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House of Commons Hansard
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Church Commissioners
26 October 2017
Volume 630

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Income Inequality

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2. What recent discussions the Church of England has had with the Government on income inequality. [901426]

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The Church has committed to being a living wage employer and for many decades has paid the same level of minimum stipend regardless of gender or geography. I can only answer for Church policy, but bishops in particular speak to relevant Ministers in the Treasury and other Departments about the impact of their policies.

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Earlier this month the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a powerful article for the Financial Times on how our economic model is broken and no longer working for everyone. Does the right hon. Lady agree with him—I appreciate she has just said she cannot answer for everyone—and particularly on the need for a fairer tax system, does she believe the Government are listening?

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has recently been involved in the Institute for Public Policy Research commission on economic justice, and the article the hon. Lady mentions was written off the back of that commission’s erudite report, which I commend to the House. It focuses on things that need to be fixed and improved, but the Church itself is trying to do its bit. It recognises that we need to start right at the beginning of life by teaching financial literacy to our children so they are able to avoid the perils of debt, which is a scourge on this nation.

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The Church Commissioner will agree that the Church has a strong role to play in the guidance of others. Does she also agree that the glass ceiling, which she has referred to, is still in place? How can we encourage small and medium-sized businesses to play their part in bringing it down?

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As a female, I am sympathetic to the point about the inequality caused by glass ceilings, which are still very much in place. This goes beyond the policy of just the Church, however, although it is trying to do its bit to ensure that its male and female employees are treated equally.

Heritage Lottery Fund

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4. What representations she has received on the closure of the Heritage Lottery Fund strand for listed places of worship. [901428]

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The Church continues to regret the decision by the Heritage Lottery Fund to close the grants for places of worship scheme. The Church Buildings Council is in close discussion with the HLF as to how we can try to find a way forward. The Church has received assurances from the chairman of the HLF that the amount of its funding for places of worship will, as a proportion, continue at comparable levels to the distribution in 2016.

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Parishioners at St Mary the Virgin in Middleton-in-Teesdale and at St Mary’s in Barnard Castle were disappointed. Given that we are talking here about half the listed buildings in the country and that three quarters of Church of England buildings are listed, will the Church make further representations to the HLF on this important matter?

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I am aware of the decision by the HLF north-east committee to reject the two applications to which the hon. Lady refers. There was a great deal of competition for those funds, but I understand that both the unsuccessful projects are being invited to a heritage grants workshop on 1 December at HLF offices to look at other ways of applying through its open programme for funds.

Clergy Vocation

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5. What progress the Church of England has made on reaching its target of increasing clergy vocations to the priesthood by 50% by 2020. [901429]

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The Church of England is well on its way to reaching its 2020 target, when we hope to see 50% of the priesthood being women, and, indeed, we have the highest level of ordinands for 10 years, an increase of 14% since last year. There has been a particularly strong increase, of 19%, in the number of women entering training compared with 2016.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer and for the welcome news that it contained. What steps is the Church taking to ensure that the diversity of those being considered for ordination better reflects the country as a whole? While answering, will she join me in congratulating the Most Rev. John Davies, the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, on becoming the 13th Archbishop of Wales—the first from that diocese?

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Perhaps he is a relative of yours.

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I certainly welcome the new Archbishop of Wales, John Davies, to his post. I also welcome the new Bishop of Llandaff, the Right Rev. June Osborne. I would certainly say that the Church in Wales is doing its very best to progress diversity. Also, we should not overlook the need to draw more people from different ethnic backgrounds, and the Church has strategies to increase the numbers of black and ethnic minority ordinands, who currently make up only 3.5% of clergy.

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I am glad to hear that there are such plans. They ought to get on with it.

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I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that a vocation for the priesthood is fundamentally based on a call from God, and that that call never went only to white men of a certain age. Does she therefore agree that this work is about making people feel able to take up that call and not about setting a target to increase the number of calls that God makes?

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Very much so; a vocation is gender blind. The 19% increase in the number of women coming forward for ordination is evidence that it is an attractive vocation to enter, and the Church strives to make training programmes more accessible to women and to people from diverse backgrounds.