Church Commissioner Questions: serious youth violence, clergy recruitment in London, cathedrals and the economy, employee pay gap, responsible investments, mobile phone masts, Christian persecution

On 20th June 2019 MPs asked questions of Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, the Second Church Estates Commissioner. Questions were asked about serious youth violence, clergy recruitment in London, the contribution of cathedrals to the local economy, employee pay gap, responsible investments, mobile phone masts, and persecution of Christians:

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

Serious Youth Violence

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
1. What steps the Church of England is taking to help tackle serious youth violence; and if she will make a statement. [911477]

Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
7. What steps the Church of England is taking to help tackle serious youth violence; and if she will make a statement. [911484]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): The Church was represented at the knife crime summit organised by the Prime Minister at No. 10 earlier this year, and the General Synod will be debating this subject at its session next month. There is no question but that this issue is of the utmost seriousness, as too many young lives are being lost.

Daniel Kawczynski: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Youth violence is often a symptom of a lack of role models and moral leaders. What part does she feel the Church can play to help communities in this area?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I think it is very well known that the Church provides role models for young people, such as youth workers. In the community, we work alongside young people in schools, youth groups and congregations. Our clergy, teachers and members of our congregations are supporting young people who are at risk of getting caught up in violence and their families, and young people in pupil referral units.

Vicky Foxcroft: My constituent Ben Lindsay recently set up Power the Fight, a charity that enables churches to become part of the solution to tackling youth violence. The period after school is one of the most dangerous times for violence among young people. Churches have resources, buildings and volunteers that Power the Fight believes could be used to disrupt violence and keep young people safe. Will the right hon. Lady meet me and my constituent to talk about this valuable work?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady, who will know that the Church uses its community halls and facilities in particular to reach out to young people. There are a number of examples of that, but may I especially cite the work of Premier Christian Radio, which broadcasts from London? It has raised awareness of youth violence and what the Church can do to help. We are certainly active in this area, and I would be happy to meet her.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the work of street pastors, including those active in Kettering, who often find themselves helping to defuse potentially violent situations in our town centres late at night?

Dame Caroline Spelman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to the work of street pastors. In Birmingham, the nearest city to my constituency, I have gone out with street pastors at night and seen them minister to very vulnerable young people, making sure they are safe on their streets. The street pastors do amazing work.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the right hon. Lady for her response. Will she outline the benefits that church-run youth clubs provide, and has she had discussions with the Chancellor to secure additional funding for faith-based youth clubs?

Dame Caroline Spelman: I think I have been outlining that. The Church actually provides youth workers in our communities where many have fallen away, and it continues to support the presence of such role models in our society, as is recognised by the Government. I could give the hon. Gentleman a whole series of examples of how the Government’s community fund is being used, through churches, to deliver knife crime awareness training and to help to tackle this problem. Indeed, many churches provide amnesty boxes for weapons that may otherwise cause people to lose their lives.

Mr Speaker: As the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is a member of Kettering Borough Council and also a special constable, my only surprise is that he does not serve as a street pastor, but that may be only a matter of time.

Clergy Recruitment: London

Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con)
2. What steps the Church of England has taken to recruit clergy in London in the last 12 months. [911479]

Dame Caroline Spelman: London presents a very positive picture in the life of the Church for the recruitment of clergy. The Church set itself a target to increase the number of vocations in all dioceses by 50% by next year. Most dioceses are well on track, and London expects to reach that target this year.

Greg Hands: I welcome that great news on recruitment in London. A year ago three of our major parishes in Fulham had vacancies, but in April I was delighted to attend the induction of Rev. Ross Gunderson at St Etheldreda. Next Wednesday will be the induction of Rev. Penny Seabrook at All Saints, and we hope soon to fill the vacancy at St John Walham Green. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating and welcoming our new clergy in Fulham?

Dame Caroline Spelman: With pleasure—I wish all those incumbents great success in their new parishes. That demonstrates that the commitment to more training for vocations is really working, and I should share with the House the fact that there is now a 50:50 ratio of men and women in training.

Cathedrals: Contribution to Local Economies

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
4. What estimate the Church of England has made of the contribution that cathedrals make to the local economy; and if she will make a statement. [911481]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): It is estimated that in 2017 there were more than 10 million tourist and leisure visitors to our cathedrals, including Westminster Abbey, generating some £125 million for their local economies. That is a 37% increase from 2004, the last time that that was measured.

Michael Fabricant: That is encouraging news; I know how Lichfield Cathedral benefits the local community.

Mr Speaker, you may be interested to learn that next year will be the 900th anniversary of the birth of Thomas à Becket and the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the American colony of the Pilgrim Fathers. To mark that, I believe there will be an initiative: the year of the cathedrals. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about how that will stimulate local economies?

Dame Caroline Spelman: We had a meeting of the deans of cathedrals in Parliament this week, and the Dean of Lichfield, who is a fantastic champion for that cathedral, came up with an interesting proposal, through the Association of English Cathedrals, to introduce a pilgrimage passport. That would encourage people—not just from this country, but from abroad—to visit more of our cathedrals, obtaining a stamp at every one, and would indeed assist the overall economy.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Having a cathedral city is a very fine thing, but will the right hon. Lady explain the arcane procedures through which a town can get a cathedral? Many places that I would call diddly-squat little places have a cathedral, whereas Huddersfield, a bursting, successful major university town, does not have the status of a cathedral city.

Dame Caroline Spelman: The hon. Gentleman is right: the process is arcane and complicated. My nearest city of Birmingham has what is known as a parish church cathedral, whereas Coventry, the city across the other side of my constituency, had an ancient cathedral which was bombed and then renewed. I think the best thing I can do for the hon. Gentleman is to write to him about how this is arrived at.

Mr Speaker: As the hon. Gentleman is now at the mid-point of his parliamentary career, having served for 40 years, perhaps he can devote the next 40 to campaigning on this important matter for his constituents.

Employee Pay Gap

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab):
6. What estimate she has made of the gap between the highest paid and lowest paid employees of the Church Commissioners. [911483]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman):  The national church institutions have a unified pay policy that operates across all the institutions. There is an eight-band pay structure that is designed to ensure that staff in posts of equal value are paid the same. If we were to exclude staff in the Church Commissioners investment division, the ratio between the highest and lowest paid would be 7.3:1.

Diana Johnson: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. The Archbishop of Canterbury has talked extensively about the need for economic justice, so I was shocked to read in Personnel Today that the Church Commissioners have a 23:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid in the organisation. The highest paid person receives £256,000 and one staff member was given a bonus of £250,000. For charities, the ratio is 10:1 and for local government the ratio is 15:1, so what does she think about what is going on in the Church Commissioners?

Dame Caroline Spelman: As I explained, the ratio, if we exclude the highest paid investment division, is 7.3:1. The investment division includes asset managers, who have to manage assets of over £8 billion. They are paid at the market rate for asset management, but they are nowhere near the top of the range. External advice is taken by the Church Commissioners on what and how we should pay, but those are the going rates for top asset managers in this country, and the assets of the Church of England have to be well managed.

Global Businesses’ Working Practices

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab):
8. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to use their influence and responsible investment policy to engage positively with global businesses on their working practices. [911485]

Dame Caroline Spelman: This question relates to the previous one in an interesting way.

This month, the Church of England was ranked second globally in an industry survey of responsible investors. One of our most recent engagements has been holding to account the mining company, Vale, as responsible for the collapse of the dam in Brumadinho, Brazil. That underlines the point that really good, responsible asset management is something that one has to pay for.

Helen Goodman: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that answer. The dam collapse claimed the lives of 246 people. Vale is a British company and it is totally unacceptable to have lower standards of health and safety abroad than at home. What is the Church of England’s strategy, as an investor, for tackling that?

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church Commissioners hosted a roundtable meeting with other investors and senior management from a number of the largest mining companies in the world, which exposed the fact that this is a widespread problem. To date, 29 of the top 50 mining companies have made disclosures about tailings dams. This is how investors can have an influence in an ethical way over their policy.

Mobile Phone Masts

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
9. What guidance the Church Commissioners issue to parishes wishing to install mobile phone masts on church buildings. [911486]

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church of England signed an accord with the Government in 2017 that signalled its intent to support national targets on mobile and broadband connectivity, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas. At previous Question Times, I have encouraged Members of the House by saying that if they have notspots for broadband and mobile provision, all the towers, spires, buildings and land of the Church of England is at their disposal to address that.

Sir Desmond Swayne: But the new telecommunications code has wrecked the market by advantaging big business at the expense of small sports clubs and churches. Can I enlist the support of the Commissioners?

Dame Caroline Spelman: There is evidence that changes by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to the electronic communications code are making it more complicated, although not impossible, for churches and other community buildings to be used to address shortcomings in the roll-out of digital infrastructure. We should work together and go and lobby DCMS to tackle the unintended consequences of the changes in that communications code.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Lady will be aware of the growing controversy over 5G and of those who worry about its installation. It would be quite wrong if the Church was brought into those arguments in such a way that an unfair burden was put on it.

Dame Caroline Spelman: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to join the lobbying party, because this is one more aspect that needs to be seriously looked into. There are gaps in provision under 4G, and the worst possible thing would be for the digital divide to continue or get worse as we move to 5G technology, so I think we should seek an early meeting.

Persecution of Christians: Bishop of Truro’s Inquiry

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con):
10. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to promote the Bishop of Truro’s inquiry into the persecution of Christians. [911487]

Dame Caroline Spelman: The Church welcomed the decision by the Foreign Secretary to invite the Bishop of Truro to chair an independent review of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That is not a Church of England inquiry, but a Foreign Office inquiry. However, the Church is actively encouraging its agencies and charities to feed in their experiences.

Andrew Griffiths: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I wholeheartedly support her in congratulating the Foreign Secretary and the Bishop of Truro on producing the report, which highlights the persecution of Christians not only on a large scale, as we saw in places such as Sri Lanka, but on a small scale in everyday life. Is not promoting the good work of Christians and Christianity in our society one of the best things that we can do? May I draw her attention to the Renew church in Uttoxeter, which has its mission week this week involving digging gardens, helping schools, washing cars and showing the best of Christianity?

Dame Caroline Spelman: It is just the interim report that has been published, and the important thing was that it mapped where the persecution takes place around the world. We await phase 2 with great interest, when we expect to hear more about what we can actually get done. I agree with my hon. Friend about the kind of approach that could be taken.


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