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Church Commissioners

Volume 124: debated on Monday 7 December 1987

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Clergy (Housing)

29.

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what information he has as to how many beneficed clergy or priests in charge of parishes are currently housed (a) completely outside their parishes, (b) more than one mile from their churches and (c) in accommodation next door to a church in their charge; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Michael Alison
(Second Church Estates Commissioners, representing the Church Commissioners)

The commissioners do not have the statistics, but their belief is that few incumbents live outside their parishes, and then only with the bishop's permission.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is sad, wrong and damaging to their pastoral performance that some clergy now live outside the parishes for which they are responsible? Are not the Church Commissioners equally distanced from the feelings of many ordinary church people who do not wish to see in Crockford's, for which the Church Commissioner's are responsible—

I should tell my hon. Friend that there are about 9,000 parishes with parochial houses. I believe that all but a handful of parochial houses are located in extremely close proximity to the parish church in question. My hon. Friend also asked about the reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury in Crockford's, and if it is in order for me to respond—

Clergy (Income)

30.

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what information he has as to the proportion of clergy income currently provided through voluntary giving by the congregations; and if he will make a statement.

Forty-three per cent. of the total stipends bill for the Church's ministry is met from voluntary giving. I shall send my hon. Friend a copy of the Central Stipends Authority's 15th report giving further details.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the level of voluntary giving would be somewhat higher if so many churches had not thrown overboard the twin legacies of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James's Bible, and if certain parishes had given more of a moral lead on some of the great issues facing our country today?

I believe that a clear, moral and spiritual lead from both bishops and clergy is vital if Christian congregations are to be kept in good heart and their giving is likewise to be kept in good shape. The fact that the contribution from parishes towards the stipend of clergy has doubled in the past decade is some sign that there is a good deal of good heart and proper leadership in many parishes.

While the right hon. Gentleman is correct to draw attention to the doubling of voluntary giving, is it not also important to use this opportunity to draw attention to the fact that if our clergy were dependent on our givings, we would be returning average salaries of less than £3,000 a year?

That is true. A substantial proportion of the stipend is met from the income of the Church Commissioners. It is also true that if the congregations were presented with a direct challenge of the need to make up what the Church Commissioners provide, they would rise to that challenge and the full sum would be forthcoming.

Rating Reform

31.

To ask the right honourable Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what further representations the commissioners have received from clergymen on the effects of poll tax on matters for which he is responsible.

The commissioners have received representations from clergy and church members about the serious financial implications of the proposed community charge for the clergy and the Church generally. The commissioners continue to work closely with the Churches main committee, which has approached Her Majesty's Government on behalf of the major denominations.

When will the right hon. Gentleman, who is speaking on behalf of the Churches, lead an open and public campaign on behalf of Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims against the Government's poll tax, which affects synagogues, temples and churches without discrimination? When will he stop the Government allowing the imposition of VAT on religious works such as the Bible and the Koran? If the right hon. Gentleman refuses to answer me again this month, I will be back next month.

I shall welcome seeing the hon. Gentleman in his usual place. If he gives me regular notice of the question, it will not be difficult for me to answer. I should have corrected him by pointing out that no poll tax has been put on to the statute book, and no community charge has been levied by the Government against any denomination to which he referred. I reiterate my earlier answer, that the Church Commissioners are in correspondence and in contact with the Government about some relief for the churches in respect of the community charge corresponding to the 50 per cent. derating that they enjoy under the existing house rating provisions.