The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Environmental Taxation Funding
The national Church institutions provide advice to churches and cathedrals on what funding is available. The Church Buildings Council is also able to advise parishes on a number of other funds that are available besides the landfill communities fund, which is the principal source, such as the new plastic bag tax fund.
Many of the churches and other religious buildings that I am aware of are relatively ignorant about the large amount of money from landfill tax that Entrust controls. If the Churches and religious institutions are engaged in broader community activities, they will qualify for such funds. Could that be made more widely known?
The fact that the hon. Gentleman has made us aware of that fact in the House, and that it will be recorded in Hansard, is extremely helpful. The landfill communities fund has spent £106 million on the restoration of places of worship since it was created, but the relatively new plastic bags tax fund is another source of funds for places of worship in our constituencies and goes beyond the 10-mile radius from a landfill site, which is a constraint on the landfill fund.
We have a large number of church buildings in Scotland, and the burden of maintaining them is onerous for the Churches that own them. Will those Churches be able to apply for similar funding north of the border?
I am not responsible for the Church in Scotland. The Church Estates Commissioner is responsible only for the Church of England, but I am perfectly prepared to make inquiries on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf with the Church of Scotland.
The Church of England has many local parish-based initiatives to support the homeless. The Church also partners with organisations nationally, including Crisis. I think it will be of interest to Members to know that 3,000 people took shelter in churches last winter. That was 53% up on the year before, and I strongly suspect that that number will increase, given the severity of the winter that we have just experienced.
“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me”.
We cannot wait until 2027 to see homelessness eliminated, and I would like to know how the Church of England will use its estate more to ensure that people have shelter in the coming year.
The hon. Lady reads that verse, which always challenges me. One day, when I meet my maker and he asks me, “When I was homeless, did you shelter me?” I have to be able to answer, and the best answer that I can give relates to the remarkable growing initiative within the Church for night shelters. During the recent cold snap, churches were often mentioned in the news as places where homeless people could shelter from the conditions, and I pay tribute to my former headmistress, who helped to set up a night shelter at Holy Trinity, Bishop’s Stortford. I went to see for myself how the church had been adapted, with a toilet and shower to make the accommodation suitable, and how volunteers prepared hot meals and were trained to look after the homeless people who came to take shelter.