HC Deb 22 November 1999 vol 339 cc341-2
32. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What contribution the Church Commissioners are making to the millennium celebrations. [98998]

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

In my role as Second Church Estates Commissioner, I have made a modest contribution in helping to raise 75 per cent. of the total £4 million cost of the faith zone at the dome, and I echo the words of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in respect of its success. Two million pounds has been donated by the Laing family trusts and £1 million comes from other Christian sources. The faith zone will contain a number of impressive exhibits and installations relating to the way in which the story of Jesus Christ, which lies at the heart of the millennium, has made a difference in this country.

Mr. Hughes

Have the arrangements for Christian participation in the millennium celebrations now been finalised; and, if so, what are they? Will the hon. Gentleman consider discussing with the commissioners whether, next year, they could put some of the funds to which they have access into increasing the number of people at work as Christian ministers in the field? I have no idea of the figures, but I reckon that the percentage of Christians in Britain was larger 1,000 years ago than it is now. If we are to reverse the trend, we might have to employ more people to do the job.

Mr. Bell

The other day, I read a story in the Financial Times stating that only 4 per cent. of our community goes to church. However, 96 per cent. are born into the Church, marry in the Church and die in the Church: that makes a strong and Christian country.

I echo the words of the Secretary of State that the millennium dome will be a big success. The faith zone will show exhibits and installations relating to the story of Jesus Christ. I am told that it will be finished on time and that it will be a wonderful sight. It will marry with other community projects on which the Church is embarked, such as every church bell in the land being rung on new year's day. In addition, the Millennium Commission is funding the restoration of bells, the floodlighting of churches and an imaginative national faith heritage centre in Bradford.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Given that the content of the faith zone was decided by the Lambeth conference, chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, from which those of us who believe in no god were excluded entirely, how are we to be represented within the faith zone? In addition, how much will the Church of England give directly to the faith zone?

Mr. Bell

After my last exchange with the hon. Gentleman, I recall someone telling me, "I'm an atheist, thank God," although that might not represent my hon. Friend's views. The Lambeth conference was a conference of all the faiths, so all the faiths have had a say in the faith zone; the zone will be inclusive and display aspects of other faiths. As for the contribution of the Church, as I said earlier, £2 million has been donated by the Laing family trusts and £1 million by other Christian sources; therefore, 75 per cent. of the money raised for the faith zone comes from sources other than the Church itself.

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