In 2009-10, the Churches Conservation Trust will receive just over £4.5 million grant in aid from its co-sponsors, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Church Commissioners.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Churches Conservation Trust, in particular for its work in Shropshire looking after nine churches and also Longford chapel in my constituency, near Newport? While I note the grant, will he also join me in recognising that there are real financial pressures on many churches? Churches help tourism and promote culture and heritage in counties throughout the country, and in Shropshire in particular, so will he speak to the Secretary of State to see whether that grant is sufficient to keep these churches running?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the Longford chapel near Newport. He might have added Stirchley St. James and Adderley St. Peter, which are in his constituency, as I understand that they, too, benefit from the trust. His point is perfectly right. The Churches Conservation Trust is 30 per cent. Church and 70 per cent. Government funded, and it is working hard to secure its financial future by widening its funding base. I take his point that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport grant was frozen in 2001 until 2008. There has recently been a small cash increase of 1.8 per cent., but it continues to be reduced in real terms. We welcome that contribution from the state, but it is not sufficient.
Given the continuing cut in DCMS support for heritage, especially for cathedrals and churches, will the hon. Gentleman take great care to ensure that the Church Commissioners maintain their financial aid? The Churches Conservation Trust is an excellent organisation. Does he share my enthusiasm for its 40th anniversary celebrations and its “Birthday bells” appeal, in which more than 70 churches across the country rang their bells to celebrate those 40 years? Does he also agree that people who do not like church bells should not buy a house near a church? “Ring out, wild bells”, Mr. Speaker.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments, and I celebrate with him the 40th anniversary to which he referred. On the Church Commissioners’ involvement, the present financial difficulties do not affect churches’ expenditure plans for the next few years, so the Churches Conservation Trust’s grant from the Church Commissioners is safe in our hands.