HL Deb 01 August 1961 vol 234 cc60-3

LORD HAWKE rose to move to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Clergy Pensions Measure, 1961, be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the lot of a clergyman on retirement can be an unhappy one, because he may have no savings from his stipend; he has no house, because he has been living in a tied house; and he can be in considerable hardship. Because of that, of course, there must be a temptation to him to try to cling to office after he is not fit for it. The Church Assembly has for some time evinced a great concern over this matter, and the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board have responded to the utmost limit of their powers, the Church Commissioners providing most of the money, and the Pensions Board, a charitable body, providing some of the money and the administration. Normally this Measure would be moved by the Vice-Chairman of the Church of England Pensions Board, the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby; but as he is unable to be present, the only other member of the Pensions Board in your Lordships' House, myself, has the task.

This Measure is a result of the cooperation of the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board in an attempt not only to keep pace with inflation but also to make a definite move forward on the pensions front. The Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament have made a long and full Report recommending the passage of the Measure. I will not weary your Lordships with a great deal of detail, but I should just say that the Measure passed through the Church Assembly with Divisions on only one point: that was the point whether pensions for the higher-grade clergy between parish priests and Bishops should or should not be at the parish priest level, or at a special level. By a large majority in each House of the Church Assembly, largest of all, I think, in the House of Laity, it was decided that they should have a larger pension than the parochial church clergy.

The high notes of the Measure are that all the clergy now get a pension as of right, varying as to the office they have held, and amounting in figures, very roughly, to half what they are obtaining in stipends at the moment. This full pension has to be earned by 40 years' service and staying in office till the age of 70, with a lower proportionate pension for retiring earlier or for fewer years' service. The Measure provides various methods of preventing hardship, both in individual cases, and a power to make increases generally should conditions make it possible. The ordinary incumbent will now receive £400 per annum; and, what is rather important to him, the earnings limit has been abolished, so that any fees he may receive will not be taken into account. The Bishops, instead of getting a full Bishop's pension, as they do at present, irrespective of the number of years they have been ordained, will be on the same basis of 40 years' service and retirement at 70. I need hardly add that they will not have to serve 40 years in the office of Bishop to qualify for the pension.

The problem of widows has exercised us very much. At present they can obtain a small pension as of right from contributory schemes; the Pensions Board also operate a scheme whereby widows' incomes can be brought up to a certain figure of income from all sources—in other words, a means test. The figure has recently been put up to £300, and nobody in the Church is very satis- fled with that figure. Under the new Measure, the widow of a pensioner will be entitled to one-third of his pension, and the widow of an active man to one-third of the pension he would have received if he had carried on to the age of 70. The small contributory schemes will continue, and will provide an addition. This pension is of right and is non-contributory, and will mean a net increase for all those who have not had to have recourse to the Pensions Board means test scheme. The means test scheme will still have to operate, but many widows will go out as a result of the grant of this pension as of right, and we hope that resources will thus become available to do something more. We are anxious to do so; in fact we are straining at the leash. But we have to see that the means are available. All this has been made possible by an extra £450,000 from the Church Commissioners, in addition to their existing commitments of about £1 million. The sum of £250,000 comes from the Pensions Board, dioceses, and charitable societies, so that the Church will be spending about £1,750,000 on pensions.

The Measure also provides certain other important powers. We have taken the opportunity of bringing our investment powers up to date. Under the Measure, we can hold land and, if we so desire, can put half our funds into equities. We can also put the lot into any investment fund run under the Church Funds Investment Measure, if we so wish. So, in effect, we can put considerably more than one-half of our funds in equities if we wish to do so. We have power to retain investments which are not listed as proper under Paragraph 32. We continue our power to maintain residences for the hale and the sick. In fact, approximately 500 retired clergy or their widows are now being looked after by the Pensions Board in homes and bungalows. We are frequently given plots of land, and where the plots of land are suitably situated for the retired person to live we in the Pensions Board are putting up bungalows. In addition, we occasionally receive gifts of large houses which are turned into houses of residence or nursing homes. I submit, my Lords, that this Measure is wholly benevolent, and I have no hesitation in asking your Lordships to pass it. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Clergy Pensions Measure, 1961, be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(Lord Hawke.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.

Forward to