§ 3.12 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Minister of Works will take action to restrain the Bishop of Ely from using the same procedure for ridding himself of responsibility for the ancient churches of Denton and Islington as he has recently employed in the case of Woolley Church in the same Diocese.]
My Lords, these churches are listed as buildings of special architectural or historic interest under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and proper notice of the works proposed has been given to the local planning authorities. All Saints' Church, Denton, is to be kept safe and tidy as a ruin. As regards St. Mary's Church, Islington Green, the proposal was like- 1006 wise to make the body of the church safe and tidy. However, it was also proposed that the tower should be demolished. The diocesan authorities have agreed, following correspondence with the local planning authority and the Ministry, to reconsider the possibility of retaining the tower.
My Lords, in answer to that, I understood that the tower had already been pulled down; that with two tractors and wire hawsers, they succeeded with great difficulty in removing this dangerous structure. But I should like to ask the Minister whether, in spite of the drastic and callous behaviour of the ecclesiastical authorities and their total failure to appreciate the value of these buildings, there is any hope in future for one or more of these friendless churches—that is to say, churches from whom the congregations have for the moment disappeared. They are a national heritage and the ecclesiastical authorities have never realised that. Their only idea is that, if there is no congregation, there is no need for a church, and then they pull it down. I should like to ask whether the Government can give us any hope that that somewhat barbaric behaviour is likely to be superseded by a better method in future.
My Lords, as regards the first point which the noble Viscount put to me, I think he is mistaken. I think he must be referring to Woolley Church, which I understand has recently been demolished, but he will see from Hansard to-morrow that my answer related to the tower of Islington Green, which, so far as I know, is still standing.
For the moment. As regards the noble Viscount's strictures upon the ecclesiastical authorities, I feel that it would be wrong for me to be drawn on that subject and that I Should confine myself to matters which more definitely concern Cœsar. The noble Viscount will recall that a Commission was set up under the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, at the request of the most reverend Primates the Lord Archbishops of Canterbury and York some time ago, 1007 and they reported in 1960. That Commission recommended the setting up of what they term a Redundant Churches Fund, to be responsible for the repair and maintenance of redundant churches selected for preservation, and that the Fund should receive contributions from both Church and State. It is my understanding that discussions about this proposal are about to begin between a Commission appointed by the Church Assembly and the Government.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, is the Minister aware that abandoned churches sometimes come in extremely useful when it is decided to build a new town and it is possible to bring back into use again churches which have not been used for 20, 30, 50 or even 100 years? Bearing that in mind, will he do all that he can to encourage the work of this Commission?
My Lords, I am very glad to hear What the noble Earl has said, but surely it would be only fitting if the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are engaged in trying to deal with friendless churches, that while they are so engaged the provincial Bishops should be prevented from anticipating the judgments of their superiors and there should be a "cease-fire" in the pulling down of churches until the Commission in question have drawn up some rules to guide these semi-educated people.
§ LORD AMWELL
My Lords, to avoid confusion, may I ask whether the Minister is referring to the church at Islington in North London? If so, may I point out that there is no church at all at Islington Green?
My Lords, I was referring to St. Mary's Church, Islington Green, in the county of Norfolk.