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Church Commissioners

Volume 594: debated on Thursday 12 March 2015

The right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Historic Churches

The Heritage Lottery Fund makes money available for church repair and restoration. The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently announced a £15 million fund to assist churches with roof repairs. There are other sources of funding, such as help from landfill tax credits, to a number of charities and foundations that regularly and generously support repair, reordering and restoration work in parish churches. Details of possible funding can be found at www.churchcare.co.uk.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that parish churches such as St Michael’s in Middlewich in my constituency are an invaluable community resource, and that the cost of repairing and maintaining such listed church buildings should not just fall on the shoulders of church congregations but be shared more widely?

I agree that parish churches are an invaluable community asset. We ought to thank the Chancellor for what he has done during the course of this Parliament. There is gift aid; there is the small gift relief legislation that we passed; there is the listed places of worship scheme, which effectively relieves churches of the cost of VAT on repairs and restoration; and there is the recent £15 million roof fund that the Chancellor made available for helping to repair church roofs. Churches are part of our national heritage, and the whole community has a responsibility to help to maintain and restore them.

In my constituency, the friends of the Presbyterian church in Portaferry have a wonderful historic church. They applied for, and were successful in getting, a grant of some £900,000 from the Big Lottery Fund. Those moneys enabled the church to be refurbished, retained and restored to its former glory. What contact have the Church Commissioners had with the Big Lottery Fund scheme to ensure that all churches can do the same?

May I write to the hon. Gentleman, because I need to pick through that question? I have responsibility only for the Church of England, and I do not think my responsibilities stretch to Northern Ireland, so I need to see what help I can offer him.

8. Five years ago, I started nagging my right hon. Friend about money required to maintain the fabric of Lichfield cathedral, and I do not intend his retirement to stop me. What hope can he give Lichfield cathedral that we will receive funding in order to maintain the wiring—and when will he come and visit Lichfield? (908044)

My hon. Friend’s question on the Order Paper was whether I would visit Lichfield cathedral, to which the answer is yes. The answer to his supplementary question is that, as the House will know, the Chancellor made £20 million available so that we could ensure that all our cathedrals were in a good state to commemorate the centenary of the first world war. Lichfield cathedral needs some serious money to help rewire it, because otherwise it will be unable to function. I am looking forward to visiting Lichfield cathedral shortly to see Lichfield’s treasures, including the Lichfield angel and my hon. Friend.

The right hon. Gentleman may be looking forward to his visit to Lichfield cathedral, but I do not suppose he is looking forward to it as much as the people of Lichfield.

Living Wage

The Church Commissioners and the Archbishops Council are committed to paying the living wage and ensuring that all staff and contractors who are employed at directly owned commercial and residential properties are paid at least the living wage. Other parts of the national institutions, including the Church of England, are committed to paying the living wage and are following the Living Wage Commission’s recommendations to put in place a transitional programme that involves all staff being paid the living wage by 2017.

Given that completely satisfactory answer, Mr Speaker, may I dispense with my supplementary question and simply, through you, thank the right hon. Gentleman for the superb job he has done as Second Church Estates Commissioner? He should be aware that millions of Anglicans and non-Anglicans across the world, but particularly our fantastic women priests, have him to thank for having saved the Church of England from itself in its original debacle over women bishops. On their behalf, thank you.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those very kind comments. On this, as I hope on much, the work has benefited from cross-party collaboration, and much of what we have achieved we have achieved only by people in this House working together.