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


20. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): What assessment the commissioners have made of the financial implications of the proposals to reduce the number of dioceses. [55637]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): There is a draft Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure which would enable a new dioceses commission to bring forward proposals for reducing the number of dioceses. Since the Measure is in draft, it follows that the commissioners have not made any assessment of the financial implications.

Mark Pritchard: I am grateful for the commissioner's response. When the assessment phase comes along, will he convey my concern that we should retain the dioceses
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of Herefordshire and Lichfield and recognise the valuable work of the suffragan bishops, the Bishop of Shrewsbury and the Bishop of Ludlow? The dioceses are historical and I hope that they will be safeguarded in any future changes in England and Wales.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful for that. The hon. Gentleman's remarks will be passed on to the appropriate commissioners. He should bear it in mind that the Church of England has 45 dioceses—43 of which contain more than 13,000 parishes—covering all of England, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Isles of Scilly and a little bit of Wales, so he is in good company.

Slave Trade Abolition (Commemoration)

21. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What budget the commissioners have identified for the Church of England's commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. [55638]

Sir Stuart Bell: The Church of England is heavily involved in the ecumenical "Set all free" project, which will include publications and a major service at Westminster abbey. The commissioners are not contributing financially to marking the bicentenary.

Chris Bryant: May I urge the commissioners to contribute? The Church of England was very involved in passing the 1807 Act, even though there was some hypocrisy. The Bishop of Exeter kept 655 slaves until the time of the Abolition of Slavery Act 1833, when he received £12,700 in compensation. Will the Church Commissioners put a little more oomph into the celebration so that we can see an end to humbug in the Church?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He goes back to 1807; shortly, we will have a question that relates to the next century—the Church certainly has a wide span. He will note that the Synod recently called on Her Majesty's Government to give the highest priority to enabling legislation to bring an end to the causes and outcomes of slavery. Personally, I presume that the Synod will equally accept the enabling legislation for the Church to accept women bishops in line with his ten-minute Bill.

Israel (Investments)

22. Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): What representations the commissioners have received on their policy on investment in Israel. [55639]

Sir Stuart Bell: The commissioners do not have a blanket policy on investment in Israel. The hon. Gentleman is referring to a recent resolution from the General Synod which might be construed as a representation to the commissioners. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, there has been much adverse comment on the resolution. The archbishop has accepted that this has caused much distress and he has described this as a cause of deep regret.

Mr. Gibb: I am reassured by that answer, which is a million miles away from the anti-Israeli attitude
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demonstrated by the General Synod. Does that not show how out of touch and extreme elements of the General Synod have become? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in these times of growing anti-Semitism across Europe, the Church of England should concentrate on promoting the Christian message, rather than fuelling anti-Semitism through politically motivated anti-Israeli motions that are more redolent of 1970s student unions than serious and compassionate policy making?

Sir Stuart Bell: In the words of the Scripture, those who have ears, let them hear. However, the Synod did not resolve to disinvest in companies dealing with Israel, nor has it the power to do so.


23. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): What assessment has been made of the requirement for new churchyard cemeteries in the next century? [55640]

Sir Stuart Bell: As I indicated earlier, the Church takes a long view, but since we are hardly into the sixth year of the present century it follows that the Church has not made any assessment for new churchyard cemeteries in the next.

Mr. Prentice: That was a disappointing reply. There is a grave shortage. Is my hon. Friend aware that in inner London the supply of land is virtually exhausted, and that by the end of the century there will be nowhere to bury people in outer London? What is the view of the Church Commissioners on the possibility of burying people one on top of another? Are there any theological reservations about that?

Sir Stuart Bell: I always enjoy a question from my hon. Friend. I am sure that he does not mind a jocular response from me from time to time. The duty to provide a place of burial lies with the secular authority. The operation and management of Church of England burial grounds is a matter for individual parochial church authorities. No central records are kept. Clearly, the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises is an important one, and it will be taken seriously by the Church.

Historic Ecclesiastical Buildings

24. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What discussions the commissioners have had on the merits of educating visitors to cathedrals and historic ecclesiastical buildings on the costs of maintaining them. [55641]

Sir Stuart Bell: The commissioners support the Church Heritage Forum statement "Building Faith in Our Future", which examines not only the immense benefit these buildings bring to the nation but also the cost of their upkeep.

Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman may recall that we discussed this issue in the House a month ago. I inadvertently told him that most people volunteer to give the full amount that is being asked by cathedrals when people visit them. It seems that the practice in Lichfield is
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that more than half the people visiting the cathedral choose to pay nothing. Of the £4 that is asked of them, an average of only 80p is given by the half who do pay something. Will the hon. Gentleman condemn this sort of scrooge-like behaviour? Does he agree that now is a particularly good time to visit Lichfield cathedral, given the discovery of the Lichfield angel, which was carved some 1,000 years ago and was recently found in immaculate condition? The angel is now on show.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not surprised to know that I also read Hansard. I read his point of order on 2 February, when he put the record straight. I know also that Mr. Deputy Speaker said that he would not comment on the hon. Gentleman's remarks. However, I should congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the fact that he is doing an excellent job advertising the special merits of Lichfield cathedral. I am sure that he is telling his constituents to see the recently excavated 18th century carving of the Lichfield angel.

Michael Fabricant: Eighth century.

Sir Stuart Bell: Indeed, 8th century, if that is not what I said.

The next time the hon. Gentleman is there, he may perhaps stand outside with a begging bowl and ask people to pay their dues.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): When my hon. Friend is next in contact with the cathedrals and dioceses throughout the country, will he encourage them not to be shy about charging entry to cathedrals given the evidence and experience at Westminster abbey, which is only a few yards away from this place, where the introduction of admission charges to discourage the use of the abbey as a clearing house for London tourist guides has been successful and has not reduced the number of people who genuinely want to visit one of the historic treasures of the United Kingdom?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will be aware that cathedrals receive only £1 million per year in English Heritage grants although they generate £151 million in direct and indirect spending for their cities. Anyone who passes Westminster abbey any day of the week will testify to the popularity of the venue. It is one of the top tourist attractions in the city. In a sense, it charges, and it is a worthwhile charge. I would encourage other cathedrals to follow its example.

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