HC Deb 22 February 1999 vol 326 cc15-6
35. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

What proportion of the commissioners' assets are currently allocated to property portfolios. [70526]

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

The annual valuations as at 31 December 1998 are still being confirmed. At the end of 1997, the commissioners held 26.5 per cent. of their assets in property.

Asset allocation is reviewed annually by the assets committee and the review for the current year is under preparation.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Will the Second Church Estates Commissioner tell the House how the figure of 26.5 per cent. compares with, for example, the figure 10 years ago, just before the property industry went into recession? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the real lesson to be learned is that the commissioners, within their self-imposed ethical restraints, should spread their investments across the spectrum rather than relying too deeply on one or two sectors?

Mr. Bell

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. He might wish to know that at the end of 1997, 13 per cent. of the commissioners' assets were in commercial property, with 7.5 per cent. in agricultural property and minerals and 6 per cent. in residential property. As for the heart of the hon. Gentleman's question, about 10 years ago and into the early 1990s, 60 per cent. of the commissioners' portfolio was in property and about 30 per cent. in the stock exchange. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point that the commissioners, in looking after £3.5 billion-worth of assets, must get the balance right between property, stocks and shares and holding cash in reserve to take any opportunity that may be available for good investments.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I recognise that valuations are changing all the time in the sectors to which my hon. Friend has referred, but can he give any indication of the guideline percentage that the commissioners believe is right to have invested in property?

Mr. Bell

We constantly review our investment policy and strategy so as to get the balance right. Given the movement in the world's stock markets, which has generally been upwards—certainly in our own stock market—we are satisfied that the present balance between property rights, investments in stocks and shares and the holding of cash for future investment is proper.