Column 248Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert N
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Wright, Dr Tony
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and
Mr. Eric Illsley.
Question accordingly agreed to .
Bill read the Third time, and passed .
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to raise with you the question of lying. I understand that lying in the House is totally out of order, and any hon. Member who accused another hon. Member of lying would immediately be asked to withdraw the remark or to leave the House. Today, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that Ministers are sometimes entitled to lie to the House. Would you deprecate any lying, whether by a Minister or anyone else? If there were lying, would we be in a position to say so?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman will recall that whatever took place today did so in Committee. I have already made it clear today on another issue that this is an internal affair in that Committee. If anything has gone wrong in the Committee, it is for the Committee to report to the entire House, in which case I will deal with it ; but it is for the Committee to deal with anything at this stage.
Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. In the event that you were to investigate the point of order raised by the hon. Gentlemen, no doubt you would realise that the Chancellor of the Duchy, far from condoning the practice mentioned, said that the only circumstances in which he could envisage its being justified were when a Chancellor of the Exchequer was faced with difficulties in the market ; and he quoted a number of Labour Chancellors.
That the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.
The Measure consists of a number of detailed amendments to the Pastoral Measure 1983 ; hence its short title. The common thread that runs through all those amendments is that they bear upon the disposal of redundant Church of England churches. I hope too that it will be a common thread uniting us all in the House that the future of our church buildings in England is not merely of concern to the Church of England but affects our wider English society as a whole. Our parish churches are part of our national heritage and are often highly valued as a focus for the life of many local communities. The Measure would make the best possible arrangement for the future of those buildings and everything associated with them in the very few cases where they can no longer be used for their original purpose. To put matters in perspective, I should inform the House that, of some 16,000 Church of England churches, some 20 to 30 are declared redundant each year and 10 to 20 new places of worship are opened each year.
Both the Church of England General Synod and our own Ecclesiastical Committee saw the Measure as acceptable, desirable and
non-controversial. Many of its new provisions stem from a report produced by Mr. Richard Wilding in 1990 at the joint request of the Government and the Church Commissioners. Those provisions, together with other parts of the Measure, are explained in detail in the comments and explanations furnished by the General Synod and annexed to our Ecclesiastical Committee's report. In view of the comparatively late hour I shall not attempt to expound all the provisions in detail, but it may be helpful if I highlight two or three aspects of the Measure.
The Measure contains positive provisions for safeguarding what the Pastoral Measure 1983 called "redundant" churches. For example, it provides for a new source of finance to help dioceses with the interim repair and maintenance of those buildings, when declared redundant, until a final decision is taken about their future, and it strengthens the covenants that protect the building in the hands of any new owner. A number of sections deal with the redundant churches fund, the body that exists to preserve carefully selected churches for which a new use cannot be found but which are of such historical and archaeological interest and/or architectural quality that they ought to be preserved, in the interests of the nation and of the Church of England.
That fund is financed partly by the Church Commissioners and partly by the Government, so it exemplifies the partnership between Church and state in dealing with that part of our heritage. The fund now has almost 300 churches in its care and it is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. As well as helping the fund to perform its functions even more effectively and to make the best possible use of its resources, the Measure also gives the fund a new name--the Churches Conservation Trust--which emphasises more positively the nature of its work and the fact that the buildings under its care are no longer "redundant" but have taken on new leases of life as assets
Column 250in perpetuity for the benefit of the Church, the nation and the relevant local community. I am sure that the House will agree that the churches conservation trust is a more positive-sounding title than the redundant churches fund.
Our Ecclesiastical Committee, in its report on the Measure, draws attention to the ecological importance of churchyards and burial grounds. Although their primary purpose is obviously as a resting place for the bodies of the deceased, it is very much in accordance with the Christian view of things that they should be places not only of death, but of life.
It may surprise some of my honourable colleagues to learn that many of our churchyards are sanctuaries for a rich variety of wildlife, which is finding it ever more difficult to survive elsewhere, especially in urban environments. I am glad to be able to assure the House that the Measure takes care to ensure that nothing threatens or undermines that living dimension of churchyards. Indeed, the Church of England and organisations associated with it are taking active steps to encourage wildlife conservation in our churchyards and to provide relevant information and advice. I have placed a few examples of the material that is now available in the Library for those Members who wish to pursue the subject.
As I have already explained, the Measure is positive, forward-looking and uncontroversial and deals with something that is of concern to the Church of England and the wider community. I therefore commend it warmly to the House and invite my colleagues to supprt the Measure and the motion standing in my name.
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : I am obliged to the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). He has presented the measure to the House in fair and reasonable terms and I think that the House will give him cause to feel justified that he can secure majority support for the Measure. Without being excessively partisan, I might say that there will be more Conservative Members attending a debate about redundant churches than there would be for a debate about human redundancies, but that would be to stray into areas of conjecture and argument which may not be appropriate. Suffice it to say that the measure deserves to be accepted.
It is right that we should be concerned about the future of those churches which are surplus to requirement, whether it be because of a shift in population or a marked decline in attendance, but the right hon. Member for Selby was right to remind us that new churches are being established even when old ones are redundant. Churches are important, as the right hon. Gentleman says : not merely do they serve as places of worship, often for centuries, but they are of enormous architectural merit and even with declining attendances their importance in the local community remains significant. The Government sometimes have most peculiar views about the teaching of history. It seems to be rather less fashionable than it used to be and some of the things that the Government want children to start studying are rather quaint. I know that one or two Conservative Members who were involved closely in education will share my view that history which does not place the local community at its heart is not necessarily relevant to the child or to the community.
Column 251The parish church is often extremely important in any study of local history, not merely because of the memorials to the locally great and good that can be found on the church fabric, but because the church was the heart of community life. It was the centre of local administration in the past. Architecturally, it was important not merely because of its aesthetic qualities but because the community, through sacrifice, often ensured that the building was created as a work of art and a landmark.
Without the spires and towers of parish churches in the east of England where the land is flat and relatively featureless, the landscape would seem much more barren and less pleasing to the eye. Although the population in some of those districts may have departed, to be replaced in some cases by occupants of holiday caravans in the summer, the church is still important because it serves as a landmark, a focal point and something to grace the landscape.
Churches exists not simply to adorn our countryside, although it is useful that every three or four miles a parish church stands with spire or tower as an attractive part of our heritage. I only regret that the House has not afforded a Second Reading to my hedgerows measure, which would have complemented parish churches. Some Conservative Members may come to regret their decision to block my Bill.
I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Selby referred to the change in title, because it is entirely appropriate. I am also glad that I took part in the discussion on the Ecclesiastical Committee, when I spoke in recognition of the fact that the buildings and land around churchyards are important.
As more wealthy members of our community move away from towns and into the countryside, derelict farm buildings are rapidly becoming less derelict and are likely to be modernised. The habitat of ruined barns or derelict farm buildings is disappearing fast, as is the population of barn owls. Redundant churches and parish churches that remain a vibrant part of the community may soon provide the only habitat for the barn owls that remain. Their population has dramatically diminished in many parts of England in the past few years, perhaps because of the shift of Conservative supporters from town to countryside. To some extent, the Measure makes up for that shift in population, which may sometimes be regarded as regrettable. As the right hon. Gentleman said, churchyards are not merely repositories for the dead or places where the bones of the "village Hampden" remain interred, if I may quote Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard", which remains one of the finest poems written in the English language. It gives a flavour to the historic and social importance of the land around our churches. It is right that the fund should have a new title so that those responsible for it will be reminded of the value of our churchyards.
As the right hon. Gentleman recognised, the natural history aspect of redundant churches can be vital. Those that are redundant in the middle of a town provide peace and sanctuary, and are commendable. In the countryside,
Column 252which is often featureless, barren and, in some areas, increasingly deprived of natural historic interest, the remaining churches can be extremely useful.
The change in the title and the amended arrangements included in the Measure deserve to be approved. I join the right hon. Gentleman in commending the Measure to the House.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : I gladly support what the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) has said. Indeed, he uttered hardly a word with which I did not totally agree. This is a good Measure and it is important that the House approves it. But this may be an appropriate opportunity to recognise the fact that we shall face increasing problems in the coming years in maintaining the fabric of our historic churches. As the hon. Member for Wentworth just said, they are frequently the central buildings in villages and towns, a focal point and, collectively, the glory of English architecture. But they are incredibly expensive to maintain. The drift away from many town centres and villages means that more and more churches will be considered for redundancy. I hate to use the word in this context, but it is now a familiar one.
The problem at its most acute is to be seen in the recent report on London churches. The city contains some of the greatest churches in the country, a number of which--if the report recently produced by Lord Templeman is implemented--will cease to exist. It is an appropriate time to recognise that, as well as the fact that the House will have to return to the subject on numerous occasions. We now have state aid for churches that are in use, which is good, but insufficient. If we believe that we are dealing with some of the glories of English architecture and accept, as I certainly do, that no nation that allows Salisbury cathedral or Sherborne abbey to crumble deserves to call itself civilised, we must recognise our obligation. That duty has been increased by the financial mismanagement of the Church of England in recent months. There has been an appalling waste of resources. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends on the Front Bench might find not the subject either interesting nor important, but some of us do. The financial problems of the Church of England will make the difficulty of maintaining our historic churches that much greater.
There are other problems. I fervently hope that the concept of the two integrities works and that both those who welcome the ordination of women and those who do not can still continue to worship side by side in the Church of England. But we are already beginning to see a drift from the Church. Although the hon. Member for Wentworth and I took different sides of that argument in the Ecclesiastical Committee, we recognise the common problem. If there is a drift away from the Church, it will accentuate the difficulties that the Church faces in maintaining its historic buildings.
I wanted to put down one or two markers this evening. My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), who introduced the Measure with commendable brevity and his usual lucidity, will, I hope, talk with his fellow Commissioners about the difficulties and ensure that we have opportunities to debate them again in future. The change of title of the redundant churches fund is entirely appropriate, and I welcome it. But that will not solve the
Column 253problem of the maintenance of the fabric of our historic churches. It is merely a contribution which, although important, will not ensure that the buildings that grace so many of our towns and villages are secure into the next century. Without further assistance from Church and state they will not exist.
In approving the Measure tonight, I hope that we will not think that we are solving the problem. We are contributing towards its solution, but the problem will grow as the years pass. We shall see the problem at its most acute in the city of London. The way in which it is tackled there will be tremendously important for the future of the Church of England and its buildings.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : I should declare an interest, albeit not a financially beneficial one, as a trustee of the Historic Chapels Trust, which is referred to in embryo form in the appendix to the Ecclesiastical Committee's report that accompanies the Measure. That report recomends that there should be a parallel organisation to the redundant churches fund to exercise a similar role in relation to places of worship other than those of the established Church. I serve under our former colleague Sir Hugh Rossi on that trust, which was set up to do precisely that job. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends welcome the Measure and the useful development in the framework within which the redundant churches fund operates. We welcome the fact that one feature of the Measure is that it can co-operate more fully with the Historic Chapels Trust.
The Historic Chapels Trust is in a more difficult position than the historic churches fund because it does not have the procedures for acquiring churches--we have no purchase price--which the redundant churches fund has. In certain circumstances, a church is made over to the redundant churches fund for care ; it must then care for it using funds that come jointly from Church and state. It does an extremely good job. The fact that our trust has been formed on the basis of an analogy of that body is a tribute to its good work over the years and the respect in which it is held.
I have visited many of the churches held in trust by the redundant churches fund and it does a first-class job. We have to find funds with which to acquire important historic chapels ; we have either to raise money to do so or to hope that they will be handed on. Some denominations do not consider themselves to be in a position to hand over their buildings ; indeed, they need to realise the sale price of the building or land to finance other developments. So they are in a position even more intense than that described in the City of London, where to some extent the other churches in the diocese are looking to benefit from the endowments of those churches. In the case of Nonconformist chapels, the actual value of the land and building is also at stake.
I welcome the change of name included in the Measure. The new name more accurately reflects the work which the former redundant churches fund has done and I welcome the greater flexibility and smoother handover of churches for which the Measure provides.
The redundant churches fund and the Historic Chapels Trust share responsibility for buildings which deserve to be
Column 254maintained without drastic alteration. There are quite a few churches which, if made redundant, can be put to another use and can be adapted. Some good and sensitive schemes have maintained particularly the external appearance of a building. There are several in my constituency. We might regret seeing a church passing out of use, but those schemes represent a sensible alternative.
The churches which the fund is dealing with and the chapels that gradually will be acquired by the Historic Chapels Trust need to be kept as they are. They reflect traditions and styles of worship ; they contain fitments and works of such quality that ought to be retained ; they illustrate much of our history ; they are archaeologically significant. Therefore, to convert them would be unacceptable. That is the common thread which runs through the work of both bodies.
Clause 2(2)(c) specifically opens the way to co-operation between the redundant churches fund and the Historic Chapels Trust. For example, we might ask the Churches Conservation Trust--the former RCF--to help us in the management of a particular building if it had others in the immediate neighbourhood, and it would be a more practical arrangement for it to keep an eye on the building for us. Such mutual agreement and understanding is much facilitated by the measure. Therefore, I am pleased that it is gaining support in the House.
Let me refer to one or two specific problems. The first lies precisely at the bridge between our two bodies--the problem of private chapels, where worship has been according to the rites of the Church of England.
Chapels of ease, or privately owned places of worship, are firmly part of the history and tradition of the Church of England. However, they are not eligible to be transferred to the redundant churches fund because they are private chapels. They are not really a priority for the historic chapels fund, as it has the charge of all the other denominations, including Jewish synagogues, to consider. Chapels which have been places of Church of England worship would be a strange application of priorities for a body with such limited resources.
In the first few months of the Historic Chapels Trust, we had just such a case ; the Church of St. John the Baptist, Matlock, Bath, which is a notable building and very much part of the Church of England, but which happened to be a private chapel--a chapel of ease. Thankfully, it has been taken on by the Friends of Friendless Churches--another invaluable organisation. But it fell between our two bodies. The redundant churches fund must look again at the problem of the chapels of ease, which form part of the Church of England tradition. Because the redundant churches fund has the best accumulation of experience and understanding, it should take care of them. It is not appropriately a job for the historic chapels fund. The issue of City churches was referred to by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). I was surprised to find that the redundant churches fund was so rarely mentioned in debates and discussions following the publication of the Templeman report. That might have been because quite a lot of the initial criticism of the report came from those who hoped that not so many churches as is envisaged would be made redundant.
I share the hope that a larger number will remain in use for worship. I particularly hope that arrangements that now exist for the use of some of those City churches by other denominations will continue--for example, St. Nicholas's by the Free Presbyterians ; St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf for
Column 255Welsh services ; and St. Anne and St. Agnes for Lutheran services. I very much hope that those arrangements will continue, perhaps in some new form, if the status of those churches changes.
If it is anything to go by, the list of churches falls precisely into the category that I mentioned earlier ; churches that must not be significantly altered, because their interiors as well as exteriors are so important, partly because of the sheer quality of the work that they contain, but partly also because they represent a style, tradition and layout of buildings for worship which was so much swept away by the Oxford movement, the "Ecclesiologist" magazine and all that flowed from that, and which is therefore so little apparent.
Anyone who looks at the physical appearance of Church of England buildings sees it through a Victorian glass. It is seen through what happened in the 19th century. One has to pick out a limited number of churches, many of them concentrated in the City, to have any understanding of what the Church of England was like in the two preceding centuries. Therefore, those buildings and their interiors are particularly important.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : One of the things that knits the architectural and building importance with the importance of retaining churches for worship is that many of the communities--for example, the Welsh community and, in the case of St. Anne and St. Agnes, the Lutheran community--combine a centre for community worship in a city which otherwise does not afford them a church of their own, and in a structure and environment in which they feel comfortable. That is uniquely the case in capital cities that require more diversity of church provision than elsewhere.
Mr. Beith : I agree, and I hope that none of these nominations will be driven out by new arrangements that result from the Templeman report or by greatly increased costs that might result from it. It is possible under both the redundant churches fund and the Historic Chapels Trust for buildings still to be made available for worship from time to time, but both bodies avoid being put in the situation for which they are not designed--maintaining buildings that are in normal regular use for worship. That is the job of neither body. They would have to be differently constituted if that was their purpose. The fund will have to consider City churches. Let us look at the Wren churches with notable interiors--St. Mary Abchurch ; St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf, which I have already mentioned because of its Welsh use. It is a lovable church, both externally and internally. Most hon. Members probably see it only as they go along that elevated stretch of road beside the Mermaid theatre. The lovely little brick church below them has a wonderful interior as well as its charming exterior. The churches of St. Peter, Cornhill, St. Mary-at-hill, and St. Margaret, Lothbury, have remarkable interiors as well as exteriors. I therefore think that the fund may well have to involve itself in at least some of them unless different results come from the Templeman report than we expected.
The redundant churches fund does not operate in Wales, but the representative body of the church in Wales has now set about creating an alternative to it. That is more or less in operation. That has, quite properly, led a Select Committee to make clear the need for a body on the
Column 256Nonconformist and "other denominations" side, paralleling the fund being set up to deal with the churches of the Church in Wales. A recent report from the Committee put that view quite strongly. I am sorry that no Minister from even the Department of National Heritage, let alone the Welsh Office, is present. I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs, whose constituency contains a number of very interesting churches and chapels, will pass on my comments to those concerned. I also hope that the Welsh Office will look favourably on the work done by the parallel body to the redundant churches fund in Wales, and also consider the need to create something similar to the Historic Chapels Trust in that country--whose many chapels cannot possibly be sustained by today's worshipping congregations.
A characteristic of chapel building in both England and Wales--as of church building in the City--was its almost competitive nature. In a number of instances, more buildings were put up than were probably ever needed : it is not just a question of decline. We have inherited that problem, but some of the buildings are of such importance and distinction that we must take very good care of them.
I welcome the work that the redundant churches fund is doing. I also welcome the measure, which I believe will help it in that work, and the co- operation in which it can engage with the Historic Chapels Trust and similar bodies in Wales--if they are created, as I hope they will be.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : First, let me say how grateful we should be to all those who have managed to keep churches throughout England out of the hands of the redundant churches fund, and who manage to raise the money--with great community effort--to keep those churches available not only to the present generation, but to future generations.
Any hon. Member who wishes to see that in action need only visit St. Anne's in the South Lambeth road, which will show them what a poor community has managed to achieve--with the help of some grant-giving bodies, but also with great enthusiasm on the part of a small number of activists and a larger number who hold the church in great affection.
Let me also say how grateful the House will be to my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), and to others who pay attention to these issues--on the Ecclesiastical Committee and elsewhere. I do not think that the House takes for granted the Committee's residual role in dealing with the changes to canonical and synodical measures. On behalf of those present and not present, let me thank my right hon. Friend for his competence : we are grateful to him, and to those who advise him on matters both controversial and non-controversial.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : We should welcome the measure, but let me introduce a note of caution. Regular readers of Private Eye's "Nooks and Crannies" will know that perfectly good churches have often been subject to various manoeuvres in an attempt to make them redundant and eventually--through a number of procedures, including a recommendation by the advisory board--to have them demolished. I hope that the report means that the Church of England will make a more
Column 257determined effort to provide for the preservation of valuable sites, rather than yielding to the entreaties of Mammon. The Church, like many other organisations, faces a shortage of money.
Whatever our views on religion, the fact remains that many churches are a focal and important part of the town or landscape. They are objects of beauty, which were established with great affection--both by the patrons who provided the money, and by those who built them. We should not ignore that ; wherever possible, we should try to treasure and preserve such churches.
I hope that the change in the title of the Churches Conservation Trust represents an important change of emphasis in an area of difficulty, which I recognise. Churches are sometimes very large, and expensive to maintain and heat. I agree with the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) : often dwindling congregations have raised the money to keep such churches in existence. If that happens, so much the better, because it was the original purpose.
Although the churches may be very roomy during some services, that is none the less the best use for the buildings. It is often difficult to find an alternative use for a redundant church and at the same time retain some of the dignity and elegance with which the church was originally built. For example, burning rubber tyres in the aisle of an abandoned church may not be the most dignified use to which a building can be put.
It is important that the Church of England makes an effort at conservation, rather than face the possibility of making more churches redundant than is strictly necessary, which is what the Templeman report for the City of London implied would happen. Chapels have been mentioned. The independent Upper chapel at Heckmondwike is a beautiful chapel which was made redundant many years ago. Its interior was ripped out and sold by the trustees, despite the fact that it was a grade II listed building, which means that the interior should have been retained. It is not a Church of England establishment, but it represented the aspirations of its builders to be seen as just as important as the Church of England. Observers might mistakenly think that it does belong to the Church of England because of the theological dispute that was current in the 19th century.
The chapel has lingered on, but not because of its owners, who regard it as merely so many bricks and pieces of stone held together by mortar, and, I suppose, see it as coming between them and God. For people who attend church, it is an important building that should be retained. It is one of two remaining grade II listed buildings in Heckmondwike, so, if it were demolished, 50 per cent. would go at one fell swoop,
The chapel has been retained because of the local authority's persistence in refusing to give listed building consent. Credit is due to the authority for the fact that, despite criticism, attacks and suggestions in the press that
Column 258the redundant building should be flattened, it is still standing. I hope that it will be converted into something useful, such as flats. At one time, a firm was involved--I hope that it still is--which has a reputation for doing decent conversions of churches into something that people need and want. I highlight that possibility as an illustration of a grade II listed building that there has been pressure to demolish. I hope that the measure that we are discussing means that we are casting aside the attitude that churches are finished with once worship ceases in them. We should redouble our efforts to ensure that they are retained for a decent and useful purpose.
Mr. Beith : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Upper chapel at Heckmondwike, whose story has been tragic. I hope that he will take some consolation from the fact that the Historic Chapels Trust is taking on not only a small former Quaker meeting house in Farfield near Bradford but the magnificent and enormous Unitarian church in Todmorden, with which he will certainly be familiar and which it was far beyond the resources of its existing congregation to maintain.
Mr. Cryer : There is some good news about. I do not want to repeat myself, but I hope that the measure reflects a change of heart because there have been some depressing reports in Private Eye to the effect that some valuable buildings have been discarded and, unfortunately, found their way on to the scrap heap. That is something to be avoided, so I hope that the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) can assure us that the Measure represents an improvement in the spirit of the Church.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Pastoral (Amendment) measure, passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Mr. Raymond S. Robertson be discharged from the Select Committee on Procedure and Mr. Alan Duncan be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]