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Peter Luff remains optimistic that the devastating impact of the threat of an archaic law can be lifted from the shoulders of thousands of households in Worcestershire and around the country.
This is despite what he described as a “very disappointing response” from the minster to his Commons debate on the subject yesterday.

The MP for Mid Worcestershire said the speech by the Justice Department minister, Helen Grant, was ‘legally precise but morally empty. She just didn’t seem to understand the real life implications of this wicked law.”

Peter took up the issue of Chancel Repair Liability after around thirty households in the village of Broadway in his constituency were told they would become liable for huge sums of money for repairs to a mediaeval church’s chancel.

Peter explained,

“The liability has its origins nearly five hundred years ago, at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, but had been long forgotten in many parishes until a court case forced local church communities - PCCs - to register the liability.”

In his speech, which took place yesterday (Wednesday) in Westminster Hall, Peter said:

“Now an unknown number of householders and landowners in an unknown number of parishes faced the threat of Chancel Repair Liability being registered on their property, even though its existence had been entirely forgotten.

“As the deadline (October 2013) looms reality is becoming clearer for many small and unfortunate land owners. Evidence I have seen from the Land Registry suggests there is a rush of registrations taking place.

“It’s believed that around 5,200 churches are entitled to claim the cost of Chancel Repairs from the lay rector.

“The chancel of a medieval church can constitute around a third of the total church building. A repair bill of two hundred thousand pounds would not be uncommon. So in the case of Broadway a regular bill - every decade or so - for around seven thousand pounds can perhaps be expected. Fewer householders with the liability in a parish would mean a correspondingly higher sum. I know of at least one parish where there are only two properties liable for repairing the chancel of their church.

“The sum would be payable pretty much on demand and would be unpredictable in both amount and frequency. A house in such a situation would be either unsaleable or substantially reduced in value.

“In terms of ensuring other parishes are aware of the options I hope today's debate will help draw attention to the issue and will focus the national Church authorities on what I see as serious neglect of their responsibilities.

“And I am sure the government will wish to do more than casually assert that Chancel Repair Liability is a legitimate property right. If it believes in the freedoms and democratic responsibilities with which I began this speech, then it must find a way of ensuring that the Liability is fairly applied and that the outrageous arbitrariness of this archaic law is ended.

“In essence, I believe the solution revolves around giving PCCs the right to renounce their right to the liability in perpetuity. To make their decisions, intended to have permanent effect, watertight.

“The State should not arbitrarily remove legitimate property rights, but where an organisation or individual wishes to give them up, the State should be willing to help them to do so.

“Chancel Repair Liability may be a complex problem, but it has, I believe, a simple solution.”

However Helen Grant MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice in her response said she was not persuaded that any change in the law was necessary.

Although she said she recognised the problems that this liability can cause for communities, she went on to say that it was a valid property right that has been upheld by the House of Lords.

She concluded that,

“There is no need to invent ways to release properties from the liability.”

After the debate Peter commented,

“I was very disappointed with the Minister’s response. She delivered a very legalistic speech that unfortunately showed very little understanding of what Chancel Repair Liability means to people.

“I have been offered a personal meeting with the minister and I fully intend to follow up what was raised in the debate.

“Although the minister’s speech was far from satisfactory, this does not signal the end of my battle with Chancel Repair Liability – far from it. I will also be seeking meetings with the national Church authorities to persuade them to do more to help communities blighted by this evil, archaic tax.”


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