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VAT (Church Repairs)

Volume 465: debated on Monday 29 October 2007

29. What recent discussions the commissioners have had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on VAT on church repairs. (160983)

I have been asked to reply—with your permission, Mr. Speaker—on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), who is recovering from a back operation. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in wishing him well.

The commissioners have not met the Chancellor, but the Church Heritage Forum, on which they are represented, continues to explore with the Government how the contribution that churches and cathedrals make to the nation should be reflected in the funds that they receive from the state.

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he convey our warmest wishes for a speedy recovery to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell)?

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the cost to the taxpayer of administering grants from English Heritage puts a burden on the state, whereas reduced VAT—the subject of an ongoing campaign by me and many Members on both sides of the House—would actually help churches, bearing in mind that they have a particular role in rural constituencies such as Vale of York?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks, which I shall pass on to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough. I congratulate her on her work in trying to resolve church repairs issues, which are substantial in terms of the £100 million target. However, she will be pleased to know that to date £63 million has come from return of VAT, and that the scheme has been extended to 2011. I hope she recognises that the state is trying to do its bit, with the Church, to try to resolve some of the issues.

Any amount is gladly received, but as my hon. Friend knows, the situation has been going on for a long time. Many of the churches are mediaeval and need an enormous amount of upkeep, so can we come to a sensible conclusion quickly?

Again, I acknowledge the work that my hon. Friend has been doing on this issue and I am sure that she, too, will welcome the extension of the scheme to 2011. I shall ensure that her comments are passed to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, and I am sure that he will take them up with the Treasury.

The hon. Gentleman may not know that lead and copper thefts from churches are increasing sizeably. In Northamptonshire alone, 10 such cases occurred in September, causing £200,000-worth of damage. In many cases, insurance does not cover the repairs, so will the hon. Gentleman consider VAT relief in that respect when he addresses the issue?

Of course those thefts are regretted; it causes much inconvenience and cost to churches when such things occur. I am a little hesitant to make any commitments for my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough at this stage, but I shall pass the hon. Gentleman’s comments to him.