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General Synod: Archbishop of Canterbury welcome to the Secretary of State for International Development

Thursday 12th February 2004

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at the General Synod in London.

Thank you Mr Chairman: it's a very great privilege on behalf of Synod to welcome the Secretary of State this afternoon. We're honoured and delighted that you've been able to join us, and have promised to address us. We look forward very much to what you have to say on what all here I'm sure would agree is one of the most serious challenges of our time - the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The name of the Secretary of State will be familiar to all of you because you are regularly described, I gather, in the media as one of the Labour party's rising stars. These are not descriptions that anybody in their right mind relishes, but it is a description which has some surface plausibility here. Let me refresh the memory of Synod about the Secretary of State's career so far. Hilary Benn became MP for Leeds Central in 1999 and was within two years a junior minister, and two years after that, last October, attained Cabinet rank as Secretary of State at DfID taking over from Valerie Amos.

So, four years and four months from election to being a Secretary of State is quite a respectable record. But, given that you've only taken up this post very recently, we're all the more grateful that you have made time so early in your leadership of the department to be with us this afternoon.

The Church of England and this Synod have enjoyed very warm and very constructive relationships with the Department over many years, and that is at it should be. We share an agenda; we care about many of the same issues and acknowledge the same urgency about them. We are concerned about spiralling levels of poverty, about disease and epidemic, about fundamentally, justice. And we'll take your presence among us as an indication that we can and should look to continue this friendship and co-operation in the future as opportunity and need arises, and there'll be no shortage of either.

Clare Short addressed Synod some five years ago, and spoke of the biggest moral issue that faces us. The fact that in an ever growing world of wealth and plenty, one in four people alive today live in abject poverty. That has yet to change. But there can be no argument about the fact that that situation is intensified and made yet more tragic by the issue of AIDS, especially as it affects the African continent.

It's an issue that runs out in many directions. AIDS is something which undermines the economy of countries, which undermines family life and education. AIDS is an issue which brings into sharp and uncomfortable focus the issue of the availability of cheap drugs in poor countries, and the practices and priorities of pharmaceutical companies. In short this is an issue which is in many ways one of the three or four most urgently presenting faces of world poverty at the moment.

The Primates of the Communion have identified this as a clear priority in their own work. This Synod has discussed it before, and I've no doubt at all that we intend to go on playing our part in meeting the challenge, rising to this crisis, and I look forward very much, as I'm sure we all do, to hearing you, Secretary of State, sharing with us your vision of the present situation and the possibilities ahead and how we can work together.

We are delighted to welcome you.

© Rowan Williams 2004

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