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Church Commissioners (Abolition)

Volume 181: debated on Monday 19 November 1990

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To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, whether he has received any representations about the abolition of the Church Commissioners; and if he will make a statement

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the feeling that it would be better to devolve that responsibility to local churches and parishes rather than for all the decisions to be made in London? Does he agree that that would involve the Church in a much more positive way in the affairs of the community?

I am bound to say with great respect to my hon. Friend that I am slightly suspicious of his question, because in the previous Session he sought to have the Church Commissioners left intact but removed to the constituency of Bolton, North-East. Now that that has been ruled out as a possibility, he is suggesting that they should be abolished altogether—I imagine because my hon. Friend suspects that they might be moved to the constituency of, say, Henley or Finchley. I believe that the Church Commissioners are best left as they are. They find only one third of the costs of financing the Church of England; the rest must come from the dioceses and the man in the pew. I think that they do a good job as they are

Is not there a serious point here—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] As it is beyond the wit of man for some hon. Members to appreciate a serious point if it is dangled in front of them, I shall still address my question assuming that it raises a serious point. Given that the Church has published a report to say that it is important for the Government to increase investment in inner-city areas, what serious consideration has been given to moving the Church Commissioners out of their plush offices in Westminster into one of the inner-city areas?

That question, which is serious, has been considered before. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate, however, that the Church Commissioners, for better or worse, acting through me as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, must have regular traffic with the General Synod, which is located in London and, above all, with this House, where Church Measures must be endorsed. It would be impracticable to discharge our duties fully to the House if the Church Commissioners were to be located in the hon. Gentleman's constituency or any other. I suspect that there would be hot competition for the location of the Church Commissioners and I believe that they are best left at Westminster.