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Clergy (Conditions Of Service)

Volume 403: debated on Monday 7 April 2003

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When he expects to receive proposals from the Archbishops Council on conditions of service for the clergy. [107082]

May I say at the outset how much I welcome the presence of the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) at our joint Question Time? I wish him well in his many endeavours in the weeks, months and years ahead.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) knows, the Archbishops Council has set up a working group under the chairmanship of Professor David McClean to review various matters relating to clergy terms of service, including the freehold and improving protection for clergy without it.

Given that the Archbishops Council has given the impression of substantial inactivity on conditions of service for the clergy since the Employment Relations Act 1999 was passed, and has appeared reluctant to set up the McClean committee—it did so late and slowly—would not it be a travesty if the workings of the committee were perceived as a reason for delay rather than a vehicle for progress, and if the contentious issue of the future of the freehold were to be used as a reason to delay granting conditions of service, which others have enjoyed for some years, to the clergy?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's great interest in the subject and I respect and admire his persistence over the years since 1997 when he first became a Member of Parliament. I welcome the fact that he has an Adjournment debate on the subject in Westminster Hall.

The working group's initial report will be made available to the Archbishops Council by the end of the year, and subsequent consultation will take place with the Church Commissioners. As my hon. Friend knows, the Church is anxious to co-operate with the appropriate Department, Professor David McClean and his committee.

Should not those conditions of service include an express requirement for wisdom? How wise is it for the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit Qatar this week but to refuse to visit our troops, many of whom are laying down their lives for this country?