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Church Commissioners

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 5 July 2012

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Sale of Churches

1. What information the Church Commissioners hold on the number of churches sold and subsequently turned into bars or casinos since May 2010. (115242)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that extensive answer. I am disappointed that although I have asked this question on many occasions, I am yet to receive a satisfactory answer—which we have again not received. Is it not despicable that a place of worship should be turned into a bar or a casino? Is it not time that the churches looked at that, to ensure that it does not happen and that they are not sold to those kinds of people?

We are at cross purposes. The answer that I gave to the hon. Gentleman was very clear: I am not aware of any redundant or former churches having been turned into a bar or a casino. If he has details of any such instances, will he please let me have them so that I can investigate?

Parish Priests

2. What the average number of parishes is per Church of England priest in rural areas; and if he will make a statement. (115243)

The Church does not calculate an average figure for the number of parishes per priest in rural areas, because different dioceses take varying approaches to pastoral organisation.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I wonder whether we could urge the Church Commissioners to undertake such an exercise. I should like to praise the work of rural priests. In North Yorkshire, they are being asked to spread themselves extremely thinly, and any support that they could be given would be most welcome.

My hon. Friend is quite correct to draw our attention to the fantastic work being done by priests in rural areas. We will collect statistics on rural priests, and I will ensure that they are shared with her.

House of Lords Reform

3. What discussions he has had with the Church Commissioners on the role of clergy in a reformed House of Lords. (115244)

I have regular discussions on the question of Lords reform with senior colleagues in the Church of England, including the archbishops and the Bishop of London, who are Lords Spiritual and Church Commissioners. Like me, they welcome the view of the Government and the parliamentary Joint Committee that there should be a continuing, albeit reduced, place for Lords Spiritual in a reformed House of Lords.

Some years ago, Parliament changed the law to allow members of the Anglican clergy to stand for election to this House, which has enabled my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) to become a Member of Parliament. Will the Government’s proposals for an elected second Chamber permit the Anglican clergy to stand for election, and has the Church considered that it might make sense for the Anglican representation in the second Chamber to be elected, so that women as well as men could offer themselves for election?

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. I do not think that there will be any constraint on priests or former priests standing for election to the elected part of the second Chamber. On the second part of his question, I suspect that all of us here earnestly hope that, sooner or later, the Church of England will have women bishops.

I completely agree, and I praise the hon. Gentleman for all his work on trying to bring in women bishops, but has he read the Bill that we are to debate next week? It does not actually define what a bishop is. The Bill does not say whether it refers to diocesan bishops, suffragan bishops, Anglican bishops, Catholic bishops, bishops from Scotland or bishops from Wales. Is this a radical step that the Church is going to support?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has just applied to speak in the debate. He has already applied to me in writing, and I think that his question was an additional application, for which we are all very grateful.

May I also make an oral application to speak in the Lords reform debate, in response to the many speeches that I know the hon. Gentleman is going to make about bishops?

Metal Theft

4. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to mark metal items in churches for the purpose of preventing metal theft. (115245)

The Church Commissioners have taken a keen interest in the development of metal marking undertaken by the Institute of Minerals, Mining and Metals—IOM3. Marking systems are under development that can be used to mark new and existing roofs with a clear mark of ownership. We have been working to achieve that with IOM3 and the insurance industry.

Churches, war memorials and monuments throughout the north-east have been affected by this despicable crime. Will my hon. Friend do all that he can to get behind the private Member’s Bill that is to be debated in the House shortly, and ensure that the churches themselves do all that they can to mark their property?

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) has introduced an excellent Bill, and we hope that it will get a good hearing tomorrow and make progress. Of course the churches have a responsibility to do everything they can to protect their own metal from theft. They do this by using SmartWater, CCTV cameras and other examples of the latest technology. We are all seeking to crack this despicable crime, but at the end of the day we have to make the scrap metal business a cashless business involving only business-to-business transactions, to prevent people from ripping lead off roofs and taking it round to the scrap metal market the next day and getting cash for it.

My hon. Friend mentioned SmartWater, which is a tried and trusted method not only of bringing criminals to justice but of deterring them from committing crimes in the first place. Will he update the House on how many churches have SmartWater technology on their premises, and will he ensure that as many as possible are covered by it in the future?