§ Mr. Alison
The Commissioners' policy is long established and has been well publicised. They do not invest in any South African company or in any other company where more than a small part of its business is in South Africa. When they invest in a company with a small stake in South Africa, they try to ensure that that company follows enlightened social and employment policies, as far as that is possible within the system of apartheid, of which they have repeatedly expressed their abhorrence. In common with the rest of the Church, the Commissioners welcome the important political developments since the end of 1989 and hope that the momentum will be sustained.
§ Mr. Gow
Is it really the case that the Bishop of Oxford has it in mind to bring legal proceedings involving the Church Commissioners concerning the investment policy of the Church of England? Instead of indulging in absurd litigation of this kind, should not the bishop and the Church be engaged in the business of saving the souls of the people, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and healing the sick? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that this mischievous bishop will not be considered for appointment to Canterbury?
§ Mr Alison
It is not, alas, in my gift—even on this important occasion—to give a definitive answer to my hon. Friend's final question. But I can confirm that the Bishop of Oxford appears to be intent on taking legal action against the Church of England. It could only bring the Church into disrepute if the bishop proceeded with his legal action against the Church Commissioners. The action is bound to be adversarial and will be perceived publicly as hostile. I hope that the Bishop of Oxford and his associates will decide to withdraw it.
The Church Commissioners derive no more than one third of 1 per cent. of their annual income from South African sources and effective action to eliminate even this tiny fraction could bring hugely disproportionate detriment to the Commissioners' beneficiaries—of whom my hon. Friend gave an enlightened and extended description.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Although one can understand the motives of the Bishop of Oxford, may I associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), answering on behalf of the Church Commissioners? The Bishop of Oxford's action seems to be a distraction from more important priorities. Will the right hon. Member for Selby urge the Church Commissioners to sustain their present policy of not investing in South Africa unless they are advised by the 15 Christian churches in South Africa to change that policy? Will they above all not be over-hasty in a decision to change their policy under pressure from the Government or anyone else, but rather lead and advise the Government on what their policy should be in the interests of the souls as well as the bodies of people in South Africa?
§ Mr. Alison
I take note of the hon. Gentleman's comments. However, I repeat that the Church Commissioners do not invest directly in South Africa. The complexity of disentangling even that tiny residual investment, which is associated with some of the largest household names in British industry, would be considerably detrimental for the clergy and pensioners whom we have to support. We could not await an imprimatur of approval from the churches in South Africa to consider changes in that large overall investment.