asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, if there are any plans to increase the amount of the commissioners' income applied towards the support of the pay, pensions and housing of the stipendiary ministry of the Church of England.
Yes. We were able to increase the income we applied towards the pay, pensions and housing of stipendiary ministers of the Church of England by 8·5 per cent. in 1984 and a further increase of 8·6 per cent. will have occurred in 1985. Similar increases are planned in future years. In all, over 80 per cent. of our income is used for these purposes.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. First, I welcome the fact that the Church Commissioners are paying more than the rate of inflation to support the ministry and the pay of incumbents. Does he agree that some anxiety should be shown, because about 1,000 members of the clergy have given notice that they will leave the Church of England if women are ordained and admitted to the priesthood? Will he confirm that special consideration will be given to keeping those members and the rest of the clergy happy, because we do not wish to lose more members of the clergy?
The Church Commissioners' duty is to make moneys available for the remuneration of the full-time clergy. As my hon. Friend is aware, more than half the overall burden, including pensions, is now also carried by the laity. I do not believe that considerations of what will happen in the future enter into that calculation. My hon. Friend is now uniquely well placed to make his views known because of the welcome news that since we last met he has been elected to the General Synod.
When my hon. Friend and his colleagues next discuss these matters, will they give further thought to the compulsory retirement age of 70, bearing in mind the fact that many men who are just over 70 are well able to look after a small rural parish, and that mother Church is often better served by a resident father than by a peripatetic priest of whatever sex?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I listened carefully to what he said. The difficulty is, as he will know from close experiece, that there are few instances where one man looks after one fairly small rural parish. That is not the experience that most of us share. The work is demanding physically and mentally.