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Church of England calls for the release of Meriam Ibrahim : The Church of England Newspaper, June 20, 2014 June 26, 2014

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The Second Church Estates Commissioner has assured Parliament that the Church of England supports the international call for clemency for Meriam Ibrahim. Sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam by a civil court in Khartoum last month, Mrs. Ibrahim has refused to recant her Christian faith despite assurances that she will be freed from prison if she accepts Islam. On 12 June 2014 the members for Bury North, David Nuttall (Cons.) and Pendle, Andrew Stephenson (Cons.) asked Sir Tony Baldry what “representations the Church of England” had made on behalf of Mrs. Ibrahim. Sir Tony responded the “Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England wholeheartedly supported the call from the Christian Muslim Forum for the death sentence against Meriam Ibrahim to be dropped. The Church of England will continue to support the Archbishop of Sudan on this issue.” He urged MPs to support “early-day motion 71, tabled in my name, which has support from Members in all parts of the House,” calling for her release. Sudan’s apostasy laws were “clearly incompatible” with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, adding that “In international law, fundamental universal UN human rights must prevail.”

Church entrance fees questioned in Parliament: The Church of England Newspaper, August 11, 2013, p 4. August 11, 2013

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Only nine of England’s 42 Cathedrals charge an entrance fee to tourists, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry told Parliament on 4 July 2013.

In a written answer to a question submitted by the member for Hendon, Matthew Offord (Cons.) who asked what assessment had been” made of the cost to visitors of accessing religious buildings”. Sir Tony responded only nine cathedrals charged admission and “Chester Cathedral has just abolished all entry charges. Unlike the national museums none of the Church of England’s cathedral or church buildings receive grant in aid from the Government.”

Sir Tony wrote no church charged admission fees for worship services, “to those who arrive on pilgrimage or wish to pray, some give free entry on Sundays and at other times, generally early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and others give free entry to local residents or church attenders in their Dioceses.”

Only two parish churches,  St Bartholomew’s the Great in London Diocese and Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon in Coventry diocese the resting place of William Shakespeare charged fees “to recover the cost of repairing the fabric of the building due to the large volume of tourist visitors they receive.”

As of June 2013 the Cathedrals and Royal Peculiars that charged entry were: Canterbury, Coventry, Ely, Exeter, Lincoln, Oxford, St Paul’s, Winchester, York Minster, St George’s Chapel, Windsor  and Westminster Abbey, Sir Tony told Parliament.

Second Church Estates Commissioner rejects govt’s gay marriage bill: The Church of England Newspaper, February 8, 2013 February 14, 2013

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The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, broke ranks with his party’s leadership this week and spoke against adoption of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill.

Rising to speak during the debate following the Second Reading of the Bill, Sir Tony stated that while he would vote against the bill, he wished to thank the government for their assurances that the legislation would protect religious freedom.

Speaking in his capacity as Second Church Estates Commission, Sir Tony said he wanted to “make clear to the House the views of the Church of England on the provisions that the Government have included to safeguard religious freedoms. Let me make it clear that I entirely accept the Government’s good faith in this matter and am appreciative, as is the Bishop of Leicester, who convenes the Bishops in the other place, and as are senior Church officials, of the attempts the Government have made.”

He noted the government was correct in ensuring that “every Church and denomination can reach its own conclusion on these matters and be shielded so far as possible from the risk of litigation” and he accepted the government’s pledge that the “quadruple locks” would protect the rights of the Church of England.

“The so-called quadruple locks are sensible and necessary,” he said, adding the “simple point” is that the Church of England and the Church in Wales “have not wanted anything different in substance from all other Churches and faiths—namely, to be left entirely free to determine their own doctrine and practice in relation to marriage.”

However, Sir Tony noted the Church of England was not a creature of Parliament. While it had a common law duties to marry all parishioners, the issue was rather “complex” as its “canon law remains part of the law of the land and it also has its own devolved legislature which, with Parliament’s agreement, can amend Church legislation and Westminster legislation.”

He noted that in changing marriage, the government was creating a “number of extremely difficult second-order issues. Although the failure to consummate a marriage will still be a ground on which a heterosexual marriage can be voidable, the Bill provides that consummation is not to be a ground on which a marriage of a same-sex couple will be voidable.”

“It also provides that adultery is to have its existing definition—namely, sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex. It therefore follows that divorce law for heterosexual couples will be fundamentally different from divorce law for same-sex couples, because for heterosexual couples the matrimonial offence of adultery will persist while there will be no similar matrimonial offence in relation to same-sex marriage. The fact that officials have been unable to apply these long-standing concepts to same-sex marriage is a further demonstration of just how problematic is the concept of same-sex marriage.”

“There is an inevitable degree of risk in all this,” he said. While the “Government believe that this is a risk worth taking. The Church of England does not.” Sir Tony said.

Sahara seige highlights plight of Algeria’s Christians: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2013 p 1. January 31, 2013

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Last week’s attack by Islamic militants on a natural gas refinery in the Sahara desert underscores the precarious plight of Algeria’s Christian population, church leaders in North Africa tell The Church of England Newspaper.

Anti-conversion laws coupled with after effects of the civil war between the state and Islamist extremists that left an estimated 100,000 dead during the 1990’s have made the public profession of the Christian faith dangerous. But over the past twenty five years the rate of conversions from Islam to Christianity has grown sharply, especially among the Berber people in the Kabylie region, sources in North African report.

No official statistics on the number of Christian converts are published by the state, however the missionary St. Francis Magazine in its December 2006 issue estimated the numbers being anywhere from 7,000 to 100,000.

Last week, the “Masked Brigade” a militant group linked to al Qaeda founded by Algerian terrorist Moktar Belmoktar seized the Ain Amenas refinery in the Sahara desert owned by the state oil company Sonatrach and operated by BP and Norway’s Statoil.

Communications Minister Mohamed Said stated the militants had demanded the release of jailed comrades and a ransom. However, they also planned to “blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages,” he said.

On 19 Jan 2013 Algerian Special Forces stormed the plant, ending the four day. The Algerian state news agency APS reported that 685 Algerian and 107 foreign workers had been freed, while 32 terrorists and 23 hostages died over the course of the siege. Seven hostages were executed by the militants during the final assault as troops tried to free them.

However, the Associated Press reported the death toll was expected to rise as 25 additional bodies, many burnt beyond recognition, had been discovered by soldiers searching the plant for explosives after the battle.

The Foreign Office reported that three Britons had been killed in the siege and three more were missing. Twenty-two British oil workers were rescued and have been flown back to the UK, the foreign secretary reported.

The family of a Plymouth man, Allen McCloud, told the BBC they were “relieved” to learn he was safe, but had harsh words for BP and the government saying they had failed to keep the families informed. “The lack of information from all the relevant sources was very poor. We were kept up to date from friends who worked in the oil and gas industry and the news.”

The Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt Rev. John Ford told the BBC Mr. McCloud’s release was a “fantastic piece of news” but “it has come at the cost of so much harrowing experience of those who were also held and those who also died.”

Prime Minister David Cameron noted “people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events.”

But in a statement to the House of Commons, Mr. Cameron said: “We need to be absolutely clear whose fault this is. It is the terrorists who are responsible for this attack and for the loss of life. The action of these extremists can never be justified. We will be resolute in our determination to fight terrorism and to stand with the Algerian Government, who have paid a heavy price over many years fighting against a savage terrorist campaign.”

Sir Tony Baldry, the second church estates commissioner noted the attack had been well planned. He asked the prime minister, “Does that not emphasise the need for us to work collaboratively with our friends in Europe, the United States and elsewhere to share intelligence to try to ensure that such groups have the greatest possible difficulty in accessing weaponry and that, as far as is possible, they are denied access to the international banking system? The international community is quite rightly imposing sanctions on countries such as Iran, but we also need to do everything we can, through the intelligence services and otherwise, to frustrate such non-state actors in trying to perpetrate acts of hostility against us and others.”

The prime minister said Sir Tony was “absolutely right”, and that British policy was to create as “little space as possible for terrorist organisations” to form, “whether in the banking system or in the availability of safe havens.”

But while international attention is focused on al Qaeda, the daily lives of Algerian Christians remain difficult. The Anglican Chaplain in Algiers, the Rev. Hamdy Doud told CEN: “We praise God for giving Algeria a spirit of religious freedom and respect the other faith. They help Christians and even ex Muslims to worship freely.”

“But on the other hand the work of Christian evangelism is not allowed outside churches,” he added.

Other sources in the country note that the official tolerance of the Christian religion has not been translated into tolerance of local Christians. In 2004, Minister of Religious Affairs Bouabdellah Ghlamallah denounced Christian proselytizing, warning that it could lead to bloodshed. Several weeks later, in an about-face, he said that proselytizing posed no danger, and that “everyone is free to convert to the religion he finds right for him,” the MEMRI news service reported.

On 17 April 2006, the daily L’Expression reported that during a visit to the city of Constantine, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said: “We will not accept our children being turned away from their religion to Christianity under the pretext of democracy,” and that “Algerians will not accept another religion aside from Islam.”

In 2008 Algeria passed an anti-conversion law calling for heavy fines and two-to five years imprisonment for anyone convicted of urging a Muslim to convert. The law has been used to jail Evangelical pastors and to close house churches that have come to the notice of the police.

The crackdown has been especially harsh in the Kebyle. Numbering some 6 million out of Algeria’s population of 32 million, the Berbers are a non-Arab people and were the original inhabitants of the country prior to the Arab invasions of the 7th century.

Missionary activity by the Roman Catholic White Fathers during the French colonial period produced only a handful of converts, but following the expulsion of missionaries in the early 1970’s an underground Protestant church began to take root with some mission groups placing the number of Christians at 100,000.

While there is debate over the scope of conversion to Christianity among the Berber people, the issue has sparked concern amongst Muslim and government leaders, and frequent newspaper comment. The Algerian daily El-Shourouq El-Yawmi gas denounced Christmas celebrations featuring the arrival of Santa Claus as a sign of the “Christianization” of the region and as “the death arriving from the West.”

Knighthood for Second Church Estates Commissioner: The Church of England Newspaper, June 19, 2012 June 23, 2012

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Sir Tony Baldry, MP

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, has been awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. On 16 June 2012, the London Gazette reported the Queen had conferred the honour of Knight Bachelor upon Antony Brian Baldry for “for public and political service.”

The member for Banbury (Cons.) in Parliament since 1983, Sir Tony was appointed Second Church Estates Commissioner by the coalition government in 2010.

Andrew Brown, Secretary to the Church Commissioners, said: “I am delighted that Tony Baldry has been awarded a knighthood. Sir Tony plays a vital role in the link between the Church and Parliament, regularly answering questions on Church matters in the House of Commons.

“Since his appointment as Second Commissioner two years ago, he has worked tirelessly to ensure both Church and State understand each other, and encourages each to work together for the benefit of the whole country.”

Sir Tony said: “I am very proud to have been made a Knight, particularly in the Birthday Honours of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year.

“All the work in which I am involved as an MP, from campaigns on the Horton Hospital, to campaigns with the Churches, are team efforts, and I hope that I will always be an effective advocate for such campaigns.”

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Treasury admits out of date data used in Church VAT estimates: The Church of England Newspaper, May 20, 2012 p 4. May 28, 2012

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David Gauke MP

The government’s estimates as to the costs of the changes in VAT to the Church of England were based upon 12 year old date, Government ministers told Parliament last week.

The revelation that the government had used outdated information in calculating the impact of its proposals came in response to a question from the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Mr. Tony Baldry.

He asked the Chancellor “what estimate he has made of the revenue which will accrue to the Exchequer as a consequence of the removal of the zero VAT rate for alterations to listed buildings” and “what assessment he has made of the effect on listed places of worship of the removal of the zero VAT rate for alterations to listed buildings.”

Mr David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, responded on 30 April 2012 that a government report had set “out estimates for VAT which will be raised from approved alterations to listed buildings and a summary of impacts upon which comments are invited.”

According to the document, “Listed places of worship will also be affected by the change, although our evidence suggests that places of worship form only a small minority of the total number of listed properties in the UK.”

To “mitigate the impacts on these groups the DCMS is expanding the existing Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme which refunds the VAT on repairs and maintenance work, so that this includes approved alterations to listed buildings,” the Treasury report said.

However, no details as to the revenue which would accrue from taxing church renovations was provided in the report, though details on the tax on hair dressers’ chairs, self-storage units, and holiday caravan parks was provided.

Mr. Gauke added that “our original estimate, based on a church report produced in 2000, was that £5 million a year additional funding for the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme would be adequate compensation for listed places of worship for the impact of the VAT change. We are talking to churches and will increase this amount if there is evidence that the impact is greater.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church VAT meeting with George Osborne: The Church of England Newspaper, May 6, 2012 p 6. May 11, 2012

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The Second Church Estates Commissioner and the Bishop of London have asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. George Osborne, for a “full exemption” for churches on the government’s plans to impose VAT on church alterations.

Speaking to the House of Commons on 26 April 2012, Mr. Tony Baldry said the meeting with the chancellor had been “helpful and constructive.”

The chancellor had given a “commitment to ensuring that listed places of worship would not be adversely affected by the Budget proposal, and I am sure that he will do everything he can to deliver on that commitment,” Mr. Baldry said.

The Church Commissioners were “pushing for full exemption. The listed places of worship scheme is welcome, but it is very volatile and uncertain at the moment because people are never quite clear how much they will receive back under the scheme, he said.

Mr. Baldry and Bishop Richard Chartres “made it clear why we believed it to be in the best interests of the community to continue to exempt alterations to listed places of worship from VAT. We gave the Chancellor a full written submission” and he “undertook to consider our submission carefully and made clear the Government’s commitment to ensuring that listed places of worship are not adversely affected by the Budget proposal. I anticipate a further meeting with the Chancellor and the Exchequer Secretary in due course,” the Second Church Estates Commissioner said.

The member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Simon Hughes (LD) asked if Mr. Baldry would “apply pressure” on the Government so that it understands “that simply extending the scheme’s remit to give money, when the budget has been cut, does not solve the problem, unless the rules are changed.”

Mr. Baldry concurred, saying “we are keen that the Chancellor maintains the VAT exemption for church alterations is the certainty it brings. However much money is put into the listed places of worship scheme, it has its own inherent volatility and uncertainty, and no one is sure until after the event how much the refund will be. In the last quarter, for example, only just over half of the money for the listed places of worship scheme was refunded.”

The member for Congleton, Fiona Bruce (Con.) questioned the feasibility of the government’s plans. “The Treasury has said that there will be an exemption from the new rules for contracts that have already been signed, but many churches have already undertaken ongoing works. Could there be some flexibility in that respect? Secondly, if the grant scheme is to be reviewed, could it be so over a period of several years, not just one or two years, so that there can be certainty? Works often take many years.”

Mr. Baldry stated that he agreed that it was “important to get the transitional relief right. We made it clear” to Mr. Osborne “that if he was not minded to follow us on continuing the exemption, but wanted to increase the grant under the listed places of worship scheme, we would want to see certainty over the sum, not just for this year but for a whole number of years to come.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Treasury to reimburse Church on new VAT: The Church of England Newspaper, May 4, 2012 May 11, 2012

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The Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised to reimburse listed churches for the costs of VAT for church improvements.

Speaking in the House of Lords on 24 April 2012, Treasury minister Lord Sassoon confirmed that an agreement had been reached the previous day by the Bishop of London, the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the Chancellor, Mr. George Osborne.

“The Government are fully compensating churches for the changes in VAT,” Lord Sassoon told the Lords.  Asked how the Treasury would mitigate the £20 million in additional cost to churches in its budget proposals, Lord Sassoon said the Chancellor “made it clear” in his meeting with Bishop Richard Chartres and Tony Baldy MP “that the £5 million which the Government have committed to the listed places of worship grant scheme in the Budget is on top of the £12 million which the scheme already had.”

“We accept, having seen the churches’ numbers, that the VAT change will indeed be more than £5 million and that we need to commit more money, and discussions will continue next week to look at what the projected numbers and our commitment should be,” the minister said.

Lord Sassoon further stated that projects already underway would not be subject to the tax.

“Contracts in place on [Budget day] will retain the zero rate if the work is performed by 20 March 2013.”

In last month’s Budget, Mr Osborne announced a 20 per cent tax on alteration work on listed buildings.  The Treasury said the new tax would be imposed to remove a “glaring anomaly”, where alterations to listed building were exempt from VAT, but repair and maintenance work was not.  It was also couched in terms of fairness, with Coalition spokesmen saying it would prevent the owners of listed mansions avoiding paying VAT if they added a swimming pool.

However, the plan would also tax churches. The Bishop of Bath & Wells asked Lord Sassoon whether the government had thought through the implications of its decision, suggesting that it was at odds with its Big Society agenda.  “Of the 563 churches in my diocese, 503 are listed-some 89 per cent. Their upkeep relies almost entirely on voluntary fundraising and support from their congregations. In promoting the big society, many wish to open those buildings to wider community use. What incentive does the minister believe is being created for congregations to do so by making them pay VAT up front only to claim it back through a scheme that is not adequately funded,” the bishop asked.

Lord Sassoon responded the government did not “want to see anything that incentivises people against repairing and maintaining and therefore preserving the core heritage features of the property, so we think that it is right to put alterations, repairs and maintenance on an even basis.”

However, a spokesman for the Archbishops’ Council told ThirdSector the reimbursement scheme was not ideal. “As a sort of concession it seems the Chancellor has said expenditure on alterations, as well as repairs, will now be eligible for this scheme, and it will have some extra money,” he said.

“But it’s pretty easy for the government to get rid of public expenditure. This scheme has already got less generous since it was introduced. It’s already being used pretty much at capacity,” the spokesman said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

CoE facing £20 million VAT bill: The Church of England Newspaper, April 29, 2012, p 6. May 6, 2012

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Tony Baldry MP

The Government’s plan to end the VAT exemption for listed building alterations will cost the Church of England an additional £20 million per year, the Second Church Estates Commissioner told Parliament last week.

On 18 April 2012 Mr. Tony Baldry responded to a written question from the member for The Wrekin, Mr. Mark Pritchard (Cons.) asking whether the Church Commissioners would speak to the Chancellor about the financial effects “of VAT changes to repairs for listed church buildings in the diocese of Hereford and Lichfield.”

Mr. Baldry stated that he wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 22 March and intended to “follow this up with discussions soon.”

Ending the VAT exemption was likely to cost the Church of England £20 million per year as it had “responsibility for the care and upkeep of 12,500 listed churches and cathedrals across England.”

There repairs were “largely met by the voluntary giving and activity of its congregations,” he said, noting the “large majority of alterations” took place “order to improve access to them and to broaden their use by the wider community.”

The cost to Hereford under the proposed VAT changes would cost the cathedral “an extra estimated £160,000 to complete its existing plans to improve its sound, lighting and heating systems.”

Mr. Baldry said that of the Hereford’s 423 buildings, 360 were listed churches. He cited the case of St John the Evangelist in Shobdon, which was “currently completing a £900,000 restoration project of which only 10% has been completed. The application of VAT to the total cost is likely to prove a significant setback.”

In the Diocese of Lichfield the proposed changes would add a further £240,000 to its costs of adding “toilets and facilities for the disabled” and renovations to the Close.  Of Lichfield’s 450 buildings, 315 were churches who would be affected by the changes.  “No specific figures are available for projects in 2012, but across the diocese a conservative estimate of over £300,000 was spent on alterations to parish churches in 2011,” he said.

The Second Church Estates Commission noted that “though proposals in the Budget impact mostly on alterations to listed church buildings—as distinct from repairs—in that they remove the zero VAT rating for all listed building alteration works, the Church of England is concerned that the money available to reimburse churches for VAT charged for repair work will also be affected as a consequence of the extra demands placed on the Listed Places of Worship Grant scheme, which is to have eligibility widened to include alterations.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

 

Metal theft concerns raised in Parliament: The Church of England Newspaper, March 16, 2012 p 7. March 21, 2012

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Tony Baldry MP

Concerns over the economic and social costs of metal thefts from churches and war memorials dominated questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Mr. Tony Baldry, in Parliament last week.

On 1 March 2012, Mr. Baldry answered four Oral Parliamentary Questions in the Commons and answered a written question on 5 March about metal thefts.  Last week’s questions follow on questions raised by MPs on 20 Feb and 19 Jan 2012 on the costs of the 0ver 2500 metal thefts from churches reported in 2011.

In response to a written question from the member for Ashfield, Ms. Gloria De Piero (Lab.) about the total costs of metal theft, Mr. Baldry stated that the “total value of cost to the Church of England” for metal thefts in “2010 was around £6.5 million of which around £2.3 million was covered by insurance.”

In 2011 the cost “was around £10 million of which around £4.4 million was covered by insurance.”

The previous week Mr. Baldry answered nine questions in Parliament, four of which dealt with metal thefts and related issues.

The member for Truro and Falmouth, Ms. Sarah Newton (Con.) asked “what steps the Church Commissioners are taking to ensure that cathedrals are able to access insurance.”

Mr. Baldry responded the Church Commissioners were aware of the “increasing demands that cathedrals are making on their insurance policies, especially as a consequence of metal theft. The majority of cathedrals are insured by Ecclesiastical Insurance and so far no Cathedral has ever been refused any insurance claim by Ecclesiastical, which is working extremely hard with all cathedrals to assist in reducing the problem of metal theft.”

Ms. Newton noted that she had read of instances where cathedrals were “unable to insure themselves.”

“So will my hon. Friend keep ensuring that cathedrals can afford insurance?”

Mr. Baldry responded that he believed her concerns were justified, but deflected her question. “Cathedrals have not been immune from thefts,” he noted, adding that each new theft “puts up the costs of insurance in all cathedrals.”

“That is why we have to bear down on metal theft,” the Second Church Estates Commissioner said.

The members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Mr. Tom Blenkinsop, (Lab.) and Hexam, Mr. Guy Opperman, (Con.) rose to ask what steps were being taken to protect churches, churchyards and war memorials from metal thefts, and if there had been any consultations with the government over these issues?

Mr. Baldry said that he, the Bishop of London and the chairman of the cathedral and church buildings division of the Church of England, Mrs. Anne Sloman, have had “numerous detailed discussions with a number of Ministers on the issue of metal theft from church property.”

Asked by Mr. Opperman whether he would support stiffer prison terms for metal thieves, Mr. Baldry replied there was a “general desire across the House for the courts seriously to consider deterrent sentences for what is a despicable crime.”

The member for Leyton and Wanstead, Mr. John Cryer (Lab.) rose and asked whether grants might be available to churches to protect them from theft.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner responded that churches that had installed roof alarms or used SmartWater had seen a “substantially reduced” incidence of theft.  These steps were “necessarily that expensive and I hope that all churches will look at how they can improve security to deter metal theft.”

The member for Sherwood, Mr. Mark Spencer (Con.) rose and asked whether there had been discussion with English Heritage about “allowing fibreglass replacements of lead roofs so that the crime is no longer a temptation?”

While there had beencontinuous discussions with English Heritage” about replacing lead with fiberglass, some “60 per cent of grade-I listed buildings in this country are Church of England churches, and there are some restraints as a consequence of those listings,” Mr. Baldry said.

The member for Walsall South, Ms. Valerie Vaz (Lab) rose and asked a new question of the Second Church Estates Commissioner about the number of churches using marking systems to prevent metal thefts and the costs of such systems.

Forensic marking is “widespread and strongly encouraged” Mr. Baldry said.  “Some 12,500 churches have registered with the SmartWater scheme,” he said, adding that SmartWater had “been successful in a number of cases involving arrests and successful prosecutions.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church Commissioners report to Parliament on metal thefts: The Church of England Newspaper, February 24, 2012, p 6 March 1, 2012

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Mr. Tony Baldry MP has responded to questions from Parliament about the rash of metal thefts affecting the Church of England.

On 20 Feb 2012 Mr. Baldry was asked by the member for Thirsk, Anne McIntosh (Cons.) “what steps the Church Commissioners are taking to seek amendments to planning laws applying to church buildings to permit a substitute for lead following theft.

Mr. Baldry wrote in response the Church Commissioners “are not taking such steps at the present time. Guidance issued by the Cathedral and Church Buildings Council strongly advises the use of traditional materials.”  However, the Church Commissioners recognized that there were some situations where alternative materials were acceptable “especially for roofs that are not visible or where there have been multiple thefts.”

The previous month Mr. Baldry was asked by the member for Kingston upon Hull North, Md. Diana Johnson (Lab) and the member for North Wiltshire, Mr. James Gray (Cons.) of the estimated costs of metal thefts from churchs.

Mr. Baldry stated on 19 Jan 2012 that “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.”

Ms. Johnson thanked the Second Church Estates Commissioner for his response and added that she knew 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.”

She asked whether Mr. Baldry would “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?”

Mr. Baldry responded that Ecclesiastical was a private 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.”

The member for North Wiltshire then rose and asked about the state of Britain’s war memorials on church property.  “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?”

The Second Church Estates Commissioner answered that with the coming centenary of the First World War “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 was a “particularly despicable crime,” Mr. Baldry added.

Church Commissioners pledge support for embattled African Christians: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2012 p 7. February 2, 2012

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Tony Baldry, MP

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner has pledged the support of the Church of England in aid to Africa’s embattled Christians.

On 20 January 2012 — the same day as 200 Nigerians were killed in terror blasts by al-Qaeda linked terrorists — the member for Bury North, Mr. David Nuttall (Con) asked the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Mr. Tony Baldry, what plans the church had to provide “support for Christian communities in Nigeria.”

Mr. Baldry responded that “Lambeth Palace” was in “regular contact” with the Church of Nigeria and that Dr. Rowan Williams has followed closely the “ongoing situation in the region.”

He added that the the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev. Justin Welby was “currently visiting Nigeria on behalf of the archbishop” and that the Church of England supports the Church of Nigeria’s effors 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 pressed the Second Church Estates Commissioner to condemn the terror campaign mounted by Boko Haram and “to take whatever action is necessary to bring such attacks to an end.”

Mr. Baldry responded 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.”

The member for Edinburgh North and Leith, Mr. Lazarowicz (Lab/Co-op) rose and asked whether the Second Church Estates Commission agreed that the issue of the “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?”

He added that this was “the third month in a row in which the hon. Gentleman has had to answer questions relating to persecution or discrimination against Christians.”

The member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Simon Hughes (LD) rose and noted that his borough contained the “largest African community in Britain.”

He asked whether the church might find a way to “communicate better to Christian Africans in Britain what is being done” by the Church of England and the Christian churches in Africa to respond to persecution as well as find a way of involving British Africans in the peace process who “may be able to build a bridge” between the warring communities – points to which Mr. Baldry concurred, stating he would raise them with Dr. Williams.

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