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House of Lords

Monday, 17th February 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Millennium Funding: New Churches

Viscount Mersey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Millennium Commission is considering funding the building of new cathedrals and churches.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): My Lords, the Millennium Commission is not considering any proposals for new cathedrals or churches. It is, however, considering a number of bids submitted by churches and Christian organisations, including applications for the completion of St. Edmundsbury Cathedral and the adaptation of more than 350 rural churches to provide community facilities.

Viscount Mersey: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reasonably satisfactory reply. Is he aware that the Moslems are building 100 mosques to mark the millennium and yet it is not a Moslem millennium but is a Christian millennium? Should we not abandon that dome which is being built at Greenwich and build instead a large and lasting religious monument to see us through to the next millennium?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, of course, the millennium begins as a Christian festival. The Moslems' programme of mosque building does not involve any Millennium Commission money. I do not believe that there is any incompatibility with the proposals for the millennium Exhibition and the origins of the millennium itself.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, will the noble Lord explain to the House how one justifies building more churches for smaller congregations?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, that is obviously a matter primarily for the Church and not the Government. If the Church has the appropriate amount of money and wishes to spend it in that way, then that is a matter for the Church.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is great appreciation within the Church for the very considerable number of cathedral and church projects which have been included by the Millennium Commission in its recently published long list of applications? Can the Minister say anything about the possibility of church projects which have failed to be included on that list at present being allowed to re-present modified or remodelled proposals for the future?

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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, there are three rounds for the so-called millennium projects. The third round closed relatively recently. It is unlikely but possible that there might be a fourth round and, were that to occur, it would be possible for projects, including any projects connected with the Church, to be resubmitted.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that four of the Welsh cathedrals date from the last millennium and therefore do need a little repair? Will he give me an assurance that that will be taken into consideration?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the national heritage side of the lottery deals with repairs to churches or other buildings. I am sure that if a properly worked out proposal in connection with a church or a cathedral is submitted to the National Heritage Memorial Fund, as a lottery distributor, it and English Heritage will treat it very favourably.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, I only hope the Bishops will agree with lotteries as a possible source.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, that is a matter for the Bishops.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, following on from what the right reverend Prelate asked, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether there is any possibility for churches and cathedrals which have failed in their applications to re-present them? For example, in my own area in Blackburn, the cathedral, along with the partnership of industry and commerce, put forward proposals. Is there any prospect of success were those proposals to be resubmitted?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I explained to the right reverend Prelate, my understanding is that the third round of projects has closed but, if anyone has another project, it is worth bearing in mind that there may be a fourth round. It is still not clear whether there will be. But that is the point at which resubmissions should be made.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, how many cathedrals and churches in England were built for the last millennium and are still standing?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to answer that question. It was a long time ago.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I was interested to hear what my noble friend said about community centres. Am I right to understand that the Millennium Commission would welcome applications from projects for the construction of buildings which would serve both as a worshipping community for Christians and also as a community centre for the local population?

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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the projects to which my noble friend has referred may well commend themselves to the commission. There are two key criteria for millennium support: first, the project must enjoy public support generally; and secondly, it must make a substantial contribution to the life of the community which it is designed to serve.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, are the Government aware that an enormous majority of the churches built at about the time of the last millennium were in fact built after it to express gratitude for having survived?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his helpful contribution.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, does the Minister agree that what future generations would like to emerge from those vast amounts of money which are being spent are buildings of great beauty and architectural quality? The commission is producing the landmark projects, which are excellent. But does he not agree that in particular in this country we should welcome a great lyric arts centre of great architectural beauty? Will he pass on to his colleagues who chair and run the commission the thought that that would be well worthy of support?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. One of the other criteria, upon which I did not enumerate, by which the Millennium Commission judges possible projects is that they should be of high architectural design and represent good environmental policy. If one looks at the schemes that are coming forward, it will be seen that that is a characteristic of the projects. Perhaps I may single out one of them. Perhaps the most striking of all is the proposed performing arts centre in Bristol, which is a most extraordinary and exciting design.

Dogs: Assistance to the Disabled

2.44 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider introducing a care allowance towards the cost of working dogs to assist blind, deaf or disabled people.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): No, my Lords; attendance allowance and disability living allowance are available to help severely disabled people with the extra costs incurred because of the effects of their disability. For some, those extra costs will include the upkeep of their dogs.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, 50 per cent. of which I can accept. However, is the Minister aware that the training of dogs is extremely costly? For example, a former serviceman, who has lost his hearing because of the wounds he suffered, has to find £2,500 to train his dog. Moreover, a guide dog for the blind costs £3,500. To be fair, many charities help

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in the training of dogs and with the cost of vets' fees. Therefore, would it be possible for our Government to make their contribution to help those who have been blinded in the service of their country? Can they not have a dog free of charge? Indeed, no matter how people became blind or why they need a dog, they should be assisted, especially in this country, which is noted to be a nation of animal lovers. Will the Minister consider what help can be given to those who need some assistance and who want a dog to help them in the course of their lives?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I have already explained to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, the two benefits--namely, attendance allowance and disability living allowance--are designed to help with the additional costs that people have to meet because of their disability. In the case of the group of people that we are considering, that includes blindness. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association does a great deal of good work. It has something like 4,250 guide dogs assisting blind people in Britain at present. The association trains the dogs and provides them. My understanding is that the association can give approximately £18 per month to a blind person to help with the cost of the dog, plus vets' fees. Moreover, the Hearing Dogs organisation also provides insurance cover for the cost of vets' fees and will provide help for dog food and the like in the case of hardship.

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