HC Deb 14 July 1997 vol 298 cc15-6
36. Sir Sydney Chapman

To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement on the annual amount and proportion of the Church Commissioners' revenue allocated to clergy stipends and pensions. [6500]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

In 1996, the commissioners' total expenditure on behalf of the Church was £136.2 million. Of that, £32.5 million, or 24 per cent., went on stipends, and £79.6 million, or 58 per cent., went on pensions for the clergy.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer, and welcome the Church Commissioners' achievement in recreating a diversified and prospering asset base in order largely to meet the cost of clergy pensions and stipends. Will he confirm that the commissioners have also achieved the objective of having 50 per cent. or more of their funds in equities? Does not the recent movement of the stock markets augur well for the ability of the Church Commissioners to play an even greater part in meeting the cost of, in particular, clergy pensions in the next financial year?

Mr. Bell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. He will know that, in 1996, the return on assets of some £3,000 million was 17 per cent. That was a good achievement on the part of the commissioners. Income last year was £145.8 million, and the year before that it was £137 million. I can confirm that 70 per cent. of the commissioners' stock exchange assets are in UK stocks and shares. The market is buoyant, the economy is doing well and there is every confidence in the future. That is good news for the Church, for those who rely on the Church and for anyone who wants to see just how well the Church Commissioners can invest their money.

Mr. Cohen

Did my hon. Friend note the silly and unreasonable court judgment that was reached at the end of last week—that clergymen do not have a terrestrial employer? It is recorded that water was once turned into wine, but not that hot air can be turned into wages. Will my hon. Friend assure us that the Church Commissioners will be a responsible employer on earth?

Mr. Bell

When I attended the Durham miners' gala on Saturday, my noble Friend Lord Dixon said that I was God's shop steward. The decision at the industrial tribunal last week related to the actual work of the clergy, and to whom the clergyman owed his duty in the cure of souls. It is not, however, for the Church Commissioners to involve themselves in the decisions of industrial tribunals. As I implied in my response to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), their work involves dealing with assets, and investment of those assets, in the interests of the Church.