Pressure is growing on ministers for cash to be taken out of transactions for lead and other metals at scrap dealers.
In Parliamentary questions, MPs raised concern at what is seen as a growing problem of metals stripped from churches and quickly sold through the scrap sector.
In 2010, Ecclesiastical Insurance reported 1,763 claims for metal theft, costing £3.3m. In the past five years it said it had received more than 7,000 claims for metal theft, at an estimated total cost of almost £23m.
In the Commons, Tony Baldry was answering questions in his role as Second Church Estates Commissioner on the work of the Church Commissioners.
The Bury North MP David Nuttall wanted to know what discussions the Church Commissioners have had with the Home Office on reform of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 to try to cut the theft of metal from churches.
“The theft of metal from churches is costing them an estimated £1m a month. Has he yet had any indication whether the recommendation made in the Church Buildings Council’s working party report of March this year - that cash payments by scrap yards for metals such as lead should be prohibited - will be accepted?”
Baldry said the commissioners were working closely with the Home Office and a meeting was scheduled imminently with Lord Henley, the minister for crime prevention.
“I think that there is general agreement among everyone who has examined the matter that we need to take cash out of the transactions,” Baldry said.
“It is too easy at present for people to strip churches of lead at night, go to a scrap yard the next day, get cash and walk away. The people who are suffering from that are in the most vulnerable communities in our society.”
He said that one of the penalties for churches which had their lead stripped was that insurers then refused to cover them, so the burden fell on local communities and parishes.
“This is an epidemic that we need to grasp and solve. It simply cannot continue. Police forces up and down the country are now taking this issue seriously, not just because of the theft of lead from churches, but because of the theft of copper from railway signalling devices. The theft of metals has now gone significantly up the agenda of police forces across the country.”