House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2007 - 08
Publications on the internet
Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Dr. William McCrea
Beith, Mr. Alan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD)
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Burgon, Colin (Elmet) (Lab)
Clelland, Mr. David (Tyne Bridge) (Lab)
Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham) (Lab)
Devine, Mr. Jim (Livingston) (Lab)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Hodge, Margaret (Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport)
Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
Jack, Mr. Michael (Fylde) (Con)
McKechin, Ann (Glasgow, North) (Lab)
Prentice, Mr. Gordon (Pendle) (Lab)
Vaizey, Mr. Edward (Wantage) (Con)
Watts, Mr. Dave (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Wyatt, Derek (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab)
Younger-Ross, Richard (Teignbridge) (LD)
Keith Neary, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Key, Robert (Salisbury) (Con)

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 12 March 2008

[Dr. William McCrea in the Chair]

Draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2008

2.30 pm
The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2008.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Dr. McCrea. The order is required so that the Government can continue to provide funding for the Churches Conservation Trust. Let me give a bit of background on the trust’s work for those who do not know about it.
The CCT takes into its care the finest Church of England churches that are no longer required for regular worship and currently cares for 340 such churches. It was established under ecclesiastical legislation in 1969 as the redundant churches fund. There has always been a partnership between the Church and the Government, and the Government now provide 70 per cent. of the trust’s statutory funding, with the other 30 per cent. coming from the Church. The CCT also raises funds from donations, legacies and grant-giving foundations.
As we all know, historic churches are a valuable and vital part of our nation’s heritage. Indeed, 45 per cent. of all grade I listed buildings are Church of England churches or cathedrals. Such churches and cathedrals represent the finest of our historic buildings and are showpieces for the most accomplished design and workmanship. They are used for a wide range of cultural and community events. As buildings, they often help to define our towns and villages. They often look outward, serving their local communities in many ways.
Sadly, about 25 Anglican churches become redundant for a range of reasons each year. The Church of England finds alternative uses for about half of them, which can serve as places of worship for other faiths, as community resources, as offices or as housing. About a quarter—mostly those with no specific historic or architectural interest and with no scope for a new use—are demolished. The remaining churches—the finest ones—are vested in the trust. Decisions on which churches are made redundant and which are to be vested are made by the redundant churches committee of the Church of England.
As part of their responsibilities to the historic environment, the Government are committed to helping to preserve listed church buildings, whether active or redundant, and Government funding for the trust is a vital part of a package of measures that support that aim. More than £55 million a year of Government and lottery funding supports church and cathedral buildings and places of worship of all faiths and denominations.
The primary objective of the CCT, and the greatest call on its funds, is the conservation of its churches, particularly on vesting, when buildings may have been out of use for a number of years. Trust specialists ensure that churches are put back into the best state possible, and the trust has an excellent reputation for the quality of its conservation work. Let me give one example.
St. Mary’s in Redgrave, Suffolk, is a grade I listed building and came to the trust in October 2005. Since then, the trust, at a cost of £416,000, has undertaken extensive stonework repairs, glazing work to the magnificent east window and re-roofing and partial rebuilding of the vestry. Inside, the important 17th to 19th century monuments have been repaired and a number of mediaeval wall paintings have been uncovered and conserved before the walls are replastered and limewashed. As part of the works, the very active friends group attached to the church raised £36,000 for lavatories. That means that the church can be used extensively for concerts and events, and it is already being heavily booked for such occasions this year. All of that will raise further funds for the trust. That is an excellent example of the trust working in partnership with local people to keep a building in use.
Once the trust, perhaps with the local community, has worked to get a church into a fit state, it will open it to the public. Such churches are enjoyed by many thousands of people each year. In 2006-07, 1.5 million people visited the trust’s churches, including 15,000 people who did so as part of heritage open days. Many people visit simply to find a quiet, reflective place, to drink in the history or perhaps to look for clues to their family trees. However, churches can also be an excellent educational resource for lessons in history, architecture, design and textiles. There were nearly 300 educational visits in the financial year 2006-07, both from schools and older learning groups.
The trust also looks at what else its churches can bring to the community, how they can host community activities and services, and how they can encourage local volunteers. The trust’s churches host many events, from fashion shows to flower festivals to farmers’ markets. There were more than 500 such events in the last year, but while sporadic alternative use might suit some churches, a major and permanent new community use might be the best way of securing the future of some buildings.
I will mention two such exciting projects. St Paul’s, Bristol was in a dreadful state, in the middle of a difficult area where we had riots in the 1980s. Thanks to the trust and a large grant from Heritage Lottery Fund, St Paul’s is now back in excellent condition. It is home to a circus school that also works for the local community, not just in the church, but outside in the square. People can visit and enjoy the church, but now they can also watch circus performers. The project has helped to transform the whole area and is another example of a successful partnership. In Bolton, the trust is working with a range of local partners to create a multi-faith community centre out of All Souls, a large Victorian church building in an urban area, and I look forward to hearing news of how that project is progressing.
I have mentioned that the trust has always been a partnership between the Church and the Government. We work together on the its funding and on its funding agreement, which sets targets for the trust in line with departmental and Church Commissioners objectives. I am pleased that this year, in what has been a difficult spending round, we have been able to increase by £100,000 the grant that we give to the trust. That will release further funding from the Church under the currently agreed ratio. Government support for the trust will therefore be £3.1 million per year until 2010-11. We are also taking the opportunity to consolidate some further funding awarded for increased pension costs, and that will bring us to a total of £3,161,806.
We have asked the trust to look at what it can do with the increased money to help the congregations of churches of vestable quality to remain as active churches, helping to fight off redundancy, the loss of the building and a future of possible dependency on public funds. Another option is that the trust could use the money to help its church buildings to become more independent by identifying and encouraging new uses.
The CCT has always performed well, and I expect that the new things that we are asking of the trust will be met with the usual efficiency and success. CCT has always represented excellent value for money and I am pleased to be able to seek the agreement of the Committee to continue the increased Government support for the trust. I hope that hon. Members will feel able to share my enthusiasm for the work of the trust and that the Committee will approve the draft order.
2.39 pm
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): It is a great pleasure to be under your watchful eye this afternoon, Dr. McCrea. I must apologise for my slightly flustered arrival, which was partly due to the clock that I was watching being wrong—that is for me to sort out—and partly due to the fact that I am stepping in for my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage, whose wife is in labour as we speak. He feels, quite rightly, that his place is at her side—[Interruption. ] Not that sort of Labour, a different one—nice try.
Parliament started in a redundant church, the upper part of St. Stephen’s chapel. When the court ceased to use Westminster, the building became surplus to requirements. However, it is unusual to find such a creative use for an old church. The order is required for a specific purpose. As we have heard, the Churches Conservation Trust does important work. It conserves Anglican churches of architectural merit that are no longer required for worship. I have four such churches in my constituency that are all well maintained; peculiarly, a large number of them are in the Lambourn valley. In researching my speech, I tried to understand why that part of my constituency moved in a more secular fashion than the remainder. [Interruption.] It could be because of the horse-racing world, although those involved in it can be as Christian as anyone else.
I have a benefice in my constituency that has eight churches with one priest in charge. He spends much of his time raising money and protecting the built responsibilities that go with his job. Considering the time he spends raising funds from his congregation in relation to that, it is hard to imagine how many of our serving clergy have the time to carry out their primary role of saving souls. It is not surprising that the endowments of an increasing number of churches, many of which were endowed at a time when there was much more wealth in rural communities and urban areas, have slipped away despite many churches still maintaining large numbers of church goers. Nevertheless, a large number of churches are falling into disrepair, which is why the Churches Conservation Trust does such superb work.
The CCT will receive a flat increase in its Department for Culture, Media and Sport grant this year, which will trigger an increase in the grant from the Church Commissioners, as the Minister described. We welcome that increase, but it must be remembered that it comes after seven years of real-terms cuts, which have meant a 12 per cent. budget reduction. The CCT has an impressive target for donor and new project income. If met, an extra £4.2 million will be available to help churches that are no longer required for regular worship.
We would like the Government to do more to make it easier for charities such as the CCT to attract donations. At the moment, the rules on the rewards available to donors and the regulations governing the way in which charities can run development initiatives are too cumbersome. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on how the bureaucracy on charitable giving can be reduced.
As it is Budget day, it seems appropriate to raise a specific point about the Treasury regulations that apply to the CCT. Currently, it is subject to Treasury end-year flexibility rules, which are the regulations that govern the way in which non-departmental bodies can use public money. It is clear that, as a body spending public money, the CCT should be subject to those rules. However, it is not just the publicly funded part of the CCT budget that is subject to the EYF regulations. Conservative Members find it bizarre that the EYF rules should cover all financial dealings of the CCT.
The CCT is a body established by ecclesiastical legislation and receives about a third of its income from the Church of England. I would like that part of the CCT’s income to be deregulated as it would allow greater financial freedom. Doing so would bring three main benefits to the CCT. First, it would be able to raise additional funds from individual and corporate donations. Secondly, it would allow the CCT to spend restricted endowment funds on churches for the purposes for which they were originally given. Thirdly, it would be able to build up a small, unrestricted reserve, as is good practice for any charity. Those three measures seem entirely sensible and would be of benefit to the hundreds of churches that are no longer required for religious purposes. Yet the CCT is unable to use its public grant to lever extra funds and maximise private donations. Can the Minister at least commit to considering with her Treasury colleagues whether it is possible to relax the regulations governing the Church of England grant to the CCT?
Although we welcome extra money for the CCT, the award must be seen in the context of the Government’s wider record on heritage. The needs of heritage have been neglected and ignored. In addition to being well down the list of ministerial priorities, the sector has been subject to a double whammy of funding cuts. First, the division of lottery funds to pay for Ministers’ pet projects means that heritage received only £200 million in 2006 compared with £327 million in 1997. Secondly, the Heritage Lottery Fund is contributing £161 million to the 2012 Olympics. Of that, £90 million is to help meet the cost overruns that have become almost routine since London won the bidding process.
The blame for those cuts can be directed firmly at the Government. English Heritage has calculated that when combined, the double whammy has meant £50 million less for heritage. By returning to the original good causes and changing the tax regime, we estimate that our plans would return £41.55 million to heritage each year.
Heritage has never been more important. It is the backbone of our tourism industry. Urban regeneration and new housing initiatives mean that it has never been more important to value and preserve our built and natural environments. The new money for the CCT will undoubtedly be well used. However, it is a drop in the ocean. Millions of pounds are required to save the buildings of national importance on the buildings at risk register and preserve our shared history for future generations. It is time that the Government gave heritage the recognition that it deserves.
2.46 pm
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I welcome the hon. Member for Newbury to his seat—eventually. In a sense, it was a pity that he arrived because we were all looking forward to the hon. Member for Salisbury leading for the Conservative party, for no other reason than that he is quite an expert on this subject. We look forward to hearing his contribution later. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is also quite an expert on these matters.
I will be brief because I know how much everybody loves to discuss a statutory instrument. I will therefore not repeat the points that have been made by the Conservatives—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I start with warm applause, if nothing else.
The Minister’s briefing came largely from a document that all Committee members were sent by the Churches Conservation Trust. That document spoke of the work at St. Paul’s and the Minister cited several quotes from it. I will read one section of the briefing for the record. Paragraph 3 on the first page states:
“The CCT will receive a flat increase on its DCMS Grant of £100,000 a year or 3.3 per cent. in 2008-09 and 0 per cent. in the succeeding two years. This will trigger an increase in the Commissioners’ grant of £42,000 a year, guaranteed in 2008-09 but subject to Synod vote thereafter.
The Trust’s Government and Church grants have been frozen since 2001 and whilst we welcome the small increase resulting from the Spending Review, it will not solve the budget problems we now face following an effective 12 per cent. cut in real terms over the last seven years.”
It is very good for the Minister to cite the CCT and its good works, but I hope that she recognises that it has a funding problem. It is very easy for Ministers to say, “We have budgetary problems. We can only give you so much money. You must go and find new sources of finance.” However, doing that is very difficult in the real world, particularly when one of the sources of potential funds has been pulled from under its feet because money has been taken out of the lottery fund, as the hon. Member for Newbury mentioned.
One of the reasons why churches are becoming redundant—the Minister referred to 25 churches a year—is the simple cost of maintaining the buildings in working order. The impracticalities of keeping the structure together and the costs will lead to an increasing number of churches becoming redundant. In trying to solve the problems that the CCT faces, we need to look at how we can help Churches—not just the Church of England—to maintain their historic stock. I would be grateful if the Minister would give us an idea of our expectations for redundant churches in the future. She referred to 25 churches a year. There is only a finite number of churches in the UK, and I am sure that 25 churches a year over the next 150 years or whatever would represent all the churches in the UK. That is clearly not realistic. It would be helpful to have an idea of how many churches are empty, of how many of those are likely to be sold off, and of how many are likely to be redundant. We need a projection of that over the next 10 years, because all bodies need to work not on a year-to-year basis, but with some idea of their future planning. A commitment from the Department to start looking at the problem of the conservation of churches in the long term would be beneficial.
Let me cite an example from my beautiful town of Teignmouth. Hon. Members will have heard a BBC radio journalist two days ago describing the waves crashing over its sea wall. I was stood in my bedroom looking out at a beautiful clear sky—there was not a puff of wind in the air, and no breakers on the sea as far as I could see. However, at high tide, the water does come over, and it damages one of the two churches: St. Michael’s. That church has some problems because it is so close to the sea.
Teignmouth used to be two towns, East Teignmouth and West Teignmouth, and so has two Anglican churches. In addition, we have other churches—Methodist, United Reform, Catholic, and so on—most of which are Victorian. There is a process to work out whether those two churches can be kept, or whether a deal should be done with the Methodists to share some facilities, or whatever. We could end up with the two churches, or certainly one, becoming part of this stock. I would like to hope that those two splendid and wonderful buildings will find a positive community use.
Last year’s CCT annual report sets out a whole series of objectives for this year, including the need to raise funds. It also sets out its priorities: to increase income; to find new uses for urban churches; to raise the trust’s profile; and to involve volunteers and friends groups, which the Minister touched on. Rather than read all that information now—I promised that I would not go on for too long—I hope that the Minister will look at those aspirations and discuss with CCT how it can be helped to achieve its objectives. That will be to the benefit of our heritage and our communities throughout the UK.
2.53 pm
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I welcome the grant, and it is important that we conserve churches. I have a series of questions, however, to probe the context of the statutory instrument.
The order extends to England and Wales. However, what about the other parts of the United Kingdom? Secondly, what about other churches? To start with the geographical question, what happens to churches of architectural merit in Scotland that fall into redundant use? Is that a devolved matter? If it is a devolved matter in Scotland, why not in Wales? I am interested to know why the instrument applies to England and Wales, but not to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Perhaps I can help by saying that the Historic Chapels Trust—to which I will refer later—seeks to do a similar job in respect of all other denominations in England. There are small trusts in both Scotland and Wales that are similar to the Historic Chapels Trust and are beginning to address the same problem there. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue because those in Scotland and Wales are only at the beginning of that large task.
Mr. Hollobone: I am most grateful for that extremely helpful intervention because it is important to put the order in context. I look forward to hearing the right hon. Gentleman’s speech in a moment. Members of the public will rightly ask why such help is given to just one denomination in England and Wales, and not to other churches of architectural note elsewhere.
My other question is to do with the historic art of bell ringing, which is not exclusively, but predominantly, part of England’s heritage. Ringing bells in the round started in this country, and 95 per cent. of the world’s churches that have bells as they are rung in this country are in England. When churches are closed, all too often the bells fall silent. However, there is not always a need for them to fall silent, because a large number of people, including myself, practise the art of bell ringing.
Many peals are rung in churches that are not in use. When, unfortunately, churches close, every effort should be made to ensure that the bells can still be rung. I am pretty sure that a church in my constituency, in the parish of Cranford St. John, will be covered by the order. Unfortunately, it is too dangerous to ring that church’s bells because of the state of the tower.
I know that bell ringing might trigger alternative funding streams, but I should like the Minister to explain what assistance is being given by her Department, and through other routes, to ensure that the English practice of bell ringing is strengthened and maintained as much as possible. That will become an increasingly important issue if the closure rate of 25 Anglican churches a year is to be maintained.
2.57 pm
Mr. Beith: How good it is to have a clergyman of a non-established denomination presiding over our proceedings, Dr. McCrea.
I am glad to follow the hon. Gentleman, who made some interesting points. I had better first declare an interest as chairman of the Historic Chapels Trust, which carries out a parallel role to that of the Churches Conservation Trust, and I want to make one or two comparisons with the CCT as I proceed.
I want also to pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who was until recently the chairman of the CCT. He did a valuable job, not least in shaking it up a bit and injecting some ideas into it about how to go about its work. The Minister mentioned some of the fruits of that. The CCT was quite a traditional organisation in its approach. It took care of buildings but was perhaps not very innovative in the way it went about it. That has been changing and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that. I am optimistic and confident that the new chairman, Loyd Grossman, will be similarly innovative in what he tries to do with an organisation whose work is so immensely important and valuable.
I shall not add to what has been said about the limited nature of the Government’s additional grant support, which, following as it does a long freeze in the grant and being fixed for each of the next three years, leaves the CCT still with a very tight budgeting problem for the large number of churches that it maintains. I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Newbury about end-year flexibility in relation to non-public funds. I see that the Minister realises that that is something she could usefully explore with the Treasury in one of her many discussions with it.
As well as starting to look for innovative ways of dealing with its buildings, the CCT has also been trying to build up community support for its work, with a national supporters scheme, regional and national volunteers, and friends groups. I should have liked to hear more in the annual report about the progress being made with that work. It is important that a redundant church is not regarded as something that people go to look at because a distant organisation is looking after it, but is something for which there is a genuine sense of ownership in the community. The Historic Chapels Trust finds that that is vital for taking care of the building, resisting vandalism and ensuring that it has a life in the community.
The CCT gets 70 per cent. of its funding from the DCMS and 30 per cent. from the Church Commissioners, which provides a reasonable basis for its operations. The other denominations do not have the means to do that. Few of them can be compared to the Church of England; they do not have the same history of endowment. Therefore, there was no equivalent organisation to England’s established Church and the Government did not do a similar deal with other denominations. We had to create an alternative, so a number of us got together and the Historic Chapels Trust was created with funding from English Heritage, which was originally intended to cover 70 per cent. of core costs and project costs. The reality has been different, however, as English Heritage has found itself squeezed over the years. Another major source of funding, the Heritage Lottery Fund, has also become more and more squeezed, not least because of the Olympics, as other hon. Members mentioned.
In the period to which hon. Members referred for comparison with the CCT, the Historic Chapels Trust has had to raise £6 million: roughly one third from English Heritage, one third from the lottery and one third from a wide range of other sources. That is a major fund-raising task. We have only a tiny staff of effectively two part-time people, who do all the fundraising, as well as managing the projects on buildings. The CCT has a significant staff to do its work.
In both organisations, when something is achieved, there is a tremendous sense of the value of restoring buildings to their communities. Our trust recently completed the first stage on the Bethesda Methodist chapel at Hanley, which is an enormous building, seating nearly 2,000 people. It has lain derelict for 20 years, or at least empty and in poor repair. Having spent nearly £1 million on it, we participated in heritage open day in September. I went along, hoping that quite a lot of people would come. By half-past 2, more than 1,000 had come through its doors, many of them clutching photographs of what the building was like in their childhood. It was an immensely moving experience.
People felt that they had the building back again and could hold events there. They wondered, “Will there be occasional services here that we can come to?” We try to ensure that buildings are used for events and activities as well as allowing occasional services to take place so that people see them used for what they were originally designed, without which one cannot really understand their nature. That is important and immensely valuable.
I do not think that I have ever heard people say, “What a pity that the CCT”—or the Historic Chapels Trust—“is looking after this building.” People want to keep the buildings. However, the most important question that the Minister must face is how we can ensure that the work of the CCT or HCT does not become impossible because so many churches are becoming redundant.
Some churches need not pass into redundancy but do so because the maintenance and repair responsibilities are too heavy for a small congregation. Perhaps even more significantly, a small group of people worshipping regularly may not contain the talents that could unleash the potential of the building and make it possible for it to survive with combined church and community use. Big churches can and often will do exactly that, but small congregations often cannot.
The Minister is helped greatly by English Heritage’s “Inspired!” campaign. I very much commend its director, Simon Thurley, for his initiative on the matter. The campaign encourages denominations to have advisers within their ranks to say to congregations, “Look, you do not need to abandon this building. There are various potential uses that you could make of it and then it does not need to become redundant. You can get the benefit of the community use of it, while continuing to use it for your own worship.” I hope that the Minister will recognise the value of that. I hope that she will realise that she has a departmental responsibility, not only for the grant that CCT receives, but for ensuring that churches do not become redundant unnecessarily when it would be possible, through a combination of schemes such as this and having enough money in maintenance grant schemes, to ensure that those things can be done.
Often, the most important factor in maintaining a building is to act quickly. The number of buildings that we have been thinking of taking over which would have cost enormously less to repair had someone fixed the gutters 10 years ago is extraordinary. Such simple, little maintenance things can save large sums in the future. The Department’s involvement with English Heritage in giving support to the “Inspired!” campaign and maintaining repair grant schemes is fundamental to preventing the work of the CCT from becoming so great that grants such as this will not be enough to help it do the job, or indeed to help bodies with more limited funds, such as the Historic Chapels Trust, do a similar job for all other denominations.
3.5 pm
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr. McCrea; I feel that you will have an innate understanding of what we are on about. I have come here to support my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury and to endorse everything that he said from the Front Bench. As I am not an appointed member of this Committee, I am grateful to you for allowing me to speak.
I have also come to support the Minister. In the mists of time, I was a Minister in the old Department of National Heritage, now the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and I am well aware of the enormous difficulty of prioritising that Department’s expenditure, which is always squeezed by the Treasury. However warm its relations with the Treasury may be, the DCMS does not get enough of the national cake. I should declare an interest as a member of the council of Salisbury cathedral and of the diocesan synod of Salisbury diocese. I am also the only Member of the House who is a member of the General Synod of the Church of England.
It is clear to me that the CCT has done everything asked of it since 1969. It has done all the work that it should in education, community cohesion and tourism strategies. Every burden that has been put on it, in addition to keeping out the water and keeping on the roof, has been accomplished to one degree or another. Therefore, of course I welcome the increase in the grant from £9 million to £9.5 million over three years. It is a modest increase to a very modest sum, but it is none the less welcome.
One question that no one has addressed so far is why the Church of England has redundant churches. It is simple. You will understand this, Dr. McCrea—most people of a religious denomination are primarily religious, not architects or builders, and they wish to spend what money they have on their church’s mission. However, in the Church of England, the problem is that if the church was built in the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th or 15th century, it is not located where most of the people now are. The biggest challenge for the ministry of the Church of England is trying to fight with one hand tied behind its back, as it must spend so much keeping up those wonderful churches. The Church does so happily, but with a rather heavy heart. The relationship between Church and state needs to be rebalanced when it comes to our heritage buildings.
Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Would not the money go somewhat further if the Church of England could lease out the churches to some of the new evangelical groups that are building at the moment?
The problem for the Church of England is that it is responsible for 13,000 listed places of worship and 4,000 grade I, 4,000 grade II* and 4,000 grade II buildings. The Church has responsibility for 40 per cent. of all grade I listed buildings in England, and 20 per cent. of all grade II* listed buildings are Church of England parish churches. That is a big burden on the Church and the Christian community. The CCT can cope with only a tiny number of the churches that are becoming redundant because people no longer live near them; it takes on about three a year at the moment.
The explanatory memorandum mentions the need to find other uses, but there are limits to the other uses that can be found. For example, under its priorities and strategic objectives, the DCMS might wish redundant churches to become casinos. There is obviously a problem here for the Church of England if it does not want its churches to have that sort of use.
There are genuine problems. The strategy for the uses of these redundant churches is decided between the DCMS and the Church Commissioners. That is being addressed at the moment under the new agreement. I ask the DCMS not to be too restrictive when it comes to deciding what the priorities and the strategic objectives should be.
It is also interesting to note that paragraph 8.1 of the explanatory memorandum states:
“A Regulatory Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument as it has no impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies.”
I beg to differ. If some of these churches do not get any assistance, it will certainly have an impact on their ability to deliver to the local community in which they find themselves. It will have an impact on charities and voluntary bodies because they will have to pick up the bill instead of the CCT. Paragraph 8.2 states:
“There is no impact on the public sector.”
How right the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was to say that if only some of these problems were addressed early on and a few pounds were spent on quite simple things such as keeping the water out, keeping the stonework pointed and fitting new lead flashings, hundreds of thousands of pounds would not be needed later to keep the building up and running.
I was interested in comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, the campanologist. One church that has been enormously helped by the CCT is St. Wilfred in Low Marnham, in Nottinghamshire, which has restoring its bells on its wish list. It needs only £3,000, but if it cannot find that sum the bells will become unsafe and they will have to be silenced until funds can be found. That again argues for more funding.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to security. He is so right. Again, the CCT has got here first. All Saints, Waldershare, in Kent, is the first trust church to have installed an automated door-locking system with a time control and magnetic door lock, allowing access to the church during set times and incorporating an external keypad for secure access and an internal emergency release, so that getting locked in is not a possibility.
That is the sort of work that the CCT is doing and which is so very valuable, but it does have a very long wish list. It is responsible not just for the fabric of churches but for the fittings. The Pugin chapel at St. Peter and St. Paul in Albury in Surrey needs £60,000 for its plasterwork. St. Leonard’s at the Hythe in Colchester needs £75,000 for its Victorian wall paintings—and so on and so on. The CCT performs a hugely valuable function in this regard. It is very grateful to the Government for the modest sums that are available. It is important to note that altogether the DCMS funds about 50 per cent. of the total. About 30 per cent. comes from the Church Commissioners, but there are lots of other funders, too, ranging from the Heritage Lottery Fund to individual bequests and others.
I warmly welcome the order, and I urge the Committee to support it. I also make a plea to the Minister to consider in the broader picture the need to rebalance the burden on the religious communities—the Church of England in particular, but also the non-conformist Churches—of the proper, responsible maintenance of their historic buildings with their mission for their faith, which is sometimes in conflict. If we are going to sell Britain as a tourist destination, when such a lot of that tourism is focused on our historic cathedrals and parish churches, perhaps it is time to consider whether the general taxpayer should pay a more just proportion of the cost.
3.14 pm
Margaret Hodge: That was a very informed debate, and I shall reply briefly to the issues raised.
Looking back, when we came into government we inherited a budget for the CCT of £1.74 million. We are raising it to £3.161 million. Although it has been a limited increase over time, there has been an increase nevertheless, and I hope that it is welcome. We are doing it in the context of fiscal constraints and cuts in funding for a range of organisations. I should make it clear that the CCT sits alongside a lot of funding streams from the Government, the most important of which is the list of places of worship grant scheme, which provides VAT reimbursement. About £70 million has been spent on that.
Several hon. Members asked whether money from the Heritage Lottery Fund will be lost to the cause because of the Olympics. I should have hoped that there was consensus in all parties about the importance of the Olympics to this country, and about £900 million will be invested through the Heritage Lottery Fund in the coming period. I think that I am right in saying that about £120 million will go towards the Olympics.
Mr. Benyon: The Minister should not confuse genuine concern about heritage budgets across the board with not being supportive of the Olympics. We are all hugely supportive of the Olympics, but there is a legitimate debate to be had about the funding for that project and the impact that it will have on other important areas of our heritage.
There was a standstill in the budget on heritage. Again, in this spending round we have been able to increase the money that will go to English Heritage throughout the comprehensive spending review period.
Mr. Holloway: The point is not how much money is spent, but how competently it is spent.
Margaret Hodge: If the hon. Gentleman is attacking the record of our lottery distributors, in particular the Heritage Lottery Fund, he is wrong to do so. That lottery money has been being extremely efficiently invested in many good causes that he, too, should support.
English Heritage is receiving an increased budget this time round. Its base budget will be £11 million higher at the end of the spending period from what it is at the beginning. Given the constraints under which we are operating, that is a good thing. Hon. Members referred to end-year flexibility. It is a perfectly sound and valid point, particularly when resources are not raised directly through taxation. We have constant conversations with colleagues across Government to see whether we can find some relief in that respect.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge put forward the idea that I could give proper information about the predicted number of redundant churches in the future. That would be hugely difficult. It is certainly not something that I could do. My constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham have 100 active Christian churches throughout our borough, all of which are thriving and desperately looking for buildings in which to house places of worship.
All the issues that were raised by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed about modernising our approach to the use of redundant churches are important, not because of the throwaway remark about using them as casinos, but for strong community purposes that help us to build those cohesive communities to which we are all committed.
My understanding is that the redundant churches committee of the Church of England decides which churches should come to the trust. When a church becomes redundant, it is the Church of England that undertakes a period of looking for alternative uses, except where a church is of such high quality that it deserves to be vested immediately.
Margaret Hodge: With the greatest respect, that is difficult to do. We know that out of the 25 or so churches declared redundant each year, three to four come into the scheme. Other hon. Members in the Committee who spend more time on such matters may have a better view of planning for the future, but that is what we know at present. Certainly, the hon. Member for Salisbury, who talked about taking a longer-term view of the contribution of the state towards the maintenance of those jewels in our heritage crown, is right to raise the issue. He will know that there are ongoing discussions across Government to see what further support we can give.
As for ringing bells, I would also plead for playing organs, which are equally important to me, as a pianist, and a wonderful feature of many of our old churches. I was pleased the other day to go into a well-restored Anglo-Saxon church where organ recitals take place. They are open to the public and an income is generated for the maintenance of the church. That is great.
On the issue of bells, the main money and resources available come from the listed places of worship scheme, which helps to meet the VAT costs incurred. There are separate arrangements in Scotland and Wales, as the matter is devolved. The statutory instrument covers Wales, as a small number of Anglican churches affected by it are in Wales. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, the Historic Chapels Trust takes the redundant churches of other denominations and it is in part funded by English Heritage, although I accept not to the extent that he would like.
I hope that I have dealt with most of the issues raised. I end by joining the right hon. Gentleman in giving the Committee’s thanks to the endeavours of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead during his chairmanship of the CTT, and to extend our thanks to the current trustees, particularly Loyd Grossman, for his efforts, and to the staff and the many volunteers who make sure that our churches are open to the public. I especially agree that we must take every step possible, in a much more radical and innovative way, to ensure that those churches are maintained for public use. If we do, that is the best way of raising resources, not just from the public purse, but from voluntary and philanthropic sources, ensuring that they can play a part in the ecology of the heritage of our nation.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2008.
Committee rose at twenty-four minutes past Three o’clock.

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 13 March 2008