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Church Buildings (Maintenance)

35. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): How much public funding has been invested in the maintenance of church buildings in each of the past five years. [2457]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Broadly, grants offered—as opposed to expended—over the past five years for all places of worship, including those of other denominations and faiths, and for works to contents as well as fabric, were in the order of £20 million a year.

Paul Flynn: That is a considerable sum of money.I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noted that many churches are now using some of their surplus space resulting from dwindling congregations for community purposes, such as nursery schools, youth clubs, meetings and facilities for pensioners. Will he ensure that, when these grants are given in future, the possibility of dual use for community purposes is taken into account as well as architectural and historic considerations?

Mr. Bell: My hon. Friend says that £20 million a year is a lot of money, but the churches require something like £120 million a year. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that churches, particularly those in rural areas, are playing a greater part in the community. We welcome and encourage that, and my hon. Friend's comments will help us to do so.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): To what extent has public funding of the maintenance of church buildings been counteracted and offset by the revenues from VAT?

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an inherent absurdity in giving with one hand and taking away with the other?

Mr. Bell: That inherent absurdity was taken into account by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he agreed to give grants to bring down the value of VAT from 17.5 per cent. to 5 per cent. The VAT costs on repairs and maintenance to listed Church of England buildings is estimated to be £10 million. We are now discussing with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how we can establish procedures whereby the grants announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer can be brought into effect. It is worthy and important that the hon. Gentleman has referred to this matter today.

Investment Portfolio

36. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): If he will make a statement on the performance of the Commissioners' investment; and how it affects their ability to support the dioceses. [2458]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): In 2000, the total return earned by the commissioners on their investments was 3.1 per cent. This compared favourably with the Wood Mackenzie all-funds universe average of minus 1.3 per cent. The commissioners were in the top 10 per cent. of funds measured by WM.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: With great respect to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, I thought that his answer was slightly complacent. He will be aware that, on investment assets of £3.1 billion, the Church's expenditure over income last year was £34 million—a loss of £34 million. That was the third year in a row in which the Church made a loss. Will the hon. Gentleman undertake carefully to look at the Church's expenditure, including the immovable costs such as pensions, to ensure that the income can better be directed to the Church's ministry as a whole, rather than being used to meet unnecessary costs?

Mr. Bell: In relation to support for the dioceses, our good investment performance means that more money is available to support the parish ministry in areas of need and opportunity. The asset base of the commissioners is £4.5 billion, not £3.1 billion. On the hon. Gentleman's question about pensions, the commissioners have agreed to make a further £10 million available for transitional relief for pension contributions in the period 2002-04.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): May I say to my hon. Friend that one would have thought that, with God on their side, the commissioners could get a rather better return on their investments? Does he accept that it would be advisable for the commissioners to consider ethical investment because it not only makes a good return but would be good for the morality of the Church and its position?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and welcome him back to Church Commissioners Question Time. He makes a perfectly valid point. We have an ethical investment unit that

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considers and makes a proper statement regarding the commissioners' investments, although we take my hon. Friend's point very much on board.

Hagg Wood, Dunnington

38. Mr. John Grogan (Selby): What progress has been made in negotiations with Forest Enterprise regarding Hagg wood, near Dunnington. [2460]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): I can only refer my hon. Friend to a previous answer.

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Mr. Grogan: Will my hon. Friend do everything possible to achieve a tripartite agreement between Forest Enterprise, the Church Commissioners and Friends of Hagg Wood so that the people of Yorkshire can enjoy the wood to the full and so that his name will be remembered down the centuries by the villagers?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful for the opportunity to have my name remembered down the centuries. My hon. Friend has previously asked me a question as to the future of the matters to which he refers. We hope that such a tripartite agreement will be achieved.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) tabled an amendment that names me. He did not seek my consent before tabling it. I understand that he has withdrawn it, but can you advise whether it is in order for a Member to table an amendment without seeking the named Member's consent and whether that conforms with the normal courtesies of the House?

Mr. Speaker: Members seeking to amend these motions should ensure that their amendments conform with the provision of Standing Order No. 121(1). That requires the proposer of the amendment to endeavour to find out previously whether each Member he is proposing to add to the Committee is willing to serve. From what the hon. Lady says, it appears that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not seek to secure her agreement. I deprecate his actions, which I regard as a discourtesy to her and to the House.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham has done this about 20 times, surely he has multiplied his discourtesies to such an extent that some form of friendly but disciplinary action ought to be taken?

Mr. Speaker: I need to inform the right hon. and learned Gentleman only once and I hope that that will be the last occasion that it ever happens.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A week ago in the Chamber, we had a Second Reading debate on the Export Control Bill. Several hon. Members protested because certain documents were not made available until the last minute. There was great concern that, although one of the most important aspects of the Quadripartite Committee recommendations was prior scrutiny, no Government response was made in the debate. The response came late on Thursday and rejected prior scrutiny.

The debate on Monday would have been very different had we known that that was to be the Government response and it is difficult for us to agree to proceed on Second Reading unless we possess all the facts. I ask you to protect the rights of Back Benchers.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that Front Benchers will have heard what the hon. Lady has had to say.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On motions, what recourse is open to Members who table an amendment that appears to be in order and that has the support of many hon. Members on both sides of the House but is not selected for debate? We have before us motions that are invidious in that they propose that individuals be taken off Committees only to

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allow others to go on to them. Is not there a case for you to reconsider your ruling, given the number of Members who supported my amendment?

Mr. Speaker: There is no case. I have the final decision in these matters, and that is the end of it.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It might be helpful if you were to tell the House whether you would consider requests for separate and individual votes on the motions on different Committees. If the House were able to do that, as I suspect that it is entitled to, and express a view on the membership of individual Committees, that would go some way towards helping the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice).

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