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The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth): Last month, we were delighted to announce the 16 areas in which we hope creative partnerships pilots will be developed. The Arts Council of England, which is delivering the initiative, will be consulting schools and creative organisations in each location over the next few months to establish which bodies will be involved. Details on how schools and cultural organisations can take part in creative partnerships will be available from the Arts Council from early May. Funding for the initiative will come on stream in April 2002.
Mr. Chapman: I am delighted that one of those partnerships will be in the Wirral. Does the Minister agree with me that creative partnerships have a role in trying to restore instrumental music teaching in our schools, which was pretty well decimated when the Conservative party was in power?
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Does the Minister accept that if the creative arts are to be encouraged, it is essential that they be encouraged in schools, which his partnership initiative will do? That brings to mind--as did an earlier question relating to sports--the role of the arts in the national curriculum. Many people feel that, because the curriculum is so rigorous, the arts are not being given the prominence that they deserve: they tend to be excluded. Will the Minister look into the matter carefully, along with the schools themselves?
Mr. Howarth: I agree. Over the years, the curriculum and teaching methods may not have given enough emphasis to encouraging children's imaginative and creative abilities. Notwithstanding the proper emphasis that my right hon. Friends have insisted should be placed on the teaching of numeracy and literacy, it is important for those additional elements of a balanced curriculum to be introduced.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): It is too early to give precise figures for the Church of England's savings on VAT which will arise following the significant announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his Budget statement earlier this month.
On Budget day, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said that he would consult urgently in order to produce a grant scheme to replace the lost VAT early in the new financial year. The new financial year is nearly upon us, but the earliest the Europeans are likely to consider a reduction in VAT is 2003. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that the Government have a strong moral obligation to replace the £10.85 million that will be lost in VAT over each of the next two years, until the European Union can introduce its reduction scheme?
Mr. Bell: I am somewhat surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question, as he is well informed on these matters. He surely noted that, in his Budget statement, the Chancellor indicated that a grant amounting to the equivalent of a reduction from 17.5 per cent. to 5 per cent. would be provided. That would cover all repairs for listed churches from 1 April this year. We therefore need not wait for the European Commission: from 1 April this year, the VAT will effectively be reduced from 17.5 per cent. to 5 per cent. As for the Commission, we will continue to work towards achieving what the hon. Gentleman desires.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): When my hon. Friend proffers the estimate for which the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has asked, will he also tell us how much 18 years of Conservative government cost the churches, when the Conservatives could have enacted a policy about which they have been bleating for the past four years?
Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House that VAT was doubled in 1979 to 7.5 per cent., which imposed an onerous burden on the churches. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the only Chancellor in 20 years who, as well as taking steps to reduce VAT on church repairs, has introduced a grant scheme, which will operate from 1 April.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Church Commissioners finance the working costs of both archbishops, including staff and office requirements, as they do for other bishops. They aim to provide resources in a consistent and cost-effective way, and will offer advice as needed.
Mr. Fabricant: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that both archbishops are currently sinking under a weight of administrative work? Does he agree with many people in the Church of England who are calling for the establishment of a third archbishopric? Does he not agree that, if that were to be established, the obvious place for a third archbishop would be in the diocese that is one of the oldest in the country and which has the precedent of a third archbishop--there was an archbishop of Lichfield
Mr. Bell: The hon. Gentleman's eloquence is well known to the House. He is also, as Napoleon once said, a lucky man. Generals should be lucky and he is lucky--he won his seat at the last election with a majority of 230. With such good fortune and such eloquence, I am sure that Lord Hurd, who is conducting a review of the see of Canterbury, will listen carefully to what he says and take his remarks fully into account.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, in relation to Church land use, I would like to make a short statement on the foot and mouth crisis.
The Church Commissioners have sent individual letters via their managing agents to all their farm tenants. At the moment, the commissioners believe that they have four confirmed cases in Cumbria, where much of the commissioners' land is subject to exclusion orders and the risk of infection is very high. They think that it is inevitable that more of their farms will be infected.
The commissioners encourage their tenants to raise any instance of hardship or financial difficulty with their managing agents, who will either deal with it, or refer it on to them for a decision in line with the commissioners' longstanding policy.
Given that church halls are vested in parochial church councils and can therefore be used for a wide variety of purposes, and given that the Church of England is said to be placing increased emphasis not only on the spiritual, but on the educational and social development of young people aged between 11 and 25, will the hon. Gentleman join me in encouraging not only the Church of England but other Churches to consider making their land available for productive use not only by Christians or by other people of religious persuasion, but by all young people who can benefit from it?
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): I welcome my hon. Friend's statement. I wonder whether he could go back to the Church Commissioners to ensure that farms that may not be directly affected through infection but which are in the 3 or 16 km exclusion areas will also get a rent-free period to help them through their current strife.
Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Church Commissioners have had a longstanding policy of assisting farms in difficulty, wherever they happen to be--that predates the present crisis. We treat all cases sympathetically, whether farms are afflicted with foot and mouth, or are in the exclusion zones, or are simply nearby.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I welcome the hon. Gentleman's statement, but I urge upon him the notion that the Church Commissioners should adopt the most generous possible attitude to farmers who work the estates in their ownership. As the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) has said, they should take that attitude not just to those in directly affected areas. There is a possibility of conducting a full-scale review of agricultural rents throughout the country and making it retrospective to Lady day. Will he please consider that?
Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, the Church Commissioners are the largest landowners in the United Kingdom and have about 300 tenants. The Archbishop of Canterbury has asked that the commissioners look sympathetically at farmers facing problems. The point that the hon. Gentleman has made will be taken fully into account.