16 cathedrals invest in arms firms

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The Independent Online
MONEY given by church and cathedral congregations in donations and bequests is being invested in companies making tanks, missiles and fighter aircraft.

A dossier released to The Independent reveals that 16 cathedrals are listed as holding shares worth nearly pounds 30m in British defence companies including British Aerospace, Vickers and Racal.

The Central London Mosque holds shares worth pounds 53,000 in GEC, one of the major suppliers of weapons parts to British forces aligned against Iraq in the Gulf. The Muslim world was virtually united in its opposition to the military action.

Last night, the Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Rev Rowan Williams, said: "It's very clear to me that it is not satisfactory to be investing in companies whose primary task is the production of military hardware. I don't think the defence industry is simply to do with protecting ourselves."

Paul Flynn, the Labour MP, said he would be tabling a parliamentary question to demand an end to the investments. He said: "Those who piously contribute to the church roof fund would be alarmed to find that they are contributing to some of the murderous megalomaniacs who receive arms from the British defence industry."

At Salisbury Cathedral, the Choristers' Endowment Fund holds shares worth pounds 307,000 in BAe - Britain's biggest arms company, and producer of Hawk fighter aircraft. Brigadier Kit Owen, the cathedral's chapter clerk, said the investment in BAe was now under review. "We are grateful for having our attention drawn to this and are immediately reviewing the situation."

Of the 15 Anglican cathedrals which have shares registered in their name, or in that of their diocesan board of finance, the biggest players are Oxford - which is managed by the University and has shares worth pounds 1.2m in GEC and GKN - and Lichfield, which holds shares worth pounds 359,000 in Vickers, the firm which produces Challenger tanks.

A spokesman for the diocese of Lichfield said the shares had been a bequest from a churchgoer and it had not been thought appropriate to sell them on.

The other Anglican cathedrals with registered shareholdings in defence companies are Liverpool, St Albans, Leicester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Rochester and Southwark, London, Derby, Blackburn, Carlisle, Manchester and Chester.

But their stakes are dwarfed by the only Roman Catholic cathedral to invest in the defence industry, Birmingham, which has shares in Lucas Varity and Rolls Royce worth pounds 25m.

Many of the cathedrals said last week that they were following the lead of the Church Commissioners, who manage the wealth of the Church of England and have an enormous investment portfolio, which includes 4 million shares in GEC and 800,000 in GKN. Aaron Kataria, of the Church Commissioners, said "Our concern is that the company is not wholly or mainly in [the defence] business. The companies that we invest in are broad and diverse manufacturing companies."

Steve Jenkins, spokesman for the General Synod, said arms spending could be ethically justified. "A mistake that people make is to assume that as a church you must be opposed to arms manufacture. There is a theology of a just war. There is nothing in the Bible that says you cannot defend yourself."

But Rachel Harford, joint co-ordinator of the Campaign against the Arms Trade, which compiled the dossier from the published records of British defence companies, said: "Arms-exporting companies are indiscriminate in the sale of their weapons. They are arming repressive regimes like Indonesia and Turkey and fuelling conflicts in the Far and Middle East. Should the church really be involved in this trade?"

A spokesman for the Central Mosque said its investment in GEC would be reviewed. "GEC used to make fridges in the old days," he said. "You have to be very careful about investment, especially in a non-Muslim country like Britain. You have to make sure that those companies do not get involved in forbidden products."