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Church of England (Disestablishment)

Volume 489: debated on Thursday 19 March 2009

5. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the financial implications for the Church of England of disestablishment. (264463)

In July 2007, the Church welcomed the Government’s reaffirmation of their commitment to the position of the Church of England, which is by law established with the sovereign as its supreme governor. No assessment of the kind that my hon. Friend mentions has been made.

Archbishop Rowan recently said that it would not be the end of the world if the Church of England was disestablished, although disestablishment should not be on the agenda at the moment. Notwithstanding those wise remarks, would my hon. Friend agree that if an assessment of financial implications were undertaken, it would be highly likely to find that the Church’s inherited financial commitments greatly exceed its inherited financial resources?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises a pertinent point on the disestablishment of the Church. He referred to the comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury. I welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury’s intervention on the financial crisis; he added a moral dimension to the debate on the economy, along with the Archbishop of York. Although his comments on disestablishment have been given wide credence, he also said that he would be concerned if there was to be disestablishment.

On the specific point made by my hon. Friend, the financial implications of disestablishment would be a matter of discussion between the Government of the day and the Church of England during the preparation of the necessary legislation. The question of the financing of the Church and its financial outcome would have to be fully debated by the Government of the day, Parliament and the Church of England.

As a supporter of disestablishment, may I ask the hon. Gentleman if he would at least ask the Church Commissioners to undertake the financial assessment to which the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) referred, and look at the Churches in Wales and Ireland, which disestablished but which do not appear to have been disadvantaged financially as a result?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments and for his statement that he believes in a disestablished Church. The question that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) asked related to financial commitments, which far outweigh the total inherited resources of the Church of England. In response to the question about whether we ought to undertake a study, we should not put the cart before the horse. We should await any decisions that the Synod may make before we debate the matter and its financial implications. However, disestablishing the Church would affect every parish in the country, and its allegiance to the Crown and to the Church, and is a step that would be taken only after many years of consideration.