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The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating the debate. The noble Lord is in this matter what, I believe, Americans call a "non-remunerated endorser". The same cannot be said for the Bishop of London, and I must declare so many interests it is almost tedious: not only as the chairman of the Church Heritage Forum, which handles business relating to the Church of England churches and cathedrals nationally, but as a partner in innumerable fundraising projects.
The noble Lord made a very important point about the engagement between the Church through its buildings and wider society. A sample of my own current preoccupations perhaps illustrates the work already being done and the current close connection between churches and culture, churches and regeneration strategies, churches and the wider sympathetic but non-worshipping community.
St John's, Hoxton, for example, has a wonderfully restored partnership between a very vigorous local community in Hoxton, where it is undoubtedly the most beautiful and historic building left, English Heritage and a whole raft of community organisations such as an employment project for people suffering with disabilities and an opportunity for families under stress to find neutral ground where they can meet.
I am just about to rededicate Christchurch, Spitalfields, which, with its school, has had a history of service to a very necessitous local community. It has been the centre for a programme of rescuing people from alcohol addiction and is also the venue for a prestigious summer music festival.
Last week I had a meeting with the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields. We are engaged in raising about £34 million to refurbish the church as a landmark on that world square. The church is home to two congregations, one international and the other a growing Chinese church. But the money is also necessary to develop the facilities of the social care unit, which among many other things has helped countless rough sleepers off the streets, into accommodation and into work. There is also an educational dimension to the project and an arts theme. St Martin's is one of the most popular concert venues in London.
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St George's Bloomsbury, another Hawksmoor masterpiece, rather fancifully constructed in the 18th century on the model of the mausoleum of Halicarnassuswith George I there instead of Mausolusis currently shrouded in polythene and scaffolding. It is so close to the hearts of the local community that the local pizza parlour has devised a special San Giorgio pizza, the profits of which go to the restoration. I could go on, as the variety of uses is huge. As the noble Lord said, we must find reasonable and appropriate uses. I can assure the Minister that I shall not personally be submitting an application for a licence to turn St Paul's Cathedral into a casino.
We have been able to achieve some progress on all those sites because of partnerships. We are very grateful for the help and funding that come already via English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund. We understand the pressures on them and can celebrate the fact that our partnership has grown in mutual understanding over the past few years. But studying the returns to questionnaires sent to all the parishes in the country in 2003 reveals that the repair needs now for only two dioceses, Chelmsford and Norwich, would absorb the total amount of grant money available from English Heritage and the HLF for 2004-05. That is some of the research that supports the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison.
That figure and many other statistics are available in the report launched last week, Building Faith in our Future. I should be very happy to supply any noble Lord with a copy. It is also available on our web site. This report does not whinge but is written with justifiable pride in the achievements and generosity of tens of thousands of volunteers who have ensured that our buildings are in a better state of repair than for a millennium. The question is whether that achievement is sustainable.
The report makes very clear that the points that we are making apply not only to Church of England churches, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, underlined, but to many places of worship, including synagogues and Wesley's chapels. But it is certainly true that the bulk of the responsibility is upon the shoulders of the Church of England, custodian of 13,000 listed churches. Noble Lords may therefore askand it has been askedwhy we do not share more with, for example, other Christians. In many places we do and the possibility of that already exists. In the City of London alone our current ecumenical partners sharing church buildings include Mar Toma, Antiochian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Lutheran, Romanian, Philippine Charismatic Episcopal, Indian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Scottish Presbyterian congregations. I had better cease there or I shall start chanting. We offered to give one historic church to one of those partner bodies. It investigated the figures, looked at how much it would cost to maintain, and said, "No, thank you very much".
Noble Lords may also ask why the buildings are not more accessible. Many are, as I have hoped to underline, thanks to volunteers. We are particularly grateful for the assistance of the Friends of the City
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Churches, people like those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who love the buildings but are completely independent. However, accessibility and proper presentation take investment, as noble Lords will see from the salaried help and the budget necessary to show the Jewel Tower just across the road to good advantage. If we really want to get the educational value and heritage value out of a medieval tower, the investment must be considerable.
I do not want to take advantage of the happy circumstance of the lengthening of the debate, but, in the limited time available, I must make one major point. The contribution of the heritage agencies is vital, but the resources to release the full potential of such important community buildings should flow not only from worshippers and heritage organisations but from the other sectors and budgets on which church buildings already have a measurable impact.
The figure in the research that has been done recently that I find surprising comes from research jointly undertaken with English Heritage in 2003. It suggests that a staggering 86 per cent of the population had visited a church or other place of worship in the previous 12 months. They came for many reasons: music, theatre, school productions or worship. The cultural outreach of church buildings was demonstrated in the recent parliamentary debates in your Lordships' House on the Licensing Bill. Many voices were raised on behalf of church buildings, urging their exemption from any onerous licensing system. They included the voices of parliamentarians who, like the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, would not wish to identify themselves as practising members of a particular religion. We recognise and welcome that.
The report gives chapter and verse on the wider cultural impact of church buildings and the considerable contribution that they make to local economies. A recent study shows that visitors to cathedrals alone generate £91 million in direct spending to enrich the relevant local economy. I love Wells, but how many people would visit the city and spend money there, were it not for the glorious cathedral? The volunteers based in church buildings also contribute socially, by offering a wide range of community support services. In some cases, we have been able to cost the value of that voluntary effort.
The Church of England is regardedeven legally, in some respectsas a public utility. As we in the House know, however, the Church is supported largely as a private charity, something that is, unfortunately, not understood widely in the country at large. In other European countries, a more realistic contribution to the maintenance of the historic fabric seems to be possible, in view of the considerable social benefits that church buildings offer to the whole community. I must make it clear that, as far as concerns the Church of England, we are not advocating any French solution, in which the state would undertake to maintain all ecclesiastical buildings more than 100 years old. We value the partnership model and the stimulus that it often provides to local community action, but we need more help.
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We are extremely grateful for what the Chancellor has already done in the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, and we are particularly grateful for the comment made by his department that the scheme would last until at least March 2006. However, we strongly support the Government's negotiating position in Europe, aimed at bringing about a permanent change in the VAT regime. It would be a great boon to hard-pressed communities if VAT were simply lower in the first place, without the necessity to pay it and then reclaim it.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and am sympathetic to his point that it is also for the Church to develop a new attitude. Our prayer must be "Let there be a revolution", but we accept that it ought to include the petition "Let the revolution start with us". The Church must, at every level, be more and more serious about engaging with other stakeholders and potential partners and, where appropriate, changing its regulations to permit greater shared responsibility for church buildings.
Our contribution has been a kind of Green Paper. We have proposed an agenda that seeks the views and responses of the large number of people who are concerned with the issue. There is a disposition in the Church to be adventurous, and we need the help of the House in identifying new ways for the Church, the steward of so many of the most cherished community symbols and facilities, to freshen and resource its already deep connection with all the people of England.
We hope, by the end of the process, to have a clearer idea of what faith communities are doing already through their stewardship of their buildings. It is considerable, and we need to map it and be clear about it. By the end of the process, we must be clearer about what more we, as faith communities, want to do. We hope, by the end of the process, to be clearer about what the Government and the wider community really want in that delicate balance between conservation and the thorough use of the buildings in the service of regeneration strategies. We hope to understand and put figures on the additional resources that will be necessary and where they will come from.
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