HC Deb 21 July 1986 vol 102 cc12-3
19. Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, what criteria the Commissioners use in the provision of funds for church halls.

Sir William van Straubenzee (The Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing Church Commissioners)

The Church Commissioners do not provide funds specifically for church halls. However, they do make grants to dioceses for the provision of church buildings in new housing areas, and that could include church halls.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Do the Church Commissioners share my concern at the number of unsightly annexes to churches? Do they think that the Church should remain free from planning control? Does my hon. Friend recall that in France and Italy clerical iconoclasts have been restrained by municipal authorities?

Sir William van Straubenzee

If that were the position, it would be a matter for anxiety. However, I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend completely by telling him that all church buildings are subject to normal planning control. I think that he has in mind exemption from listing building control. If a particular case offends his susceptibilities—and he may be right, I do not know—he has to blame those who gave the planning consent, not the Church authorities.

Mr. Favell

Does my hon. Friend agree that too many parish churches confine the use of their church halls to their congregations? Would it not be far better if parish churches were prepared to provide, for example, meals for the elderly and social activities for the elderly and for under-privileged children? After all, many committed Christians would be only too pleased to undertake such excellent work if their vicar were to give a lead.

Sir William van Straubenzee

I am afraid that I must avoid taking any responsibility for the work of individual parishes. I mean no discourtesy to my hon. Friend, and if he has a specific case in mind I shall willingly pass it on to the diocesan bishop concerned.