Rural parish funding is primarily the responsibility of the individual diocese, but the Church Commissioners have made available national support under the strategic development fund. To date, the fund has provided £34.6 million for 32 projects in 25 dioceses.
As you know, Mr Speaker, I talk a lot about my worries regarding the recruitment of obstetricians in Banbury, but I am equally concerned about recruitment to the rural Church. Can my right hon. Friend help me by explaining what more the Church can do to encourage the right sort of ordinands to apply, and what sort of training can we give them when they apply?
The Church is committed to doubling the number of people entering training by 2020, and it has made very good progress with the push on training ordinands. Since 2014, we have seen an increase of 14% in the numbers training for priesthood, and my hon. Friend may be interested to hear that there has been an above-average number of women—14%—and that 25% of that cohort is under the age of 32.
But would not growth in the Church of England be easier if it moved on from its cruel and outdated approach to both clergy and laity who are in same-sex relationships? Will the right hon. Lady tell the bishops that simply kicking this issue into the long grass for another three years, as the General Synod agreed last week, is just not acceptable?
It is important to see in balance the progress that has been made by the Church. At the Synod, important decisions were made, including on tackling homophobic bullying in Church of England schools—the Church is the largest provider of education in this country—and on taking steps to ban trans and conversion therapies; that was voted on in the Synod. The fact that the Church is making progress in this area is hopefully an indication of more to follow.
Rural parish growth is being handicapped by the fact that the clergy are responsible for six, eight or even more parishes. What efforts are being made to ensure that more people are recruited to the clergy, and that they are directed towards rural parishes?
As I said, the Church has set itself a target—that is the important thing—of doubling the number of people entering training by 2020, and it is making progress by increasing the numbers coming into training.
It is perhaps worth noting that the Church has changed the ways in which people can train for the priesthood. They can train by residential course, as is traditional, but they can also train on the job and through peripatetic learning, which makes it generally easier for a much wider range of people to train for the priesthood, if they feel called to do so.
On the subject of training, does my right hon. Friend not also think that training in human resources and personnel is important? She will know that the Dean of Peterborough, Charles Taylor, was sacked from that cathedral and given only 24 hours’ notice to leave the deanery. Does she think that that was not only unprofessional on the part of the chapter, but very unchristian?
Obviously, I have sympathy with anyone who loses their job, but with the greatest respect, those facts are not quite correct. On 2 October 2016, the dean announced his retirement, and he did not leave the deanery, and was not asked to leave it, until the following February, giving him six months’ residence—
I join the right hon. Lady in that. She was typically gracious in her comments about the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), whom I warmly welcome to her new responsibilities, which, as has been said, have been very effectively discharged today. I also thank the right hon. Lady, who is always courteous, fair and comprehensive in responding to inquiries. I hope that both Members can take a rest from their onerous duties—both their constituency duties, and their duties in respect of the matters about which we have heard this morning.