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Church Restoration

Volume 485: debated on Thursday 11 December 2008

Church of England staff have been meeting officials from the Treasury, the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Office of the Third Sector and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Church Commissioners encourage continued financial support for the English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund places of worship grant scheme. The Church’s discussions with the Government are focused on securing equal access to national and local government funding streams, and are ongoing.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply. Does he agree that churches are a vital part of our Christian heritage and that everything possible should be done to protect and restore English churches? Will he accept an invitation to my constituency to visit St. Alban Protomartyr in Princes road, Romford to see the exceptional work of Father Roderick Hingley, who has raised money through public donations? Will he come to see that work, which is an example to others?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind invitation. He has made me an offer I cannot resist. Nearly half the population think that central taxation, local taxation, the national lottery or English Heritage should primarily be responsible for providing money to maintain churches and chapels. It is not something that I would wish to lay entirely at the state’s door but it should not be left entirely to the Church. I should like a better funding partnership. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s invitation and I shall be happy to take it up.

Chancel repair obligations remain a medieval scandal and a nice little earner for the insurance industry, or a total disaster for the people who find that they are liable for them. There is a terrible degree of uncertainty among the churches where such obligations apply. There have been suggestions that the obligations should end, but the Church Commissioners appear to be running a policy of raising more money through chancel repair obligations, which will mean that more of our constituents become subject to a financial disaster of which they had no knowledge. Will the hon. Gentleman recommend the ending of that obligation?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He raises a matter of which I have no particular personal knowledge, but I will be glad to look into it, to give him a full report and possibly to put it in the Library.