To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what was the number of commissioners at the last meeting of the Church Commissioners, (a) voting for and (b) voting against (i) the proposal to use £1 million of the Church Commissioners funds towards the church urban fund and (ii) the proposal to use £0·5 million of the Church Commissioners' funds towards the church urban fund; whether the Church Commissioners follow a policy of majority voting at their meetings; and when the Church Commissioners will implement the wishes of the commissioners on this subject as decided at their last meeting.
(Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The hon. Gentleman refers to the last meeting of the commissioners' board of governors, on 23 May. It is not the commissioners' practice to disclose voting figures relating to the internal and confidential discussions, but all the board's decisions, including those to which I am about to refer, are made on a majority vote, after the expression of opinion by individual governors. The board was meeting to decide recommendations for the allocation of surplus income to the commissioners' annual general meeting, to be held on 26 June. In the light of financial problems caused by the recession, but with considerable reluctance, it decided that it was unable to recommend a further immediate grant to the church urban fund, but would review the position towards the end of this year.
I am grateful for that answer, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is widespread anger and disbelief because it is widely known that the majority view of the board of governors was that the church urban fund should receive £1 million, or at least £500,000, in grant from the Church Commissioners? It expressed that view in a vote at its last meeting. Is the reality that the annual general meeting this Wednesday of the Church Commissioners has the power to continue to enact the policy of the Church and the new archbishop to give money to the church urban fund, or will the AGM be told that it is not in its power to deal with a recommendation by saying, "We do not accept the recommendation. We believe that we should give money to the church urban fund"? A cut because of the recession may be acceptable, but a removal of all grant is not.
The hon. Gentleman is being a little alarmist about the church urban fund. The majority voting that he quoted—it has not been published—refers to the second review meeting later in the year. The majority voting reflected the preference of the majority of governors in relation to the subsequent meeting.
The hon. Gentleman knows that, because of its substantial reserves, there will be no cuts this year in the grants paid by the church urban fund. If he reads the annual report of the fund, he will find that it received more income from investments last year than it disbursed in grants. There is nothing scandalous or undesirable going on in relation to the fund.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that much of the funding of the church urban fund comes from parishes through the payment of quota? Does he agree that over the years heroic sums have been raised by way of quota for the fund, often from small parishes that have been asked to carry a huge burden? The decision that my right hon. Friend announced today will not prejudice the moneys that are going into the fund and it will be greatly welcomed by the many thousands of fund-raisers in small parishes throughout the country.
I endorse my hon. Friend's reference to the particular generosity of small parishes. I am sure, however, that he will bear in mind the fact that there is some potential buoyancy, to put it no higher, in the amounts contributed through parish collections. The average donation of church members is only £2 a week, which is about 2 per cent. of their average net personal disposable income. The average donation is not a gigantic sum.