§ 36. Bob Spink (Castle Point)
If he will make a statement on the programme of church maintenance and improvement. 
§ Mr. Stuart Bell
Programmes of maintenance and improvement to Church of England churches are matters for individual parochial church councils.
§ Bob Spink
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Does he agree that we owe it to future generations to maintain our historic and beautiful churches and, if possible, to improve the facilities, such as toilets, in those churches? Could not the Church Commissioners devise a scheme for the future to provide help with maintenance and improvements?
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Gentleman is of course aware of the listed places of worship grant scheme recently launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which allows listed churches to apply for a grant equivalent to a reduction in VAT to 5 per cent. That was a measure introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year. It has been acted upon and I am hopeful that it will address the kind of situation to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
§ John Cryer (Hornchurch)
Is my hon. Friend aware that many churches in my constituency have needed a great deal of work and maintenance in the past and will do so in the future, especially St. Nicholas church in Elm Park, which had the roof burned off? The rate of VAT that he mentioned has obviously had implications. Is there any chance of further action on that, or a wider scheme to institute church repairs on a national basis, which would help the churches in my area?
§ Mr. Bell
My hon. Friend should be aware that in addition to the listed places of worship grant scheme, 440 English Heritage and the heritage lottery fund have each contributed grant aid of about £10 million per annum. Clearly that and the relief of VAT on church affairs are not sufficient, but the Church of England, along with other faiths, is continuing to work on this problem. I hope that we will even make some progress within the European Union.