Church Commissioners – Oral and Written Questions

On 17th July 2014, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, answered a number of questions on the floor of the House of Commons, during the monthly Church Commissioner Questions slot. He answered questions on food banks, church and cathedral repairs, human trafficking and women bishops. He also answered a written question on Church Commissioners ICT. A full transcript of the session is reproduced below:

14.01 CCQ Baldry

Food Banks

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): What support the Church of England is giving to food banks.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): Four in five of the Church of England’s 13,000 parish churches are supporting local food banks.

Hugh Bayley: Three weeks ago, the Living Wage Commission chaired by the Archbishop of York recommended that the voluntary adoption of the living wage by employers could do much to reduce poverty and dependence on food banks. What advice and encouragement is the Church giving to parishes to become advocates and champions in their communities in order to persuade employers to adopt the living wage?

Sir Tony Baldry: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Church of England is committed to paying all our staff the living wage. I hope that that will be an excellent example for employers voluntarily to follow where the Church of England is leading.

We understand the broader concerns about food banks. That is why, together with support from the Church Urban Fund and a number of diocesan bishops, I have been, and I am, organising meetings across the country with the Minister for the Cabinet Office to consider the reasons causing people to use food banks and how, collectively, we can move on from them.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): The Church Commissioners have significant land holdings in and around the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip, and only the Church Commissioners can ensure that the villagers have space to replace their 19th-century school, hall and shop. For some years the parish council and other village organisations have tried, unsuccessfully, to meet the Church Commissioners about their social responsibilities in the village. Could the right hon. Gentleman ensure that those discussions now take place as a matter of urgency, because there are pending planning applications on the Church Commissioners’ land?

Sir Tony Baldry: That is a gloriously ingenious question, but I am not sure whether it entirely follows on from food banks. The Church Commissioners, like any other charity, have a duty to their beneficiaries, who are largely clergy pensioners, in how we manage our investments. We will of course communicate and liaise directly with those who are democratically elected—in my hon. Friend’s case, the local authority—about the appropriate way in which any landholdings we have might be used in the context of the local plan.

Heritage Lottery Fund (Church Repairs)

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): What funds were allocated to church repairs from the Heritage Lottery Fund in each of the past three years.

Sir Tony Baldry: Over the past three years, the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded just under £75 million to 623 projects to repair listed places of worship in England through the grants for places of worship programme and its predecessor, the repairs grants for places of worship programme, which is operated in partnership with English Heritage.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful for that reply. It is, indeed, a large sum of money. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the level at which VAT is set on church repairs and make a plea to reduce it to 5%, which would be perfectly legal?

Sir Tony Baldry: I remind my hon. Friend that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been incredibly generous towards the Church. In May 2012, he and the Government agreed to give £30 million extra a year to the Church so that the listed places of worship grant scheme could enable the equivalent to the VAT bill to be paid on all alterations and repairs to listed buildings. No church should be deterred from undertaking essential repairs and restoration due to fears about the cost of VAT, because they are now covered. The Chancellor made it very clear that he was moving to ease the impact on the churches, in recognition of the massive contribution made by congregations up and down the land to the life of their communities.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman will know that no one begrudges lottery money flowing to protect our great churches, but is he aware that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills yesterday heartily endorsed crowdfunding as a way for communities to raise money to do good things? Could we interest the Archbishop of Canterbury in crowdfunding so that we can take the pressure off the lottery and use more of its money for other things?

Sir Tony Baldry: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Church of England invented crowdfunding long before anyone else thought of it.


Cathedral Repairs Fund

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Whether any grants have been made from the first world war centenary cathedral repairs fund.

Sir Tony Baldry: Some £4.77 million has been allocated so far from the £20 million Government repair fund for cathedrals. So far, 22 cathedrals have benefited—18 Anglican and four Catholic.

Sarah Newton: I very much appreciate the grant made to Truro cathedral, and the fund’s recognition of the really important role that cathedrals such as Truro play in local civic and national life. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to have an ongoing grant-making process to support the vital work of Truro cathedral and, indeed, of cathedrals all over the UK?

Sir Tony Baldry: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is very good news that Truro has received money to repair the cathedral turrets, which were damaged during recent storms. I think we all agree that cathedrals, apart from being very important centres of religious worship, are centres for regeneration, civic pride and tourism potential. The maintenance and repair of our cathedrals is of course a national imperative.


Human Trafficking

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What steps the Church is taking to tackle human trafficking.

Sir Tony Baldry: The Church of England has been at the forefront of the parliamentary campaign to abolish slavery, and wants to ensure that everything possible can be done to banish slavery from the world.

Fiona Bruce: Archbishop Welby is garnering increasing respect and admiration in many ways, not least for his international travels to meet and strengthen relationships across the Anglican family worldwide. What is the Church of England doing internationally to develop a more co-ordinated Anglican response to the appalling global phenomenon of human trafficking?

Sir Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Of course, the Church of England was at the forefront of the original campaign, with Wilberforce, to abolish slavery in this country, and we are determined to do everything we can to abolish slavery around the world. The Church of England, together with the Roman Catholic Church and other faiths groups in this country, works through the Global Freedom Network, and in our work around the world, we are determined to do everything we can to eradicate modern-day slavery and human trafficking by 2020.


Women Bishops

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What the next steps are on the women bishops measure following the General Synod.

Sir Tony Baldry: The next step is for the Ecclesiastical Committee to meet on Tuesday, when I hope it will pass the measure that was agreed by General Synod on Monday. That will at last enable women to become bishops in the Church of England.

Helen Goodman: I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. It is the answer that we have been waiting for the past 20 years to hear. It is very good news for the country and for the Church. I congratulate everybody who secured the result in Synod. When does he think women bishops might be installed, and when does he think they might be introduced into the other place?

Sir Tony Baldry: The answer I feel like giving to the hon. Lady is, “Hallelujah, sister! At last!” After so many years of waiting, the Church of England is going to have women bishops, which will enable it to fulfil its mission as a Church for the whole nation and allow every part of the Church to flourish.

If the Ecclesiastical Committee approves the measure on Tuesday, subject to the agreement of the Leader of the House I hope to bring the measure to this House in September. I think that the other House hopes to deal with the measure early in October. That would enable General Synod to meet formally in November to do the final approval and promulging of the canon. That would enable the Church of England to appoint the first women bishops this year or early next year.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the move towards women bishops. However, for the moment, it is a male preserve. Will he join me in congratulating the Rev. David Court, the new Bishop of Grimsby, who will be consecrated at St Paul’s next week, and wish him well in his work in the Lincoln diocese?

Sir Tony Baldry: Of course. Every bishop in the Church of England is a focus of unity in their own diocese and all bishops undertake incredibly important work. One of the great things about General Synod was that we were able to get agreement for there to be women bishops with no one in the Church feeling hurt or aggrieved. We were therefore able, under the leadership of Archbishop Justin and Archbishop John, to move forward as a united Church.



ICT – Written Answer

Mr Bradshaw: To ask the right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, how many mobile telephones, BlackBerrys and laptops were lost by the Church Commissioners in (a) 2013 and (b) 2014 to date.

Sir Tony Baldry: The number of mobile telephones, BlackBerrys and laptops lost by members of the National Church Institutions which in includes the Church Commissioners for the year 2013 is as follows, data was not yet available for the year 2014:

Mobile/BlackBerry Laptop
2013 5 1
2014 Data not yet available Data not yet available