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Mr. Mandelson: The New Millennium Experience Company estimates that 12 million visits will be made to the millennium experience. Well over 8 million of those will be from the United Kingdom, and I hope that very many of those will come from the south-west.
Mr. Heath: Would the hon. Gentleman be surprised if I told him that I cannot find a single one of my constituents in Somerset who has the slightest intention of going to south-east London? Will he accept that, if some hon. Members are not enthusiastic about the millennium dome, it is not because we are philistines or because we lack any vision or imagination, but simply because we have a different set of priorities?
Mr. Mandelson: The hon. Gentleman probably underestimates his own constituents. I think they are capable of being challenged and inspired by this great celebration, and I look forward to welcoming very many of them to Greenwich to the millennium dome.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Commissioners' investments have always been subject to ethical criteria and are continually reviewed. The ethical investment working group, set up in 1994, plays an important part in developing the ethical investment policy of the Commissioners and of the Church's two other main central investing bodies, the Central Board of Finance and the Church of England Pensions Board.
Ann Clwyd: As the Church has considerable investment in GKN, which is the parent of a company called Glover Webb, which both manufactures and sells armoured personnel carriers and water cannon to Indonesia, where they have been used against unarmed civilians in peaceful protests, may I suggest that the Church reconsiders its investment in GKN?
Mr. Bell: I am always grateful for my hon. Friend's interventions and we shall take her up on that and have a look at that investment, but I should tell the House that the Commissioners do not invest in companies whose management practices are judged by us to be unacceptable. We have a clear policy in relation to the sale of armaments. Although armaments are avoided, we believe that some investment in the defence industry is justifiable, and the Church generally accepts the rights of nations to defend themselves and to engage in peacekeeping initiatives, and believes in the legitimacy of an indigenous defence industry supplying equipment under Government licence.
Mr. Simon Hughes: When the leaders of the Anglican Church around the world meet this year at the Lambeth conference, will they have on their agenda an agreement about a policy on ethical investment which will bind all the Churches of the Anglican communion around the world in unanimous agreement? If not, will he use his best endeavours to ensure that that is put on the agenda, so that what we do can be acceptable to our sisters and brothers all over the world?
Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and I will convey his question to Lambeth palace and give him a response. The ethical investment policy of the Church Commissioners has moved towards a more positive ethical assessment of the companies in which we invest. For example, we seek to invest in companies that will successfully develop their business financially in the interests of their shareholders, but which also demonstrate responsible employment practices and are conscientious concerning issues of corporate governance and human rights. The hon. Gentleman's point is well taken.
Mr. Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in Church matters, and I look forward to meeting him, with the Church Commissioners, later this week. In its debate in December 1995, the general synod
Mr. Bell: We are always interested in and concerned about those living at the sharp end. The commissioners' statutory obligations include supporting the bishops and the cathedrals, as well as the service pensions of all former parochial clergy. The commissioners also seek to maximise the sums provided for the support of the ministry in poorer parishes. We have released about £14 million a year--money that is currently directed to the needier dioceses for this very purpose.
Mr. Pike: Is there any truth in the rumour that the bishops of Liverpool and Southwark have not yet been appointed so as to fill clergy vacancies lower down? Is there any other good reason why those posts have not yet been filled?
Mr. Bell: I am grateful for the question, but the appointment of bishops is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. I would not wish to pursue a path that would lead me straight to 10 Downing street.
Mr. Lansley: Have the Church Commissioners undertaken any assessment of the implications of the introduction of a national minimum wage for Church of England clergy? How, for instance, is the record keeping to be undertaken; what will the costs of compliance be; and to what extent are clergy's stipends likely to be directly affected?
Mr. Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in Church affairs. The European convention on human rights enshrines the right of religious freedom as well as other rights. I have had a number of representations raising various issues relating to the effect on the Church of making the European convention directly enforceable by the United Kingdom courts.
Mr. Bradshaw: Does my hon. Friend agree that human rights do not come free? Does he also therefore agree that it is unacceptable that the Church, of all organisations, should seek exemption from the Human Rights Bill?
Mr. Bell: Concern has been expressed in a number of quarters to the effect that the definition of "public authority" in the Bill will mean the Church of England and other Churches finding themselves subject to decisions of the courts on doctrinal matters. I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about these anxieties; he will refer to them in his opening remarks on Second Reading of the Human Rights Bill, which is to begin shortly.
Mr. Stuart Bell: I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Church does not own property in his constituency. The prime responsibility of the Church Commissioners is to manage all the investments entrusted to them so as to maximise financial support for the ministry of the Church of England. Subject to that responsibility, the commissioners' policy is to manage their land assets in a way that takes account of the needs of the environment and local communities.
Mr. Chope: I am grateful for that reply. May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a hot issue relating to the churchyard of St. Mary's church in Southampton? It has been a site of worship for a thousand years; there is a Saxon burial ground there. The parochial church council and the team rector propose, however, to develop the churchyard as part of an inner-city redevelopment scheme. That is causing massive local concern. Will the hon. Gentleman agree to receive a deputation from people who are worried about this but who do not seem to have the ear of the team rector?
Mr. Bell: The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right to raise a matter of concern to his constituents. The Church Commissioners will be glad to look at any representations he makes and to see what response we can give.