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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
Column 50the 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. Heffer) 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
Column 51people 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
Column 52politically, 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
Column 53city 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. 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
Column 54missionaries. 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
Column 55religious 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 :
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,
Column 56whereupon 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. 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
Column 57our 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.
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.
Column 586.11 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) I 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
Column 59is 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
Column 60not 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
Column 61consequences. 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.