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Employment Tribunals

Volume 405: debated on Monday 19 May 2003

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If he will make a statement about the use of employment tribunals for clergy. [113817]

At present, the jurisdiction of employment tribunals does not apply to the majority of clergy, because they have the status of office holders in law and are not employees.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Can he give me an assurance that employment tribunals will not get dragged into ruling on doctrinal matters in disputes between clergy and churches? Can he also assure me that clergy will not have to stay in parishes where there has been a clear case of pastoral breakdown, which would be inappropriate both for the parish and for the clergy concerned?

The question of pastoral breakdown is probably not for the Church Commissioners, but I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's question and view to the Archbishops Council. On the point about employment tribunals and any review of employment law, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal took the view in the past that clergy were ecclesiastical office holders, not employees. We welcome the review under the auspices of the Department of Trade and Industry. The cure of souls in parishes and employment rights are not mutually exclusive, and the Church will do what it can to bring the two together.

Employment tribunals are only one aspect of the Employment Rights Act 1996 that does not apply to the clergy. Many hon. Members believe that that should be corrected as soon as possible. When is the McClean committee, which the Archbishops Council set up, likely to report? Will the hon. Gentleman accept that many of us would like it to be soon?

My hon. Friend knows that I pay close attention to those matters. I also take account of the campaign that he has maintained since 1997. The McClean committee will provide its conclusions soon; it has already been made a submission to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I am confident that we will reach some conclusions that take into account the unique role of a parish priest and employment rights and tribunals.

I welcome my hon. Friend's answer. Does he agree that an excessively rigid contractual relationship for the clergy could damage the sense of vocation and duty that is so important to many ministers?

That is certainly the case, and the Church is dealing with that problem through its review group and subsequently the Department of Trade and Industry.