The Chancel Repairs Bill 2014 (more interesting than you might imagine)

Creeting St Peter churchI am delighted that Lord Eric Avebury has moved the first reading in the House of Lords of the Chancel Repairs Bill. Eric ( the former MP, Eric Lubbock – the famous Orpington Man) must be our longest serving Parliamentarian. Having been elected as MP for Orpington in 1962, with a massive swing from the Conservatives, he succeeded to the Peerage as Baron Avebury in 1971, and has held his seat as one of the 93 elected hereditary peers.

Over the years he has continued as a keen and active supporter of the Liberal Democrats in Orpington, and one of our most hard working peers.

He has also published an Explanatory Note with the Bill.

This Bill should  end the practice of Church of England churches registering notices against people’s titles at the Land Registry, which prevent them selling or mortgaging their house without making a payment to the Church.

It should be given a second reading without delay, and I suggest we all should support it as it is one of the founding principles of our Party enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution that we oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

Many notices have been registered against people’s titles, notably in Lytham St Anne’s and Gorleston and communities affected have been in uproar.

Chancel repair liability is an odd survival of the medieval system of tithes (one tenth of the arable crops of certain ‘tithe fields’ had to be handed over to the Rector of the Parish). The Rector was responsible for repairing the Chancel, as it belonged to him, and the rest of the Church belonged to the parishioners.

This should have been fully abolished in 1936. Under the Tithe Act 1936, the vast majority of chancel repair liability was transferred either to Parochial Church Councils or to the Church Commissioners, and the Government paid huge sums in compensation stock to the church authorities for the extinguishment of tithe rentcharges, and that was more than adequate compensation for the total abolition of chancel repair liability.

The Law Commission recommended abolition in its 1985 Report , which successive governments have refused to implement, for no good reason. This was despite the fact that the reform had been initiated by the Church of England through its General Synod debate in 1982 on its Standing Committee Report.

This was fully accepted by the Church of England General Synod after a debate.

If you can’t wait to read even more about this fascinating subject, I can only refer to my submission.

If enough people write to their MPs about this I hope it will get a second reading soon.


* Michael Hall is a founder member of the Liberal Democrats, a retired solicitor, and former local party treasurer in Orpington and Bromley.

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  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Sep '14 - 11:52am

    Michael Hall

    Chancel repair liability is an odd survival of the medieval system of tithes (one tenth of the arable crops of certain ‘tithe fields’ had to be handed over to the Rector of the Parish). The Rector was responsible for repairing the Chancel, as it belonged to him, and the rest of the Church belonged to the parishioners.

    The medieval people had it right. Owning land came with responsibilities. If you owned land, you had duties as well as rights. You were expected to make productive use of the land, and were taxed on that basis. Remember that in medieval times, the Church provided the sort of social care which the state now provides. That is why the Poor Laws had to be brought in after the dissolution of the monasteries.

    OK, so I accept that the arbitrary and way this quaint survivor of that principle can hit hard means it needs to be dealt with. But the modern equivalent of the feudal lords perhaps need to be reminded that in the older way of doing things, ownership was not absolute, it came with responsibilities to the peasantry.

  • The worst thing about the Chancel Tax’s anachronistic survival is that there are very few cases where it can be enforced as a tax, but today’s greedy insurance companies and solicitors have used it as “a nice little earner” to more or less impose one payment indemnities on unsuspecting sellers of all manner of houses. If Eric Lubbock’s bill can rid us of that nonsense, so much the better. Since that has become fashionable amongst solicitors – and I know a Law Society working party has tried to encourage them not to be paid – other issues have surfaced that buyers’ solicitors are imposing indemnities on sellers “just in case there should be a problem”.

    Well done, Eric – more power to your radical elbow!

  • Be nice to have similar acts to render null and void any mineral extraction ‘licenses’ granted by the government just after WWII that haven’t been exercised; this would similarly solve the absence of records problem that also surrounds these pieces of paper.

  • Roland
    Yes, we were affected by that one selling our house in Launceston, Cornwall, where no mines have ever been extant in the last several hundreds of years anyway!

  • peter tyzack 3rd Sep '14 - 8:40am

    the ‘little earner’ that Tim refers to is everywhere.. ‘oh just pay this, it’ll cover the risk that any covenant might be enacted’. Surely if the solicitor were doing his job properly then his own insurance should cover him, you might just as well say, ‘I don’t do my job very thoroughly as I do the least I have to do, but if you pay this it will cover me if I have missed something’.

  • Wayne Crosby 3rd Sep '14 - 3:47pm

    CRL needs to be abolished. It is one of the last strongholds of medieval madness that still survives.

    Tithes were extinguished, and it is only an accidental legal oversight that allows the Church to now argue that CRL was not extinguished with it, having previously promised not to pursue CRL.

    Matthew Huntbach’s comment above contains misunderstandings so serious that they need to be corrected. In particular, the liability affects ordinary working-class people, and in many cases they had never heard of the liability and were unaware it could affect them. Registration of CRL is done based on centuries old documents, but has often been subsequently extinguished, putting the impossible onus on victims to find obscure documents to disprove the church’s claim. The church typically only checks that CRL may once have existed, without looking into the archive for documents overturning it, and there are examples where the church did not archive the document which ended the CRL! CRL has nothing whatsoever to do with responsibilities to the peasantry, and it never has done. CRL goes towards the maintenance of the grand buildings of a clerical elite. E.g. one vicar who activated CRL in Hertfordshire is millionaire banker. The church extracts much more money and time from the poor and elderly than it gives back, and always has done, and all they get in return is superstition.

  • Another echo from the past that needs to be properly addressed, is the voiding of all land-based entitlements linked to titles. Things have been rather quiet in recent years, so not sure if this was addressed or if people are keeping quiet…

    Basically, all covenants and restrictions on land should be registered with the land registry: no registration no entitlement.

  • Tithes were extinguished, and it is only an accidental legal oversight that allows the Church to now argue that CRL was not extinguished with it, having previously promised not to pursue CRL

    Firstly, ‘the Church’ (or at least that part of the Church with is called the Church of England) doesn’t pursue Chancel Repair Liability. Individual churches do.

    Second, the individual churches don’t want to pursue it. It’s a hassle, it takes time, and it has a tendency to sour relationships with the local community (understandably).

    However, they are forced to do so because, well, they have to maintain their buildings. And while there are funds that they can apply for to help them out with the costs, most of those funds will only allow an approach if the church can show that it is tried all other means available to it to raise the money.

    This includes soliciting offerings form the congregation, for course, but also, for example, holding raffles, jumble sales, promise autions, etc etc. And it includes Chancel Repair Liability.

    Now on the one hand this is obviously perfectly fair: the funds are not there to enable churches to be lazy, and simply apply for the necessary cash instead of trying to raise it for themselves. They are there to be a last resort for churches which have tried everything else and simply cannot afford to make repairs no matter what else they do, not a first port of call for any church which fancies doing a bit of work and thinKs it would be too much effort to arrange a talent evening or a ceilidh in the hall.

    But on the other hand it means that churches which have tried everything else and still find themselves short of money are barred from accessing the funds until they can show that they have at least tried to recover anything they can get from Chancel Repair Liability. And even discovering whether there might be a Chancel Repair Liability is costly, but you can’t apply for funds unless you have shown you have done it!

    It’s for this reason that churches are among those who would most like Chancel Repair Liability to be universally abolished by statute. It would then not be a possible source of funding, and would not be necessary to undertake before applying for funds to make necessary repairs.

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