The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy):
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received an
30 Jan 2006 : Column 14
application to upgrade the church from its grade II listing and to list the remaining buildings on the site. She is seeking advice on that from English Heritage and will decide once that advice is received.
Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that it was necessary to ask for further information. That information was received and it is right and proper that English Heritage undertakes appropriate site visits so that it can make correct recommendations to the Secretary of State. On receipt of that, my right hon. Friend will be able to come to a view about the listing arrangements.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): For the most part, access to church buildings is free. In relation to cathedrals and a statement, the General Synod passed a motion urging the Church to continue to exercise sensitivity in raising money, but ultimately the decision to charge rests with individual cathedrals.
Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman will know that Westminster cathedral has a mandatory charge for people wishing to go in and look round. At Lichfield cathedral, the charge is voluntary, although the majority of visitors pay the recommended amount. Does he agree that a voluntary payment is always preferable to a mandatory payment when visiting a cathedral?
Sir Stuart Bell: The hon. Gentleman knows that three of our major church buildings are the focus of world heritage sites: Durham cathedral, Canterbury cathedral and Westminster abbey. It is a privilege for the Church to take responsibility for their upkeep and one that the whole nation should share. On whether charges should be voluntary or mandatory, I have seen the queues outside Westminster abbey, but I have also visited Lichfield cathedral. They are both splendid buildings and a great joy to the Church.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
(Lab): I have great sympathy for cathedrals and the need to maintain ancient buildings, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is slightly tacky to be unable to enter a cathedral, such as York, without having to pay? That creates a bad impression in people's minds. In
30 Jan 2006 : Column 15
comparison, Chester cathedral has a quiet dignity. I hope that he will be able to persuade the cathedrals to think again.
Sir Stuart Bell: As my hon. Friend knows, English Heritage announced last week £1 million in grants for 2006 for 25 cathedrals. She refers to a profound dilemma for Church and state. The state should contribute more to our cathedrals, because they are part of our national heritage. It is a debate that we are having with the state.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Do the Church Commissioners notice any difference in attendance numbers between cathedrals that have a compulsory charge and those that have only a voluntary levy?
Sir Stuart Bell: We have not made a study of that, but there are queues a mile long outside Westminster abbey every day and my visits to Lichfield show the same thing. The Church's dilemma in keeping up its buildings is profound: £900 million a year is spent on keeping up churches, which is an enormous amount. How the Church deals with that in relation to the state is a matter that I shall take up shortly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The 600-year-old great east window of York minster is the biggest and greatest expanse of medieval stained glass anywhere in the world. Its restoration has just begun and will cost about £23 million. Does my hon. Friend agree that the charges that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) criticised would be lower, or not made at all, if the Government provided more support for our great national heritage in our cathedrals?
Sir Stuart Bell: I return to my original point. How to handle the charges is a matter for each cathedral, but York minster shows just how much work cathedrals will continue to need to keep their fabric in good repair. The major project on the east front will take time, effort and money.
22. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): What proposed measures from the General Synod of the Church of England have been rejected by the Ecclesiastical Committee as not expedient since 1981; and if he will make a statement. 
Sir Stuart Bell: Since the Synodical Government Measure 1969, the Ecclesiastical Committee has not expressed the view to Synod that a Measure was inexpedient. In relation to a statement, there have been a number of occasions when the Committee has objected to aspects of a Measure, leading to the withdrawal and subsequent resubmission in a different form of the Measure in question.
Does not that suggest that, when a two-thirds majority in the Synod produces a request for legislation, the Ecclesiastical Committee's record is to
30 Jan 2006 : Column 16
take it with a light touch and to respect the will of the majority in the Synod, as might happen, for example, with the coming Measures on women bishops?
Sir Stuart Bell: As a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the hon. Gentleman knows that we are a long way from women bishops. Although it is true that we have not declared any Measure inexpedient, two Measuresthe Churchwardens Measure 2001 and the Church of England (Pensions) Measure 2003were sent back from the Committee and returned in amended form. In 1984, the Appointment of Bishops Measure was actually turned down by the House after the Committee deemed it expedient.
23. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What representations the Church Commissioners have received in relation to their planned disposal of the Octavia Hill estates in south London. 
Sir Stuart Bell: We have received representations from individual tenants and their associations, local clergy and elected representatives, as well as from other parties with an interest in the housing sector.
David Taylor: Some of my fellow Waterloo residents are concerned that the estates will be sold off to the highest bidder, even if the new owner had policies that were diametrically opposed to the purposes for which the charity was created. What type of restrictive covenant is being considered to ensure that the properties will continue to form a key part of London's much needed social housing stock, especially south of the river?
Sir Stuart Bell: As my hon. Friend is aware, the decision to sell the estates has been taken and a final decision will be made shortly. The Church has an obligation under responsibilities conferred by the House to act in accordance with the law when selling off its estates. All aspects of the law will be fully considered in the sale. The restrictive covenant to which my hon. Friend referred is a legal matter and I shall write to him about it.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey)
(LD): What help will the hon. Gentleman give me and my neighbours, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), and our constituents in respect of the letter we sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury making it clear that selling into the private market, and not keeping estates as social housing, will be entirely unacceptable? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the previous disposal retained some lower cost housing, but that that has already been lost, so the likely outcome of anything that does not guarantee social housing is that there will be market rents and ordinary south Londoners will have no chance to live in those houses?
30 Jan 2006 : Column 17
Sir Stuart Bell: I welcome to our Question Time my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who, with the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), has a strong interest in this issue. I congratulate all three of them on participating in the consultation.
The Church has an obligation to its wider community. We contribute 18 per cent. to the Church's running during the year, and it has a statutory obligation to the House to make the best possible arrangements in relation to the sale of the Octavia Hill estates. Clearly, those arrangements involve consultation and we are aware of the concerns of the people there, but the decision is one for the Church. I read with interest the letter that the hon. Gentleman and his parliamentary colleagues wrote to the archbishop. We welcome that letter and we will listen with great interest to what the archbishop says, but the legal duty rests with the commissioners.