HC Deb 22 March 1999 vol 328 cc17-8
35. Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

What proposals he has to enlarge the ethical element in the commissioners' portfolio. [76001]

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

The Church Commissioners and their investment managers are advised by the ethical investment working group on ethical issues that concern the central bodies of the Church of England. The portfolio will reflect those concerns, which means that, at the moment, about 10 per cent. of the United Kingdom stock market is excluded.

Mr. Flynn

I am grateful for that reply, as far as it went, but it did not answer the question whether the commissioners propose to enlarge their ethical investment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of the new threats to the world come from companies that are indifferent to the environmental effects of their activities? Could not the commissioners, who were trail-blazers in ethical investment as far back as 1948, consider excluding from their portfolio companies that failed to support the multilateral agreement on investment, which was proposed last year?

Mr. Bell

The Church in its investments is not indifferent to those who are unfriendly to the environment. We note, for example, that the commissioners have shares in Shell, which very much regrets the pollution of the Manchester ship canal with refined oil from the Stanlow manufacturing complex in Ellesmere Port. The company has given an assurance that it will take the measures necessary to ensure that such an incident never happens again. The commissioners are fully advised on ethical investment through the working group. They continue to keep the matter under review and will take into account the suggestions made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

In view of its Government's adventurist foreign policy and disregard for human rights at home, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the ethical element in the Church Commissioners' investment portfolio would not be increased if they decided to invest in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Bell

The commissioners have a strong ethical investment policy. We certainly take the view, in relation to our investment in companies in this country, that nations have a right to defend themselves and to engage in peacekeeping initiatives. The ethical investment working group believes in the legitimacy of an indigenous defence industry supplying equipment under Government licence. We are bound by the criteria set by the working group, and we will seek to advance that policy if that is in the interests of the Church.