HL Deb 18 June 1998 vol 590 cc1679-80

Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether good relations between Church and state depend on the central organisations of the main Christian denominations being located together in Westminster.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, no. The geographic location of these bodies has no bearing on their relationship with the state.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Nevertheless, I wonder whether he shares my disappointment to hear that it is proposed to move the headquarters of the Methodist Church from Westminster Central Hall to Marylebone Road. Does he agree that, alongside Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Central Hall serves as a symbol of the Free Church witness at the heart of the nation? It would be a tragedy if that were put at risk, particularly because of its unique pastoral ministry to the Palace of Westminster which, in my view, should not be under valued.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, Pererin 'rwyf mewn anial dir, which, being translated for the ungodly, or those who cannot speak Welsh, if the two are not the same, means, "I am a pilgrim in a desert land", but Marylebone Road is not all that far away in the desert, surely.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell

My Lords, with the much acclaimed and welcome elevation to the peerage of the Reverend Dr. Kathleen Richardson, who is currently the Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council and also one of the presidents of the Churches Together in England, does the Minister agree that the representation of someone who is a former president of the Methodist Conference can only enhance Church-state relationships in the future?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I absolutely agree. She is a person of enormous worth, virtue and talent; and of course your Lordships' House will be enlivened and assisted by her presence.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, surely good communications depend on good relationships between people, particularly in these days of IT, and not on geographical location.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, that is what I said earlier. I think that even in Marylebone Road there are telephones.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, having attended many services officially on behalf of Westminster Council in the Methodist Central Hall, I would regret any change in that regard. Does the noble Lord think that the proposed move is in any way connected with press reports that the serving of liquor is to be allowed at functions there? Are the Methodists moving because they feel they cannot stay in a building where that happens, or is it because the cost of the building has become far too great?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, as far as I am aware, no final decision has been made by the appropriate body as to whether they are going to move or not. Whether it is because alcohol is going to be served, I do not know. The decision really is a matter for the internal governance of an organisation which is, and ought to be, wholly free of state control or even ministerial comment.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is nothing wrong with serving liquor? After all, at Cana the water was turned into wine.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Yes, my Lords, but that was at the end of the evening.

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