HC Deb 30 April 1984 vol 59 cc12-3
19. Mr. Chapman

asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, what are the number of redundant Anglican churches put to use for worship by other religions, put to secular uses, and demolished, respectively, since the Pastoral Measure came into operation 15 years ago.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir William van Straubenzee)

The numbers are 1,438 and 249, respectively.

Mr. Chapman

I realise that those figures do not include Anglican buildings which have passed to other Christian churches. Could my hon. Friend provide that figure? Do not those figures show that relatively few Anglican churches have in fact been demolished, and is that not a commendable state of affairs? Do the Church Commissioners feel that they will be able to maintain that commendable record if VAT is extended to building alterations?

Sir William van Straubenzee

The number of redundant churches now used for worship by other Christian bodies is 68. Only 26 per cent. of the churches which have become redundant since 1969 have been demolished.

The third point, which is not connected with the question of demolition, is a matter of concern to the Church as a whole — indeed, all churches.

Representations are being co-ordinated by the Churches main committee, which acts for all the Christian churches in this country.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Many of us fully support the efforts of the Churches main committee. Are not many more churches likely to be demolished if the Finance Bill is not appropriately amended?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I can answer only for the Church Commissioners. It is difficult to say what the financial effect would be on them. The estimate for the Church of England as a whole is about £5 million, which is a substantial sum. That is why representations are being made to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that he bears all aspects of the matter in mind.

Mr. Beith

Is not the most damaging feature of the proposals that have been mentioned the fact that demolition becomes the more attractive alternative to bodies which might seek to continue to use a church as a place of worship and to bodies which might wish to take over a church for alternative uses? Is that not a matter on which the representations of the Church Commissioners and other churches are extremely important?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has seen the letter in the press from the First Church Estates Commissioner. In Church, as in other matters, it is often difficult to set the dividing line between those activities which are subject to VAT and those which are not. Everyone understands the advantage of removing that uncertainty. No one would deny, however, that the total cost of the proposals to the churches is substantial.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

If the churches are adversely affected by VAT, will not the closely related church schools also be placed at a disadvantage?

Sir William van Straubenzee

The churches have a responsibility in that area, but the Church Commissioners do not. I know that my hon. Friend will forgive me when I say that I have to be careful not to stray beyond the responsibilities of the Church Commissioners. If I do, I shall find myself answering far wider questions than is healthy.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the Church Commissioners on demolishing so few churches? In Leicester, for example, old churches are highly valued, even if they are converted into temples or mosques for the Moslem community. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is preferable to demolishing any more churches?

Sir William van Straubenee

I have often tried to emphasise that the Church Commissioners' first thought in all such cases is alternative use rather than demolition. I know that my hon. Friend follows these matters closely, but he should know that only one church has been allocated for worship by a non-Christian body. No other case is before the Commissioners at the moment. If any were to arise, it would be judged strictly on its merits.

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