HL Deb 22 April 1969 vol 301 cc393-6

3.41 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, the last thing I want to do is to take up the time of the House, but I should like to say one word, as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, in favour of the Bill which the House is now discussing. In a world that is changing as rapidly as ours is to-day, some measure of this kind—I am quite certain everyone would agree with what the right reverend Prelate has said—is clearly desirable and even essential. There are inevitably churches which from the point of view of religious worship have become no longer needed. Populations, as he has said, have often moved, and there may be other reasons why buildings have become redundant. There is, I think, more than one example of two churches in a single churchyard—that is the type of case which has grown up over the centuries—and yet both those churches may be of architectural and historical interest.

It would, I feel, be a tragedy if buildings of that kind were allowed to fall into ruin—buildings which are symbolic of the whole Christian character of this country, and living examples of this throughout the length and breadth of the land. That is the position which the Royal Commission of which I have the honour to be Chairman only too often has brought to its notice. It is a very real danger, and a danger I think perhaps greater than some of us would know if it were not brought to our constant attention. As I understand it, this Bill is a real attempt—and I think the first real attempt—to deal with that difficult problem. I should like therefore, if I may, very briefly, from the point of view of the Royal Commission, to support this Bill most warmly.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will be glad of the support given by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as Chairman of the Royal Commission, to the Bill, and will have listened with interest and learned from what the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Lincoln, told us about the situation in his own diocese, which, as he said, is one of those most obviously at stake in the whole operation. I shall detain the House very little longer, simply to answer the questions about the passage of a redundant church back into a place of worship, whether with the original denomination or with another. Of course, at no stage is there any difficulty about a redundant church's resuming its function as a permanent place of worship with the original denomination to which it belonged. So much is clear.

On the question of the passage of a church from one denomination to another, I may say that a church which belongs to one denomination now may, under current law, be handed by it direct to another denomination. This has happened. The Church of England has done it several times, without the church's ever becoming redundant at all. It is simply handed from the Church of England to, for instance, the Roman Catholic Church or a Church of another denomination.

As to churches in the hands of the Diocesan Board of Finance during the waiting period, the same procedure would apply there as applies to churches in the hands of their normal trustees or owners. As to churches in the hands of the Redundant Churches Fund which have been declared redundant, there is of course no obstacle whatever to their being passed back to the Church of England. Indeed, it would be everybody's hope and purpose to get them into use again as regular places of Church of England worship. Assuming, for instance, that a new town were built around one of the deserted villages, that would be the obvious thing to happen. As to churches in the hands of the Redundant Churches Fund which might be passed to another denomination that wanted them for worship, this would be something for the Fund itself and the Church of England authorities who had passed the church to it to determine. I will not say more about it than that I should foresee difficulties in the very unlikely circumstances that the Fund were to find it difficult to do this. I should foresee difficulties in the State's making available its contribution to the Fund if there were a religious body that wanted this building for worship and were denied it.

Lastly, there remain the churches, other than Church of England churches, which pass directly into the hands of the State; that is, into the hands of the Minister of Housing or the Secretary of State for Wales. It is specifically provided that he may return them for permanent worship to their original owners; and that, of course, would be his dearest wish. The question of passing them to another denomination will depend on the terms of the agreement under which he receives them from the original owners, but the Minister of Housing and the Secretary of State for Wales will not normally agree to receive churches into their possession under terms which would preclude their passing for permanent worship to another denomination if another denomination wanted them, and always assuming that the original denomination did not want them. I hope that that explanation answers the questions which have been raised on this point, and I end by commending this Bill once more to your Lordships for Second Reading.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, might I pursue the question a little further before the noble Lord sits down? I congratulate him on his grasp of this problem. The point upon which I was asking for clarification was not any of the points he mentioned, but whether the Bill means exactly what he says—that in that last circumstance, where the Minister has vested in him a building that has been a place of religious worship but not a church, he can restore it to use as a place of public religious worship. In the Bill it is not specified that that should be public Christian religious worship. We have a number of religious communities in our country now which are not Christian and from whom there might be a demand for the use of some of these redundant churches. There does not seem to be anything in this Bill to preclude their use by Sikhs, Jews or any other sect who might be able to use a redundant church for their purposes.


That is quite right, my Lords; there is nothing in the Bill to preclude that. I would remind the House that we are at the moment talking about Nonconformist and Roman Catholic churches and temples, synagogues and mosques. These are the buildings which the Minister will receive. If any sect or faith wishes to pass him a building on the condition that he will not give it to any other sect or faith, then that will of course affect his judgment about whether he ought to accept it.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.