Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27 January 1997.

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Photo of Mr Michael Brown Mr Michael Brown , Brigg and Cleethorpes 12:00, 27 January 1997

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will estimate the costs of disestablishing the Church of England. [11149]

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

Disestablishment would not lie with the Church Commissioners to initiate and, without formal instructions and definitions, cost estimates are impracticable.

Photo of Mr Michael Brown Mr Michael Brown , Brigg and Cleethorpes

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. However, does he agree that whatever the costs, they would be well worth paying to enable the Church of England to renew itself? For example, the diocese of Lincoln, which covers my constituency, has become a laughing stock because the bishop, for whom I have the greatest regard, is unable to preach his Christmas sermon in his own cathedral. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as many vicars—two thirds, so it is said—are unable to remember even two or three of the Ten Commandments, there is a case for allowing the Church of England to go its own way, to renew itself and to take part in political debate without politicians criticising it when it does so?

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

I share my hon. Friend's dismay at the damage that the Lincoln cathedral dispute has done. I am grateful for the concern that he has expressed, the interest that he has taken and the support that he has given to the Bishop of Lincoln. Disestablishing the Church of England, however, could prove detrimental to Church and to state. It would be paradoxical thus to extend even further the detriment that has already arisen from the Lincoln dispute.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Social Security Committee, Chair, Social Security Committee

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that no disestablishment Bill has gone through the House without disendowment? The effect of disestablishment would be that, the day after, the same old crew would be running the same old show with a lot less money.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

I am happy to confirm the point that the hon. Gentleman has shrewdly and pertinently made. Queen Anne's bounty, which has a remote but important historic pedigree and origin, is at stake in the matter of disestablishment and, if disendowment occurred, there would not be sufficient resources to pay clergy stipends at their present level.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I join in the support for the Bishop of Lincoln who has had a hard time and who deserves fully to be supported. It would, however, be helpful if the Church Commissioners assessed the benefits of disestablishment. It has been no disbenefit in Ireland and no disbenefit in Wales. The better and more democratic position in Scotland has been no disbenefit either. The benefits would be to the Church which, it seems to me from all the Gospel teachings, should not be part of the establishment but challenging it.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

The hon. Gentleman should reflect on the point made by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)—that disestablishment would inescapably be associated with the controversial issue of disendowment. Although that might be a great benefit to the non-conformist Churches, which might claim some of the assets of the Church of England, and to the Roman Catholic Church, it would bring considerable financial detriment to the clergy in the Church of England.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

Will not my right hon. Friend give a more robust defence of establishment? Does he agree that one inestimable benefit of establishment is that every man, woman and child in the country has, as of right, the services of the established Church unless he or she is a member of some other religion or sect?

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

I am happy to support my hon. Friend and I hope that my references to the hon. Member for Birkenhead showed that I am intrinsically robust in my approach. In the light of the importance and significance of Church Commissioners' questions every month, I hesitated so as not to exalt too highly the benefits that might accrue to Parliament from having questions answered regularly by a Conservative Back Bencher.