The Church of England supports the Government’s drive to increase the number of apprentices. Apart from some of the central bodies and larger diocesan offices in cathedrals, most Church bodies will not be affected by the levy, because their payrolls fall below the £3 million threshold, but the Church is in the rather unusual position of having 8,000 office holders out of its total 24,000 employees, and the Church would very much like to see the levy being used to train more ordinands.
May I push my right hon. Friend to expand a little more on that unusual position? Clearly, those office holders are not employees. How does that affect their situation?
In a way, the Church is an anomaly. Quite a lot of organisations have office holders—unless I am much mistaken, MPs are technically office holders—but every vicar in every parish is not in a position to employ an apprentice. Indeed, having a curate is quite a luxury, as it takes so much to train people. I hope the Government will support the Church’s quest to use some of the moneys from the apprenticeship levy to meet its shortfall of approximately 40,000 ordinands.
My right hon. Friend highlighted the shortage of clergy for parishes, and it is important that the apprenticeship levy does not compound that situation. Does she agree that it is also important that it is not compounded by an enforced retirement age for clergy who are able and willing to continue serving their parishes where there would often be a long interregnum otherwise? Will she take this matter up with the Church Commissioners?
I expect all of us have met or been ministered to by a wise elderly priest, but the statutory retirement age for clergy is 70. Exceptions can be made. Although that is officially the retirement age, clergy may be given permission by the bishop to continue to officiate. A team vicar may have their term extended by two years, and a further extension may be achieved by a fixed-term licence, particularly in a diocese where there is special pastoral need. So there are ways in which exceptionally able clergy can continue to serve beyond the age of 70.