HC Deb 11 July 1994 vol 246 cc659-60
31. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement on the future level of clergy fees for funerals and their relationship to the Church Commissioners' contribution to the overall stipend.

Mr. Alison

The commissioners have prepared a draft parochial fees order, to take effect from 1 January 1995, which will be presented to the General Synod today and which, it is believed, will result in fees representing a more realistic contribution to the costs of the Church. Fees payable to the clergy fund about 7 per cent. of the total stipend bill, but that bears no direct relationship to the annual sums that the commissioners make available towards stipends.

Mr. Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman has not told the House the position, which is that the proposal means that fees for funerals are likely to increase by three times, from £50 to £150, which is nothing short of appalling for many poor parishioners. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear to the Church that it is not right that, because of the Church Commissioners' mistakes, the poorest in society should be charged more to bury their dead?

Mr. Alison

I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman's figures. Fees are due to increase, on average, by 28 per cent. The total fee for a funeral service is set to rise from £43 to £55. The fee for a burial in a churchyard is significantly less than that for a burial in a local authority cemetery.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that clergymen will always take into account the needs of poor people, whether in regard to fees for funerals or to anything else? Will he also ensure that clergymen conducting funerals, especially on a conveyor basis at crematoriums, know the sex of the person who is being buried and take more care to ensure that the service is genuinely spiritual, which is what it is intended to be, but so often is not?

Mr. Alison

My hon. Friend has presented a horrific scenario involving "conveyor belts" at crematoriums. If he is prepared to carry out a personal survey of crematoriums throughout the metropolis and let me have a report, I shall be glad to arrange for a proper evaluation of the survey.