Tory calls for church to break links with state

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A vice-chairman of the Conservative Party will call this weekend for the Church of England to break its historic links with the state.

Gary Streeter will say the time has come for a full debate on the issue of disestablishing the church. Speaking on GMTV's Sunday programme, to be broadcast tomorrow, he says: "I think a grown-up debate about the role of the Church of England and its establishment in a modern country, should now begin."

Mr Streeter will insist that he is not announcing a change in Tory party policy, but his comments will increase speculation about a fundamental shift away from the current link between Church and state.

Mr Streeter says the appointment of a successor to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, provides an opportunity for a mature debate about the future of the Church. He says: "There needs to be a wider debate about whether the Church of England should remain established. It doesn't quite work any longer. It's important that whoever is next Archbishop of Canterbury should recognise they are spiritual leader of the entire nation ... not just of the Church of England."