On 4th February 2016 MPs put questions to the Church Commissioners in the House of Commons.
Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner, was asked questions on the Queen’s 90th Birthday, street pastors, ethical investments and tax avoidance, women and BME clergy and credit unions. The transcript is below.
Queen’s 90th Birthday
Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con):
What plans the Church of England has to mark the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman):
The Church of England will mark the 90th birthday of Her Majesty with a large number of events and activities at national and local levels. Alongside these events, the Bible Society and HOPE have released a companion book titled “The Servant Queen”, with a foreword written by Her Majesty that discusses how her faith has influenced her service of this nation over the last 90 years.
I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole country when I say that the opportunities for the Queen to be celebrated are most welcome. The Church is recommending that every parish church organises an exhibition or festival on the weekend of 10 to 12 June. Will my right hon. Friend use her office to encourage residents to challenge local authorities that seek to charge for road closures or to require events to have public liability insurance?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, because there will be a large number of activities in London, not least a special service at St Paul’s on 12 June, and his constituents will no doubt want to be there. While this issue is not directly my responsibility, I will use my good offices with the Local Government Association to try to make sure that our constituents are not impeded in celebrating Her Majesty’s birthday in the best possible way.
Street Pastor Teams
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
How many street pastor teams the Church of England works with.
The Church of England has supported Street Pastors since its formation in London by the Ascension Trust in 2003. A large proportion of its clergy and members of the congregations are involved in Street Pastors. In Kettering, nine of the 27 street pastors are Anglicans.
Kettering is indeed fortunate to have a superb team of street pastors, who go out in the town centre at weekends to speak to, often, vulnerable people and to many young people who are the worse for wear and who have had too much to drink. That really is an excellent example of faith-based action. May I urge my right hon. Friend, through her good offices, to encourage the Church of England to get even more involved in supporting such a worthwhile cause?
I could not support that recommendation more. There are now 12,000 trained street pastors in our country, serving 270 towns and cities. It is particularly interesting that the nightly reporting inventory for the last year for Kettering showed remarkable attention to detail. It refers to giving away 125 pairs of flip-flops, 294 bottles of water and an amazing 2,299 lollipops.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP):
In my constituency, Street Pastors started in September 2015. Its vision is to go out to help vulnerable people and to do the best for them, and the results have been excellent. What discussions has the Church of England had about working with other Churches? We are better together, as we all know, and if we can do these things together, we can reach more people.
As I indicated, the concept of street pastors did not actually originate with the Church of England, and we acknowledge that. However, Anglicans support absolutely what the street pastors do. Churches should work together; indeed, we should look to work with other faiths. In the city of Birmingham, near my constituency, there are also street pastors of the Muslim faith, and I have seen for myself what an impact street pastors have on gang culture and on tackling knife and gun crime.
Ethical Investment Policy
John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Church Commissioners’ ethical investment policy.
Mrs Spelman: During 2015, the Church Commissioners’ ethical investment strategy won awards at the Portfolio institutional awards in the category of responsible investment. The commissioners have also had success in leading shareholder resolutions on climate change behaviour with BP and Shell, and they will continue to work with other institutional shareholders on filing similar resolutions at their annual general meetings.
John Pugh: I thank the right hon. Lady for that full response, but is not the correct principle that the commissioners actively seek to shun investment in companies guilty of what the Chancellor calls “aggressive tax avoidance”?
Mrs Spelman: Yes. Indeed, it is just a year to the day since the Archbishop of Canterbury said that a good economy is based on
“the principle that you pay the tax where you earn the money. If you earn the money in a country, the revenue service of that country needs to get a fair share of what you have earned.”
I could not put it better myself.
Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): One of the ways in which the Church deploys its investments, ethical or otherwise, is in supporting schools across the country. Will my right hon. Friend use her offices to persuade the Church, and particularly certain dioceses, to take a more responsible and open-minded approach to joining academy groupings where some of their schools, particularly primary schools, are underperforming and need to change?
Mrs Spelman: The Church of England is the largest provider of education in this country, and it is co-operating with the Government in trying to address poor performance in schools. Eighty per cent. of Church of England schools are rated “good” or “outstanding”, but the Church recognises the need to work with schools where the performance is not as good as that. Multi-academy trusts present a great opportunity for successful Church of England schools to mentor and help with the raising of standards among those which find this more difficult.
Church Leadership: Women and BME Groups
Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): What further steps the Church of England is taking to increase the representation of women and BME groups among its leadership.
Mrs Spelman: The Church of England needs to increase its vocations for ministry by around 50% in the next 10 years in order to sustain the 8,000 clergy it currently has in parish ministry. The representation of women in the Church has grown significantly, with almost equal numbers being recommended for ordination training. Currently, those of black, Asian, and minority ethnicity make up 3% of the clergy population, and the Church is committed to increasing that percentage.
Matt Warman: I welcome that answer. May I ask that, when trying to increase the range of people available to take up positions that are currently vacant, we pay particular attention to churches that have been vacant for long periods, because that is damaging to communities such as that at St Matthew’s in Skegness?
Mrs Spelman: I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend on this, because as recently as Tuesday night in this House we passed the obscurely titled Diocesan Stipends Fund (Amendment) Measure. That Church measure—it originated from the diocese of Lincoln, which covers his constituency—should enable his diocese to invest in the training of more clergy by releasing money from the funds for that purpose.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): What support the Church of England provides to local credit unions.
Mrs Spelman: Churches and dioceses across the country have responded enthusiastically and creatively to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call to support credit unions and community finance, often building on pre-existing initiatives and helping to build financial resilience in communities. The diocese of Gloucester has recently part-funded the appointment of a credit union development worker for Gloucestershire Credit Union and established collection points in local churches.
Richard Graham: The diocese of Gloucester has shown real commitment to breathing new life into Gloucester Credit Union; I should declare an interest as a long-standing member. However, we need to do much more to reach effectively those who are most vulnerable to loan sharks. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, while the Church of England builds and promotes its own new credit union, that will not distract from the important work it does in supporting existing local credit unions?
Mrs Spelman: I absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Every Member of this House would recognise the importance of credit unions at the local level, but that goes hand in hand with, and does not detract from, the Archbishop’s task group on responsible credit savings, which has sought to harness the Church’s national and grassroots resources in support of developing a stronger community of finance.
Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): As chairman of the all-party group on credit unions, may I welcome my right hon. Friend’s last answer? I also welcome the leadership that the Archbishop of Canterbury has shown on the issue of problem credit. Does she welcome the launch of Fair For You, and will she comment on how the Church can support that community finance initiative in the rent-to-own sector that is taking on some of the challenges in that sector and showing that responsible, local community finance can compete?
Mrs Spelman: I will certainly take that suggestion back to Church House. The Church has shown commitment to helping people manage their money and invest safely, and to teaching our children at the very earliest age—through its LifeSavers project, with assistance from the Treasury—how to ensure that they do not get into debt. All of that is evidence, I think, that the Church will be supportive of my hon. Friend’s suggestion.