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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The Football Association, whose project this is, has made it clear that the construction contract lasts for 39 months. Construction can start as soon as the financing deal is in place. There has been no change to the FA's estimate, which I set out in my statement to the House on 23 May, that it would take up to 10 weeks from signing heads of agreement to reach financial close.
My officials remain in close contact with the FA and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. and good progress is being made by the FA on its commercial negotiations. We will continue to give the FA all the support that it needs to deliver the national stadium at Wembley and to ensure that the public interest in the project is suitably protected.
Gregory Barker: Sadly, on this occasion, despite the heroic efforts of our team, the World cup will not be coming home. However, if the same level of risible skill and effort had been displayed by our England team that has been characteristic of the Government's handling of the national stadium, it would not have made it even to Japan. Can the Secretary of State give the House a firm
Tessa Jowell: While our team was away competing in the World cup, the heads of agreement on the Wembley deal were signed, evidence that the Wembley project is closer to reality than at any other time in its history, which has lasted about eight years. That is an achievement. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should recognise that progress has been made and that the project has made more progress in the past year than it made in the previous six years.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): In terms of recruiting, the ministry division of the Archbishops' Council supports a nationwide network of vocation advisers, who encourage people to consider their vocation to priesthood and other ministries. In terms of retention, in 1999, the Archbishops' Council set up a group to review clergy stipends. Its recommendations include increasing the clergy stipend from its national stipend benchmark of £17,042 to £20,000 from April 2002.
Tim Loughton: Perhaps I should declare an interest as the son of a semi-retired rector. I have attended about six induction services in the past couple of years in my constituency and the interregnums between clergy seem to be getting longer and longer, so clearly we need to do more to encourage more people to come into that office. Can the hon. Gentleman specifically comment on reports that with an annual £11 million shortfall, the Church of England is considering scrapping the final salary pension scheme for clergy as the latest victims of the pension crisis? Can he also comment on the Department of Trade and Industry proposals, apparently reported in the paper last week, to replace God as the employer of clergy and make them subject instead to employment tribunals on earth?
Mr. Bell: On the second question, I am not responsible for the DTI, but we are always interested in looking at the conditions of employment of clergy in relation to trade unions and the rest. It is a matter that the Church keeps constantly under review.
On pensions, the Church seeks to balance the stipends that are paid to the clergy and the pensions that accrue to them. That is always based on actuarial figures. Comments as to loss or shortfall are mostly speculation and I would not be able to comment.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): Is my hon. Friend aware of the pressure placed on existing priests, vicars and rectors when individuals leave and the work load is spread? In my own constituencyand my own parish in particularwe have one vicar covering three parishes, where previously there were two. Do not those increased pressures cause difficulties? What measures can be put in place to ensure that the vast majority of the country is covered, resourced and staffed adequately?
Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will be interested to know that the number of men and women ordained as deacons and serving in the stipendiary ministry was 295 in 2001 and 313 in 2002. In relation to his question as to how parishes cope, my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the lay ministry grows in strength and that there are now 10,000 lay readers serving the Church. That helps to ease the burden on the parishes and the parish priests.
Miss McIntosh: The hon. Gentleman will be aware of my ongoing campaign in this regard and, in my view, the totally unsatisfactory response of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in simply making available a grant in lieu of the VAT that churches would be otherwise able to reclaim. Will he confirm that he continues to put pressure on the Treasury to make sure that the administrative burden on the churches is not more than the value of the grant coming back, and that he will continue to campaign for a VAT reduction?
Mr. Bell: I am always grateful for the hon. Lady's assistance in campaigning on the issue. She will know that the Church of England VAT group has worked closely with other faith groups and is represented by the Church's main committee. We have maintained especially close links with the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We will be making strong representations to the Treasury and, through the Treasury, to the EU to ensure that VAT is reduced to 5 per cent. during 2003. We will make all our efforts co-ordinated with Members of Parliament who have an interest and with Members of the European Parliament.
Alan Howarth (Newport, East): It seems to many of us that with his temporary grant scheme to offset the cost of VAT, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has provided a splendid opportunity to enable repairs to be made to listed places of worship. What steps are being taken by
Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. In fact, most of the infrastructure of our churches goes back over 100 years, which is why many of them are in disrepair and why repairs are now urgently needed. He will be aware that the setting up of the listed places of worship grant scheme has resulted in a number of payments being made directly to parishes engaged in vital repairs to their listed church buildings. They are grateful for that and I am sure that the standard of workmanship will be higher than in the Victorian era.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) has made an important point? Far too often the liturgical fads and fancies of the moment are responsible for a re-ordering of church fabrics that does not exactly enhance them. There seem to be an awful lot of incumbents who are immunised against beauty at birth. Will he bear in mind that it is important that the fabrics that we have inherited are properly safeguarded and maintained?
Mr. Bell: We are going an awful long way from the subject of VAT on church repairs being reduced from 17.5 per cent. to 5 per cent. I am sure that DCMS Ministers sitting on the Front Bench will be most interested in the comments that have been made. It always occurs to me that when we deal with the fabric of our churches and the national heritage, there is a lack of collective spirit. There is great desire to ensure that repairs are done; there is not a great desire to provide the wherewithal. Somehow we must link the two to maintain our national heritage.