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Employment Rights (Clergy)

34. Laura Moffatt (Crawley): If he will make a statement on progress on the financial implications of the Department of Trade and Industry discussion paper on extending employment rights under the Employment Relations Act 1999 to members of the clergy. [17018]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): It is always a pleasure to respond on behalf of other Departments. In the case of the DTI, however, the discussion paper is still awaited.

Laura Moffatt: I understand why my hon. Friend finds it difficult to answer on behalf of the DTI, but many of my hon. Friends are very concerned about the issue. We strive to achieve good employment relations on behalf of many workers and see no reason why the clergy should

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be left out. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is time to get on with the report and to respond quickly on behalf of those workers?

Mr. Bell: I certainly encourage questions on that subject on the Floor of the House and I am glad to see that many of my hon. Friends have raised the issue before. The Archbishops Council has set up a group that is exploring what can and should be done to give clergy the rights they could and should expect if they were employees, and I will draw my hon. Friend's question to the council's attention.


35. Norman Baker (Lewes): What provision he makes within Church accounts for the relief of poverty. [17019]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): May I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to Church Commissioners Question Time and congratulate him on his post-election appointment to the Front Bench?

In 2000, the Church Commissioners made £17.5 million available in grants for parish ministry support, of which £14.9 million was targeted on the neediest dioceses.

Norman Baker: I am interested in that answer. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman feels that the Church Commissioners could navigate their way through the eye of a needle, but when we have so many poor and homeless people I wonder whether the Church ought not to divest some of its assets—such as No. 1 Millbank, which is a prime piece of property, bang in the middle of London and worth a great deal of money—sell some of the bishops' palaces, and pay less attention to wine cellars and more to scripture.

Mr. Bell: I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's mixed metaphor about navigating through the eye of a needle, but he will be pleased to learn that, in addition to the amount I mentioned, the commissioners are making an additional one-off sum, totalling £10 million, available to the Archbishops Council for distribution to dioceses in 2002-04. The money will be offered to all dioceses, with a bias towards the poorest.

As No. 1 Millbank seems to be the topic of the day, I can tell hon. Members that the renovation of the building has been completed and the commissioners will move back on 7 December.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): One aspect of alleviating poverty is the provision of good child care and family support. What is the Church doing to support child care partnerships, and is it putting money into community activities to develop child care for the lowest-income families?

Mr. Bell: Each diocese has a child protection policy that is based on a national Church policy and expertise to advise parishes and deal with difficult cases. The dioceses have recently received extensive advice about the new Criminal Records Bureau, including how to process

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disclosures through the dioceses, so that there is a competent risk assessment. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue on the Floor of the House.

House of Lords (Reform)

36. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): What responses the Church Commissioners have (a) received and (b) made in respect of the Government's Command Paper, "The House of Lords—Completing the Reform"; and if he will make a statement. [17020]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): If I may make a statement first, I should say that the Church of England believes that there ought to be a minimum of 20 bishops in a reformed House of Lords in order to offer effective parliamentary service.

In relation to (a) and (b) of the hon. Gentleman's question, the Church has received the Government's Command Paper and is of course giving it careful consideration along the lines of my statement.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that statement. He will understand that in Lichfield, as in the rest of the country, there is considerable concern about the Command Paper, over and above the fact that its proposals hardly constitute democratic reform of the House of Lords. Does he share my concern about paragraph 83, which suggests that the Church of England's representation should be reduced to 16? He said in his statement that he would like it to be increased to at least 20, but will that definitely include the Lord Bishop of Lichfield?

Mr. Bell: I would hesitate to intrude on the work of the appointment secretary of a future Archbishop, but I am sure that the Bishop of Lichfield will not be far behind. We have 26 bishops in the upper House at the moment. The number may be reduced, but we are also keen to see the representation of other denominations and faiths strengthened in the upper House.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Is not my hon. Friend's last point the most important one? If the Church of England is to have representation in the other House, other Christian churches and other faiths should have equal representation in 2001 and in the years ahead, rather than the situation that has existed for many years.

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. It is especially important, following recent tragic events, that forums are developed in which complex and sensitive matters to do with relations between faith communities and their place in modern society can be aired and debated in a measured and well-informed manner. My hon. Friend's suggestion is in line with that supposition.

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Clergy Pay

37. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): What recent representations the commissioners have received from trade unions on clergy pay. [17021]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Church's representatives regularly meet representatives of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union.

Mr. Hoyle: I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the report commissioned by the MSF into the poverty

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suffered by the clergy. One in 10 of the clergy live in poverty: what are the Church Commissioners going to do about it?

Mr. Bell: I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the clergy stipends review group has made several recommendations, including increasing the clergy stipend from the current amount of £16,910 to £20,000. Those recommendations are out for consultation in the wider Church and my hon. Friend's point will be taken into account.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask for your guidance, assistance and, indeed—as a Back Bencher—even your protection.

In the business statement last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced as business for today:

That having been announced by the Leader of the House, you may recall, Mr. Speaker, that I wrote to you asking if I could catch your eye during the debate on Wembley stadium, Picketts Lock and the dome. Then, no doubt like a considerable number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, I began to prepare for that debate.

I walked into the House today and picked up the Order Paper so as to ascertain the exact terms of the Opposition motion on that matter only to discover that there was no Opposition motion on it. I therefore made inquiries and found that the Opposition had been in a state of flux over the matter before and since last Thursday, and that they did not in fact decide the issue that they wanted to raise today until six minutes before the House rose on Friday.

I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, because it is my understanding that the business of the House must be as announced by the Leader of the House unless the Leader of the House makes an additional, further, later business statement. Indeed, I held a discussion with my right hon. Friend about the business that he had announced for the following week in which he said that he would have to make a business statement—

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