The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, answered six Oral Parliamentary Questions and one Written in the Commons yesterday (19 January) covering metal theft, Christian communities in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, marriage, cathedrals and the Lord’s Prayer.
The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked-
1. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What recent estimate the Church Commissioners have made on the cost of metal theft from Church of England property.
6. Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): What estimate the Church Commissioners have made of the number of churches from which lead has been stolen in the last 12 months.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): Ecclesiastical, the insurance company that insures the vast majority of churches, reports that last year alone more than 2,500 churches suffered thefts of lead, and that the cost of the resulting claims was about £4.6 million. Each of those claims represents a loss to a local community and a distraction to parishes from using their resources for local community life.
Diana Johnson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his response. I know that Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the theft of metal from churches and from war memorials, and we hope that legislation or regulation will be introduced fairly quickly to deal with the problem. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that Ecclesiastical has placed a cap of £5,000 on claims against thefts of metal from churches? If that is correct, what is he doing about it?
Tony Baldry: Ecclesiastical is a private insurance company; it has nothing to do with the Church Commissioners. It has to make commercial decisions about the cover that it can provide to churches, and it has clearly taken the view that churches that have had lead stolen from them present a higher risk in regard to actuarial cover. That is all the more reason for us to find a resolution to the problem of metal theft as soon as possible.
Gray: My hon. Friend may recall that last time we met I raised with him the issue of metal theft from war memorials that happened to be on church property. Since then, I have had meetings with people at the Imperial War museum, who told me that, of the estimated 100,000 war memorials in England today, only 60,000 are recorded. Will my hon. Friend enter into discussions with the Imperial War museum-perhaps in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund-to find not only funding but volunteers, so that we can complete the registration of all 100,000 war memorials?
Tony Baldry: As we come to the anniversary of the first world war from 2014 to 2018, I am sure that there will be considerable interest in war memorials. In my constituency and elsewhere, parishioners are writing books recording the history of those who took part, and I am sure that the Church would want to co-operate constructively with the Imperial War museum, the War Memorials Trust and any other organisation that sought to ensure that we protect war memorials. The theft of lead from war memorials is a particularly despicable crime.
Christian Communities (Nigeria)
4. Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): What plans the Church Commissioners have to provide support for Christian communities in Nigeria.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): Lambeth palace is in regular contact with the Anglican Church in Nigeria. Following a meeting with the Primate of Nigeria last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury has continued to be closely in touch with him about the ongoing situation in the region. The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, is currently visiting Nigeria on behalf of the archbishop. The Church of England supports the work of the Anglican communion in working with the Church of Nigeria to end the murder and violence. It is putting its efforts into supporting movements for peace and reconciliation within the northern and central belt communities of Nigeria.
Mr Nuttall: As my hon. Friend will be aware, attacks on Christians in Nigeria have greatly increased in recent weeks, largely due, it seems, to the activities of the Boko Haram group. Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning those attacks and urge the Church Commissioners, after considering the findings of the Lord Bishop of Durham, to take whatever action is necessary to bring such attacks to an end?
Tony Baldry: I think everyone in the House would agree that to murder people simply for their religion or simply because they are Christians is totally barbaric, taking us back through the centuries. I very much hope that the Government of Nigeria will do everything they can to prevent the continuing murder of Christians. It is particularly disturbing that the person accused of bombing St Theresa’s church just outside Abuja was found hiding in the home of a local state governor.
Several hon. Members rose –
Mr Speaker: I am keen to maximise the number of contributors.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I think this is the third month in a row in which the hon. Gentleman has had to answer questions relating to persecution or discrimination against Christians. Does he agree that the issue of persecution of Christians-or, indeed, of those of any faith-must now be taken much more seriously by international agencies, by this Government and by other bodies that can play a role?
Tony Baldry: I entirely agree.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): My borough contains the largest African community in Britain. Will the hon. Gentleman consider whether the Church Commissioners might communicate better to Christian Africans in Britain what is being done by the Church in Nigeria and, indeed, in Zimbabwe, which is the subject of the next question? Will he also contemplate sending a small group of Church representatives who are from Nigeria and Zimbabwe to those countries, where they may be able to build a bridge?
Tony Baldry: The right hon. Gentleman has made two very good suggestions, which I will discuss with those responsible at Lambeth palace.
5. Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to support and monitor the treatment of Christians in Zimbabwe.
Tony Baldry: Following a visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the region, where he and other bishops from southern Africa presented President Mugabe with a dossier of the abuses suffered by the Anglican community over recent years, the Church is very concerned about the increase in hostilities towards Anglicans in Zimbabwe in the past few months. Most recently, on 2 January, local security forces forcibly evicted 80 clergy who had assembled peacefully for an annual retreat.
Martin Vickers: The attacks on the Christian community should be roundly condemned. The Christian community in Zimbabwe will have valued and felt greatly strengthened by the archbishop’s recent visit, but, as the Bishop of Harare observed recently, the persecution continues. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Church Commissioners, in co-operation with the Government, will continue and, indeed, increase the pressure?
Tony Baldry: I can certainly give that assurance. I think it particularly despicable that it is now necessary to obtain police permission to gather for prayer in Zimbabwe: that is exceptionally sad. We will continue to co-operate with whoever can help us to exert pressure to ensure that Christians in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world are free to worship as they wish.
9. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have had with Ministers on the Government’s forthcoming consultation on marriage.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): There have already been discussions between Church representatives and Government Ministers on this subject, and more are in prospect. It will come as no surprise to the House that the Church of England holds firmly to the view that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman.
Andrew Selous: What reassurance can my hon. Friend give churches in my constituency, which have contacted me about their fear that they may be prosecuted for discrimination if they persist with traditional marriage?
Tony Baldry: The Government have given an assurance that that is not the case. The law states plainly that individual denominations may make perfectly clear that they can continue to ensure that marriage is celebrated between a man and a woman, and the Church of England will continue to do so.
10. Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): How much funding the Church Commissioners have made available to cathedrals in the last year.
Tony Baldry: Next year the Church Commissioners will give Truro cathedral some £348,000 towards the operation and running of the dean and chapter, a 4% increase. The cathedrals building division will of course continue to look sympathetically on any specific request from Truro for support relating to the fabric of the cathedral.
Sarah Newton: I are grateful for that response to the discussions that we have been having. Truro cathedral plays a vital role in the city, not only through its ministry but through its contribution to quality of life and the local economy. I welcome the support that the Church Commissioners are giving to the cathedral, and I hope that they will continue to look favourably on the work that it is doing in its Aspire project.
Tony Baldry: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Nowhere else in England are the early Celtic roots of Christianity so obvious as in Cornwall, with its profusion of local saints. Truro has the distinction of being the first entirely new cathedral foundation since the Reformation. Like other cathedrals, it plays an important part in the life of the local community and the county, and the Church Commissioners will continue to give the cathedral of Truro every possible support.
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman will know that other cathedrals have also suffered from metal theft in recent days; there were reports in the newspapers this week of Manchester cathedral being hit. Given the impact of metal theft and further to the hon. Gentleman’s earlier answer, will he tell us how many churches and cathedrals have applied for support from the listed places of worship grant scheme and whether the scheme is sufficient to meet demand?
Tony Baldry: There will always be considerable pressure on the listed places of worship grant scheme. Let us be clear that there is no way that the Church of England or any other Church can cope with the present level of theft of lead from churches and cathedrals. I hope that the Government will introduce measures to amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 as soon as possible to stop that continuing violation of our national heritage.
The Lord’s Prayer
Dr Thérèse Coffey: To ask the hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer in schools in England.
Tony Baldry: The Church of England only has information pertaining to its Church of England schools. There are around 4,700 of these schools and academies across the country, spanning both the primary and secondary sectors.
These schools are assessed on a regular basis by Ofsted and the local diocese. From the denominational inspection reports it is clear that the Lord’s Prayer is in regular use in collective worship in the majority of Church of England schools.