HC Deb 30 January 1995 vol 253 cc677-8
29. Mr. Miller

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what representation the Commission has received regarding value added tax on repairs and maintenance of historic church buildings.

Mr. Alison

The commissioners have no direct responsibility within the Church of England on the issue, but they have supported representations by the Churches Main Committee to the Government about the heavy VAT burden which churches currently have to bear.

Mr. Miller

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Right Rev. Michael Baughen, Bishop of Chester, that such a reduction in VAT would help to protect our historic church buildings? If the European Commission brings forward the proposals that have been suggested, should not the Government accept such proposals as a way of protecting those buildings?

Mr. Alison

Yes, I very much hope that any changes recommended by the European Commission in this matter will be reflected by changes in the Government's approach to VAT. I endorse what Bishop Michael Baughen has said about the heavy burden represented by VAT, but it should not be overlooked that the Government have been supportive of charities in the past, not only by the long-standing exemption from income tax from their direct income, but by introducing gift aid and relaxing the regulations on charitable deeds of covenant. They have increased the ability of English Heritage to make grants to cathedrals and other places of worship in use. We should not underestimate the extent to which the Government have sought to help charities, but I agree that there is more land to be possessed.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Secretary of State for National Heritage recently kindly met a deputation from the Historic Churches Preservation Trust to discuss that and other issues? Will my right hon. Friend talk to the Secretary of State about the matter and ensure that vigourous representations are made, as the measure places a crippling burden on many smaller, and particularly rural, parishes?

Mr. Alison

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage has a peculiarly attuned and sensitive ear and is capable of hearing anything which is bruited around the House. He will have taken careful note of what my hon. Friend has said, and he will reflect that I have had occasion to write to his Department on the matter. I hope that there will be a benign approach to any changes proposed by Brussels on VAT.