A preliminary assessment of storm damage to the Commissioners' property indicates an estimated cost of some £660,000. Most of this relates to the Commissioners' agricultural estates. About £60,000 worth of damage relates to bishops' houses.
Do the Church Commissioners insure their properties against what I can best describe as "acts of God"? If not, does that not show a certain lack of financial probity? If they do insure their property against "acts of God", does that not show a certain lack of faith?
My hon. Friend seems to impale me on the horns of an awkward dilemma. The answer is that the Church Commissioners are men and women of robust faith, and it is precisely for that reason that we would not seek to circumvent the Divine displeasure via the insurance industry. To do so might incur irreparable damage to that worthy industry.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Historic Churches Preservation Trust has evidence that many millions of pounds worth of damage has been caused to historic churches? I appreciate that that is not a direct responsibility of the commissioners, but is he prepared to join the trust and others, if necessary, in approaching his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for extra assistance to repair those marvellous and irreplaceable buildings?
I fully appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend and, without commitment, we shall of course consider whether there is anything in these exceptional circumstances that the Church Commissioners can do to help churches and parishes faced with heavy bills for damage. My hon. Friend will understand that every pound that we contribute towards repairing the fabric of a church necessarily means that a pound is taken away from the stipends of the clergy and the contributions to their pensions. It is our priority to look after the incumbent, the human fabric, but I shall consider the point raised by my hon. Friend.