Agricultural Land Holdings

Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 7th May 2009.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 10:30 am, 7th May 2009

What the Church Commissioners' policy is on their agricultural land holdings.

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Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

The commissioners aim for the best possible total return from all their assets, not just from the rural portfolio, within an acceptable level of risk and in accordance with their ethical investment policy.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

According to the secretary of the Church Commissioners, the primary objective is to make money. To that end, to the shock and horror of the people of Bognor Regis, the commissioners intend to concrete over 300 acres of beautiful and highly productive agricultural land to the west of Pagham and Bersted in my constituency. The commissioners have also attempted to triple the rents of tenant farmers in the area. Given that the Church Commissioners own the third largest holding of agricultural land in the country, is it not time that this land was put in the hands of a body that has the objective of looking after the countryside and encouraging the production of home-grown food rather than leaving the land at the mercy of an organisation that—

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Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Speaker; that was a statement, not a question. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the fact that the commissioners have gone to great lengths to meet and talk to him. He met the secretary, for example, and also representatives of our department that deals with agriculture. The commissioners are always happy to meet Members of Parliament and to discuss issues with them, recognising that they have constituency interests, so it is perfectly proper for the hon. Gentleman to raise this matter. I should add, however, that the commissioners have a legal and moral obligation to their beneficiaries. They aim to hold financial and ethical issues together and I, for one, think that they manage that balance rather well, but they are certainly not willing to ignore their fiduciary duty to obtain the best possible long-term return from their assets, even in the face of the occasional protest.

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