HL Deb 18 April 1972 vol 330 cc18-52

3.20 p.m.

LORD ALPORT rose to call attention to the need to establish a national organisation with adequate resources to ensure the preservation or adaptation of churches and other ecclesiastical buildings of special historic or architectural value, but which are no longer required for public worship or whose congregations are no longer able to sustain the financial burden of their maintenance; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, St. Augustin, in the 4th Book of The City of God, noted that the Goddess Fortune offers herself indifferently to all, and deserts them who serve her, to minister to those who despise her. Having despised the idea of selection of Motions by ballot under the auspices of that particular goddess, assisted by the Government Chief Whip, I find that I have drawn the first debate on the first occasion I have placed a Motion on the Order Paper. All I can say, my Lords, is that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hippo, who was right about so many things, was right about that, too.

My reason for inviting your Lordships to consider this matter is not because I claim to be a great authority on the subject. It is, first, because I thought that the subject possessed the character and dimensions of a Motion appropriate to the new procedure in your Lordships' House. A second reason is that since I have become Chairman of the Bishop of Chelmsford's Commission considering the future organisation of the Church of England in Colchester the problem of church buildings already declared redundant, or which may become redundant, is very much in my mind. And if we in Colchester find that this problem intrudes so sharply upon our conscience, must it not equally make an impact on many other ancient towns and villages in England and Wales? My noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, who has been chairman of episcopal commissions in Norwich and Salisbury, is perhaps more familiar with this problem than I am, and I am happy that he is taking part in this debate. Equally, I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford faces this particular problem in a number of the villages which comprise part of his diocese.

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by emphasising two points about this Motion. First, it does not relate solely to the Church of England and to the Church of Wales. The churches, chapels and meeting places of the Free Churches are in many cases of great historic importance and architectural interest, and the problems of their use and preservation are of national importance. Secondly, the Motion is not concerned only with the problem of redundancy. The case I seek to put to your Lordships is that we need the organisation and the resources to maintain in active use religious buildings which local communities are unable themselves to sustain. I am thinking not only in terms of art and history: I am thinking of the smaller churches and chapels rooted in the life of long-descended communities in town and village, and which are not only memorials to the piety of earlier generations and the resting places of their mortal remains, but are an essential part of the magic of the English landscape and a visible record for all to see of centuries of life and death and social change throughout our country. I am thinking not only of the splendid churches of Blythborough or Thaxted, in my own part of the world, but also of those counties where … little lost Down churches praise The Lord who made the hills", and others, embattled and defiant, in the North and West which remind us that our forefathers have experienced trouble, change and fear and yet survived.

My Lords, I am very well aware that the problem I am asking your Lordships to consider this afternoon has for some time past been a matter of great anxiety for the Church authorities and for laymen of many denominations. A number of bodies exist, partly as a result of the passing of the Pastoral Measure in 1968, dedicated to tackling this problem. I recognise—and we all do—the devoted work of the Friends of the Friendless Churches, under the presidency of the noble Marquess, Lord Anglesey; the important role of the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, who is to speak later in this debate; and the Redundant Churches Fund, under the guidance of Mr. Bulmer Thomas. All these have helped to pioneer the safeguarding of the great inheritance which the churches of England represent.

I am, however, suggesting to your Lordships that the existing machinery under the Pastoral Measure is neither sufficient in respect of the resources which are available nor wide enough in the extent of its powers. Let me at this point put this consideration to your Lordships. There seems inevitably to be a conflict of interest between the Church hierarchy, on the one side, committed to devoting the maximum resources to the pastoral duties of the ministry, and, on the other, the secular authorities concerned to preserve buildings, great and small, which have an historic and aesthetic value to the nation. My Lords, our nation today is in dire need, both of the missionary effort of the Christian Churches, involving the ministry of its servants among the people, and also the sense of stability and continuity in our community life which is symbolised by places of worship which exist, and have existed over so long a period in many cases, in our towns and villages. The "beauty of holiness", of which Archbishop Laud once spoke, is not merely ritual: it applies equally to the majesty of the cathedral and church and to the peaceful dignity of many a long-standing Free Church chapel. And the "beauty of holiness" is something which in this stark, vandalised, polluted age we cannot afford to allow to diminish.

The first priority seems to me to be to keep the church or chapel as a place of public worship. I know very well—and I have no doubt that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford will point it out when he comes to speak—that the Church authorities face the increasing problem of providing the number of priests necessary to conduct the services. But I am sure that this problem is not insuperable. I would have thought that there could be some modification in the routine of services held in each church; and more especially that laymen should be used increasingly in them to take services of prayer. I think also that as trustees the laity should become more directly responsible for the care and preservation of churches, and that where the lay resources are inadequate for this purpose they should be supplemented by grants in aid from State funds. I do not think that the smallness of congregations in many churches is really an indication that Christianity is losing its significance in the life of the nation, or that such churches no longer merit expenditure of effort and money to keep them in use, however small their congregations may be. The pattern of community worship during the last 50 years has changed; but whereas a church in use is a witness to the Christian mission, one that is closed or put to some inappropriate use, or is derelict or vandalised, is a symbol of failure and defeat. My Lords, I should like to see the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act of 1953 used for this purpose, and perhaps advantage taken of the offer of a previous Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide £500,000 a year for church maintenance provided that the "ecclesiastical exemption" was waived by the Church authorities. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Sandford, who I understand is to reply to this debate, will say whether this commitment continues to be accepted by Her Majesty's Government. If so, I sincerely hope that there will be willingness on the part of the Church authorities to abandon the "ecclesiastical exemption" or to modify it, and I hope that assistance will be given in regard to buildings in use as places of worship of all denominations.

Nevertheless, my Lords, there will be churches of importance for historic and aesthetic reasons which will no longer be required and must be considered redundant. It is difficult to know how many are involved, since estimates vary from 700 or 800 to Dr. Cope's huge figure of 9,000, of which he estimates 6,000 will have disappeared or became secularised by the end of the century. Although the Redundant Churches Fund is confident that it has the resources needed to deal with the immediate problems of redundancy, the reason, I guess, is because the existing machinery under the Pastoral Measure is so complicated and slow that the Fund has not yet been brought face to face with the problem in its true proportion. If this happens I doubt myself whether its resources will be sufficient; and if it does not happen, it means that many churches which could be saved will decay or be allowed to disappear before the year 2000.

I suggest that, responsible perhaps to the Lord President of the Council, there should be a single body in which the duties of both the advisory board and the Redundant Churches Fund should be combined, with, additionally, responsibility for administering the funds made available for assisting the maintenance of churches and chapels continuing in use as places of worship. I suggest that this should cover all denominations and should operate not only in England and Wales but also in Scotland and in Northern Ireland under the respective Secretaries of State. I suggest that the funds which should be made available should not be less than £1 million annually, which is comparable with the amount of money spent by the Historic Buildings Councils for the preservation of secular buildings in Great Britain.

It would no doubt involve, if only as a result of abandoning the "ecclesiastical exemption", some modification of the powers of the church authorities over their buildings. In return, however, their resources would be freed for pastoral work. I think that there would be another advantage of comparable importance. I do not want to be drawn into theological considerations on which I am not qualified to pronounce, on the nature of consecration or the responsibilities of congregations in respect of the churches' material possessions, but I believe that the greater the participation of the secular authorities in trying to solve and in helping to assist in solving the problems of the churches, the stronger, not the weaker, will be the influence of the Church in the secular world. If the church authorities do not want to be mere keepers of antiquities they must share their responsibilities with the secular State, which is well equipped and willing, I believe, to play its part in safeguarding the great material inheritance of Christianity in Britain.

I am doubtful whether, as a Bill in the House of Commons proposes, local authorities are equally ready or able to carry these responsibilities; but this again is not a matter on which I wish to argue this afternoon. So far as I am concerned, I am only too anxious to be guided by the views set out by noble Lords during the course of the debate. If I do not have the opportunity later of doing so, I should like now to thank those noble Lords who intend to take part and to say how grateful I am for this opportunity of raising a matter which I hope your Lordships will consider is appropriate to an occasion of this sort and is one which I and many people in this country have very close to our hearts. I beg to move for Papers.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for bringing this Motion before the House. Having just taken "a severe beating" from the noble Baroness opposite, who I am sorry to see has just left her place—I almost said a "knock-out blow"; but I think that that would be far from favourable to her way of thinking—I must say that I am sorry to see that no noble Baroness has put her name down to speak on this Motion; so perhaps the Prelates might say that they feel they have scored a point. There is much in this Motion that is worthy of great and careful consideration. The care of our churches, one of the great heritages of our nation, is a matter which, whatever may be our opinion on other subjects, must surely be of importance to us all. I think I might just add to the words I said about the noble Baronesses in this House that the Chairman of our very important Uses of Redundant Churches Committee in the Church of England is a lady.

The problem of redundant churches of special historical and architectural interest is, of course, by no means new. It was in 1958 that the Church Commissioners, recognising the growing difficulties, took the initiative and asked for an inquiry into the whole question. As a result, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York appointed a Commission under the chairmanship of the late Lord Bridges and including Church and Government representatives to consider the procedural and financial problems involved. The present position concerning the preservation, adaptation or disposal of redundant churches in the Church of England stems from the Commission's report published in 1960. Returns then made to the Bridges Commission indicated that there were some 790 churches which would be redundant in the 15 to 20 years following 1960, of which 440 were of very special architectural or historical interest. A further 86 had a certain amount of special interest. The Commission made a tentative estimate that the total capital cost of putting between 300 and 400 of these redundant churches into reasonable repair over a period of about twenty years would be not less than £1½ million to £2 million and that there would also be required £60,000 to £70,000 a year for maintenance costs. Those estimates are based on 1960 prices.

As a result of the recommendations of the Bridges Commission, which were accepted in principle by the authorities of both Church and State, important procedural and financial steps were taken. A unified ecclesiastical procedure for declaration of a fact of redundancy of a church and the action consequent thereon was established by the Church as part of a revised system of pastoral reorganisation in the shape of the Pastoral Measure of 1968. That Measure provided for the establishment of the Redundant Churches Fund, to be appointed by Her Majesty on the advice of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The object of the Fund, as stated in the Measure, is the preservation, in the interests of nation and Church, of churches and parts of churches of historic or architectural interest vested in the Fund under the provisions of the Measure.

Again the provisions of the Measure said that the Church Commissioners were authorised to contribute a sum not exceeding £200,000 during the five years following the coming into operation of the Measure. Also there were powers for the Commissioners to continue the contribution and to vary its amount in subsequent years. Furthermore, the Fund is to receive one-third of the proceeds of the sale of the sites of redundant churches of insufficient merit to require preservation. This sum is not to exceed £100,000 in the first five years. By the Act of 1968, the Minister of Housing and Local Government (now the Minister for the Environment) was empowered to contribute a sum of £200,000 from public funds over the same period and for the same purpose, with power, subject to Treasury approval, to continue to make further contributions in the years ahead. There is thus a financial partnership between Church and State with the Church providing rather more than the State.

The Measure of 1968 also established an Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York after consultation with the Prime Minister, to advise the Church Commissioners regarding the historic and architectural qualities of any church likely to be declared redundant. No part of the Advisory Board cost falls on the State; the Church provides all the funds required for that. The Pastoral Measure therefore provided in at least two important respects what had hitherto been lacking; first, a strongly composed Advisory Board to set standards. The Bridges Commission did not accept that because a church was on the statutory list it must ipso facto not be demolished, and Ian Amendment to that effect in the Church Assembly during the passage of the Pastoral Measure did not succeed. The second provision was the establishment of a body with adequate means to care for a redundant church when the decision had been taken that it should be preserved.

The Motion before your Lordships' House raises the question whether the Redundant Churches Fund possesses resources adequate to its task. Of course there are secondary considerations arising from Lord Alport's words in the Motion … other ecclesiastical buildings … no longer required for public worship … but I do not think that I need pursue that point at the moment. The first three annual reports of the Redundant Churches Fund, covering the years 1969 to 1971, disclose that during that period, largely on account—as the noble Lord, Lord Alport, remarked—of the deliberate stages of the procedure laid down in the Pastoral Measure, no church was actually vested in the Fund for preservation until 1971 and then only five were so vested. A few others are known to be in the process of consideration.

The second of these reports asserts that this slow beginning is deceptive and expresses the view that no doubt the prog nostications of the Bridges Commission will eventually be realised. It ends by expressing the conviction that in the first quinquennium the Fund will be able to keep in being all churches of architectural or historical interest declared redundant and not appropriated to another use. Not surprisingly the Fund's balance sheet shows a healthy financial position, but I should like to stress that this healthy financial position is only because of the very slow process of declaring redundancy. The Advisory Board may not, of course, recommend to the Church Commissioners that all redundant churches should be vested in the Redundant Churches Fund. It must, however, be noted that the purpose of the Fund is to preserve the churches vested in it. Though its resources may also be—and indeed are—used to carry out repairs to churches vested in diocesan authorities for a "waiting period" of twelve months to 'three years while a possible alternative use is being sought prior to vesting in the Fund, the powers of the Fund do not extend to the financing of the adaptation of churches to other uses and thus where the building is not vested in the Fund.

My Lords, I want to say a word about what is happening in my own diocese, one of the 42 dioceses in the Church of England. Hereford is the most rural See in the country. There are well over 400 churches in 378 parishes served by some 200 clergy. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for his words about the difficulty in which the Church finds itself in keeping an adequate ministry as well as keeping churches in repair. Inflation has dealt, and looks like continuing to deal, deadly blows at this situation in the Church of England. Seven of our churches in Hereford have been declared redundant and six more are being considered. I should estimate, though it is only a rough guess informed by some comparison with the Bridges Report, that about three quarters of a million pounds must be raised for church repairs alone every ten years. The population is only a quarter of a million, so it will be seen that the task is a formidable one. Of 380 churches inspected in the past five years the requirement, for repair was £641,660.

Our people in Herefordshire and South Shropshire love their churches and wish to keep them open for worship. It may surprise your Lordships—it often does surprise people—when I point out that never in the history of our nation have the ordinary people cared for their churches more than they do at present. This will seem strange to historians in the years ahead. If they hear about what they think was the decay of religion at this point in our history they will then come up against the extraordinary fact that more ordinary people are caring for their churches than ever before. Not now the squire; not now the patron; not now just the parson, but the ordinary people are contributing to the care of their churches and keeping them in the beauty of holiness.

We are of course progressing in the ecumenical sharing of our churches, but in one parish of under 600 people at the moment £31,000 is needed for repairs. In another parish with an even smaller population over £12,000 is needed. One or two parishes with interesting churches are now reduced to a handful of people, as our farming grows ever more and more mechanised. I may add that we are concerned about the number of churches used only in summer months, for damp and frost can cause considerable and lasting damage. So there is this great problem before us concerning one of our greatest heritages, the English parish church.

May I therefore sum up by saying that the evidence seems to suggest that so far as the Church of England is concerned no new organisation is needed to deal with redundant churches of special architectural or historic interest, though it may well be that the Redundant Churches Fund will need more money after the current quinquennium. However, there is certainly a case for assistance towards the upkeep of the fabric of churches still in use where the cost of maintenance exceeds the resources of the local congregation, and discussions on the latter topic are currently proceeding with the Department of the Environment. With the reservations which I made in my speech, I wish to support Lord Alport's Motion and once again would thank him for bringing it before your Lordships' House.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, as this is a short debate, I shall keep my remarks to the minimum; but in doing so may I suggest that it would be for the general convenience of your Lordships if in future the Order Paper indicated whether a debate was, to use a term which I should not use were the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, present, a "mini debate". I am, and I think the whole House is, indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for what was a distinguished speech. I personally am even more indebted to him for the care and solicitude which he has shown for the churches in and around Colchester over a very long period. Nevertheless, I have some reservations about the Motion which the noble Lord has brought before your Lordships' House, and to a very large extent I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, although perhaps a slight note of dissension may creep into my later remarks. The present position, which sterns from the Pastoral Measure of 1968, was accepted by the last Government during the time when I was a Minister, and we introduced and passed the necessary legislation. In that work my noble friend Lord Kennet played a most important role. If noble Lords wish to pursue and investigate more the background to the Measure, I would refer them to my noble friend's recent book, Preservation.

The financial provision, as noble Lords have said, was for a five-year period. I should like to endorse everything that has been said in praise of those who are responsible for the Redundant Churches Scheme and the machinery that has been set up, and particularly my noble friend Lord Fletcher and Mr. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, both of whom have given such single-minded devotion to the preservation of this important heritage. It may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said, that the Pastoral Measure and the machinery under it are inadequate. I confess that I have some sympathy with Mr. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas in the Memorandum that he submitted to the Georgian Group in December for their meeting in January, when he said: The Pastoral Measure needs a radical revision which would establish a single Disused Churches Board in place of the present Advisory Board for Redundant Churches and the Redundant Churches Fund. Nevertheless, on consideration, I think that I am more inclined to accept the view of the noble Marquess, Lord Anglesey, who, when he addressed the annual meeting of the Friends of Friendless Churches, said: It is scarcely credible that a Measure which took ten years to get on to the Statute Book should be scrapped in little more than two years after its coming into force. I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Anglesey, that it would be better to let a little more time elapse before we propose any drastic changes in the procedures to which your Lordships' House agreed so short a time ago. I find myself, too, in strong agreement with the noble Marquess, Lord Anglesey, in his plea to the Friends of Friendless Churches that the Church should stop arguing about the Measure and, instead, use it. He pointed out that a number of churches had been lost through deliberate refusal to take advantage of the Pastoral Measure and the Redundant Churches Act, and that others have been lost through what he called a "paralysis of the will".

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford talked about the number of churches which had been affected by the Measure. I am indebted to Mr. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas for an article in Home Words in which the latest figures are available. He writes, if I may summarise him, that altogether 168 churches have been declared redundant under the Pastoral Measure, and a further 21 under earlier legislation which has now been superseded: that is, a total of 189 churches. I understand that 38 have been demolished or are to be demolished; that 56 have been appropriated to another use; that 9 have been vested in the Redundant Churches Fund; and that none, so far, has been vested in the Department of the Environment. So 103 out of 189 churches have been handled, as it were, and 86 are still under consideration.

Mr. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, in what I think is a most important analysis of the problem, tells us that the Redundant Churches Fund still has in hand over £148,000 of total uncommitted funds. That lends substance to the Third Annual Report of the Redundant Churches Fund, which I must say I think at 10p is remarkably good value. The Report says: … we wish to make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that there is at present no need to demolish any church of architectural or historic interest on the ground that the Fund lacks the means to preserve it. Statements to the contrary have often been made, but they are clearly without foundation". I hope, with all my heart, that that is the situation, but I am disturbed by the references of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and the right reverend Prelate to the fact that the machinery is extremely slow, very cumbersome, and that perhaps it is failing to catch all the churches which ought to come into the net.

When we turn to the question of churches in use, I begin to find myself diverging a little from the noble Lord, Lord Alport. It is of course a quite different problem. I was grateful to the noble Lord for his kindly references to the decision of the last Government to make £500,000 a year available to the Historic Buildings Council for churches which are in use. That, as he said, was subject to a satisfactory settlement of the question of ecclesiastical exemption. My noble friend Lord Kennet, with my full support, had talks at that time with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas also had an opportunity of discussions with Mr. Jenkins. I thought that the outcome of those discussions was extremely satisfactory, subject of course to the question of ecclesiastical exemption.

I was not quite clear from the remarks of the right reverend Prelate how sympathetic he was to abandoning this exemption, for which the Church itself asked in the early years of this century; but I think the attitude of any Government must to a large extent be determined by the attitude of the Church upon that point. It would certainly reassure me, and I think many Members of your Lordships' House, if the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, could tell us that the present Government's attitude is broadly the same as that of their predecessors in this respect.

Finally, I would only say that for as long as I can remember parish church architecture has been my only hobby: and it is, I know, one that is shared by many Members of your Lordships' House. I think that we all should agree with the words of my noble friend Lord Kennet, which to me sum it up so well, when he says: Fine old churches are the accumulated piety of our ancestors. They are lasting praise. We have in our parish churches, as the noble Lord, Lord Alport, so movingly reminded us, a priceless heritage, a heritage which we have a duty to preserve; and I, for one, am grateful to the noble Lord for having reminded us of that duty this afternoon.


My Lords, I did not like to interrupt the noble Lord, but perhaps I might intervene now to say that I feel that I ought not to allow myself to be drawn on the question of ecclesiastical exemption: my opinion would not be of much value to the House. I ought perhaps to add that it is a matter upon which the Synod has not yet made any pronouncement.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for raising this subject because, apart from anything else, I think it is one of the foremost ethical problems to confront the Christian Church in this country. We have on the best authority what kind of questions we are likely to be asked on Judgment Day, and I have always felt that when we are asked whether we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the imprisoned, it will not be an adequate substitute to say, "No; but we raised £250,000 to keep up York Minster". But, on the other hand, I realise that this is an over-simplification, and that the Church must always be working in and through the culture it finds itself and with human beings as they are, with their affections and loyalties. Therefore the simple solution to which I have sometimes been tempted is to knock them all down. But I am still convinced that the far best thing for the Church as the Church would quite obviously not be the best thing for the community, for these buildings of such enormous architectural interest are in so many of our villages the main building of an area and, as has already been said, the repositories of history and piety. The Church has its responsibilities for keeping these going. That is why I welcome the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, which recognise that there is a joint responsibility—which has nothing to do with the establishment of the Church of England—between the Christian denominations and the State, to see that what is worth while in this heritage of ours should be retained. I think that one of the most useful things to come out of this debate is the discussion of the churches which are still in use and which comes out of the terms of the statement. I do not necessarily agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, that this is entirely a different subject. In fact, I suspect that the short story which I am about to tell your Lordships will show that this can get very entangled and that it is very important to tackle both subjects at the same time.

My plea this afternoon is that when any steps to modify the present situation are taken—and many people seem to think that some modification is needed—nothing should be done to make it more complicated or difficult for the ordinary Christian congregation to do what it conceives to be its duty. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, whose presence we miss to-day and to whom we send our best wishes for a speedy recovery from his illness, said to me just a few days before taking to his bed how much he wished that when a congregation had finally decided that it no longer needed a church and that the church should be demolished, the bulldozers should be moved in immediately. He was not talking about buildings of architectural interest at that time but of those—of which he has many in his diocese—which are not of great architectural interest. He was talking about the demoralisation of a congregation which has made the painful decision to do away with a building for which it has great affection, to see the whole thing rolling on through committee after committee and stage after stage before the church is finally demolished.

I should like very briefly to tell your Lordships the story of St. Stephen's, Hampstead: not the story of the church itself, because whether or not it is of great architectural merit is irrelevant; not because I am trying to argue a point about a particular church or—God forbid!—to apportion any blame, but because I am trying to illustrate a certain point in the life of its congregation. St. Stephen's, Hampstead, was built by Teulon at the end of the nineteenth century and is, according to some, a gem of Byzantine architecture: according to others it is a monstrously ugly mausoleum. It has a very alive congregation with an absolutely first-class priest who has given it forward-looking, though by no means gimmicky, leadership over the last few years. About 1960 it started, frankly, to fall down. At that time, in order to knock down a church there had to be an Act of Parliament, so that was not considered. The church hall was also falling down and plans were prepared to knock it down, to sell the ground and use the proceeds to support the church. It was thought at some time that the legal owner of the site was not the parish but the Board of Education, and in 1964 the matter was drawn to the attention of the diocesan authorities. Plans were made for getting rid of the church hall and for the money received to be spent on restoring the church. However, after a great deal of work had been done on that, the authorities said, "You will realise, of course, that any profit which is made on the sale cannot he put towards the restoration of the church building." I am still unable to discover why, but I am assured that this is so.

Several months passed and more plans were put forward, and the authorities then informed the parish that they were surprised to discover that the land on which redevelopment was to take place was owned not by the parish but by the Board of Education. This was sorted out, which took another year. During this time nothing practical could be done and no money was available for the restoration of the church, which was falling further and further apart. The church council finally came to the decision by 20 votes to 2 after a great deal of heart-searching that the church ought to be demolished. The decision was not lightly taken. Sympathetic letters had been received from admirers of Victoriana, but no offers of financial help. Then came the Pastoral Measures and the hope that something might be able to be done to the church under the new laws.

At that time the new ecumenical movement was in full swing and the church council agreed to talk to the local Congregational and Presbyterian Churches as to what might be done in the situation. After some time—this is really remarkable, and I know that some noble Lords who have experience of such matters will bear me out—there was unanimous agreement among the Congregationals, the Presbyterians and the Anglicans that they all wanted to knock down their churches and they would share one joint church on the St. Stephen's site. This was agreed by them all but it has not proved possible to carry it out because this is either a redundant building, in which case it can be made available for other uses but not for a church, or it is not a redundant building and cannot be knocked down. According to one estimate, the repairs will now cost £120,000. The foundations and the structure are unsound; cracks are appearing, and there are bits of boarding shoring up parts of the church: and nothing can they do at this moment.

What is the attitude of a congregation like this? I am not trying to argue the merits of the case. I am asking for sympathy for a congregation which sees that it has a job to do, that it can join with its fellow Christians in an area, but that every single channel it tries to explore is blocked by the laws, the administration and the rules. By themselves, many of these rules may be sensible, but I submit that the whole procedure at the moment is very over-complicated. I beg that whatever is done—and it seems that something ought to be done—ought not to make it more complicated for ordinary Christians in a given place to try to do their common sense and Christian duty by their churches, their parishes and their neighbourhood.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by joining with other noble Lords in expressing my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for the eloquent way in which he has introduced this most interesting and important subject? I wholeheartedly agree with his general approach to the question, and I echo his hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will respond to his appeal to make more Government financial aid available for the preservation of churches, whether redundant or in use. As the noble Lord, Lord Alport said, my reason for intervening in this debate is that I have had some experience of considering numerous redundant churches on which the Advisory Board have had to advise the Church Commissioners. As the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Hereford, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, have indicated, one can only appreciate the nature of this problem not merely by discussing it in generalities, but by instancing, as the noble Lord has done, some of the specific cases which have come to one's notice as a result of the inadequate provisions of the Pastoral Measure.

Whatever the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, may be to the general proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, may I suggest as a matter of detail that there are certain steps that can be taken now without any additional legislation to facilitate the problem? I take the view that the resources of the Redundant Churches Fund will almost certainly prove inadequate to deal with all the redundant churches that will be vested in it in the next few years. There is however, an alternative procedure available. Under Section 66 of the Pastoral Measure 1968, which was amended by Section 3 of the Redundant Churches and Other Religious Buildings Act. 1969, a Bill of which my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale was in charge when it passed through another place the Minister is able at the present time to take into custody redundant churches by reason of their outstanding historic and architectural interest, whether they are in a ruined condition, or whether they are especially appropriate for being taken over by the Department of the Environment as distinct from being left for attention by what will surely become the overburdened resources of the Redundant Churches Fund. If the Minister will respond and make use of this section he will merely be following the traditions of the Ancient Monuments Board, which is now part of his Department, in connection with a great many ecclesiastic buildings of the pre-Reformation period. I will instance some: Glastonbury Abbey, Tintern Abbey, Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx. These are also part of the historic heritage of our nation, and though they are in a ruined condition they are preserved by the Ministry.

There are redundant churches, some in ruined conditions, which it seems equally appropriate should be taken over by the Ministry, in this way supplementing the resources of the Redundant Churches Fund. I have written to the Minister about this and have instanced one or two cases which seem particularly appropriate for preservation in this way. These is, for example, St. Mary, Studley Royal, in the Diocese of Ripon, which happens to be within a mile of Fountains Abbey, which is already in the custody of the Minister's Department. Another good example is the fascinating church, attractively called St. Peter the Poor Fisherman, at Revelstoke in the County of Devon, which I visited recently. This is situated in a remarkable position about three-quarters the way down a cliff face and is almost inaccessible. But it contains many charming features relics of pre-Conquest architecture, and examples of nearly every subsequent period of architecture; the kind of church which is just as appropriate for preservation by the Minister as Glastonbury or Tintern, although not so spectacular.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for giving way? My information is that Glastonbury Abbey for instance, has not been taken over by the Department of the Environment. It is in the hands of private trustees. I make that point because it would be a pity if it went on the Record that that was not the case.


My Lords, I am much obliged for that correction. I ought to have checked that point but did not do so. Let me substitute the outstanding example, of St. Augustine's Abbey at Canterbury, with the adjoining church of St. Pancras, which is a notable example of the work a preservation carried out by the Ancient Monuments Board. There is one church in the diocese of the right reverend Prelate, St. Michael's. Michaelschurch, Herefordshire; and there are others, like St. Peter and Paul at Albury, on which I will not elaborate. I hope the Minister will give serious thought to these possibilities.

Lord Alport's Motion refers not only to redundant churches but also to churches still in use where the congregation is unable to sustain the financial burden of maintenance. It seems to me that on principle once the State has recognised an obligation to make contributions to the preservation of ecclesiastical buildings that principle ought not to depend upon whether the church is or is not redundant for pastoral purposes. In so far as this is an obligation on the State, the distinction as to whether the church becomes redundant or not seems completely irrelevant. The unfortunate result of the position as it stands is, as in the case of St. Stephen's, Hampstead, this. There are a number of churches, some with small and some with larger congregations, all deeply attached to their parish church, a church which is eminently worthy of preservation, and in which at present services are held, not necessarily every week but at least once a month and on special occasions. Such a church can be vested in the Redundant Churches Fund for preservation only if it is first declared redundant and desecrated or secularised. That is one of the glaring anomalies of the present legal position. If it were not for that anomaly, a sensible solution for St. Stephen's, Hampstead could have been found. The case of St. Stephen's, Hampstead, is not an isolated example. I have come across numerous other cases where similar considerations apply, where the church must be preserved by somebody and eventually will be declared redundant in order that it may be preserved. But as a result of the existing procedure the congregation will be deprived of the benefit of using the church for the spiritual purposes to which they have been accustomed. That seems a quite unnecessary and regrettable situation.

Another example of this situation is the interesting Norman church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Preston Deanery, in the Diocese of Peterborough. In connection with the waiver of the ecclesiastical exemption, the only reason, as I understand it, that would prevent the State from making a contribution to such a church as St. Peter and St. Paul, Preston Deanery or St. Stephen's. Hampstead is the ecclesiastical exemption. My hope is that whether or not the Church of England as a whole will agree to the waiver of the ecclesiastical exemption, it should at least be possible for any particular church which wished to opt out of the ecclesiastical exemption, and to waive any existing rights it might have as a condition of accepting State aid, to do so. It seems to me there is no need for there to be a general waiver of ecclesiastical exemptions, which may or may not be favoured by the Synod, but I can see no objection to allowing each congregation in specific cases to decide for itself whether or not it will waive exemption.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has said, we must in these days recognise that the primary concern of the Church of England, and of other Churches, must be with the spiritual welfare of the people and with pastoral care; and I think we are all in sympathy with the view of the Church authorities that it would be a misuse of their funds to spend large sums in maintaining the fabric of buildings at the expense of their more important spiritual and pastoral work. There was a time, unhappily long past, when the interests of both Church and State coalesced in the construction of buildings that have become part of our natural heritage. It may be that those days will recur, but in the meantime it is the duty of the State, more than that of the Church, to secure the preservation of those buildings, whether in use or not, that have for so long been a continual matter of pride, concern and inspiration to the community at large. As Professor Baldwin wrote not long ago: There is no possession of the British Race endowed with a charm more intimate, more essentially their own, than the English country village. There are numberless rural hamlets where Nature and Man have worked in concert to fill the place with a mellowed beauty, that win their chief claim to praise in the perfect setting they provide for the country church … often the simple shrine surviving in a later fabric linked with it in historic continuity and bound to it by waves of poetic sentiments that are still in radial contact with the receptive heart. These priceless heritages of the British people ought not, in my view, to be sacrificed because of any sordid economic consideration.

May I conclude, my Lords, by referring to something which greatly troubles me and also my colleagues on the Advisory Board as another of the anomalies resulting from the present legal position. I will not mention figures because they are continually changing as regards those which have been certified, or are likely to be certified, for demolition and those which are recommended for preservation by the Redundant Churches Fund. Your Lordships will appreciate that these cases fall into three categories in some cases there is no doubt that a church has such historic and architectural merits that it must be preserved. There are other cases—regrettably many Victorian churches, chiefly in industrial areas, including what used to be my own constituency of Islington, and places like Everton where there have been shifts of population—where a church cannot claim any historic merit, and even the most zealous amenity society would not be likely to plead for its preservation. But between those two extremes there is a large number of borderline cases in regard to which I personally find it difficult either to recommend demolition or to advocate preservation, particularly where the cost of preservation is almost prohibitive. But those are cases in which, as the law now stands, the church must be either preserved or demolished. This is unfortunate because I can mention one or two cases where neither preservation nor demolition is suitable, where it would be much better to leave them as they are; if necessary to do some minor repairs and allow them to remain in the countryside as tidy ruins.

To give your Lordships one example which I saw recently I refer to St. Mary, Fleet Marston, just North of Aylesbury, which must have been a most attractive church catering for a dedicated congregation since the 12th century until comparatively recently. It now stands in the middle of a field, surrounded by trees and 300 yards from the main road, and may be approached only across a muddy farm track. It has long ceased to serve any spiritual or religious purpose. Externally the structure is quite sound, and although the interior is in a sorry state of dilapidation and deterioration, it would not cost very much to put that right. It surely is a tragedy that the Church Commissioners have to decide either to preserve that church or to pull it down. Although dating from the 12th or 13th century, it would be difficult to say that it is of outstanding historic or architectural interest, but it does not seem to me to do any harm to leave it as it stands. It is a very pleasant feature of the landscape and is of passing interest to many using the highway. It so happened that when I was there the other Sunday—this may have been a coincidence—two motorists and their families drove up by the wayside and crossed this muddy farm path to have a look at it. It is particularly sad that churches like that and St. Andrew, Clay Coton, near Rugby, may have to be demolished. It is doubtful whether even Mr. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas would wish to spend the large sum of money required for the preservation of the latter. But a solution which seems to me sensible and practical, but is now outside the jurisdiction of those who have to decide, would be to leave it as it stands as one of the picturesque features of the landscape. My Lords, I have spoken too long. May I conclude by saying, as I did when I began, that I also would urge the Minister to give a sympathetic ear to the suggestions that have been pressed upon him from both sides of the House.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, unlike the noble Lord who has just delivered what seemed to me a most interesting speech, I have no special qualifications to take part in this debate, which I hope my noble friend will feel has already justified his action in initiating it. But I have a special interest, in the best sense, in that, as my noble friend said, I have within the last two or three years been chairman of commissions or committees set up by the respective Bishops to examine and report on the parochial problems of two very different cities: the City of Norwich and the City of Salisbury. In that capacity I have not been brought up against the problem of the village church that so badly needs attention, beyond the powers of the small community which it serves. But I have had very sharply brought to my notice inevitably, the problems of medieval churches which are closely gathered together in the centre of a city, a centre from which much of the population has removed owing to commercial development of the area. This is nobody's fault; it is simply historical change. But it poses to the Church of England, and sometimes to other Churches, the problem of the density of notable church buildings in the centre of a city.

We published our report on Salisbury only last month. There, in addition to the cathedral, there are three fine mediaeval churches in the city centre. Had the Church of England in Salisbury possessed unlimited financial and manpower resources, we would not have said that any of them should be considered as redundant. But the Church of England nowhere possesses these limitless resources, and therefore one has to ask the question whether it is right that men and money should be used for maintaining in use churches which are no longer really needed for worship or for other spiritual purposes. In the case of the church in Salisbury which seemed to us likely to have to be declared redundant, St. Edmund's, I would judge that there were very good hopes for an acceptable alternative use, if in fact the careful procedure under the Pastoral Measure does in the end lead to a declaration of redundancy. I cannot forecast whether it will.

Norwich is very different, and indeed unique, in that there are in the centre of that city more than 30 mediaeval churches, 14 of which already were no longer in use for services when the commission which I chaired was set up. We examined the whole problem as carefully and sympathetically as we could, but we came to the conclusion that in addition to those 14 there were another 10 which were not really needed for worship or other spiritual purposes. It seems to me, and it has seemed to all the members of the bodies with whom I have been studying these problems, that it is not right that money which has been given primarily for bringing the Christian message to the people should have to be spent as a first priority on the repair and maintenance of church buildings which are no longer required for worship.

This change has occurred not because of any weakness in the Church or the buildings but purely in those cases through movement of population consequent on the growth of commercial and office uses in the middle of cities where people in the old days used to have their homes. In our Norwich report (we were examining the law on church buildings declared redundant) we said this—and I think it has a bearing on a good deal that has been mentioned in the course of this debate: If no appropriate and serviceable alternative use can be found, but the church is of outstanding historical and architectural merits, it is possible that it may be deemed worthy of vesting in the Redundant Churches Fund. This fund is financed by the Church of England and the Exchequer jointly. Its available resources are limited, and only the very best church buildings can be expected to qualify for preservation in this way. One reason why we did not suggest that resort to the Redundant Churches Fund would solve all the problems in Norwich was because it seemed to us that the primary responsibility lay with the people of Norwich to seek to find means to preserve their own heritage; and I am glad to say that the Norwich City Council has clearly recognised this, and I believe is going to play a full and worthy part in securing the preservation of its mediaeval churches which are no longer required.

In that case the tension which was mentioned by a previous speaker between the ecclesiastical authorities and the secular authorities does not exist, or at any rate has been resolved; and that is what one would wish to see in every town or city. However, I incurred some criticism over that paragraph I quoted, on the ground that the Commission had failed to recognise that the Redundant Churches Fund intended to make sure that all church buildings of historical and architectural merit would be preserved from demolition, and not only those whose merits were outstanding.

This same criticism of doubters is repeated in the third annual report of the Redundant Churches Fund, which has been referred to this afternoon. This is one of the questions on which we all need authoritative independent opinion. It was first raised, I think, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford; and the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, has mentioned it again. The question is: even if the Redundant Churches Fund has resources which at present enable it to carry out its declared purpose in full, ought we not to be looking further ahead and considering seriously whether there will still be sufficient resources in that fund when declarations of redundancy come along much more frequently than they have done so far? It is when declarations of redundancy under the Pastoral Measure reach their peak, as they will, that we have to consider the position. At the moment they have only just begun.

My Lords, when we were studying the problems of Norwich I could not keep out of my mind the far more massive and intractable problems which were likely to threaten many of the village churches of that diocese. They were outside our terms of reference, and it was understandable that the Church authorities should wish the City of Norwich to be looked at first. But in that diocese there are magnificent church buildings that have stood for hundreds of years, serving what are now tiny communities with correspondingly tiny resources—tiny, at any rate, in comparison with the strength as well as the population of a great city like Norwich. These village church problems are not problems of redundancy; they are, as has been said, problems of repair. I have no idea whether the Historic Churches Preservation Bill, which received a Second Reading in another place on, I think, March 24 is likely to reach the Statute Book. I take it that Clause 3 of that Bill is intended as an attempt to solve the problem of the village church—the village church which requires costly repairs far beyond the means of the local community.

My main concern is to lend my voice in support of comprehensive examination of all the problems which have been identified in the course of this debate, and I hope that the Government will give this their strong support. It is not simply a Government problem. Neither as Churchmen nor as citizens can we unload our responsibilities on to the Government. Nevertheless, leadership from the Government is of great importance, because this is a national as well as an ecclesiastical and local problem. Finally, my Lords, I wish to say this. Time is not on our side. We must be beforehand, not behindhand, with plans for coping successfully with the needs, which are, as I have said, of national and not only of Church importance. We must do that before these needs press in on us cumulatively and overwhelmingly, as I can foresee that they are going to do. Otherwise we shall be too late.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I must first add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Alport because this subject is, like others in your Lordships' House, very close to my heart. To-day we have heard many valuable and useful points put forward, and I hope that on the subjects on which I am going to speak I shall not be too repetitious.

The right reverend Prelate spoke about small congregations, and the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, mentioned a tour of the West Country. I have just been to Cornwall where I visited four particularly beautiful churches. These little churches were all over 500 years old, and each of them had some particular artistic, architectural or historic value. In all of them was pinned up a notice saying that so many hundreds of pounds were required for maintenance and would visitors please help to support them. The congregations themselves do valuable work; anybody who is a regular worshipper in any church does his part. I had experience of this myself a few years ago when I did some work in connection with Christian Stewardship. I believe other churches of other denominations have similar schemes. But every parish has the problem that the time comes when they have to face something out of the ordinary and so often they have to apply to the public to provide that help. I wondered whether any other noble Lord would mention preservation where the church has been threatened by a project like a new motorway or a new airport. There have in the last few years been instances where churches have been moved bodily from one place to another piecemeal. But if the scheme which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, is proposing comes into effect can we visualise anything designed to relieve such a need?

There is a danger, too, in our work of preservation. I hope I am not getting too much off the point. I speak as an experienced traveller, one fortunate in having travelled to many places, and I know that our churches in this country are a great draw to tourists and travellers. The work of preserving them will improve the important tourist industry and will encourage more people to visit our churches. But when the worshipping has been done it must not be seen to be spoiled by the way the churches are treated. So far as I have seen travellers to our more prominent churches, particularly those in use, have treated them with great respect. But when I went touring on the Continent I visited various famous churches, and unless a service was actually in progress it was impossible for anybody to go in and use the church for a quiet moment, not just because of the crowds but because of the babble of uncontrolled conversation. I particularly recommend the project of my noble friend as a very present help towards overcoming trouble, but its value will be lost if our churches lose their true value.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, may I join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend for giving us this opportunity to discuss this subject. In, I hope, a very brief intervention I wish to raise the question of parish records and monumental inscriptions. My noble friend Lord Alport said, quite rightly, that these redundant churches are a visible record of our national heritage. I suggest that these written records are of equal importance. I raised the subject of the better preservation of parish records in an Unstarred Question a year ago, and I do not wish to go all over the ground we discussed then. My noble friend Lord Aberdare answered that Question and very kindly dealt with certain matters that arose out of it. But it was definitely accepted that there was a need for better preservation. These records date back in some cases to as early as 1538, and the majority begin in the 16th century. The records themselves consist of the parish register of christenings, marriages and deaths, churchwardens' accounts, and such other items as the settlement records of people which have been transferred from another parish. They are of great use to genealogists, to people pursuing their family history, to demographers, historians and the like.

My suggestion to the Government is that as soon as a church becomes redundant these records should automatically be deposited at the County Records Office. I believe the present situation is that the records are passed on to the new parish. But there might not be suitable accommodation for them there at that particular church. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford mentioned that many of these redundant churches suffer from damp and frost, only being used in the summer. The records can suffer likewise, from being housed in inadequate safes. They may suffer from fire, flood and theft as well as from damp and frost. I am sure that in many cases the records are now deposited, but this is by no means definitely so.

Finally, my Lords, most of your Lordships have said a word or two about Victorian churches, which may or may not be defined as of architectural interest. Your Lordships may wonder why these churches ever came to be built in the first place. But one needs only to look at the registers of the highly populated parishes of our cities for the answer. In London churches like St. Marylebone, St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, or St. Mary at Lambeth, in the early part of the 19th century could be compared with Piccadilly Circus to-day. There would be no fewer than 30 christenings on a Sunday, and in certain cases about 30 to 50 funerals a week, as well as a great number of marriages. How they ever managed one does not know. These churches provided a great service at that time, and it is sad that they have been rejected rather into obscurity. I would again thank my noble friend for raising this Question, and I hope that the records will be looked after.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Alport on his good fortune in the ballot box and also on his choice of subject; and, if I may say so, on the eloquence with which he expounded it. I would add that it so happens that I am looking forward to paying a visit to the County of Essex and the Diocese of Chelmsford—including visits to Chelmsford and Colchester—this weekend to look at some matters of conservation, and I hope very much to see some of the things he has been mentioning. I find myself in the position to-day of being officially, because of the office I hold, unaware of a number of things we have been discussing, but of personally having some experience of and insight into them. It is not, for instance, for me now to comment on the efficacy of the Redundant Churches Fund or on the inner workings of the Pastoral Measure. These are still internal matters of the Church of England. But that does not mean to say that I cannot join with others in admiring the skill and judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, as Chairman of the Advisory Body, or the work of Mr. Bulmer-Thomas, as Chairman of the Redundant Churches Fund. Mr. Bulmer-Thomas, in his indefatigable way, has seen to it that we are all well furnished with information for the purposes of this debate.

I think the subject falls into two parts: first of all, the fate of churches no longer required for worship the redundant churches, and the problem of churches still required for worship but in one way or another thought to be beyond the capacity of their congregations to maintain them. I should like to deal with them separately in those two parts. The facts which Mr. Bulmer-Thomas has supplied to us (and which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, has already quoted) indicate to me that in a period which is roughly one-fifth of the period for which the Bridges Committee were reviewing (that is to say, three years, and the Bridges Committee looks forward over 15 years) about one-fifth of the churches which the Bridges Committee thought in the end would be declared redundant have in fact been declared redundant: 168 out of 790. But in that period, of the £257,000 that has become available—not quite a fifth of what will become available if the Redundant Churches Fund and its arrangements flow on unaltered over the next 15 years—just a fraction over £100,000 has been spent, and £148,000 remains uncommitted in the kitty of the fund. Therefore, on present trends it looks as though the forecasts of the Bridges Committee are about right; churches are being declared redundant at about the rate they expected, and the funds, on the whole, are about meeting the figure intended. At the moment it has not been necessary to commit all of them though they are now available.

It is quite true that in the first three years of the working of the Pastoral Measure and Redundant Churches Fund progress appears to have been slow at the start; on the other hand, there is the fact which my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor mentioned, that we started this period with 14 churches already redundant, and known to be redundant, in the City of Norwich alone, and these immediately went into the process and went through the shortened procedure. Therefore I think the fact that it might be taking a little time for the process to get started is to some extent counteracted by that further consideration.

My own view is that the facts as we have them so far indicate that, so far as churches declared redundant for worship are concerned, the case for an entirely new organisation, or a new scale of funding, has yet to be made out, though obviously we must be prepared for a change in the current trends. That is not to say that the possibility put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Fletcher, is not one which can constantly be borne in mind—namely, using the Ancient Monuments Act 1953, Section 5. But of course, as the noble Lord will know, the standards of building which can be brought into care under that Act are of the very highest.

Now may I turn to the more open and difficult question of churches in use for worship and the possibility of State aid for them? I should like to endorse straight away, in order to make it quite clear, that the State officially is in no doubt about the architectural value of the parish churches of England—as so many noble Lords have already said—over and above their value for worship, for witness, for the pastoral work of the Church and for Christian mission, which it would not be for a Minister of the Crown to comment on. They are among the most highly prized architectural jewels in the whole of our heritage, and that is a matter on which the State, as well as the Church, has a right to express an opinion and show a concern.

The position at the moment, without going back and examining the question as it was left in 1913, is that the central Government are not in a position to use their funds for the maintenance or repair or the upkeep of churches in use for worship; but this is not the case in regard to the use of local government funds. Under two enactments, the Local Authorities (Historic Buildings) Act 1962 and the Local Government Act 1948, Section 136, it is possible for local authorities to give financial assistance to churches, cathedrals and other ecclesiastical buildings in their area. Under those powers the local authorities of Yorkshire have made a signal contribution in respect of York Minster. Using as a basis the extremely valuable document for which the city and the churches in Norwich are deeply in debt to my noble friend, Lord Brooke, the city of Norwich is in fact following up his suggestion, which I personally think is so sound, of securing that the local people, and local government through their locally elected bodies, should support as far as they can the medixyal churches of the city of Norwich, both redundant and otherwise. But the position remains that before the central Government can contemplate any system of State aid for the churches a thorough review of all the factors involved must be undertaken.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, mentioned that our predecessors had offered a sum of £500,000 for this purpose. That is not my understanding of the position, and it is not the position as it was reported to the Church Assembly immediately before the General Election. I should like, if I may, to quote rather extensively on the position as it was reported then. This information was disclosed to the Church Assembly with the consent of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and it is recorded in Church Assembly Document 1777 of June 7. 1970, which was immediately before the Election. There had been two conferences between the Churches and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, chaired by my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I will now quote: On each occasion Lord Kennet made a point of discouraging any expectations of immediate financial assistance for historic churches which were still in use as places of worship. The agreed note of the first conference of 28th July "— 1969— records the following statement by Lord Kennet—There was no money available now and it could be taken that any suggestion of releasing a worthwhile sum was virtually nil. It was however well worth entering into discussions for the future.' In the course of discussion at this conference a member of the Commission "— that is, the Church Assembly Places of Worship Commission— observed 'that the suggestion had been made that if the exemption were removed a considerable sum might be available. Lord Kennet assured him that this was certainly not the case.' According to the agreed note of the second conference on 16th September, 1969, Lord Kennet stated that at present there was no immediate likelihood of sufficient exchequer funds being available to make institution of a new system worthwhile. That is the position as it was reported to the Churches following discussions with our predecessors. On the other hand, the position now is that, first of all, there are, as there were then, powers for local authorities to assist churches, both in use for worship and others. There has been an announcement in the course of the Budget in another place to the effect that the Chancellor is now ready to give relief in respect of estate duty on gifts to charities of up to £50,000, and on capital gains tax without any upper limit. I am quite certain that that will be of con siderable assistance to all charities, including parochial church councils and other organisations set up to conduct appeals, or in the case of the churches to organise Christian stewardship schemes, such as my noble friend Lord Gainford referred to, for the upkeep of churches. To that extent, the position of the churches as of all other charities is considerably improved.

But as to the general question, a working party chaired by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, commissioned by the General Synod of the Church of England, has approached the Department of the Environment on behalf of all the churches to consider the possibility of State aid from central Government sources for the churches as a whole. All I can do at the moment is to confirm what other Governments have said, that this is a matter which we are now ready to approach with an open mind. We cannot arrive—and I do not think any Government have ever thought that it would be possible to arrive—at any solution to this problem, or at any formula for dealing with it, without a full consideration of all the factors involved. This is a matter of Church/State relationships and it is very difficult to move in this field without being extremely circumspect, especially in this particular one of the exemption of the churches from certain aspects of planning and development control.

So the first thing we need to do in our studies together is to know the nature of the problem and the scale of the cost involved. The position at the moment is that, on behalf of my colleagues in the Government, I have asked for a sample, drawn from at least one diocese, of what is involved in dealing with the churches that are now beyond, or are said to be beyond, the capacity of their congregations to maintain. I suppose that for this purpose the Church of England will choose a rural diocese such as, say, Lincoln or Suffolk, but I do not know. I am confident that studies like this will give us a large number of very useful facts. The churches have the great advantage over secular pleadings of now having had quinquennial inspections by qualified architects for ten or 15 years, and their condition and the amount of money that needs to be spent on them, both in the short-term and in the long-term, is all known with some exactitude. So we shall be able to make a fair assessment. When I have that information I shall have to report to my colleagues and, on the basis of that, substantive negotiations can then proceed.

Meanwhile, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor for making the point, which I think has much strength and weight, that, in the first instance, there is a great deal to be said for the maintenance of parish churches and cathedrals being borne so far as possible not only by their local congregations but also by local communities and local authorities. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for having raised this issue and for giving me this opportunity to state to your Lordships the position, as we see it, in respect of churches redundant for worship and churches in use for worship.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether I may put one point to him, because he referred to what I said about the sum of money which the previous Government had decided upon as appropriate for churches in use, subject to an abandonment of the ecclesiastical exemption. The OFFICIAL REPORT will tomorrow show the exact words which I used. I do not think I said that they decided to offer that. What I certainly should have said was that they decided to make that available. That was the figure which had been used in discussions between Ministers. It remains the impression of my noble friend Lord Kennet that that was the figure which was to be made available at that time, subject to the conditions. I think it is the figure to which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred, and it is also the figure which is very firmly in the mind of Mr. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas. This has been mentioned in correspondence in The Times on at least two occasions, and I believe it to be an accurate record of what the last Government decided to do.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said, but I think he will agree that it was also as well to have on the record the position as it was officially set before the Church Assembly, following the two official discussions held by his colleagues with the churches on the occasions to which I referred.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I had an opportunity at the end of my remarks at the beginning of this debate to thank in prospect, so to speak, noble Lords who were going to take part in it. I can now repeat those thanks, particularly to the Minister for the careful reply which he has given to this debate. There is only one point which I should like to make, and it is that I hope that when the consideration and negotiations which are being undertaken are in train they will include not only the churches of the Church of England but also the chapels and meetings places on the Free Churches.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord would like me to confirm that now, but I certainly can. The working party has been commissioned by the Synod of the Church of England and it is led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, hut it is certainly acting on behalf of all the denominations and is in close touch with the Churches Main Committee.


My Lords, I am grateful for that, because I think it is important—and certainly it is important so far as my Motion is concerned—that this consideration should be in respect not merely of the Established Church in either England or Wales but of religious places of worship throughout the United Kingdom. As I said, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this subject. Your Lordships have covered the course in an hour and 50 minutes, which shows that these mini-debates, if I may use that term, can be of great use in thoroughly covering a restricted subject within a relatively short period of time and in allowing a number of your Lordships to take part in deliberations of the House. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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