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Lord Henley: My Lords, as I believe I made clear earlier, if it was an alteration, the VAT would be zero rated; it has been zero rated since 1984. As regards the first point, like the noble Lord I found it a remarkable intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. However, on this occasion, rather than attacking the European Commission, he is attacking my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, I too have a vested interest, in that I am chairman of an appeal for my local church in the country. Does not my noble friend agree that it is ludicrous that historic churches receive a grant from English Heritage, yet when that grant is used, the expenditure is subject to 17.5 per cent. VAT? Surely that must be changed.
Lord Henley: My Lords, as I made clear, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not see a case for further reduced rates of VAT other than that for domestic fuel and power. As I made clear also, we provide help through grants and other help which we can provide to charities or charitable donations. There is also the possibility of help through the National Heritage Memorial Fund. We do not see a reason for making a specific exemption in this case.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not accept that case, as I made clear in my first Answer. The information is not available. I am aware that, when we had another debate on the subject on 31st January this year, the right reverend Prelate's colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, made that suggestion. As we made clear on that occasion, there is support from English Heritage and also help from the taxpayer in many other ways.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can the noble Lord clear up some confusion? My noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington is seldom wrong on matters European. He told us that the Government have the power to vary the VAT rate on church repairs, yet the Minister said that we do not have the power unilaterally to do so and we would have to go to ECOFIN and obtain a unanimous decision to reduce or revoke VAT on church buildings. Can he tell us what the truth is? Will he also say whether, if the Government had the power to reduce VAT, they would do so?
Lord Henley: My Lords, as always, I was right and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, was wrong. I shall send the noble Lord a copy of Annex 2 to the Sixth VAT Directive, to which I referred, which is the list of the supply of goods and services which may be subject to reduced rates of VAT. That would then be a decision for national parliaments. The list includes a number of different items and, on buildings, Item 9 mentions the supply, construction, renovation and alteration of housing provided as part of social policy. I do not believe that that covers churches.
As regards the wider issue, as I made clear, my right honourable friend does not see a case for a reduced rate of VAT. Therefore, even if such a power should be granted by an amendment to the list, he would not seek at present to make use of it.
The Earl of Gowrie: My Lords, how can my noble friend deny that a church is a house? Is he not aware that most of us were brought up to believe that a church is a house with a rather distinguished Resident?
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, the right reverend prelate made the assertion that the amount paid out by the Church in respect of VAT is exceeded by the amount which it receives from English Heritage. The
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, as the Minister can see that VAT is very unpopular in this case, will the Government put their mind to thinking of new ways to help people pay for listed historic buildings and churches?
Lord Henley: My Lords, that is obviously a matter for the Department of National Heritage. As I made clear, a number of sources of funds are available for assistance in heritage matters: support from English Heritage, similar arrangements in Scotland, support offered through the tax system for charitable donations, and so on. I could go on.
Lord Peston: My Lords, when the Minister answered his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter by saying that the information was not availableand I believe that those were his exact wordsdid he mean that it was not available because it could not be made available, or was it not available because the Treasury has not done the work and made it available? The reason for asking the question follows what the right reverend Prelate asked. It would help all of us to gain a purchase on the question if we could relate the amount of money raised on VAT on repairs to the amount of grants given by English Heritage. It is difficult to make sense of the matter unless we have a numerical balance. Is there any way in which the Treasury could carry out the work and give us the answer, or is that impossible?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the figures are not available for the reasons I gave in the second part of my original Answer. The registered builders who periodically declare to the Customs the total VAT charged by them to all their customers do so without any further analysis.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I must declare a similar interest to that of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Does the Minister agree that the virtual financial bankruptcy of the Church of England means that we shall increasingly find that the funds which parishes have previously been able to devote to the repair of churches will have to be siphoned off by the diocese to keep the show on the road? What is really needed is an increase in order of magnitude, or perhaps two orders of magnitude, in the money given to English Heritage for that purpose. Is that not a much better way than introducing further aberrations into the VAT system?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's support for not bringing further aberrations into the VAT system. I would rather not comment on the state of the Church's finances, but as regards the
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the Government are currently funding research into the possible benefits of screening women for breast cancer more frequently than the present interval of three years. The results will be available in 1996.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that encouraging reply. Is it still the case that in this country the incidence of that kind of cancer is very high in comparison with other countries in Europe, particularly for the group of women above the age of 50? Increasing the amount of screening available to that age group will surely increase the detection rate which will help not only in the social benefits which we hope for and expect but also in the economic benefits.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we are looking at the matter; but the screening programme was set up in the light of the Forrest report, which was well researched, and we implemented the first screening programme in Europe for that cancer. Now we are looking at the views of other bodies which have said that things have changed and they think perhaps it is time we reviewed the Forrest committee's recommendations. However, before we invest in a huge new programme, we wish to be absolutely sure that it has the benefits we seek.
Lord Ironside: My Lords, what value does my noble friend place on screening in terms of reducing mortality rates in breast cancer? Can she say how many mammography facilities are available and operating at present in the UK? I am aware that she has already said that no central records are kept; but surely if we are considering stepping up the screening programme, we should be aware of what the capacity of the system is. Does the Minister agree that the selection should be based far more on the symptomatic way of selecting people rather than by age?
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