HC Deb 29 January 1996 vol 270 cc643-4
36. Mr. Flynn

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what new proposals the commissioners have to improve the ethical content of their investment. [10017]

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

The commissioners' investments, as I told the hon. Gentleman when he last raised the subject a few weeks ago, have always been subject to ethical criteria and are continuously reviewed. The ethical working group set up in October 1994 plays an important part in keeping under review the ethical investment policy of the Church Commissioners and of the Church's two other main investing bodies, the Central Board of Finance and the Church of England pensions board.

Mr. Flynn

The commissioners deserve the congratulations of the House on the decision that they were reported to have taken in November when they sold 2 million shares in BSkyB because of its investment in a pornographic television channel. When will the commissioners deal with their investment in another, more dangerous, obscenity—the international arms trade? It was reported recently that they had nearly 3 million shares in GEC. A quarter of that firm's production is for the arms trade and it has been reported that the commissioners have discussed with it its exports to Indonesia and Nigeria. Did such a meeting take place and, if so, what was the outcome?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman's question covers a wide spectrum. We are investors in GEC, whose armaments portfolio is held to be less than 30 per cent., which is just about the cut-off point for our ethical application. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the five permanent members of the Security Council have reaffirmed, and continue to reaffirm, the inherent right to individual or collective self-defence that is recognised in article 51 of the United Nations charter, which implies that states have the right to acquire the means for legitimate self-defence. Nevertheless, the Church of England does not invest in companies whose main business is armaments. It has to be less than 30 per cent.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Church intend to increase its investment in inner cities? Is its view that the Government should do the same?

Mr. Alison

The Church urban fund, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, is a very important but, nevertheless, by statute a subordinate part of the claims on the income of the Church of England. Although we shall do everything possible to sustain our cash flow into the Church urban fund, pensions and stipends of clergy and their dependants must remain statutorily the overriding priority. Incidentally, I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the capital value of our total assets has risen to £2.6 billion from £2.1 billion or less 10 years ago.

Forward to