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Caroline Spelman's last Church Commissioner's questions raises climate change and Bercow as Archbishop

by Cara Bentley

Spelman is the Conservative MP for Meriden but will be standing down at this election after 22 years, citing abuse she's received as one of her reasons.

She is also the Second Estate's Church Commissioner, who acts as a liaison between the Church of England and parliament, answering MPs' questions on the Church.

On Thursday, Spelman stood at the despatch box for her last Church Commissioner's Questions, which was kicked-off by her thanking her staff.

"I would like to record my heartfelt thanks to my small team of staff, especially my constituency secretary who has faithfully served me for 20 out of 22 years. I think we often forget that it is the staff who are on the front line of much of the abuse that we are receiving and I really want to record my admiration for their fortitude."

The Christian politician was praised by MPs Rachel Maskell, Pauline Latham, Tim Loughton, Diana Johnson and Rehman Chishti, the Government's special envoy for freedom of religion and belief.

Spelman confirmed that civil servants in diplomatic roles would be given religious literacy training and that she had met with the bishops of Gloucester and Newcastle to talk about helping women who were leaving prison.

She also praised the Church of England's digital progress through the app, Alexa skill and website that has improved to help people find out their local church's service times.

Spelman said she hoped part of her legacy would be to solve the problem of MPs receiving so much abuse and that "the wild west of the internet" would be tackled.

Fiona Bruce, the MP for Congleton, said: "May I say that we are hugely grateful to my honourable friend for her service to us here and to the Church in her role as the 41st second Church Estates Commissioner.

"She has listened to an acted as a wise counsel and an advisor behind the scenes both to the Church, the General Synod, to government and to those many colleagues here who have raised concerns with her about the big questions of the day; persecution of Christians overseas, Church schools and buildings and strengthening our communities.

"She's helped the cause of getting mothers names on marriage certificates, and has been a great all around advocate for the role of faith in public life. Not forgetting to that she was our first female second church estates Commissioner. She will I'm sure continue to be a positive voice and a presence for people of faith outside this place and will be greatly missed here."

Michael Fabricant MP commented that both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York are "overworked" and that another post would help ease the pressure.

He then joked that the departing Speaker John Bercow should renew the role: "Twelve hundred years ago, Archbishop Hygeberht was the Archbishop of Lichfield. It seems to me, Mr Speaker, that you could have a future role in your retirement as the Archbishop for Lichfield.

"Then the hard work done by the Archbishop of Canterbury and York can be shared. We have that precedent. We want him now."

Responding to a question about the Church's role in climate change, Dame Spelman said: "The church needs to set an example in terms of its stewardship of the earth's resources which we are charged to look after and I certainly recognise that every one of us in this chamber has that absolute duty to make sure that we do leave this planet in a better place than we inherited it when we were born onto it."

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