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Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, Representing the Church Commissioners) : The Clergy Ordination Measure is a matter for the General Synod of the Church of England, although I have spoken informally to the Archbishop of Canterbury about the outcome of the debate on 17 July. The Synod will meet in November, which will be its first opportunity formally to consider the matter since the debate in the House in July.
Mr. Bowis : Will my right hon. Friend gently explain to the Archbishops and the others who may be participating in the decision on what to do next on this measure that there was no basic hostility in the House towards the Church in taking that decision, but that it was taken largely by members of the Church of England who were prepared to stay up through the night to correct a matter that they thought was going wrong? Will my right hon. Friend take to them our concerns about the carte blanche nature of that measure? Will he take to them the concern that the measure appears to give the clergy an advantage over the laity because the laity are not to be allowed to be remarried in church, but divorced and remarried clergy are to be allowed to advise them of that fact? Will he finally suggest to the Church that such special cases as there
Column 471undoubtedly are would be better addressed by the approach of annulment or nullity than by this form of treatment?
Mr. Alison : I certainly take note of my hon. Friend's comments, and his positive and helpful suggestion. He will remember that it was not only members of the Church of England who happened to be Members of this House who were prepared to stay up late at night, but a substantial number of Whips in the Whips' Office, who likewise felt that it was desirable to stay up late at night and who profoundly influenced the outcome of the debate.
Mr. Frank Field : When the commissioner is reporting back on this measure, will he make it plain to Synod that many people who waited up through the night for the debate were not happy that the Church should refuse remarriage in church to ordinary lay people, but wished to create a special class of citizenry--those who were divorced and remarried, but who wished to be made priests--and that there may be a similar rough passage for the measure if the Church continues to maintain those two tiers of citizenship?
Mr. Alison : I certainly take very careful note of the comments by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). He will understand, as I do, that it is unlikely that the Clergy Ordination Measure will be further amended before representation to the House, if the General Synod decides to represent it. His point is one he can make further in debate, if we debate the matter again.
Sir John Stokes : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, supporting what has been said already, we represent many lay people and that they are not at all happy about the measure? I give solemn warning that the House will not pass the measure unless it is substantially amended.
Mr. Alison : I certainly concur with my hon. Friend's observation that the Church of England, in its active parochial life, is well represented by my hon. Friends on the Government Benches and also by Opposition Members. It is entirely proper that such measures should be considered by the Church of England laity in this place. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that the opinions on the merits of the measure are sharply divided. If there were another debate on the measure, I suspect that the outcome would not necessarily be the same as that which occurred on 17 July.
57. Mr. Cran : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what is the latest figure he has for the number of churches that the Commission has given permission to be (a) demolished and (b) used for other purposes since 1979.
Mr. Alison : Since 1979, the Church Commissioners have made schemes under the Pastoral Measure authorising the demolition of 109 redundant churches and the appropriation to suitable alternative uses of 374 others. A further 115 have been placed in the care of the Redundant Churches Fund.
Mr. Cran : At some point, could my right hon. Friend provide information about the number of churches that have been disposed of, but are now used by rather more dynamic churches than the Church of England? In relation
Column 472to the Church of England, does my right hon. Friend agree that a 2.5 per cent. attendance rate on Sundays is a national disgrace and that it is partly attributable to a political clergy?
Mr. Alison : Since 1969, 1,215 churches have been made redundant and new uses, often for the benefit of the wider community, have been found for more than half of those. Very many of them still remain in constructive and positive use for suitable alternative employment--so to speak. The number of people attending Church of England Sunday worship services is mercifully not subjected to anything equivalent to the Whips' Office in this House. Nevertheless, the numbers--without whipping--are tending to increase Sunday by Sunday.
Mr. Tony Banks : What criteria are adopted by the commissioners when they consider alternative uses for redundant churches? Would using a church for bingo or as a McDonald's hamburger restaurant be acceptable to the commissioners? One or two churches in my area are so affected.
Mr. Alison : If the hon. Gentleman would like to make positive proposals, the Church Commissioners, who are always after making a reasonable profit on their assets to the benefit of the retired clergy, would consider sympathetically anything that the hon. Gentleman might propose. The hon. Gentleman would have to exercise his usual discretion and wisdom so as not to make any really untoward proposals for alternative use.
58. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what are the implications for the future expenditure of the Commissioners of the trend in ordinations during the past five years.
Mr. Alison : There is no clear trend in ordinations to suggest any significant change in the balance of the commissioners' expenditure in future years. The figure for 1988 male ordinations was the highest since 1971, while the relatively low figure anticipated for 1990 is likely to be partly balanced by the increased number of women entering the ministry.
Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the increasing number of women entering the ministry should be given full rights and that we should have women priests able to perform every function?
Mr. Alison : In the light of the difficulities encountered by the Clergy Ordination Measure in July, it would be tempting providence to take a position on a measure concerning the ordination of women as priests before that has even been determined in the General Synod.
Mr. Heffer : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us believe that those are matters which should be settled only within the Church and should not be matters for discussion in the House of Commons, especially as hon. Members belong to many denominations and religions? They could take decisions on issues which are not really their concern, but the concern of people like me who are members of the Church. Is he also aware that many of us who hold very strong catholic opinions in the
Column 473Church do not go along with some of those people who say that all Anglo-Catholics are opposed to the ordination of women? We are not.
Mr. Alison : The hon. Gentleman is a well-known and loyal Anglican. He will agree that the reality probably is that a substantial number of the solemnisations of marriages, both Christian and secular, that take place in churches are subject to clergy who, because of the establishment of the Church of England, are authorised to register and solemise matrimony in a sacred environment. That makes it evident that public interest in Church of England matters should properly be considered not only in the General Synod but in this House where distinguished laymen such as the hon. Gentleman can express an opinion.
59. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Right hon. Member for Selby as representing the Church Commissioners, what is spent by the Church Commissioners for research undertaken by committees of the General Synod ; where that money is spent ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Greenway : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the report of the Bishop of St. Albans' committee on the merits and shortcomings of the White Paper on broadcasting? Does he agree that the Broadcasting Bill should seek properly to secure and expand the place of Christian broadcasting in the same way as it does in respect of secular broadcasting?
Mr. Alison : Yes. I have seen the report of the Bishop of St. Albans, and while I do not agree with everything that it contains, I share my hon. Friend's hope that when the Broadcasting Bill comes before the House, at least as great an opportunity for the expansion of Christian broadcasting will be written into the Bill as that proposed for secular broadcasting.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : The figures for the Palace of Westminster for the past three years are given in appendix 1 of the first report of the Services Committee of this Session. These indicate an average charge for telephone services over that period of £1,434,125 per annum. Of that sum the average call charges for each year were £505,163. This House pays some 86 per cent. of the total bill, and, on that basis, the cost to public funds of those telephone services attributable to the House are £1,233,348 and £434,440, respectively.
Mr. Marshall : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that a switch to Mercury could save the taxpayer between £50,000 and £75, 000? Does my right hon. and learned Friend, whose policies of controlling Government expenditure and fostering competition formed the basis of our economic success in the early 1980s, agree that such a change would bring a worthwhile saving?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am more than content to accept the tribute offered by my hon. Friend. I remind him that when considering the precise proposals for making economies in public expenditure, one must consider not only the short, medium and long-term effects but the effects of changes proposed or made on the economy that one has in mind. All those matters were considered by the Services Committee in its report published earlier this year. It had reservations about the effect of the change at this stage on the quality and reliability of the service, the ease and speed with which faults might be reported and rectified, and the effect on the traditional relationship with the supplier, British Telecom. The matter can be reconsidered but it was fully examined by the Committee and the Sub- Committee.
Mr. Winnick : When international conferences take place in which this country is actively involved, is there not a case for right hon. and hon. Members being able to telephone, in this case, the Prime Minister, to tell her that her action has been disgraceful and deceitful. As a former Foreign Secretary--
Mr. Speaker : Order. That has little to do with this Question. Did I hear the hon. Member use the word "deceitful"? If so, will he withdraw it? I ask him to withdraw that allegation against the Prime Minister.
Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. and learned Friend have any information about the number of fax machines that are connected to the telephone system? Will he ensure that no list of their numbers is published so that we do not get any junk fax on our fax machines.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. friend is right to draw attention to the fact that fax machines are playing a growing part in the communications system of the House of Commons. There are apparently about 135 lines now installed expressly for that purpose. I cannot go beyond that information at this stage.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Apart from exchanges following the business statement on 27 July and informal meetings with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, I have received no specific representations on the Committee's outstanding proposals.
Mr. Allen : Will the Leader of the House take this first opportunity to condemn the outrage of Prime Minister's Question Time now taking place in Kuala Lumpur with real Prime Ministers? Does he accept that he has some distinguished predecessors, for example Norman St. John-Stevas, now in another place, who introduced departmental Select Committees and his other predecessor who introduced televising of the House of Commons? When it comes to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's time to move on to another job, what would he wish to be remembered for?
Mr. Latham : Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the Procedure Committee to look at the motions on procedure which the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) lists on the Order Paper day after day? If we must continue to waste money printing those motions every day, perhaps we could debate them.
Mr. Skinner : Does the Leader of the House agree that he and the Government administrators will have more than a little difficulty if, in the next Session, an embryo research Bill is introduced and amendments relating to abortion are tabled? Does he have it in mind that the Government will use a guillotine to stop the debate?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Bill that the hon. Gentleman envisages will possibly come before the House will be handled by Parliament in accordance with the full range of procedures available to both Houses.
63. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will detail the cost of losses and thefts of House of Commons china and cutlery since his answer of 18 July 1988, Official Report, columns 786- 87 ; and if he will make a statement.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Purchases of tableware for the financial period 1988-89 amounted to £52,289, which represents less than 2 per cent. of that year's turnover. The average cost per annum over the past five years is £38,066. The purchases were largely to cover general wear and tear. It is not possible to give any further breakdown.
Mr. Greenway : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of reports that House of Commons plates, cups, saucers and cutlery are to be found in all sorts of places? Will he consider arranging an amnesty for the return of those treasures, and will he keep the House informed of progress?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend's pronouncement should encourage all hon. Members and others to ensure that such objects are returned as promptly as possible. I found no fewer than 17 cups in my own office this afternoon.
Mr. Allen : Was the amount lost in cutlery and other tableware equal to what has been gained by selling off the family silver? Is it also equivalent to the amount of money made by the Conservative party selling dinners in this place to its political friends?
60. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what further progress there has been in the building alterations at No. 1 Millbank ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners) : Work is progressing well anthe new accommodation for commercial letting is expected to be complete at the beginning of 1990. The Church of England Pensions Board took up its new accommodation in the Millbank complex in July--without any House of Commons cutlery, plates or cups.
Mr. Thurnham : As I pass that building every day on my way from my flat to the House, I continue to take great interest in the progress of the work. Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the cost of the work to date and of the estimate of the final completion costs?
Mr. Alison : The conversion is costing several million pounds. I am afraid that I cannot give the exact figure without notice. The building development is well up to schedule and will certainly be completed on time.
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