Church Commissioner Questions – Women bishops, funeral poverty, employment tribunal, carbon footprint, WW2 Civilian Memorials

On the 5th November 2015 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, answered oral questions in the House of Commons on: women bishops, funeral poverty, the tribunal case of Jeremy Pemberton, the Church’s carbon footprint and a memorial day for civilian casualties of the Second World War. A full transcript is below.

Caroline SpelmanChurch Commissioners

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Women Bishops

1. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effect of the introduction of the first woman bishop to the Lords Spiritual on the Church of England; and if she will make a statement. [902007]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I am delighted to be able to share with the House that the first female bishop, the Bishop of Gloucester, was introduced into the House of Lords on 26 October. The Church would like to put on record its thanks to my predecessor and to many hon. Members, including the hon. Lady, who have campaigned long and hard to see this day.

Diana Johnson: I am delighted that in July I was able to go along to the installation of the Bishop of Hull, Alison White, the first woman to hold that position, and of course we now have a woman bishop in the House of Lords. Will the right hon. Lady comment on whether the Church has an objective as to when we will see parity between male and female bishops in the House of Lords?

Mrs Spelman: There are already seven women bishops. The next Bishop of Newcastle, to be introduced into the Lords on 26 January, will also be a woman. There are currently three vacancies in Oxford, Leicester and Lichfield, all of which are eligible seats in the House of Lords and which may be filled by women. The legislation passed this year enables these vacancies to be filled by female bishops in a quest to get a much better gender balance.

 Funeral Charges

3. Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the effect of funeral poverty on fees paid for funerals. [902010]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The clergy witnesses at first hand the trauma when a family feel unable to give due recognition to a loved one. The Church does all it can to keep funeral costs down. A simple funeral in a Church of England parish church would cost a family between £200 and £300, depending on the style of burial.

Valerie Vaz: I thank the right hon. Lady for her answer and welcome her to her place. Is she able to provide an estimate—if not now, in writing—of whether the write-off that some parishes are able to make for funerals is going up or down?

Mrs Spelman: I do not have the details, but I am more than happy to write to the hon. Lady.

Jeremy Pemberton

4. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): How much the Church of England has spent on the employment tribunal involving Jeremy Pemberton; and if she will make a statement. [902011]

Mrs Spelman: I am unable to answer the question about the cost of that case, because it is still litigation in progress and we are currently in the period when the claimant may appeal the tribunal’s decision.

Mr Bradshaw: I very much hope that the claimant does appeal. Do we not have a right as members of the Church of England to know exactly how much our Church has spent in our name to persecute this excellent priest? He has been stopped from being a hospital chaplain, a job which by all accounts he did superbly, because of the discriminatory approach of the Church of England. Particularly when we are celebrating the democratic election of the first openly gay, married priest to the General Synod, this is a ridiculous situation.

Mrs Spelman: I come back to my point that the litigation is still in progress, and at the moment there is therefore no definitive sum that I can make transparent in the House. This is an ongoing matter. The Church Commissioners do not seek to incur legal bills, but the action was initiated by the litigant in this case. It is important to say that there will be a variety of views in the Church of England on the doctrine of marriage, and the Church has encouraged a conversation within the Church about that.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): The Church of England has made many strides forward in the acceptance of gay unions among its clergy, especially in the acceptance of civil partnerships. As we have heard, despite that evolution, there are clear discrepancies in how the Church treats gay clergy who enter into a civil marriage. Will the right hon. Lady therefore speak to Church leaders to resolve such matters so that gay clergy do not feel discriminated against when it comes to practising their faith by devoting their life to God, while also marrying the person they love.

Mrs Spelman: In respect to the specific case referred to in the question, the employment tribunal’s findings are known: it did not find in favour of Canon Pemberton. As I mentioned earlier, the important point is that the bishops themselves have initiated a two-year process of conversations about the Church’s approach to human sexuality. That process is underway, and it is for all of us to be involved with it.

Carbon Footprint

6. Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): What progress the Church Commissioners have made on their commitment to reduce the Church of England’s carbon footprint by 40% by 2020. [902014]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Five years ago, the Church of England made a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050, which is the same as the Government’s objective. Its interim target is 40% by 2020, and that has almost been reached already.

Dr Cameron: The director of investments of the Church Commissioners has co-signed a letter to the Chancellor outlining concerns about future renewables investment resulting from unsupportive Government policy. What steps are being taken to address those serious concerns?

Mrs Spelman: The Church Commissioners have applied an ethical investment strategy to all their investments. As a result, the Church has withdrawn from investment in tar sands and other polluting forms of fossil fuel. The Church believes you must practise what you preach. In talking to the Government, it is itself demonstrating its commitment to tackle climate change.

Memorial Service: Civilians Killed in World War 2

8. Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Whether the Church of England plans to introduce an annual national memorial service to honour British civilians killed during the second world war. [902016]

Mrs Spelman: As we approach Remembrance Sunday, this is an excellent time to remind hon. Members that during the remembrance service on Sunday, which we will no doubt all attend, there is a prayer that specifically relates to the suffering of civilians in the war. Coventry Cathedral is a national entity for recognising the suffering and loss of civilians, and other churches around the land recognise the loss particularly of civilians during the second world war.

Robert Neill: My constituent George Taylor, who attends the Church of the Annunciation in Chislehurst, lost his mother and his young brother among 160 people killed when a V2 bomb fell on a shop in south-east London. It is perfectly right that we remember civilians on Remembrance Day, but equally, we want a special day to remember our armed forces and their dedication in all wars. Could we consider putting the work being done in individual churches and with the prayer on a more systematic basis, and could we also consider some further physical memorial in which the Church might play a part?

Mrs Spelman: I invite my hon. Friend to look at the example of a church in Kennington Park, Lambeth, which unveiled a memorial in 2006 to those who had died in the blitz. In a single bomb attack, 100 people died. Perhaps his constituent and the churches in New Cross could look at whether they can achieve something similar in memoriam.

(Via Parliament.UK)

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