HC Deb 26 February 1969 vol 778 cc1869-90


Question proposed [19th February], That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Redundant Churches and other Religious Buildings Bill ought to be read a Second time.—[Mr. Skeffington.]

10.30 a.m.

Question again proposed.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I should like briefly to join in the general welcome which this Committee has so far given to the Bill, and I should also like to take up one or two points which have been made in the debate. I must, of course, declare an interest because, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop), I am myself a Church Commissioner, and although, obviously, that implies no personal financial interest whatever, our positions must be known and understood by our colleagues.

First, there was a suggestion in our discussions last week that the Advisory Board, which by common consent is going to form a very important part of these arrangements, is in some way the creature of the Church Commissioners. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) used the phrase This would be reported to the Church Commissioners who, under Section 42, would set up an Advisory Board for Redundant Churches …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1969; Vol. 778, c. 706.] It is important to stress that this is a totally independent Advisor)' Board. It is, in fact, the appointment of the Archbishops and of the Prime Minister, and it is exceedingly important that its total impartiality from the Church Commissioners should be established if there is to be confidence in it.

The appropriate words, in paragraph 105 of the Report by Lord Bridges, from which this Bill really stems, is that the intention is that the Advisory Board should be so strongly composed as to carry compelling weight with the Church of England, with the amenity societies and with the Government. It goes on in paragraph 107, The establishment of the Advisory Board will provide something which is lacking under the present system; namely, a single body which can give a balanced and authoritative view as to the weight to be attached to historic and architectural considerations, and a focus where these can be discussed. I want to make that point very clearly, because it was entirely right and understandable and proper that some question should be asked in the Committee as to what the procedures were to be. Of course we do not yet know the appointments which will be made to that Advisory Board, but I am sure that when we do we shall find that those responsible for the appointments have this kind of consideration very much in mind.

The second point which——

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Can my hon. Friend enlarge a little on the nature of this Advisory Board? What sort of people are likely to be appointed? There must be quite a lot known about what is proposed.

Mr. van Straubenzee

There is nothing publicly known about its composition and numbers, partially, I have no doubt, because those involved wanted to be sure that the House of Commons would approve of the arrangements which we are now discussing, but I think it can be said without any doubt whatever—this is really more for the Minister to deal with, because he speaks with all the authority of the Government—that the Report from which this emerges is going to be the guiding line for the setting up of the Board. I have no knowledge of names, but I certainly hope my hon. Friend will find a number of names which will give him confidence, and that the Board will be of the kind I have described.

The second point arises out of a comment made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). He used these words when discussing what would happen upon a site being sold: A very large sum of money indeed would come into the Church Commissioners' hands, and they are precisely the same people who have to decide what happen-, to the church. He was good enough to add: I am not suggesting for a moment that they would decide the matter on those motives. What I am saying is that if they did decide to pull it down, they would be in a very difficult position to defend their decision, however good it was, because nowhere else in the country do we allow this to happen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1969; Vol. 778, c. 721.] The point that needs to be stressed is that the moneys which arise from this operation do not go into the general funds of the Commissioners. In a pretty exact sense the Commissioners are trustees of those moneys for the diocese concerned. Indeed, I can say from the Church point of view that there are many Churchmen who are more than critical of any proposal that any of the moneys arising from such a transaction should be used for any purpose other than future Church needs. This was quite a controversial internal matter. I have only to remind the Committee that it is estimated that over the next twenty years the capital requirements for new housing areas, new towns and the like, are between £10 million and £20 million for it to be realised what an immense burden lies ahead, and how controversial is the application of a substantial portion of that which arises to a fund which will be responsible for the architectural upkeep, and so on, of a building which is demonstrably redundant.

I know that some hon. Gentlemen have questioned whether the Commissioners should have given to the fund a larger proportion of the moneys arising. May I set firmly upon the record that this is not at all a decision of the Commissioners? This is exclusively a decision of the Church Assembly. It was not the Commissioners' decision. It is not within their power to make a decision. This was decided by the Church Assembly, which is responsible for the Pastoral Measure.

I respectfully draw the Committee's attention to the fact that the financial procedures here can be varied by order. The amounts payable, the proportions payable, the ceiling, are all liable to amendment or variation by order. I dare say that, if the House sees fit to give this Bill a Second Reading, we shall learn by experience as the years progress, and orders may indeed be placed before the House.

I deal last with the question of publicity. This was very properly raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), and others. May I respectfully draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that there is already a procedure for notice on the building in question, when it is declared redundant. I think it is important for me to make it quite plain that, under the Pastoral Measure it is a statutory requirement that on the building there should be a notice of intention to make it redundant. It is very important that a building of the kind we are discussing, or indeed any other, should not be declared redundant in a hole in a corner fashion; that people should not suddenly wake up one morning and find that it has been made redundant, with all the consequences which could flow from demolition.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

Is the notice provided when a building is declared redundant similar to the notice which is put up when there is a vacancy in a parish, an interregnum between two vicars? That is a very obscure and official notice in quite small print on the door of the church. One would wish for a notice to be put up well outside the church itself, perhaps at the entrance to the graveyard, which could be seen by passers-by who do not actually darken the door of the church themselves.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I believe I am correct in saying that the minimum requirement is a notice of a kind analogous to that which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. But let me say very clearly that I am quite certain—I have taken some trouble to make sure—that there is no disposition whatever to declare a church redundant in a hole in a corner fashion. If it will assist, I am quite certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark and I, between now and the Committee stage, will gladly hold consultations under the general guidance of the Minister whose Bill this is, to see that that aspect of the matter can be further strengthened to meet the needs of the Committee. There is no disposition whatever to do this other than perfectly frankly.

Mr. Robert Cooke

What steps are going to be taken by the Church to see that a building does not gradually run down structurally and otherwise, and then fall into the redundant category? What steps are to be taken to stop the steady decay of the fabric before it comes under the protection of this Bill, and what steps are to be taken to protect a building declared redundant, which is not used, which is meant to be locked up against vandals, and which is, in fact, the victim of vandalism and thus becomes irreparable?

Mr. van Straubenzee

Taking the first point, the building state of the church is not the primary consideration. I can think of examples of very substantial sums of money, some would say excessively large sums of money, being made available for buildings which it is felt—at any rate by those who use them, and they have every right to be heard in such a matter—would have a continuing use. Indeed, if anything the emphasis is the other way. Some feel that there is almost too much money being spent on equipment and buildings. There is, of course, a continuing duty on those using a church to maintain it to the very best of their ability. But so far as I know there is no statutory requirement—certainly there is not in this Bill—to that effect, and that is where the matter should rest.

On the second point, I concede that that can be a very difficult matter. Again, I am sure that those of us concerned would consult to see whether some step could be taken, but I do not see it as a matter for legislation. Regrettably, we all know how extraordinarily difficult it can be in many fields, in housing, for example, to protect even totally newly built buildings, if there is deliberate vandalism. But once an order has been made, very great care has frequently been taken with specific items in a church which are of very great interest. I have with me a list of a number of such features which, most painstakingly, have been moved to museums or to other churches where they have a very great use, and certainly that is the intention behind the Bill.

There is no intention whatever to declare redundancy in a hole in the corner fashion. I hope that what I have said may be of some assistance to those who have had reservations. The Committee stage is yet to come. I join in the general words of welcome, and appreciation of the way in which the Minister explained this matter at our last Sitting.

10.45 a.m.

Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)

I welcome this Measure as necessary and urgent, in view of the problems faced by the Churches, the Government, and authorities in general. The Bill underlines the fact that the Church has a continuing responsibility for redundant churches of historic and architectural interest. It also rightly accepts that the community at large has a responsibility for the maintenance of these churches as part of our heritage.

From time to time changes are bound to occur because of changing industrial patterns, and with people moving from one area to another, so that many fine buildings may be left in the centres of cities and towns in which the main population no longer resides. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) spoke at our last sitting about the need for authorities continually to have in mind the changing pattern of residential and other developments to ensure that churches are situated where people most need them. A special plea must go out to congregations in general to consider the needs of other areas and to recognise, as early as possible, that some of the churches which they treasure are taking resources in manpower, money and materials which might better be used elsewhere. This will be a continuing liability. As a member of the Archbishop's Commission which in recent years looked at the needs of London and the South-East I can tell the Committee that the Commission recognised the continuing pattern of development, and the Church is anxious to face up to the needs of the times.

Another aspect of Church affairs is that, with Anglican and Methodist unity being brought about, the possibility may arise that some churches which may be considered redundant might be used by other denominations, or for joint purposes, in the new situation which the Church will face.

I was interested in the points which were made both by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking and also by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) about the need to safeguard fittings and furniture in churches. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has now given some assurances in that respect.

Paragraph 120 of the Archbishops' Report on Redundant Churches deals with the vesting of redundant churches during the second stage of deliberations. The paragraph says: During the second stage, or interim period between a declaration of redundancy and the scheme proposing a new use, or demolition, we consider that the church should vest in the Diocesan Board of Finance on a caretaker basis, with particular reference to the care of furniture and monuments. We have heard in evidence of cases where the parochial authorities have not been able to save closed churches from vandalism or to ensure that furnishings are properly looked after. We therefore consider it important that some responsible body, outside the parish but not too remote, should act as caretaker of redundant churches until such time as their future has been decided. It is reassuring to know that that is in the mind of the Commission. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that they will be taken care of by some responsible body, if not by the Ministry, at this stage. It is important to care for these churches, and if it is decided that there is no future use for them the real point of keeping them should not be lost.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)

I take it that my hon. Friend means during the waiting period.

Mr. Bishop

Yes, during the second stage working period when a decision has to be made whether they are redundant or can be used for church or other purposes.

Another important point which was raised at our last Sitting is that of public notification of the possibility of a church's becoming redundant. It is most important that the public are informed of this possibility. Paragraphs 110 to 114 and paragraph 118 of the Report stress the point that there should be due publicity at various stages of the procedure. I should like the Minister to assure us that it will still be possible, if necessary, to appeal to the Privy Council, because it was queried in the Archbishops' Report.

The hon. Member for Wokingham and I have a joint interest in this matter as Church Commissioners, and I am grateful for his assurances. He mentioned the rôle of the Church Commissioners in this matter and their responsibility, and he said that any money which accrues is held in trust. The Church Commissioners exercise funds in trust for many purposes and for many authorities. It involves the question of whether they have the authority to spend money in the ways in which some people feel it ought to be spent.

I hope that the Minister will be able to comment upon the desirability of his Ministry caring for these buildings as compared with the Ministry of Public Building and Works which has had long experience for many years in the care of such buildings. That kind of experience would be most useful in the responsibility for and care of redundant churches. One hopes that in future the use made of church buildings will eliminate the possibility of their becoming redundant. I am sure that the Church authorities would wish us to say that we value the Ministry's co-operation in the joint trusteeship of these buildings as and when they get to the situation of needing public care and attention.

10.55 a.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

I welcome this Bill. It is important to preserve churches of great beauty and historic value since they are part of our heritage. Many churches have been passed clown to us by our forefathers and they faced tremendous difficulties in preserving and looking after them. It is our duty to hand over these churches to future generations, and it is vital that we should do so. Money was spent in days gone by, and in much harder times than obtain today, in order to preserve churches, and long may this continue.

I should like to sound a note of warning. We must not be too sentimental about this matter. Some churches could be removed with benefit to all concerned, and the money derived from the sale of sites, and so on, could be used for other purposes. One has to be practical and flexible in outlook. Although we have this priceless heritage, we must not be sentimental about it. Important though God's house is, the church of God is not just a building, not just a framework. Surely the church must move to areas where the real need is, that is to say, in the new housing estates and so on. The need can be met by the sale of some of our sites and money thereby provided for new churches to be built so that the Church of God is active and working. This is most important.

In my own county of Devon is the little village where I live, Luffincott, a tiny place with twelve people in it, eight of them Methodists. It is virtually impossible for the four Anglicans to keep the tiny little church going at Luffincott, yet we struggle to do so. I think that in that particular case we are wrong. It is not a very beautiful church, not a building that I should want to pass as a heritage to my own children. We must be practical and get our priorities right.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I presume that the tiny parish of four people is part of a combined benefice and that there is a larger church flourishing nearby?

Mr. Mills

That is correct. Yet in many cases we struggle to maintain a church which is not necessary at all. There is a crying need in other areas and the money for which we are struggling, to preserve our churches, could be used to the benefit of other people. I believe that the Church should be careful about the way in which it spends its money in preserving churches and church ornaments, and so on, at great cost when there is a crying need in other areas. Many thousands of pounds may be spent on an organ, although one knows of the desperate needs both in housing estates and in areas abroad.

I welcome the use of redundant churches for other purposes in a wide range, though there must be a limit. Their use for youth clubs, schools and temporary classes, fits in with the pattern of what the Church of God should be doing, but there is a limit. Some ideas which have been put forward are not suitable. In the South-West there are non-conformist churches which have been used for the storage of hay, and even to house cattle. In fact I have seen runs put down for pigs to go in and out of them. I do not say that this should happen in the Anglican Church for there is a limit to the way in which churches should be used.

I spoke the other day to the Editor of the Farmer and Stockbreeder about redundant churches, and he told me an interesting story about Russia in which he had recently travelled. Churches in Russia have become redundant on a large scale, to say the least, and it was found that they made excellent grain silos. Such use is, of course, going too wide. Churches are consecrated buildings hallowed with the prayers of generations of people, and it is important to be careful about their use.

Mr. Driberg

The Saxon church in my own parish in Essex was for many centuries used as a barn. It is a fact, perhaps a curious fact, that the Soviet Government have been extremely scrupulous, not out of respect for the Christian religion, perhaps, in preserving churches of great antiquity and beauty and make far more generous grants than any British Government have ever been able to do.

Mr. Mills

I am grateful for that intervention; it shows my ignorance on this subject as far as Russia is concerned. I was only quoting that in Russia I understand that churches are being used for grain silos. I do not believe this should be, but there are youth clubs and all sorts of activities which fit in with what the Church is trying to do.

On the need for good publicity when one is going to declare a church redundant, I agree with my hon. Friends. It is absolutely vital that there should be good publicity. This might awaken the interest of local people when they see a big sign outside their church saying it is to become redundant. I believe this is most important. A two-penny-halfpenny piece of paper stuck on a door is of no use whatever. What is needed is a big sign outside: "This church is going to become redundant." People would start to care again. In my experience, particularly in the South-West, when there have been problems regarding re-roofing a church, one finds the parish or village responds in a remarkable way. This is their church and even though they do not attend that church—and I wish they did—Sunday by Sunday, seeing it become redundant revives their interest. I would like to see good publicity and a good notice showing exactly what is going to happen.

It is extremely important that declaring a church redundant is a pastoral decision. The people in the parish are vitally concerned with the closure of their church and its becoming redundant. In other words, they should have a very real part in advising the Advisory Board. I hope that no decisions will be taken without looking into the matter very carefully from a pastoral angle, and I hope, secondly, that the Advisory Board allows the people who live in the parish to state their views very clearly. It will not only have an effect in the parish; it will have a much wider effect farther afield in the diocese. I hope we can have that assurance, that the Advisory Board will take very careful note of what the local people are saying and that it will be a pastoral decision.

11.4 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)

I would begin by making a half apology——

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Member can speak twice only with the leave of the Committee.

Mr. Skeffington

If I may, with the leave of the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is so long since we met and so much has happened I overlooked that.

I would begin by offering a half apology to Members that they have had to come back to the Committee. One realises that everyone has been under considerable pressure, particularly in the last 24 hours, but, nevertheless, it would have been wrong to have tried to rush this stage of the Bill, particularly when there were so many very interesting speeches made, some by Members who have great devotional concern in the Anglican community and others who have great knowledge of and feeling about the historical and architectural merits, especially of the older churches. These many speeches and excellent contributions did require as competent and full an answer as I am able to give.

Running through a number of the speeches on the last occasion was a feeling that perhaps the protection afforded by this Measure, based upon the Pastoral Measure, in relation to old buildings is not enough. One's first answer might be, though I do not want to take refuge in this, that if the protection existing was not sufficient that was really a matter that ought to have been looked at when the Pastoral Measure was before the House. The House has its own procedure for dealing with these matters. There is the Ecclesiastical Committee, which makes its report, and there are so many Members knowledgeable in this field who no doubt would have made their contribution. I would hope to reassure everyone, as far as I can within my authority, that some of the fears are unnecessary. The procedure outlined in the Pastoral Measure, which does have the effect of a Statute, is really quite considerable.

I was very grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who acted in some respects as Mr. Lloyd George once said Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, acted—as "an air raid shelter for Mr. Neville Chamberlain". The hon. Member for Wokingham has taken unto himself some targets.

If one looks at the Pastoral Measure which is being applied by Clause 2 one will realise there is a fair degree of protection at a number of points which will, I hope, go some way to diminish the fears which have been expressed.

As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wokingham has said, and other Members have referred to this, there must be a diocesan committee to consider any proposed pastoral reorganisation, both in relation to the administration generally and also in relation to the question of the uses of the church. When any scheme of rearrangement is being considered the diocesan committee has to consult interested parties which are specified in the Pastoral Measure and include the local standing authority, so that it is aware of any proposals in the very earliest days before there is any scheme, and also the Council for the Care of Churches, which is an old-established body having a statutory force in the Church of England going back to 1938. That body is to be consulted because it has a great wealth of knowledge both about architectural merits and historical interest, and the information from that body has to be considered by the Committee drawing up any schemes.

Having reached that stage, a scheme is prepared which has to be submitted to the bishop who may accept it or not. He may send it back; he may feel it is inadequate, although it will have been prepared by those specially chosen in the diocese for their knowledge, care and concern. At that stage, the bishop, if he approves the draft proposals—and they are only draft proposals at that stage—has to send them to the Church Commissioners. That is the first round in the preparation of the scheme: the interested parties being consulted and able to make their views known to the reorganisation committee in the diocese; the bishop having a say and having to be satisfied before he accepts the draft scheme. It then goes to the Church Commissioners who have, in the second round as it were, to carry out their own procedures. These include consulting the Advisory Board, which we have already referred to, particularly where the proposals involve either demolition or structural alterations.

If the Advisory Board certifies that the church is not of architectural or historical importance the pastoral scheme can provide for the demolition of the building. That is a simple case. If the Board has a different view, then, before anything further can be done, there is the waiting period of a year, in which every effort must be made to find an alternative use.

I must say something about that because my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) raised points about future use. The Commissioners, having received this advice from the Advisory Board, have to serve notice of the draft scheme on all the interested parties—again the local planning authority is one—and, if it provides for a declaration of redundancy, on the Advisory Board. There also has to be a notice published in the local Press. There is then this opportunity for representations to be made. If the Commissioners decide to proceed with the scheme they must submit it to the bishop for his consent. So it goes back to the bishop again, and he sees the final scheme the Church Commissioners are presenting to him. If the bishop then consents, the scheme is sealed and submitted to the Queen in Council for confirmation. The scheme must again be advertised and there is, at this stage, a right of appeal to the Privy Council.

Criticism of this might be, "Whenever is the church going to be pulled down?". It is a satisfactory scheme from the point of view that there are at least two stages where consultations can take place; there is a notice in the Press; there is the final appeal to the Privy Council itself, where appeals will be heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council when there are disputes.

Ever since the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act, 1913, Church buildings in ecclesiastical use have been excluded from what nowadays we would call "planning control". This was a deliberate decision. It was criticised at the time along the lines of some of the criticisms we have heard today. There have been unfortunate experiences, to which I referred, at the turn of the century. At that time Archbishop Davidson, defending the proposal, undertook that there should be an inquiry to consider, before they reached the stage we are considering today, how better churches might be safeguarded. There was set up under Sir Lewis Dibdin, a committee of inquiry which advocated, in the end, that there should be a diocesan advisory committee in each diocese to advise if requested on these architectural and artistic matters. This Measure received confirmation by the appropriate body in the Established Church in 1938. So there was this very considerable step taken even by the Church itself, apart from its normal care and concern, as a result of the exclusion of buildings from the 1913 Act.

To take up the story again at the point we have reached, where a scheme is being put forward which declares a redundancy, two new protections operate which may not have been fully understood in our discussion last week. It may not be generally known that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government classifies ecclesiastical buildings and grades them, as it does other historic buildings. It has no right so long as the buildings remain in ecclesiastical use, but once they come out of ecclesiastical use, and once there is a scheme and a waiting period, because no longer is the building being used for ecclesiastical purposes, the protection of the Planning Acts applies and, of course, during the waiting period the Planning Acts are fully operative. Once a scheme is confirmed, then, as Clause 2 provides, this protection can no longer operate. Clearly one cannot protect a building and have a right to pull it down at the same time.

With regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, he probably already knows this, but if he looks at Section 49 of the Pastoral Measure he will see that subsection (2) says: During the period between the taking effect of a declaration of redundancy and the coming into operation of a redundancy scheme with respect to the redundant property—

  1. (a) the Diocesan Board of Finance shall be responsible for the care and maintainance of the redundant building, so far as is reasonable in all the circumstances, and the safe keeping of its contents, whether in the building or elsewhere, and shall insure the said building and contents;
  2. (b) the Diocesan Redundant Churches Uses Committee or, as the case may be, the Commissioners shall make every endeavour to find a suitable use for the redundant building;
  3. 1884
  4. (c) while incurring no financial obligation, the incumbent and churchwardens of the parish in which the redundant building is situated shall give the Diocesan Board of Finance every assistance in providing for reasonable supervision of the building against damage."
These are three additional protections which are part of the Pastoral Measure itself. This is perhaps the period when the church is best protected in the whole of its history, so if that is considered, I do hope it will allay some of the fears which have been expressed.

Nothing in this Measure or in the Pastoral Measure will deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking, when he referred to the unfortunate incident at Salisbury Cathedral, because this was when the building was fully in the care of the Church authorities and nothing can be done in such a case. No doubt, distinguished members of the Church will use their influence as far as they can, although sometimes these are matters of taste rather than of law, but at any rate I hope they will see that such a difficulty does not arise.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Before the Minister leaves that point, some of us have expressed fears at what happened at Salisbury and in other cases but we would feel happier if the Minister and the Department took an interest in the fate of these fine fittings after they have been removed. No doubt it is right that the Church should be able to do what it likes with its own possessions, but what we object to is that these things should be thrown into a scrapyard and then broken up by dealers and distributed to unsuitable places. We would like to be assured that the Ministry will take an interest in the preservation of these articles and even try to find alternative uses for them in other buildings.

Mr. Skeffington

Where the Ministry takes over a building, which would normally not be a Church of England building, I am sure the Minister will use his good offices to see that the contents are safeguarded and, if they are not to continue in use, that some other use is provided for them. I assure the Committee that in so far as we can use our good offices, we will do so. We have no statutory powers in this matter, but much can be done if one tries to bring it to the notice of the interested bodies.

A question was asked at our last Sitting, I think by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) as to what will be the policy of the Ministry in relation to buildings which are taken over, because the Minister has not the experience of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. The only reason why power is taken in this Measure to take over an exceptional church or religious building is that there is no other body able to do so. It would not be the normal policy of the Ministry to hold a building for its own use. The Ministry would want, as quickly as possible, to find an alternative use for it. The building could, for example, be passed to the National Trust or to a local authority, with satisfactory safeguards about the future, or indeed to any body which is capable of preserving the building.

Mr. Robert Cooke

The Minister mentioned the National Trust. He will be aware that the National Trust has clearly laid it down in the Benson Report that in future it will accept no building which is not fully endowed as to its maintenance. So do we take it that it would be so endowed?

Mr. Skeffington

I merely instanced the National Trust as the kind of body which, if it wanted the building, and if there were sufficient funds available, could take over the building. It is not intended that the Ministry should normally hold and manage these buildings.

Mr. Driberg

There is one qualification to what the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) has just said. When the National Trust applies for grants through the Historic Buildings Council it normally gets a 100 per cent. grant for repairs and major maintenance, and an endowment in advance might not have to be of such proportions as it would be for some other buildings.

Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)

The hon. Gentleman has been most kind in giving way, but I am slightly concerned at what he is saying about custodianship. It is perfectly normal for the Ministry of Public Building and Works to care for fine old buildings and I believe there will be cases where this is the only really satisfactory solution.

Mr. Skeflingfon

Perhaps I may say that obviously the Ministry will not part with a building till its future is assured. It can, of course, make arrangements with another Department. One thinks of some buildings which would be admirable for local museums, or something of that kind. I wanted to remove the impression that there would be a duplicate department holding these buildings and managing them, in the same way as the Ministry of Public Building and Works does at the moment. The Ministry does not seek to build up an empire of such buildings in rivalry with the Ministry of Public Building and Works.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking, in his interesting speech, raised the question of future uses. I will say on that two things which I hope will be reassuring. First, when the Ministry receives a building—and this, of course, will be a voluntary transaction because there will be buildings for which provision is. not made in Clauses 1 and 2 through the Redundant Churches Fund—the trustees can make what conditions they like about its future use. It is entirely a matter for them, and it is a matter for agreement. If the trustees put in conditions so difficult that the Ministry might be left "holding the baby" for a long period, because the conditions were unreasonable, this would be unfortunate, but if there were strong feelings as to future use the trustees could make their wishes known and incorporate them in an agreement. Secondly, changes of use, if substantial, would require normal planning permission. At the moment churches come under Class XIII of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order, 1963, and if the building were to be used for similar purposes, such as religious meetings, no change of use would be involved. But suppose it were suggested that the building should be used as a museum, or for some other purpose, then it would fall to be decided in the normal way by a planning application, with the usual provision for appeal, and so on. So it would be impossible for a bingo hall suddenly to be established without its going through the whole of the planning procedure. I realise that the planning procedure is not absolutely foolproof but it is the best we have devised so far.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking, and the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) raised a question about the figures. These were from the Report of the Archbishops' Commission, and as they are the best figures we have, we shall have to work on them for the present.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) raised the question of whether or not a Statute could amend a Pastoral Measure. It can; and indeed the most recent example was the Criminal Law Act, 1967, which removed from the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure, 1963, certain references to felony and misdemeanour which the Act was rendering obsolete. Certainly Parliament can do this. What happened was that the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, conferred upon the Established Church the right to pass certain Measures with a Parliamentary procedure through a Committee of the House. For all practical purposes these Measures have the effect of law, but like any other law they can be modified, extended, or altered by the wishes of Parliament. So, authority is quite clear on that point and there is nothing in this Bill which is ultra vires.

I again thank all the hon. Members who have taken part for the contributions they have made. It has been a great help to me, and I hope this Measure will now have its Second Reading.

Mr. Worsley

The hon. Gentleman, perhaps deliberately, has not addressed himself to the point of financial assistance for churches in use. I am not seeking to press the hon. Gentleman very hard on this but I hope he can say whether the Historic Buildings Council at present has powers to help a church which is in use, without any further legislation.

Mr. Skeffington

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will put his question again?

Mr. Worsley

This is a question which I asked in my speech a week ago. The point I was seeking to make is that it really is illogical for the State only to help churches which are already out of use; in due course we shall have to help churches which are still in use. I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman that the Historic Buildings Council was already in existence, and helps other historic buildings, and I wanted to know whether this Council could, under its present powers, help churches which are in use, realising perfectly clearly that it is decided that it is policy not to do so. Does the legal framework have to be changed in order that the Historic Buildings Council may help churches in use?

Mr. Skeffington

It has to reach the point where the building is no longer being used for ecclesiastical purposes. Till then it is not possible under the 1913 Act. When that point is reached the Council could certainly legally make a contribution. Once the building comes out of ecclesiastical control the constitution will allow of a contribution to be made.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I feel I must press the Minister further because this is a very important point. Will he confirm that under this Bill there is nothing that will enable funds to be provided for the maintenance of a building which, while still in use, is running down structurally and might continue to run down structurally for many years? Will he confirm that there is nothing in the Act which set up the Historic Buildings Council which enables it to provide help for a building which is still in use but running down structurally, perhaps over many years?

Mr. Skeffington

That is quite correct. At the present time there is nothing which can be done to assist in that way. To do so would mean breaching the arrangement that has existed between the Church and the State. If it is felt that this is a matter which should be looked at, no doubt the appropriate bodies will see that it is.

Mr. Driberg

There is one rather curious point of which my hon. Friend is, I am sure, aware. As a member of the Historic Buildings Council I know that we quite often recommend—and we can only recommend—to the Minister that grants should be made to buildings which are in ecclesiastical use, not churches themselves but deaneries, such as the Deanery of Ripon, parsonage houses and various other such buildings still in ecclesiastical use.

Mr. Skeffington

Yes, I should have spoken of buildings being used for worship. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Redundant Churches and other Religious Buildings Bill ought to be read a Second time

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

May I thank you, Mrs. Jeger, very much from this side of the Committee for presiding so ably over our proceedings.

Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Chairman.) Mills, Mr.Peter
Allason, Mr. More, Mr.
Bishop, Mr. Pearson, Sir Frank
Cooke, Mr. Skeffington, Mr.
Robert Driberg, Mr. Thornton, Mr.
English, Mr. van Straubenzee, Mr.
Harper, Mr. Watkins, Mr.David
Jackson, Mr.Peter M. Worsley, Mr.
Mr. Skeffington

I gladly second that; indeed it should have come from me, but we are all a little out of gear this morning. I do not think we have ever had a better Chairman and I would like to add my thanks to those already expressed.

Committee rose at twenty-seven minutes to Twelve o'clock.