Clergy Poverty

Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th November 2001.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 2:30 pm, 5th November 2001

What plans the commissioners have for dealing with poverty among the clergy.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

The review group on stipends, to which I just referred, has expressed a number of aspirations, one of which is to introduce an incumbent's stipend guideline equivalent—with housing included—amounting to approximately 80 per cent. of the starting salary of a head teacher of a large primary school.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Is my hon. Friend aware that according to the Church of England's own report "Generosity and Sacrifice", more than one in 10 clergy say that they struggle to pay bills every year and, indeed, regularly go into debt? As my hon. Friend Paul Flynn pointed out, many fail to acquire enough money to buy a home to which to retire. Is it not time that, first, Church of England clergy had proper employment rights, and secondly, that the tied cottage concept was abolished?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for widening the issue to encompass employment rights and the tied cottage. As he may know, in addition to their stipends based on a national stipends benchmark of £16,910 from April 2001, clergy of incumbent status receive free accommodation or a housing allowance, and membership of a non-contributory pension scheme. Moreover, their working expenses should be fully reimbursed. I nevertheless congratulate my hon. Friend on having already read "Generosity and Sacrifice".

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Church Commissioners are responsible for dealing with the poverty of clergy, but does he accept that, as a landlord, they are also responsible for dealing with that of their tenants? Will he convey to them the anger, frustration and dissatisfaction caused by the September decision of their assets committee, as a result of which there is less housing for the poor in London? Is that not compatible with a doctrine that states, "We will look after our own if they are clergy, but not if they are tenants"?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I expected the hon. Gentleman to widen the question to cover the Octavia estates. I can tell him, however, that the commissioners paid £90.60 million for clergy pensions and a further £11.7 million to offset the cost of contributions payable under the new pension scheme. The Octavia Hill issue is another question for another day, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is part of the Church Commissioners overall responsibility to obtain the best possible return on investments in order to put more money into the cure of souls.