To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, answering for the Church Commissioners, what representations the Church Commissioners have received on the implications for the area of the commissioners' responsibility of the Education Reform Bill.
The commissioners' involvement in the educational field is restricted to providing grants towards the stipends of chaplains in universities and polytechnics. They have received no representations on this matter.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the popularity of denominational schools underlines the desire of parents for religious education based upon the scriptures? Does he also agree that religious education should be taught by those with a sense of conviction, and is he happy with the role of religious education, in the Education Reform Bill?
I am delighted that the Education Reform Bill retains the compulsory provision of the 1944 Act for religious education and introduces a new complaints procedure in relation to the supervision of that instructuon. I agree with my hon. Friend that, almost universally, parents want religious education and they want it to be predominantly Christian and scriptural. I note that there will be an opportunity to debate these matters in the course of the next two or three days.
Vat (Religious Books)
To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, answering for the Church Commissioners, what representations he has received from the clergy regarding the implications for their standard of living of taxation on religious books.
The Church Commissioners have received no such representations. Parochial church councils are encouraged to reimburse a clergyman for the cost of books considered necessary to assist him in his ministry. Failing this, the Inland Revenue allows tax relief on certain categories of books. The imposition of VAT on books would have a significant effect on clergy, who, by the nature of their work, spend quite a lot on books.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Is he aware that the European Community is still determined to impose VAT on books, and that this will not only be a tax on learning but in this instance a tax on religion as well? That will affect not only the members of the Church of England for whom the right hon. Gentleman answers, but Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and all the other religious denominations which he does not represent. Will he make representations to his hon. Friends to ensure that VAT is not imposed on religious books?
I note that a Treasury Minister in a written answer on 18 January stated that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made it clear that the United Kingdom will not accept proposals which restrict our right to apply zero rating.
Is not my right hon. Friend vigorous in his defence of the rights of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of this House to determine taxation? Is not his reluctance to allow Lord Cockfield to impose taxation upon religious books just as robust as that of the Prime Minister?
I am not quite sure that I can reach Lord Cockfield with quite as ready accessibility as I can reach my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.