Churches reap riches from arms

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THE CHURCH is making huge profits from owning shares in the defence industry.

According to company records for 1994, around 90 churches and parishes, and a number of other Christian organisations, have shares in companies making arms or defence equipment. The companies include Vickers, Lucas Industries, GEC, British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce.

Yet churches of many denominations, including Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist, have condemned the arms trade. Cardinal Basil Hume, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, has compared arms sellers to drug pushers.

The records show the Church Missionary Society holds 6,000 shares in British Aerospace, which last year began delivering a consignment of Hawker military trainer jets to Malaysia. The Young Women's Christian Association is also listed as holding 57,565 shares in British Aerospace, while the Church Moral Aid Association is listed as holding at least 4,000 shares.

The Church Commissioners have about pounds 9m of shares in GEC, whose subsidiary GEC-Marconi is one of Europe's biggest defence companies. The central board of finance of the Church of England has more than 2 million shares in GEC.

Both bodies say they will reconsider their investments in GEC if it expands its defence interests. Both GEC and British Aerospace have put in bids to buy VSEL, Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, which makes Trident submarines. A spokesman for the Church Commissioners said: "GEC is a company which has a strategic direction towards defence and that's why we are monitoring it closely. We do have a strong ethical policy.

"It is not a question of saying that we will not have anything to do with people who have something to do with defence," he said. "It has to be a policy that is workable. We will not invest in companies whose main business is arms."

Others with GEC shares include the YMCA and the Friends of the Clergy Corporation.

Lichfield Diocesan Trust invests in Racal Electronics, which produces electronic defence systems, and Vickers, maker of Challenger tanks and nuclear- powered hunter-killer submarines. The shares were gifts from a parishioner, explained Robert Ellis, a spokesman; the diocese was embarrassed and keen to get rid of the investments.

Company records show that the board of the Cathedral of St Anne, Belfast, holds more than 4,000 shares in Rolls-Royce and Vickers. Carlisle diocesan board of finance is listed as holding 6,694 shares in Lucas.

The Christian Network against the Arms Trade has written to each church and group holding shares. It said they should "encourage these companies to convert to civilian manufacture". Otherwise, they should sell the shares.

The Salvation Army has recently sold its shares in Lucas Industries for "ethical reasons". The Methodist Chapel Aid Association has sold its shares in GEC and Lucas Industries.