Carey puts Church and ministers on collision course

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The Government was on a collision course with the Church last night after a minister appeared to attack the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the wake of Dr George Carey's latest controversial speech in Europe.

At a meeting of the Council of Europe, Dr Carey called on Britain to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. It followed his appeal this week to John Major to reconsider the issues involved in the Maastricht treaty's Social Chapter. He said then he was speaking merely as a Christian leader, and was not adopting a political stance.

But John Redwood, the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, addressing Tory supporters in Gloucestershire, yesterday said it was 'commonplace these days' for church leaders to offer the Government advice on the Social Chapter, homelessness and the inner cities.

Mr Redwood did not mention Dr Carey, but his reference to the Social Chapter left little doubt at Westminster where his target effectively lay. He said: 'As inner- cities minister, I am all too conscious of the need to bring more jobs, prosperity and hope to our inner cities. I am also conscious that spiritual and moral leadership as well as good inner-city and economic policies are needed to bring success to run-down urban areas. He said there were 'important moral issues' on which the views of the churches would be 'especially valuable'.

Earlier, Nicholas Winterton, Tory MP for Macclesfield, said of Dr Carey: 'He can hold what views he likes on Europe, but to say that he was merely speaking as a Christian leader and not wishing to get involved in politics, he is living in cloud cuckoo land. He is getting involved in politics and not only politics but constitutional politics as well.

'I look to Dr Carey for spiritual leadership and it is not for him to give the Government constitutional advice. For him to have intervened in this way at this time is unhelpful,' he said.

Dr Carey told the Council of Europe yesterday that he was veryconcerned about the backlog of human rights cases, which had built up to the point where it could take five or six years to hear one. This could have a disillusioning effect on the countries of eastern Europe that had recently signed the convention, he said.

'The political will to find a way forward must be summoned rapidly if one of the most substantial collective achievements in Europe is not to degenerate into frustration and ineffectiveness.' Much of the backlog was a result of the British refusal to incorporate the convention, Dr Carey said. 'There is arguably an element of irresponsibility in leaving our citizens to seek their rights through the lengthy procedures of a Strasbourg court which is struggling with ever-growing responsibilities after the fall of communism.'

Dr Carey argued that human rights could not be merely a matter of legal form., They depended on a shared belief that they were 'the embodiment of absolute goodness', and this was in danger of being lost.

His call was greeted enthusiastically by Anthony Barnett of the constitutional reform group Charter 88, who said: 'Excellent] A genuine radical at last.'

Graham Allen, the Labour Party's spokesman on constitutional affairs, commented: 'People in Britain can't sit around for five or six years waiting for their cases to be heard either. I am delighted that the Archbishop is making a contribution to this debate.'

A senior EC Commissioner has given Britain a veiled warning to accept a federal Europe or leave the Community, writes Sarah Lambert in Brussels.

Martin Bangemann, the outspoken German commissioner responsible for industrial affairs, said in Bremen yesterday: 'Those who have other conceptions of the future Europe should consider whether they really want to belong to this Community. A united Europe in which each state is allowed to pick and choose has no realistic chances of survival.'

(Photograph omitted)