HC Deb 05 July 1993 vol 228 cc12-3
31. Sir Michael Neubert

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners what account is taken of the size of congregations in setting the contribution required from each parish to diocesan funds.

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

It is not for the commissioners to set parish share or quota levels. Each individual diocese has its own method of calculating that and most take account, among other things, of the usual Sunday attendance figures, which are based on congregation size at times other than festivals or peak holidays.

Sir Michael Neubert

Is not it a matter of regret that church finances, which are already reeling from a fall in property values, will now have to cope with compensation running into millions of pounds to clergy who are leaving the Church in opposition to the ordination of women priests—an avoidable and infinitely divisive issue which, unlike the Bishop of Durham, who is taking retirement, and despite what he says, will not go away? Would not it reduce the number leaving and ease the financial burden on congregations if the safeguards proposed in the Act of Synod were incorporated in a supplementary Measure and given the force of law, rather than expecting traditionalist clergy to run the risk of another fit of political correctness and militant feminism at some point in the future?

Mr. Alison

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. We very much hope that the alarmist figures of likely resignations will prove, in practice, to be gross overestimates and that the pastoral provisions announced already by the bishops of the Church of England will go a long way towards reassuring those who are in danger of resigning. I should point out to my hon. Friend that the net cost arising from resignations will depend on the extent to which resigning clergy are immediately replaced.

Mr. Frank Field

The hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would be in favour of the safeguard being enshrined in a supplementary Measure. If that Measure came before the House after women's ordination had taken effect, would he be in favour of that?

Mr. Alison

I would certainly be in favour of that, particularly if the hon. Gentleman felt happy with it. But we would have to look at it on its merits, and it would be difficult to provide the safeguards for which he and I are looking. Much would depend on appointment factors, which are often subject to secret voting, and one could never be certain that the aims that we seek were achievable in a statutory form.