As the answer contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report.
However, I can tell my hon. Friend that in 1953 there were 390 employees at an administrative cost of £325,000 and today that figure is reduced to 372. Administrative costs for 1983 are not available but for 1982 they were £5·87 million.
Bearing in mind that the virtually unreduced staff of the Church Commissioners has so far failed to answer two questions that I tabled in July, will my hon. Friend ask the Commissioners to pursue a policy of rigorous self-economy so that they can make more substantial contributions to diocesan funds than hitherto and so that the parish quota—in a parish that I know it has been increased by 282 per cent. in three years—can be reduced somewhat?
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for giving me brief notice of the first part of his supplementary question, which I shall follow up with vigour. I wish my hon. Friend and the House to know that the Commissioners take their duties to the House seriously. I shall let him know at the earliest opportunity, possibly over the lunch table tomorrow. Secondly, the broad strategy that has to be followed stems from the reduction in the number of active clergy, but there is a greatly increased number of clergy pensioners and widows. Those are the two prongs on which the work of the Commissioners has to rest.
However many people are employed by the Church Commissioners, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will try to seize them of the importance of making it a little easier for my constituent to erect a white marble tombstone in Mepal churchyard, where there are already 10 such white marble tombstones. However, no permission to erect that tombstone seems to have been given yet.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friend will not feel that I am rejecting his convivial reply to my first question, which will be discussed over lunch tomorrow, but I may ask you, Mr. Speaker, who, with your predecessor, have occasionally ruled me out of order on questions to the hon. Member answering for the Church Commissioners, how you have information on which to base your rulings, which the Church Commissioners appear not to have?
It is possible to compare the Commissioners' administrative costs—of which salaries form the major part—with the rate of inflation only since 1963, when Department of Environment figures on earnings were first published. Since 1963 earnings have shown a national increase of 879 per cent. as against an increase of 771 per cent. in the Commissioners' administrative expenses.