HC Deb 10 May 1999 vol 331 cc15-6
34. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

If he will make a statement on the role of the commissiners in respect of Church schools. [82613]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

Responsibility for the management of Church of England schools lies with the individual governing bodies of the schools, supported by diocesan boards of education and local education authorities. Nationally, they are represented by the Church of England Board of Education, which, working with the National Society for the Promotion of Religious Education, provides a range of support services for dioceses and schools.

Mr. Pike

My hon. Friend will know that there are some 5,000 Church schools in England, and about one in eight of our children attend Church of England schools. Lancashire has more Church schools than any other county in England. Can my hon. Friend tell me how value added tax on repairs is dealt with differently in Church schools and county schools?

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the House's attention to the number of Church schools in Lancashire. The current estimate of the Church's contribution to capital works in Church school buildings is £20 million a year. A significant proportion of the work undertaken is subject to VAT. Equivalent work in county schools is not subject to VAT, and I hope that the Government are listening to the campaign of the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) to get rid of VAT on Church repairs.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

I shall have to call the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh).

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that no VAT is charged on the building of new Church schools or new churches? Does he agree that the Government should apply for the new derogation that is about to be agreed by Finance Ministers, which would allow for VAT not to be charged on Church repairs for up to three years?

Mr. Bell

Yes. I support the hon. Lady's campaign in relation to VAT on Church repairs. I have pointed out to the House that, since 1972 at least, successive Governments have ignored any pleas on that issue. The hon. Lady raised the issue of the Council of Ministers in Europe and a new derogation. I am sure that the Church Commissioners would like to support that, and see what the Government have to say.