Members of the Archbishops Council’s church buildings division have already had initial, very useful meetings with Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government and with Treasury Ministers, and we hope that those constructive meetings will continue.
I have had many representations from local churches whose congregations are struggling to meet the cost of repairs and are dependent on this scheme continuing. In his discussions with the Government, will the hon. Gentleman emphasise that the beauty of the scheme, which was brought in by the previous Government, is that it applies to all listed places of worship, not just those that are eligible for things such as the heritage lottery grant?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. As I said in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), as a society we have to take a decision about how we maintain what is a very important part of our national built heritage. There are 16,000 parish churches throughout this country. English Heritage estimates that it would cost £800 million a year to maintain them properly; at present, we are spending only about £100 million, most of which comes from local communities and congregations.
I am beginning to get to grips with the responsibilities of this post, which was established by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1850. I would say at this stage that I will try to have the same broad approach to answering questions on behalf of the Church as did my predecessor. I hope that I can be a helpful conduit between the Church and this House, and this House and the Church.
My hon. Friend is admirably suited to following the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) in this post. Will he pass back to the Synod the fact that we look forward in this House to having bishops chosen on merit, recognising that sex is not merit and that the Synod can throw out proposals that it does not like?