The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Churches Conservation Trust
The Churches Conservation Trust was set up by statute to preserve
“in the interests of the nation”
churches that have closed for regular public worship but are of historic or architectural value. For the funding period to March 2012, the Church Commissioners will provide a further £4 million.
The CCT is supporting some 340 church buildings, all of which are of considerable historic or architectural interest. We are grateful for the co-sponsoring by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on a 30:70 basis. This is an issue that is bigger than just the Church. Some 45% of all grade 1 listed buildings are churches, and those buildings represent an important part of the social history of our nation.
My hon. Friend raises an important point about the use of church buildings. The cathedral and church buildings division of the archbishops’ council has been working for the last five years to help congregations do everything that they can to work with communities to identify how church buildings can be used creatively to serve the widest community use. We now see extended use of church buildings, including as post offices, shops, libraries, internet cafes, benefit advice centres and citizens advice centres. Wherever possible, we want to see churches as living buildings where as much community activity as possible takes place, and the Church Commissioners will always support such activity.
All Church of England clergy seek to give support and personal attention to those getting married, at the time of their wedding. My hon. Friend is to be commended for his work with the South Bedfordshire Community Family Trust, which seeks to provide relationship education and support in partnership with churches—a good example of initiatives taken locally to strengthen and support marriage.
This is an issue that we take extremely seriously. The House of Bishops will consider next month what further advice needs to be issued to clergy and to diocesan chancellors to reduce the risk of sham marriages being conducted in our churches. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and I will meet shortly with the Minister for Immigration to ensure that we work closely with the Border and Immigration Agency to see that the Church’s systems for preventing sham marriages are robust.