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Orders of the Day


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 90(6) (Second Reading Committees), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question agreed to .

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5)(Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments), That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Summer Time Order 1994 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 27th June.- - [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Question agreed to.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.

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Church of England (Legal Aid)

10.10 pm

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby) : I beg to move,

That the Church of England (Legal Aid) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.

As its name suggests, this Measure is concerned with the Church of England's legal aid system. That system is completely separate from the state legal aid system, and its primary purpose is to provide financial assistance, in suitable cases, for the legal costs of clergy and some other ministers in proceedings before Church courts and tribunals that may involve the loss of their office and their ability to exercise their ministry.

This legal aid is funded partly by the central board of finance of the Church of England and partly by the Church Commissioners ; but ultimately it is borne by the parishes throughout the country. Although the Church of England's legal aid arrangements are obviously on a fairly small scale, they have not been immune from the serious problem of rising costs which has beset the state legal aid system. At a time when the Church is under particular financial pressure, that has obviously given rise to some concern in C of E circles. The Measure implements a number of recommendations by the General Synod's legal aid commission, which administers the system, for keeping the costs involved to the minimum consistent with the purpose of the scheme. It seeks to allow the legal aid commission to function as effectively and economically as possible, and to provide the Church of England with the best possible value for the money spent. At the same time, the Measure has consolidated previous legislation on the subject, so that a great deal of what is before the House tonight is consolidation--it merely repeats the provisions which the House approved as recently as 1988.

One of the legal aid commission's recommendations was that, in future, the Church's system should be confined to its primary purpose, which, as I have already mentioned, involves the possible loss of office. It is obviously important that a member of the clergy facing, say, disciplinary proceedings or major difficulties with his or her parishioners, should be able to come to an independent central body which operates in complete confidence for help with the legal costs involved.

There are, however, some other cases when the commission recommended that any requests for help of this kind should be dealt with locally--for example, by the diocese--in the light of local needs, conditions and circumstances, instead of involving other parishes throughout the country in contributing to the cost.

The Measure therefore removes cases in these limited categories from the centrally funded legal aid system. I hope that it will reassure colleagues to know that the General Synod unanimously accepted this as a fair and reasonable system. Moreover, after detailed scrutiny, our own Ecclesiastical Committee also found it expedient.

Some of the other new provisions in the Measure increase the legal aid commission's administrative powers so that it can function as efficiently as possible. More importantly, it adds to the criteria that previously governed

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the grant in ecclesiastical legal aid by giving the commission an express power and duty to take all the circumstances of each case into account.

As the point was raised by an hon. Member in a debate here in 1988, I should mention the provision under which, when the commission is considering the financial resources of an applicant for legal aid, it must have regard to the resources of the applicant's spouse. That does not, and never did, require it to aggregate the spouse's capital and income automatically with the applicant's, as happens in some cases under the state legal aid system.

In contrast to the rigid secular provision, by requiring the commission to take all the circumstances into account, the new Measure gives it an increased discretion and greater flexibility, both in that and other cases, to do what is fair and proper in a particular case. Again, the Ecclesiastical Committee, after detailed examination of what was proposed, was satisfied that it was expedient.

The changes embodied in the Measure are limited in scope and, as I have already said, the General Synod gave final approval to them without a single dissenting vote. They will help to rationalise the Church of England's legal aid system, and to use the limited resources that the church has available for that system to best advantage.

I urge hon. Members to support the Measure.

10.16 pm

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : I shall resist the temptation to make a very long speech, and merely offer the House one of moderate length.

The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) explained the provisions of the Measure perfectly clearly. He pointed out that it is largely a consolidation Measure, but that it points the way to improvements in the arrangements. I hope that the House will agree with his assessment that it is a modest but desirable Measure. One must understand that, in the latter years of the 20th centure, the clergy are not well paid. Indeed, some right hon. or hon. Members, particularly those with substantial outside interests, would find it unimaginable that people should exist on the pay that our clergy receive. At the same time, the clergy are at the focal point in the exercise of their pastoral responsibilities, with much of the anguish and ordeals to which many ordinary people are subjected.

The pressure on them in many parishes may be such as to test their faith, and some, whose faith may be less strong or over-tested, may be in difficulty. It is only right that they should be regarded as the casualties of the sort of society that we in Britain face today. I hope that the House will understand that those who are in that position deserve justice. They certainly should not be in a position in which great difficulty can be placed on them simply because they lack the resources to secure professional representation. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will view the Measure with much sympathy.

The right hon. Gentleman explained that the matter was considered quite exhaustively in the Ecclesiastical Committee. I do not belive it appropriate to labour the point any further, and I join the right hon. Gentleman in commending the Measure to the House.

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10.18 pm

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : I shall make a few brief comments on the Measure, because some quite serious questions still need to be answered. They particularly surround the financing of the additional fund. Clause 1 of the Measure says :

"The General Synod shall continue to maintain the Legal Aid Fund to which the General Synod and the Church Commissioners may contribute sums as each shall from time to time may decide." That is an important point, because, as many hon. Members know, there are currently considerable difficulties over the financing of the Church Commissioners. It is widely reported that they have suffered considerable losses in the property market. That is regrettable, but it makes one wonder about their ability to make such a contribution when they are in such dire straits over funds. I accept the point about the ability and wealth of the clergy, and I certainly accept that stipends are not generous. According to my most recent calculations, stipends are in the region of £12,000 to £12,500 a year. That is not generous, but one must consider the other so-called perks of the job, which may often include property. For most people, mortgage payments are a significant part of their outgoings, and to have £12,000 or £12,500 left over after a property is paid for is a considerable achievement.

In the context of legal aid, many clergy may also have funds made available for vehicles. Motor vehicles are often provided by the parish and form another important contribution to the overall income of many households. How would the rules apply to households containing two members of the clergy ? In such cases, there are obviously two incomes, and the house is provided at some expense to the local diocese.

Another aspect of legal aid funding relates to the notion that the Church Commissioners should contribute. I accept that the clergy are as eligible for legal aid and advice as anybody else-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. Hon. Members should listen in silence to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), or hold conversations outside. [Hon. Members : "It is boring."] Order. Those who find it boring can go outside.

Mr. Bates : I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House will be aware of my long interest in this issue, and my detailed concern about the Measure, which I have often expressed privately and now have the opportunity to express publicly. I have a right to do that.

The legal aid system has increased tenfold since 1979, and is available to the clergy. I accept that there are income constraints on the fund, but why should the clergy be exempt from the rules that apply to their parishioners ? Surely the clergy provide a service for their parishioners and should not enjoy a better set of rules than they do.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : Perhaps my hon. Friend could clarify for my benefit, and right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) could intervene to define, the categories for legal aid among the clergy, because they form a diverse group and many have their own resources. That was always part of the calling of the Church. To what part of the Measure is my hon. Friend referring ?

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Mr. Bates : With respect, I do not wish to stray from the narrow point I was discussing, and I shall leave that question to my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby.

We are talking about using funds for legal aid purposes. The Church Commissioners' report drew attention to the total assets of the Church Commissioners. It is relevant to the debate, because it will support the legal aid fund that we are debating. That fund was estimated to be about £2.2 billion. About half that money was in equities.

According to the Church Commissioners' report, which I read with considerable interest, the income derived from that was about £167 million. We need to put down a marker. Will a maximum apply to claims from the legal aid fund ? Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby will refer to that in winding up.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) : Is my hon. Friend aware that, as stipends are falling under the current adverse circumstances of the Church Commissioners, a greater burden will fall on the congregations to make them up ? As congregations are also falling, stipends will fall and a greater burden will fall on the legal aid fund. How does my hon. Friend propose to deal with that ?

Mr. Bates : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The financing is all tied up with the legal aid Measure ; we cannot divorce the two. We cannot talk about provision for a legal aid fund, but not the fund which will provide for it.

My hon. Friend rightly refers to the stipend. My local Church of England church was advised that a new measure was to be introduced to tackle the underfunding and shortfall in the Commissioners' coffers. It was to require all members of the Church of England--of whom I proudly declare myself one- -to double their contributions. Given the evangelical nature of the Church, perhaps the best incentive for the clergy would be for the contributions to remain the same, but for the clergy to try to double their congregations. Perhaps that would have been a better way of approaching that financial problem.

I return to the Church Commissioners' fund. The fund has an income about of about £167 million. I was surprised to read about the amount of money that was contributed to the Church of England urban fund, which does a great deal of valuable work in our inner cities. In past years, it has been £25,000. That is not a staggering sum when one considers it alongside £2.2 billion in assets and £167 million in income.

Following adverse investment performance, the Church Commissioners decided not to cut the stipends of the clergy, but rather to cut the contributions to the urban fund. It was quite an abhorrent decision to cut help to those who are most needy, and certainly in far greater need than one would suggest of the clergy. We ought to examine the amount contributed to that fund.

If the Church Commissioners are providing legal aid protection in addition to the generous scheme which already applies, people will want to know what contribution will be made this year to the urban fund.

Just as the Church rightly chides the Government and urges them to reconsider their contribution to the inner cities, so from time to time this House may deem it right to examine the way in which the Church Commissioners handle their finances. I know that that point will be accepted in the spirit in which it was made.

Mr. Ian Taylor : Will my hon. Friend give way ?

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Mr. Bates : My hon. Friend is knowledgeable in these matters, so I am happy to give way to him.

Mr. Taylor : I am not sure that I am knowledgeable, which is why I seek guidance from my hon. Friend. Is he saying that the Church of England urban fund has some bearing on the qualification for legal aid ? I should have thought it to be an extraneous fund and therefore not linked, but perhaps my hon. Friend could clarify the matter in greater detail.

Mr. Bates : I shall explain the position as concisely as I can. The urban fund is relevant. I am making the point that the budget from the Church of England general fund--the Church Commissioners' budget--to help inner cities and the poorest in our community has been cut.

Where will the money come from to fund an extra level of legal aid when apparently money was not available to help the inner cities ? Is there any limit on the areas under which people can apply for legal aid funding ? What are the restrictions ? Those are a few genuine points that need to be considered.

Dr. Spink : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me again--it is extremely good of him. Will he consider a hypothetical situation ? Father Michael is the parish priest of St. Mary the Virgin in my constituency. That church is celebrating its 1,100th anniversary. Were Father Michael to have an accident in the street outside his church and need to make use of the legal aid fund, would the measure before us place him at any disadvantage ?

Mr. Bates : With all due respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that that case would apply, because most churches have, or should have, public and employer liability insurances. In the unfortunate circumstances that my hon. Friend described, the right action would be to claim against the church's insurance.

Dr. Spink : I am sure that Father Michael will be delighted to hear that. [Interruption.]

Mr. Bates : My hon. Friend takes these matters very seriously, as I do. I am sure that my advice was genuinely sought and that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, accept that it was genuinely offered.

My points focus directly on the amount of the legal aid fund and the circumstances in which aid will be given. I have questioned whether the priority for the Church of England--this is all about setting priorities for the finite amount of cash available--should be to provide additional legal aid protection for the clergy. Many people may feel that, although their salaries are not huge, they are adequate, and there are additional benefits. Therefore, would not the money be better spent on the inner cities, through the Church urban fund, or even on missionary work overseas ?

Those are genuine questions. We must get this matter right, because people look at the palaces in which many of our archbishops live in some comfort and with very adequate accommodation. I think especially of the Bishop of Durham's palace at Auckland castle, which is quite a generous provision. I think also of Bishopsthorpe in York. I have asked genuine questions, and I hope that I will receive answers to them.

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10.34 pm

Mr. Alison : With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I welcome the helpful and positive response to the Measure that we heard from the official Opposition spokesman on Church of England affairs, the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). I know that he is as gratified as I am to note the interest and support indicated by tonight's substantial turnout. I hope that if, by some infernal machination, a Division is called--heaven forbid--the hon. Gentleman will act as both shepherd and Whip, and will guide his flock unfailingly into the Aye Lobby to support the Measure that he has so eloquently endorsed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates) hit on an important point when he mentioned clause 1 of the Measure, which refers to the contribution that the General Synod and the Church Commissioners--he made particular mention of the latter--may make to our legal aid fund. I am grateful for his sensitive and responsible concern about the Church of England's finances.

As he said, the Church is not as flush as it might be ; he will understand, however, that the long stop is the ordinary man and woman in the parish-- the regular churchgoer--who currently puts about £2.50 a week into the collection plate, but could easily contribute a bit more if he or she thought that it was needed.

As soon as we present such people with that need, they will divert some of their giving from good charities such as Oxfam and Christian Aid in favour of the Church. Potentially, we have a considerable resource. I should add that the Church Commissioners have no legal duty to contribute to the Church's legal aid fund ; they do so purely in a spirit of co-operation, helpfulness and constructive support for its needs.

The purpose of the Measure--in so far as it goes beyond being a consolidation measure--is pinpointed in the Legislative Committee's report, which can be found on page 4 of the Ecclesiastical Committee's report. My hon. Friend will note that the changes that we are making were prompted by

"a particular case, involving a clergyman against whom disciplinary proceedings were taken under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, which resulted in heavy expenditure, both from the Fund and from other sources".

A single item of expenditure involved a six-figure cost. I think that that will demonstrate to my hon. Friend how concerned we were, and are, about the potential liabilities of the legal aid fund. It is for precisely that reason that the Measure seeks to introduce refinements and improvements. Paragraph 7(c) of the Ecclesiastical Committee's report gives details of the proposed retrenchment, and explains that certain categories who have been able to draw support from the fund will henceforth be disqualified. We need to save money because of rising costs. We are trying hard to husband money, which is clearly what my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh wants us to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) asked whether we were refining the scope of the Measure, and looking seriously at the costs involved. Who would be eligible for help ?

Let me repeat the summary that I gave in my introductory speech. Essentially, the aim of the legal aid fund is to provide financial assistance in cases of proceedings before Church courts and tribunals that may involve defendants' loss of office and ability to exercise

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their ministry--that is, they may be chucked out of their parishes. If my hon. Friend wants the full technical scope, the list of applicants who may or may not be eligible for assistance is set out in schedule 4 to the Measure.

With those summary comments and the support of my hon. Friends, in great appreciation of the support of the hon. Member for Wentworth and in confident expectation that, in view of the many hon. Members who have stayed behind tonight, there will be a substantial vote in favour of the Measure if, which I hope is not the case, it is pressed to a Division.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Church of England (Legal Aid) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.


Motion made, and Question proposed,

That Mr. Attorney General, Mr. David Alton, Mr. Tony Benn, Sir Marcus Fox, Sir Peter Hordern, Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. Bill Michie, Sir David Mitchell, Mr. Alfred Morris, Mr. John Morris, Mr. Tony Newton, Sir Cranley Onslow, Sir Giles Shaw, Mr. Peter Shore, Sir James Spicer, Mr. John Ward and Mr. Alan Williams be members of the Committee of Privileges.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Hon Members : Object.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Page 18 of "Erskine May" refers to the salary paid to the Leader of the Opposition, being the sum of £49,207. From what date will that payment come into force, and will the Opposition make a statement about the date on which the Leader of the Opposition will be appointed ?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : The hon. Gentleman seems to have been raising bogus points of order most of the day. That is not a matter for the Chair.


Orsett Hospital

10.41 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : It is my privilege to present a petition signed by the mayor of Thurrock, Councillor Barry Palmer, by the leader of Thurrock council, Councillor Jimmy Aberdein, by Councillor Beverly Barton, the vice-chairman of Essex county council and more than 40,000 residents of the borough of Thurrock. It reads :

To the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The humble petition of the citizens of the United Kingdom sheweth That the people of Thurrock have already been substantially disadvantaged by the closure of the accident and emergency department at Orsett hospital and that this was carried out despite the views of the overwhelming majority of the borough's citizens.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House request the Secretary of State for Health to reassure the citizens of Thurrock by interceding with the regional and local health authorities and the Basildon and Thurrock hospital trust to ensure

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that they continue to maintain and improve the facilities at Orsett hospital by reaffirming their commitment to this much valued health facility.

The petition has been signed by some 40,000 residents.

To lie upon the Table.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Before the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) presents her petition, may I say that it is not necessary to go to the Bar of the House ; hon. Members can go directly behind the Chair.

Hospitals (Sheffield)

Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : That saves me a little walk, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I have the privilege to present a petition signed by 24,000 residents of my and other Sheffield constituencies to protest against the threatened closure of children's wards at the Northern General hospital.

It reads :

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The humble petition of the users and potential users of the existing paediatric provisions in Sheffield and its environs showeth the continuing need for the retention of existing children's wards at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield.

That the consultation proposals for the closure of those wards by the Sheffield Health Authority and the Sheffield Family Health Services Authority are not in accord with the wishes and the needs of the specific area.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your Honourable House urge the Secretary of State for Health to maintain the current children's wards at this hospital. And your petitioners, as in duty, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.

10.45 pm

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley) : It gives me great pleasure, and anger at the same time, to present a petition, containing 4,773 signatures. That may not sound many, but it is in addition to the 40, 000 signatures already presented to the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing street. Those signatures were sent to every Sheffield Member of Parliament ; the hon. Members for Hallam (Mr. Patnick), for Central (Mr. Caborn), for Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson), for Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), for Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and for Heeley (Mr. Michie).

Therefore, I shall present the petition, which says :

To the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The humble petitioners of the users and the potential users of the existing accident and emergency provisions in Sheffield and its environs showeth that the continuing need for the retention of the existing accident and emergency provision in full at the Royal Hallamshire and the Northern General hospitals in Sheffield. That the consultation proposals for the closure of one of the units by the Sheffield Health Authority and the Sheffield Family Health Services Authority are not in accord with the wishes and the needs of the specified area ;

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your Honourable House urge the Secretary of State for Health to maintain the current accident and emergency services in Sheffield and its environs. And your petitioners, as in duty, will ever pray, etc.

To lie upon the Table.

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