(Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Church Commissioners welcome the view of the Select Committee on Social Security that a pension fund into which contributions are payable needs to be established and that that will help to protect the continuing scope of the commissioners to contribute towards the pay of clergy in the poorest parishes. That is consistent with the principles for future arrangements, on which discussions with diocesan boards of finance are well advanced. A report is to be made to the Church of England General Synod in the summer, following which the necessary legislation will be drafted.
The Select Committee revealed some very serious problems in terms of Church of England pensions—£800 million losses, secrecy, recklessness and foolishness. When shall we reports and accounts for the 44 subsidiary companies, all of which are loss-making? When we deal with the matter further in the House, will the right hon. Gentleman support the notion that it should be dealt with by means of a full Bill which is discussable and amendable, rather than by a 90-minute take-it-or-leave-it statutory instrument?
On the last point, I am sympathetic towards the hon. Gentleman's idea, but it must be something to which the Church of England would agree as it has the majority interest in the issues being discussed. With regard to the pension side of the matter, I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the assets of the Church Commissioners, which are now in the region of £2.4 billion, are very comfortably able to cover the whole of the past actuarial responsibilities for pensions and future pensions up to the point which is now likely to be cut off by a new contributory fund.
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to reflect on the full and searching debate which took place in the Chamber on Thursday night, in which it emerged that virtually every mistake in the book had occurred in the management of the Church Commissioners' funds? Does he agree that it is now urgent to establish a properly funded pension scheme so that past members of the clergy will be relieved of any anxiety that their pensions will not be properly paid?
I can assure my hon. Friend that past liabilities are very comfortably covered, as actuarially computed, by the £2.4 billion of assets in hand. My hon. Friend also referred to the future pensions liability. He will be aware that we have announced that there is to be a new contributory scheme to take account of that.