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27 August 2011

Faith communities ‘vital’, says former home secretary

Faith communities ‘vital’, says former home secretary

Faith communities make a vital contribution to society, according to the former home secretary Jacqui Smith.

Speaking at Greenbelt Festival on Friday, she said that the existence of religious communities makes for a better nation, although admitted she had no faith of her own.

But in a Q&A session at Greenbelt, a Christian arts, faith and justice festival held every year in Cheltenham, she said: "Personally, I don't totally 'do God'. I haven't got a strong faith myself. I'm not a practising member of any religious group although I strongly believe in the contribution that faith has made.

"We are a stronger political system and society because of the contribution that faith makes."

The former home secretary hit the headlines again last week after it was revealed an inquiry is under way after two prisoners were revealed to have been decorating Ms Smith's house.

The men had been on day release from HMP Hewell in Redditch, where she lives with her family, and were on a community work scheme run by local charity Batchley Support Group.

Ms Smith offered to allow them to decorate her home in return for a donation to their charity. But according to the prison service, "under no circumstances should prisoners be taken to work in a private home".

The scandal has plunged Ms Smith in hot water again, following the revelation in June 2009 that she had inadvertently claimed parliamentary expenses for adult films ordered by her husband.

But she told an audience at Greenbelt about the latest scandal: "One of the things I have learnt about my position is that sometimes when you try and put the record straight, it sometimes makes it more difficult.

"Sometimes you can do something which you think is harmless or a good thing to do. But there are certain juxtapositions - i.e. me being former home secretary etc - that are always going to be interpreted badly.

"I'm reasonably phlegmatic now about the coverage that I get in the newspapers. But the worst thing about this week is my kids and my husband feeling under the pressure that they thought they had got out of from previously."