HC Deb 09 November 1966 vol 735 cc1421-2
Dr. Dickson Mabon

I beg to move Amendment No. 25, in page 12, line 24, to leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 31 and to insert: 'In section 22(1) of the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956 (which relates to the exemption of churches, etc. from rates) for paragraphs (a) and (b) there shall be substituted the words "any premises to which this subsection applies, which belong to or are held by a religious body, so long as the use of the premises is wholly or mainly for purposes connected with that body and no profit is derived by the body from the use of the premises for any other purpose. This subsection applies to any church, chapel, meeting place, church hall, chapel hall or other similar building"'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I think that it would be convenient if we were to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 26, in page 12, line 30, leave out 'use' and insert 'letting or renting'.

Dr. Mabon

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the sixth meeting of the Committee, we discussed the question of liberalising the rating exemption of churches—that is to say, the actual place of worship. I explained in reply to the debate that the local authority associations had been most unwilling to go further than the Bill as originally introduced, but I undertook to consult them further. This has been done and the Amendment is the result.

The effect of the Amendment is to place churches in the same position as church halls were placed under the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956. Those of us who were in the House at the time will recall the arguments that were then used, but I considered that it was a wise step taken by the previous Government and it seems to me to be quite consistent that we should bring places of worship as well as church halls into this category. No rates will be payable on a church or church hall so long as the premises are used wholly or mainly for purposes connected with the religious body in question, and no profit is derived for use for any other purposes. The effect of this is that churches, like church halls at present, will be able to be used for functions other than church services without losing their exemptions from rates.

In Committee I gave the example of the Arts Council's anxiety concerning music concerts being held in Paisley Abbey. I am glad to say that if the Amendment is incorporated in the Bill, it will be possible to use churches at all times for events such as religious concerts and religious dramas even if a profit is earned from them. No profit must go to the church organisation, however, if the building is used for non-church activities.

Our Amendment follows a great deal of consideration and thought with the local authorities. It is more acceptable to the local authorities, and certainly to the Government, than the Opposition's Amendment No. 26. I hope that hon. Members opposite will support our Amendment in favour of their own.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

We very much welcome the Government's Amendment because it appears to deal fully with the points advanced in Committee by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) and Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) and South (Mr. Clark Hutchison).

I have only one small point of clarification. We all know that in some new communities the church is also a place where people can gather for meetings. If the church is used by outside organisations, will "profit" cover only the balance of income over expenditure? In some of our new communities where public halls are not available, the church premises are used for meetings or organisations such as tenants' associations. It is always considered reasonable, and, I believe, is the practice, that payment is made simply to cover the cost of heating and lighting but making no contribution which could be regarded as profit. Subject to this one point of clarification, we very much welcome the Government's Amendment.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

The words are deliberately drawn, I want to assure the hon. Gentleman. We understand the local authorities' concern that there may be abuse. We are confident that there will not. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is, Yes: provided they are legitimate overheads, the answer is yes.

Amendment agreed to.