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Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

28. What the average stipend for clergymen in rural parishes was on 1 July (a) 1997 and (b) 2007; and if he will make a statement. (151089)

The average stipend for incumbents in rural and urban parishes alike was £14,510 at 1 July 1997, and is projected to stand at £21,060 at 1 July 2007. By way of a statement, we agree with the hon. Lady’s view that parish churches and their congregations are at the heart of rural life. That is why we seek to appoint appropriately remunerated stipendiary priests where possible.

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Has the average stipend kept up with the cost of living? Moreover, will he take away from this afternoon’s exchange that we hold in the highest regard those rural clergymen who are serving a record number of parishes each Sunday? In times of crisis, such as the current flood emergency, and also during the recent BSE disaster, they work beyond the call of duty, which should be recognised.

The hon. Lady has often expressed her frustration at the difficulty that rural parishes sometimes have in attracting stipendiary priests. I commend her for continuing to put that point of view, and also for drawing the attention of the House to the work of priests in flood areas.

In response to the hon. Lady’s more technical question on the cost of living, I should point out that the national stipends benchmark for 2007-08 is £20,980. This was an increase of 2.5 per cent. on the previous year’s benchmark, compared with a projected increase in average earnings of 4.3 per cent. for the year. As the hon. Lady will know, the stipend forms only part of the remuneration package of the parish priest.

Does my hon. Friend believe that there should be a rate for the job in such appointments, and does he have any figures about whether female incumbents receive the same as male incumbents?

My hon. Friend may like to know that stipends are fixed each year by the Central Stipends Authority, after careful consideration with dioceses, and the figures reflect what the dioceses can afford. The idea is that stipends should be adequate to enable clergy to discharge their duties without financial anxiety, flexible enough to allow the Church to put clergy where they are best deployed, and equitable to avoid impeding clergy mobility. That applies to male and female clergy.