HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc521-2
30. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What initiatives the Church Commissioners are taking to mark the millennium in a permanent way. [101986]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

The Church has concentrated its efforts on making a permanent impact on people's lives rather than on material objects. This is encompassed under the NewStart banner: NewStart with God, with the world's poor and at home.

Hon. Members may like to know that the national gallery in Trafalgar square will mark the millennium by the Seeing Salvation exhibition, which will explore how the figure of Christ has been represented in the western tradition.

In addition, the Open Churches Trust is giving encouragement for every church bell in the land to be rung on new year's day, followed by a short time of prayer.

Mr. Hughes

That is welcome. In 12 days' time we begin the celebration of the millennial year. Sometimes people suppose that the millennium is 1 January, but the millennium is actually Christmas day next year, and the whole year builds up to that. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to put to the Church Commissioners a proposal that might be a bit more permanent? Will he suggest that they invite the leaders of the Church around the world to address the following question: how will they follow the command,

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth"? The Church is very wealthy, and much of that wealth should not be held by the Church. How can Church leaders put it towards winning people for Christ, instead of keeping themselves in finery for the next 100 years?

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for quoting the scriptures and for referring to one that I like very much. The other one that I like is to the effect that we should not store up treasures where dust and moths may consume them. However, let us leave dust and moths aside for one moment, as I deal with the hon. Gentleman's question.

The millennium and the Christian celebrations of it will be a year-long and not simply a one-day wonder. Faiths throughout the world have recognised fully that it is a very important Christian event; it should be supported by Christians and respected by other faiths. As the hon. Gentleman said, we, as Christians and members of other faiths, should all come together to alleviate poverty throughout the world.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does my, hon. Friend accept that most people would very much welcome his statement that it is much more important to spend money on tackling real problems in the world than it is to build an obelisk or a memorial that would be a total waste of money?

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Archbishop of York wrote an interesting article in a Sunday newspaper in which he said that the millennium dome was important, but that the dome at St. Paul's was equally important. When it comes to spending and investing money, the responsibility of the Church Commissioners is to pay the stipends and the pensions of the clergy and bishops, and even the bishops' expenses.