§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat)
I beg to move,That the draft Grants to the Redundant Churches Fund Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 11th February, be approved.My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage is empowered by section 1(1) and (2) of the Redundant Churches and other Religious Buildings Act 1969—as successor, for this purpose, to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, named in the section—to make by order, with the approval of the Treasury, grants to the redundant churches fund up to a specified maximum, over a specified period.
The redundant churches fund was originally set up in 1969, and the statutory provisions relating to it are currently embodied in the Pastoral Measure 1983. The fund has as its object
the preservation, in the interests of the nation, and the Church of England, of churches, and parts of churches, of historic and archaeological interest, or architectural quality, vested in the Fund by Part III of the 1983 Measure, together with their contents so vested.Its chairman and members are appointed by Her Majesty after advice has been submitted to her by the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York, through the Prime Minister.
The fund is now celebrating its quarter century and currently holds 290 churches, ranging from 18th century inner-city churches such as Holy Trinity, Sunderland and St. James, Toxteth, to rural ones, such as the 12th century St. Pendock near Tewkesbury and the 14th century St. James, Luffincott in Devon. What they have in common is that they are all of outstanding quality—a matter on which the Church Commissioners, who decide on vesting, have the expert advice of the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, which is also provided for in the 1983 Measure. Together, they form a most impressive portfolio and, along with churches still in pastoral use, a lasting witness to the strength of our ecclesiastical heritage.
The draft order provides for grants to the fund in the period from 1 April 1994 to 31 March 1997; that is, in the next three financial years. The five previous orders each covered a five-year period; the present order is the first to cover only three years. That change implements one of the recommendations in the 1990 Wilding report on the care of redundant churches. Five-year periods were, as Mr. Wilding saw, originally helpful in establishing an assured future for the fund for five years ahead on each occasion, but the fund is now sufficiently well established for that assurance to be unnecessary and there are several reasons for preferring a shorter three-year period.
In particular, the long lead time needed for preparing a quinquennial budget and obtaining approval means that figures have had to be worked out and presented for discussion up to two years before the beginning of the quinquennium. Those figures are now in cash terms and the process therefore involves trying to take a view, of the rate of redundancy, the rate of vesting and above all the rate of inflation for the next seven years. In our view a three-year period provides a much greater encouragement to realistic forward planning and fits the general public expenditure framework.
For the period 1994–97, the draft order provides for grants to the fund up to a maximum of £7.2 million. That 891 figure includes £2.2 million for the financial year 1994–95 and £2.5 million for each of the following two financial years, as already notified to the fund for planning purposes. The maximum figure in the order has been approved by the Treasury.
The order as made requires the signature of two Lords Commissioners of the Treasury as well as that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage. The annual figures included within the overall grant fall within the relevant public expenditure totals already made public.
The figures also represent the Government's 70 per cent. contribution towards the fund's expenditure, with the Church Commissioners providing the remaining 30 per cent. The Government's proportion has risen steadily from 40 per cent. in the first quinquennium to 50, 60 and, in the quinquennium just ending, 70 per cent. Therefore. the fund's maximum overall budget amounts to £10.3 million for the coming triennium. That allows for some new vestings and the necessary initial repairs as well as for continuing repairs to churches already vested.
I would not want to pretend to the House that the level of funding envisaged in the order is ideal, but public expenditure needs to be kept under proper control and the language of priorities rules.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The Minister has mentioned possible new vestings. His attention may have been drawn to the fact that during the debate on the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure, I drew attention to a gap between the redundant churches fund and the historic chapel fund in relation to private chapels and chapels of ease that belong to the Church of England but which the redundant churches fund cannot take on. Nor does the historic chapels fund consider it appropriate to take them on—I speak as a trustee of that fund. Is the Minister looking into that problem and will he come back to me about it?
§ Mr. Sproat
Yes, I will look at the important problem that the right hon. Gentleman raised and I shall come back to him in due course.
However, within that framework, we can take a measure of satisfaction from the fact that the maximum provided in the order, taken with what is provided in the Church Commissioners' parallel order already approved—the Payments to Redundant Churches Fund Order 1993—amounts to an increase in cash terms for 1994–95 of 13 per cent. over the current year's figure and a further increase of 16 per cent. planned for 1995–96 and 1996–97.
The fund's powers under the Pastoral Measure 1983 include the power to hold, manage, repair and maintain the churches vested in it and the power to license the occasional or temporary use of its churches. The Church Commissioners may also divest it of churches vested. The House will recall approving last week the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure, which now awaits enactment. That Measure gives the fund some useful further powers, including the power to grant leases, and clarifies its power to charge admission for churches it holds, thus adding to its ability to make good use of the resources provided.
There is another change in prospect that it might be helpful for me to set out as a background to the draft order. Section 1(1) of the Redundant Churches and Other Religious Buildings Act 1969 will be amended to enable the Department's grant to be paid to the Church 892 Commissioners for the purposes of the fund, rather than directly to the fund itself. That change will implement a further recommendation of the Wilding report and is aimed as making the Church Commissionersa focal point for the review of policy and the selection of priorities and the matching of expenditure with resources.Relations between the Department and the fund in respect of the Department's grant are currently regulated by a financial memorandum, setting out both parties' financial responsibilities as approved by the Treasury. In the new circumstances envisaged, there would be a similar memorandum regulating relations between the Department and the Church Commissioners to ensure proper control over the public expenditure element.
The Church Commissioners are already at the centre of the decision-making process—proposals for redundancy come to them from the dioceses and they decide which churches shall be vested in the fund—but the change proposed would give them a clearer role in the determination of policy and the choice of priorities. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) announced in November 1992 our intention to introduce legislation to that effect when room could be found in the Government programme. I hope that it will be possible to implement it at some stage in the coming triennium.
There is one final point that could be worrying some hon. Members. The draft order relates to grants to the redundant churches fund, but the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure provides for the fund's name to be changed to the churches conservation trust. That reflects the fact that vested churches are no longer fairly described as redundant, but have a role to play that is of value to Church and state and to their local communities. I can assure the House that the change of name will be automatically applied to the interpretation of the draft order as soon as the measure is enacted. With those few words, I commend the draft order to the House.
§ 4.4 pm
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I thank the Minister for moving the order, which has the Opposition's support. That is hardly surprising as it was a Labour Administration who, in 1969, introduced the original Measure. I am glad that it has the continued support of the hon. Gentleman's Administration.
I welcome, too, the change to a three-year period and accept the valid arguments that the Minister made. The fund is well established and there is no danger, in the light of Mr. Wilding's report, in the move to a three-year period.
The order is important, as is this short debate. People all over the country who are worried about the future use and role of their parish churches will be listening to the debate, anxious to know what chance their churches have of being reprieved and restored and of continuing to play a part in the community. The debate is important to many communities because churches are a key architectural and community resource long after they have ceased to have an ecclesiastical use.
In previous debates, not least the one on 8 March, to which the Minister referred, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) has made it clear that in both rural communities, such as those in East Anglia and in his own part of the country, and in cities, churches are invariably the focus. Historically, they have always been centres for the community for festivals, feasts, music, 893 debate from the pulpit and charitable matters such as alms giving. In particular, churches are invariably the most outstanding architectural point in a community, often the most visible, dwarfing all others.
The future of redundant churches is an important matter to communities and to our architectural heritage. Therefore, it is good that the Minister has moved the order in such a constructive way. There is an element of urgency about it. The noble Lord Templeman's report on the fate of London churches shows the scale of need and the seriousness of the problem.
The Opposition support this excellent measure, but I should be grateful if the Minister would answer certain questions when he replies to the short debate. He should tell the House something more about the scale of need. Between 20 and 30 churches become redundant every year, but, as far as I am aware, no figure is published of the number of redundant churches for which another use has yet to be found. The Government should make clear the number of churches that are potential recipients of the fund.
Only when we look at the scale of need and the queue of applications can the House decide whether the fund of £7 million during the next three years and the total fund of something over £10 million are adequate. The Minister recognised in his brief remarks that the amount of money is not ideal. He referred to public expenditure controls and the language of priorities, but he owes it to the House to give some idea of the scale of need. How many applications have been received and what is the total cost?
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), who usually takes part in these debates but cannot be in his place today, because he is chairing a committee on Bosnia, would have liked to be here. He is a trustee of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust and knows only too well that literally hundreds of applications are received by that trust each year, each one of which runs into six figures—more than £100,000. Very few applications to the trust are for amounts of less than six figures.
The House can see the scale of need and the size of budget required. Even the most modest re-roofing of a church runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Communities all round the country are doing noble work in raising money by voluntary means, but they cannot address the scale of need and the urgency that such problems present. When the Minister replies, he should tell the House how many churches are queuing up for the money and what the scale of budget is. We could judge what he admits is not an ideal sum in the light of need and the ability to respond to that need.
When the Minister gives that figure, will he also say how it was arrived at, what the Church Commissioners and others have asked for and what was the range of consultation, not only with Church figures but heritage bodies, to establish that this is the correct sum and that we are not underestimating the need? When we come to renew the order in three years' time, we should be better informed and more aware of how we are responding to the heritage and historic needs of churches. Is the need growing or static? Are we dealing with the backlog slowly or is it beginning to escalate out of control? We need to hear more from the Minister on those matters.
894 How are we to address those needs? Does the country have the conservation and restoration skills that are necessary to respond—£7 million is a lot of money to spend even on the few churches that will benefit—for example in masonry, joinery and stained glass? Do we have the architectural and ecclesiastical expertise and the historical understanding of the context of the churches? All that must be addressed. All that is expensive. Hon. Members who have been, for example, to Wells cathedral or Hereford cathedral and seen the high quality of the restoration and conservation work there will know how difficult such work is, and how, on those projects, there has to be a great deal of in-house training to train young stonemasons to deal with the enormous skills that mediaeval stonemasons had but which we have lost over the years.
It would be useful if the Minister said something about the training and skills that will be implicit in the grants and whether those training skills respond to the level of need. Will the Minister reassure the House that an element of training will be in each of the grants so that we build up a store of skills in masonry, joinery and other ecclesiastical skills and thereby benefit from the good spending of the grant?
I reiterate that the Opposition thoroughly support the measure and look forward to a report by the Minister on how the money is being spent.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)
I apologise to you, Madam Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for not being present when the order was introduced. The business galloped ahead with such unaccustomed rapidity, and my hon. Friend's speech was so succinct and to the point, that it overturned and exceeded my capacity to get across the road from No. 1 Whitehall in time to hear even the tail end of it. Fortunately, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who is the Opposition spokesman, in his elegant and helpful speech of welcome to the order, touched on most of the important points that my hon. Friend made so I am now as familiar with it as though I had heard it myself.
I am therefore glad to be able to express warm thanks and appreciation on behalf of the Church Commissioners and the Church of England more widely not only for the substantial financial benefit that will accrue to the Church of England from the order but for the personal interest and concern that my hon. Friend has taken in it and in this part of Government policy. There is bipartisan agreement that it is a responsibility of Government, but nevertheless a demonstration of civilised Government, that they should be prepared to dip hands into the taxpayer's pocket for what is a comparatively rarefied part of public expenditure that will produce no dividends in immediate political popularity but will, nevertheless, preserve things into the future and bring enormous appreciation and value to successive generations.
§ Mr. Fisher
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a specific question about the criteria with which he and the Church Commissioners, for whom he speaks, approach the selection of churches?
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has received some correspondence about St. John's, Hanley, a church in my constituency. That beautiful church, which stands in the centre of the city, is one of Hanley's few fine buildings. 895 The Commissioners have been asked to approve its use as a climbing centre, and to deem that use appropriate, although what the community needs is a place for contemplation and repose.
As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, a strong body of local opinion in the centre of Hanley—led by the rector's wife, Mrs. Janice Owen—is in favour of keeping the church for the community. It would be very helpful to those people, and to other communities in the same position around the country, if the right hon. Gentleman said something about the Commissioners' approach to issues which—as he will appreciate—are of great concern to my constituents, and to others.
§ Mr. Alison
I am not sure whether it was the hon. Gentleman who wrote to me about that church; I think that it was. A substantial draft response has been prepared and I feel that it would be improper and undesirable for me to rehearse it now. As a result of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, however, the case that he has specified has been subjected to microscopic examination.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will at least derive from the answer that I am about to send him some fairly encouraging insights into the series of filters—some would call them baffles—that lie between the decision of a local diocese, through a pastoral committee, to consider a church for redundancy and the stage at which various architectural and other expert bodies, such as English Heritage, are brought into play under a broad Commission aegis to conclude whether the church should be considered for inclusion in the redundant churches fund. Rather than speaking for a long time now, I shall send the hon. Gentleman a note explaining exactly how we "pick the winner", so to speak.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Can the right hon. Gentleman shed any light on the number of churches seeking succour from the fund? That would give us a better idea of the extent to which it will be able to deal with applications.
§ Mr. Alison
I am tempted to respond to the hon. Gentleman's request, but I do not want to spoil my hon. Friend's winding-up speech, of which that relevant information will be an important feature. Rather than trespassing on his speech, I shall leave that little gem of information for him to hold up and allow to sparkle before the House.
I thank my hon. Friend warmly for the proposals that he has introduced: he has carried out his departmental responsibilities helpfully and generously. The Pastoral (Amendment) Measure, which we passed the other evening, is the kind of vehicle that makes the essential infrastructure provision for the order, but my hon. Friend's proposals represent the living fuel that enables the machinery to turn over and function. These important resources are the essential key to the Measure.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). He said the other day that, although we were discussing redundant churches, the Church—partly because of the population shift—is now building a significant number of new churches each year. That is right: the Church must respond to the needs of the present, rather than giving priority to maintaining the heritage. I fully recognise, 896 however, that across the Church—and, indeed, more widely—there is a general acceptance that the Redundant Churches and Other Religious Buildings Act 1969 was far-sighted and wise; I think we should ensure that its purpose continues to be served.
I shall make two points. First, I echo the important contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and those of one or two other hon. Members who mentioned churches that are not Anglican but which have architectural or other merit. I hope that the debate will send the signal that organisations such as English Heritage will maintain that part of our inheritance.
§ Mr. Hardy
One hopes that the Treasury will not prevent English Heritage from continuing that obligation. It would be useful if, in his wind-up, the Minister would assure the House that that purpose will continue as a priority.
Secondly, I relate an incident that occurred in my constituency in the past two weeks. It concerns security. Although the grant is welcome, the challenge facing those responsible for redundant churches as a result of the increased crime rate is quite frightening. I can illustrate the point using a local case.
The old parish church in Wentworth is the only redundant church in my constituency. It is a 12th century church, which was replaced by a new and much larger building in the late 1870s—I cannot remember whether it was in 1877 or 1879. The new church was built by a very large and powerful Whig family, the Fitzwilliams, who by that time had become very important and presumably very affluent. A much larger church was required for their retinue, miners, gamekeepers and domestic servants, but the old church is of enormous historic and social importance in South Yorkshire.
In that church lie the mortal remains of the great-great-great-great grandfather of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford. The church is still used from time to time; it is used in the summer, but cannot be used for services in the winter because it has no heating. The two local residents who take charge of the church—Mr. Roy Young, a retired headmaster of the local school, and Mr. Tom Tinker—devote an enormous amount of energy to maintaining the building as an important part of South Yorkshire life. Mr. Young sometimes arranges exhibitions in the church; indeed, he arranged one recently.
Among the exhibits was a collection of photographs of paintings that were last displayed in the 1930s in Sheffield. Since then, most of the paintings have disappeared, so the photographs in the exhibition are of considerable importance. A number of other artefacts and books were included in the exhibition, but two weeks ago there was a burglary. Thieves got into the church and removed a number of artefacts, including the bible presented by the Marquess of Rockingham, the father of the Rockingham Whig leader who was Prime Minister twice in the 18th century.
The bible was bound in silver and velvet. The thieves also removed a prayer book which I believe was presented in memory of Viscount Milton, who was the son of the 897 great Whig reformer. I often suspect that the family declined after they ceased to be powerful Whigs and I think that their descendants are largely Conservatives—but that is another matter. It was once a very powerful family and Lord Milton was one of the great architects of political reform. The Bible, a very important book which commemorated that fact, was stolen. Other books were also taken, some of which have been recovered. One important book has been recovered, but has been damaged by damp. It was a dreadful theft of important items. As I said, one book that was bound in silver may have been destroyed so that the thieves could extract the silver that bound it.
To ask the local community to provide 24-hour security is impossible because of the cost of that sort of operation. With the development of interest in antiques and historic artefacts, even the churches in use, as well as the redundant churches, are under grave threat. We tend to assume that the Redundant Churches Fund Order of the Churches Conservation Trust is concerned about the architecture of churches that are vital landmarks in our environment, but often churches may be included in that list because of their interiors. It would be outrageous if we had to insist, because of the rate of crime in our society, that everything inside a church that made it a vital part of our inheritance had to be taken out for safe keeping. Security costs money. One important church in York has to have an attendant and the cost of such attendants can be substantial.
I wonder whether the arrangements that have been made adequately reflect the soaring rate of crime through which heritage is pillaged and valuable artefacts are broken down and sold in the burgeoning antique business. It is rather disturbing that in our generation we see a greater threat to our heritage as a result of the soaring crime rate than has been the case in the past. Until relatively recently, many of our churches could remain open so that people can go in for prayer and reflection. However, few churches can be left open now. When a church is redundant and the artefacts in it may be attractive, it is extremely vulnerable. When the local community is small and the church already depends on the dedicated service of its people, we cannot expect those people to devote more time to patrol all the churches during the hours of darkness and in inclement weather.
Wentworth church was burgled during extremely bad weather. However, I am delighted to say—my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) will especially appreciate this in view of his close connection with our local police—that the South Yorkshire police, unlike some police forces, tend to be very successful and the burglars have been apprehended. Whether we recover the artefacts remains to be seen. I have no guarantee, and no one in the village of Wentworth and the surrounding areas can have any guarantee, that the next time Mr. Roy Young, in the pursuit of the growing interest in local history, stages an exhibition in that church, it can be held with a feeling of security that other priceless items will not be stolen.
The grant envisaged of £7,200,000 is hardly enough to cope with the challenge presented by the soaring rate of crime. In due course, will the Minister consider finding out how much damage has been done, the value of the items that have been stolen and what assessment should be or 898 could be made to provide support for the newly named organisation in its efforts to preserve heritage, which I hope that the whole House supports?
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
It is fairly unusual for the Church of England to get such a prime-time slot. It strikes me as more like a General Synod debate on a dull day than the excitement of the mother of Parliaments. However, such is the product of non co-operation and the timetabling that ensues.
May I make one significant point, following the debate last week, on the City of London churches? It relates to the amount of money and the demands on that money, which is available through the grant and the order, which I hope will be passed and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and I shall support with our colleagues. As the Minister will know, a recent report by Lord Templeman, to which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) referred, came to the view, with which I do not disagree, that many City of London churches are no longer needed for the purposes of parish ministry. I hope that all of us in the Church realise that there comes a time when the venue of a church is no longer an appropriate centre for a parish and should not be sustained for that purpose. In rural areas, that happens when the village moves from its original site to a new development elsewhere and we are left with a little church up on a hill and the people living further away, down below. My sister-in-law, who is to be ordained a priest in the Church of England in a few weeks, is a curate in such a parish in Essex. The new daughter church is down in the valley and the original church is on the hill; the population has moved on.
The same happens in and around cities. In the middle ages, and in the time of Sir Christopher Wren and others, the demand for churches was in the City of London and not in the other places that have been built since. The demand for churches is not there any more. We understand why things have changed. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and others said in the previous debate, many churches were built in excess of requirements even in the middle ages, as presentations to God of the glory of what human beings could create; they were not necessarily all required because of the number of people crowding into the pews.
In the City of London, we are left with a huge and wonderful array of churches which, to be honest, are not being used by thronging millions for daily or Sunday worship, so I guess that it would be right for the diocese of London to say that many of them are surplus to requirements and are no longer needed as parish churches.
However, it would be a tragedy if those churches were not to remain publicly available, and available for other uses. I am sure that the Minister would not want that to happen. He was not on the Front Bench during the debate last week, but the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), who speaks for the Church Commissioners, mentioned some of the many churches that have come to be used not as parish churches but as churches for special types of congregation or types of worship.
One church that has been chosen for such a purpose —it was mentioned last week—is the church of St. Agnes and St. Anne, in the City, which is now used as the base for the Lutheran Church in London. Lutherans from Europe 899 and America regularly come there and it is a lively church with brilliant music, jazz evening services and all sorts of other good things. That has great merit and contributes to a multi-cultural and diverse population, both those who live in London and those who come to London to visit the church.
I ask the Minister how the negotiations will proceed, and how far his Department will be involved this time and, more importantly, in debates to come—this will be a three-yearly grant, if approved. How will we be able to ensure that from among the Church Commissioners—for reasons that we will not go into today, they are hard up and do not have much spare money—the Department of National Heritage and others, we can find the funds to enable the churches to survive in a good state of repair? They are the heritage of all of us, they are in the capital city, there is a large number of them, and they will not be needed for the parish ministry. Other people are willing to take them on for other uses, but it will be no good if we leave them to pick up the tab, because they cannot afford it.
I should be grateful to hear at the end of the debate how the Department intends to make progress on the Templeman report and on working with the Church Commissioners. To use a phrase out of context, I wish to ensure that our beautiful historic legacy of the City of London churches does not fall between the two stools of the Department and the Commissioners, which would prevent us from doing our best to ensure that, as they move from the parish ministry to other work, the churches remain among the glories of the City of London in this wonderfully endowed country of ours.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
I shall speak briefly, following on from a brief intervention that I made in the debate on the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure last week. I speak not as a member of the Church but from an agnostic point of view. I do not approach the matter from the point of view of the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), who represents the Church Commissioners and who feels that spending the money may be appreciated by only a narrow section of the population. I believe that the beauty and the majesty of churches in the townscape and in the landscape generally are widely appreciated by a vast cross-section of the population and by far more people than actually attend churches.
The churches are part of the rich pattern of diversity in our townscape and landscape. Sadly, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, that diversity was much reduced by philistine architecture, which changed from buildings with curves, shapes, nooks and crannies that hold, arrest and entertain the eye, to square utilitarian blocks with little to commend them, not even the internal comforts for the occupants. Indeed, in the case of tower blocks, there has been an enormous number of problems.
The churches of the Church of England are an important aesthetic pleasure—they are part of our art museum. Redundant churches are part of our national art museum and, therefore, it is right that the money envisaged in the order should be spent. As I said last week, the grant will help the Church of England to resist the god of mammon. Occasionally, the Church of England has been tempted to ensure that a church is demolished, so that it can obtain 900 revenue from the church site because it wants the money. I hope that the order will help to preserve some of the magnificent buildings that so many people appreciate.
I hope that the Minister has taken note of the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). It is not only churches of the Church of England which provide pleasure to the eye when they are redundant and should be retained—chapels are also part of the rich nonconformist tradition, especially in the north of England. For example, a beautiful chapel at Cleckheaton—where else—which is a magnificent testimony to the spirit of nonconformity, is being turned into a night club. I would rather see it as a night club than demolished. But, at the same time, we have lost a great many churches and chapels which potentially could have had some use and given pleasure if they had been retained.
Architectural buildings of magnificence are not simply buildings; they are a message from the people who built them. They were built with great care and devotion. They are a testimony to the beliefs of the time and, especially in the case of chapels, a testimony to dissidence. Testimonies to dissidence should be retained, because it is a spirit which I regard with affection.
The Minister said that he will tell the House what demand there is for the money—just over £7 million and a total of £10.3 million in three years. Will the money be adequate, or will we see the continuing erosion of some buildings because it is inadequate? I understand the priorities that affect any Government and about which tough decisions must be made. However, it will be useful to know what demand there is for the money.
The Minister helped the House by saying that the order will be changed when the legislative process of the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure is completed—the change from the redundant churches fund to the Churches Conservation Trust will be automatically applied in the order. That is all well and good. However, I hope that that sort of useful information will be added to the explanatory note in the future so that people are informed when they read it. We should try to make legislation as clear as possible before it leaves the House. The explanatory note is not part of the order and, therefore, does not depend on the passage of the Measure for its authenticity. It could be made clear that the change in name depends on the passage of the Measure. That would help in any future reference.
The order is probably the only legislation introduced by the Labour Government which the Conservative Government are likely to support, so we should certainly welcome it.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I do not intend to repeat what I said in the debate on the Pastoral Measure last week, but I shall pick up two or three points made in the debate.
The Minister need not go as far as Cleckheaton to see a chapel converted into a night club. He need walk only as far as Charing Cross road where, just on the left, he will see a very substantial, former Welsh calvinistic Methodist chapel which, during my time in the House, has been converted into a night club. There are many conversions of churches and chapels in London and elsewhere.
That leads me to make the point that the redundant churches fund and the Historic Chapels Trust cannot hope to cope with the full range and number of buildings that 901 may cease to be used for parish or congregational worship. There is a quite widespread public feeling that, if possible, fewer buildings should cease to be used either as parish churches or as places of congregational worship. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) said that people in parishes all over the country would be interested in this order, so that they can discover what will happen to their churches. Many will hope that their church does not fall into the hands of the redundant churches fund because they will want it to continue in use.
There is an understandable view in the churches that buildings must be secondary to the Church's mission. However, there is a view in the community that if the Church wants to serve the community one thing that it can do is continue to keep open places that the community has for centuries regarded as sanctified by worship, which are of special architectural quality and which provide a place of repose and meditation that many people find important. There is, therefore, a certain tension between what the Church feels impelled to do and what communities want. I underline the point that we do not want an excessive number of churches and chapels to be made redundant. When they are, some of them must be considered for alternative uses and some can appropriately be put to other uses, particularly those whose visual contribution is primarily their exterior, which adds a great deal to the townscape.
§ Mr. Hardy
I would not necessarily object to a redundant church becoming licensed premises. We have in my constituency a former church run by Mr. Joe Hodgson who calls it the St. James' club, and it is conducted wholesomely. However, a building owned by our parish church in Wath upon Dearne was acquired by a brewery company; it secured planning permission for "upmarket purposes" and subsequently called it the Jailhouse Alehouse. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if church buildings are to become licensed premises they should be given reasonably suitable names?
§ Mr. Beith
Anyone who takes over an historic building should have some sympathy for the building in the use that he makes of it. Generally, it is commercially a good thing to draw on the traditions and qualities of a building when one uses it for some other activity. Many nonconformists, however, are uncomfortable with their buildings becoming licensed premises, and some have trust conditions and covenants expressly to prevent their use as such, which complicates the situation when a sale is in prospect.
Incidentally, therein lies a fundamental difference between the redundant churches fund and the various other schemes, including the Historic Chapels Trust, which try to save churches. The fund's churches are handed over to it by the Church Commissioners; they do not have to be acquired at a price. Any attempt to save a nonconformist building, including an attempt by the Historic Chapels Trust, needs money to buy it, perhaps against the competition. The church concerned may want to sell the building for another use in order to reuse the funds as part of its "development strategy", as they like to call it these days.
Some nonconformist denominations have even sought to sell their buildings in such a way as to ensure that they do not go to other denominations lest they provide 902 competition for their own congregations. I recall a case in New Mills where a Methodist church, in my view wrongly, sought to prevent a chapel from remaining in use because it thought that it would attract some of its present congregation and deter them from moving to the place where they were supposed to go as part of the rationalisation scheme. So all sorts of factors enter into nonconformist buildings, and some of them are relevant to the point that I made in an intervention on the Minister about a category of Church of England buildings with which, at present, the redundant churches fund cannot deal. They are those which are separately owned, either as private, proprietary chapels, such as St. John's, Matlock Bath, or hospital chapels or other buildings which fall firmly within the tradition of the Church of England but which are not in its direct ownership. That is a problem which we must address because, as a trustee of the Historic Chapels Trust, I find it difficult to envisage that a trust with so many responsibilities for nonconformist, Roman Catholic and Jewish buildings could take on a whole batch of Church of England buildings as well. The redundant churches fund could do that particular job. The prospects for co-operation between the redundant churches fund and the Historic Chapels Trust are very good. We are already on good working terms.
I particularly want to say that English Heritage has been very supportive in setting up the Historic Chapels Trust and in its continuing work, and I hope that the Government will continue to take a close interest in what we do. It is of considerable importance that we apply the same efforts to key redundant nonconformist buildings as the redundant churches fund has applied so successfully to many redundant Church of England churches.
Many of these churches are hugely valued by the community. The work that has been done to conserve and protect them is of lasting value for many generations to come. We strongly support the order.
§ Mr. Sproat
With the leave of the House, I shall respond to this extremely interesting debate—more interesting than perhaps it looked at the beginning when the Benches were rather sparsely populated.
I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) for welcoming the order on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition. He said that the debate would be heard all round the country and I am certain, from the contributions that have been made this afternoon, that he is absolutely right.
The hon. Member referred to the Templeman report. Perhaps I may come to that in the context of the contribution of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and say one or two things about it later. He also mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). My hon. Friend did me and the House the courtesy of coming to apologise for being unable to be present because he is chairing a meeting of a committee on Bosnia, but he told me how much he welcomed the purport of the draft order.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central asked about the number of redundant churches likely to come up and whether the funds were sufficient. It is an absolutely central question and it is fair and proper that he should ask it. Some 290 churches are currently vested. During the 1980s, roughly 10 churches asked for help. The number 903 then fell off, for reasons on which I cannot speculate—it was probably just a mathematical fluke—to between six and eight churches a year from 1991 to 1993. Once again, however, as we have this debate, something like 10 cases are in the pipeline. It looks as though that is the order of magnitude about which we are talking.
The hon. Member also asked whether the funding was sufficient to deal with those churches. We hope that it is. We expect that it is. It is true that the fund wanted rather more money than we gave it: it wanted some £16 million and we have given it £10 million. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) mentioned a figure of £7.2 million. That is the Government's contribution, and the Church Commissioners' contribution takes it up to just over £10 million. In answer to the hon. Member's question, therefore, the situation does not appear to be escalating out of control. We will keep a close eye on it, but at the moment we think that it is under as much control as something so unpredictable can be.
The hon. Member also asked whether we had the necessary skills in this country, such as stonemasonry and carving, to deal with the problem. We do. If we look at cathedrals—the hon. Member mentioned Wells and there are others such as Ely—we see excellent examples of work, proving that we still have the skills in this country. English Heritage set up a new training centre where those skills are taught. Its name escapes me—it is something like Fort Brockenhurst, but I will check and let the hon. Member know. It is very important that this marvellous tradition be kept alive and well. Although that is not one of the purposes of the fund, it will be one of its most beneficial side effects.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) for his contribution, which, as he is one of the Church Commissioners, is particularly welcome.
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) raised the very sad question of the security of churches. I agree that this is a disturbing trend. When I was in Birmingham yesterday, someone told me about people who had fired guns at stained glass windows during church services. This is not quite the same thing, but it is an indication of the lack of respect with- which such places are now treated.
For the purposes of the fund, contents are regarded as integral to a church. Thus, we shall certainly look very carefully at the problem of burglary and at the question of security in general. So far, the problem does not seem to have been unmanageable. We have been monitoring the situation and the indications are that, in so far as one can ever say that such things are under control, it is not wildly out of control.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned the Templeman report. Templeman said that 12 churches should be withdrawn from use. It is absolutely 904 unthinkable that those buildings should be demolished. The Templeman report will be addressed by the diocese of London in the autumn. Technically, this is not a matter for my Department—
§ Mr. Sproat
As the hon. Gentleman says, not yet. However, we shall take a very close look at the situation.
My understanding is that the question of funding could be resolved in one of the two ways that have so far been suggested. One suggestion is that a new city churches trust be set up and that will be looked into by the diocese of London. The second suggestion is that city churches be made eligible under the normal fund provisions. When we make our arrangements for funding for the next triennium we shall take into account whatever decision the diocese of London arrives at. I agree strongly with the point about the beautiful legacy of London churches. We shall make sure that the situation is not allowed to slip to such an extent that churches have to be demolished.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said something with which the whole House will agree: that the rich pattern of architectural diversity that these churches represent is crucial. All of us—to whichever church we belong, or whether to any church at all—will have agreed with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Gentleman. He said that we should be concerned not only with Church of England churches but with nonconformist chapels and the great tradition that they encapsulate in brick and stone. Because what the hon. Gentleman has said is so true, we recently set up the Historic Chapels Trust. The first two chapels have already been acquired and they will be eligible for English Heritage grant. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, English Heritage has been very helpful in this respect. The right hon. Gentleman will know that that body is looked after by my Department. We intend to see that it continues to be as helpful as it has been.
The right hon. Gentleman made a good point about the change of name to Churches Conservation Trust. Perhaps it should have been included in the explanatory memorandum. It is a good idea, but it did not occur to me. In fact, we intend to include it when the order ceases to be a draft, if the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure is enacted.
The right hon. Member mentioned the tensions that so often arise between Church and people. He is very right, but I am glad to say that it is not usually my job to resolve tensions.
With this brief reply, I commend the order to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Grants to the Redundant Churches Fund Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 11th February, be approved.