Changes preserve key links with State

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The Independent Online
It had been widely predicted that the Turnbull Commission would recommend the abolition of the Church Commissioners. Yet, though it has reduced them to the status of an investment trust, it has kept them in being; and one reason given for this is that they preserve a link between the Church and the State.

At present the link takes two forms. The first, and most visible, is that some hugely unlikely people are numbered among the 95 commissioners. The Prime Minister is one, as is the Home Secretary and the Mayor of York.

All the diocesan bishops are commissioners, which led to ludicrous complications when one of them, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, sued the Church Commissioners over what he thought was their lack of an ethical investment policy.

The real power, however, is concentrated in a smaller group; and the Turnbull report recommends slashing the number of commissioners to 15. All of the new ones will have real power and responsibilities.

But the decorative link between Church and State represented by the presence of Cabinet ministers among the commissioners will be lost. However, the report proposes that the Prime Minister retain the power to appoint church commissioners, which will preserve a more important link, since it is the very few commissioners directly appointed in this way who traditionally do most of the work.

The commissioners will also retain their traditional, curious state of being responsible to Parliament for managing the assets of the Church. The Second Church Estates Commissioner is an MP who answers questions about their work in the Commons once a month, and who is also responsible for steering laws produced by the General Synod through the House of Commons for approval. This job, at the very heart of the Establishment, has been left untouched by the Turnbull report's recommendations.