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Many private owners are struggling to maintain historic properties and keep them alive by making them their homes. One that we visited, Doddington Hall, is a wonderful example. Such places would not have anything like the same appeal or attraction if they were monuments rather than living homes, yet those people face major bills. For instance, we were shown the cracks in the walls, but those people do not have access to any help. We believe that a case can be made for limited relief being given to private owners, perhaps to be set against income for repairs.

Places of worship, too, are tremendously important. I am delighted to see the right hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) here. I have no doubt that they will wish to say a few words on the subject. They are much more knowledgeable than I am. It is the case that 45 per cent. of grade I listed buildings are churches. The future cost of repairs is an enormous challenge for many of them. A strong case can be made for extra funding to be made available through English Heritage to try to maintain the 14,000 listed buildings that are places of worship.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Clearly, in their response to the report the Government did not have the chance to deal with everything, and we will not be able to do so this afternoon in this wide-ranging debate. Would my hon. Friend join me in saying that we would welcome it if the Minister were arrange to meet the Association of English Cathedrals, go through the list of points that it made to the Committee and then perhaps guide English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund to meet more fully what the association seeks?

Mr. Whittingdale: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That would be extremely helpful. I hope that the Minister will give a positive response.

There are several other areas. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham may wish to talk about archaeology, as he is more knowledgeable on the subject than I am.

I am afraid that an awful lot of the Committee’s recommendations boil down to asking for more money. Clearly, we recognise that this is a difficult time because there are competing priorities and the Minister has to make his case against the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills. However, there is a strong and desperate need for resourcing, because heritage has lost out in recent years, and a crisis is approaching. Unless we act, heritage monuments will be lost and gone for ever, and future generations would not forgive us if we allowed that to happen.

Several hon. Members rose—

Sir John Butterfill (in the Chair): Order. We have two and a half hours left, and an awful lot of right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute to this important debate. It would therefore be extremely helpful if hon. Members could be brief and, preferably, confine their remarks to a maximum of 10 minutes. If they do, we might just squeeze everybody in.

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3 pm

Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) (Lab): I shall attempt to be brief.

There has already been some discussion of the role of local authorities, and in one of its recommendations, the Committee, of which I am privileged to be a member, says:

I want to press the Minister on the urgent need to introduce such statutory provisions, because it is not clear from the Government’s response how far they have accepted that recommendation.

In that respect, and with hon. Members’ indulgence, I want to mention a place in my constituency. It is called Turton tower and is the only grade I listed building in Blackburn with Darwen. However, its future is rather in limbo, and that illustrates why we need a statutory set of requirements on local authorities.

Turton tower is situated just off Chapeltown road in Turton, which is near Bolton, although, as I said, it is in my constituency. It was originally built in Tudor times, but it was altered and extended during the Stuart and Victorian times. It now stands as it was in 1850. At one point, it was the home of Sir Humphrey Chetham, the founder of Chetham’s hospital and Chetham’s school of music in Manchester. He had been the Lancashire treasurer for the roundhead forces in the civil war and built the tower to entertain his troops.

After falling into decline during the Georgian era, the house was rescued by the Kay family, who restored and extended it, taking it into the Victorian period. The house dates from the 15th century and is set in beautiful grounds on the edge of the west Pennine moors, which are a popular walking area. It has many thousands of visitors every year and is well worth a visit; indeed, pupils from many schools in the area go there on important educational visits.

Turton tower belongs to the trustees—the North Turton parish council. To meet the costs of maintaining the tower, the council has leased it to Lancashire county council’s museums service, which continues to run it. However, the service has given notice of its intent to withdraw services in April 2008. The trustees and friends of the tower are working together to secure a future for the tower. As I mentioned at the beginning, Turton tower is the only grade I listed building in the borough of Blackburn with Darwen. We therefore strongly believe that the local authority should give special priority to taking over its ownership and maintenance.

To conclude, Turton tower is one example of why it is important to have a statutory set of standards and services for local authorities, and I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance on the issue.

3.4 pm

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): First, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Historic Chapels Trust—it is a non-financial interest, because it
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is a voluntary trust—and as the president of the North of England Civic Trust. I also represent a constituency in which English Heritage is a big player, taking responsibility for the walls and barracks of Berwick-upon-Tweed, for Norham castle and for providing advice on a huge number of listed buildings.

Let me start by saying how valuable the Select Committee’s report is and how indebted we are to the Committee for identifying a whole range of issues. Not all those issues relate to money; some relate to legislation, priorities and the attention that should be given to aspects of our heritage.

When we discuss British identity and community cohesion, it is important to know where we and the component elements of our community have come from so that we can understand where we are going and how we get there. A knowledge and understanding of history, particularly as displayed in the buildings that communities put up, is therefore immensely valuable. Indeed, it starts to lead to a shared understanding and to shared ownership. That is particularly true of the redundant buildings with which I deal in the trust and the buildings with which the Churches Conservation Trust deals. It is important to involve wider communities, including people of different religions or no religion, in caring for buildings that show the part that religions have played in our history.

Let me make a general point about the Committee’s findings as regards the real-terms decline in English Heritage’s grant. This is a serious matter, but the Government’s attitude to it, as set out in their formal response to the Committee, is complacent. They say:

Of course English Heritage discharges its responsibilities and delivers to a high standard, but it does so only to the limited extent that its funding allows, and a real-terms decline will further limit the extent to which it can discharge those responsibilities. That is universally recognised in the heritage field. There is real doubt as to whether the comprehensive spending review will address the issue, particularly when, as the Committee identified, the Government’s letter to the Department did not prioritise its heritage responsibilities.

At the same time, we have the anxiety about the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is a crucial player in this regard, because its grant-giving ability is impaired in various ways. It could be impaired by the impact of the Olympics, particularly if that impact becomes greater. It is also impaired by the great pressure to apply criteria that are sometimes difficult to maintain. My trust looks after some extremely remote buildings, and it is completely unrealistic to expect it to identify the number of people from ethnic minorities who pass through their doors in an average week. Some of those buildings are high up on mountain sides in the middle of a forest in areas where there are no ethnic minorities. That is not to say that we cannot or do not try to show ethnic minorities the importance of their buildings and of buildings with a similar history. One building that the trust looks after was built by German immigrants who were sugar boilers in the east end of London. It was built in the 18th century and stands there to this day, highlighting how communities came into this
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country and became partners with us in our heritage. None the less, the HLF is under too much pressure to tick boxes that are not always appropriate.

As I said, I am worried about the potential of the Olympics. The games are, of course, an opportunity because many of the people who come to Britain to watch Olympic sports will also want to see our heritage and historic buildings, and many of them will visit such buildings. The two things should not get out of kilter.

Before I deal specifically with places of worship, let me refer to VAT as it affects the wider range of heritage buildings. As the Committee identified, the Chancellor has sought to help places of worship in respect of VAT. However, it remains a foolish distortion that, for most other buildings, it is better to rebuild than to repair from a VAT standpoint, and that needs to be addressed.

On places of worship, let me welcome in passing English Heritage’s inspired campaign to direct people to the value for our heritage of the inspirational buildings that the Churches have put up over the years. Let me also pay tribute in passing to the Churches Conservation Trust, which does a fantastic job with a very large portfolio of buildings. There are certain differences between that trust and the Historic Chapels Trust, but it does an enormous job. The Historic Chapels Trust was set up to deal with buildings—other than Church of England parish churches—that had become redundant. In particular, it deals with buildings that have precious but inflexible interiors and which might lose some of their valuable features if converted for some other use.

There is an error in the Government’s response to the report because it describes the trust as dealing with non-conformist buildings whereas in fact the trust was set up to deal with all the categories I have mentioned. The buildings it looks after include three Catholic churches, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Blackpool—a 1950s building of great interest—and an 18th century Catholic chapel. In future we would expect to have synagogues and some day maybe a mosque among the portfolio of redundant buildings that we look after.

The Committee has been kind to the trust and in the report commends it

I fear that we may have oversold ourselves in our evidence by demonstrating the extent of what we have been able to do. That has led the Committee to say, “Well the Churches Conservation Trust has a real hard struggle ahead, but the Historic Chapels Trust is doing a wonderful job”. We will be careful of that in any future evidence that we give.

The Churches Conservation Trust is trying to do some of the things that we were forced to do from the beginning, such as extending community involvement and building up groups of friends and local committees to help support buildings. We had to do that from day one.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Should the wider community not regard it as an obligation regardless of religious affiliation to look after those
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great buildings? That is something that I have tried to encourage in my constituency. Far too often religious buildings are a minority interest and it is left to the people who chose to worship there to maintain them. That is clearly wrong, but at the same time those buildings should be made more applicable to community use—surely that would be a way forward.

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. That is the basis of English Heritage’s Inspired campaign for places of worship in use, which is achieving success in underscoring increasing recognition by people that the local parish church or non-conformist chapel is part of their heritage and that they can enjoy and use it even if they do not share the religious faith for which it was built and that primarily sustains it.

We deal with buildings that are no longer in regular use where there is an even greater reason for the wider community to make more use of them. I can say that they do so and that it is rewarding to find out what they use them for. The trust’s achievements over the years have been quite remarkable and are almost entirely because of the director and those who have given voluntary help in restoring, maintaining, and getting community use out of buildings that were once purely places of worship. Such buildings are now used for concerts, lectures and ballet schools, and in other ways. One of our buildings is a Quaker meeting house in the Yorkshire dales and is a common place for people to stop when walking the Dales Way so that they can have a moment’s peace and contemplation. That is very much in conformity with its historical tradition.

The trust spent £866,000 on a magnificent restoration of St George’s Lutheran church in the east end of London, which I have already mentioned, of which £550,000 came from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a substantial sum came from English Heritage. Again £850,000 has been spent on a small independent chapel, the Salem chapel in East Budleigh, Devon. The Bethesda chapel in Stoke-on-Trent, which is a massive and magnificent non-conformist chapel in the centre of the Potteries, has had £800,000 spent on it during stage one of the restoration, of which £265,000 was lottery funding and £200,000 money from English Heritage. The rest was largely regeneration and Stoke city council funding, which was hugely appreciated locally. Ten architectural awards have been won in the course of our work. Some of the buildings we deal with are in urban locations where regeneration has taken place and some are in remote rural places; some come to us in reasonable order and some are massively difficult to deal with.

When HCT was established through a Government initiative and under the chairmanship of Sir Hugh Rossi, it was expected to be funded on a similar basis to the Churches Conservation Trust—about 70 per cent. funding from the DCMS and the rest from other sources. In practice, HCT has raised roughly a third of its funding from English Heritage, a third from Heritage Lottery and a third from its own efforts, which have made up to £6 million so far. We were commended for the amount that we have raised and for what the trust achieves with one part-time director and one full-time seconded member of staff, which is the total staff that administers all of the projects.

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On the differences between HCT and CCT, the latter has a more secure source of funding in its grant. I understand that its buildings, unlike ours, do not have to be insured because the Government take responsibility for them. However, we pay £25,000 to £30,000 a year in insurance costs. There are problems that are particular to HCT as we have to find match funding and 30 per cent. of our office costs. Any organisation in the heritage field, as it knocks on the doors of trusts and organisations, finds that a certain amount of grant fatigue is setting in. There are many voluntary and charitable funds and applicants in the heritage area and people are beginning to limit the extent to which they can give.

The work of restoring buildings and making them available for wider use is hugely rewarding, uplifting and exciting. However, there is a question mark over the future of that work in relation to the funding problems that I have described. I will conclude by mentioning one typical instance of how rewarding it is. One day, we all went into Bethesda chapel in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, which has been empty for 20 years. It was immediately following the appearance of the building on the BBC’s “Restoration” programme and the local newspaper photographer came along with his hard hat on and was ready to take some photographs. As soon as he had taken his photographs, he got his mobile phone out, rang his mother and said, “I am in the chapel. Is this where grandma and granddad got married, where I was christened, and where you told me that you used to go to big events?” There was a great sense of excitement from a member of the community who was not involved in the denomination—indeed, the denomination left the building around 20 years ago. He felt that this was a building really worth restoring because it was part of his history and life. That is what makes such work rewarding and it is the kind of thing in the heritage area that I want to see us able to continue.

3.16 pm

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I wish to make one point and in doing so I thank and congratulate the Committee on its report. The point of this issue is to raise the strength of the Minister’s hand so that he can punch well above his weight in the negotiations that have no doubt been in process and will continue until we get the next expenditure round announcement.

Some hon. Members may have heard the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on the radio this morning. He was asked his first question and then there was a pause. Considering he had been given notice that he would be questioned on the adoption issue, I thought maybe I had misheard and that it was already that issue he was being asked about and hence the pause, but it was not. The interviewer said to him, “What do you mean by being British if you are having this campaign?” One sympathises with him because it was a nonsense question. Most of us do not think of ourselves as British; we think of ourselves as coming from Scotland, Wales, England or far away places while nevertheless having an identity based on the country in which we live.

I wish to raise a point with the Committee. However one interprets the answer to the question of what it is
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to be English, to try and wipe out the role of ecclesiastical buildings, whether they are churches or cathedrals, would make that question impossible to answer. Any future idea about the pleasure and pride of being English would be devalued if we lost those buildings. I point out to the Minister that there is a danger of an increasing number of buildings of huge merit being under threat. I will draw examples from the cathedral side as I chair the Cathedrals Fabric Commission—the planning authority for cathedrals—and as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has said, I am a trustee of the Churches Conservation Trust. Just because cathedrals have been successful in the past in raising huge sums of money, we cannot automatically expect that they will continue to do so.

3.19 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

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