HC Deb 19 July 1999 vol 335 cc786-7
36. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

If he will make a statement on the effectiveness of the Church Commissioners' ethical investment policy. [90236]

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

The Church Commissioners' ethical investment policy, which has been in operation for more than 50 years, is directed at raising standards in corporate life and encouraging business to develop codes of practice that place high standards of ethical excellence at the heart of corporate vision, thinking and strategy. While following that policy, the commissioners' investment returns have over the past five years exceeded their financial targets and significantly outperformed the pension funds world market all-funds benchmark.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

The wages of virtue.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful for that reply. Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Church Commissioners have no current investments in any country that has been severely criticised in an Amnesty International report which it has neither rebutted nor addressed? If he cannot give me and the House such an assurance, what steps are they taking to ensure that in future their hands are entirely clean?

Mr. Bell

The wages of virtue have been mentioned; they are certainly greater than the wages of sin. Labour Members, and the Church Commissioners, are happy to be on the side of the angels. I will give the hon. Gentleman a written reply on his specific question. However, the commissioners' present policy excludes about 10 per cent. of the United Kingdom stock market and a smaller proportion of world markets. To exclude a greater proportion could imbalance the portfolio, incurring increased risk as well as adversely affecting financial performance. The question of the export of defence equipment to various parts of the world is often raised. When the Prime Minister raised it and took a question about East Timor on "Question Time", he had a sandwich thrown at him. The House is a little bit more decorous in that regard and I shall give the hon. Gentleman a full response to his specific point.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I wonder whether the ethical investments of the Church of England are being more closely monitored than the ethical investments of the Tory party, which is getting drug money from Belize.

Madam Speaker

Order. That was a good try. I have stopped one question; I am stopping that one.

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