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House of Lords

Thursday, 23rd April 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Millennium Celebrations and the Churches

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Christian Churches will be invited to take a leading part in the millennium celebrations, given that the millennium marks the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the Government fully recognise the significance of the year 2000 to Christians as a religious anniversary. Through the Lambeth Consultation Group, the Christian Churches and other faith communities are closely involved in the planning of the national millennium celebrations, including the Millennium Experience at Greenwich. The Lambeth Group and the Government are also taking forward plans for national millennium Church services in the four countries of the United Kingdom. I understand that the Churches themselves are planning a wide range of celebratory activities and events in the year 2000 which will be focused on Pentecost in June 2000.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that encouraging reply. Will he confirm that the purpose of the millennium celebrations is to enable people to rejoice in 2000 years of Christianity and to ensure its future, and that there will be no question of there being any, shall we say, secular or political significance in those celebrations?

Lord Carter: My Lords, the millennium and the celebrations are both secular and religious events. The Government fully recognise that the millennium is a Christian anniversary and wish to see a proper acknowledgement of the Christian heritage of the country in the celebrations at Greenwich and around the country. However, we are a multi-faith society and we are determined to ensure that the celebrations are relevant and accessible to those who are adherents of other faiths or who have no formal religious belief. After all, the year 2000 will be significant to all the people in the world who use the Gregorian calendar.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government are having discussions with the Churches on issues associated with the millennium?

Lord Carter: My Lords, representatives of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is co-ordinating the Government's interest in the celebrations, sit on the Lambeth Consultation Group to

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which I referred in my first Answer, together with the Millennium Commission and the new Millennium Experience Company. This group of 29 members involves the main Christian Churches, the ecumenical bodies and representatives of other faiths in the Government's co-ordination process in order to ensure that the spiritual significance of the year 2000 is reflected.

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, bearing in mind the welcome willingness of the Government to consult with religious communities over the millennium, recognising the Government's desire that the celebration should be as inclusive as possible and recognising that there are significant communities, both Christian and of other faiths, whose spiritual conviction leads them to moral unease about the lottery, will the Minister consider increasing the grant of £20 million under the millennium festival fund to ensure that nationwide such communities will be able to participate in applying for grants and thus be encouraged in their communities to play a full part?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am sure that the right reverend Prelate would not expect me to answer that question immediately in the affirmative. I believe that he made the same point in this House in a debate a few weeks ago. I shall ensure that it is transmitted to other members of the Government to see whether there can be an affirmative response.

Lord Sudeley: My Lords, given that the millennium is a means of counting the number of years back to the birth of Christ, should not the established Church have the pre-eminent right to proclaim its doctrine as set forth in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which has enjoyed the protection of both this House and another place since it is annexed to an Act of Parliament? If so, should not the Bishops take steps so to proclaim?

Lord Carter: My Lords, that question almost assumes that the year 2000 is the property of this country. The population of the world is just over 6 billion. Our reckoning is that something like 4 billion will celebrate the millennium in one way or another. So to concentrate entirely on the angle of the Book of Common Prayer would be rather too narrow.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, with reference to the noble Lord's remark about the millennium being not only of this country, is there any chance of a worldwide Christian spirit of uplifting, or will it be left entirely to individual countries to go their own way? It would be nice, would it not, if the whole Christian world celebrated together?

Lord Carter: My Lords, it is not merely a matter of the whole Christian world. As I said, two-thirds of the world's population, both Christian and non-Christian, will be celebrating the millennium in their own way. The Foreign Office has released an extremely useful document, Millennium Plans Around the World, which

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will be placed in the Library. It is surprising to see the efforts being made in countries all around the world to celebrate this great event.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, are the Government aware that Christian denominations throughout the world are combined together in a particular purpose during the coming millennium; namely, to see that international debt is reduced or removed? How do the Government see their part in aiding the Churches of all denominations in that purpose?

Lord Carter: My Lords, the responsibility goes wider than the Churches. The point made by the right reverend Prelate was made previously in a debate in this House. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey has referred the view expressed to the relevant government departments and it is being considered.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that members of the non-Christian faiths, as well as atheists and agnostics, will be very relieved by the answers that he has given and to know that they are not excluded from participation in the millennium celebrations? Do the Government have any plans to consult with representatives of the non-Christian faiths to see what part they can play in the celebrations?

Lord Carter: Yes, my Lords. As I said earlier, the Lambeth Consultation Group consists of 29 members from the main Christian Churches, the ecumenical bodies and representatives of the other faiths who are involved in the co-ordination process.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the "micro" is as important as the "macro" in this debate? While it is heartening to hear state and Church agreeing on objectives, does he accept that the real celebration will be in the hearts of individual people practising in their individual parishes and chapel groups? Will the Government do whatever is possible to facilitate that sort of celebration, which should not be a threat but an invitation to the atheists, agnostics and humanists to whom the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, refers?

Lord Carter: Yes, my Lords. There is a proposal from the Lambeth Consultation Group that national church services should be held simultaneously in each of the home countries on Sunday, 2nd January 2000 to celebrate the millennium. That proposal is being taken forward. The views of the Queen are presently being sought. Although they would not wish to take part in such services except as observers, those from communities based on other faiths are broadly supportive of the proposal, acknowledging as they do that the millennium has a Christian basis.

Lord Moore of Wolvercote: My Lords, I understand that the Millennium Dome is to be divided into zones, and that sponsors will be required for each zone.

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I further understand that one of the zones will be deemed "the spirit zone", and its focus will be on Christianity. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are satisfied that suitable sponsors will be found for the spirit zone?

Lord Carter: Yes, my Lords; the New Millennium Experience Company is seeking private sector sponsorship for the spirit zone as part of its wider sponsorship strategy for the whole of the Millennium Dome. In addition, I understand that the Second Church Estates Commissioner is developing a proposal for a fund-raising committee to finance exhibits in the zone. We welcome that initiative. The New Millennium Experience Company is prepared to consider any such proposals which conform to its overall fund-raising strategy.

Access Committee for England: Funding

3.17 p.m.

Lord Addington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will review their decision to withdraw all funding from the Access Committee for England.

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