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Division No. 100
[1.57 am


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Barnes, Harry
Bates, Michael
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brandreth, Gyles
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Carrington, Matthew
Clappison, James
Coe, Sebastian
Conway, Derek
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Cran, James
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Fabricant, Michael
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Gale, Roger
Gallie, Phil
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Heald, Oliver
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jones, Robert B (W Herts)
Knapman, Roger
Kynoch, George
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
McAvoy, Thomas
MacKay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Maitland, Lady Olga
Malone, Gerald
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Merchant, Piers
Neubert, Sir Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Paice, James
Pickles, Eric
Riddick, Graham
Rowe, Andrew
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spink, Dr Robert
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Stephen, Michael
Sweeney, Walter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Wells, Bowen
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Worthington, Tony

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Timothy Wood and
Mr. Richard Ottaway.


Beggs, Roy
McCrea, Rev William
Paisley, Rev Ian
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangf'd)
Walker, A Cecil (Belfast N)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Peter Robinson and
Rev. Martin Smyth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

19 Mar 1997 : Column 1046


    [Relevant documents: Second report from the Public Service Committee of Session 1995-96, on ministerial accountability and responsibility (HC 313), the Government's response thereto (HC 67 of Session 1996-97) and the first report from the Public Service Committee of Session 1996-97, on ministerial accountability and responsibility (HC 234).]

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [19 March],

    That, in the opinion of this House, the following principles should govern the conduct of Ministers of the Crown in relation to Parliament:

(1) Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their Departments and Next Steps Agencies;

19 Mar 1997 : Column 1047

(2) It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister;
(3) Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest, which should be decided in accordance with relevant statute and the Government's Code of Practice on Access to Government Information (Second Edition, January 1997);
(4) Similarly, Ministers should require civil servants who give evidence before Parliamentary Committees on their behalf and under their directions to be as helpful as possible in providing accurate, truthful and full information in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of civil servants as set out in the Civil Service Code (January 1996).--[Mr. Carrington.]

Question agreed to.

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As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.


As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

19 Mar 1997 : Column 1049

Christian Millennium Projects

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Carrington.]

2.8 am

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby): I am glad to have this opportunity late in the life of the present Parliament--not to mention late in the day--to raise a topic that bears as much on the future as on the past: the coming millennium celebrations, and the Christian input to the various projects that have been proposed.

I am especially grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage for taking the trouble to listen to this short debate and to contribute to it. I must congratulate her on the clear and constructive analysis that she gave in her lecture at Crosby hall on 6 February about the spiritual scope and significance of the millennium event, including a useful guide to the date and time that the millennium is reached and formally starts.

Obviously, we all owe more to Dionysius Exiguus--Dennis the Small--than most of us realise. I think that my right hon. Friend knows that some people in this place, in another place and outside are nevertheless severely disappointed that the Millennium Commission has offered so little endorsement and practical support for the notion that the millennium at perhaps its most fundamental level is a Christian event and landmark.

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), who once occupied the post of Secretary of State, said when he set up the Millennium Commission in 1994:

Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in the most welcome and forthright statement said, in a letter to The Times, I think on 2 December 1996:

    "I have always been determined that people should be aware of whose millennium it is anyway. We shouldn't be ashamed of it being Christian. On the contrary, we want to identify it as a Christian event."

That was well spoken, if I may say so.

However, the spiritual dimensions of the millennium still seem to have been missed in terms of hard cash. There is a yawning black hole where there should be a pearl of some price. That is highlighted when one considers the grants being paid to Christian-based projects. Of the £767 million in grants paid to date, only 0.9 per cent. has been paid to Christian projects in the community, and only 2 per cent. has been longlisted in the final round of the Millennium Commission. Surely that is an inadequate expression of those very priorities that Ministers have espoused and expressed.

If one looks in even more detail at the support committed by the commission for projects in rounds one and two, longlisted in round three and reserve-listed projects, one finds a grant total that reaches the huge sum of £1,767 million, of which specifically Christian projects have scored only £24 million--a derisory sum in all conscience, or 1 per cent. of the total. Indeed, the paid and committed portion of that £24 million comes only to £7 million, which is a mere snowflake on the volcano of grant.

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Other heads of expenditure include 22 per cent. of the total for science projects, 23 per cent. for leisure projects, 9 per cent. for community projects, 10 per cent. for education projects and 35 per cent. for environment projects. Worthy though those heads of expenditure are, they serve merely to underline how much land remains to be possessed if the promise of a significant and specifically Christian landmark on the millennium landscape--the cathedral, so to speak, of our era--is to be fulfilled.

Against that background, I strongly urge the Millennium Commission, over which my right hon. Friend presides, to extend its procedures for project selection to a fourth round that will concentrate specifically on the spiritual dimension of the celebrations and on projects supporting faith, the family and young people.

That would chime with my right hon. Friend's striking exposition in her Crosby hall speech of the idea of renaissance: regeneration and renewal, physical, personal and social. In a moving passage, she articulated a vision that struck me as being as practical as it is relevant. She said:

There are a couple of projects of a specifically Christian character for which I would seek my right hon. Friend's notice, support and interest. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) will mention at least a third in a short intervention that he intends to make presently.

The first project is a northern one. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh wants to establish a museum or visitor centre to celebrate the tremendous Christian heritage of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, which is the cradle of Christianity in this country, and produced giants of the calibre of St. Aidan, the Venerable Bede and St. Cuthbert.

Such a centre could be ready for the millennium and perhaps even provide a home back in the north for the Lindisfarne Gospels. Alas, an approach to establish such a centre in Cramlington in Northumberland last year was turned down by the Millennium Commission. The new proposal on which I would focus on behalf of my hon. Friend will be centred on Durham, which is more in the middle of the region, and would incorporate a bid for the Lindisfarne Gospels to be released from the British Library. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider with sympathy and sensitivity that bid by one of her most distinguished younger ministerial colleagues.

The other project of a specifically Christian character is one of which my right hon. Friend is well apprised, thanks to her generous provision of time and her receptivity; it is the so-called Christian millennium village project, which the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) and I are sponsoring and have spoken to her about. She will know that that imaginative project--involving the environmental renovation of a derelict riverside site in London and, above all, the construction

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of a purpose-designed set of buildings for a practical outreach programme for families and young people in particular--has generated widespread cross-party and interdenominational support

That project is not just another London metropolitan project: it is for the whole country, as evidenced by the explicit support that it has received from the two Anglican archbishops, including the Archbishop of York, and the Bishops of Durham, Wakefield, Chelmsford and Monmouth. In addition, leaders of the Roman Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches have all expressed their support for the project's general vision and purpose.

I am content to let the Bishop of Durham have the last word. In a letter to my right hon. Friend on 28 February last, he wrote:

I am glad to allow the Bishop of Durham to have the last word in my speech, and I am sure that I have left enough time for my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent.

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