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Column 226records and names and addresses held by the Inland Revenue, it would be better if social services information were placed off limits unequivocally.
We may argue about local income tax, but we were told during the passing of the Bill that the Inland Revenue has in its records some 31 million names and addresses. We are talking only about names and addresses for the poll tax officer. That has nothing to do with income or privacy. Given that the Government have excluded those and given that many other legitimate sources of information are available, it would be a lot better if all social service records--names and addresses are part of the case work records-- were unequivocally placed off limits.
The Government's approach is inconsistent. If evasion were the prime concern, the Government would naturally include all local authority employment records. It follows, however, that a quarter of the salaries of those local authority employees will be paid for by the poll tax. Therefore one would not expect evasion to be practised by those people. Such records are not accessible to the poll tax registration officer. The confidentiality of the records of the clients of social workers and the good neighbours of the community should not be breached.
If the Government persist in stressing that only sensitive information should be excluded, surely professional advice must have been given to the effect that names and addresses alone can, in many circumstances, form the sensitive information held by a local authority.
There is no case for allowing access even to the names and addresses on social work case files. The Minister may say that there is no such access, but we should remember that the names and addresses, the ages of the clients and the length of residence at a particular address are held on such case files. To breach the confidentiality of such files interferes with medical practice, and uses information that may have been kept secret from hostile family members. It uses information given by the public in potential child abuse cases. Those files provide information about people who may not be eligible to pay the poll tax anyway, such as those with a mental handicap.
Social work files also contain information about adoption case work. That that information may be the names and addresses only, but in the circumstance that I have outlined, those names and addresses may be so sensitive that they should not be used.
Given all the other information to which the poll tax registration officer has access, it is proper that social work information and records should be withheld just as police records and Inland Revenue information are to be withheld.
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : My hon. Friend the member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) must be congratulated, not for the first time, on his diligent and detailed work on the poll tax. I must also congratulate my hon. Friend on succeeding in getting the words "poll tax" on the Order Paper. I thought that it appeared on it all the time and I did not know that it was called anything else. What appeared on the Order Paper is largely due to the efforts of my hon. Friend. I had expected to see the phrase "Tory poll tax" on Order Paper. That is the next word to be included so that the phrase can be hung around the Government's neck.
Column 227Although debates at this time in the morning are sometimes seen as rather esoteric, to put it mildly, there is an opportunity for the Minister to do something useful. She could accept what my hon. Friend has said. There is a strong reason for doing so, not least the commitments given in the House of Lords. Those commitments are important.
If the Minister would care to say that she is disposed to amend the draft regulations as requested, it would cause me to shorten my comments and may cause her to shorten her contribution. This is an opportunity for the Minister to obtain a quiet headline for herself as one of the few Ministers during the night to make some progressive moves to change legislation. My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a weird distinction in keeping social service records as the exception to the list that he read out. The Minister was a psychiatric social worker and she will know the importance of the confidentiality of records.
As the Minister will know, it is one of the jobs of a social worker of any type to tell a person who asks him about confidentiality what the limits of that confidentiality are. A client may come along to an office one day and say that he wants to talk to a social worker about something personal and important, but that he is worried about doing so until he knows the rules of confidentiality. The social worker will usually say that he will respect confidentiality unless it involves some threatened harm to other people. In such cases, social workers knew that they had a duty to override confidentiality if necessary.
As my hon. Friend has pointed out, this will no longer be the only exception. The extension will mean that social workers will have to tell people that they are obliged by law to give information to the poll tax registration officer in certain circumstances. They would have no other option, if ordered to hand over the information. That is an abuse of confidentiality.
My hon. Friend's quotation of Lord Caithness in the House of Lords shows that the other place was anxious about this, to put it mildly. If it is recognised that names and addresses are sensitive information, it must be admitted that the length of stay at an address is sensitive, given the special nature of some social work clients.
My hon. Friend gave a number of important examples of this, to which I would add one or two others. He made the important link between the Health Service and the social services. Such links are many and varied. The Minister, with her special knowledge, will know that local authorities place social workers in regional secure units and secure hospitals. She will also know that many patients are released into the community, especially from regional secure units. So, giving out information about an address and the length of stay at it can have important consequences for a person returning to the community--and for the community itself.
Child abuse cases are also vulnerable in this respect. If we tell others about the "good neighbour", as my hon. Friend described him or her, or about a parent who talks about an abused child, that will help neither the social work agency nor the enforcement of the law. That is precisely what might turn away a parent from a social work agency he had approached.
My hon. Friend has made out a strong case. Changes that have resulted from various Acts, such as the Data
Column 228Protection Act 1984, are important, but there is no good reason for including social service records in information that can be used, and I strongly endorse my hon. Friend's plea that they be put off limits. I hope that the Minister will now rise and say that she will seek to do something about this.
The Parliamentary Under-Sectretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), whose contributon to these debates on local government and the community charge has been considerable. He referred to the hundreds of hours spent in Committee. I was not there, but I heard much about it. The debate has shown that, although the hon. Gentleman has chosen to retire from the front line, he still intends to harry us from the Back Benches. I look forward to many more exchanges with him in future.
A number of points were made ; it is important to take this opportunity to set the record straight and to explain some of the details of community charge registration. As the hon. Gentleman said, the matter was not debated in Committee in the House, but it was given careful scrutiny in the House of Lords and was the subject of several commitments.
Under the new system, for the first time local services will be paid for by all the adults who benefit from them, with some important exceptions and exemptions. We must regard the community charge register in the context of the establishment of a community charge system generally, ensuring that as many people as possible are on the register. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments that it is a legal tax and must be collected. I accept that he is not seeking a charter for evasion. But this involves the compilation of community charges registers, so that people subject to the charge can be properly billed for it. This universal registration is at the very heart of the new system, and we must provide registration officers with a means of effectively doing this. One of the major disadvantages of the present rating system has been that, of 36 million people, a mere 18 million were paying rates. We must try to reach as many people as we properly can. The success of the new system in part lies in ensuring greater accountability.
The community charge register is, to all intents and purposes, a list of names and addresses--as is the telehone directory or the electoral roll. No system of local finance could manage without a list of those liable to contribute to it. The current system needs a list of ratepayers. By contrast, to keep the matter in proportion, under the system apparently favoured by the Labour party there would have to be a list of owners of property and a list of people subject to local income tax. The information needed for that list would need to contain much more in the way of personal details than anything that we propose for the community charge.
I shall deal in a moment with the hon. Gentleman's specific points about social services. As he rightly says, I spent 10 years working as a social worker, so I am aware of the issues.
Column 229the register will work, because it is important not to stir up paranoia about the amount of information that will be passed on. Social workers should be able to inform their clients of the true state of events, and not inflame and exacerbate needless anxiety or uncertainty.
Mr. Soley : The Minister says that she wants to put the matter in context. She has just talked about alternatives, two of which are already well dealt with. Rate collection is a well-established procedure that is well known to everyone. There is no reason why the local income tax should not be collected by the Inland Revenue.
Mrs. Bottomley : There is agreement that the present system of rates is not an adequate way to continue to finance local government, but this would be a way of making available far more information. The registration officers will be under a duty to supply every person whose name appears on the register with a copy of his entry. Any person who feels that he should not be on the register, or wishes to challenge his entry, will be able to appeal to a valuation and community charge tribunal. Those tribunals will be similar to the current local valuation courts, which have an admirable record of informality in their procedures. We are providing for appeals to be made by written representations for those who prefer that approach. As well as the register, there will be an extract for public inspection, because it is important that people should have confidence in the new system. They should be able to see for themselves that the registration has been properly carried out. But we are providing safeguards. The public extract will show only the addresses, surnames and initials. Anyone who fears that inclusion in it would lead to the threat of physical violence will be able to ask to be omitted from it.
The registration officer will have no power to sell or supply the extract to anyone. It will be available only for inspection. There is a specific prohibition against supplying a copy of the register. Anyone who feels under a threat of violence can ask for his name to be omitted from the register, and I fully recognise that some social service claimants may wish to avail themselves of that opportunity. Therefore, it is important to spell out the right that is available. Finally, before turning in detail to some of the other points raised, I should like to say that there is no reason why anyone should seek to avoid registration on the grounds of hardship. The community charge system will reflect people's ability to pay. As the hon. Member for Perry Barr knows, rebates of up to 80 per cent. will be available and people receiving income support will have included in their benefit an amount to reflect the fact that they have to pay the charge. The figures announced in October by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security mean that people on income support are fully protected for community charges well above the national average on current spending.
The information that will be available to community charges registration officers is the crucial issue. There have been a number of misleading stories in the press recently and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be content if I take the opportunity to put the record straight on that matter. I understand that a local authority association recently made available to the press a list of 50 questions
Column 230that it argued registration officers would be able to ask about people's circumstances. It said that failure to answer some of them could lead to imprisonment.
That report has no official status whatsoever. It does not form part of any official guidance from the Department to local authorities. I shall deal in a moment with the questions that registration officers need to ask, but I should like to make one point absolutely clear at the outset. There is no provision in the Local Government Finance Act 1988, or in any regulations that we shall make under it, that will allow anyone to be imprisoned for refusing to give information. That is an area where social services clients may well feel particularly vulnerable.
The Act provides for financial penalties to be imposed by registration officers if people do not reasonably provide information which is within their possession and which the officer needs for the purposes of doing his job. It also provides that, when a court has granted an authority a liability order against someone who has failed to pay his community charge, that person may be fined if he refuses to provide information to the authority or deliberately gives false information. There is no provision, however, for imprisonment in either case.
The information-gathering powers of the registration officer's job are very simply described. He has to compile the community charges register in each charging authority. To do that, he needs surprisingly little information. Recent descriptions of the registration process as a snooper's charter, or the spurious reports to which I referred earlier of the list of 50 questions are, as those who perpetrated them I hope know, simply fiction. In the vast majority of cases, all the registration officer needs to know about someone is his name and address and the date on which he became resident in the area. In special cases only, the registration officer may need to know more than that.
However, he has to register all adults. If he is compiling a register that will cover a financial year, he will need to know the date of birth of people who will be 18 in that year. If a person is a student, the registration officer will need to know that fact so that he or she is given the special 80 per cent. student relief from that charge. If the person is exempt from the charge, the registration officer will need to know the details. I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith will accept that, for someone to benefit from the exemption to which he or she is entitled, it is necessary for the registration officer to be able to ask for information.
That will on occasion mean asking people who have had the misfortune to be severely mentally handicapped about their condition, but it is wrong to frighten and alarm people by exaggerating the numbers of questions involved. It is certainly not, as I shall explain in more detail, part of the information to be available from the social services. In some cases, there may be one or two additional questions to answer, but, for the vast majority of people, the only requirement is to supply their names and addresses. Registration officers will have access to a variety of sources of information, but, irrespective of the number of sources available to them, they have no right to any information that is not required for the purposes of fulfilling their statutory duties. I make no apology for repeating again that this means only finding out people's names and addresses--not even their ages, as was suggested by the hon. Gentleman. It is essential to emphasise that fundamental point.
Column 231The basic source of information about anyone who is subject to the community charge is the person himself. Where a person is requested to supply information by a registration officer, there will be no need to seek that information from any other source. In order to prepare, however, for the initial community charge canvass next spring, registration officers may wish to draw on information from sources already available to them in order to provide a starting point for the canvass. That information will include names and addresses of people who are already known to the local authority. People's names and addresses may be held by a local authority for a variety of purposes. The housing department will have a list of council tenants. The treasurer's department will have a list of the names and addresses of ratepayers. That is the kind of basic raw material which will enable the registration officer to produce a starting point for the canvass.
Mr. Rooker : Why is the local authority personnel department exempt? Who asked for the amendment that no employment records should be used? That was not requested during the passage of the Bill. Why did the Government put it in?
Mrs. Bottomley : The Government are at pains to ensure that all information is reasonably available from local sources of information. It was decided that information should not come from the Inland Revenue. I cannot at this moment tell the hon. Gentleman where the commitment first arose.
Mr. Rooker : The hon. Lady misunderstands me. I am talking about the local authority as an employer. Local authorities are among the biggest employers in the country. In fact, in Birmingham the biggest employer is the local authority. That means that the poll tax registration officer will not have access to all the information available to the local authority because he does not have access to the names and addresses of the people employed by the authority. Why is that a no-go area for the poll tax registration officer? Who asked for that amendment? it was not asked for during the passage of the Bill.
Mrs. Bottomley : The hon. Gentleman appears to be pursuing an argument that I do not wish to follow. An employee of the local authority might believe that employment information was sensitive. I will let the hon. Gentleman know how that amendment arose, but he should appreciate it for what it is instead of challenging it. The registration officer will know the addresses of the properties that he is going to canvass, and he will know in a good many cases the names of the people he expects to find resident there. He will then be able to send to those addresses requests for the information that he needs to compile the register.
Although the registration officer will be an officer of the charging authority, he is, legally, quite separate from it, and his position as an officer of the authority does not in itself give him the right simply to examine all the documents in the council offices. His right to obtain information from his own local authority, or from any other public body, is closely circumscribed. He has no right to any information which he does not need for the purposes of carrying out his statutory functions or to any
Column 232information which an authority obtained by virtue of it being a member of a police authority ; he has no right to any information which an authority obtained by virtue of its being an employer ; and, finally, he has no right to any information except names and addresses, and dates of residence.
The hon. Member asked whether this meets the Government's commitment, referred to in the Lords, to deny registration officers access to sensitive records kept in local authority social services departments. I argue strongly that it does. If a local authority receives a request from its own, or any other, registration officer for information about names and addresses, it may collect that information from a number of sources, including the social services department. However, all the authority is required to pass on is a list of names, addresses and dates. There is no reason why the registration officer should be able to tell from such a list why the person's name and address happen to be known to the authority. He may be a council tenant. He may be a ratepayer. He may have a library ticket. It will certainly not be possible to deduce that he is the subject of a social services department case file.
Although the registration officer can require information from the social services department, he does not then reveal from where he received his information. It is not identified as coming from the social services department.
Mr. Soley : Two matters are troubling my hon. Friend and me. First, if a person attends an AIDS clinic--which will encompass a limited number of people--and sees a social worker there, it is not known whether his or her name, together with those of the other patients, will be mixed up with the names of all the others dealing with the social services. One cannot be sure that that will not happen, particularly if there is a joint health and social services department.
Secondly, what is the social worker to say to the individual, who may be suffering from AIDS or be the victim of child abuse, about confidentiality- -given that the official is obliged to tell them, "I am bound in certain circumstances to pass your name and address to the poll tax registration officer"?
The registration officer requires names and addresses, but it will not be possible to identify the source of that information. The social worker may make it clear that an individual's name and address will be passed on, but also that sensitive information will not. The commitment that such information will not be made available was specifically given to the House of Lords.
I make it clear that inferences, moral or otherwise, should not be drawn about an individual registered with a social services department. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not seek to imply that, somehow, a stigma is automatically attached to one's name being held on a social services record. The hon. Gentleman referred to examples where there may be sensitivity, but that reveals a blinkered attitude to the work of social services departments. An individual may be known because he or she is an adopting parent, because they have been to an AIDS clinic, because they are a foster parent, or because they use the meals on wheels service. There are any number
Column 233of reasons why a person's name may be known. It is ridiculous to jump to the conclusion that it leads to any stigma, and to do so merely exacerbates precisely the problem that the hon. Gentleman and I hope to challenge.
The question of information from social services records was debated at length during the passage of the Local Government Finance Act 1987, both in this House and in another place. This House decided that the safeguards the Act provided were sufficient to ensure that no community charge registration officer could demand sensitive information from social services departments. The regulations we propose making under the Act carry out the Government's commitment in that respect.
I do not accept that names and addresses are sensitive information. It is in everybody's interest to ensure that community charges registers are as complete and as accurate as possible. We have provided registration officers with the powers that they need to carry out their essential functions, while ensuring that individuals' rights are fully protected.
Mr. Rooker : We shall return to that point when we see the regulations in due course. Meanwhile, will the Minister explain why there is no mention on page 11 of the Government leaflet published last week of sensitive social services records? Why were they not highlighted, to fulfil the specific promise made to the House of Lords?
The Department keeps closely in touch with the data protection registrar, who is content with our proposals. The information provided to community charges registration officers falls within data protection principles. Therefore, they will register with the registrar as data users, and we are giving them advice on the terms of their applications. The sources of information available to community charge registration officers will be fully disclosed to the registrar.
The hon. Gentleman made reference to the excellent document, "You and the Community Charge". I am delighted that he is already busy studying it, and I hope that he will act as an example to others. It is one of many examples of information, literature or guidance notes that we are producing to ensure that people are in no uncertainty. It is extremely important for them to study it too.
The hon. Gentleman referred to page 2 as though it were an enormous triumph constantly to point the contrast between the terms "community charge" and "poll tax". He is full of glee about having secured a debate using the words "poll tax". I should have thought that after 200 hours of debate in Committee even the hon. Gentleman would realise that no one is able to vote simply because his or her name appears on the community charges registration list. I find it extraordinary that someone so talented in other respects should seem so blinkered in this one.
As the hon. Gentleman says, the sort of anxiety felt by most people is largely about such matters as information
Column 234on criminal records. As an ex-social worker, I bitterly resent the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that being known to a social services department is somehow analogous to having a police record. That is deplorable and intolerable, and I am at great pains to make it clear that there is no stigma attached to one's name and address being known to a local authority. We put considerable care into the publication, and we wanted to allay anxiety on certain fronts. Certainly the subject of the police is generally thought to cause concern, but the idea that the overwhelming majority of the public--unless the hon. Gentleman gets his way --will be deeply distressed seems to me to be scaremongering and to cause particular difficulties.
Mr. Rooker : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not interrupt the Minister when she alleged that I had said something that I did not say. I have never made the connection between police records and social service files. I only asked why there was no reference to the sensitivity of social work case records being excluded, as was given to the House of Lords.
Mrs. Bottomley : The hon. Gentleman referred to page 11 of the booklet, which refers to sensitive information that is not available, such as comprehensive records held by police authorities. He is making the analogy, and I stand by that. Anyone who is concerned about the subject need only turn back a page to see that, according to page 10,
"The register will contain only the information needed to enable local authorities to ask the right people for the right community charges at the right time."
What is required from local authority records are the names and addresses of the people concerned.
I would much prefer it if the hon. Gentleman, having raised an important subject, now accepted our assurances that sensitive information will not be made available ; even ages will not be made available. It will not be possible to identify where the information came from. Having a full and effective register is a key aspect in providing for the community charge. It is the secret to more effective and accountable local government, and a much fairer system of financing it. The Department has taken great steps to explain the principle, and as the hon. Gentleman said, the consultation on the regulations continues until a bit later this month.
It is an indication of the seriousness and commitment with which we all take on the task of compiling these registers to ensure that they are done effectively and competently that there is a proper appeals mechanism and that the public understand that, if there is any likelihood that a person may be vulnerable to threats of violence, that person can ask for his name to be removed.
I hope that the debate will have reassured people and clarified the matter properly.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) : The privilege of representing the city of Salisbury falls to me. Salisbury was re-established as a cathedral city in the year 1220. By 1275, it had sent its first representative to Westminster. I am deeply privileged to represent that fine cathedral city, in which I was brought up as a child. I attended school in the cathedral close.
Salisbury cathedral's spire has been repaired twice during my lifetime-- round about 1950, and now. I have also witnessed dramatic changes in tourism and security. I well remember that, on my 10th birthday, the librarian of Salisbury cathedral took me to the cathedral library and said that she intended to give me a birthday treat. She put into my hands the original Magna Carta. It had a profound effect thereafter on my political thinking. In today's atmosphere of security, it is inconceivable that that could happen now.
I have also watched the buildings in the cathedral close develop from genteel tattiness into a millionaires' row. I live outside Salisbury, in the parish of South Newton, with its typical solid and undistinguished Victorian Gothic church that is much loved by the community. One of my forebears was a London entrepreneur who helped to establish what I can only describe as a chain of Congregational churches across London. I am particularly pleased, therefore, that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed (Mr. Beith) is here. I look forward to hearing what he, with his non conformist faith, has to say.
The Church of England has been a good steward of its heritage. Ecclesiastical exemption, which raises so much heat in debate--from listed buildings consent to certain planning controls--has been justified. The revised Care of Cathedrals Measure that was debated recently by the General Synod of the Church of England is very welcome. It maintains the traditional independence that is so jealously guarded by deans and chapters of cathedrals, who believe that cathedrals are liturgically alive and spiritual centres, not just heritage monuments. Under the new measure, cathedral chapters will be unable to make any changes to structures or furnishings without the approval of the local fabric committees and a national fabric commission.
The Government already help the parish churches. On 29 November 1988, I asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether she agreed that cathedrals should be eligible for similar restoration grants. I regret that I have yet to convince her. The Select Committee on the Environment's report on historic buildings and ancient monuments, dated 21 January 1987, also failed to convince the Government. It recommended that the major importance of cathedral buildings, and the need to ensure their conservation, justified their eligibility for grant from public funds from now on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) will no doubt argue that cathedrals want to be independent, that they can look after themselves and that the Christian community must do more to help them. On the last point, the 16th report of the Central Stipends Authority of the Church of England tells us that, between 1978 and 1988, current giving by individuals has doubled,
Column 236that income from glebe land--well managed at last--is up by 50 per cent. and that grants from the Church Commissioners are down by a third.
What is the independence that the cathedrals crave, and can they continue to look after themselves while the world and his wife troop through our churches and cathedrals on the tourist treadmill--that is what it is rapidly becoming--as we fail to adjust to the needs and the very profitable aspirations of their visitors? The Church of England has 16,700 churches, 12,000 of which are statutorily listed and 2,675 grade 1 buildings. There are more listed churches attracting more visitors than all National Trust properties and ancient monuments put together.
Churches and cathedrals are primarily places of Christian worship at the heart of European civilisation--hence the need for independence, expressed as ecclesiastic exemption--but they are also the nation's top tourist attraction, money spinners for their local communities and major tax gatherers for the Treasury. Only last week my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), the Minister with responsibilities for tourism, when interviewed by TVS outside Winchester cathedral, generously acknowledged that there was a problem with cathedral finance that the Government must look at.
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : Sometimes I am encouraged by the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but at other times I am a little worried. I am not sure whether the Church would wish to be known as a top tourist attraction in terms of bringing in money. That is not a concept which the Church usually puts around. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem is that many other countries fund their churches extremely well, often through local authorities, while our Government are still caught in the stupid trap of private affluence for some and public squalor for all?
Mr. Key : I shall return to the hon. Gentleman's last point about funding. I must point out that the last thing that we want is for the Church of England to follow the French example, which has sterilised churches completely, whether they are financed by local authorities or by the state.
As for the hon. Gentleman's point about churches being top tourist attractions, one important point about the Mappa Mundi controversy in Hereford is that churches should be maximising their tourist profits. They have been told to market themselves better, and they have to acknowledge that they are a top tourist attraction. If they were not a top tourist attraction, life would be much easier for them, as they would not have to provide so many facilities.
Why should the Government help cathedrals? Have they not appealed successfully in the past? But cathedrals have not appealed successfully in the past. They have appealed every 20 years or so and they are successful only when they are appealing to repair or replace a particular structure such as a spire, a vault or roof timbers. Consequently, the less glamorous parts of the buildings are lucky to get even routine maintenance. Suddenly, those parts are in danger of collapsing and become the subject of yet another appeal. I estimate that our cathedrals are appealing for about £50 million at present. In Salisbury, we are appealing for £6.5 million and we have raised half that sum.
Column 237Companies, individuals and trusts have thousands of competing claims. The pork barrel is not bottomless and our cathedrals cannot plan sensible programmes of fabric restoration on the scale necessary. They have not been able to do so for years. The advantages would be enormous in terms of sensible budgeting by the cathedrals and in terms of the craftsmen required to apply skills which have existed in Britain for 1,000 years, but which often have to be revived for a particular cathedral. However after the work is completed, the craftsmen are often laid off and their skills may not be used again for a long time.
The historic background to the financing of Church buildings is important. Each cathedral is a unique case with different pressures on the deans and chapters, who are not as happy as they might be about the cathedrals' future.
Henry VIII looked for cash from the monastic foundations, and that left its mark on the cathedrals. If cathedrals were part of a monastic foundation, suddenly all their endowments were removed. Winchester suffered, but Salisbury, which was not a monastic foundation, was comparatively well off.
Later on, the Fund for the Augmentation of Livings and Impoverished Clergy, more commonly called Queen Anne's bounty, was established in 1704 from the first fruits and tenths of ecclesiastical benefits. That was augmented by parliamentary grants, and maintained a completely separate existence until 1948 when it was taken over by the Church Commissioners.
The most dramatic effect on cathedrals' finances was the nationalisation of the 19th century, when the then Ecclesiastical Commission told all cathedrals, deans and chapters that they must surrender all lands and properties lying outside the immediate bounds of the cathedral in order to found the Church Commissioners. The intention was to aid the efficiency and correct the imbalance of wealth within the Church of England. The dean and chapter of Durham refused to fall into line and, consequently, Durham is well off today and its figures look good. I wonder why other cathedrals were so eager to capitulate to state blackmail in the 19th century. The cathedrals have been disadvantaged recently in a little known deal involving the community charge and churches. I recently tabled a parliamentary question to ask what steps the Church Commissioners would be taking to assist the churches in adjusting to the introduction of the community charge. The reply was that the Commissioners were closely consulting dioceses about what changes would be desirable in the stipends arangements of the clergy when they and their spouses become liable to pay a personal community charge in 1990. Because most of the clergy have hitherto lived in their accommodation free of rates, the Commissioners hope to make substantial additional sums available for stipends in 1990 to reflect the extra costs that will fall on them.
A bargain has been struck whereby the Government will give an extra grant to churches for the maintenance of fabric, which will be comparable to the amount of community charge raised from the clergy. There will be state aid for churches in use in excess of £3 million, administered by English Heritage on behalf of the Government. The problem is that the "churches in use" programme is for churches that are architecturally distinguished. Therefore, I fear that money allocated will be distorted towards the south- east, where there are more
Column 238churches of architectural value. That will disadvantage parish churches in virtually all our industrial centres, as well as the nonconformist churches.
It is wrong to think that the only churches that have a problem with funding for fabric restoration are churches in the Church of England. Many larger 19th century churches and chapels belonging to other branches of the Christian faith are in serious deficit as a result of declining membership, as in the Church of England, and an almost total lack of endowment. They need to be considered. The Government will increase the proportion of money allocated to the redundant churches fund from 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of its total. Administrative offices, for example diocesan offices and the Church Commissioners' offices, will be exempt from non-domestic rates, and church halls will not be subject to rates, even if they make additional money from concerts and so on. Therefore, with the exception of the changes in provision for salaried officers of each cathedral, because the Church Commissioners already pay certain stipends, those moneys will not apply to cathedrals. They will again lose, and only selected parish churches will gain under the deal. During the recent Hereford Mappa Mundi controversy, I was incensed, although not surprised, to hear slick advertising and marketing men saying that money would flood in if the cathedrals "marketed themselves properly". They should talk to the tourist industry about the futility of taking people to cathedrals with inadequate facilities, poor access and little parking.
We know that to our cost in Salisbury, where the close is what I would describe as a slum of a parking lot. Our medieval gates are damaged by commercial traffic to the point of danger and possible closure. Why do we not do something about that? The dean and chapter are doing their best, but we do not do much about it because it is difficult to persuade the guardians of the heritage that cathedrals are not ruins but living organisms. Recently, well-thought-out plans to construct a visitors' centre at Salisbury were described by the Royal Fine Art Commission as "unscholarly and destructive". The pressure for vehicular access, parking and environmental protection can be met at Salisbury only by the construction of a new gateway in the southern side of the close--a section of wall rebuilt by the Victorians. No other option has been suggested, yet the plan is being strongly opposed by English Heritage.
We need a more constructive partnership between the guardians of the heritage and the deans and chapters, who are doing their best to maximise revenue but are frustrated at almost every turn. Even when cathedrals try to maximise their revenue, they are threatened by state quangos. What a contrast with our secular heritage, which can afford a gung-ho approach to life--and good luck to it.
In a glossy publication recently sent to all hon. Members called "The Arts in Britain", published by the Office of Arts and Libraries, the chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the noble Lord Charteris of Amisfield, was asked about the establishment of his quango. He said :
"It was a general feeling that too many works of art were leaving the country and house after house was falling into disrepair and going down the drain. And Parliament said this must not happen again.
So they set up this fund under independent trustees, so that it is totally divorced from politics. It will take off the
Column 239shoulders of ministers or departments the difficult political question of deciding whether or not you do save houses like Mentmore
We started off with £12.4 m and we were told it was to be used to give financial assistance for the acquisition and maintenance of land, buildings or objects of historical or other interest to the heritage. Period!
We could invest this money more or less as we wished. We didn't just have to keep it in Treasury bonds. We could put a certain proportion of it abroad, in Japan or Australia or wherever we thought right
The government have, in fact, treated us extremely well. You never know what you're going to get until you get it but last year they gave us £20 m, just like that, and a couple of years before they gave us £25 m to look after the three great houses, Kedleston, Nostell Priory and Weston Park. And the year before they gave us £10 m. They have supported us very well indeed.
I would argue that the country house, with its contents, with its park with, if you like, the world of letters and politics of the people who've lived in it, is Britain's supreme contribution to civilisation. Therefore it's absolutely part of our heritage and we're justified in spending a hell of a lot of money on it. The money goes not only on buying the country house, and buying its contents, but above all on endowing it. In other words, creating a situation where its future is secured for all time. That's a very expensive business."
He further said :
"Heritage is in the eye of the beholder like beauty, in a sense. Our great Cathedrals must be part of our heritage, but for some people a whelk stall could be, because it is part of our life." Whelk stalls are eligible for state help, but cathedrals are not. More people visit cathedrals and churches than all the National Trust properties and monuments put together. More people go to church on Sundays than go to football matches on Saturdays. Why is there discrimination against churches?
Nobody wants a French solution to our problems, whereby the state takes over cathedrals and turns them into museums. Unlike France, we are not a secular state, so how can the Government justify their policy for cathedrals?
In effect, a Conservative Government are nationalising the secular heritage, while cathedrals--which, because we have a state religion, are in effect nationalised--are starved of capital investment and certainly receive no grants under the industry Acts. Perhaps I should take up the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle. Given the vast tourist grants that are available, perhaps we should ensure that there is something worth while for the tourists to see. The time has come to consider two schemes, which may be alternatives. The first is to extend to cathedrals the existing pound-for-pound funding that is available for listed parish churches. The second, which is more radical, is to establish a new endowment fund along the lines of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Neither Henry VIII nor Queen Anne, neither the 19th-century reformers nor the reorganisation of 1948, got it right. The present reforming and radical Government are the most likely for a long time to succeed where others have failed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will carry that message to her colleagues and set about the task with her customary vigour and enthusiasm.