HC Deb 10 May 1999 vol 331 cc17-8
36. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

What plans the Church Commissioners have to celebrate the millennium. [82615]

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

Among other things, hundreds of local congregations are making plans for activities and events under the three themes: "a new start with God", "a new start at home" and "a new start for the world's poor". Every parish in England will be encouraged to distribute millennium candles to their parishioners. There is a schools arts project called JC2000, which was originated by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). The Open Churches Trust is encouraging every church bell in the land to be rung on new year's day, followed by a time of prayer. That will be a joyful message and a joyful occasion.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I welcome all those initiatives. Will the Second Church Estates Commissioner say a little more about his involvement in trying to secure funding for a Christian section of the spirit zone of the millennium dome? Does he agree that Christianity should, at the very least, form the core and substantial part of that spirit zone?

Mr. Bell

I am pleased to announce to the House—where all good announcements should be made—that, under my guidance as Second Church Estates Commissioner and that of Sir Tim Sainsbury and others, a number of Christian sources have provided the majority of the funding for the zone. An official announcement will be made by the New Millennium Experience Company in the near future. Those who visit the zone will be impressed by its thoughtful but inspiring vision of Christianity, and it will dovetail with all the other millennium celebrations that the Church is planning.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

It is right and proper that the millennium should be a Christian celebration, and that, as my hon. Friend said, the Church Commissioners are organising events. What co-operation has there been with people in the many communities who, as well as the Churches, are planning to celebrate the millennium? The Church Commissioners and the parishioners should liaise with local authorities and other community groups who are organising millennium celebrations. We should bring the Christian and local dimensions together in those celebrations.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the fact that we are not an exclusive society. We have a strong Christian ethic—this is a Christian society—and we fully recognise the major faiths of other communities, as they recognise ours. There has been great co-operation between all faiths, certainly on the spirit zone of the millennium dome. That co-operation is being repeated up and down the land.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and MidKent)

I know that the hon. Gentleman shares my delight that more than 12,000 schools in the United Kingdom have signed up to the millennium arts festival for schools, JC2000. Does he also share my slight concern that, so far, the parishes and other elements of the Church of England either have had little opportunity to assist us in this work or, if they have been given the opportunity, have not availed themselves of it?

Mr. Bell

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his campaign for JC2000. It has at least 10,000 schools behind it, and that number is increasing by the day. Local education authorities up and down the land are being encouraged to participate. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind the fact that there is a massive organisation for the millennium celebrations, and assets and funds will have to be shared out carefully.