§ 31. Lady Olga Maitland
To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what estimate has been made of the numbers of ordained clergy resigning posts within the Church of England in the next three years and of the consequential effects on payments of stipends.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)
The possible cost of making financial provision for ministers of religion who resign in opposition to women being ordained as priests are set out in a report published by the General Synod, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. Ministers of religion are entitled to such provision only if they resign after the promulgation of the relevant canon, and that is unlikely to be before November next year, and will possibly be later.
The Commissioners have made no estimate of the numbers likely to resign, but the gross cost to the commissioners per 100 men are estimated to total £4.6 million of income, spread over a period of up to 20 years. That could be offset by savings to the Church of more than £2 million as a result of reduced stipend costs, re-employment, and so on. The statutory charge on the commissioners' general funds must be paid and will therefore reduce the sums available for other purposes.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
In view of the personal anguish suffered by priests who feel that they are being pushed out of their churches, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that their pensions will not be aflected—particularly bearing in mind the fact that the commissioners will find themselves in deep financial crisis trying to cope with the changes?
§ Mr. Alison
My hon. Friend may have heard of the substantial sums that have been notionally set aside. However, it is not a question of individual clergy being forced from their churches, but of their withdrawing or resigning voluntarily. Considerable sums will be made available in the form both of compensation and housing assistance. Pensions will not of course arise in the case of a number of younger men who retire before reaching pensionable age.
§ Mr. Alison
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I have just given my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland).
§ Ms. Quin
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that no consideration of costs should interfere with that welcome decision, and that it would be disgraceful if the House took an opposing view of the decision already agreed by the General Synod? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that equal pay and equal opportunity legislation will fully apply in the case of women priests?
§ Mr. Alison
On the hon. Lady's last point, there is no question but that a woman priest would receive exactly the 14 same stipend and allowances as a male incumbent at the same level and of the same status. There will be absolutely no discrimination in terms of sex. As to the vote that might be taken in the House, it would be rash of me to lay down how right hon. and hon. Members in any part of the House ought to vote when the expediency or otherwise of the motion in question is debated. Certainly it is traditional that the House does not attempt to overturn the majority, as appropriately reached, in the General Synod. The hon. Lady will have heard that no financial considerations will in any way be put in the path of the ordination of women. We are making good and reasonable compensation terms for those who want to retire.
§ 33. Mr. Simon Hughes
To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment the commissioners have made of the financial effects of the proposals of the General Synod to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood.
§ Mr. Alison
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) a few moments ago.
§ Mr. Hughes
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the financial implications of the measure—if it is passed by both Houses of Parliament—to enable women to be priests is that potentially a huge additional resource will be available to the Church of England in terms of qualified, ordained personnel and that once all the women who want to be ordained are in place the Church of England will be at a great advantage in reaching new congregations and bringing in new income?
§ Mr. Alison
I fully take the hon. Gentleman's point, though he went slightly wider than the financial implications of the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam. He is right that the admission of women to the priesthood in the Church of England would very much increase the scope and outreach of the Church of England, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many of those who might be ordained as women priests are already deacons and to that extent already receive quite substantial pay, so the net increase in cost to the Church of England is unlikely to be as great as it might at first sight appear.