, because I believe that it is the Church's duty to comment on that. None the less, members of the Government have been angry that the Church has commented.

The Bishop of Durham has come in for more castigation than most. Perhaps another reason why I am speaking from the Opposition Dispatch Box is that I am from the bishopric—I come from Durham. I know and have often heard the current and previous Bishop of Durham. In our county, the established Church works closely with other Churches. Indeed, the previous Member for Durham, North-West is currently running the Church of England in my village although he is a Methodist. There are strong and close links between Methodism and the Anglican Church in our tradition.

I advise hon. Members to listen, at least sometimes, to what the Bishop of Durham says. I have never heard him speak without giving a message of great faith and challenge in the deepest Christian sense. On occasions, he has incurred the wrath of the Labour movement in Durham because he does not speak for one political party only. Indeed, he makes it clear that he is never speaking for a political party. He always speaks as a man of the Church and challenges all of us who are involved mainly in the political order.

Government action is inevitably affecting the social and moral order of the day, and the Church inevitably must comment on that. I do not always agree with the Church, nor would I expect the Government always to agree. When we in the Labour party are in government, the Church will criticise some of our actions. I hope that I will have the integrity to listen to and ponder on its comments.

I have had a look at what the Government have had to say. In particular, I have scoured the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is the latest member of the Government to comment on moral issues and the role of the Church and the state. I have difficulty with one argument which runs through both their speeches. They say that, these days, the main imperative should be individual responsibility. In his speech to Synod, the Secretary of State outlined both the Catholic tradition of community and what he calls the Protestant tradition of defending the individual. It may be useful if I quote from William Temple on this, because he highlights what I find difficult.

For me an individual is never separate from those around him or her. What makes me what I am is not simply me, but my relationships with those around me, my responsibilities and duties to them and the way in which they mould and challenge me. William Temple says: Respect for the sacredness of personality"— he speaks of personality rather than individuals— in all citizens will lead us to demand that no child shall be condemned to grow to maturity with faculties stunted by malnutrition or lack of opportunities for full development. No individual is separate from the way in which those of us responsible for directing the social order do so.

Much of the Government's policy jars with what is at the centre of my Christianity and morality. I have a responsibility to those around me, whatever my needs may be. Yet time and again the Government say that it is the duty of individuals first to look to themselves, to prosper and to develop an entrepreneurial spirit or whatever. I am not saying that that of itself is immoral but, as William Temple puts it, there is a snare within it, and it is easy to fall into the snare and be trapped.

If we look first to ourselves, the imperative of public service and caring for the needs of others can be extremely difficult to meet. The Government need to listen now and again to some of us who say that the individual cannot be separated from the society in which he or she is living. Individual values cannot be separated from collective community values. The one interacts with the other. To put one aside, as the Secretary of State almost did when he emphasised the importance of the individual, jars with the core of our corporate and Christian tradition.

I find similar arguments in the Prime Minister's speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I have pondered on these arguments and it seems that the question of individual responsibility is the basis of disagreement between hon. Members. It is also at the core of the bridling of some Tory Members at the comments of the Church, whether of the Bishop of Durham or the President of the Methodist Conference. The basic disagreement is about the nature of people and God, and the relationship between people and their God.

I have several other pages, but I know that others wish to speak. In our family everyone was involved in both politics and chapel. One never took on individual responsibility. We did not seem to suffer from that, as we were involved in everything that was going on. I remember when my father was out working with a congregation for a new church on a new estate. Some of the press turned up—we have already spoken about how the media always have a go at people in the public eye—and said to my father, "You are never at home. What about your family? You are always out here looking to the needs of everyone else."

Although I was only eight, I was there because we were taken along and became part of everything. Dad said—in a sense this has been how I have understood the interlocking relationship between the Church, the state and the moral order—"My children grow up knowing that we are all involved in public service. That does not mean that they are not important, but that they are important enough to be involved with me in the work of the Church in the wider world." William Temple said: The aim of a Christian social order is the fullest development of individual personality in the widest and deepest possible fellowship. That sums up what I am trying to say tonight about these relationships.

Christianity, if it is anything, is not a series of speeches or good words, but a way of life. It is about the way we conduct ourselves. That applies not only to individuals, but to the Government. If the Government expect us to take seriously their claim to have the moral and social order of the country at heart, they cannot separate their words from their actions. They cannot preach to Synod, the General Assembly or the House about the moral imperative and at the same time carry out actions which mean that a shameful number of people are homeless.

Last week, I spoke to some young people who have just come out of care and who are not entitled to any state benefit. I do not believe that that is a matter for which they can take individual responsibility, or that we should expect them to do so. Any Government must accept that there will be challenges when their actions result in such consequences. No one should say, "You do not have a right to speak out." Those young people have the right to expect the House to perform its duty on their behalf.

I hope that on similar issues we shall have not just preaching about the actions and responsibilities of individuals, but acceptance of the responsibility that we all have as Christians and as members of society not to forget, for political expediency, the consequences of our actions. At the end of the day, those consequences will take us forward as Christians and as members of a society that purports to be Christian.

6.31 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) said that she was not sure why she was here. I am rather glad that she was here, because I enjoyed listening to her speech. I entirely agree that personal, moral, political and religious matters are interlocked. That is something that she learned at her father's knee, just as I learned at her father's knee how to conduct myself at the Dispatch Box. I held him in great affection because he never once ruled me out of order. Just as he once kept the Chamber in order, I am glad to hear that he is now keeping the Anglican Church in business in the hon. Lady's village, despite the fact that he is a Methodist.

I cannot help but reflect on how much my right hon. and noble Friend Lord St. John of Fawsley would have enjoyed replying to the debate. I cannot aspire to his standards of dress. I am sure that purple shirts would have had a good airing this afternoon.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) for introducing the motion and congratulate him warmly on the way in which he introduced it. I am sure that my view will be shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It has been a remarkable debate. It has been very moderate, with one or two exceptions—largely from among the Social and Liberal Democrats. We saw a new version of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who made a moving speech. It was a non-ranting speech and very serious, and the whole House listened to it carefully. The only point from which I dissented was that he appeared to say that the Church of England is the Tory party at prayer. A close observation of the Anglican Church would show that to be untrue, just as it was untrue in the 19th century.

We heard a highly engaging and thought-provoking speech from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who introduced the novel suggestion—for me—that Karl Marx was the last great Old Testament prophet. I shall reflect on that and perhaps give him my views in writing from a personal rather than a ministerial view. I shall come to his important point about disestablishment later in my speech.

During the decade that I have known the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I have held him in great respect. He is one of the few members of the Social and Liberal Democrats who is a national level politician. I was all the more surprised to hear his insulting—I presume that they were designed to be insulting—remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If he wishes me to give way, I shall do so only so that he can apologise to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman had the extraordinary idea that the Government were erecting passing by on the other side into a form of public policy. He got into a terrible muddle. When citing housing and homelessness, he criticised the private sector, and by implication the housing association movement, for wishing to involve itself in housing the homeless. He completely forswore criticism of the councils that keep empty so many homes in the public sector.

The hon. Gentleman was deeply confused and, for once in his life, seemed to ignore the role and the contribution of the individual citizen and his active endeavour. When that very good king, Good King Wenceslas, heard rumours of starvation in the hills, he did not set up a royal commission to consider hunger in the Bohemian mountains and to report on other matters. He went out with food and kindling—an early meals-on-feet movement. It was extraordinary to hear the hon. Gentleman deplore, by implication, that sort of conduct.

We heard a most remarkable speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes). It has often been observed in this place that he speaks for England, and he did so this afternoon. The points of greatest relevance, and the most telling to me, were those that he made about schools, Christianity and moral values. That is something that links all Conservative Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) gave us an account of her genealogy and claimed to be an accessory after the event, by descent, of the killing of Thomas a Becket. That was an interesting chain of events. Like the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, she said that she wanted disestablishment of the Church of England. There was some cross-party agreement in that regard. I need not go into the arguments for and against disestablishment, which would be a major constitutional upheaval, but I can say that the Government would not contemplate such a step unless they were convinced that the established Church wished it.

Perhaps I may take the theme for the rest of my brief remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove. The thrust of his speech was that the Church is trying to usurp the proper historial role of the state and that the clergy have come down from the pulpit to the hustings. The counterpoint of his thesis was that the Government had formed an unbecoming attachment to preaching sermons. That has been mentioned by my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The gist of my hon. Friend's message was that we the Government, as private individuals, and he as a private Member of the House should not be disqualified from commenting on Church and moral matters affecting all faiths and that, equally, churchmen have every right to comment on political and social problems.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but I believe that each should be judged on the seriousness and weight of his arguments. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) and for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and—in a remarkable, and remarkably short, intervention—by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman).

Mr. Heffer

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I once participated in a "You the Jury" debate with his right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) in which the right hon. Gentleman was overwhelmingly defeated? It was attended by clergy and lay people and the overwhelming majority were in favour of disestablishment. I believe that many more people in the Church are prepared to agree with disestablishment than the hon. Gentleman pretends.

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman has made his point. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is well able to put his own arguments here and in other places, as I have read in the public prints of Synod.

As the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove implies, there is a general assumption that it is the job of Churches to provide a moral lead and of politicians to provide a lead in secular matters. However, it is not always a distinction that is clear-cut, and clearly there is a considerable overlap.

The inner cities, for example, which have long concerned the hon. Member for Walton, are an area where churchmen have shown considerable interest and which have given rise to controversy. The inner cities have also been the scene of a considerable amount of constructive work by churchmen and religious leaders of all denominations. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Liverpool or the Chief Rabbi speaks on these issues, we listen carefully.

The Church of England urban fund, launched last April, has already raised more than £6 million and given grants to more than 100 inner-city projects, which is a good thing. In 1986–87, there were about 100 projects funded by the Government's urban programme which were Church-based. We have a substantial number of Church projects and also a substantial number of Church-run but Government-funded projects in the inner cities, which show what good work can and will be done.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

My hon. Friend has referred to the Church of England inner-city urban fund. I hope that he will take the opportunity to praise, as I am sure he would wish to do, the many volunteers who, using individual responsibility, have made that scheme such a success and have certainly drawn the attention of people in my part of the world to problems which perhaps day to day they would not know about.

Mr. Patten

I pay considerable tribute to those people of all faiths and denominations who have drawn attention to local difficulties in the south of England and to the needs of the inner cities.

Some of our Government inner-city task forces are forming constructive links with some of the black-based Churches. Here I find myself in agreement with the points made about the Evangelical movement by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). We have some links with Evangelical Enterprise, which is an excellent body, and the West Indian Evangelical Alliance project, which is important in promoting individual enterprise and Christian development in the inner cities. Churches, therefore, have a role alongside Government.

I do not believe—I have not heard anyone say so in this Chamber—that Governments should be rigidly excluded from moral issues. Through the Government's promotion of the active citizen movement, through their support for the voluntary sector and through their involvement in and help for the charitable world—for example, the establishment of payroll giving—the Government have shown a considerable moral lead, and one which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said, has not been recognised. It is a shame that, from time to time, that has not been recognised.

I consider that there are two historic functions which have always been there for the Churches to fulfil. The first is to propagate the essentials of faith, to assert and reassert the timeless message that there is an unchanging distinction between right and wrong—something that it is critically important for them to do—and that, knowing this, everyone has the free opportunity to choose the right. There is, therefore, an unchanging duty to respect one's fellow women and one's fellow men, to know that one cannot have everything that one wants instantly, to know that one must take personal responsibility for one's actions and, above all, to help those who are less fortunate and are weaker than oneself.

The second function can be traced back to the very origins of Christianity among the poor and oppressed, which is to look after the unfortunate, the downtrodden and the under-privileged. However, thirdly, I believe that there is an under-worked vein for the Church, of whatever faith. In historical times, the powerful and the wealthy, including many churchmen, were a tiny fraction of the country, but their duty was often—sometimes uniquely—to preach that those who were less fortunate than others should be looked after. However, in the modern world, where a large section of society is far more prosperous, there is a further missing element.

I do not believe that at the moment we have a theology coming from any of the Churches—from the Jewish faith, or the Moslems or anywhere else—which is appropriate for the climate of success that we have in Britain in the late 1980s. I do not believe that the Church has yet used a rhetoric appropriate when talking to a nation which is increasingly comfortable, but which should not be complacent. I do not believe that there is a theology, a rhetoric, to use, or a message for a successful nation. That is the third and missing element in much of the debate about the relations between the Church and the State.

The Churches remain welcome to preach generosity and compassion to those who from time to time hold power. However, I believe that spiritual guidance should in the end remain of far greater importance to any Church leader of whatever faith than any question of how to divide the national cake. In the absence of some sort of priestly theocracy running this country, such decisions remain a matter for the elected Government and Parliament to decide, and in the end for no one else.

6.46 pm
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

The early Church was notable for the happiness and joy with which its adherents were filled. That happiness and individual joy spilled out into making the Christian church an attractive centre for other people who were lost, anxious or frightened. I believe that there are many Christian communities—many of them within the Church of England—about whom that can be said. It is also sadly the case that they are in relatively small supply and that what we desperately need is a reawakening of that happiness, joy and excitement which is now rare to find. One of the charges which it is perfectly proper to lay on the shoulders of bishops is that they should be bending much of their energy and effort to enable that sort of development to reappear within the Church. If that happened, I believe that one would find that many of the areas of controversy between the Church and the State would melt away.

I am sceptical and edgy about the proposition that, because a number of my Christian friends feel strongly that their belief requires them to behave in a particular way, that should, therefore, become the way in which the State requires the rest of the people to behave. That goes right through a whole range of the controversies which at the moment appear to be heating up the relations between the Church and the state.

I believe that each one of us has within his or her power the capacity enormously to improve the relations between the Church and the state. I listened with enormous interest, as always, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes.) I detected within it a tendency—perhaps I detected it easily—that we share. I would be happy to see my bishop eating locusts and wild honey provided that he left me free to continue eating in the best restaurants that I could afford.

We all of us have the opportunity to improve relations, but many of us do not encourage within our own association a closer relationship between the local clergy and ourselves. Those who are working for most of their time with the afflicted in one form or another naturally become obseessed by that perspective. Those of us who have, perhaps, a wider range of contacts leave those workers too much to their own devices and then become unreasonably aggrieved when, out of their experience, they say things which strike us as either intolerant or intolerably naive. Mutual association would do us all a great deal of good.

I regret the increasingly rancid tone which some on both sides—if we can call them sides within the Church and within Parliament—are liable to adopt when discussing each other's behaviour. It is far better that we should build on the enormous good will and great strengths that exist. As many have said during the debate, we should not be so sensitive to criticism. If the Church wishes to speak out on political issues, those who do so on its behalf must be prepared— I think that most of them accept this—to be confronted in a political way. For some of them, however, that is a bruising experience.

When the Church does that, we who have developed skins of considerable thickness in this place should not be so sensitive. It is a curious perversity. We give the bishops—most of them are highly intelligent people—considerable authority within both Church and state, and it is curious that we should become so resentful if some of them, entirely properly or sometimes intemperately or stupidly, say things of which we do not approve. I could say much more but I am aware that there are others who wish to contribute to the debate.

6.52 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) on introducing the motion. I am sure that our discussion this afternoon has shown the timeliness of the debate as well as presenting the House of Commons in a much truer light than those who report our proceedings sometimes convey. We have had an interesting and civilised exchange of views across the Floor of the House. There are fundamental differences between hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, but these have been expressed and thrashed out in a civilised way.

I suppose that we as politicians are on dangerous ground when we venture to comment on matters of morality. It is almost as dangerous as when the clergy enter into the political fray, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) has said. It is a commentary on the state of the Church of England in particular that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove has tabled the motion and that there has been so much debate on the role of the Church and on the way in which it is performing that role.

The Church of England must give a much clearer lead than that which it is now presenting to us. Never was there a greater need for abiding Christian values to be clearly and unequivocally proclaimed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr Burt) rightly said, there must be absolute guidance without equivocation. That is what our young people especially need. They do not need to be taught that life is a vast grey area. They must he taught in terms of black and white. They will discover as adults that life is not black and white and is instead a large grey area, but without a basic grounding, what hope have they of succeeding in this world?

I am concerned especially about the pressures on young people. As the father of three children, I have been placed in the dilemma in which many other parents have found themselves. Our children watch television programmes such as "Dallas". That programme and others portray a way of life that is entirely alien to that which the Church and most parents are trying to teach their children. How can we proclaim fidelity in marriage when night after night during episodes of "Dallas" we see people leaping in and out of bed with one another?

Mr. Nicholas Baker

The answer is to turn off the television set.

Mr. Howarth

As my hon. Friend says, the answer is to turn it off. Unfortunately, the programme is shown before the watershed hour. We cannot sit constantly by the on-off switch checking what is being shown on the screen.

What are we getting from the Churches? I believe that there is a preoccupation with the transient and a flirtation with party politics instead of a concentration on the abiding issues. The Church has plenty to say about South Africa. Until last week it had much to say about black sections. The Race Relations Act 1976 was supported by the churches when it first came into operation, but then they found that it conflicted with their aspirations for black sections. They now wish to wriggle out of the law of the land to suit their own purposes. Fortunately. the General Synod thought better of that last week. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) mentioned the case of Viraj Mendis.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth

I shall not give way to my hon. Friend. She has had her say and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove wishes to respond to the debate.

I believe that the Church is taking away our landmarks in what it is doing to our liturgy. This is not a semantic issue. In my view, the Lord's Prayer has been vandalised. That is an example of the false preoccupations of the Church. The issue of women priests is likely to divide the Church. Therefore, it is something on which the Church must embark only with the very greatest care.

This is a Christian country. A recent opinion poll revealed, following a survey, that 85 per cent. of the population regarded itself as Christian. The coin of the realm carries the letters FD—fidei defensor, defender of the faith. It is right that other religions should be referred to, but if we are to understand our country and our history we must understand our own religion.

Some Opposition Members have suggested that somehow the Government's policies are at odds with Christian morality.

Ms. Armstrong

Hear, hear.

Mr. Howarth

I contend that irrefutably the arguments lie with us. It is we who are releasing the energy and endeavour of our people. We are allowing the people to make decisions for themselves instead of leaving decision-taking to politicians. I ask the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) where morality is to be found in the closed shop, which terrorises those working people who do not wish to join a trade union. Where is the morality in inflation, which has destroyed the savings of pensioners? Where is the morality in punitive taxation? I contend that there is no morality in Socialism.

6.57 pm
Sir Hal Miller

I am sure that the House regrets that it was not able to hear more from my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) because of the pressure of time. He presented an extremely robust defence of the moral base of a great many of our Government's policies.

As I said when I introduced the motion to the House, I appreciate that I am in danger of being misunderstood. Indeed, I was advised by many friends that I would be. Perhaps the misunderstanding was deliberate on the part of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who seems to have been sitting rather too closely to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). He has acquired some rather grubby characteristics as a result. I specifically did not say that priests and bishops should not speak out. I said that they should not expect to be accorded the same authority when they speak on economic or political matters as when they speak on ecclesiastical matters. I said that they could not expect to speak with the same authority from the pulpit or the throne on political matters as on religious matters

We had a wonderful trip down memory lane with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). The right hon. Gentleman referred to liberation theology. Unfortunately time does not permit me to respond. However, hon. Members can read the second Vatican instruction on liberation which I commend as a critique of that theology.

We come to the end of this debate with the issues still unresolved about the disestablishment of the Anglican Church which has had some cross-party support. I ask those who where in favour of that to reflect most seriously on the implications as several of my colleagues have remarked. That could pave the way for much greater and more serious constitutional implications.

It being Seven o'clock, the Proceedings on the Motion lapsed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13(8) (Arrangement of public business).