HC Deb 10 May 1999 vol 331 cc16-7
35. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

What plans the commissioners have to dispose of their shares in GEC. [82614]

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

None. The Church's ethical investment working group, which makes recommendations on ethical investment policy, has made no such recommendation. The hon. Gentleman has no doubt seen inaccurate press reports, which the newspapers have since corrected.

Mr. Howarth

I am most grateful for that answer, but the hon. Gentleman knows that the Church has a policy of not investing in companies that manufacture arms. I hope that he can assure the House today that, although the Church fully supports the concept of the just war, it also supports the excellent British people who work for a first-class British company such as British Aerospace, which is in the front line of the defence not only of the freedoms of the people of this country, but of the war against aggressors overseas. Does he agree that there is every reason why the Church should invest in such an honourable company? Moreover, had it invested in British Aerospace earlier, it would have made much more money to fund the stipends, the bishops and the clergy.

Mr. Bell

I will not be tempted to go down the route of the stipends, the bishops and the clergy at this moment. I have visited British Aerospace factories and can testify to the sterling work done there and the contribution that British Aerospace makes to the nation. The Church accepts the right of nations to defend themselves and engage in peacekeeping activities. It therefore accepts the legitimacy of an indigenous defence industry supplying equipment under Government licence. The national Church investing bodies, however, have never held shares in British Aerospace.