HC Deb 19 December 1988 vol 144 cc14-5
72. Mr. Chapman

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what is the commissioners' policy on charging tourists who visit the Church of England cathedrals.

Mr. Alison

This is a matter not for the commissioners but for cathedrals.

Mr. Chapman

Given that millions of people visit some of our cathedrals and hundreds of thousands visit most other cathedrals each year, could the Church Commissioners, with their responsibility for such matters, at least positively encourage charging the public to visit cathedrals, and thereby recognise the escalating costs of wear and tear? Should there not be admission charges on Mondays to Saturdays at least, with free access to certain parts of cathedrals for those who truly wish to worship on their own?

Mr. Alison

I note my hon. Friend's point. I am grateful for the obvious concern that he has expressed about the income and costs of maintenance of cathedrals. Some cathedrals charge an entrance fee, but, alas, the additional income cannot be relied on as a regular source, because of the obvious peaks and troughs in the tourist season. Some cathedrals prefer not even to charge mid-week visitors, as some may wish to worship. Therefore, it would be wrong to try to impose any central pattern of admission charges.

Mr. Frank Field

Are not charges preferable to selling cathedral treasures?

Mr. Alison

The scale of charges to avoid selling things like Mappa Mundi would be so gigantic as to make it questionable whether the cathedrals would in any sense be able to meet the scale of costs involved, in Hereford, for example, where the sum of £7 million is quoted as the minimum required for the refurbishment and maintenance of the fabric.

Mr. Rowe

Has the time not come for the care of the fabric of these great buildings to fall on the Government? Many Christians in this country find a clear distinction between the business of having to concentrate vast resources, and clerics' and laymen's time, on trying to preserve buildings, and seeking the cure of souls.

Mr. Alison

My hon. Friend knows that, through various subordinate and intermediate agencies such as English Heritage and other bodies, the Government contribute a considerable sum of money to the maintenance of parish churches, many of which have extreme historical value. It has hitherto been thought that the glamour, scale and photogenic qualities of our cathedrals have been sources for generating their own flow of income. I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I have absolutely no means of committing the Government to any contributions to cathedrals.

Mr. Cryer

Does the right hon. Member endorse the policy of those cathedrals that do not charge? Will he consider providing more support from the Government? Does he agree that such buildings should be supported collectively, rather than face the possibility of being privatised, selling tourist services to the highest bidder, and maximising revenue through several slick, nasty public relations and commercial promotions, which would destroy the nature of cathedrals?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman referred to cathedrals being privatised. I am glad to say that they have not hitherto been in the public domain. It is a matter of publicising them, rather than privatising them—publicising them with a view to getting as much care and concern as they need to mobilise general national support from all people of good will to help them with their ongoing costs. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, given that we have 42 splendid cathedrals, the level at which they are maintained, their beauty and viability remain a testimony to the considerable resources they and private institutions have been able to raise over past centuries.