HC Deb 16 May 1994 vol 243 cc550-2
32. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what plans the Church Commissioners have to switch investment from up-market homes and offices into affordable homes to rent.

Mr. Alison

The Church Commissioners already provide approximately 1,600 homes at affordable rents in inner London on their Octavia hill estates. They also seek whenever possible to make land on their agricultural estates available for that purpose.

Mr. Bruce

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The last report by the Church Commissioners that I read made a great point of the fact that they were investing in up-market houses and not investing new money in affordable homes. As that investment policy was disastrously wrong and made no money for stipends for the clergy, surely they should look again at their policies and give affordable homes a greater boost—and, indeed, do their Christian duty as well as their financial duty.

Mr. Alison

Our primary Christian duty must be to maintain our primary charitable objective, which is to provide a high cash flow to pay the stipends of clergy and pensioners and their dependants. I told the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who pressed the same point that, where we can, we mitigate the impact of this necessary policy by trying to help with low-cost housing. For example, opportunities have been taken, where planning has enabled us to act within our legal duty, to provide land for affordable housing on a number of sites in Cambridgeshire, Hampshire and Yorkshire as well as in London. We try to bear in mind my hon. Friend's point, but we are caught on the horns of a dilemma as to whether, strictly speaking, we can pursue the policies of a housing charity—which we are not.