Listed Places of Worship Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th March 2007.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark PPS (Rt Hon John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister), Deputy Prime Minister 2:30 pm, 5th March 2007

What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the Listed Places of Worship Scheme; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

The Church welcomes the listed places of worship grant scheme which, at the end of January 2007, had paid out over £55 million to churches across the United Kingdom. Over £44 million of this was paid to listed places of worship. By way of a statement, and to put these figures in context, we believe that about £378 million worth of repairs are still needed in the Church of England alone.

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark PPS (Rt Hon John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister), Deputy Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. May I draw his attention to churches such as St. Margaret's in Rainham parish, which is part of my constituency, where the congregation is valiantly trying to raise more than £1 million to save the roof of the Norman building, their having been turned down bythe listed places of worship scheme on a number of occasions? My concern is that churches—St. Margaret's is no exception—are still an important cog in the community working on agendas such as antisocial behaviour, the respect agenda and helping communities. What steps are the charity commissioners taking to ensure that the Churches are not unduly burdened by the need to save heritage, which thereby displaces their social and community roles?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for describing the work that goes on in St. Margaret's church, Rainham. I know that my hon. Friend is heavily involved with the churches in his constituency and that he works tremendously hard to support fundraising, on which I congratulate him. I know that St. Margaret's church, Rainham, faces the great challenge of raising £1 million to save its roof from decay, and I wish the community well in its fundraising efforts. On how we can get other bodies involved, I am sure that he wants to work with us to help us persuade the Government of the need for a more symmetrical balance between the contribution that churches and cathedrals make to their communities, such as that made by St. Margaret's church Rainham, and the contribution that they receive from public funds.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of my ongoing campaign to reduce VAT on church repairs. I am particularly concerned that lottery funding for church repairs may be reduced this year because of the Olympic games. Does he share my concern that church repairs may not enjoy the same support in the coming financial year as they have done in the past three financial years?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who knows that I raised that matter at the previous Question Time, when I said that I am concerned that the Olympic games will drain money from the various schemes to assist our churches. Hon. Members should be aware of that danger, which has been repeated on the Floor of the House, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be aware of our concerns.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has just said. If the Government had invested the money squandered on the dome in preserving our churches and cathedrals, we would not be having this exchange this afternoon.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the two are not mutually exclusive—I do not want to give him a legal definition of mutual exclusivity. I warmly welcome the new memorials grant scheme, which came into effect in November 2005 and which has paid out £330,000 for the construction, renovation and maintenance of memorials in England. We continue to press the Government to assist in providing more money for the renovation of churches, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue his campaign on that point.