HC Deb 16 June 1997 vol 296 cc18-20
37. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if the Church Commissioners will review their relationship with, and accountability to, Parliament. [2033]

Mr. Stuart Bell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We should certainly wish to review the role of Parliament in relation to the Church and we should wish to begin with the Question Time which we have available by leave of the Speaker and the leadership of the House. Obviously, it is not enough to have a five-minute question spot in order to deal with all questions regarding the Church.

Mr. Mackinlay

With the greatest respect to the Church of England and the commissioners, may I invite my hon. Friend to consider that, in a modern democratic Parliament containing—at the very most—a minority of Members who are communicants of the Church of England, it is not sensible or right to have a parliamentary Question Time for this function? Even while the Church remains established, should not the commissioners come to Parliament and have their powers and jurisdiction repatriated to them so that they can make their own statutes? It is not the function of a modern Parliament to have questions answered relating to just one denomination: it is time for a review.

Mr. Bell

My hon. Friend is making the case for a disestablished Church. That is not a matter for the commissioners. We in this Parliament have to ensure that there is no disestablishment by stealth or by disorganisation. At the moment, Church and Parliament are as one; it would be for others to open any debate on the subject of establishment.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I am reminded by a colleague that, when the Welsh Church was disestablished, the money went not to the Church but to the universities. I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his responsibilities. We are grateful to the commissioners for coming to Parliament and talking to the Ecclesiastical Committee. It has proved an advance that the early stages of Church legislation should be considered by Synod rather than going through all stages in this House.

Perhaps we might have a day's debate in a year or two on general Church issues, when the sort of point made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) could be aired. We need to consider not only legislation but a wider review of the work of the Church—which has more to do with Bible than balance sheets.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments. The distinction between Bible and balance sheet was no doubt clear in the minds of those who wished for my appointment. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us that Lloyd George disestablished the Church in Wales. Once it was disestablished, he forgot about it and went on to higher things.

I hope, during the years leading up to the millennium, for greater Church participation in this Parliament. After all, the millennium is the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.