HC Deb 05 January 2004 vol 416 cc18-9
24. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)(Con)

What assessment he has made of the financial situation of English cathedrals. [145850]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy)

The Church Commissioners have made no such assessment. Their role in cathedral funding is limited to the payment of some clergy stipends and the provision of grants for staff and administrative costs.

Mr. Luff

I declare an interest as chairman of Worcester cathedral council. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] That is a non-remunerated post, I hasten to add. Does the Minister not agree that the triple responsibility of maintaining a living heritage of music and liturgy in cathedrals, maintaining the built heritage, which is rightly subject to strong statutory protection, and, of course, offering witness to the Christian faith is proving an intolerable burden for many cathedrals?

A crisis is looming in cathedral funding. Cathedrals such as Worcester are taking steps to address that by seeking endowments for their music in particular, but is not there a need for the Church Commissioners to lead a national debate—involving, for example, the Minister's colleagues at the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—before that crisis reaches a dreadful fruition?

Mr. Lammy

I too should declare an interest as a former cathedral chorister at Peterborough, but I should also say that although the Church Commissioners provide some assistance to cathedrals—last year they gave £6 million—they must obviously pay attention to the core of their business and their obligations through legal trusts to parishes. I understand from the Archbishops Council that Worcester cathedral has been offered £99,000 in an English Heritage grant for 2004–05 for the repair of its chapterhouse roof, but I am of course happy to draw what the hon. Gentleman said to the attention of the Archbishops Council and the Second Church Estates Commissioner.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)(Lab)

My hon. Friend the Minister will know the history of the appointment of the next Bishop of Reading. Will he comment, however, on a Sunday newspaper report, which is expanded on in today's Reading Evening Post, to the effect that the next Bishop of Reading is to be your chaplain, Mr. Speaker, who is held in very high respect in the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady is out of order.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)(Con)

I wonder whether the Church Commissioners should not take this opportunity to look carefully at what is happening in other countries, which will show that most other European countries are very much more generous towards their great ecclesiastical edifices—even states that are professedly agnostic, such as France. Would it not be good for the Church Commissioners to get a bit tougher with this Government, and indeed all Governments, to ensure that the state helps to keep up these great buildings with a great deal more generosity?

Mr. Lammy

There has been considerable progress since 1990, when the Church conducted a substantial review of work needed on its cathedrals. Many of those cathedrals have been substantially repaired since then. As is proper and right, the Church Commissioners make a contribution, but it is right also that the lion's share of that contribution goes to parishes. This is an important issue for the Church, and indeed for the heritage of this country, which is why English Heritage also makes a substantial contribution to the life of our cathedrals and their general fabric.