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    01 December, 2006

    Tabernacl Chapel and the Council that planned to ban Sunday School

    I don't often get involved in Assembly debates which don't bear directly on the Rhondda, but Tabernacl Chapel is a special case. I was married there!

    I was pleased to take an active part in standing up for Tab in the debate on Cardiff City centre's new developments on Wednesday.

    Leighton Andrews: Cefnogaf y gwelliant yn enw Owen John Thomas—nid wyf yn dweud hynny yn aml. Yr wyf wedi ysgrifennu llythyrau at y Gweinidog ers blwyddyn yn cefnogi capel y Bedyddwyr, Tabernacl, yn yr Aes. Priodais yn y capel hwnnw, 10 mlynedd yn ôl. Daeth fy ngwraig yn aelod o’r capel rai blynyddoedd yn ôl, ac yr wyf wedi dysgu un peth—mae capel y Bedyddwyr ychydig fel y maffia: wedi i chi ymuno, ni allwch adael.

    (Leighton Andrews: I support the amendment in the name of Owen John Thomas—I do not say that very often. I have been writing letters to the Minister for a year supporting the Baptist chapel, Tabernacl, in the Hayes. I got married in that chapel, 10 years ago. My wife became a member of the chapel some years ago, and I have learned one thing—the Baptist chapel is like the mafia: once you have joined, you can never leave.)

    Tabernacl chapel in the Hayes in Cardiff, or Tab, as it is universally known, is not just a Christian centre in Cardiff, but a centre of support for homeless people and a centre for a range of other important activities in the city. It is also an important national base, which is why this is more than a constituency issue for Cardiff Central. Tab is known throughout Wales, and members of Baptist chapels in my constituency, like Ainon in Ynyshir or Soar Ffrwdamos in Penygraig, know its work and its minister and support it. I also recall that Tab played an important role in the campaign to secure the National Assembly. I remember speaking to a Cardiff Says Yes event in 1997 and seeing many members of the congregation in the audience who were active campaigners for the National Assembly.

    I am glad that the Order that we will pass today will give some protection to the chapel. However, it is how that Order is subsequently implemented and the approach that is adopted that will decide whether Tabernacl will be able to carry out the activities for which it is known throughout Wales. I will give you some examples: the chapel holds a Sunday school, which usually lasts until about 1 p.m.. The proposed parking restrictions would require cars to be moved from the chapel by 12 p.m., or they would have to be left there until after 7 p.m.. There has been no attempt to compromise on the part of the council on that 1 hour gap. That is pathetic. It is a simple example, but a telling one. There are other activities that will be undermined by the council’s plans, which have been mentioned already by Owen John, including the provision of tea and sandwiches for homeless people on Sunday afternoons.

    Other regular activities that will be hit will include prayer meetings, choir practice and so on, as well as meetings of church and other groups. Tab is a national centre for religious services, such as the millennium service in 2000. It is used for rehearsals for the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World contest and is a venue for all kinds of launches and other events. We would not accept this sort of behaviour towards members of other faith communities, whether we were talking about a mosque, a Sikh temple or a synagogue, and we should not allow this kind of behaviour to be adopted towards a Christian chapel either.

    There has been a place of worship on this site for over 180 years—it is an important part of the life of the city and it deserves our support. I hope that all the parties in this Chamber that support this amendment today will ensure that their colleagues in those parties on Cardiff council work together to ensure fair play for the chapel. I want to end with some words for the leader of Cardiff council, who has indulged in some pathetic scaremongering on this issue over the last few days and has attacked Assembly Members. It is disgraceful that he has sought to mislead the developers about our intentions in today’s debate. None of us oppose the St David’s 2 development. Many of my constituents work in Cardiff and may find jobs in this development—if Cardiff council does not tax them with an £8-a-day congestion charge and if Arriva can get the trains to run on time.

    Last week, the leader of Cardiff council wrote to Tabernacl again. It was a hopeless letter—churlish, small minded and mean spirited. It was not the letter of a leader; it was the letter of a bureaucrat. Councillor Berman needs to decide whether—

    The Presiding Officer: Order. It is not appropriate, as I pointed out at the start of this debate, in order to avoid this level of discussion, to refer personally to the leader of Cardiff council. This is a decision that we, as the National Assembly, are called upon to undertake as part of our statutory role of making subordinate legislation. I specifically requested that issues relating to the nature of the decision undertaken earlier by Cardiff council should not be the subject of debate. I ask you to conclude without taking those comments further.

    Leighton Andrews: I accept that ruling, Presiding Officer. However, I must say that the leader of that council has attacked me and other Assembly Members, and we are entitled to some right of reply. I will conclude with this sentence: if Cardiff council does not grant changes in the Order to accommodate Tabernacl, then the council will go down in the history of this city as the council that planned to ban Sunday school

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.