HL Deb 04 December 2001 vol 629 cc700-2

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so I declare an interest as a former official and present member of MSF, the union to which some members of the clergy belong.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to deem members of the clergy as employed, under the terms of Section 23 of the Employment Relations Act 1999.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, as office-holders the clergy do not have contracts of service and so fall outside the scope of employment protection legislation. The Government currently have no plans to change the position, but Section 23 of the Employment Relations Act 1999 gives the Secretary of State the power to extend the coverage of certain employment rights to individuals not currently covered by it, and the Government are committed to publishing a discussion document on employment status.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that response. Is he aware that there has already been an internal review by the Archbishop's Council which recommends that stipends should become salaried and part of a remuneration package for clergy? Does my noble friend agree that that is a substantial step on the way to acknowledging their status as employees? Is it not right, surely, that other employment cover should follow from that?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as a simple Minister for Science I am rather nervous about coming between God and the Bishops and clergy. While technically the clergy are employed by God, I believe that in this context God would want to be a good employer. The issue is one that we are likely to want to discuss with the Bishops and leaders of other faiths in producing the discussion document.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest. Is the Minister aware that the office-holder status of the clergy is more suited to the particular nature of ordained ministry than employed status with contracts of employment and self-employed status, neither of which is entirely appropriate in this particular case? Is the noble Lord also aware that all clergy are more than welcome to join the MSF union if they choose to do so? Does the Minister realise that the Church of England is presently engaged in a study of these matters to see whether it can find a better balance between security of tenure and employability for all clergy to enable them better to carry out their mission and ministry? While we are grateful for the Minister's reference to the discussion paper, can he say when that document will be forthcoming, because I understand that it will enable these issues to be taken forward in relation to all faith communities?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the review will start at the beginning of next year. We shall discuss with leaders of all faiths the issues to be covered in that review. I believe that that is the place to set out some of the issues to which the right reverend Prelate refers in order to obtain the views of everyone on these important issues.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, are the Government prepared to pay attention to the proposed clergy discipline Bill to ensure that when subject to discipline the clergy are given the same civil rights as any other employee? In other words, will the Government take note of that particular matter?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the question of employment rights will be taken into consideration in the discussion document. I do not believe that that would necessarily extend to all questions of disciplinary rights, but we shall consider that point as we formulate the document.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that there are some exemptions from the Equal Pay Act, one of which is the clergy. Bearing in mind that many women are now entering the clergy, and will I am sure do so in future, does my noble friend believe that this is an opportune time to reconsider that Act particularly in relation to its exemptions?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as the discussions progress, I am sure that all such issues will be raised and that we shall look carefully to see whether it would be productive to take them forward at this time.

Lord Newby

My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as a clergy spouse. Once the discussions are under way, will they include an examination of the entire raft of long-established and, in some cases, outdated principles which apply to the employment of the clergy, not the least of which is the system of the vicar's freehold?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I can only reiterate that such issues are those which we shall consider. In the light of the views expressed by the House, we shall obviously give a great deal of time to the preliminary discussions.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I refer to Section 23 of the Employment Relations Act, which the Minister has also mentioned. The section gives the Secretary of State powers to define those persons who are entitled to rights under the Act. However, subsection (5) of the section states that the Secretary of State can do that either by amending Acts of Parliament or by amending statutory instruments, or "otherwise". Can the Minister tell the House what the word "otherwise" means in this context? Does it mean that the Secretary of State would be able to bypass Acts of Parliament or statutory instruments?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I am sure that this point was debated at great length between the noble Baroness and myself at the time when the Bill passed through this House. I cannot remember exactly what "otherwise" referred to in that context. However, I undertake to write to the noble Baroness to remind her of the interpretation.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, with regard to the general attitude of the Church of England to the role of employee representation, is my noble friend aware that His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury gave wider recognition to the role of the trades union movement in his address to the Trades Union Congress held in Brighton four years ago? That address was greatly appreciated and very well received.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I am glad that on that occasion it was possible to pay such a compliment to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury.