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Church Repairs (VAT)

Volume 456: debated on Monday 29 January 2007

18. What assessment the commissioners have made of the impact of VAT on repairs to church buildings which are not listed. (111469)

Parish estimates indicate that in 2003, the latest year for which we have figures, the estimated cost of major repairs required to the 4,000 unlisted Church of England churches was £50 million. At the full rate, VAT of £8.75 million would be charged on those works, if they were carried out.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply, as he will understand the enormous burden on congregations of ordinary churches of trying to raise the large sums of money necessary to maintain their buildings and grounds. My church happens to be on a corner, so members of the public, as well as members of he church, take a short cut through the grounds, and last year our pathways needed to be relaid. When VAT was added to the bill, it came to the enormous sum of £45,000, which is very difficult to raise. As he will understand, the burden of VAT on such small numbers of people is extremely onerous.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. The listed places of worship grant scheme, introduced by the Chancellor in 2001, has paid out more than £42 million to English churches. I recognise the difficulty for unlisted churches, and in “Building faith in our future” we asked for a fresh funding partnership between the church and state. As I have said many times in the House, those who have ears, let them hear.

The hon. Gentleman will be conscious that unlisted buildings usually come after listed buildings in the pecking order, and listed buildings are very dependent on grant from English Heritage, which, over the past few years, has had an increase of just a miserly 3 per cent. in its budget. Presumably, he answers questions because he is part of the Government, so when he negotiates the settlement for English Heritage with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will he lobby the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), who is at the Dispatch Box, and say that English Heritage needs a much greater chunk of cash to help our churches—

I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Speaker.

In relation to grant money, we have a new memorials grant scheme, which has paid out more than £190,000 in England since this time last year. On the question of lobbying the heritage fund and the appropriate Department, that is done mercilessly and without ceasing, and, one hopes, at the end of the day, with some results.