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Grants offered for repairs to places of worship under the joint scheme operated by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund amounted to £25.6 million for 200203, £28.3 million for 200304, and £24.3 million for 200405.
As the Second Church Estates Commissioner would know, many of us have campaigned to have VAT on church repairs reduced. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to negotiate that in Europe, it was argued that churches would be allowed to apply for a grant, which, as the Minister has told the House, was cut last year. How can it possibly help churches to give them a reduced grant when they would have been eligible for a lower interest rate if that had been negotiated, as we had hoped, through the European Union?
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Mr. Lammy: I have stood in for my hon. Friend on three occasions and the hon. Lady has raised that issue on every single occasion, so I am well aware that she has continued to campaign on it. Yes, there was a reduction last year, but I hope that she will join the Bishop of London in applauding the commitment that the Government have made for additional funds to help with public memorials, which fill so many of our churches and cathedrals. I hope she will also be happy that in my capacity as a Minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I intend to convene a forum in December to discuss English Heritage funding for cathedrals and, in particular, rural churches, with the Churches.
Is it not clear that mediaeval buildings, many of which form the centrepieces of our villages and towns, require not only constant maintenance but skilled and extremely expensive maintenance? English Heritage insists on high standards of special materials and skills. Please can we have some rapid action?
Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is right: that is why we give English Heritage a grant of £130 million and have made extra funding available this year, particularly to support skills training right across the heritage sector. Stonemasons in particular need support; we need to see the apprentices coming through. That is precisely the sort of issue that I hope to discuss with the Church community over the coming weeks and months.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Minister will know that the English Heritage annual audit shows that £163 million is needed just for basic repairs to churches in England alone. If he is giving £25 million a year for that, that is clearly far less than what is needed. Will the Minister therefore give thought to how much more money his Department could extract from the Treasury for parish churches, not only as places of worship, but as an essential part of rural England and our rural heritage? This is a heritage issue, and if work is not done now, churches will fall still further into disrepair.
Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough has said in this House on a number of occasions how grateful he is for state support. The approximately £25 million that I referred to a few moments ago is in relation to cathedral spend, but the hon. Gentleman is right that rural churches are a particular issue. The Church is in discussion about how to make best use of rural churches and about provision for their maintenance. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware of the heritage protection review that the Government have announced.
23. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
(Lab/Co-op): What assessment the commissioners have made of the likely impact on Church finances of the establishment of diocesan trusts to run local secondary schools. 
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Mr. Lammy: The commissioners have made no such assessment. I know that the Church has expressed an interest in the possibility of establishing such trusts, but it would be for dioceses to decide whether to set up a trust, and for schools to decide whether they wished to be associated with the Church in that way.
David Taylor: While I am relaxed about 25 per cent. of state primaries being Church schools, I am very concerned about the planned doubling of Church secondary schools. That could be calamitous for community cohesion, as we have seen in Northern Ireland. Can my hon. Friend the Minister assure me that Church House enthusiasts for the White Paper will be reined back, and that Anglicans will not be complicit in the metropolitan meddling of Andrew Adonis, which could end up with schools being totally segregated from the mainstream society that they are designed to serve?
The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission (Mr. Alan Williams)
: Following recent consideration of the National Audit Office's corporate plan for 200607 to 200809, the Public Accounts Commission endorsed the NAO's request for £69.9 million for 200607. The NAO will use those resources in support of parliamentary scrutiny of Government programmes through the financial audit of about 500 central
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Departments, the production of 60 major reports across public expenditure programmes and the provision of advice and support for the Public Accounts Committee and for other Select Committees. The Commission will formally approve the funding for 200607 when it considers the office's estimate in February 2006.
Mr. Bone: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply and for the announcement of the increase of £4 million. As Members are aware, for every pound in costs to the NAO there is a saving of £8, and last year, more than £500 million was saved. Does he agree that a little more money would increase the savings greatly?
Mr. Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman for what I think were congratulations to the NAO, and I encourage him by saying that as a result of a recent request by the Commission, the NAO has looked at the possibility of increasing the rate of return to the taxpayer from £8 for every pound to £9 for every pound and is hopeful that it will be able to achieve that in 2007, which will mean an extra saving of £70 million a year.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The National Audit Office does an extremely good job of audit, but can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of the expenditure is set aside for precautionary work? If I may give an example: the Government have proved themselves wholly inept in their lamentable performance in IT procurement over the years, with many programmes going over budget and many simply not working. Has the NAO been brought into the IT strategy recently released by the Cabinet Office, for instance, and will it do better in future?
Mr. Williams: The NAO has made constant recommendations in relation to Government IT projects, and has experienced considerable frustrationas has the Public Accounts Committeeat the constant failure of some Departments to recognise the recommendations, but they, like me, live in hope.
I am pleased to open the debate on the Bill on behalf of the Government. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is disappointed not to be in the House, owing to unavoidable commitments connected with the UK's presidency of the European Union.
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