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Archbishop criticises 24 hour drinking

Wednesday 30th January 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams gave a wide ranging interview to Martha Linden of the Press Association in which he looked back over his years in office as well as towards some of his hopes for the future.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams today attacked 24-hour drinking as the "tip of the iceberg" in a culture of alcohol abuse in Britain.

Dr Williams said he was "very concerned" by reports that a review ordered into 24-hour drinking by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last year would conclude that the legislation has been largely a success.

"I would be interested to see why anyone should think of it as a success. I think it has had an effect of making less safe and less civil our public space in many, many contexts, including Canterbury," he said.

He added: "There is a whole culture of alcohol abuse which this country has failed to tackle and the 24-hour thing is just the tip of the iceberg.

"It is not that I am singling it out as the worst bit of the field, it is just that it is one of the more obviously presenting factors."

Dr Williams also attacked proposals in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which could open the door to research into hybrid embryos and which would remove the reference to the need for a father when under going fertility treatment.

He said: "The hybrid question - there has been a lot of rather extreme and alarmist talk about this and I fully accept that it is not about the breeding of monsters, but at the same time, I think there remains this very instrumentalist view of the human embryo: we use it for something and then destroy it, and I find that ethically very hard to accept.

"The hybrid embryos is just an aspect of overall attitudes to embryo research.

"In this country, more than in many others we seem to be taking for granted that it is all right to regard the human embryo as something to be used instrumentally - that is my big moral concern."

He said he "regretted" the proposals on removing the need for a father, saying it was a "downgrading of the ordinary processes of reproduction and upbringing" in favour of a "highly technological view" of what human reproduction was about.

Dr Williams' remarks were made in an interview to mark the 5th anniversary of his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003.



In his interview with the Press Association, Dr Williams also called for the Government to allow a free vote on the "big issues" of conscience, posed by the proposals on hybrid embryos in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and the removal of the clause on the need for a father.

Speaking about environment, he said the issue was "very important" to the Church of England.

He highlighted the work of the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, and the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, in pushing for greater reductions in carbon dioxide emissions in the Climate Change Bill from 60% to 80% by 2050.

He said the Church had moved to encourage greater environmental awareness through a "green" award scheme and audits of major church properties such as Lambeth Palace to make them more environmentally-friendly.

The Lambeth Conference in July is to be carbon offset through an environmental scheme in Burundi, Africa, and there would also be a day devoted to the environment where people from the areas most immediately affected such as Bangladesh, the Pacific and Kenya, would be encouraged to give their views.

Dr Williams said he was undecided yet about the view of the former chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who has said nuclear energy is essential to reduce Britain's carbon emissions.

"I suspect that like others who are environmentally concerned, I have a very divided mind on this, the technicalities of the safety of nuclear power still puzzle and alarm me rather," he said.

"I think there is a bigger question behind it. If going over to nuclear power is just a way of maintaining the same levels of energy consumption only somehow more cheaply, I wonder if we are not deluding ourselves that there is a free lunch somewhere in all this and we are just avoiding the challenge of a deeply problematic lifestyle.

"I need to study this question more deeply than I have."

Asked about the prospect of expansion of Heathrow in the form of a third runway and sixth terminal for the airport, Dr Williams said: "I am very unhappy about that particular trend. I think if there is to be any expansion we have to have absolute clarity about what offsetting policies we corporately, Governmentally, are thinking about."

Dr Williams said he had made changes to his domestic life through activities such as recycling and supporting local farmers' markets when in Canterbury.

This year, he said, he had decided to cut down "drastically" on flying and his only fixed and confirmed flight this year was to Auschwitz with the Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, a long scheduled trip.

Asked about whether his job had got any easier over the years, Dr Williams said:

"I wouldn't say it has got easier. I have seen signs of movement and feel at the moment some real hope about the Lambeth Conference coming up because I sense that there is a great will to make it work.".

He said his hopes for the Lambeth Conference were that they would build some stronger personal relationships within the Anglican Communion, and that the idea of Anglican Covenant would be "pushed forward".

He said he hoped there would be some "slightly more efficient" mechanisms put in train for the structures of the Anglican Communion, not only for conflict resolution but for communication.

He said: "I think the fact that the overwhelming majority of bishops in the Communion are going to come to Lambeth is a very promising sign. It includes a lot of people who still disagree quite strongly with one another but, as I say, they want to make it work, there is a sense of ownership and I take that as a very positive sign."


Dr Williams said Christian Muslim relations in Britain were in a "very good place" at the moment.

Asked about the recent comments by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who accused Islamic extremists of creating "no-go areas" for non-Muslims in Britain, Dr Williams said: "The phrase gives a very unfortunate impression".

But he said there was a problem about the "mutual isolation" in some areas of different communities.

He added: "A lot of Muslims will say well there are 'no go' areas for us in British society, in some ways, so if the question is about how do we overcome that mutual isolation, that is a very good question."

Asked if the comments made by Bishop Nazir-Ali were helpful, Dr Williams: "I think because it was taken in a very, very negative sense it had a difficult impact in lots of urban settings, but I think I want to say that Bishop Nazir-Ali has quite a record in Christian Muslim dialogue and ought not to be heard as saying something simply negative."

Looking back on his five years in post, Dr Williams spoke of some of the "extraordinary" and challenging moments he had experienced travelling abroad.

He said perhaps the most challenging visit had been to Sudan in 2006 including seeing the "extraordinary" work done by the Anglican Church on the ground in the vast country.

He spoke of his consecration of the Anglican Cathedral at Renk in southern Sudan, in the middle of "miles and miles of desert".

Seeing a community "really pulling itself together" after decades of war and poverty had been "extraordinary", he said.

Commenting on his visit last October to Syria where he spoke of his "harrowing" and heartbreaking meeting with Christian refugees from Iraq, and asked whether there had been any improvement, he said: "I do not think there has really, the international situation remains maximally difficult in respect of the Christian communities in Iraq. We have tried to pick up a few cases to see if we can do anything here.. but overall I don't think the situation is going to get better until Iraq has stabilised."

Asked about President Bush's remarks earlier this week that the situation had effectively turned a corner in Iraq, Dr Williams said: "I hope and pray that it is true, I can't say more than that at this stage."

He said the Church of England remained in regular touch - weekly and sometimes daily - with Christians in Palestine and Israel.

He repeated his hope that British pilgrims would continue to visit the Holy Land in order to support Christians in the region.


Reproduced with the kind permission of The Press Association.

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