HC Deb 05 January 2004 vol 416 cc15-6
22. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)(Lab)

What representations the Church Commissioners have made to the Department of Trade and Industry in relation to employed status for members of the clergy under the Employment Relations Act 1999. [145848]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy)

The Church Commissioners have not made representations to the DTI. In 2002 the Archbishops Council responded to the DTI's discussion document on employment status in relation to statutory employment rights, and set up a group to review clergy terms of service. Its first report wass considered by the council on 9 December 2002 and will be debated by the General Synod in February.

Mr. Hoyle

Is my hon. Friend aware that Amicus conducted a survey of the clergy and found that 36 per cent. felt that their employment rights were being eroded? Rather than those rights being eroded, they ought to be seen to be improved. What can my hon. Friend do in that regard?

Mr. Lammy

I am aware of that, as I am a member of Amicus. He will know that a number of clergy are members of the trade union. They will no doubt want to make their voice heard in the General Synod discussion later this year.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)(Con)

It is a matter of great regret that the Second Church Estates Commissioner is unable to be with us this afternoon, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will convey to him my congratulations on his well-deserved knighthood—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!] I speak for other right hon. and hon. Members as well, it seems. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that members of the clergy should have employment rights equivalent to those of all other employees?

Mr. Lammy

The hon. Gentleman's question cuts to the heart of the issue. The distinction involved is whether a member of the clergy is an office holder—the view that the Church has maintained for some time—or has the traditional role of an employee. That is the subject of the DTI document, and it cuts to the heart of the debate that the General Synod will quite properly have later this year. I am sure that many views will be expressed in the House on where that particular buck should fall.

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)(Lab)

This subject has been debated in the House for at least six years, to my knowledge. The McClean committee was set up more than a year ago, and I am delighted that its report has now gone to the Archbishops Council, but the matter now faces the necessary discussion in Synod and a consultation with the clergy, which will take some time. May I urge more haste and more speed?

Mr. Lammy

I know that no one has campaigned on this issue in the House more than my hon. Friend. There has been some progress, and the Archbishops Council made the decision about three weeks ago to debate the matter. This is a very complex issue which goes to the heart of what it means to be a parish priest.