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Volume 541: debated on Thursday 1 March 2012

7. What recent representations the Church Commissioners have received on bats in churches; and if he will make a statement. (97369)

On 29 November the Bishops of Lincoln, Norwich and Chelmsford and I met the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), to discuss how we could better deal with bats in churches. Also at the meeting were representatives of Natural England and the cathedral and church buildings division of the Church of England. I wish to thank the Minister at DEFRA who is working closely with the Church of England to support that work.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Are we not over-exuberant in our implementation of the habitats directive? Will he welcome DEFRA’s review to make sure that we are not gold-plating, so that the congregation at St Hilda’s church in Ellerburn can enjoy the facilities they usually enjoy?

I very much welcome the initiative taken by DEFRA Ministers. At the meeting I mentioned, the Minister made it very clear that he thought it was unacceptable that churches could not be used for public worship as a consequence of infestation by bats. He made it very clear to officials in his Department and officials from Natural England that he was looking to them to come forward with solutions in respect of the worst-affected churches and to report back by the autumn of this year.