Mr. Alan Williams (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission): As the Comptroller and Auditor General does not audit the European Commission's operations, under the treaties establishing the European Community, responsibility for the external audit of the European Community revenue and expenditure, including that of the Commission, rests with the European Court of Auditors. However, the CAG audits the expenditure of the money that the United Kingdom receives from the European Community budget that is spent by UK Departments and agencies. The CAG's estimate provides for the resources to discharge its responsibility.
Mr. Rendel: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his response. Will he comment on the way in which the appointment of the British member of the European Court of Auditors is carried out? Does he believe that such a person should have considerable experience of audit, probably being a fully trained auditor? Does he also believe that the Comptroller and Auditor General should have a greater say in that appointment?
Mr. Williams: The situation seems to be very in-house, to put it mildly. It is a closed shop for ex-civil servants. There have been three appointments since 1977 and everyone appointed has been an ex-civil servant. The individual who is dueno doubt quite justifiablyto take the fourth appointment next December is also an ex-civil servant.
It concerns me that there is no formal arrangement or facility for the CAG even to be consulted. The nature of the job is such that it has a near-sinecure status. Once appointed, the individual can be dismissed only by the European Court of Justice, and even then, only at the invitation or request of the Court of Auditors.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Between 1986 and 2001, stipends for diocesan bishops, parish priests of incumbent status and the two archbishops have increased on average by 110 per cent., 119 per cent. and 106 per cent. respectively. I am happy to say that parish priests have come off best.
Paul Flynn: That is reassuring news. The definition of a stipend in the Church is that it should allow the priest to live without financial difficulty and be able to maintain his family in a state that cannot be described as poverty or riches. However, the majority of the clergy75 per cent.make no investment in a home of their own, which causes difficulties in retirement, and a quarter of them have made applications to charities in the past year. Does that not suggest that the parish priest is a long way from a state of riches but dangerously close to a state of poverty?
The central stipends authority of the Archbishops Council is looking carefully at clergy stipends. Its criteria are that the stipends should be adequate for clergy to discharge their duties without undue financial anxiety, that there should be flexibility to allow the Church to pay its clergy where they can best be deployed, and that there should be equity, with stipend levels being broadly convergent and not constituting an impediment to clergy mobility.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a considerable proportion of the commissioners expenditure goes towards clergy stipends and pensions? If they are to be encouraged to do more, is it not essential for them to receive the maximum return on their assetswithin, of course, the code of ethics to which they subscribe?
Mr. Bell: The commissioners must indeed obtain the best possible return on their assets, because one of their responsibilities is to meet the stipends of their clergy.A great deal of time and effort is being put into clergy
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The review group on stipends, to which I just referred, has expressed a number of aspirations, one of which is to introduce an incumbent's stipend guideline equivalentwith housing includedamounting to approximately 80 per cent. of the starting salary of a head teacher of a large primary school.
Mr. Bryant: Is my hon. Friend aware that according to the Church of England's own report "Generosity and Sacrifice", more than one in 10 clergy say that they struggle to pay bills every year and, indeed, regularly go into debt? As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) pointed out, many fail to acquire enough money to buy a home to which to retire. Is it not time that, first, Church of England clergy had proper employment rights, and secondly, that the tied cottage concept was abolished?
Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for widening the issue to encompass employment rights and the tied cottage. As he may know, in addition to their stipends based on a national stipends benchmark of £16,910 from April 2001, clergy of incumbent status receive free accommodation or a housing allowance, and membership of a non-contributory pension scheme. Moreover, their working expenses should be fully reimbursed. I nevertheless congratulate my hon. Friend on having already read "Generosity and Sacrifice".
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The hon. Gentleman will know that the Church Commissioners are responsible for dealing with the poverty of clergy, but does he accept that, as a landlord, they are also responsible for dealing with that of their tenants? Will he convey to them the anger, frustration and dissatisfaction caused by the September decision of their assets committee, as a result of which there is less housing for the poor in London? Is that not compatible with a doctrine that states, "We will look after our own if they are clergy, but not if they are tenants"?
Mr. Bell: I expected the hon. Gentleman to widen the question to cover the Octavia estates. I can tell him, however, that the commissioners paid £90.60 million for clergy pensions and a further £11.7 million to offset the cost of contributions payable under the new pension scheme. The Octavia Hill issue is another question for another day, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is part of the Church Commissioners overall responsibility to obtain the best possible return on investments in order to put more money into the cure of souls.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Church builders have always been conscious of the need to build in places that do not flood. Church records and artefacts are generally, although regrettably not always, at relatively low risk.
Mr. Prentice: Is that not a complacent reply? We all remember, one year ago, photographs of the Archbishop of York paddling about the cellars of his palace in York in his wellies. Is there not a case for the Government to examine the issue further and perhaps to give the Church of England emergency funding to ensure that our national treasures, such as the bishop's palace in York, are not susceptible to flooding? I do not want to see the palace in York flooded in a few weeks time; that would be just too embarrassing.
Mr. Bell: Whether the Government should help the minster at York is, of course, a matter for the Government and not for the Second Church Estates Commissioner. However, the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978 places on individual parishes a duty to ensure that registers and records are not kept in places where there is at least a risk of damage from flooding.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): A review group has given the view that, on the evidence presented to it, bishops are very hard working, perhaps excessively so; that the pressures on them are increasing; and that they do not have lavish lifestyles. How the hard work and pressure can be alleviated is the subject of on-going consultations.
Michael Fabricant: Those on-going consultations were on-going when I raised this issue before the previous general election. The hon. Gentleman will recall that there was some discussion by the commissioners of the appointment of a third archbishop. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a precedent in Lichfield where, in the seventh century, there was a third archbishop? May I say that if there is going to be a third archbishop, he should be in Lichfield? May I also say that, contrary to the ideas of certain sketchwriters, I am not offering myself for that position?