HC Deb 20 January 1986 vol 90 cc12-3
20. Mr. Greenway

asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, how many staff are employed by the Church Commission in the service of the Bishop of Durham, at what cost, what is the nature of their duties; and if he will make a statement.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Representing Church Commissioners (Sir William van Straubenzee)

None Sir, but there are five full-time or part-time staff in the service of the Bishop of Durham. There are two secretaries, a chaplain, a chauffeur/ handyman and a gardener. The cost to the commissioners is £23,405 per annum.

Mr. Greenway

I find it surprising that, in view of some of the things that the Bishop of Durham has said, he allows himself to live in a palace that has cost nearly £1 million in 10 years to maintain, and that he enjoys a staff costing some £23,000 to the commissioners and many thousands more to church people. Is it not a case of people in glass houses not throwing stones? Let him think about that.

Sir William van Straubenzee

Of course I shall think of anything that my hon. Friend says, but I have compared the staff with those of other bishops, and it is very much in line with them. We must remember that the bishop lives in a great and historic house. It costs a large sum of money to maintain, but I am confidently told that it would cause great distress in the area if the bishop were to vacate it for the time being.

Mr. Ryman

Despite the sanctimonious and sycophantic question of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the Bishop of Durham has done a great service to the people of the north-east of England by drawing attention to the fact that, as a result of the Government's unemployment policy, unemployment in the north-east has risen by an astronomic amount, and that the general social conditions there compared with the south are deplorable? Ought not the Bishop of Durham to be congratulated on drawing attention to those matters?

Sir William van Straubenzee

Those comments only lead me to say that I hope I shall never be commended by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cormack

Are we to take it from the last remarks that the Bishop of Durham rides to hounds? Can my hon. Friend assure us that the Bishop of Durham's chaplain holds entirely orthodox beliefs?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I am not responsible for the chaplain. In fact, he is no charge to the commissioners. In reply to the first part of the question, I do not know anything about the bishop's leisure time activities.

Mr. Rogers

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Christians have a view on the social problems, such as unemployment, that face us, especially when they afflict communities, and that it is a Christian virtue for any bishop to stand up and comment when the Government carry out such policies?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I have always stood up for the right of bishops to express their views in whatever way they choose. The only reservation that I have had was if they appeared to be fundamentally deviating from Christian tendencies.

Mr. Colvin

Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether deaconesses in the service of the Bishop of Durham are likely to see legislation during this Parliament on the matter of their ordination?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity. The House will be asked to consider a measure which concerns deaconesses. I do not expect that the House will be asked to consider it before Easter.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I agree that bishops are entitled to their views on social policy. Is my hon. Friend aware that many people in the diocese of the Bishop of Durham are apprenhensive about his theological views? As some people are now expressing anxiety that he should not confirm their candidates for confirmation, is it likely that his staff will be reduced pro rata?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I do not think the staff work on the basis of results in that way.