Skip to main content

Church Commissioners

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 26 January 2023

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Church’s Assets: Historic Involvement with Slavery

6. Whether the commissioners have made an estimate of the proportion of the Church’s assets that may have a link to a historic involvement with slavery. (903294)

The Church Commissioners have not tried to draw a direct line from historical investments to current assets, given the myriad inflows and outflows over 300 years. Our forensic accountants estimate that investments linked to the slaving activities of the South Sea Company were equivalent to several hundred million pounds in today’s money. That is deeply shameful to acknowledge, and while no amount of money will ever be enough to repair the horrors of the past, the Church Commissioners have decided to invest £100 million over the next nine years in a better future for all, particularly in those communities affected by historical slavery.

Can my hon. Friend assure me that the not disproportionate £100 million will be spent to reduce the shocking persistence of slavery in the present?

The £100-million fund will enable impact investment grant funding and research in response to the findings in the Church Commissioners’ report. An oversight group will be established to help the Church Commissioners shape and deliver that response. Today the Church Commissioners, as award-winning ethical investors, punch well above their weight in combating modern slavery and human rights violations all around the world.

While we cannot and should never ignore the Church’s historical involvement with slavery, is it not better to focus on the missionary work that churches did over the years, with the spread of the Gospel and the best story ever told: that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners?

I do not think it is a question of either/or. When the chief executive of the Church Commissioners was on the “Today” programme recently explaining why we have done this, he was contacted later that day by a global majority heritage individual who had stayed away from the Church for 40 years and is now going to come back again. I say also to the hon. Gentleman that full churches do not tend to fall down.

Lichfield Cathedral

I look forward very much to visiting Lichfield cathedral, but sadly that may not be until after Dean Adrian Dorber retires. I know that the dean’s work has been so significant that I will see many ongoing examples of his tremendous legacy when I do visit.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, because he will see the Herkenrode glass, which has been restored, and he will hear the magnificent organ, for which £6 million had to be raised to make it sound so beautiful. They are a reminder that a dean’s work is not just worship, but fundraising, management and all the other factors in running a great and successful cathedral such as Lichfield. What sort of training is given? It seemed to me that poor Adrian Dorber had to learn on the job and then, with a little bit more investigation, Mr Speaker—it is a bit like being a Speaker, actually—that they all have to learn on the job. Can we not improve on that?

One might think that Lichfield cathedral was the only cathedral in the Church of England, because my hon. Friend is one of the very few Members who regularly stands up for his cathedral. Running a cathedral, as he rightly says, is not only a major spiritual undertaking to proclaim the good news of Jesus, but a huge management task, which is why we require all new deans to undertake a component of an MBA module before taking up office.

Blessings for Same-sex Couples

8. Whether the Commissioners have held discussions with senior Church leaders on allowing clergy to conduct blessings for same-sex couples. (903296)

With you permission, Mr Speaker, following my response to the urgent question on Tuesday, the advice I was given then was by the Church legal office, and I was yesterday asked to make a small clarification. A simple majority in each of the three Houses of the General Synod could suffice to pass a measure and amending canon to change the definition of marriage in ecclesiastical law, but circumstances could also arise in which two-thirds majorities in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy would be needed, and, as with all authorised forms of service, a two-thirds majority in each House would be required for the approval of the Synod as a form of service for the marriage of a same-sex couple. I apologise, Mr Speaker, but I was only informed yesterday. Given that I was answering questions today, I thought you would find it acceptable that I put that slight clarification on the record.

In answer to the question from the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), it is the case that the General Synod of the Church of England can make its own decisions on these matters. Members of the Synod will have a chance to make their own views clearly known, having listened to the very forcible views expressed in this House on Tuesday. I repeat that the Church of England has apologised for past behaviours, and welcomes and values LGBTQI+ people unreservedly and joyfully.

I thank the hon. Member for that clarification and for his comments about welcoming the LGBTQI+ community joyfully. But can I ask him to clarify then why it is that a man and a woman who do not believe in God and do not regularly attend church are welcome to marry in the Church of England—indeed, the Church’s website says, “God’s blessing is the main attraction for many couples”—but a couple in a same-sex relationship, both of whom may have worshipped in the Church all their lives and live in the spirit of Christian faith, are denied the same right in the Church, even though similar denominations in Scotland offer that opportunity? Can the hon. Member inform the House whether the Commissioners have discussed that inequality with the Church of England?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. These matters will be very livelily debated at the General Synod between 6 and 9 February. I can also tell her that each province in the global Anglican communion is autonomous. The majority of the provinces in the communion provide neither blessings nor marriages for same-sex couples: the Scottish Episcopal Church provides marriages, the Church in Wales provides blessings, and the Church of Ireland provides neither for same-sex couples, so the hon. Lady can see that there is a variety of practice within these islands. But I have heard what she has said and, more importantly, I will make sure that the General Synod is very well aware of her views and those of others in this House.