HC Deb 29 July 1963 vol 682 cc189-93

11.28 p.m.

Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)

I beg to move, That the Cathedrals Measure, 1963, passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament. In moving this Motion, I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), who has spent a great deal of time on the preliminary work of which this Measure is the culmination. The Measure is of necessity of some length. The Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee sets out the principal provisions of the Measure with great clarity.

Under the Measure, each cathedral will have an establishment of a dean, or provost, and two canons, whose full-time duty it will be to serve the cathedral church. It is felt that this reform is essential in these days when many of the cathedrals are understaffed and yet have great pastoral opportunities and, in some cases, great numbers of visitors.

The stipends of the deans and the two full-time canons will be paid by the Church Commissioners. This will be considerable financial assistance to the cathedrals and will entail an additional permanent expenditure by the Commissioners of £200,000 a year. The Commissioners have, in recent years, been able to make substantial increases in the stipends of parochial and other clergy and they feel that it is now fitting that the cathedral clergy should be brought into line.

The Commissioners' present powers to help cathedrals to pay their lay staff, organists, vergers, and so forth, will continue. The Commissioners will also have important new powers. There is, for example, power to make grants to cathedrals so that they may modernise houses which cathedrals hold for their clergy, or to buy new houses where necessary, and to make loans towards the acquisition or improvement of cathedral property generally.

The opportunity has also been taken in this Measure to repeal a mass of complicated and antiquated legislation which now applies to cathedrals and to re-enact it in modern form. Cathedrals will be encouraged to have laymen to assist them in the management of their property and finance, and will have clear, modern powers in relation to their property and investment.

At all stages during the preparation of this Measure there has been the closest co-operation with the deans and provosts and other cathedral authorities, and also the Church Commissioners. Government Departments and other interested bodies have also been consulted. The Measure has been fully debated in the Church Assembly, where it passed through all its stages without a division, and I therefore commend this Measure with confidence to the House.

11.32 p.m.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

I do not want to detain the House at this late hour, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) has said, I was very much concerned with the earlier stages of the preparation of this Measure and I should like to say a very few words in commendation of it. It represents a new departure in a very different part of the affairs of the Church of England, and in two matters in particular.

The first is the involvement, if I may use the word, of the Church Commissioners in the financial affairs of cathedrals. They have up to now given small grants, I think I am right in saying, to take stipends of officials connected with cathedrals up to levels suitable to dignitaries of these bodies, but this is the first time that we have managed to provide for a definite establishment for the cathedrals of people whose whole-time job would be looking after these tremendous buildings, some of the greatest architectural and religious heritages which we have in this country, and showing them to the public, and using them for the proper means of worship, instead of merely having canons there who would be used, as they were, as part-time officials of the dioceses.

This is a great step forward, and it owes its inception, I think, to one man, the last Third Church Commissioner, Sir James Brown, the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton), whose vision saw that this was a possible thing for the Church Commissioners to do. Up to then there had been certain difficulty, I understand, by the terms of the Church Commission, which prevented this sort of thing from happening. Now for the first time we have involved them in this to the extent of this provision which I think is of some considerable importance.

The second main new thing which the Measure does is to bring laymen into the running of our ancient cathedrals for the first time. This I regard as of very great importance. We spent some four years in work upon this Measure. We spent a great deal of time going through the highways and byways and seeing deans and canons and organists and vergers and everybody else connected with the running of our ancient cathedrals, and with the running of some of the new cathedrals, which also have their financial problems, and though there were certain objections about minor details of some of the provisions of this Measure, I think it has brought a new lease of life for the cathedrals, and therefore is a matter which this House should welcome, and I hope it will pass the Measure unanimously.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

It would be appropriate perhaps if one hon. Member representing a cathedral city should speak in support of the Motion. I greatly welcome the Motion and congratulate the National Assembly on producing a Measure so full of wisdom and so appropriate for the problems facing our cathedrals in this modern age. The provisions of the Measure in connection with the property aspects of cathedrals, and the financial provisions, will all assist in seeing that this great part of our English heritage is preserved and enhanced in the years to come.

11.36 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) has spoken, I as representing Ely, might also say a few words. I have been for many years a member of the Council of the Friends of Ely Cathedral. I am sure that every member of the Friends will welcome this Measure, not least because the object of the Friends is to try to enrich the cathedral, and all too often we have found ourselves having to supplement the finances of the dean and chapter to keep the cathedral going at all. That was hardly the purpose with which we set out. I feel that this Measure can only be right and most welcome. My only claim to speak is that whereas my hon. Friend's bishop has a throne, mine has not.

11.37 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

As another hon. Member representing a cathedral city I should like to add my humble support for the Measure and to echo the sentiments of those who have already spoken. I am very pleased to see that Clause 27 makes proper provisions for the inspection of cathedral property. I am sure that nobody grudges the expenditure of large sums of money on these wonderful buildings and their ancillary buildings, but it goes very hard with many of us who have to find this money to discover that the buildings have been grossly neglected for half a century. I am glad to find that inspections will be regularly carried out by qualified architects and that we shall know that in future the funds we raise will be properly used.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Cathedrals Measure 1963, passed by the National Assembly of the Church of England, be presented to Her Majesty for Her Royal Assent in the form in which the said Measure was laid before Parliament