HC Deb 13 March 1995 vol 256 cc554-5
22. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what financial provision is being made in the current year to equip churches, abbeys and cathedrals with public toilets.

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

None. This is not the responsibility of the Church Commissioners. The parochial church councils of parish churches and the administrative bodies of cathedrals have sole executive and financial responsibility in these matters, subject to any statutory consents that they may require to carry out work affecting the historic character of a building.

Mr. Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend assist incumbents who are paid by the Church Commissioners with the placement of public toilets in churches, bringing them into line with cathedrals, as many people want and as should happen as we enter the 21st century? I know of one church which, for two years, has tried to get the faculty to use money left to it to put in the public loo that people want and need. It has not so far been able to achieve that. Will my right hon. Friend put a bomb under the archdeacons who are so slow in getting things going?

Mr. Alison

My hon. Friend will agree that a bomb might be slightly counter-productive. He is concerned about public toilets in parish churches. He is probably aware that most parish churches have a toilet in the vestry for the use of the incumbent. It would have to be a parish in which relationships between the congregation and the incumbent had fallen to an exceptionally low level if members of the public were barred from using the facilities available in the vestry. I shall, however, draw my hon. Friend's anxieties to the attention of the relevant archdeacons.

Mr. Simon Hughes

On a slightly broader point, which arises from the question, do the Church Commissioners have responsibility for ensuring that churches, abbeys and cathedrals are generally accessible to all members of the public, including those with disabilities? If not, could they see that as a generally useful responsibility?

Mr. Alison

We have some onerous responsibilities, as the hon. Gentleman knows, especially in property and finance, but we do not have direct responsibility for the matter about which he is concerned. For cathedrals, it comes within the ambit of the administrative bodies and for parish churches, especially large and popular ones, within the scope of responsibilities of the parochial church councils.

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