HC Deb 22 July 1996 vol 282 cc19-20
40. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what policies are followed by the commissioners in respect of ethical investment. [36757]

Mr. Alison

It is the commissioners' policy not to invest in any company of which the main business is in armaments, gambling, breweries and distilleries, tobacco or newspapers. I am arranging for a leaflet setting out our ethical policy to be sent to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Banks

That is very interesting. Does that mean that the 30 per cent. rule still applies, whereby the commissioners are prepared to invest in companies that have only 30 per cent. of their production in arms or some of the other areas that he has just listed? If that is so, does it mean that, provided that we behave ourselves for 70 per cent. of the time, the other 30 per cent. we can have a bit of slap and tickle?

While I have the right hon. Gentleman there, and as I have been such a strong supporter of the Church Commissioners over the years, is there any chance of his making sure that they offer up a few prayers for me for the shadow Cabinet elections? I suspect that I am going to need some divine intervention this year.

Mr. Alison

I think that the rules guiding us on ethical investment would deter us from offering any prayers concerning the shadow Cabinet elections. As for the 30 per cent. figure, the hon. Gentleman is a little wide of the mark. If a company's investment in armaments is as high as 30 per cent., the Church Commissioners are uneasy about investing in it. That is why we are in continual dialogue with GEC about the level of its armaments production.

I ask the hon. Gentleman, before he becomes holier than thou, which I know is not characteristic of him, to remember that many of those companies pay substantial taxation to the Chancellor. He and I should be very careful, when our next salary cheque comes along at the end of July—it will probably be slightly bigger than previously—to ensure that it is ethically acceptable, because some of it may come from those companies about which the Church Commissioners have scruples.

Mr. John Marshall

Why do the Church Commissioners consider that it is immoral to invest in the Daily Mail?

Mr. Alison

The rule about not investing in newspapers exists purely so that the Church Commissioners do not take sides in the political involvement or the political sympathies of any newspaper. By dint of not investing in newspapers, we do not invest in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent or any others whose politics are different and about whom there might be conflict in Church circles as to the investment made.