HC Deb 16 December 1991 vol 201 cc14-5
31. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what has been the amount lost through theft in respect of Church Commissioners' property over the last three years; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alison

The majority of the Commissioners' property—commercial, residential and agricultural—is leased to tenants who would naturally insure against theft themselves. The Commissioners therefore do not have details of individual cases, and cannot estimate the amount lost overall.

Mr. Banks

I hope that the Commissioners are concerned about the prevalence of theft from churches for which they are ultimately responsible. The number of artefacts that is now leaving the churches rivals the number at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. In my day, it was just the lead from the roofs that went missing, but it is now anything that can be put into the back of a lorry. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of an excellent book that has been written and published by the Staffordshire police, who are so very good at smuggling guns into Brixton gaol, which tells churches how they can be made more secure to stop things being taken from the buildings? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that all churches have access to that excellent publication?

Mr. Alison

Yes, and I shall certainly take careful note of the hon. Gentleman's point. However, the Church Commissioners are not directly responsible for parish churches. The hon. Gentleman talked about smuggling arms into prison. Although the Church Commissioners are more concerned to ensure that bibles are, if necessary, smuggled into prison, we shall certainly be on the lookout for guns being smuggled into churches.

Mr. Lawrence

Does my right hon. Friend think that my National Lottery Bill might be the answer to many of the Church Commissioners' prayers, as one of its objects would be to benefit our heritage, the proudest part of which must be some of our churches? Does he agree that making money available to the Commissioners for that end would play a substantial part in helping to secure those parts of the Church that are of extreme value—the things that are now being stolen?

Mr. Alison

I should emphasise to my hon. and learned Friend that praying is never a gamble and that the income to be derived from gambling is a great deal more volatile than that which is likely to be derived from praying. We shall stick to the safe old ways.

Mr. Carrington

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern about theft from redundant churches, which are so frequently not protected against people breaking into and vandalising them? Will my right hon. Friend now make representations to the redundant churches fund, so that sufficient money can be made available properly to secure those churches until an alternative use is found for them?

Mr. Alison

Yes, I take note of my hon. Friend's point, which should be a practical preoccupation for diocesan authorities. As my hon. Friend will know, demolition is sometimes an option when a church is declared redundant, but, generally speaking, the use of that redundant church for alternative beneficial social purposes is quickly arranged.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

As somebody who is very interested in and responsible for redundant churches in Scotland, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether, since it is Christmas, he thinks that it would be charitable of the Labour party, so that the the redundant churches can be repaired, to return the £26 million that were given to it by Mr. Robert Maxwell?

Mr. Speaker

That is a bit wide of the question. I am not certain that the Church Commissioners are responsible for churches in Scotland, but let us hear the answer.

Mr. Alison

I am particularly glad to have a reminder of the Christmas spirit from so distinguished a Scottish colleague. That can only mean one thing in this context, but fortunately the Church Commissioners are not responsible for church buildings in Scotland.