HC Deb 16 February 1998 vol 306 cc760-1
41. Mr. Baker

What plans he has to transfer resources from higher-paid clergy to lower-paid clergy.[27625]

Mr. Stuart Bell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in Church matters, and I look forward to meeting him, with the Church Commissioners, later this week. In its debate in December 1995, the general synod upheld the principle of clergy differentials, and the commissioners, as the Central Stipends Authority, are required by legislation to have due regard to any resolution of the General Synod in respect of matters of general stipends policy.

Mr. Baker

Does the hon. Gentleman feel comfortable with the fact that the average bishop costs £124,000 and that bishops' salaries and other costs account for 10 per cent. of Church Commission funds? At the same time, many at the sharp end are living in near poverty on a pittance. Is this a case of, "To them that have, more shall be given"?

Mr. Bell

We are always interested in and concerned about those living at the sharp end. The commissioners' statutory obligations include supporting the bishops and the cathedrals, as well as the service pensions of all former parochial clergy. The commissioners also seek to maximise the sums provided for the support of the ministry in poorer parishes. We have released about £14 million a year—money that is currently directed to the needier dioceses for this very purpose.

Mr. Pike

Is there any truth in the rumour that the bishops of Liverpool and Southwark have not yet been appointed so as to fill clergy vacancies lower down? Is there any other good reason why those posts have not yet been filled?

Mr. Bell

I am grateful for the question, but the appointment of bishops is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. I would not wish to pursue a path that would lead me straight to 10 Downing street.

Mr. Lansley

Have the Church Commissioners undertaken any assessment of the implications of the introduction of a national minimum wage for Church of England clergy? How, for instance, is the record keeping to be undertaken; what will the costs of compliance be; and to what extent are clergy's stipends likely to be directly affected?

Mr. Bell

I am happy to tell the House that the clergy are well enough paid to avoid the national minimum wage—but the point is a good one. We shall take it up and keep it under review.