Draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2003

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Mr. Caborn: I shall try to answer in writing the questions that I do not answer now, because I cannot give all the details now, although I have been going through the annual report to try to find answers. I advise hon. Members that if they read the 2000–01 annual report—an extremely good read—it will probably answer all the questions that they have asked. None the less, I shall do my very best.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead mentioned the change in the funding arrangements. Part of our funding comes from the Church of England or, to be more precise, the Church Commissioners. Originally, the Church provided 60 per cent. of our budget and the taxpayers 40 per cent. That ratio is now 30 per cent. and 70 per cent. respectively, but it would be wrong to take a simple reading of those figures. Both Church and taxpayers are committing more in money terms to our work than they did originally. However, the Church lost certain fiscal privileges—some have been mentioned today—such as exemptions from rates on vicarages, so part compensation was made by adjustments to the proportion of the grant that taxpayers made to the trust, which explains today's figures of 70 per cent. and 30 per cent. The formula has changed.

The amount of money that the trust asked for is outlined on page 31 of the report, which says:

    ''We have applied to our sponsors for £14,798,000 to enable us to take forward our core work . . . This is a comparatively modest increase, at 17 per cent., on our statutory funding of £12,612,000''.

So, the answer to the question asked about that is 17 per cent., of which we granted 2 per cent. Nevertheless, we are looking at all the budgets and I am sure that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, whose party stands for cuts in taxation and public funding, will wholeheartedly agree that one has to be very prudent when considering public expenditure to make sure that the money is spent in the right way.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead mentioned that my Department is going through a modernisation process. We have held back some funds to drive that modernisation forward. I am sure that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire would totally agree with that, too.

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I was asked whether the trust has hit its targets. If hon. Members look at the report, as I recommend they do, they will see that there has been a 10 per cent. increase in the number of visitors. The education targets are also set out in the annual report. I cannot give the details about the finances of the new offices, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Torbay asked whether the draft order can be changed during the three-year period. It can be, but if it were, the money would have to come out of other expenditure by my Department. We are setting out a comprehensive spending review for three years. If we want to make a course correction, we can do so—any Department can—but we cannot go back to the Treasury and ask for more money. Therefore, if there were a crisis in the organisation, it would have to come to us and make a good case, because we would have to rob Peter to pay Paul, which would not be easy.

I cannot answer the questions about Roman Catholics and VAT now, but will come back to them. The Licensing Bill has been part of a long debate, but I shall draw the comments of the hon. Member for Colchester to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, who is dealing with that Bill.

Until the timely speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, I had not realised the parlous state of the Church of England's finances. He gives a warning that we should all heed. Managing that type of change will not be easy. As he said, we are all custodians of a collection of churches that is probably unrivalled anywhere in the world. If serious financial problems are likely to arise in the next two or three years, we must recognise that now and consider how we can ensure that our heritage is maintained for future generations.

I smiled when I was asked whether churches can be taken back into use as a church or be used for other purposes. I got married in a church inside Sheffield university 37 years ago, and when I went back about three years ago I found that it had been changed into a lecture room for the university. When I gave a lecture there, I said that 35 years ago I had been standing at the altar there, and it had not changed at all. It makes an incredibly good lecture theatre, and the pews are still in place. I said to some of the students ''I was here 35 years ago, but getting married, not lecturing''. Sheffield university has kept that church in tremendous order, and it is now used daily by students. If churches can keep their historical context and be used in a modern setting, we should encourage that, and we should also encourage the population to visit them.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2003.

Committee rose at eight minutes past Three o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Beard, Mr. Nigel (Chairman)
Bell, Mr.
Caborn, Mr.
Chapman, Mr. Ben
Cranston, Ross
Field, Mr. Frank
Gibb, Mr.
Hoban, Mr.

Column Number: 14

Kemp, Mr.
Moss, Mr.
Owen, Albert
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr.
Stewart, Mr. David
Wright, David

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Prepared 26 February 2003