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Letters to the Editor

28 February 2020

BBC licence fee, climate-change target, the divorce Bill, and Lent


BBC licence fee criminalises poor

From Mr Donald E. Draper

Sir, — It was disappointing to see Paul Vallely promulgate the highly dubious assertion that decriminalising non-payment of the television-licence fee is somehow a terrible plot by the Government to deprive the BBC of funds (Comment, 14 February).

In reality, decriminalisation would do no more than bring the BBC into line with other similar bodies, and make non-payment a civil rather than a criminal offence. There is a good case for saying that this is a more proportionate approach to the essentially simple matter of non-payment of a bill.

As a solicitor, I have on occasion the unfortunate duty of advising people who are being threatened with court action for non-payment of their television-licence fee. In almost all cases, these were poor people, often with multiple debts and many organisations chasing them for payment. But the BBC alone had the power to give these people a criminal record.

This does not mean that if I do not pay, I can get off scot-free. The utility company can still deprive me of my utilities and take me to court, where a judge is likely to order me to pay my debt, in instalments if necessary. If I fail to do so, the courts can authorise bailiffs to take my property up to the value of the debt owed (including costs). In extremis, I can still be sent to prison. But I will not have a criminal record with all the attendant shame and subsequent problems that this can cause.

I might have hoped that Mr Vallely’s article would consider this issue from the perspective of Christian teaching, which I understand to urge compassion for the poor and the proportionate use of state power. Sadly, his article seemed entirely lacking in this respect. Instead, it seemed to ascribe the very best of motives to one flawed human institution (the BCC) while ascribing the very worst of motives to another (the Government). That did not make for a balanced assessment of the important issues at stake.

Fairlawns, Combine Close
Sutton Coldfield
West Midlands B75 9TJ

General Synod’s climate-change target, solar panels, and recent floods

From the Revd Professor Helen Leathard

Sir, — I was delighted to read (News, 14 February) that the General Synod voted for all parts of the Church to work to achieve year-on-year reductions in carbon emissions and examine urgently what would be required to reach net zero emissions by 2030.

After addressing the subject with a congregation, I can assure the Bishop of Salisbury that parishes would be delighted by that target and not resent it, provided appropriate supportive measures were put in place. I have rarely, if ever, experienced such an enthusiastic response to a sermon; and further suggestions were made.

I am writing, therefore, to advocate actions to enable congregations to reduce their church’s carbon footprint as rapidly and effectively as they would like to. These are, for a minimum period of ten years, to remove administrative impediments to the installation of: solar panels on south-facing roofs (and associated storage batteries when available); ground-source or air-source heat pumps; unobtrusive double glazing to help to insulate against heat loss; and unobtrusive pumps to recirculate warm air from high points in a church back down to ground level.

To avoid the need for laborious, individual faculty applications, the Church, centrally, should produce clear specifications for each type of emissions-reducing work, adherence to which would guarantee faculty approval. The work could then be done by specialist contractors approved by the dioceses, to ensure consistently appropriate quality of work.

Parishes should be facilitated to make rapid progress with reducing their emissions through the provision of easy-to-access loans from the Church Commissioners, to be repaid from future savings on energy bills and income from feed-in tariffs.

The urgent examination of possibilities needs to start somewhere, and perhaps this letter will set some balls rolling. We really do need to find efficient and effective ways of prioritising our God-given stewardship of creation over caring too much about the aesthetics of ageing buildings built by human hands.

29 Coronation Way
Lancaster LA1 2TQ

From Mr Michael Jenkins

Sir, — Canon Martin Gainsborough’s initiative and article are to be welcomed. Churches should have national authority and an approved design for solar panels to be added to their south-facing roofs. This should contribute to the national good and their depleted coffers. Let’s be brave.

The Old Library
27 Court Barton
Ilminster TA19 0DU

From the Revd Colin Reed

Sir, — I enjoyed reading the reports of the debate leading to the resolution that the Church should be aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. I fully support this and I am delighted to see the Church at the forefront of a modern issue of concern.

I saw no mention of the issue of visible solar panels on church roofs, but this is the only practical way that my churches will be able to act. Can I take it that I will now be able to apply for a faculty for visible solar panels with the hope of it being accepted?

The Rectory
Attleborough Road
Norfolk NR9 4HP

From the Revd Clive Hicks

Sir, — Your report on the damage caused by Storm Ciara (News, 14 February) was welcomed. Appleby-in-Westmorland was again a focus of concern. St Lawrence’s is still trying hard to complete restoration work after the severe flooding during 5-6 December 2015, Storm Desmond. Flood defences for the town had been upgraded in 1995, but that year were breached as 172 properties, including the church, were flooded.

This is a community used to flooding: “In the 200 years between 1815 and 2015 there have been 67 floods (where at least one property was flooded) recorded in 53 different years. Apart from 2015 the other significant years when the most extensive and serious events took place were: 1817, 1822, 1856, 1925, 1968 and 2005. The majority of the floods occurred during the months of November-February, with few outside of these months” (Cumbria County Council Flood Investigation Report, 2017).

This time, community and church seemed alert and well prepared. Thankfully, many buildings, including the churches, were not affected this time, but still homes and businesses suffered extensive damage. A fractured main in Cumbria resulted in many homes’ and farms’ being without water for four days. It led one parishioner to have a number of conversations at the well in a village just outside Appleby.

United Utilities did a fantastic job providing bottled water and taking water to more isolated farms and homes as they completed the mains repairs at Shap. The Environment Agency communicates well, and seems to care much more about the impact on people. Members of St Lawrence’s carefully executed plans to erect new flood gates at the doors, in the knowledge that pumps in the crypt would kick in if water came up through the ground; services were necessarily cancelled.

The community was again alert for Storm Dennis when it arrived the following weekend. The Appleby Emergency Response Group again kicked into action, and Flood Alerts online reported river levels upstream at Musgrave and Kirkby Stephen; the levels of risks are well known. Social media were invaluable in providing local updates and images that were reassuring. But other parts of the UK were hit much harder than us this time — Wales, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire included — and the clean-up of physical damage will take considerable time.

We know that in Appleby there is an underlying nervousness because this had all happened so recently, and was coming again inside a week. Volunteers, politicians, and clergy voiced their shared concerns. Interviews on the news at Appleby and in Hereford highlighted the need for more careful consideration of building permissions on flood plains; the disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable, who found it more difficult to respond; the need for continued investment in flood defences; and the powerful way in which communities pull together.

The impact of climate change requires more coherent policies and plans, and the Church should have a voice on these and broader environmental concerns — through Eco Churches and Eco Dioceses — and take concrete action, because the floods seem likely to be coming more frequently, and in places that are less ready for them.

Appleby St Lawrence’s experience is of costly repair, protecting the church building “as victim”, but also, tentatively, reimagining how we can better support the wider community. It may be that developing as Eco Churches will, as the Revd Ruth Hulse said on Channel 4 News, be one such response in community leadership.

I do hope that what the Church actually does, in sympathetic partnerships with local communities, will deliver realistically, and not over-promise where it cannot contribute.

Long Marton Rectory
Long Marton
CA16 6BN

Leaving behind the Victorian era at Bath Abbey

From Jeremy Key-Pugh

Sir, — Pat Ashworth’s article on the heating of churches (Features, 7 February) was interesting and informative, but did contain one small error of fact. Bath Abbey does not have, nor has it ever had, a “great cast-iron stove” such as the Gurney stove pictured at Ely.

I recall being profoundly grateful for the one in Hereford Cathedral one bitter February day in the late 1970s when the choir from Kingswood School, Bath, was there to sing choral evensong; and there have been times in the course of the past two winters when we might have been extremely glad of such an installation here in Bath.

But the fact is that Sir George Gilbert Scott installed a hot-water heating system in Bath Abbey in the 1860s, with a boiler of steamship dimensions, and large-bore cast-iron pipes under gratings in the floor. That has provided our heating for a century and a half.

The consequences of the engineering of that installation, however, have not all been positive and happy. We are at present in the throes of a £19-million project to relay the substrata of the subsiding floor that Scott dug up — hence the unusual cold in the Abbey these past two winters, and our empathy with those who suffer similarly.

The system that we are installing uses modern underfloor heating, which will get its energy from the hot spring water that gushes out of the ground in the centre of Bath: about a million litres every day at a temperature of 40°C. It is one of the improvements that we are making in support of the aspiration, which we share with the General Synod, to be radically more sustainable in our use of resources sooner rather than later.

8 The Linleys, Bath BA1 2XE

Christian marriage and the divorce Bill 

Sir, — Your report “Divorce Bill undermines marriage, says Newcome” (News, 14 February) fills me with despair. The new legislation is a response to the hopes and prayers of many of us trapped in loveless unions.

For me, a number of happy years in the full Christian beliefs, sacraments, and vows were followed by a slow and painful realisation that we had grown apart at a fundamental level. There was, sadly and simply, nothing left to hold before God which held any resonance with those vows.

There was no blame, however, and my husband seemed to prefer the living hell of hurtful verbal exchanges which we endured day by day to admission that the marriage, in any meaningful sense, had ended.

I was the family breadwinner; so my only choice was to form a separate household for myself and our children, while leaving my husband living in the family home. This meant not only suddenly uprooting the children from the home and friends that they had always known, but, for me, a financial burden that was unsustainable. As any default on the mortgage and lack of financial resilience would lead to automatic referral to my professional regulatory body, there was a risk of, at least, great unpleasantness or, at worst, interruption of my ability to earn.

When there is no other solution, we learn to pray and endure, but my many years of doing so have been a life sentence. I cannot do other than mourn what might have been: the chance perhaps to have met and enjoyed the full richness of human happiness and love with a new life partner. Although the children are now grown and seem stable and well balanced, they know all too well the background to our “family life”. I fear that it must have left a mark.

I cannot believe that I am alone in living through this kind of experience, as those striving to live a Christian life may well find it against all their beliefs to apportion blame where there is simply a parting of wishes and priorities for living.

I plead for compassion for those who are simply enduring, and some understanding that change is overdue and needed for the welfare of all.


From Dr Christopher Shell

Sir, — Lord Harries’s letter (21 February) is rendered redundant by its inaccurate assumption that divorce proceedings are the initiative of couples.

In fully three-quarters of cases, they are the initiative of one individual against the will of the other. These latest proposals, which he lauds, significantly exacerbate this existing shortcoming, which will cause extreme pain on the occasions when a relatively innocent party is involved; for they bid fair to reward caprice, divisiveness, promise-breaking and short-termism, while simultaneously deserting the already deserted spouse: the one who seems likelier to be the more mature, peaceable, faithful, and long-term by nature. In other words, an upturning of what would normally be called Christian.

186 Ellerdine Road
Hounslow TW3 2PX

Countdown to Easter 

From Mr Stephen Green

Sir, — It seems rather a pity that at this time of the year the Church has discarded those ancient names Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima.

The quaint names in the Book of Common Prayer point encour­agingly to Easter. The more prosaic modern titles, less invitingly, point only towards Lent.

Charterhouse Square
London EC1M 6AN

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