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Church Commissioners

Volume 662: debated on Thursday 20 June 2019

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

Employee Pay Gap

6. What estimate she has made of the gap between the highest-paid and lowest-paid employees of the Church Commissioners. (911483)

The national Church institutions have a unified pay policy that operates across all the institutions. There is an eight-band pay structure that is designed to ensure that staff in posts of equal value are paid the same. If we were to exclude staff in the Church Commissioners investment division, the ratio between the highest and lowest paid would be 7.3:1.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. The Archbishop of Canterbury has talked extensively about the need for economic justice, so I was shocked to read in Personnel Today that the Church Commissioners have a 23:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid in the organisation. The highest paid person receives £256,000 and one staff member was given a bonus of £250,000. For charities, the ratio is 10:1 and for local government the ratio is 15:1, so what does she think about what is going on in the Church Commissioners?

As I explained, the ratio, if we exclude the highest paid investment division, is 7.3:1. The investment division includes asset managers, who have to manage assets of over £8 billion. They are paid at the market rate for asset management, but they are nowhere near the top of the range. External advice is taken by the Church Commissioners on what and how we should pay, but those are the going rates for top asset managers in this country, and the assets of the Church of England have to be well managed.

Global Businesses’ Working Practices

8. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to use their influence and responsible investment policy to engage positively with global businesses on their working practices. (911485)

This question relates to the previous one in an interesting way.

This month, the Church of England was ranked second globally in an industry survey of responsible investors. One of our most recent engagements has been holding to account the mining company, Vale, as responsible for the collapse of the dam in Brumadinho, Brazil. That underlines the point that really good, responsible asset management is something that one has to pay for.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. The dam collapse claimed the lives of 246 people. Vale is a British company and it is totally unacceptable to have lower standards of health and safety abroad than at home. What is the Church of England’s strategy, as an investor, for tackling that?

The Church Commissioners hosted a roundtable meeting with other investors and senior management from a number of the largest mining companies in the world, which exposed the fact that this is a widespread problem. To date, 29 of the top 50 mining companies have made disclosures about tailings dams. This is how investors can have an influence in an ethical way over their policy.

Mobile Phone Masts

9. What guidance the Church Commissioners issue to parishes wishing to install mobile phone masts on church buildings. (911486)

The Church of England signed an accord with the Government in 2017 that signalled its intent to support national targets on mobile and broadband connectivity, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas. At previous Question Times, I have encouraged Members of the House by saying that if they have notspots for broadband and mobile provision, all the towers, spires, buildings and land of the Church of England are at their disposal to address that.

But the new telecommunications code has wrecked the market by advantaging big business at the expense of small sports clubs and churches. Can I enlist the support of the Commissioners?

There is evidence that changes by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to the electronic communications code are making it more complicated, although not impossible, for churches and other community buildings to be used to address shortcomings in the roll-out of digital infrastructure. We should work together and go and lobby DCMS to tackle the unintended consequences of the changes in that communications code.

The right hon. Lady will be aware of the growing controversy over 5G and of those who worry about its installation. It would be quite wrong if the Church was brought into those arguments in such a way that an unfair burden was put on it.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to join the lobbying party, because this is one more aspect that needs to be seriously looked into. There are gaps in provision under 4G, and the worst possible thing would be for the digital divide to continue or get worse as we move to 5G technology, so I think we should seek an early meeting.

Persecution of Christians: Bishop of Truro’s Inquiry

10. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to promote the Bishop of Truro’s inquiry into the persecution of Christians. (911487)

The Church welcomed the decision by the Foreign Secretary to invite the Bishop of Truro to chair an independent review of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That is not a Church of England inquiry, but a Foreign Office inquiry. However, the Church is actively encouraging its agencies and charities to feed in their experiences.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I wholeheartedly support her in congratulating the Foreign Secretary and the Bishop of Truro on producing the report, which highlights the persecution of Christians not only on a large scale, as we saw in places such as Sri Lanka, but on a small scale in everyday life. Is not promoting the good work of Christians and Christianity in our society one of the best things that we can do? May I draw her attention to the Renew church in Uttoxeter, which has its mission week this week involving digging gardens, helping schools, washing cars and showing the best of Christianity?

It is just the interim report that has been published, and the important thing was that it mapped where the persecution takes place around the world. We await phase 2 with great interest, when we expect to hear more about what we can actually get done. I agree with my hon. Friend about the kind of approach that could be taken.