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Ecclesiastical Buildings

Volume 448: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

23. How many times in the last 12 months commissioners have met the Chancellor of the Exchequer or other Treasury Ministers to discuss financial issues affecting the fabric of churches and cathedrals. (81386)

You will be pleased to know, Mr. Speaker, as will the hon. Gentleman, that I regularly chat to the Chancellor on several matters pertaining to the Church. We are grateful to him for his listed places of worship grant scheme, whereby last year in England £12,498,019 was paid out in reimbursement of VAT on church repairs alone.

As my hon. Friends the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) said, the maintenance of cathedrals is important, but also very expensive. As the hon. Gentleman will know from what I and hon. Members on both sides of the House have said in the past, that often involves VAT on building works and grants that are available to cathedrals for work. He cannot operate in isolation on these matters. To what extent has he raised these matters with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and is he aware that the Chancellor is taking them up with the European Union, which is very much concerned with VAT rates?

I sympathise with the Chancellor in his discussions on VAT in Europe, where he needs unanimous consent for any change. In relation to my discussions with him, the hon. Gentleman should know that we equally have discussions with Ministers in other Departments, especially the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), who warmly welcomed “Building Faith in our Future” and promised a Government response shortly. We look forward to that.

Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the five Scottish cathedrals in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dunblane, Dornoch and Lerwick are entirely supported and maintained by the state, while English cathedrals receive not a penny?

I am not responsible for the Episcopal church in Scotland. President Pompidou was once asked whether he was responsible for the Church, and said, “No, thank God.” I can say the same of the Episcopal church.

Would it be reasonable for me to say to all the people who look after Christian centres of worship in a borough such as Southwark—the Methodist chapels and churches, the Welsh Free chapel, and the churches and cathedrals of all three denominations, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox—that if the heritage and importance of those buildings merit it, they can look for financial support, as each plays a hugely important part in the life of a borough such as ours?

I read comments of the Dean of Southwark in the newspapers with interest, and I well understand the hon. Gentleman’s position. I am, however, responsible for the Church of England, not for the other denominations to which he refers.