Previous Section Index Home Page

25 Jan 2007 : Column 542WH—continued

3.48 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Field: As I was saying before the Divisions, I have one message, and it is for the Minister. Although those people who are concerned to ensure that the great cathedrals of England, their great parish churches or churches in retirement survive have had success in raising funds in the past, we cannot assume that they will be successful in the future.

The market for finance is changing. St. Paul’s cathedral in the heart of London has the City of London to draw on. The cathedral has recently been massively successful in raising a huge budget for repair and conservation. However, the City has changed. There are fewer great institutions controlled by boards in London, and their numbers will continue to decline. The big decisions about which projects to back are made in Bonn, Berlin, New York and Paris, and the going will become tougher for cathedrals, even those that are strategically placed to raise money, such as St. Paul’s and Canterbury.

The second area on which I sound a note of warning to the Minister and to the Committee concerns the Churches Conservation Trust. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was right to draw Members’ attention to the difference between the Historic Chapels Trust, which brilliantly manages a small number of buildings, and the Churches Conservation Trust, which has about 350 grade I or grade II* buildings. This morning we had a trustee meeting. We had a report from just one deanery of one diocese in this country, which is reviewing the number of graded church buildings that it needs. If that one deanery in one diocese decided to go for redundancy on all those buildings that it does not now require for its parish system, it would flood the trust. We obviously hope that the deanery, the diocese and the Church Commissioners will resist a trend of that nature.

However, I again emphasise that just because the trust has successfully taken on all the churches of outstanding merit that the commissioners wish to vest with it in the past, that does not necessarily mean
25 Jan 2007 : Column 543WH
success in the future. As the Minister well knows and as the Committee notes in its report, our budget over a six-year period has been cut in real terms. That brings me back to my first question. There will be lots of answers to the question of what people identify with being English, but it is difficult to give a sensible answer without thinking about our great ecclesiastical buildings, be they cathedrals or churches.

I end on a note of slight disappointment with one of the comments that the Chairman of the Committee made. I agreed so much with his other comments, which were immensely valuable, but he said that he had one last point to make and one last great institution to turn to. I thought for a moment that he was going to refer to the Churches Conservation Trust, the Cathedrals Fabric Commission or the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, for it is within local communities and civil society that the great treasures of our ecclesiastical and built heritage are kept. I had not realised how far the review by the Leader of the Opposition had gone. Far from the Chairman referring to civil society, he referred to local government as the other big player.

Local government is of course the other big player. However, because the voluntary sector and civil society have done the business in the past, it would be foolish for the House or the Government to think that they can continue to do so without increased support from taxpayers—the Government have no money; the money is taxpayers’ money—on all the criteria that the Committee lists. Not only do many taxpayers contribute directly from their own pockets but, to judge from their actions, would clearly wish the Government not to cut back but to increase their expenditure. I hope that the Minister will not only take that message away, but deploy it with his usual skill in the final round of negotiations with our friendly Chancellor.

3.53 pm

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): I start by congratulating the Committee on its excellent report. In my remarks, I should like to refer to paragraph 134 on planning guidance, paragraph 163 on Stonehenge, and paragraph 199 on places of worship. The Government did not respond to the Committee’s comments on Stonehenge or places of worship, which is an omission to which I wish to draw to the Committee’s attention.

I should also like to point out that evidence was taken from the Association of Gardens Trusts, the Garden History Society, the Historic Royal Palaces, the Yorkshire Gardens Trust, the Hampshire Gardens Trust and the Valley Gardens Action Group, but the report did not refer to gardens. That is an important omission, because listing is not exclusively about buildings; it also covers gardens, a number of which are under threat. In my judgment, there is a grave danger that many of our historic gardens could be redesigned without anyone noticing. We are losing too many historic gardens.

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Forgive my ignorance, but are such gardens not listed gardens? Can the hon. Gentleman explain how that works?

25 Jan 2007 : Column 544WH

Robert Key: Yes, such gardens are indeed listed gardens. They are protected, and the criteria for looking after them are laid down carefully for planning authorities. However, whether people are interfering or snooping, or are keen gardeners, in general they probably do not know much about listing of gardens. Perhaps local authorities do not know either, so we all need to be more beady-eyed.

I shall make a few remarks about archaeology, although my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) will say more about that. I declare a non-pecuniary interest as a director and trustee of Wessex Archaeology. As the report points out, there are some problems in the planning system. Although planning policy guidance note 16 is working well, I should like it to be reinforced for the future.

For a start, there is a major problem with museums’ capacity to deal with and make accessible the volumes of material that are generated at excavation. That is a serious and growing problem. We would welcome the implementation of heritage planning systems, which go much beyond the narrow definition of what happens with archaeology. Again, there is a shortfall in capacity, resources and training in that respect within authorities and organisations at both local and national levels.

Additionally, archaeologists and trusts such as the Wessex trust would very much like the principles enshrined in PPG 16 to be properly applied to estuarine, coastal and underwater works. We were to have a maritime Bill, which would have included that. As our inshore coastal waters are scoured for infrastructure projects, as well as for fishing, it is increasingly important that we protect them properly. I refer not only to wrecks but to other features, particularly in areas such as the Thames estuary and the Solent.

We would like to see some more joined-up government in general. Responsibility for heritage matters is spread too widely across Departments. Some Departments, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, have taken steps to ensure that heritage matters are better integrated into their activities, but others do not do the same. For example, the importance of heritage in regeneration and sustainable development projects has not yet been recognised and championed in the Government, as far as I can see. I want to give more power to the Minister’s elbow to do more to raise the profile and the importance of heritage for today’s developments, as well for ancient history.

There is a huge debt of gratitude to be paid to a remarkable organisation which is about to celebrate its tercentenary and which I commend as a voluntary sector model for heritage. I refer of course to the Society of Antiquaries of London, which is a little-heralded organisation. We should pay more attention to what it has to say.

Finally on archaeology, I beg the Minister to ensure that not all the available money is spent on the Olympics. The Olympics are soaking up more and more of future budgets, both of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and of the lottery grant funding bodies. The Minister will of course not be surprised to hear that I believe that a sizeable chunk of money should be available for Stonehenge.

25 Jan 2007 : Column 545WH

I shall not bang on about Stonehenge at great length—I have done so on many occasions over the past 23 years in which I have had the honour of representing Stonehenge in the House—but I will share with the House my favourite press release from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Headed “‘Stonehenge Will Be Reunited With Its Natural Landscape By 2008’ Says Arts Minister”, it says:

However, the “Notes to Editors” say:

That is an archive press release from the Department, which was issued in 2002. Of course, nothing has happened since, except more prevarication by the Department for Transport. I do not doubt for a moment the good will of the Secretary of State or the Minister, both of whom have visited Stonehenge. I was delighted to meet and greet the Secretary of State there in September. However, the situation is a national disgrace and not only in the way identified 20 years ago by the forerunner of the Select Committee. It remains a national disgrace that the problem is too great for the Government to crack.

On cathedrals, I shall not repeat what others have said so well before me, but one aspect needs to be drawn to the Select Committee’s attention again: the problem of cathedral closes and leasehold reform, about which I wrote to the Minister on 6 November last year. I pointed out the serious situation developing not only in Salisbury cathedral close, but others as well. More than a score of the greatest, most historic, oldest and best houses in Salisbury cathedral close are passing out of the control of the dean and chapter and into private hands. That has happened already, and only today, I heard of the latest case, in which another remainder of a 60-year lease has been purchased. As a result, the house will be bought freehold and pass out of the dean and chapter’s control.

That matters because it not only fragments the historic environment of Salisbury cathedral close, but deprives the dean and chapter of income that they have had for hundreds of years from houses in the close. How has that situation arisen? As a former chorister, the Minister understands cathedrals; however, he was advised that the problem was not for him but for the Department for Communities and Local Government to deal with. What a pity.

In September last year, Christopher Lewis, chairman of the Association of English Cathedrals, also wrote to the Minister to point out what had gone wrong. It all started with the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, which enabled tenants of houses held on long leases at low rents to acquire the freehold or extend the lease term. The 1967 Act was originally considered unlikely to apply to houses such as those in cathedral closes, but then the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 was passed. It extended the right of enfranchisement collectively to blocks of flats.
25 Jan 2007 : Column 546WH
By virtue of section 96, however, flats belonging to cathedrals were specifically excluded following debates in Parliament in which it was pointed out the significance of deans and chapters of cathedrals maintaining their direct control over those properties. But, of course, that exclusion did not apply to houses.

Later, the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 removed the low-rent requirement of the 1967 Act. As a consequence, more cathedral houses fall within the Act and will be liable to enfranchisement. That significantly affects closes—not only Salisbury’s; Norwich cathedral close is another good example. Flats, however, remain unenfranchisable because of the exemption in the 1993 Act.

The Care of Cathedrals Measure 1990 introduced a specific and comprehensive series of statutory controls over works within the precincts as well as those on the cathedral itself. That overcame the objection that cathedral precincts were hard to define, so there is now clear demarcation of the relevant area. I wrote to the Minister and his officials passed my letter to Baroness Andrews, a Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government. She wrote me a letter—sadly undated, although clearly after I had written to her—in which she said:

Quite so, but that is not the point; it goes beyond that. She went on to say that she understood that

That is all true, but that is not the point. Having missed the point, Baroness Andrews ended her letter thus:

We have all said that as Ministers, have we not, Minister?

I submit that this is not good enough. We cannot have buck-passing from Department to Department on important issues of heritage. The Government must get their act together. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), understands cathedrals, just as I know he understands Stonehenge and wants to see the Department for Transport take a grip.

I should like to make another point about places of worship and the Select Committee’s report. It is not made often, but it was made forcefully by the Bishop of London in a magnificent publication of July last year: “The Funding of Church Buildings: the Next Steps”. It is that the Church reaches every parish in this country. The established Church has a physical and spiritual presence that delivers Government policy on a whole range of areas in the social field—from crèches to looking after the elderly; it is using its facilities and opening its doors. That point needs to be borne in mind when the Church says, “Help! There is a huge shortfall of nearly £60 million a year in the requirement to maintain our buildings, but the Church’s real function is ministry.” It is doing the
25 Jan 2007 : Column 547WH
ministry bit to help the Government; please will the Government help churches to deliver that and look after our heritage?

Before I make my final comments, I should like to mention one other aspect of cathedrals: the importance of cathedral music and the choral tradition. I am a member of an illustrious organisation called Friends of Cathedral Music. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) hosted a reception at the House of Commons, which unfortunately I was unable to attend, to celebrate the organisations latest birthday.

I have always benefited from cathedral music. I was educated at Salisbury Cathedral choir school and went on to sing in the choir of Clare college, Cambridge. Lest some feel that this issue is relevant only to English cathedrals, I should say that it is not. Believe it or not, I was a lay clerk in St. Giles cathedral in Edinburgh, where I learned to loathe the metrical psalms with a loathing greater than anyone can imagine. However, a wonderful tradition of British cathedral music extended north of the border, for which I was grateful.

Returning to English cathedrals and the importance of maintaining their music and the tradition that goes with it, I am glad that the Department for Education and Skills has funded a new initiative that will benefit cathedral choir schools up and down the land. I encourage the Government to do more on that important issue.

Mr. Beith: I really cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with his remarks, lest the Minister think that there is not a burgeoning interest in both west gallery music, an important part of our musical heritage, and metrical psalms in Scotland. If we lost those traditions, we would also be impoverished.

Robert Key: I entirely concur. The Scottish Parliament should pay far more attention to the metrical psalms. As long as I am not asked to be nice about them, I shall not mind.

I turn to another very important part of our built heritage: the rural heritage of agricultural buildings, particularly listed barns. At the end of last year, my district council’s planning authority put out a press release headed “Farmer Fined for Demolishing Listed Barn”:

The district council said that that was good because it was serious about looking after our heritage. That is fine, but what happens in a depressed agricultural industry that does not have tuppence to spare, let alone the money to meet very substantial costs for looking after a building of no economic value whatever to the farmer?

Such buildings cannot be used for anything; they cannot house machinery, they are not allowed to take the stock because they do not conform to modern standards. It is not possible to get planning permission to turn them into houses or flats for holidaymakers because the planning authority says that they are listed agricultural buildings.

Although I commend Salisbury district council on its enthusiasm for maintaining listed barns, I was not alone
25 Jan 2007 : Column 548WH
in thinking that that would not be the end of the story. The following week, the local paper published a letter from Jen Carter of East Gomeldon, under the headline, “Farmer has his head screwed on”. The letter pointed out that the farmer had saved himself £3,500 by moving in with a bulldozer and knocking the barn down the night before the arrival of contractors sent in by the district council for which he was going to have to fork out £18,000. I do not condone his actions, but I believe that farmers in straitened circumstances cannot be held responsible for the maintenance of their listed barns.

I started asking questions, because I wondered whether the problem was extensive. I received a letter from a large local landowner who had a farm on his land where the listed building was one of a group on which he had spent almost £500,000 in the past two years. He told me that the planning authority was trying to persuade him that he needed to spend £76,743 on another listed barn, but that the engineers whom he employed said that the work on that one 19th-century, rebuilt, falling-apart building of no economic value whatever would cost £188,000.

I then asked the Minister, in a parliamentary question, how many

I shall not read out the list, but I discovered that there are 19,937 barns listed at grade II and above and 69,000 listed agricultural buildings, including those barns. This is a national problem with a national price tag. If the Government seriously expect a depressed agricultural industry to spend huge sums of money on those 69,000 agricultural buildings, they have another think coming. The problem is counter-intuitive because the more that local authorities press for barns to be kept up, the more they will be knocked down. We must have a solution. The Department should take the lead and realise that this major part of the English rural heritage needs to be addressed.

Several hon. Members rose

Sir John Butterfill (in the Chair): Order. I remind hon. Members that we are short of time. If they limit themselves to 10 minutes, if possible, it may ensure that we get everybody in.

Next Section Index Home Page