Parsonages And Bishops' Palaces
asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, how much was spent on the dilapidations of (a) parsonages and (b) bishops' palaces during the past year; and if he will make a statement.
The 1984 figures for parsonages are £7·7 million and for diocesan bishops' houses £338,000.
Will my hon. Friend assure me that the considerable sums spent on parsonages and bishops' palaces, which in 1984 included £70,000 on the palace of the Bishop of Durham, will ensure that there are adequate study facilities for all parsons and bishops, to enable more of them to comment on moral rather than political issues, including the narrow decision last week by the Law Lords to abolish the age of consent?
All parsonages and bishops' houses have provision for studies. I do not think that it would be in accordance with the general attitude of the clergy if the Church of England tried to ordain or lay down the thinking that should take place in their studies. Total expenditure on Auckland castle is much greater than my hon. Friend has indicated, because of the historic nature of that ancient place.
Stipendiary Ministry (Pay, Pensions And Housing)
asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, if there are any plans to increase the amount of the commissioners' income applied towards the support of the pay, pensions and housing of the stipendiary ministry of the Church of England.
Yes. We were able to increase the income we applied towards the pay, pensions and housing of stipendiary ministers of the Church of England by 8·5 per cent. in 1984 and a further increase of 8·6 per cent. will have occurred in 1985. Similar increases are planned in future years. In all, over 80 per cent. of our income is used for these purposes.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. First, I welcome the fact that the Church Commissioners are paying more than the rate of inflation to support the ministry and the pay of incumbents. Does he agree that some anxiety should be shown, because about 1,000 members of the clergy have given notice that they will leave the Church of England if women are ordained and admitted to the priesthood? Will he confirm that special consideration will be given to keeping those members and the rest of the clergy happy, because we do not wish to lose more members of the clergy?
The Church Commissioners' duty is to make moneys available for the remuneration of the full-time clergy. As my hon. Friend is aware, more than half the overall burden, including pensions, is now also carried by the laity. I do not believe that considerations of what will happen in the future enter into that calculation. My hon. Friend is now uniquely well placed to make his views known because of the welcome news that since we last met he has been elected to the General Synod.
When my hon. Friend and his colleagues next discuss these matters, will they give further thought to the compulsory retirement age of 70, bearing in mind the fact that many men who are just over 70 are well able to look after a small rural parish, and that mother Church is often better served by a resident father than by a peripatetic priest of whatever sex?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I listened carefully to what he said. The difficulty is, as he will know from close experiece, that there are few instances where one man looks after one fairly small rural parish. That is not the experience that most of us share. The work is demanding physically and mentally.
St Alban's Church, Teddington
asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, what is the current position in relation to the redundant church of St. Alban's, Teddington.
At the invitation of the commissioners, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has decided to hold a non-statutory public local inquiry into the proposed demolition of this building. The inquiry will be held on 22–23 January next year.
Can my hon. Friend give the latest official estimate of the cost of putting St. Alban's into a safe, sound and decent condition and of obtaining a fund to keep it that way? Is he aware that there are signs that the Greater London council might put up £300,000 towards it? Would that be anything like enough?
My hon. Friend will understand that I must be careful to say nothing that will prejudice the inquiry. I have seen published figures which show that the cost, as at January 1985 prices. including VAT and fees, of putting the building into repair is between £800,000 and £1 million. My hon. Friend can well judge from that what any projected contributions would achieve.