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The Church of England Newspaper

Friday, March 9, 2001

Royal Peculiars reform "still not open enough"

Church trade unionists want clergy stipends to be declared

Disappointment has been expressed at the failure of an inquiry into Royal Peculiars to end the secrecy over the amount of money being paid to the Deans and Canons.

Unlike all other churches and cathedrals, the stipends received by senior church man at the Royal Peculiars, such as Westminster Abbey, are not revealed to the public.

"Why, if it applies to the bishops and clergy should there be any difference with the Royal Peculiars," said the Rev Andrew de Berry, a member of MSF, the trade union for clergy. "It is in their interests to keep it as covert as possible if they are onto a good thing. It clearly flies in the face of the whole notion of having a living allowance. The stipend system is being made to look absurd."

Professor Averil Cameron, the author of the report on the Review Group, admitted that there had been no moves in the recommendations to make the stipends of the deans and canons open to the public.

"The stipends are a matter for the Queen and Dean and canons" she said, although she believes that the recommended Standing Commission would be in a position to make suggestions on levels of pay to the Queen.

The Standing Commission is planned to meet a least once a year, and make an annual report to the Queen, who remains as Visitor. "It should receive the annual budget, the audited accounts and an annual strategic report from each institution, and act as an advisory body," the report recommends.

Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, is keen to see the council move to make the stipends more accountable."I think the inquiry was only established because the Abbey was not Christian enough, never mind financially accountable," he said.

Lord Weatherill, the former High Bailiff of Westminster Abbey and former Speaker of the House of Commons, also expressed his hope that the Royal Peculiars would be as transparent as the cathedrals and other important churches.

"Although not formally required to publish the accounts, the Dean and Chapter takes the view that the management of this great institution should be as open and transparent as is consistent with commercial practice," a statement form Westminster Abbey read,. "Publishing our accounts is a matter of routine - we have published summary accounts for anyone who wants a copy."

Westminster Abbey is the employer of approximately 200 staff and, in 1999, it attracted 1,268,215 visitors. In 1999-2000 its expected annual income from all sources including visitor charges was in excess of £7.8m

Although an extensive report of the Abbey's financial dealings is published, the stipends received by the Dean and canons of Westminster Abbey remain unknown.

Nevertheless, there has been widespread support for the reforms proposed in the report. The main change of establishing a Standing Commission follows the lead taken by the 1999 Cathedrals Measure.

The Commission will consist of between three and five persons. Either the Bishop of Derby or the Bishop of Wakefield, as members of the Royal Household, will become chairman of the commission.

It will act on behalf of the Queen in the case of an investigation of complaints or disciplinary matters, either secular or ecclesiastical.

Lord Weatherill welcomed the recommendations and said that he hoped that it would prevent Her Majesty from being "dragged into conflicts that are embarrassing to her."

Frank Field agreed that the commission was the right way forward for increasing accountability of the Royal Peculiars, but said that the review has only come about because of the Dean of Westminster's behaviour. He said he hopes that it stops bad behaviour in the future.

The Queen is still the ultimate court of appeal, and her statutory powers have not been removed. She is still also responsible for the appointments to the Royal Peculiars, and importantly to the Commission as well.

"Part of the impetus for the Review concerned Westminster Abbey in particular", the report says, adding that it hopes that the Standing Commission will exercise a mediating role in the settlement of disputes.

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