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Ethical Investments

37. Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): If he will make a statement on the Church Commissioners' 30 per cent. threshold for ethical investments. [46353]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Precise benchmarking criteria are not operated. The benchmark that we use is whether the restricted areas represent a sufficiently limited proportion of the whole group, rather than the absolute size.

Mr. Flynn: How do the Church's investments in weapons of warfare advance the work of the prince of peace?

Mr. Bell: I am always grateful for helpful supplementaries, of which that is one. The Church welcomes the new European Union code of conduct on arms sales, which should tighten the laws on arms sales to repressive regimes. We work closely with the ethical investment working group of the Church Commissioners, which has developed a dialogue over the past two years with companies that manufacture arms. We ensure that companies always operate under Government licence and within the ethical guidelines of the Church Commissioners.

Clergy Funding

38. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): If he will make a statement on the work of the Church Commissioners during the past year in respect of funding clergy. [46354]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): In 1997, the commissioners' total expenditure on behalf of the Church was £130.6 million--£82 million on clergy pensions. We contributed £24.6 million towards the total stipends bill of £159.7 million.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer. In commending the commissioners and their advisers on the great and welcome increase in the returns recently secured on their investments, will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that a large proportion of it will benefit clergy, stipends and pensions through the dioceses?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The commissioners' aim is always to achieve sustainable expenditure so that we can continue to meet our principal objective of supporting ministry in the neediest diocese. As part of that plan, as he will know, we aim to provide minimum support of £20 million for parochial ministry in the foreseeable future. On the dioceses, to which he referred, it is important that parishioners meet a growing proportion of needs of the Church through stipends costs and, of course, the cost of future service pensions. I am sure that he appreciates the floor of £20 million a year.

29 Jun 1998 : Column 19

Opposition Day

[15th Allotted Day]

The Economy

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.30 pm

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I beg to move,

For the avoidance of doubt, I declare my business interests as set out in the register--all companies with an interest in the well-being of the British economy.

I have here a fax from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which my office received at four minutes past 2 o'clock this afternoon. It reads thus:

four minutes before I received the fax, given the time difference. That was clearly a very urgent appointment. It says much about the Chancellor that it was more important to him to appear before the European Parliament--not even the whole European Parliament, but one of its committees--than to appear before the House of Commons to defend his handling of the British economy. We appreciate that the meeting might be only one of the few European meetings at which he is still welcome, but it is lamentable that he has failed to show up to defend what he has done.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maude: I should like to get started. If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself in patience awhile, I shall give way to him.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just in case the House is being misled, the right hon. Gentleman should clarify whether the Chancellor is speaking to a committee of the European Parliament, as he suggested, or to the Finance Ministers of all member states. The right hon. Gentleman led us

29 Jun 1998 : Column 20

to believe that the meeting was of some minor European Parliament committee. I think that he is misleading the House.

Madam Speaker: That is not a point of order; it is a matter of argument. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) will make the position absolutely clear.

Mr. Maude: I did make it absolutely clear.

Mr. Sheerman indicated dissent.

Mr. Maude: If the hon. Gentleman listens, I shall tell him the answer. The meeting is of the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee; it is not ECOFIN.

Mr. Sheerman: The right hon. Gentleman said that it was ECOFIN.

Mr. Maude: I said that it was the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament; I read the whole thing out verbatim. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Maude: It is a matter of regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not feel that it is important to defend his handling of the British economy in the House of Commons.

Because of the central importance of the Treasury and of the Chancellor in the Government, on his decisions are placed the hopes and fears of millions of people. It is for that reason that the House must examine carefully what he has done, how it has affected the economy and how it matches the solemn pledges that he and the Prime Minister made, to secure their election.

I start with a prediction about the course of the debate. Madam Speaker, you should expect a succession of interventions--

Mr. Gardiner rose--

Mr. Maude: In fact, the first may be on his feet already.

The interventions will come from pre-programmed Labour Back Benchers, who will parrot out--[Interruption.] It is nice to hear that they are limbering up already.

No one should expect--

Mr. Gardiner: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maude: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

No one should expect Labour to talk much about today's economy and about its prospects over the next few years. I predict that today the Chief Secretary will pound out the Chancellor's familiar mantras, and will do everything that he can to avoid talking about the current economy.

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It is strange that while Labour was basking in the glow of the golden economic legacy that it inherited, it cheerfully took the credit for all that occurred.

Mr. Gardiner: The right hon. Gentleman alluded to "pre-programmed Labour Back Benchers". I wish to reassure him that I am a pre-programmed Back Bencher. However, from a fax addressed to the right hon. Francis Maude from Andrew Tyrie MP, which came to my office not long ago--I presume by mistake--it is apparent that the right hon. Gentleman had raised questions with the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) on the very point of the economic legacy. For example, he asked:

The answer was:

    "Yes. Our legacy."

The right hon. Gentleman then asked:

    "If yes, is this because we left them strong, or because Brown has been an Iron Chancellor?"

It continues in the same vein.

How does the right hon. Gentleman have the gall to come before the House and talk about the "golden economic legacy" and question the Government's programme, when he does not seem to know about those matters and has to question junior Conservative Back-Bench Members?

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