Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Church Investments

31. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What progress has been made on reducing VAT on church repairs; and if he will make a statement. [101987]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The hon. Lady will recall my recent Adjournment debate on this subject in which she reminded the House of her long and active involvement in this matter. My hon. Friend the Paymaster General, responding to the debate, acknowledged the existence of a report published by the joint committee of the

20 Dec 1999 : Column 523

national amenity societies which seeks to quantify the VAT on repair costs borne by the Church and others with regard to listed buildings.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that reply. I am also grateful for his support for my campaign and for allowing me to intervene in his excellent Adjournment debate recently. Could he join forces with me to convince the Paymaster General that churches qualify as historic buildings for the purposes of the annexe to the European directive under which we seek to reduce VAT rates on church repairs? Does he not agree that perhaps the best way to mark the millennium year is by lowering the rate of VAT on church repairs?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments. The Church at all levels, from the parishes and dioceses to central bodies and specialist advisory bodies such as the Council for the Care of Churches, will continue to call for fairer VAT treatment. I very much support their continuing efforts and those of the hon. Lady.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Over the Christmas recess, will my hon. Friend look at the remarkable book by Mr. Simon Jenkins on his 1,000 favourite churches? One realises from that book how many of those churches are in areas that in mediaeval times were very prosperous, but that are now depopulated and where the congregations simply are too few to support the necessary repairs that must be made. In those circumstances, are not the alternatives either to do something about the problem through VAT or to lose the glories of mediaeval architecture across Britain?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the matter in the context of the Church's history and tradition. We, as Church Commissioners, have always said that there should be a reform of VAT that helps with church repairs. We are mindful of the fact that £12 million has been made available through English Heritage towards the repair of churches of all denominations and religions--Christian and non-Christian--and of historical places of worship. Despite the input of English Heritage and the commissioners, the heavy burden of VAT on repairs makes it very difficult for us to fulfil the tasks to which my hon. Friend referred.

GM Organisms

32. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): If the commissioners will make a statement on the proposed use of genetically modified organisms on their land. [101988]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Church Commissioners are currently awaiting advice from the Church of England ethical investment advisory group, which develops a co-ordinated ethical investment policy for the Church, and which is currently involved in a detailed study and consultation process regarding genetically modified organisms.

20 Dec 1999 : Column 524

Sir Sydney Chapman: I wish the hon. Gentleman and his fellow Church Commissioners the compliments of the season.

In view of the widespread interest in and controversy surrounding genetically modified foods, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House exactly what was agreed at the ethical investment advisory group meeting on 1 December?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. No policy decisions affecting genetically modified organisms were made at the meeting on 1 December. At that meeting the members had an opportunity to discuss collectively the evidence presented so far and to weigh up, from a Christian perspective, the potential benefits and risks attendant on the technology.

The Church Commissioners are grateful to receive the best wishes of the season, and we extend such wishes to the entire House, including all right hon. and hon. Members and their staff.


The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked--

Government Resources and Accounts Bill

33. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): What increase in spending will be necessary to accommodate extra duties placed on the National Audit Office by the Government Resources and Accounts Bill. [101989]

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission): The Public Accounts Commission has taken account of the growing work load of the National Audit Office, and we have recommended additional funding. That is partly as a result of the introduction of resource accounting as set out in the Government Resources and Accounts Bill. At the commission's meeting on 2 December to consider the NAO's new estimate, it approved an additional £1.3 million for 2000-01.

The other new duty placed on the Comptroller and Auditor General by the Bill is to audit and account to the whole of government. As that will not come into force until 2005, it is too early to say what the resource implications will be. Both the Public Accounts Commission and the Public Accounts Committee are seriously concerned about the Government Resources and Accounts Bill, which does not empower the CAG to scrutinise as full a range of public spending bodies as CAGs have done over the past 130 years. Representations have been made and are continuing.

Mr. Rendel: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that excellent reply, with which I fully concur. Has he made an estimate of what extra spending would be necessary if the National Audit Office were to audit all spending of taxpayers' money? I believe that the sum would be quite small.

20 Dec 1999 : Column 525

Mr. Sheldon: Indeed it would be. If the NAO were to audit every single aspect of government spending through all the various bodies concerned which are not audited by the CAG at present, it would cost no more than about £1 million. The important point is that the Bill could be improved in a number of ways. It could grant to

20 Dec 1999 : Column 526

Parliament's auditors the same rights of access to public spending that Departments grant themselves. The Bill should replace the present illogical arrangements and make the CAG the auditor of all non-departmental public bodies. The CAG should audit publicly owned companies and the new departmental performance measures.

20 Dec 1999 : Column 527

Point of Order

3.32 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On Friday afternoon there was a press conference at which the Foreign Secretary outlined the British-crafted United Nations resolution on Iraq--to the effect that there could be light at the end of the tunnel. Since then, Baghdad has refuted the resolution--in my opinion, for understandable reasons. [Interruption.]Yes, for understandable reasons. This is an extremely important subject because of the on-going military action against Iraq and because of the appalling difficulties for the children of that country, which have been movingly described in the Sunday press and elsewhere. Have you, Madam Speaker, had any request from a Foreign Office Minister wishing to make a statement on that subject before we go into recess?

Madam Speaker: No. I have not been informed by the Foreign Office or any other Department that Ministers seek to make a statement--at least, not today.


Political Parties, Elections and Referendums

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Secretary Byers, Mr. Secretary Reid, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mr. Secretary Mandelson and Mr. Mike O'Brien, presented a Bill to establish an Electoral Commission; to make provision about the registration and finances of political parties; to make provision about donations and expenditure for political purposes; to make provision about election and referendum campaigns; to make provision about election petitions and other legal proceedings in connection with elections; to reduce the qualifying periods set out in sections 1 and 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1985; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 34].

Public House Names

Mrs. Ann Winterton, supported by Mr. Nicholas Winterton, Mr. Joe Benton, Rev. Martin Smyth andMr. Jim Dobbin, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to the names of public houses; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 April, and to be printed [Bill 35].

20 Dec 1999 : Column 528

Freedom of Religious Worship (Armed Forces)

Rev. Martin Smyth, supported by Mrs. Ann Winterton and Mr. Jim Dobbin, presented a Bill to amend and clarify the law to permit those serving in the armed forces openly to follow the religion of their choice; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 5 May, and to be printed [Bill 36].

Next Section

IndexHome Page