HC Deb 22 October 1984 vol 65 c429
22. Mr. Jessel

asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, whether consideration of the future of the redundant church of St. Albans, Teddington, has yet been referred to the redundant churches fund; and how soon the commissioners expect to be informed of any decision of the fund.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing Church Commissioners (Sir William van Straubenzee)

The commissioners, with whom the final decision rests, await the advice of the advisory board for redundant churches. The board is now consulting the fund.

Mr. Jessel

Although my hon. Friend, as a commissioner, cannot prejudge the advisory board's advice, is he aware that my constituents expect me to look ahead? Will he therefore take note that if, in the end, the redundant churches fund is unable to raise the large sum required to preserve St. Albans the public will not find it easy to accept that the only alternative is demolition, and that it would be wise then to hold a public inquiry? I hope that, in that event, the commissioners will consider that suggestion favourably.

Sir William van Straubenzee

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for appreciating that I have to be careful today, on behalf of the commissioners, not to prejudge the decision. However, I can most willingly confirm that there is always great sensitivity to the anxiety of local people. While I do not anticipate the decision for a moment, I totally accept that, in some events, one possible way of proceeding would be to hold a non-statutory public inquiry.

Mr. Frank Field

Will the commissioner tell his colleagues that what is happening in Teddington and other areas is making it increasingly difficult to continue to defend the ecclesiastical exemption in this House?

Sir William van Straubenzee

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that view about the case to which the question refers, and to which I must limit myself. The enormous care that there has been, and the detailed consultation that has taken place, show that local considerations and all other aspects have been considered in the greatest possible detail.

Mr. Cormack

Will my hon. Friend and his colleagues look carefully at the criteria for redundancy? Will he accept that many worshipping Christians obtain more inspiration from the buildings than from the preachers?

Sir William van Straubenzee

Yes, but I think that even the most stimulating preacher is put off if the building is crumbling around his ears.