Second Church Estates Commissioner answers questions in the House of Commons

On 30th October 2014, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, answered questions in the House of Commons on the subjects of the ordination of women, extremism, episcopal vacancies and Church investments.

The full transcript of the question session is reproduced below:

Ordination of Women

14.01 CCQ BaldryDiana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North): What assessment the Church of England has made of the potential effects of clause 2 of the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure 2014 on women. [905729]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The Church’s memorandum to the Ecclesiastical Committee gave a detailed assessment of that provision. I also refer the hon. Lady to the Lords Hansard report for 14 October, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury ably explained clause 2. I tried to explain it when I took the measure through the House but, given that she has tabled this question, clearly I lamentably failed.

Diana Johnson: I welcome the fact that we have recently had this long overdue Measure through Parliament, and the hon. Gentleman will know that I have put in an early bid for the Bishop of Hull to be a woman. However, I am concerned about clause 2. Does he share my concern that this country’s established Church will not be governed by the laws of this land? I think that it is a very odd situation for the established Church to be in.

Sir Tony Baldry: We are very much governed by the laws of this land, which is why the Measure had to go to the Ecclesiastical Committee, a statutory Committee of both Houses of Parliament, and then had to be approved by both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and last week you, Mr Speaker, announced that it had been granted Royal Assent. Had the hon. Lady had serious concerned about clause 2, she could have raised them in the debate—[Interruption.] Yes, she did raise them, but if I had not managed to assuage those concerns for her and the House sufficiently, she could have divided the House on the matter. Parliament has now agreed to the Measure and—this is the substantive point—the only reason it is here is to help ensure that the arrangements work; it is not putting the Church of England outside gender and equality legislation. Were it to do so, I have absolutely no doubt that the Government would have opposed it.


Fiona Bruce (Congleton): What steps the Church of England is taking to help tackle extremism in the UK and overseas. [905732]

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle): What steps the Church of England is taking to help tackle extremism in the UK and overseas. [905737]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The Church of England is taking a significant role in tackling extremism by supporting the work of the Government and by working through its own networks of local communities and the wider international Anglican communion.

Fiona Bruce: Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the sentence of death by hanging announced last week on Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five young children who has already spent four years in jail in Pakistan under that country’s unacceptable blasphemy laws? Will my right hon. Friend join me and others in the House in sending out a clear message to the Government of Pakistan that they must review this case?

Sir Tony Baldry: I fully agree with my hon. Friend. This is a terrible, grim and desperate case. I fear that it is a stain on the reputation of Pakistan that this young woman should have been in prison for such a long time.

Far too often around the world, cases of apostasy and the way in which blasphemy laws are used in some cases, as in Pakistan, are a complete offence against the principles of the United Nations charter on freedom of religion. We all need to take every opportunity to express to the Pakistani high commissioner in London and the Government of Pakistan how desperate and sad the world is to see that Pakistan has not managed to resolve that case more swiftly.

Andrew Stephenson: One of the biggest concerns of the Christian Churches in Pendle at the moment is the persecution of Christian communities by ISIS. Has the Church of England made any assessment of the threat of ISIS to religious minorities in the region?

Sir Tony Baldry: Only the other day, the Archbishop of Canterbury commented that Christianity is at risk of being completely eliminated from the whole of the Levant. I know that he is in discussions with faith leaders from across the middle east to see how we can work together to try to ensure that some religious tolerance returns as swiftly as possible.

The situation is desperate: the world appears to be going backwards, away from the high principles of the United Nations charter of 1945 and towards a situation in which intolerance, rather than tolerance, is increasingly becoming the norm.

Episcopal Vacancies

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): How many episcopal vacancies he expects there to be in the next 12 months. [905733]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): Between December and July, the Crown Nominations Commission is due to consider appointments to four vacant diocesan sees: Southwell and Nottingham, Gloucester, Oxford, and Newcastle. In addition, nine of the Church’s 68 suffragan sees are either vacant or due to become vacant over the coming months.

Mr Sheerman: I do not suppose that the Church Commissioners can do anything to recognise the wonderful work by Huddersfield doctor Geraldine O’Hara. Many of us will have heard her diary from Sierra Leone. However, the House could recognise what she is doing. The Church Commissioners can recognise another woman, Catherine Ogle, the dean of Birmingham, who I believe should be an early candidate for bishop.

Sir Tony Baldry: There are a number of very impressive senior women in the Church of England, including cathedral deans such as the one to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. There are also women archdeacons and others who I am sure will be in contention for early appointment as women bishops in the Church of England.

Church Commissioners (Investment Guidance)

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton): What guidance the commissioners follow when making investments; and if he will make a statement. [905734]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The investments of the Church Commissioners are the responsibility of the assets committee. They are guided by a professional investment team supported by external advisers and the advice of the Church of England ethical investment advisory group.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I still seek what guidance and criteria the Church Commissioners follow. What is the level of investment income from Church of England investments as regards the overall revenue?

Sir Tony Baldry: The Church Commissioners have investments of just over £6 billion. From that is generated an annual income of about £100 million, most of which is devoted to clergy pensions, and the rest to helping poorer dioceses across the country, such as Durham and Liverpool, and supporting their mission work. The Church Commissioners are advised by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group. I assure my hon. Friend, and the House, that we take considerable care to monitor any investment that might have an effect in these areas: tobacco, defence, non-military firearms, gambling, pornography, high-interest-rate lending, stem cell research, alcohol, and genetically modified organisms. For each and every one of those, the assets committee and the Ethical Investment Advisory Group spend hours and hours working to produce detailed policy to try and ensure not only that we do not invest inappropriately but that we use our investments to encourage companies to act responsibly.

Tessa Munt (Wells): I think that the Church of England believes in having partnerships of constructive engagement with the companies in which it invests. Therefore, will the Church Commissioners, first, call for SOCO International, an oil and gas exploration firm in which it has shares, to launch an independent investigation into the allegations of corruption and violence that it has attracted in its dealings with the Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo; and secondly, explain how this investment aligns with the Christian values of the Church?

Sir Tony Baldry: I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not give me notice of that question, because I could then have given her a substantive response. I know nothing of the facts of the investment, but I will make inquiries and write to her.

Mr Speaker: I think that the right hon. Gentleman should take it as a compliment that the hon. Lady assumed that on this matter, as on most others that are raised with him, his knowledge is compendious.

Sir Tony Baldry: Sadly, as I keep on telling my constituents, Mr Speaker, I am neither omniscient nor omnipotent.

Mr Speaker: That may be a divisible proposition.