Climate Change: Investment in Companies

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked – in the House of Commons on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

What progress the Church of England has made on holding the companies in which it invests to account on climate change.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Chair, Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill Committee

Since this is my last set of oral questions, I would like to record my heartfelt thanks to my small team of staff, and especially my constituency secretary, who has faithfully served me for 20 out of 22 years. We often forget that our staff are on the frontline of much of the abuse that we receive, and I want to record my admiration for their fortitude. I also thank the amazing staff I have had to support me in this role, particularly Simon Stanley at Church House.

In tribute, Mr Speaker, I thank you for your kindness and courtesy—unfailingly so, and especially at times of personal duress. I single out your inspired choice of Speaker’s Chaplain, who has enriched the spiritual life of this place—but more of that later.

The Church of England Pensions Board has tabled a shareholder resolution ahead of the annual general meeting of BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, on 7 November this month. It asks BHP to suspend its membership of trade associations that are not lobbying in line with the climate change agreement. This is just the latest example of the Church Commissioners using their shareholder position to change company policy in line with the climate change agreement.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Just as much as you will be missed, Mr Speaker—tributes are being paid to you—I know that my right hon. Friend will also be missed. This is her last set of questions and it is a pleasure to ask her about eco-churches. Last year, Salisbury became the first diocese to be awarded the status of eco-diocese. Ten churches in my constituency have signed up to the project. Will she tell the House what more the Church can do to help to tackle climate change?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Chair, Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill Committee

My hon. Friend’s illustration shows that the Church is consistent from top to bottom in its determination to tackle climate change. Today we really can celebrate the fact that Salisbury diocese, with all that it has had to cope with, is indeed the first to win an award for an entire diocese. These awards are provided by the Christian environmental charity, A Rocha. Perhaps upon hearing this, all Members in the Chamber might like to encourage their churches and diocese to become eco-churches and an eco-diocese, because that would demonstrate consistency from top to bottom across the Church.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I, too, pay warm tribute to the right hon. Lady; she is an absolutely magnificent woman—[Interruption.] And I should know. She has done so much on so many different subjects, and it has been great that she took on this role, which is not often wanted by many MPs. She has carried it off with great panache and we should be grateful to her. She has also done a lot on the restoration and renewal of this Palace, and that will stand testament to her when she has gone.

I do not know the right hon. Lady’s favourite hymn, but mine is

“Hills of the North, rejoice, river and mountain spring”.

Right at the heart of the Christian gospel is surely a belief that we must preserve the planet on which we live—creation that was given to us for future generations. Must that not be at the heart of all the decisions that the Church of England makes?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Chair, Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very kind words. I nearly invited my family to come and sit in on this last set of questions, but I think that if they had heard that description, there might have been a little heckling from the Gallery, so it is a big relief that they will read about it without having the opportunity to heckle.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and the Church needs to set an example in terms of its stewardship of the earth’s resources, which we are charged to look after. I certainly recognise that every one of us in this Chamber has an absolute duty to make sure that we leave this planet in a better place than we inherited it when we were born on to it. Of course, I wish him the very best with his candidature for the speakership, and I urge whomever is elected Speaker, with the forthcoming restoration and renewal, to think very, very hard about ensuring that the future Parliament is a green Parliament.