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Church Repairs

Volume 403: debated on Monday 7 April 2003

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What assessment he has made of the impact that the revision of the sixth VAT directive will have on church repairs. [107085]

As the hon. Lady knows, I led a delegation to the European Parliament on the subject of the sixth VAT directive in December. I have since discussed the matter with representatives of the European Parliament. The Church knows that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury are committed to achieving the changes required to the directive to enable a permanent reduction in the rate of VAT charged on the repair and maintenance of listed places of worship.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that such a revision of the sixth VAT directive would have a very positive impact on church repairs, but we seem to be no closer to achieving it. Will he put a deadline on when such a revision might be achieved?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her persistent efforts in this area, and for keeping the issue on the boil. As she will be aware,

"the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small".
That might be equally true of the European Parliament in relation to the sixth VAT directive.

This is an issue of particular concern to members of one of the churches in my constituency, who have been extremely effective in raising money to repair its roof but are dependent on additional moneys. This issue, which seems to be making no advancement at all, is causing them grave concern. So far as my hon. Friend is aware, will the Government help such organisations to bridge the gap, if time is of the essence in tying up the additional funding that they might receive from other organisations?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to a church in her constituency. As she is aware, the Chancellor reduced VAT on church repairs of listed buildings from 17.5 per cent. to 5 per cent. as a temporary measure. We are aware of and comforted by the fact that the Chancellor will continue that scheme until such time as the sixth VAT directive is passed. I will be grateful if my hon. Friend lets me know of any particular difficulties for her church in relation to those matters, and we will take them up personally.