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Column 2407.49 am
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) raised this subject and introduced it so well. I share much of his concern about cathedral heritage and believe that the time has passed when it is reasonable to exclude cathedrals from the pattern of state aid that has been built up for historic buildings. As the hon. Gentleman explained, cathedrals vary in the degree of endowment that they enjoy and the problems that they face.
A move towards state help for some cathedrals must be managed with some care--first, so that it is clearly related to need and, secondly, so that it does not entirely pre-empt resources on which there are other important claims, not least parish churches, and, as I shall argue, buildings of denominations other than the Church of England. If I focus on those, it is because I think that no other hon. Member will do so.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) is present. I am sure that, in the course of this short debate, we shall have other opportunities to examine the position of cathedrals which, as in the case of Hereford cathedral, has been further complicated by the presence in that cathedral, as in so many, of an item of major national interest, the Mappa Mundi. There is distinct concern that such a thing should be able to remain in a place where it has been for so long and where it is part of the local and national heritage. That is a separate claim on the public purse and public support. An object of such importance should not leave this country. In the case of Hereford, it can and should be kept in the place in which it has been for so long.
I direct the Minister's attention to a different part of the heritage of buildings, and that is Nonconformist chapels and meeting houses which have languished under a cloud for many years. I sometimes think that Nonconformists have an inferiority complex about their own buildings. That is beginning to be dispelled as more and more writers, architectural historians and campaigners begin to focus attention on this heritage of buildings. It is getting wider and wider publicity. Marcus Binney, writing in The Independent colour supplement a couple of weeks ago, said :
"No aspect of English architecture has been so consistently undervalued as the Nonconformist chapel In most books, ecclesiastical architecture since the Reformation is discussed solely in terms of the Church of England Yet chapels and meeting-houses form an alternative history of church architecture over the past 300 years, unparalleled in the rest of Europe."
There is significance in that 300 years. Next year is the 300th anniversary of the Toleration Act, from which dates the building of most legally built chapels. There are obviously a few from the occasional periods before that, when our turbulent history gave a brief opportunity for Nonconformists to build. It is from 1689 onwards, however, that building really began. For example, the late 17th century Unitarian chapel at Macclesfield records itself as the chapel of William and Mary's loyal dissenting subjects. In the immediate aftermath of celebrating the Glorious Revolution, we should spare a little time next year to celebrate the 300 years since the Toleration Act. What better way to do that than to give some greater recognition to the quality and importance of some of those buildings.
Column 241Importance resides in exteriors and interiors. Many chapels are important features of the townscape and landscape, but many also have largely undisturbed interiors that show a different tradition and history of worship, and do so in a way that, in some cases, is much less dramatically affected by the Victorian restoration than was the case with much of the heritage of the Church of England.
Nonconformity is affected by financial problems that have already been described in relation to the Church of England, but writ large. Quite a number of the most historically important chapels are those of the smallest denominations--the Unitarians, the Society of Friends, even smaller denominations such as the Countess of Huntingdon Connexion and even, in one case, a virtually defunct
denomination--defunct for religious reasons--the Catholic Apostolic Church, a millennial sect which has run out of ordained apostles, but which had a remarkable collection of buildings. Larger denominations had an enormous proliferation of buildings arising from what one might call the free market in Nonconformity, which ran through the 19th century, when competition was the order of the day. Different groups of Presbyterians and Methodists built on a massive scale. Their latter-day successors simply cannot use that number of buildings.
Some Nonconformist buildings are in the wrong place for the congregations they serve. Others are thought nowadays not to meet the needs of a modern worshipping congregation. Not all problems are problems of decline. Some of the buildings that are most threatened are those to which a lively and active congregation wants for its own reasons to make changes. They may not always appreciate the value of their own building, or the possibility that they could be helped to retain it instead of seeking the developers' cheque book as a means of meeting their growing needs or difficulties. That is a temptation to which many Nonconformist congregations have been subjected over the years. Developers have said, "I will build you a new chapel if we can have a shopping centre on this site." As a result, we have lost important 18th and 19th century buildings.
The problems are writ large because Nonconformists are not cushioned by the Church Commissioners ; they do not have the same degree of help with the stipends of their clergy as the Church of England and congregations have to find their share of the costs of paying the clergy without the degree of help from endowment. That creates more serious problems in maintaining buildings. Add to that the lack of recognition--which extends to local authorities and sometimes even to the Department's inspectorates and to Ministers themselves--and one begins to realise how serious the problems are. A few months ago we had a Minister's decision on a demolition proposal for a chapel in Blyth, Northumberland in which one of the arguments adduced in favour of giving consent to demolition was that there was no local opposition. The whole purpose of ministerial consent being required for the demolition of historic buildings is that the local community does not always realise the importance of a particular building. That degree of lack of recognition is very worrying.
Let us consider the financial implications of Government help for the Churches. Matters have improved a little, thanks to English Heritage, which has certainly recognised some of the issues to which I have referred. It has directed attention towards the architectural
Column 242and historical importance of Nonconformist buildings and has been giving grants to them. The vast majority of Nonconformist buildings are listed grade 2 rather than grade 1 or grade 2 starred and many worthwhile buildings are not listed at all. Some buildings have been promoted in their listing and then grant-aided or the two operations may have taken place at once. It is a matter of concern that many valuable Nonconformist buildings do not appear at the moment to be eligible for help, and I hope that the Minister and English Heritage will consider that.
We must then consider the question of the community charge money, to which that question is related. The Nonconformists are affected as dramatically as anybody by the imposition of the poll tax. They have to raise the stipends of their clergy to meet the fact that the clergy and their wives will be liable to pay the poll tax. If the resources that the Government are putting into the churches as compensation are not directed with equal force towards Nonconformists, they will experience much greater difficulties, as they lack the Church Commissioners' help. The Minister must examine how the money is to be channelled to help the Nonconformist churches with their special problems.
One of the ways that has been suggested to English Heritage for using some of the poll tax money by Marcus Binney, in the article that I cited and in others, brings up another aspect of the problem. He has suggested that the money should be used to establish a redundant chapels fund to parallel the redundant churches fund. Whether it comes from those resources or not--and there are questions to be raised on that--I hope that the Minister and English Heritage will consider that suggestion.
Over the years, it has been argued that the Church of England contributes to a redundant churches fund and therefore the Government can make their contribution ; it is a partnership. It is argued that the Nonconformists could have the same if only they put in the sort of money that the Church of England is putting in. It is just not feasible to expect the Nonconformist Churches--under the present pressures--to set up a redundant chapels fund on that sort of basis. They will need significantly more help. Yet such a fund is clearly needed. There are a number of extremely valuable chapels for which no other resources have been found.
It is my wish that the vast majority of historically valuable Nonconfirmist chapels will continue in religious use--in some cases perhaps used by other religious groups or denominations and in some cases put to other uses--and that only a very small minority will be treated as redundant chapels, preserved as they are because of their distinctive character. Clearly, however, there still are some chapels to which that will apply.
We are starting to lose whole categories of buildings. The way things are going now it will not be long before we have few remaining examples of the enormous city centre galleried chapel. It is perhaps the most difficult to maintain. There are also several isolated rural chapels of the 17th and early 18th centuries which are candidates for a redundant chapels fund. An initiative must be taken to get such a fund under way.
The Minister is entitled to ask ; what about ecclesiastical exemption? Those of us who are concerned about chapels as buildings of architectural value are entitled to ask the same. Lord Skelmersdale made his statement in 1986 and since then there has been no progress on Nonconformist chapels. The position of the Church of England is
Column 243different. There is a faculty system. Criticisms can be made of it and there are many arguments about bringing it up to date and embracing the cathedrals within it or something like it, but there is simply nothing parallel in Nonconformity.
It is not reasonable to say that we need not have any involvement with planning permission because there is an alternative system. There is none. That is understandable because many Nonconformist denominations are not centrally controlled or directed, and they take a pride in that. For example, the Congregational Federation, which exists to continue the Congregational tradition, did not even want to join the United Reformed Church because it did not want a centrally directed organisation. It is difficult for such a body to establish a faculty system like that of the Church of England. Some system must be developed or we need to have planning permission for interior changes to historic Nonconformist buildings. Moreover, three years after Lord Skelmersdale's statement, we do not know what is meant by "significant" external change, let alone internal alteration. If there is no control over internal alteration, interiors of particular value will disappear. There are only few examples left of important kinds of chapel interior.
As a result of the growing interest in these buildings several people got together--I was involved in this--and started a chapels society to challenge people about the importance of these buildings and help them take care of them. We would be willing to help in the establishment of some mechanism under which advice is channelled to congregations about the value of their buildings. We cannot let things stand still on ecclesiastical exemption. If particular denominations can come up with a practical alternative, that would be acceptable. Where they cannot or do not want to come up with a system of their own, we must look at some other way of ensuring that state aid for the maintenance of historic buildings is matched by some concern for the protection of their integrity.
Non-conformity has a wonderful heritage of buildings, which are architecturally distinct, telling their own history. In many cases they are the people's buildings, raised with substantial individual and community effort. We risk losing some of the best examples and in some cases all examples of a type. As we come to celebrate 300 years since we were legally allowed to erect such buildings, we should give them more attention. It is right that there should be more state aid for them.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), and congratulate him on choosing this subject and on sitting through the silent watches of the night so that this opportunity would not be missed. What more appropriate time than the eve of Christmas to talk about the future of our great religious buildings? My hon. Friend has also done me a signal service, Sir, and perhaps you, because I had expressed the hope that we might have an Adjournment debate on this on Thursday, and because of your kindness in calling me now, another hon. Member will have a chance to raise a subject instead.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) because he has highlighted a problem facing Non-conformist Churches,
Column 244with a wealth and breadth of knowledge from a long interest which has obviously given enormous benefit to the House. I hope that the Minister listened extremely carefully to what he had to say. My involvement in this subject goes back as long as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury, I remember as a small boy being taken for the first time to Lincoln cathedral and there falling in love with a great building. I still regard that as the greatest building in Europe, but that is a degree of partisanship for which I hope the House will forgive me.
One of the first things I did when I came to the House was to introduce a Historic Churches Preservation Bill with all-party support. It is good to remind ourselves that, as recently as the early 1970s, there was fierce resistance from Government to the idea of state aid for churches. It was only because of that campaign--in which I believe my Bill played a part-- that a committee was set up by Lord Rippon, who was then Secretary of State for the Environment, and the then Bishop of Rochester, Dr. David Say, and a scheme for state aid was worked out, always with all-party accord. Speaking as the chairman of the all-party arts and heritage group, I believe that it is important that we keep these issues outside the realms of party politics.
I am glad to be able to put on record the fact that we have had significant and signal contributions from Secretaries of State of both parties during the time that I have been involved in this campaign. Without casting any aspersions on the others, I shall single out one or two. First of all, there was the late Anthony Crosland, who brought a deep and passionate concern to his role as Secretary of State for the Environment when it came to the preservation of our heritage. Then there was my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), under whose auspices the Historic Buildings Council--on which I was privileged to sit--was transformed into the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, now generally referred to as English Heritage.
It is therefore a great pleasure to see someone with as sensitive an appreciation of beautiful things as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), who now carries ministerial responsibility for these matters within the Department of the Environment. I hope that she will persuade our right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State that his love for and proficiency in the art of water-colour painting, which depends so much on capturing the beauty of historic buildings, can and should be complemented by a determination to continue to provide the necessary funds for their upkeep.
I could talk at length about the Faculty Jurisdiction Commission on which I sat, about the long arguments that we had about precisely how ecclesiastical exemption should be handled and about the general problem as compared with that in France. However, I shall just make two or three brief points before concentrating on cathedrals. First of all, it is important to place on record the fact that we now have a system that works with regard to state aid for churches, both those of the established Church and those of other denominations. They are all eligible for state aid, and over the years they have received state aid, just as they have received aid from the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, of which I happen to be a trustee. We
Column 245give about £250,000 or more each year to churches of all denominations. That money is given and bequeathed by ordinary people up and down the country.
I am not suggesting that we should be complacent, and I am certainly not seeking to undermine or weaken the powerful argument, which I wholly support, of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. I merely say that the principle in relation to churches was conceded some time ago. The money is there and, although we can always do with more, many of our churches have been significantly helped. We can also make the point that this country is much better in this respect than France, which is a country that I dearly love and which has a wealth of historic churches. However, because of historic accidents or incidents in France, all fabric of the churches is vested in the state, and that has had a damaging effect. It has taken away the feelings of local pride and patriotism, if I may put it in that way, and people do not feel that local sense of identity and responsibility.
I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, if I say that you have magnificently capitalised on that sense of responsibility with our appeal for St. Margaret's church, Westminster. Under your dynamic leadership, we raised £1 million in just over a year. Without wishing to drag you into any political controversy--this is not a controversial subject--I am sure that you will agree that it is a good thing that it is possible to appeal to people's sense of identity and generosity. We are better placed than the French to capitalise on that sense, and we should never take away the need for the local appeal.
I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to my argument against the VAT burden on churches, and I trust that she will rattle the knocker on the door of No. 11 Downing street in the next few weeks. One burden that churches bear and which, to a degree, takes away much of the good effect of state aid, is VAT. The VAT on repairs to listed buildings especially on churches, should be dealt with. I have urged that churches should be zero- rated or exempted. If that matter could be dealt with, it would be the biggest Christmas present or Easter gift that any Government could give the churches.
I want to dwell upon cathedrals, which are, in the truest sense of the word, a unique group of buildings. They are the greatest collection of buildings in this country. They are the only collection of historic buildings that are not eligible for significant grant from public funds. That is a curious and unfortunate paradox. We should also remind ourselves that, although there are 42 dioceses in the Church of England and therefore 42 cathedrals, a number of those cathedrals are elevated parish churches. Although they are important and some of them are beautiful buildings. We are talking about the purpose-built cathedrals of what is called the "old foundation", the original cathedrals of the dioceses of England and Wales and of those cathedrals of the "new foundation" that Henry VIII created as cathedrals, such as Gloucester. Therefore, we are dealing with a small group of famous and beautiful buildings.
From Exeter to Durham, appeals are just completed, under way or pending. While my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury was speaking, I jotted down the places where such appeals are going ahead. I apologise in advance to the deans and chapters concerned if I miss any out. Appeals have either been completed, are under way or pending in
Column 246Salisbury, Winchester, Wells, Lincoln, Lichfield, Ely, Worcester, Gloucester, York and Hereford, to name just a few.
Consider the gems that are being safeguarded--for example, the marvellous work that has just been carried out to safeguard the west front of Wells cathedral, the greatest mediaeval sculpture gallery in the country. Consider the work that has been done to safeguard the lantern tower of Ely cathedral, the most wonderful piece of precision engineering of the middle ages. Even now, people do not quite understand how it was done. Consider what is being done to safeguard the tower at Salisbury, arguably the single most beautiful part of any cathedral in this country.
Consider what is being done at Lincoln and what has recently been done in York to repair the ravages of fire. The skills of separate craftsmen were harnessed to ensure that the great northern cathedral will be in an even better condition in the next century than in this. I am tempted to go on, but I shall not. We must recognise these gems for what they are.
I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister will readily concede that any Government who sat back and allowed the spire of Salisbury to collapse, the lantern at Ely to cave in, or the statues on Wells to be eroded out of all recognition, would not deserve to be called a civilised Government, whatever their party or achievements. We all acknowledge the public obligation that any Government have on behalf of us all.
Cathedrals are more than mere buildings. I was slightly surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury did not mention their musical tradition. Within our cathedrals, more than anywhere else, the great tradition of English Church music--arguably our greatest contribution to music--is upheld ; but not without enormous cost. You and I, Mr. Speaker, know what it costs to keep a choir in St. Margaret's Westminster. Imagine the cost of a cathedral school. I recently visited the Dean of Winchester, Trevor Beeston, who was formerly the rector of St. Margaret's and your Chaplain, Mr. Speaker. We discussed the great problems he has in maintaining the fabric of the cathedral. There are also problems, because of the costs, of sustaining the muscial tradition of the place. The cathedrals readily and gladly bear those costs. We must recognise that they do so on behalf of us all, if we believe, as I do, that their musical tradition is as much a part of our heritage as are their arts, architecture and contents.
How can these problems be dealt with? How can cathedrals sustain what they have and the responsibilities that they must continue to bear into the next century? Higherto, it has always been done by appeal, but there are limits to that. Lincoln is now on its fourth or fifth appeal in the past 20 years. Ely made a magnificent effort in raising £4 million from a fairly sparsely populated diocese. But it cannot be done time and time again. You and I, Mr. Speaker, would not be terribly happy if we had to raise another £1 million for St. Margaret's next week. We should find that difficult.
Cathedrals can do other things--charge for admission, for instance, as the Select Committee recommended they should. I have nothing against admission charges. Ely has decided to provide for regular day-to-day expenditure by levying such a charge with the proper exemptions : never on Sundays ; a private chapel for prayer set aside so that those who go to pray pay nothing ; and so on. But the vast
Column 247majority of people who go to cathedrals go to appreciate the art and architecture, not to pray. One wishes it were otherwise, but we must recognise the facts. It is no more intrusive upon a person's purpose or privacy to make him pay to go to a cathedral than to make him pay to go to a great country house.
Admission charges and appeals cannot and will not of themselves solve the problem. In one form or another, there must be state aid for the cathedrals. I want to commend a scheme to my hon. Friend the Minister. It has been buzzing around in my head for the past few weeks, especially since the controversy surrounding the Mappa Mundi erupted.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) here ; he is doing so much in such a constructive way to solve that crisis in his constituency and native city. Hereford cathedral is off the beaten track and one must acknowledge that it is not among the top 10 architecturally, beautiful and important though it is. But it has enormous liabilities and responsibilities and must raise several million pounds. There is a dispute about the precise amount, but now is not the time or place to go into that. That it needs several million pounds is not in dispute.
The cathedral has among its contents a wonderful chained library and one of the rarest and most important medieval manuscripts in the world--the Mappa Mundi. It is a unique object. In deciding how best to solve their problems, the dean and chapter of Hereford thought of selling the map. I regret that, and I regret the way that they have gone about it--much as I understand and sympathise with their problems--because I believe that the dean and chapter of any cathedral are its trustees for posterity and should not sell treasures that they have inherited. Communion plate and objects such as the map are as much a part of the fabric and being of the place as the stones of which it is constructed.
By making the provisional decision that they have--I trust that it is a provisional decision, that the map will be withdrawn from sale and they will find another solution--the dean and chapter have created a Mentmore- type catalyst. Those hon. Members who were here at the time will remember when Lord Rosebery's house at Mentmore was put up for sale. We made strenuous efforts to save it for the nation. I asked a private notice question in the House, and I remember taking a deputation to see the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), begging the Government to provide just over £2 million to save Mentmore and its contents for the nation. The Government declined. I make no party point, because, as always, the deputation that I took was all-party. It included Lord Goodman and several Labour Members. We could not persuade the Secretary of State, and at the end of the day the Government ended up paying double what they would have spent on acquiring a few objects for museums. Mentmore is now the headquarters of a slightly bizarre sect. They are looking after the fabric, but the contents have been dispersed.
The catalytic effect of Mentmore was considerable, because it led to pressure for the re-creation of the national land fund, which was set up by Lord Dalton at the end of the war as a memorial to those who perished in it. Fifty million pounds was put on one side to try to preserve some aspects of our heritage. It was never properly used ; it was
Column 248an accounting procedure fiddled by successive Governments. I shall not weary or distress the House by recounting the extraordinary manner in which successive Chancellors of the Exchequer of both parties behaved in this regard ; suffice it to say that, as a result of Mentmore, the National Heritage Memorial Fund was established, with a much smaller endowment than it should have had, taking into account what was originally put on one side and the interest that should have accrued therefrom. But it was a significant step, and the fund has been administered brilliantly by Lord Charteris, one of the most distinguished public servants that Britain has had the privilege of having for many years. What he has done with the fund is the most distinguished of all his public duties.
I believe that we should compile a Domesday book or inventory of all the treasures in our great cathedrals. Then the Government should talk to the deans and chapters of those cathedrals about acquiring some of those objects and leaving them in situ. There is a precedent for that.
In Hagley hall in Worcestershire, there is a marvellous set of tapestries which were woven for the room in which they are situated. When the late Lord Cobham died, the present Lord Cobham and his trustees negotiated with the Treasury a deal whereby taxes were part paid in lieu of the surrender of certain objects. There are many precedents for that, going back many years, but the tapestries remain in situ, the argument being that they would have been of much less value, importance and interest displayed anywhere other than their historic and original setting.
That is not the only example ; there are others. The first was a great portrait at Donington in Lincolnshire. I suggest that there is a marvellous precedent here for cathedrals. If some of the great objects that they possess, such as the chained library and the Mappa Mundi at Hereford, and St. Chad's gospel in my diocesan cathedral, were transferred in ownership to the state, which then accepted responsibility for the upkeep, the objects remained in situ and the money given was then used as an endowment by which the cathedral's daily needs could be met, we should be moving towards a real solution to our cathedrals' problems.
The proposal has many things to commend it, not least the fact that probably the collective cost of such an operation, bearing in mind the small number of buildings involved, would be little more than the £50 million to which my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury referred in his admirable opening speech. Fifty million pounds is a trivial sum of money. It is less than three times what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave to safeguard eggs only yesterday. There are egg farmers in my constituency on whose behalf I have pleaded genuinely, but perhaps the Minister will consider the value of an egg when weighed against that of a great cathedral.
If, in a temporary emergency, the Government can quite rightly find £17 million to £20 million for eggs, can they not, for the sake of future generations, think this Christmas of finding about £50 million to ensure that the cathedrals, which are our greatest national treasures and enshrine within them so much of the fabric of our civilisation, will delight and uplift future generations as they have delighted and uplifted us?
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Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford) : I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and congratulate him on securing this debate at this appropriate time. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) on the wide- ranging set of solutions that he has proposed. I defer to his expertise in this matter. I know the many years that he has spent in looking after these matters, both inside the House and outside, and I pay tribute to his success in so many spheres. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury for the way in which he opened the debate. He remarked on the experience that he was given at the age of 11 when introduced to the Magna Carta. I can duplicate that in a curious way as I was introduced to the Mappa Mundi at the age of 11 and have enjoyed looking at it regularly, almost every time that I have visited the cathedral in Hereford, and showing it to my friends from all over the world. It is a tour de force in the visible history of the world as it was perceived in 1289. It is significant that in January it will have resided in Hereford cathedral for 700 years with very brief trips out in the last couple of years for exhibitions. It is very much part of our heritage.
The Mappa Mundi and the proposal by the dean and chapter to sell it has certainly focused minds on the problem and that is the reason why, at the end of this long session through the night, we are discussing it at this moment.
I want to pay tribute to the Dean of Hereford. He is not the most popular man in Hereford at the moment and he is not the most popular man in my book because he is initiating the sale of the Mappa Mundi. However, I understand his problem. I pay tribute to him because he took on the office of dean in the Hereford diocese six years ago, knowing full well that the cathedral finances were in a parlous state. He has worked tirelessly to put those finances back on to a proper footing.
It is enormously sad that, after many exhortations and the conclusion of an appeal for £1 million, we still need a substantial amount of money. My criticism, which I have made before, is that the way in which the matter has emerged and taken us by surprise is reprehensible. Nevertheless, the problem demonstrates the tip of an iceberg whose size and scope was well identified by my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury and for Staffordshire, South and by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).
It is no light matter to take on the office of dean in a cathedral knowing that one is responsible for its fabric which one must leave in a better state for the next dean than it was when it was taken on. If the Dean of Hereford sometimes looks slightly worried, no doubt as other deans look, I can understand.
The proposed sale of the Mappa Mundi has brought to our attention the stresses faced by deans and chapters across the country. It is a pity that we should consider using the artefacts of a cathedral to deal with a cathedral's fabric. I must dissent slightly from my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South because I believe that Hereford has one of the most exciting cathedrals that I know. Perhaps familiarity brings that home to one. I sit with joy in its warm pink stone glow, which I think is
Column 250unique among cathedrals--although I accept that fabric problems in the past have meant that the south-western side is not as the architect designed it.
As I visit that cathedral I reflect that the cathedrals that comprise the three-choir circuit have the same problems. Gloucester cathedral has just begun an appeal and Worcestershire's appeal is already under way. All the appeals are transitory and are drawing ever more on the scarce resources of a part of the country which is not so heavily populated as others and which is not so often visited by tourists.
We must therefore look for solutions to those problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury mentioned tourism. Yes, tourists visit Hereford cathedral and others. However, for every solution there is a problem. In that case, the cathedral architect stated in a letter in The Times that the wear and tear brought about by tourism constitutes an even greater burden on the fabric. We cannot just take on the question of enhancing tourism without considering the consequences.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury mentioned Salisbury cathedral's car parking problems. There is no car park anywhere near Hereford cathedral. An admissions policy has to encompass an admission charge that will encourage visitors and not deter them. It cannot be thought of as a cornucopia or bottomless well.
One must look a little wider than tourism. The overall concept of marketing is certainly important, and it is vital that tourists and other visitors are made aware of what Hereford has to offer. Hereford as a city must recognise that there is a problem. I am delighted that Hereford city council, although not of a persuasion friendly to myself, recognises its duty in that respect.
It is inconceivable from a tourist's point of view, or even from that of an ordinary, everyday resident, to think of Hereford without its cathedral, which dominates the city and is seen by everybody, from every approach. It is part of the city, and regardless of whether one is Church of England or of any other denomination or faith, one cannot gainsay the cathedral's existence and its dominant role in the city. The same applies to other cathedral cities that my hon. Friends and other hon. Members mentioned ; they are all part of our heritage. That they are is recognised by the Church, and within the General Synod, by the development of the care of cathedrals measure. It will, on the face of it, provide a first-class mechanism for preventing the sale of artefacts, as a fabric committee will sit to decide such matters and will have a veto. The same will apply to any changes to a cathedral's structure. At present, such matters are for the dean and the chapter to decide.
When the House debates the care of the cathedrals measure in due course, after it has been before the General Synod, it will no doubt support the General Synod's wishes. We shall open one new avenue to cathedral chapters for resolving certain of their financial difficulties. Whether we agree is another matter.
It is incumbent upon the House to recognise that it must offer alternative solutions, and therefore we are right to address ourselves to finding appropriate remedies. I am attracted to the kind of solution suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury in his latter remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South added dimensions, suggesting a different way of providing the same mechanism. I do necessarily follow the line of, in
Column 251effect, turning artefacts into money and displaying them--though I acknowledge that that is what I seek to achieve in respect of Hereford. That is a short-term expedient.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South gave the problem dimensions by relating it to the egg industry's difficulties. It is appropriate to think of that level of funding, so that a grant mechanism may be established that will address both the immediate and long-term repairs to the fabric of our major cathedrals, bearing in mind their overall heritage aspects. Those cathedrals may have been built many years ago for the glory of God, but today they exist to please the soul and the eye of everyone in this country and a wider public. We have a financial responsibility to look to our own taxpayers' money, recognising that Governments have no money other than that of their taxpayers. It will certainly give me pleasure to see my taxes employed in that way.
I wish to raise briefly a nuts and bolts problem. I am surprised at the attitude of English Heritage to Hereford cathedral's difficulty. The cathedral has been negotiating with English Heritage for a grant towards the repair of the college of Vicars Choral, and during the ensuing correspondence it has been given a verbal go-ahead to start work in view of the urgent need for the repairs. On 18 November, the day after it was announced that Mappa Mundi was to be offered for sale, English Heritage wrote to the cathedral architects saying, in effect, "We no longer play the game of offering grants. You are about to receive some money, and we do not give money where money is already in hand."
I hope that that was a knee-jerk reaction--and an understandable one--to a change in circumstances. I also hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ask English Heritage to reconsider. I should like to think that it will continue its grant aid until the cathedral's problem is resolved, by whatever means, and then review the position. The cathedral has offered to repay with interest any grant moneys given by English Heritage which could be used now, as and when the cathedral receives any funds from the sale or from whatever alternative mechanism it develops to resolve the problem. I thought that a very reasonable approach, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to ask English Heritage to enable such important work to go ahead.
We have a responsibility, both nationally and locally. I want a solution which reflects the local pride and sense of proprietorship inspired by the cathedral, and which also recognises that it is there for a far wider enjoyment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : This has been a thoughtful and interesting debate on a subject of great importance and interest. All hon. Members' contributions have shown personal commitment and depth of experience, but I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) on gaining the debate in the first place. I am not sure when he went to Salisbury cathedral school, or whether he was so young that the Jesuits could say that they had got him quickly enough to implant a love of cathedrals firmly in his mind for ever--not that he went to a Jesuit school ; I was merely making an analogy.
Column 252Churches are one of the most precious components of our heritage. Hon. Members have paid tribute to particular churches or cathedrals that have meant much to them--gems being safeguarded. As my hon. Friend said, more people visit our churches and cathedrals than visit all the National Trust properties and ancient monuments put together.
There is widespread evidence of the loving care with which local communities have supported their churches over the centuries. Just as with other historic buildings, those best placed to cherish and care for them are the owners--the users. In that sense a church or chapel belongs to its congregation in much the same way as the stately home belongs to its incumbent for the time being. In each case it is seen as a duty to hand it down to future generations. It is a sense of stewardship as much as one of ownership. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) referred to the sense of local identity and responsibility generated by people having a building in their midst that is of spiritual significance as well as having a historic heritage.
When the Government came to power in 1979 we inherited a system of state aid for parish churches and chapels, worked out after several years of negotiation between Government and Churches. It is a good system which after 11 years seems to be standing the test of time well, and in England it is administered by English Heritage. For this purpose, outstanding churches--which generally mean most grade I or grade II star listed churches--are eligible for repair grants under section 3A of the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953. Only parish churches and their non-Anglican equivalents are eligible. Cathedrals, with which I shall deal in a few moments, are excluded. I should stress that the administration of the scheme and the terms on which grants are offered are entirely matters for English Heritage. We do not interfere. We do not second-guess. It is also English Heritage's responsibility to decide how much of its budget should be allocated to this heading, within the normal Treasury guidelines. I would point out to the hon. Member for
Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that recently I visited a magnificent Nonconformist chapel--the Jireh chapel in Lewes. It is a wonderfully original chapel. Its original furnishings are intact. The chapel belongs to a Calvinistic sect. With most generous and substantial grant from English Heritage the chapel is being carefully and meticulously restored.
We want English Heritage to be provided with adequate resources for the tasks to which we consider it should give priority. That is why, in the context of discussions with the Churches about the community charge, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that he would be taking three steps to offset the extra costs for Churches of all denominations.
First, it has been decided that non-domestic buildings that are used to support the organisation of religious worship will qualify for 100 per cent. rate relief from 1 April 1990.
Secondly, we shall be increasing the resources for the redundant churches fund that is financed jointly by the Department and the Church Commissioners. We are also increasing the Department's share of the fund's grant in aid from 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. That will indirectly benefit the Church of England by freeing resources for the living Church.
Column 253Thirdly, we are providing an extra £3 million a year to English Heritage from 1990-91 onwards to enable it to increase its programme of historic church repair grants. Again, that is an indirect form of assistance, but it will provide much-needed relief for congregations, which are struggling under heavy maintenance burdens. It will also help to stave off the threat of redundancy in many cases. All denominations will benefit from it.
A church that is still in use as part of an active community is much more likely to be looked after. Hon. Members know of the ingenuity of many congregations in raising funds. The assistance that English Heritage gives can play a vital role in gaining and multiplying private resources and giving congregations the confidence to carry on.
Sometimes there is no choice and churches have to be declared redundant. The redundant churches fund provides help for redundant Anglican churches. That worthy body has now been in existence for over 20 years. By preserving the best of our historic churches that no longer have a regular pastoral use, we are responding to a secular delight in beautiful buildings and architecture as well as to the religious dimension. It is therefore right that the nation as a whole, the wider community, should pay its share. Partnership arrangements are therefore entirely appropriate.
We have recently reviewed the funding of the redundant churches fund. As the order under which we pay it will expire at the end of March 1989, we have considered with the redundant churches fund and the Church Commissioners, our partners in the payment, how much we should allocate to the fund for the next quinquennium. We recognise also that the Government's community charge will place additional burdens on Churches. That is why we propose to increase the fund's budget in real terms and to raise the Government's percentage contribution to the fund from 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. in the next quinquennium. Both the Department and the Church Commissioners agree that the time is right to carry out a review of the remit, the operation and the procedures of the fund, to ensure that we have struck the right balance. We are considering the precise scope of that review with the Church Commissioners.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury referred to the suggestion that there should be a fund for redundant Nonconformist churches and chapels. English Heritage would have to consider that proposal. I know that it is considering ways in which some of the additional resources that have been allocated to church repairs might be used to benefit the most important redundant churches of the Roman Catholic and Nonconformist denominations. Some argue that that might entail support for an independent equivalent of the redundant churches fund. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion when I consider the matter further.
As for the cathedrals, first I shall say a few words about the Mappa Mundi. Many hon. Members have mentioned it, in particular my hon. Friend the member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), who has played a key role in our discussions in this place on that most valued item. It is important to recognise that the proposal by the dean and chapter to sell the map appears to be motivated by concerns which range considerably more widely than the physical fabric. It is understood that the cathedral recently had a successful appeal and now has most of what it needs
Column 254for the immediate future. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South paid tribute to the endeavours of the dean in seeking the financial security of the cathedral.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts has stated in the House his wish that a solution could be achieved involving private and public sectors that would be acceptable to all parties. He firmly believes that it should be possible to find a solution that would keep the map in Britain. He is working with all the parties involved to that end.
My hon. Friend mentioned the care of cathedrals measure. We were very glad to see that the draft care of cathedrals measure gained the broad approval of the General Synod in November. It is a most encouraging move, after the previous difficulties encountered by the earlier draft in the February session of Synod. It is in all our interests--the Government's as well as the Church of England's--to ensure that there is an effective system for safeguarding the fabric of the cathedrals, which form such an important and magnificent part of our national heritage, and for ensuring that major building works to them are given careful consideration.
The work of mission, of course, is the Church's task. I venture the thought that an awareness of heritage can be part of mission ; a beautiful historic well-cared-for building can itself be an inspiration and an aid to worship. That is not to suggest that all cathedrals must remain pickled in Gothic, or neo-Gothic, aspic--far from it. I am sure that mission, like civilisation itself, must be alive and responsive to the present. It is surely right to ensure that the new blends appropriately with the old, in both the secular and the ecclesiastical heritage.
By ensuring scope for public consultation over proposals, including proposals for the sale of important historical or artistic objects, the Measure would enable all the aspects of a proposed sale to be carefully considered before it could take place. This is clearly highly relevant to the Mappa Mundi.
On the general question of state aid for cathedral buildings, they are, as I made clear, excluded from English Heritage's scheme of repair grants. English Heritage is maintaining the practice established in 1977 when state aid for historic churches was first introduced. In discussion with the Government of the day, the Church of England recommended that parish churches should be given priority. That was based on the Church's own belief that cathedrals were very much better placed than parish churches to raise substantial sums of money from the public and other private sources, because of their pre-eminent position as centres of pilgrimage, culture and tourism. It is significant that no major cathedral restoration appeal to date has failed. Tribute has been paid to the many magnificent appeals in recent years and to the valiant efforts by many deans and chapters to maximise the revenue from their cathedrals.
If the Church of England now thinks that circumstances have changed so radically since 1977 that the basis of the policy is out of date, it must make representations to English Heritage, which will be happy to discuss the matter. I have heard the strength of feeling among hon. Members during the debate. Our understanding of the feeling among the officers of the General Synod is that the position has not changed and the needs of parish churches are greater now than ever. We are confident that our policy
Column 255of providing extra resources for English Heritage for historic churches--including non-Anglican churches--is the right one. Hon. Members have made other suggestions about how cathedrals should be considered, and I shall certainly give them further thought.
Although the Department's heritage budget has risen from about £31 million in 1979-80 to more than £90 million in 1988-89, public resources for the heritage are clearly not unlimited. If English Heritage were to start grant-aiding cathedrals on any significant scale, there would have to be reordered priorities within its historic churches repair grants budget.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed mentioned ecclesiastical exemption. That is a tricky subject. When state aid was introduced for parish churches in 1977, the Government agreed that it would be unnecessary to legislate on the exemption for the initial trial period while the Church of England undertook to carry out a review of its internal faculty jurisdictions system. The faculty jurisdiction committee was set up in 1980 under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Chichester and it reported in 1984. It recommended some revision of the existing system for parish churches, particularly to make the system more accessible by increasing publicity and consultation. It also recommended a new statutory system for cathedrals in place of the advisory system which had operated previously. I understand that the Church felt that, if it was to overhaul its system, it should be assured of retaining ecclesiastical exemptions.
It has taken the Church of England considerable time to bring into effect the reforms promised in the 1984 report. Many of the conservation bodies have expressed considerable concern about the delay and have wondered publicly whether the Church of England is serious in its commitment. As I have said, we are encouraged by the progress made so far on the draft cathedrals Measure. Obviously, we shall watch the situation closely. Meanwhile, we have been working on the contents of the proposed order. It has not been easy to translate Lord Skelmersdale's original commitment into action. However, I hope to be able to resolve the matter soon.
I appreciate the various contributions that have been made to the important debate. This is a timely occasion on which to discuss a matter of great concern to hon. Members. We value the significance of church buildings in our national heritage and take the needs of historic churches seriously. That can be seen from the fact that offers of repair grants have risen from about £500,000 in 1978-79 to a budgeted £6 million in the current financial year. By 1990-91, thanks to the additional resources we provided, it is expected to rise to £9 million. I know that English Heritage will continue to give priority to the programme and we shall be discussing regularly with it ways in which assistance for historic churches and buildings can be targeted equitably and cost-effectively. I shall draw the valuable, thoughtful and considered responses of hon. Members to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends.