§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)
Hon. Members: Hear, hear.
May I assure the House that the thunder that is outside at the moment, rattling around the precincts of the House, is nothing to do with my appointment as Second Church Estates Commissioner?
In answer to my hon. Friend, the £1.9 million figure represents the unconsolidated surplus in the commissioners' own books. The actual consolidated surplus is £9 million.
§ Mr. Flynn
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment as our official conduit to the Almighty, but may I address my remarks to the rather more worldly financial turmoil of the Church of England? Will he meet those organisations that are campaigning for recovery of Church funds through the parishes protection group, who were asking why we have not had the independent investigation that the Social Security Select Committee has asked for into the £1 billion lost fund of the Church of England and the £2.5 billion shortfall in the funds for clergy pensions?
§ Mr. Bell
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I have spent a weekend on the Queen Anne's Bounty and the First Fruits and Tenths, so I am edging my way into the high finance of the Church. Evidence was given to the Social Security Select Committee; the Committee has not raised further issues with the commissioners at this time. Clearly, any further submissions will be looked at and will be taken into account by the Church Commissioners.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I also extend my welcome to the hon. Gentleman on his appointment to his important post.
When the hon. Gentleman considers that surplus in the recent accounts, will he look at the Pensions Measure 1997, which was passed in the previous Parliament? It will require all dioceses and parishes to pay all future pensions—a move that will place a severe strain on some 18 parishes and dioceses and may make some unviable. If that is the case, will the hon. Gentleman consult on the subject of whether some of the future pensions in some specific dioceses should be paid from the centre?
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Gentleman is right. The Pensions Measure received Royal Assent at Eastertime. The actual surplus figures reflect a programme of cutting expenditure and rebalancing the allocation of assets. The aim is to bring the commissioners' assets and liabilities into a more sustainable balance. On that basis—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree—the commissioners can better preserve their support for the needier dioceses and parishes.