§ 31. Mr. Tony Banks
To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement about the current levels of theft from churches.
§ Mr. Alison
By divine providence, I return to inform the hon. Gentleman that the Church Commissioners are aware of anxieties about the level of theft from churches. The responsibility for their guardianship rests primarily with the parochial church council and church wardens. The Council for the Care of Churches offers advice on security and has published a booklet entitled 'Church Security—a Simple Guide'. The Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, as the main insurer of churches and other church buildings, also offers practical advice about security and a number of concessionary schemes.
§ Mr. Banks
Although I am in no way religious, I find distasteful the fact that people have been stealing from churches. It is a breach of trust and an appalling crime. What discussions have the Church Commissioners had with the various police authorities so that perhaps more specialised policing services can be put in place to track down these thieves? Naturally, I would not recommend Group 4 to give any advice. Perhaps a police equivalent of the Spanish inquisition would be appropriate.
§ Mr. Alison
On studying in detail my somewhat extended response to him a moment ago, the hon. Gentleman will discern that the responsibility is highly dispersed and lies with parochial church councils. It is not within the remit of the Church Commissioners to intervene directly. However, we do our best to propagate good advice. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his sensitive reference to the unacceptability of thefts of this sort. He will bear in mind that the founder of the Christian religion issued a warning that we should not lay up for ourselves,'treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.'Forewarned is, to some extent, forearmed.
§ Mr. Dickens
Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of my local churches have been on the receiving end of theft? Often when many of the images and chattels of a church have been removed the whole character of the church is changed; many of those items have been there since time immemorial and are respected and greatly thought of by the congregation. Does my right hon. Friend think that we should say to the parochial church councils, 'You now, unfortunately, have a duty to lock your churches'?
§ Mr. Alison
A great many churches are locked, but some are kept open all the time. There remains a considerable body of valuable antiquities and antiques and other treasured articles in parish churches. However, the overwhelming significance of the value of living individuals in churches remains its particular treasure. I am sure that if my hon. Friend occasionally graced his own parish church with his presence, as I am sure he does, it would make up for the incalculable loss through theft of goods and chattels and treasures.