HC Deb 22 March 1999 vol 328 cc16-7
34. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What plans they have to use opportunities afforded by the millennium to increase the income of the Church. [76000]

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

As we move into the new millennium, the Church Commissioners will continue to manage the endowment funds entrusted to them to maximise their support for the Church's ministry over the long term. Any initiative to increase the income of the Church of England as a whole would be the responsibility of the recently created Archbishops Council.

Mr. Hughes

Could the hon. Gentleman talk to the Church Commissioners and to the Archbishops Council to see if they would look at three ways of bringing more money in to the Church? First, those of us who go—particularly those who are well off—could be encouraged to pay a tithe from their income, as people used to do. Secondly, those who do not normally go to church could be invited to go at least once next year, because many who do not go still value it hugely. Thirdly, those who do not want to go to worship could be encouraged at least to visit the physical church in this country, and possibly contribute to its work—which, again, such people often value, even if they do not want to be members.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestions, and I never miss an opportunity of talking to the two archbishops. It is one of my little privileges in life to go to Lambeth palace and, when I next do so, I will raise those three matters. The Church Commissioners' balance sheet shows that there are £3.5 billion of assets, and a press conference to be held shortly to announce our results for the financial year will be encouraging to the hon. Gentleman.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people think that there is a spiritual lack in society? People of all faiths think that the spiritual dimension of the millennium should be recognised and that the Church Commissioners have a unique opportunity to put in place long-term resources to work for the wider community.

Mr. Bell

The Church is celebrating the millennium in many ways: with candles, with the millennium resolution and with the presence of the spirit zone in the dome at Greenwich. The Church and others greatly regret the fact that insufficient publicity is given to those measures. The Church of England remains the fifth largest Church in the world, and we have a huge membership in many forms and varieties. Propagating the Christian message in the millennium year will encourage people to come to worship and will renew and enhance our Christian spirit.