HC Deb 01 June 1998 vol 313 c17
37. Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

If he will make a statement on the returns made on the commissioners' assets for 1996–97. [42026]

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

The commissioners' financial year runs to the end of December. The total return on their assets was 17.1 per cent. in 1996 and 20.8 per cent. in 1997. In both years, their returns have been significantly higher than the performance of the United Kingdom pensions fund average.

Mr. Bradshaw

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Can he confirm that that means that the commissioners have now recovered the £800 million that they lost through their disastrous deals in the late 1980s and early 1990s?

Mr. Bell

I appreciate my hon. Friend's question, but the amount that he mentions relates to the fall in the valuation of the Church's assets between 1989, when the property market peaked, and 1992. Since then, the value of our assets has increased from £2.1 billion to £3.5 billion, and during my stewardship of one year, we have increased their value by £500 million. Success may have a thousand fathers, and I may be the 995th.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a large proportion of the income of the Church Commissioners goes towards meeting the stipends and pensions of a considerable number of clergymen? Should not the House encourage the Church Commissioners to maximise their assets, albeit within ethical constraints?

Mr. Bell

We do pay the pensions of clergymen and their widows. Following the Pensions Measure passed last year, they will be paid by the dioceses in future, but the hon. Gentleman's point is important: the assets that we accumulate today mean better possibilities for the Church in years to come.