HC Deb 02 February 2004 vol 417 cc524-5
18. Hugh Bayley(Lab) (City of York)

In what circumstances Church of England cathedrals may (a) be made bankrupt and (b) lose their charitable status. [151910]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell)

First, let me thank the hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) for their kind remarks about the conferring of an honour on me in the New Year's honours list. The House can be very generous on these occasions.

When a charitable corporation, such as a Church of England cathedral, establishes a separate company under the companies legislation, that company can be wound up under the Insolvency Act 1986 in the same way as any other company set up under the Companies Acts. Cathedrals are established for purposes which are recognised by law as charitable. The interaction between insolvency law and the law on charitable corporations is, however, untested as yet in the courts.

Hugh Bayley

May I add my congratulations on my hon. Friend's honour to those already expressed?

I think my hon. Friend may have missed the point. He will know that Bradford cathedral has a county court judgment against it from my constituents in a company called Fast Forward for a sum amounting to more than £100,000. The judgment is not against a company set up by Bradford cathedral, but against the cathedral itself. Does my hon. Friend think it acceptable that a Church of England cathedral can have a judgment against it for such a large sum and simply refuse to pay? If it were a commercial body, bankruptcy proceedings would follow. If it were any other form of charity—

Mr. Speaker


Sir Stuart Bell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking up the cause of his constituents in a very proper and fastidious manner. He and I have arranged a meeting to discuss the details, to which I look forward.

Legally and financially, cathedrals are independent bodies governed by the Cathedrals Measure passed by Parliament in 1999. The commissioners have a very limited statutory role in relation to cathedrals, which means that they have no power to compel Bradford cathedral to reach a settlement, and no power to provide funds.