HL Deb 27 February 1980 vol 405 cc1453-500

8.54 p.m.

Lord SUDELEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to take any action on the English Tourist Board's report on English Cathedrals and Tourism (March 1979) and its implications in the light of the increased number of visitors to cathedrals and the importance of providing Government grants to compensate for visitor damage. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the subject of this debate is the English Tourist Board report on the impact of tourism on cathedrals and one or two other of the much-visited ecclesiastical buildings, especially St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

The problem posed by the tourists and considered in this report is that hitherto deans and chapters have succeeded in looking after their cathedrals without any direct aid from the Government. Over the past two years VAT has come to be introduced on repairs to cathedrals and there has been a great increase in the number of visitors to cathedrals. These visitors, by their very numbers, have created an unprecedented amount of damage to ledgers, brasses and the like on which they tread. Because of taxation, and the foreign exchange which these visitors bring to the Government, and because of all the employment they provide, the Government ought, as far as they can, to help cathedrals provide for the needs which visitors to our cathedrals have created.

Being a department of the Government, the English Tourist Board cannot lobby the Government, and it falls to a BackBencher to do this for them; and I will illustrate their problem more fully. When the first of our present Acts to preserve historic buildings was introduced in 1913, cathedrals were very nearly included and, if they had been, they would almost certainly have been looked after by the State. But the Church of England preferred to keep its independence in this sphere, and so cathedrals were specifically excluded from such Acts until 1953. It is true that in 1953 they were not, in theory, excluded from the Ancient Monuments Act, which set up the Historic Buildings Council, but in practice they have continued to be so. The Historic Buildings Council has merely given aid to historic churches since 1976 and to buildings which, though not cathedrals, run very close to being so—for example, the Cloister at Wells.

In the meanwhile, the English Tourist Board's report bears witness to the great increase in the number of visitors. While 15 million visitors a year visit stately homes, as many as 20 million go to our cathedrals; and while half these cathedral visitors are still concentrated on Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Canterbury, York Minster, St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and King's College Chapel, Cambridge, it is the lesser cathedrals which have attracted the largest increase—an increase, for example, of 100 per cent. at Norwich and of 500 per cent. at Rochester.

The financial advantage to the Government of this great increase in the number of visitors to our cathedrals is considerable. In Preservation Pays, which was published in 1978 by Save Britain's Heritage, Marcus Binney and Max Hanna have shown the staggering importance of tourism to the Exchequer's revenue and our balance of payments. The authors show how, in the year before their book came out, overseas visitors spent something like £2,763 million, including £584 million on international fare payments in this country. At least £250 million of this money has accrued to the Government in the form of taxation on petrol, liquor and cigarettes, and also in the form of VAT. As a draw to such lucrative visitors from overseas, our cathedrals are virtually unrivalled. Marcus Binney and Max Hanna show how, apart from Stratford-upon-Avon, the places which most attract foreign visitors are Windsor, where they see St. George's Chapel; Cambridge, where they see King's College Chapel; Canterbury and other cathedral towns.

Moreover, our cathedrals help the Government to create employment. They have created direct employment in the form of shop and refectory managers, and assistant tourist and information officers, guided tour secretaries, admission attendants and so on. The English Tourist Board cites how in York Minster alone tourists have created direct employment for 24 permanent and 6 seasonal staff. The English Tourist Board report and Marcus Binney and Max Hanna in their book also stress the indirect employment created by these cathedrals in the form of jobs in hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops, all in the neighbourhood of the cathedrals. They have shown how most tourists approach Salisbury through the High Street, and they estimate that they provide 21 per cent. of the annual retail catering turnover, compared with 7 per cent. in Salisbury's main shopping area. About 860 jobs in the service industries in Salisbury are due to the tourists, whose principal aim is to come and visit the cathedral.

But to be set against these facts of the great increase in the number of visitors to cathedrals and the revenue and employment they provide is the bill which they leave to be paid. Much more needs to be spent on the facilities for visitors to cathedrals. Cathedral closes are unique to this country and parking there should be discouraged. At about half our cathedrals parking is inadequate during the summer season, often because local authority car parks are too small and too far away. Especially bad examples are in York, Carlisle, Oxford, Rochester and Wells, and because lavatories do not generate any income only four cathedrals have them. It is true that at St. David's there are three lavatories and one urinal, but, obviously, this does not suffice for its quarter of a million visitors. The bill for installing the lavatories which should be installed at Canterbury has been put at some £60,000.

The main burden of the English Tourist Board's report is the damage created by the feet of so many visitors, especially through their use of the stiletto heel. The buildings worst affected are Westminster Abbey, St. George's Chapel, Windsor, Canterbury Cathedral and St. Paul's. According to the English Tourist Board's report, no viewing platform has been provided for seeing the famous tiles in the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey, and the heels of visitors come over the ill-fitting shoes provided for them there. Furthermore, at Westminster Abbey some stones in Poet's Corner have been obliterated and the damage to the stones in the Cloister is especially noticeable.

No proper record has been made of the stones recording those buried in Westminster Abbey. Over the past 20 years, some of the evidence for such a record has been obliterated beyond recovery and much further evidence is disappearing fast. Much the same has happened to the ledger stones at St. George' Chapel, Windsor, and the tombstones of Henry VIII and Charles I have been put in particular jeopardy. The whole floor of the nave at Canterbury Cathedral will have to be taken up in a few years' time and at St. Paul's the English Tourist Board reports that there has been a good deal of damage to Wren's brass ventilation grills. the ledger stones around the monument to Wren and the pavement around Nelson's tomb.

The English Tourist Board report also mentions the wearing out of ledger stones at Salisbury and Winchester and the damage to the Cosmati floor in the sacrarium at Peterborough and the 19th century tesselated pavement at Ely. It would be tedious to multiply examples any further, but, very naturally, the English Tourist Board's report urges, among this list of recommendations, the recutting of inscriptions on ledger stones to be kept under the scrutiny of the Cathedrals Advisory Committee and the recording of all legible inscriptions and coats of arms on ledger stones and tombs, with a plan of their location.

The question is how the bill left behind by visitors for the damage which they have created is to be paid. Some of our cathedrals now charge for admission of visitors and tourists, and in many cathedrals areas have been developed for the sale of souvenirs, books and gifts. The revenue drawn from visitors has provided about half the money needed for the repair and maintenance of Coventry Cathedral and York Minster, and a third of what is needed for the maintenance and repair of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, St. Alban's and Tewkesbury Abbey. Still more revenue might be drawn from visitors if further cathedrals charged for admission, and if cathedrals did more than they already do to show their art treasures and lay on interpretative exhibitions.

For the rest, some help has already been provided by the Government. The Government already give some relief in the form of capital transfer tax exemptions and income tax relief on covenanted donations. The Government also enable cathedrals to reclaim on payment of VAT for repairs, to the extent that visitors are charged for admission. Westminster Abbey can reclaim as much as 85 per cent. Others, less given over to charging for visitors, can reclaim rather less.

Then, under Section 4 of the 1969 Development of Tourism Act, the English Tourist Board is entitled to make loans or grants to cathedrals and Carlisle, Durham and Liverpool have already benefited. These loans or grants are used for the creation and improvement of facilities for visitors, rather than for repairs to the cathedral fabrics themselves, and they apply in certain specified development areas where there is high unemployment. Moreover, under existing legislation the Government already provide scope for assistance from the Area Museum Service. This service exists to offer grants for the setting up of museums, and cathedrals can benefit from it for the exhibition of their manuscripts, vestments, sculpture and other valuables and displays of the historical development of their buildings and their methods of construction and repair. Because the essence of architecture is the command of space, these exhibitions should not take place inside the cathedrals where they would detract from the architecture of the cathedrals; they should take place outside. If they were to be outside this would, anyway, lessen the amount of damage already created by visitors once they get inside our cathedrals.

However, there are various ways in which Government aid to cathedrals might be altered or extended. Hitherto, English Tourist Board grants under Section 4 of the 1969 Development of Tourism Act have, to a good extent, prime pumped hotel and catering facilities for tourists to cathedrals. Now these facilities have largely been got under way and they should anyway attract private enterprise. So there is something to be said for the directions, under Section 4 of the 1969 Development of Tourist Act being changed, so that English Tourist Board grants can be orientated more towards the cathedrals themselves. Meanwhile, the provision of proper car parks should be left strictly to the local authorities.

These specified areas of high unemployment, where at present English Tourist Board grants apply, do not always cover those cathedrals which receive most visitors. English Tourist Board grants ought to be concentrated on those cathedrals which do receive most visitors. Whether, in the present atmosphere of economic stringency, Government aid could be extended is a question for the Department of Trade rather than for the Department of the Environment. But having regard to the taxation and foreign exchange which visitors to cathedrals bring, and the employment which they provide, the Department of Trade could very well advise on more Government aid to cathedrals not as charity, but as a very sensible form of investment, just as the Government spend large sums of money on overseas aid in order to create a market for our own goods and to generate our own prosperity.

The principal way in which Government aid might be extended to cathedrals is through the abolition of VAT on repairs to ecclesiastical buildings and this, I suspect, will be a very familiar theme in the debate. I am very sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London cannot be present this evening, as the chairman of the Churches' Main Committee, so I should like to spend a minute or two giving the point of view of this committee about VAT on repairs to ecclesiastical buildings.

Before the introduction of VAT, cathedrals paid no direct taxation nor any selective employment tax, and they were hardly affected by purchase tax which was a tax on luxury items rather than on building materials. The VAT was brought in to replace selective employment tax and purchase tax, and as part of the Government's attempt to shift away from direct to indirect taxation. The tax was given a broad base on a wide range of goods and services and reliefs were limited to those items which can be justified on the most stringent social and economic grounds—for example, food, public transport, house prices and rents. It was felt that if repairs to cathedrals were exempted this would encourage pressure for similar concessions on repairs to historic houses and even ordinary domestic repairs which, on social grounds, might be considered to be very deserving.

Against these theoretical considerations must be set the practical consequences to cathedrals of changes in the Government's tax policy. The reduction in direct taxation means that cathedrals receive considerably less in the form of relief on income tax on covenanted donations. It cannot be claimed that the incidence of indirect taxation in the form of VAT on repairs to cathedrals is offset by State aid to ecclesiastical buildings generally. Cathedrals were deliberately excluded from such aid because churches needed it more and, anyway, the amount of State aid given to historic churches is quite out of proportion to the amount reclaimed by the Government in the form of VAT on repairs to ecclesiastical buildings generally. While the Government give some £2 million a year to our historic churches, they reclaim between £7 million and £9 million a year in the form of VAT on repairs to ecclesiastical buildings generally.

Further ways in which Government aid might be extended to cathedrals are through the Historic Buildings Council or, more probably, the proposed National Heritage Fund which, incidentally, might act as a co-ordinating body for the aid already available from the English Tourist Board and the Area Museum Service. Under the National Heritage Fund Bill, there is nothing to prevent grants being made to cathedrals if the will should be present.

In providing money for cathedrals the attention of the Government should be deflected from straightforward repairs. Deans and chapters can usually find enough money for their roofs and walls, but nobody wants to launch an appeal which is going to fail, so appeals for repairs to cathedrals are considerably less in most cases than is actually required. The public are not sufficiently convinced of the need for more money for such highly specialised fields as stained glass, wall painting and sculpture. It is here that the mind of the Government should be concentrated.

Examples of grant-worthy external sculpture are provided by the west front at Wells—the 12th century figures on the west front—the 13th century figures on the south-east portal at Lincoln, and the west doorway at York. Examples of grant-worthy sculptural monuments within a cathedral are provided by the mediaeval and baroque sculpture at Peterborough and the Saxon header stone there. The £10,000 already provided by the Pilgrim Trust to the Dean and Chapter of Peterborough will provide only about one-third of the ultimate sum which will be required.

Then, however much the Government may be tempted to say that cathedrals should help themselves, one area in which they could not be expected to do so is in the now much needed work of providing conservators and craftsmen, especially in such highly specialised fields as stained glass, wall painting and sculpture. It is here that the Government should consider the needs of cathedrals in conjunction with those of stately homes.

Two immediate steps which the Government might take are, first, to reconsider the withdrawal of TOPS money from the embryo course in sculpture conservation at the School of Art and Design in Croydon. The withdrawal of this money has placed the course in sculpture conservation at Croydon in real jeopardy. Secondly, the Government should consider the implementation of the report of the Civic Trust recommending a register of all craft skills in the building industry. For reasons which it would take a little too long for me to go into now, the Civic Trust has identified the need for such a register very clearly and the Crafts Council considers that the information for such a register should be collected and made available at a local level.

It has been said so often in the past that if the Government help cathedrals then cathedrals should be subjected to planning controls. The subject is a very old one which raises many hackles so, if I felt that I could, I should refrain from flogging it all over again and simply confine myself to pressing the Government for aid. But if I do not touch on this theme of controls it is not unlikely that other noble Lords who are to follow me would do so. Therefore I feel bound to conclude with a few words on this awkward subject.

To cite too many instances of mistakes made by deans and chapters, because their cathedrals are not subject to planning control, might have the effect of resuscitating old battles rather than leading to a constructive debate. Moreover, other noble Lords may feel restrained from citing instances which have come to their attention for fear of souring their relationships with deans and chapters and so of losing any influence over those deans and chapters which they may already have. So I should just like to make two general observations.

First, the autonomy of deans and chapters and their control over the furnishings and fabrics of their cathedrals is an anomaly if it is compared to the faculty jurisdiction governing parish churches and the stringent controls imposed on secular buildings, even if these secular buildings receive no State aid at all.

Secondly, down the centuries many of the more philistine alterations to our cathedrals have been due to liturgical changes of one sort or another. Many of our finest screens were destroyed in the Reformation or under Cromwell. Then, in the last century, the fashion for screens reappeared, only to disappear again today, and we have seen the fine screens at Hereford and Salisbury taken away against the advice of the Cathedrals Advisory Committee.

Today the Church of England is going through a greater period of liturgical ferment than has happened since the Reformation. Liturgical changes manifest themselves in the form of the clergy celebrating westwards, members of the congregation standing instead of kneeling to receive Holy Communion and communicants administering the sacrament to one another. The architectural changes which have ensued have not been confined to the removal of screens, which since the time of the primitive Church have separated the clergy from the laity. Many altars have been made free standing. The best restraint which could be imposed on the autonomy of deans and chapters would be through the Cathedrals Advisory Committee. It has a distinguished membership and has given much useful advice in the past. So I should like to welcome very much the current negotiations for making the Cathedrals Advisory Committee into a statutory body and I hope for the time being it may suffice that where deans and chapters do not take its advice they should be obliged to publish their reasons for not doing so. So mild a requirement of the deans and chapters should have a good chance of being accepted by them, although I know how strong the feeling is among many deans that the cathedrals are local affairs and should not be interfered with by civil servants at the centre. So let me conclude with the observation of an unusual dean—a retired one and a distinguished aesthete. This dean has always thought that the Cathedrals Advisory Committee should be made statutory and remarked that, where deans and chapters disagree with it, the matter should be referred to an appeals committee. The decision of this appeals committee, he said, ought to be final.

9.17 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of CHICHESTER

My Lords, I hope that in addressing your Lordships' House for the first time I may have your indulgence, and particularly if I should unwittingly transgress any established custom or tradition of the House. All who have any connection with cathedrals must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for introducing this report to the House and providing the opportunity for this debate. I speak particularly from the experience acquired in five years as Dean of Worcester Cathedral, but in addition to that of course I now live only a few yards from Chichester Cathedral, and last year concluded a formal visitation, spread over a period of six months.

From this experience I should like to draw attention to certain points in the report which I think do not receive the prominence there which I should like to see. First, I think it can be misleading to describe the multitude of visitors simply as "sightseers", because that can obscure the spiritual impression made on them by these great buildings. I think it is the fairly general experience of those who work in cathedrals that many of the visitors who come want to talk and to ask about spiritual matters and, in the anonymity of those surroundings, to seek help in personal and spiritual problems.

At Worcester we had a board at the entrance to one of the chapels on which people could pin requests for prayers and it was a very moving experience to watch that board week by week and to see how many of the visitors to the cathedral used it to express their anxieties and their cares. A touchingly high proportion were from children expressing their fears about the break-up of their parents' marriage.

The ladies who ran our cathedral bookstall found that their work was not just commercial but was a splendid ministry to inquirers, and very often they were used as a link between the visitors and the clergy of the cathedral, who were enabled thereby to give spiritual help. Therefore, these great churches, through their ministry to the visitors, make a most important contribution to the spiritual and moral life of the nation; but, as this report shows, it is done against a continuing financial anxiety. I should like to draw attention to something in the report which the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has not mentioned. On page 47 of the report there is a section dealing with concerts, and it is said there: Cathedrals make a major contribution to the musical life of the country, not least because of their own choirs and organists and the service of evensong". The music which has come from the cathedral and collegiate choral foundations is of very great importance in the whole musical and cultural tradition of England.

Five years ago I led a delegation to the Department of Education and Science on behalf of the deans and provosts of the organists and choir schools. We presented a memorandum arguing at some length the case for what I have just said. The force of that argument was accepted by those whom we saw at the department, and subsequently Miss Joan Lestor, who received us, and Mr. Mulley, the Secretary of State, gave us an assurance that proposals by local authorities to take up places or assist with fees for pupils in non-maintained choir schools would be sympathetically considered by the department if the pupils concerned had obtained places by virtue of their musical ability, not their academic ability. This assurance was repeated in 1976 by Mr. Mulley's successor, Mrs. Shirley Williams.

The expense of maintaining a choral foundation is a large item in a cathedral budget. I realise this is a bad time to ask local authorities to accept any additional expenditure, but I hope at least that this matter might be regarded as non-controversial and that the present Government will reaffirm the assurances given by their predecessors, and, if possible, draw the attention of local authorities to them. This would be a most valuable and helpful way of assisting cathedrals. May I add that we are concerned not only with the cathedrals of the Church of England; this particular matter would relate to, for example, Westminster Cathedral, which has an established choir school, and to the Roman Catholic cathedral at Portsmouth, which is in the process of establishing one.

The noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, mentioned another very valuable way of helping cathedrals, in the way of VAT, and I must say I find it difficult to follow the reasoning by which if a cathedral charges for admission it can get remission of VAT and if it does not charge it cannot. A cathedral is the mother church of a diocese. I am strongly opposed to charging for admission to it. At Worcester Cathedral a charge is made for admission to the eastern arm, which contains the tombs of King John and Prince Arthur and the Norman crypt, and that I think is wholly reasonable. But I am convinced that entry to at least a part of every cathedral should be free and open to all who want to come to pray. I am sorry that the tax law gives an incentive to charge for admission.

In the last part of what I have to say I touch on the final remarks of Lord Sudeley, and I speak as chairman of the commission recently appointed to survey the operation of the faculty jurisdiction. Our terms of reference clearly include cathedrals, although, as has been said, cathedrals are not subject to that particular jurisdiction. As Dean of Worcester I was involved in the attempts to give to the Cathedrals Advisory Committee a greater degree of control over the freedom of deans and chapters to make alterations. I am, therefore, familiar with the delicacy and the difficulty of this matter, and I am glad to be told that agreement between deans and chapters and the Cathedrals Advisory Committee is on the point of being reached.

However, I wish to assure your Lordships that over the next two years my commission will watch very carefully the operation of this agreement and will not hesitate to make its own proposals if it is not satisfied with what is being done. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very interesting and important report, and I thank your Lordships for the patience with which you have listened to me.

9.26 p.m.


My Lords, I know that I shall express the opinion, wishes and response of the whole House in congratulating the right reverend Primate the Bishop of Chichester on an excellent, moving, moderate, factual and constructive maiden speech. If that is how he will chair the Faculties Commission inquiry, then it is born under a good star and is likely to lead to a good result.

The House is also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for raising this complicated topic, and I am sure that the House in general is as impressed as I was by the immense wealth of knowledge that the noble Lord has amassed on this topic and which he marshalled in such an orderly fashion in his opening speech. I have been put down to speak rather early in the debate because, with their customary omniscience, the Whips know that I am a member of the Cathedrals Advisory Committee, and in what follows I must be careful to distinguish between what I say in conveying the committee's opinion and what I say in conveying only my opinion.

I should like to say a few words about the Cathedrals Advisory Committee which will lead me to distance the committee from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley. It has been on the ground for quite a few years. It is what its name says it is—it is advisory; that is, it only gives advice to deans. It cannot, of course, give advice unless its advice has been sought and unless it knows what is going on in a cathedral. At present it has no constitution and no set procedure, and there is not even a list of subjects with which it is competent to deal. As the right reverend Prelate said in his speech, we are now putting that right and we hope very shortly—this year—to have an agreed constitution and an agreement whereby the Cathedrals Advisory Committee, signalling the fact by assuming the somewhat grander name of Cathedrals Advisory Council, will enter into a binding relationship with the deans and provosts of England and Wales.

Whether it would be right to say that this is statutory is something I leave to lawyers. I do not think that we are too much bothered about that in the Cathedrals Advisory Committee. But we want to agree a list of topics on which our advice ought to be sought by deans. The list should not be tremendously extensive. There are many things that deans do on which we have no expertise whatever. The cathedrals Advisory Committee is mainly a device for putting deans in touch, not so much with one another—they do not need any special device to do that—but with people who have experience of some unfamiliar problem into which they have run. I shall not invent anything, but they do run into the most extraordinary problems—on bells, on organs, on forgotten skills, on newly necessary skills—where sometimes it is possible for the Advisory Committee to put them in touch with the right person who already has experience of their problem. Essentially, that is what we do.

In the future, when we have our formal constitution, we hope to have this list of subjects on which we are competent to give advice and on which the deans, for their part, agree not to act without obtaining our advice. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, adumbrated a situation where our advice should be binding—that is to say, it would no longer be advice; it would be permission—and where the deans would agree to seek the permission of the Cathedrals Advisory Council before doing whatever it was.

The committee as at present constituted would not favour such a regime. We think that we are advisory and that we must stay advisory, and we do not seek a change in the law of the land which makes the dean the ultimate decider on what happens in his cathedral. Nor would we necessarily favour—I cannot say that we have deeply considered it—having a tribunal to arbitrate between the Cathedrals Advisory Council and a dean if there was an irreconcilable difference. It is hard to think who should sit on such a tribunal; to arbitrate between an executive authority and one of his advisers is an unusual suggestion. I do not think it should be undertaken.

We would like to remain advisory, but we would like to make sure that we know what is going on in cathedrals and do have an opportunity to proffer advice which, in the end, may be rejected by the dean concerned. Of course, if the advice is given and, after discussion, rejected and the dean continues to do what the advisory council has advised against, then we would expect both sides in the disagreement—that is, the advisory council and the dean concerned—to be free to publish their reasons for having in the one case advised as they did, and in the other case done as he did.

What I have to convey to the House in this debate on behalf of the Cathedrals Advisory Committee is its view about VAT. The incidence of VAT on cathedrals has to be seen in the context of its incidence on fine old buildings of every sort—heritage buildings, as they are increasingly and malapropistically called. That, in its turn, has to be seen in the context of the effect of VAT on the building industry as a whole. It is the view of the Cathedrals Advisory Committee that it is a great pity on general grounds, of which cathedrals are only a particular example, that VAT should penalise the maintenance of ancient buildings while steering everybody towards the construction of new ones.

We are among those very many bodies in the country who have considered this matter and believe it is a complete mistake that tax should fall on the repair and maintenance of existing buildings and should not fall on the construction of new buildings. It distorts the entire building industry into unnecessary building, and it distorts the owners of old buildings, existing buildings of all sorts, and planning authorities into an excessively favourable attitude towards demolition and rebuilding when that is not necessary. This is bad economics.

The Government, like all Governments, are basically reasonable people, and here I depart from my CAC brief and give you my own views. I believe that the Government are reasonable men and women, and that in time they will come to see this and that a change may be brought about. We add our tiny featherweight towards the day when that change may be expected. Within that general context, there is the effect of VAT on repairs on the fine old buildings of the country in general. In this case there appears to be an aggravated burden laid on common sense by taking away from a listed building, or a church in use, or a redundant church, or a cathedral, a castle, or whatever you like, money from the necessary repair of that, and then handing it back again in the form of grants from the Historic Buildings Council or, in the future, from the Heritage Memorial Fund, or whatever Government source it may be. This is a particular distortion within the major distortion of the entire industry.

Within that, again, there is the peculiarly acute distortion in the case of cathedrals where, as the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Chichester pointed out with exemplary mildness, the situation is unjust almost beyond belief. A detail he did not add is that a cathedral, church, castle or indeed any building has to gross an income of £10,000 a year plus before it gets the relief. This is the clearest example of tax the poor and exempt the rich of which I have ever heard in looking at the incidence of taxation, and that it should fall particularly on churches is the most bitterly ironical circumstance which can be added to that unjust incidence.

The right reverend Prelate was absolutely right in saying that this exemption for the cathedrals and wealthier churches will push them to charge, as opposed to not charging, for entrance to more of the bits of their cathedral than they might otherwise have charged for entrance to, and it will push them to raise a higher charge than they might otherwise have demanded. What sort of a burden is that to place on a cathedral or on any major church? It appears to be absolutely topsy turvy, in that of all buildings, churches should be spared the fate of being forced into an example of tax the poor and exempt the rich, and as a perfectly concrete matter of Christian ethics, to put it at its mildest, the Churches should not be compelled by Government to take the pennies of people who go into them if they do not want to.

So much for VAT. In conclusion, I wish to make the point once again in relation to the Cathedrals Advisory Committee that we are not, as a committee, asking for State aid to cathedrals; we think that is not our job, but a job for the deans, and we are listening carefully to see whether the deans and bishops will ask for it. If they do, then no doubt we shall have an opinion on the matter, if we were asked for it by the only people whom we exist to advise and serve; namely, the deans and provosts of this country.

9.38 p.m.


My Lords, I too wish to commence my remarks with congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester for his maiden speech, full of wisdom and perhaps rather a rare speech, because just as town and gown are always supposed to be at variance, bishops and deans are supposed to be at variance often, and here is a bishop who was a dean, also a rather rare occurrence, or it used at one time to be. Therefore, his contribution as an ex-dean and a present bishop was of immense practical value and we hope he will often speak again on these matters. I also wish very much to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for having brought this report to our notice. It is an extremely good report which repays reading. They do not have a great many copies in the Printed Paper Office, but there are some, and it is not all that dear as books go today for others to buy. It is also, as so many reports are not, reasonably up-to-date and it argues its case very well.

I come straight to what is perhaps the most important matter that has been raised so far in this debate; namely, the relationship between the Cathedrals Advisory Committee and Government and Church generally. I was delighted to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, as a member of the Cathedrals Advisory Committee, said. I was glad to hear he feels that this should be an advisory committee, and will be in future, I hope, as long as he has any influence on it. The deans and chapters must retain their autonomy. It is vital that they should work in harmony with the Cathedral Advisory Committee and not see it as a planning authority under another name to be got round or attacked. This is not at all the way that it appears today.

Any remarks that I make this evening I should like to base upon my slight experience with Wells Cathedral, which is referred to a great deal in the report, as it is I think very typical of the smaller and less known cathedrals which have benefited quite extraordinarily from the influx of tourists. I do not think that the report is at all unfair to tourists. It does not dismiss them as mere visitors to be "milked" or to be treated as "cannon fodder". The foreword of the report, from which I should like to quote a short extract, makes that very clear. The foreword of the report comprises statements by deans, and the first one is by the Dean of Canterbury. He says: We would therefore want to respect each visitor's right to appreciate the Cathedral in his or her own terms and at the level which he or she finds the most natural. The difficulty is in ensuring that the vast numbers of visitors do not spoil this opportunity for one another". This is the point. I do not think that today the deans and chapters are feeling endangered by the influx of tourists, except perhaps physically when they wear out the stones of the floor. I think that they are all recognising them as the modern counterparts of the pilgrims. I am not at all sure that Chaucer's pilgrims were not tourists, too. In fact, I am fairly sure that they were. Over and over again tourists are finding in the cathedral when they get there a message which they did not seek to find, and I think it is very important that we should not try to keep them away because they are wearing out the stones; nor should we "milk" them too heavily.

In Wells we are in the middle of a situation. I am president of the appeal which is to raise, I hope, £2 million or £3 million in the end for the west front. I am also chairman of the Friends which give an annual grant— and we are able now to give as much as £18,000 a year—towards the work of the dean and chapter on the structure of the cathedral. At Wells we are charging. The report says, without I think producing much evidence, that the best way to charge is to charge for the whole cathedral, as is done at Salisbury. This is open to question, and I do not think that there was much evidence produced in the report to substantiate this view. Anyway, at Wells we could not do that because it would be practicably impossible. We have three entrances: one through the cloister, one through the north door, and one through the west door. It would be quite impossible to set up three paying entrances, or to limit the entrance to one place. But at Wells— as is set out in the report, so I am not giving anything away, but I should like to bring the figures up to date — we charge for admission to the east end; we charge for viewing the clock, which is a very interesting astronomical clock; and we charge for going into the library, that brings in only £250 a year, because we really restrict that to scholars; and we have a shop.

It may interest noble Lords who have not perhaps had time to study the report (which quotes figures from about 1977) to learn that admissions to the east end brought us in £20,500 a year. That was charging 30pfor an adult, 15p for a child or a pensioner. It was also liberally handled. My own daughter sits one day a week at the table, and if somebody is offended and says that we ought not to charge then they are told, "Please go in"; but it is extraordinary how the rest of the queue start clucking and tut-tutting. It is not very popular to ask to go in free in that way, but they can go in free if they like. That produced £20,500 and the figure has now reached £22,500. That, I think, is something like a 10 per cent. rise, which I think is pretty good. Then, we now charge l0p for adults and 5p for children to see the clock. They see the clock strike. That brought in £12,000, now up to £13,500. The shop, which sells all sorts of things (not only cards and guide-books, but all sorts of nice things) produced a profit of about £20,000, now up 25 per cent. to £25,000.

My Lords, that produces altogether £60,000 or more, and I really do not know what Wells Cathedral would do without that system today—it is an unendowed cathedral—though I do know what was happening about five or six years ago, before this system of charging was, with great trepidation and with some opposition, introduced. We have found, as they also found in Bath Abbey, that charging brings many other benefits. It was known that there were cases of children being turned into the Abbey for the day while their mothers went shopping. This seemed to stop. Then, there are cases quoted in this report of deans and chapters finding to their surprise that, whereas people used to come in regularly and sit about, and even smoke "pot" in one of the cathedrals, that automatically stopped when there was a charge to go in and there were stewards about enforcing it. It was interesting that that actually happened.

My Lords, we must never allow this whole idea to degenerate into a method of making money out of tourists. It was a cathedral architect who, knowing that I was going to take part in this debate, wrote to me and said, "Of course, the visitors actually pose a very interesting pastoral challenge to the clergy of the cathedral", as my dean would absolutely agree. "It is quite extraordinary how much of a real pilgrim there is in a proportion of the tourists, and nothing must ever be done to hinder that". But our trouble is that the very fact that they are being charged makes it difficult to ensure that we give them a proper service.

One immediately gets into a problem here which I think differentiates cathedrals from stately homes or the big country houses. If you go to Longleat on a tour operators' tour I assume that a fairly large parking fee is charged to the coach and that those in the coach can well and truly think, "We have paid through our coach operator; we do not have to pay any more at any of the turnstiles". I do not know whether or not they do, but they can at least think that. Our car parks are not under the control of the dean and chapter. Our car parks are municipally-owned and, in Wells, are at the other end of the city. Even the road through the cathedral green is not under the control of the dean and chapter. Any parking on it is controlled by the parish council of Wells. That constitutes a problem. We could not have a closed car park; we could not have one on the cathedral green. Therefore, we cannot get at the coach operators.

That is brought out in this report. Coach operators are perhaps—and I do not want to offend them— getting a little something for nothing. They are people who can be disruptive. Their timetable is close. In our district, they have a quarter-hour in Wells and then have to go on to Cheddar, Wookey and Longleat, and then go round. If they arrive in the middle of a funeral or a wedding or matins or evensong, it is a bore for them. They have their own guides. That does not happen with ordinary tourists. There is this problem of what can be done.

This is where we ask the Government to take some action to help us. They must surely recognise the amount of foreign currency which is being brought in by overseas tourists. One of the things that overseas tourists want to see are cathedrals, and we must enable them to see them. The Government must do this as good business. The grant should be made to the local authorities (because it is they who must produce the lavatories, the car parks, and the restaurant, which do not pay if you do them in an amateur way) and not to the cathedral clergy themselves. We, in Wells, try to think in terms of self-help. We think the charges are necessary. They have many advantages as well as money. People do not now find charges objectionable; and we have found this an absolutely essential means of trying to finance this very expensive and un-grant aided work of maintaining cathedrals.

My Lords, I think that I should mention one small point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley. He said that the cessation of the TOPS grant was causing embarrassment. Some noble Lords may not know what he meant. TOPS is short for the Training and Opportunities Scheme. It was a Government scheme under the general umbrella of the Manpower Services Commission. The withdrawal of TOPS money from the conservation field has endangered a very good experiment that was going on at Croydon. In Wells, we are in the process of setting up a small conservation unit of perhaps three or four people. We have been promised money under an anonymous trust, but at this stage and at the later stages of our little unit we should have liked something like TOPS to be still in existence. We, too, should like TOPS back.

I say no more except to emphasise that I believe in the way we are trying to deal with our appeal for the Cathedral West Front. We have already raised more than £1 million. Three things are important to bear in mind if you are trying to raise money by appeal. First, be absolutely sure not to be spending most of it on your own administration. That is what people ask about. We have got down to one secretary and voluntary helpers; and the money is pouring in. You must start with professional advice; and then carry on yourself. The second thing is that the Americans, if you go to them, will always want to know how and what you are doing and they will want to see the accounts.

The third is that one must not be long-winded—as I am in speaking now and for which I beg your Lordships' pardon. One must say, for example, "This cathedral costs l0p a week "— or, 20p a minute, perhaps— "to be kept open for you". Then have a large arrow pointing to the box. It is no good saying: "This cathedral was built to the glory of God and we hope tht you will be generous ". You must put down: "This costs l0p per second" or "20p per minute", or whatever it may be. The money will come pouring into that box.

Even now, in the dead of winter, we have boxes with messages like that on them, and we are every week collecting £20, £100, £50 and £300 from boxes like that which have never brought anything in them before, when they have just had a notice on them saying "Do be kind". I commend everybody to read the report if they have not yet had time to do so.

9.55 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of ROCHESTER

My Lords, the common feature of all historic cathedrals, North and South, is not only that they attract visitors in large numbers, but also that they still evoke a considerable loyalty over quite a large area, and some even have as well quite effective overseas associations. It was for these reasons, as the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has said, that cathedrals were quite specifically excluded in 1977 from the arrangements agreed for State aid to historic churches that are still in use.

I have had the responsibility of chairing the working party appointed by the General Synod which, after nearly six years of negotiations with three successive Governments, including happy periods with the noble Lords, Lord Kennet, on the one side, and Lord Sandford on the other, eventually resulted in it being agreed that £1 million a year at 1973 prices would be made available through the Historic Buildings Council for the historic churches of all denominations. As a result of this agreement, grants totalling over £41/4 million have already been offered to 1,669 churches of all denominations in all parts of the country. In Suffolk alone, for instance—a county with many historic churches— grants totalling £8,850 have been made to 86 churches. The grants made are usually for 50 per cent, of the costs involved so that from the start this has been a partnership of Church and State, to help those who are ready and willing to help themselves in the task of maintaining churches that are of outstanding historic and architectural interest.

Many of these churches that have been helped under this scheme are in small and remote places from which the bulk of the population has long since moved away. As a diocesan bishop, I regard it as nothing short of a miracle that so many of them have been kept going for so long entirely by voluntary efforts. Only a very few of the 1,600 churches concerned could possibly have mounted the kind of appeal that cathedrals can make to a community covering many parishes as well as to those of all denominations and of none, and to the pilgrims and visitors who pass through their doors on weekdays as well as on Sundays.

State aid is not given to help reorder the interior of churches to meet present-day needs, nor to assist patrons with their legal responsibilities for the maintenance of chancels. That is a matter which, if I may say so, all those concerned—not least the deans and chapters of cathedrals —hope that the Law Commission will be getting around to before too long, because few parts of the statute law as it affects the parishes of England are more urgently in need of reform.

In expressing our concern today about the financing of cathedrals, I hope we shall not lose sight of the difficulties which confront many of our historic churches and will appreciate the special reasons which have led successive Governments, after the most prolonged and exhaustive inquiries, to agree that the present modest amount of help being made available should help those ecclesiastical buildings in this country which have not had the benefit of a careful inquiry and an elaborate report by the English Tourist Board. Such buildings are the responsibility of parishoners, who also have an increasing task of contributing to the payment of their clergy and to the continuing work of education and mission in their own area.

Therefore, any help to be given to cathedrals will, I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, suggested, be an extension of the grants made possible through the Tourist Board, leaving the Historic Buildings Council to continue to be responsible for grants to historic parish churches, to the local churches of the Roman Catholic community and the Free Churches of England.

10.2 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for initiating this debate and to commend him for the competent way in which he introduced it. I should like also to say how much I appreciate the English Tourist Board report, which is full of information and is a help to the problem. I am afraid I must talk about that dreariest of subjects, inflation; but I make no apology for doing so because those whom I have consulted and whose work it is to operate in cathedrals tell me that this is at the root of many of the financial problems and may indeed bring about a serious financial situation, if not a crisis, within the next 10 years or so.

As I see it, the special nature of the problems facing cathedrals is that not only are they one of the most valuable parts of our national heritage but they are also vitally important living church fellowships. For these fellowships, it is, of course, a joy and a privilege to live and work in such surroundings but it also brings a financial burden that would not exist if they used modern purpose-built buildings. The task of maintaining cathedrals—already great because of their age—is made all the more hard by a modern environment which includes the building of roads too close, juggernaut lorries on those roads and, in the skies above, low-flying helicopters and jet aircraft. Also, the fact that technical advances now make it possible to undertake repair work hitherto not feasible, although of course, welcome, does increase the pressure to spend more money on repairs and maintenance.

The English Tourist Board Report rightly draws attention to the problems as well as to the opportunities posed by tourists. However, I am advised that if you take, on the one hand, the cost of wear and tear by tourists and the provision of facilities and, on the other hand, take at a general level the money you get in from tourists, the scales are fairly evenly balanced. Therefore, if there is a case for help from public funds it does not lie quite here. Of course, there is a longer-term aspect to the tourist question: if you do not repair and maintain cathedrals, there will in due course be nothing left for people to visit. That means not only making repairs as you go along but also making adequate provision for likely future major repair works, and here you run right up against the problem of inflation.

The heart of the matter is that because of inflation, expenditure, including provision for future expenditure, is rising faster than income. This can be illustrated by the experience of one fairly typical cathedral in the South of England, where I am told that the annual budget rose from £90,000 in 1970 to £300,000 in 1978. At present rates of inflation, the figure will be over £500,000 by 1982 and will reach £1 million well before the end of this decade. Only last week, we have seen Wakefield and Truro launching public appeals and St. Albans has had to increase its appeal target from £1 million to £11/4 million, because of inflation.

On the other side of the matter, unfortunately, as most of us know from our personal finances, inflation does not benefit income as much as it affects expenditure. Neither corporations nor individuals have proportionately more with which to respond to appeals. Furthermore, the general decline in the level of the country's prosperity affects the response to appeals and it also—and I know this from my work as a stockbroker —affects the return on investments which underlie, for example, the contributions to income from the Church Commissioners and from endowments. In the 1970s, as the ETB report points out, cathedrals were successful in finding new sources of revenue by running bookshops, brass rubbing centres, refectories, car parks and other tourist amenities. In the 1980s, there may be less scope for increasing income in this way. If cathedrals are not to be forced to cut down on services, maintenance and repairs, where are they to find the necessary income?

First, there is scope—and, indeed, one might say a need—for encouraging tourists to pay something more in line with the value which they receive. It seems to me quite wrong that one should expect to visit a major cathedral, or indeed any similar building, at the cost of a few pence. No cathedral should feel at all embarrassed at obtaining from visitors an appropriate contribution in any way that, in the judgment of the dean and chapter, is consistent with the life of the cathedral as a place of worship.

The next possible source of revenue is the church community at large. Of course, each diocese will straight away say that they are already overstretched in meeting their existing commitments, and this is undoubtedly true. However, the general level of our giving in the church —certainly in the Church of England—is still extremely low. The latest figures that I could obtain were for 1978, and in that year the total voluntary giving in the Church of England, including gifts and bequests, was a mere 59p per week per person on the church electoral rolls; in other words, just about the then price of two pints of beer per week.

Before we turn to outside sources for help, we in the Church really must ask whether we can do more ourselves. Even so, unless inflation slows down it seems likely that existing sources of income will prove inadequate to run and preserve our cathedrals, and they will have to turn to the nation for help. Inevitably, this will mean the surrender by deans and chapters of some of their autonomy. However, I believe it is vitally important that they retain as much control as possible over the life of their cathedrals.

At a time when the church faces unprecedented challenges and opportunities, it would be disastrous if our cathedrals became mere museums and ceased to be places of worship and places where the Christian good news is proclaimed. They must not be allowed to become places where one can easily obtain aids to tourism, but not find aids to salvation. For that reason, one would hope that official help, if indeed it becomes necessary, could be limited to such matters as grants in aid for specific major works of restoration or the training of craftsmen, a reduction in the burden of VAT or, indeed, the provision of facilities for tourists.

In preparing for this debate, the more research that I did the more I found that there was to learn and understand about cathedral finance. And in any case, the problems vary from cathedral to cathedral. For this reason, and if only so that these problems can be more widely understood, it seems to me that they should be the subject of examination on a national level.

It has been suggested to me, and I feel that this is a suggestion worthy of consideration, that this might be done in the form of a business study by, for example, management consultants. Such a study could, first, try to identify the problems; secondly, indicate possible ways of meeting them; and, thirdly, recommend any adjustment needed in the system of control of cathedral finance. In my view, such a study would not only be helpful to the Church and its advisers but would also be a prerequisite if help is to be sought from public funds on a major scale.

To summarise, I draw the following conclusions. First, the financial situation of cathedrals is likely to deteriorate quite soon, and sharply, unless inflation slows down. Secondly, the problem is not so much how to cope with the present flow of tourists but rather how to ensure the long-term future of cathedrals as a place for visitors to come and see and as places of worship. Thirdly, the problems need further study and definition—and that quite urgently.

10.12 p.m.


My Lords, we all have to thank the English Tourist Board in the first case and the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, in the second case for enabling the House to turn its mind from the decline and decay of heavy engineering industry to the buoyancy and liveliness of cathedral tourism.

I think it is worth pausing for a moment to study this phenomenon of cathedral tourism. I suppose it ought really not to surprise us. After all, all through history pilgrims have been flocking to holy places in large numbers— all through the Old Testament, all through the New Testament, all through the times of Chaucer. And now that they have jumbo-jets and tour operators to help them, we really should not be surprised that our finest and most accessible cathedrals are swamped by visitors. However, I think it is worth going a little further than that and analysing the phenomenon further.

The numbers are indeed remarkable. Our cathedrals—and that is not all our cathedrals;it is just the few that bear the brunt of this great modern pilgrimage—receive in visitors more than all the properties of the National Trust, and the ancient monuments, put together. The trends of increase in those numbers are faster for the cathedrals and the major churches than for any other part of the heritage. That also is remarkable.

it is tempting to think that tourists visit these places because it is cheap to get in, or out of idle curiosity. But one of the most significant findings of the report is that that is not so. Most of the visitors go there because of their intention to go to that particular cathedral, and many of them—some one-third or one-half—are visiting the cathedral specifically because their tour includes it, and for the second or the third time. So we are not dealing with this number of visits because they are cheap and we are not dealing with idle curiosity. We are dealing with people who are seeking a particular experience.

Therefore I think the problem that is before us is how to combine and reconcile this modern form of pilgrimage, cathedral tourism, with the original purpose of a cathedral; namely, as a place of worship, a place of evangelism and a place for pastoral care, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester first mentioned as being his experience at Worcester. That is indeed a taxing problem, but I would put the problem as one of seeking how to provide a really rich experience for each and every visitor to these holy places and, because I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Waldegrave that this is a practical possibility, at the same time to enrich the resources of the cathedrals and our great churches, so that they may increase still further their already very great potency for good to each and every person visiting them. This therefore is the task which faces the deans and their chapters.

There are two guiding principles which I should want to support and, in doing so, echo what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet; namely, that in the long run and from every point of view it is far better if the autonomy of the deans and chapters is safeguarded. I do not think there is any evidence that they are falling down or have fallen down badly in the very heavy responsibilities that they shoulder. Another principle, eloquently voiced just now by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, is that the cathedrals and the great churches must at all costs remain places for which they were originally designed—houses of God, places of worship and places of Christian evangelism and witness.

I believe that the task can be done. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the English Tourist Board for having analysed the task so carefully. First of all they set before us a number of practical problems and these, I think, are all soluble. They relate to congestion, car parking, litter, disturbance, pilfering, tour operators—because they are a problem—and so on. I would venture to say that deans and chapters have not by their training or experience all acquired the necessary expertise to deal with these problems, and it is very helpful to have a Cathedral Advisory Council which, if not versed in these matters themselves, are at least capable of passing deans and chapters who inquire on to the source of advice in these areas. That is all made much easier by the existence of the report itself.

What I think is much more exciting, stimulating and challenging is the way in which the cathedrals and great churches and the deans and chapters can take up the challenge of meeting the opportunities that modern cathedral tourism presents to them. It is largely a question of visitor management. That is the broad context in which it can be seen. Visitors can be attracted to cathedrals and not encouraged at other times according to the publicity which is put out on their behalf. Most cathedrals do not, on the whole, engage in publicity in the way that other tourist attractions do; but there is no reason why they should not, and if facilities have to be provided for the peak periods and peak seasons, then of course it is much better that they should be used as evenly as possible throughout the year, and that can be secured by properly designed publicity. That is all part of the kind of management plan to which the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, was alluding.

There is the whole business of which kinds of guides and how many types of guide there should be and whether there should be audio guides or written guides, or guides in the form of audio-visual aids or personally guided tours. There is a whole range of options here, I think demonstrated most clearly in the report by the experience of the cathedral of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and the cathedral of Canterbury, but there are many other examples.

It would be tedious and unnecessary to go into all this at great length now because it is all so well covered in the report; but I think the implication behind the report is—and I hope this is the way in which the mind of the Cathedral Advisory Council is going at the moment, and I take it from what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that it is—that deans and chapters which have not already looked at the whole issue comprehensively, should be encouraged to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and draw up, as it were, a visitor management plan encompassing all these problems and all these opportunities. I should have thought if would be well worth investing £4,000 or £5,000 to get a really thorough job done, which, if then implemented, would prove to be a very satisfactory investment.

10.20 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, the encouraging thing about this debate is that we are actually dealing with the problems of a growth industry and a living industry and a success story throughout the land, rather than anything which is declining. I should like to support those noble Lords who have congratulated the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester on his maiden speech. We are fortunate to have his experience both as dean and bishop at our command in this House.

I think it has also been a very suitable day. Many engineers have spent most of the day talking in this illustrious Chamber, some of them with Scottish Presbyterian accents, and have left it to us to get on with English cathedrals afterwards. It is very proper to deal with engineering and cathedrals on one day. At Norwich we have just held an engineering exhibition for young people and all the different firms have been represented there in the nave. When a Lotus was seen sitting in the middle of the nave some people thought this rather odd, until it was explained by our friends from Lotus—it is made just around the corner from us—that a Lotus is planned for a 10-year obsolescence and they noticed that our cathedral was planned for a 1,000-year obsolescence. They took comfort from this and we did also.

There is a tremendous sense in which today—and in Norwich we pay tribute to both our former dean and our present dean for the openness and liveliness of our own cathedral—people really do want to come to cathedrals, and do come in large numbers, particularly the children; and the visitors officer, a very fine deaconess, is making imaginative plans for tours for children. The very fact of this success produces its own problems. I think it is true that most cathedrals are now working to a tremendous emphasis on voluntary labour, so that we are no charge on those who think we simply want money to pay people; though it is worth saying that if we are going to have large numbers, as we do have increasingly, of straightforward tourists/visitors, whom we hope will become momentary pilgrims, there are a certain number of cathedral officers who must be paid simply to care for the sheer weight of work which the tourists produce. But it is encouraging in this report to see that the volunteer aspect is clearly set out.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me for only speaking on what I know best, from Norwich. We have only five vergers and three staff in the shop, but 25 volunteers in the shop, 40 volunteers in our visitors' centre for the refreshment service, 60 volunteer guides, and in the summer season a regular stream of clergy who act as day chaplains and who pick up the sort of points the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester were making. A cathedral is a very special place where in a quiet anonymity people are searching for God, searching for meaning and searching for a rekindling, perhaps, of a childhood faith that needs to be strengthened, matured and deepened. So we are dealing with a very exciting part of our English life today.

At the same time, it is important that the Government should recognise that in the traditional partnership of Church and State they have a very real part to play. I think that they must give their thoughts to it much more deeply, and actually come up with much more money in clearly defined areas. I do not have the time, the ability or the expertise to describe what those areas are, but it is quite plain to me that deans and chapters are gradually coming to realise that their financial problems in cathedrals are escalating beyond the present pattern, which was suitable in the past. Even though every cathedral has a large number of friends—I believe that Norwich, with 4,000 is one of those with the largest number of friends—its rolling programme for the general upkeep of the building cannot really keep pace with inflation, escalation of costs or, if I may use a phrase which I hope is parliamentary, this iniquitous use of VAT in relation to cathedrals. If the word "iniquitous" is considered to be theologically improper in this case, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, will seek to put me right, and in so doing help us to know that that iniquity will be purged in some suitable way in the future.

However, there is the problem that we are dealing with a local situation in which we must have our cathedral doors wide open to all and sundry. We are dealing with a religious situation whereby people must be welcomed to the worship of the cathedral. I was glad to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester speak about the choirs of the cathedral, which are, of course, one of the great treasures not only of religion but of the whole quality of life of this country.

We are dealing with a growing number of straightforward tourists who need to be welcomed with courtesy and with enthusiasm. None the less, as the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, reminded us, they wear out the ledger stones with their stiletto heels. I was not very good on ledger stones until I started researching for this debate, but they are these large slabs with carvings on them, and they are gradually being chipped and broken away. I hope that it is not just stilettos; men's shoes are just as dangerous as the ladies' stilettos. It is not in any sense a sex problem; everyone is to blame. But someone has to do something about problems of that sort.

Therefore, we keep on facing the question—and this report keeps facing it squarely—whether cathedrals should charge. I am sure that psychologically the main doors of every cathedral must be open to the people. Secondly, we must look carefully at whether there should be selective charges of one sort or another. But before any such charges can be made, the deans and chapters will need to make it very plain to their local community that there are strong, clear and mounting financial reasons why such charges may have to be imposed, and I need not mention the VAT situation again, having touched lightly on it already.

There are two ways in which this can be done without causing unnecessary offence locally. One is the suggestion made by two or three noble Lords this evening, that certain areas of the cathedral could be opened on a paying basis. In fact, sometimes areas are opened for help beyond the seas. Our former dean had the idea of opening our treasury and suggested that when people have seen some of the priceless and beautiful Norwich silver on display, they should give generously to Christian Aid as they left. That box is only for the outreach of the Church overseas; and each year on Advent Sunday the hundreds and hundreds of pounds that are given in that way are given directly to Christian Aid. So sometimes this is for outreach.

None the less, there is the sheer hard fact that money is needed for the upkeep of our great cathedrals. It is quite possible to arrange for guided supertours three times a day within the building at a straightforward £1 a head, so that people who are on a tourist route can be taken round and shown the great points of the cathedral. But the excitement of this report lies in the fact that we are dealing with a success story, not a failure story, and we are dealing with one of the new and revived modern opportunities for the proclamation of the Christian faith.

As I close, I notice that it was Sir Mark Henig himself, whose death we all grieved over in recent times, who wrote the first foreword to the report. He, as noble Lords will remember, was of the Jewish faith. I remember when once speaking to me about this whole opportunity he said to me: "Bishop, you have a good product. But you have got to go into the market place if you are to present that product to people, else your mission will fail". This was his rather delightful way of saying that we have to take the riches of the Gospel to people. We cannot therefore just put up the shutters. We cannot simply shut the doors, and simply hope that somehow this problem will die away. We must face it with resolution, and we must expect that Church and State together may make something beautiful, something lasting, something wonderful of this special opportunity.

10.31 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for his initiative in allowing us to debate the English Cathedrals report by the English Tourist Board this evening. I am only sorry that this debate has come on at such a late hour; I feel a duty is put on me not to be overlong in my remarks this evening. The only quarrel I took with his introduction to the debate this evening was the remark which he made that the English Tourist Board cannot lobby for aid. My knowledge of the working of the English Tourist Board is that they are continually in and out of the Department of Trade lobbying for additional aid. I should also like at the beginning of my remarks to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester for his thoughtful maiden speech, with which I found myself largely in agreement. I very much hope that we shall be hearing from him again soon.

It is difficult at this point of time in the debate not to be repetitive, but I would perhaps tend to speak rather more from the tourist point of view. The cathedrals and the major churches are certainly an important part of our tourist scene. As the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, said, around 20 million people a year visit our major churches. Some cathedrals indeed have shown fantastic growth rates. This has brought with it the problems not only of wear and tear but of litter and other associated problems such as car parking, as has been mentioned.

The report highlights these problems but also says that this should be regarded as a time of opportunity for the churches and cathedrals to harness this increase in tourism to the cathedrals for the benefit of the cathedrals themselves. Of course, the central problem is how the financial resources resulting from the visitors can be harnessed to maintain the fabric of the churches which they visit. As the report shows, each cathedral examined in detail has found its own answer as to how to try to solve this problem. I am sure it is right that each cathedral should continue independently to try to find its own answers to solving these problems.

I am sure that the plea made by several noble Lords for the continued independence of the deans and chapters is right. A parallel was drawn in the report between the cathedrals and the stately homes. At stately homes visitors may be charged admission of a pound or more. I think one can equally well have a parallel between the cathedrals and the museums. In the large State museums no entrance fee is charged, but charges may well be made for entrance to special exhibitions which are mounted. My feeling is that that is probably the way forward for the cathedrals —to charge for entry to the special parts but not to charge for entrance to the whole. Of course, not all cathedrals are built in the same way and it is not always possible to do that.

One can also think in terms of charging for special services, such as guided tours, a subject which has been mentioned. I am particularly mindful, having only last week attended the 30th anniversary service of the Guild of Guide Lecturers in Westminster Abbey, of the very splendid work which the qualified tourist guides do in showing people around all the different parts of our national heritage. I am concerned that we should ensure as a nation that the quality of guiding that people receive when they visit cathedrals or wherever is of the highest, and that trained guides are used for this purpose, as opposed to the coach driver who may try, rather ineptly, to take a party round a particular cathedral. That is the super tour for which one can charge.

There is also the question of book and souvenir shops, and I was interested to note in the report that four times as much money is spent by visitors to cathedrals on souvenirs as on donations to the work of the cathedral. There certainly is a ready source of potential finance; and I have always been told that, so far as Westminster Abbey is concerned, it is an essential part of the income of that splendid church. The question of charging for car parking and tourist coaches is, again, a problem which can be tackled in different ways by different cathedrals. Westminster Abbey, which has a forecourt, can charge tour operators when they are discharging their coaches in the forecourt, whereas St. Paul's Cathedral, not having a forecourt like the Abbey, cannot levy a charge in that way.

Having said that, and having accepted the fact that there is a tremendous role for the cathedrals to play in the tourist scene, one must remember, and ensure that people remain aware, that cathedrals are still places of worship, and the idea which is followed at Westminster Abbey, of having a silent prayer on the hour to remind visitors that they are in a house of worship, is one which I should have thought could well be followed by other cathedral churches. As has been mentioned, many of the tourists today should be seen in the same way as Chaucer's pilgrims, and I am sure that is right.

We come back to the central problem which, as posed by the report, is whether one should charge for general admission. As the report states, there are powerful reasons why this should be done: it yields very much more than does any other way of charging. It yields much more than what the report refers to as a "Ministry of Welcome", in which the individual is welcomed at the door of the cathedral, is given a leaflet, and is told that the cathedral costs 20p a minute to keep open, and that that is the size of the donation expected. That is a successful way, but it is not as successful as charging directly for admission. I also gather that in the report there was shown to be a very great resistance by visitors to receiving a ticket when they had paid for their admission. I think that people would regard this as a tinge of commercialism which they would not expect upon entering a house of worship.

Despite these arguments, we must look to the other ways of raising money for the great churches, rather than go in for admission charges. When it comes to admission charges there is this argument, this very curious argument, which has gone back and forth across the Chamber this evening. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate will put this argument to his colleagues. It is the argument concerning VAT. Of all the anomalies in the law, it is very odd that if you charge for admission, you receive back a considerable percentage of your input on your building works to your church. In the case of Westminster Abbey it is 85 per cent., based theoretically on the period of time for which there is no charging and on the period of time for which there is some charging in some parts of the building. I gather that elsewhere the matter is calculated in regard to area: parts of the church are charged for, other parts are not charged for. The noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, spoke very authoritatively about this.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, is not with us this evening, though I did not expect him to be, because I recall the exchange across the Chamber last Thursday when he was asked a Question about VAT on theatre seats and about the difficulty of drawing a line between charging and not charging. The noble Lord voiced the view that it was better not to have the problem of where to draw the line on charging VAT, but instead to be able to make grants where one wished and therefore effectively reduce the price of theatre seats. I personally found that a very odd argument, but it is an argument which one could use in regard to State aid for cathedrals. One could say that if one is collecting this substantial amount of VAT, why can it not be given back through additional grants? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, will be able to bring this point to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield.

Equally as powerful an argument about VAT is the argument that my noble friend Lord Kennet put about the distortion in regard to the building industry, in terms of the line that is drawn between VAT on new building and VAT on repairs to old buildings. This, too, is a matter which has caused great concern.

Reference has been made to the fact that the English Tourist Board is able to make grants to cathedrals in the development areas, and one hopes that it will be possible for this to be extended, particularly to all ecclesiastical buildings which it is shown cannot support themselves in the various ways which we have been discussing this evening. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester spoke of the aid to churches in the rural areas.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to add my remarks to those which have already been made about the quality of this report by the English Tourist Board. It is full of information. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, to whom I am almost tempted to refer as my kinsman, referred to the earlier debate and drew some similarities between the two debates. I should also like to refer to the earlier debate, when noble Lords referred to the great restraint of Sir Monty Finniston in remaining silent throughout that debate. I equally should like to refer to the restraint of the two authors of the report of the English Tourist Board, Max Hanna and Tyrrell Marris, who have remained silent throughout this debate while they have heard the results of their research being hurled back and forth across this Chamber. We are very grateful for the opportunity to discuss this useful report this evening.

10.42 p.m.


My Lords, I very much welcome the initiative of my noble friend Lord Sudeley in providing us with this opportunity to debate the problem of our cathedrals, and I congratulate him on the debate which we have had even at this late hour, with 10 speakers and none "scratching". I, too, should like to add my name to the list of Peers and Prelates who have congratulated the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester on his maiden speech. In doing so, I am sorry I am only the eighth Peer to speak after him, because his predecessor as the Bishop of Chichester was the first person speaking after me when I made my maiden speech from some point on the other side of the Chamber, if I remember rightly.

I, too, most certainly share the view that cathedrals are the very summit of our architectural heritage, of incomparable work, and must at all costs be preserved and cherished. Things which are built for the love and worship of God are not things for everyday man to destroy or let go. All lovers of art and Christianity will be united in this. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for the acknowledgment of moneys that do come from the Government in a positive way, such as the Historic Buildings Council grant. The ETB, as of course noble Lords know, is also contributing in various ways, with Government money, to the solution of this problem. The importance of cathedrals to the economy of the nation in attracting tourists has been acknowledged by all noble Lords tonight without any qualification, and it is only right that we should do all we can to maintain them in good order for future generations. How pleased I was to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, speak about his work with the Cathedrals Advisory Committee. He always brings common sense and fresh air to this House, whatever may be the subject on which he speaks; and I, for one, am very glad to know that they have such a very useful person on their committee to help advise them.

The publication of the English Tourist Board which we have been discussing is a splendid document, I think we all agree. It is sensible and, above all, it is practical. Its advice is expert, and it is to be commended to the authorities of all cathedrals. However, I must point out that the report does not in fact recommend or advise any action by central Government.

The concept of special grants for cathedrals to help them meet the costs of coping with visitors and the damage they cause to the sensitive fabric of these buildings is an attractive one, but let us examine it more closely. The funds which the ETB is given for the scheme of selective assistance to tourism projects are only modest—some £4 million in the current financial year. And, as noble Lords know, the Government are determined to reduce public expenditure. Tourism has had to take its share of the cuts, I fear, though these will be quite small.

My noble friend Lord Sudeley spoke of the English Tourist Board transferring its funds from things like hotels to our cathedrals. But we must remember, because funds are limited, that the problem we face is that of putting limited resources to work in the most effective way. Accordingly, project assistance is presently confined to the areas of greatest need, the assisted areas. Moreover, under this scheme, ETB can assist only with capital expenditure; that is to say, the money must help to provide a tangible asset. It cannot be used to help with manning costs, or with maintenance and repairs. So both the rules of the project scheme, and the modest amount of funds devoted to it, would make it an unsuitable vehicle for the sort and scope of assistance the noble Lord has in mind. But I know some will still say, quite understandably, "Are not cathedrals a special tourism case?" It has been said tonight by a number of speakers. What about similar pleas, equally justified on tourism grounds, from spa towns, or historic houses, or theatres? Any one of these types of project, if assisted as of right under the ETB scheme, could take up the total amount allocated to it many times over.

Turning for a moment to the wider issue of major repairs to cathedral fabric, the report points to cathedrals like Exeter, St. Albans and Lincoln requiring vast sums of money to carry out extensive repairs. But noble Lords will have gathered that to fund repairs resulting from the wear and tear of the centuries themselves, rather than from 20th century visitors, would be even further beyond the scope of the project scheme.

However, it is really splendid to see, when appeals for a particular cathedral have been made, how great has been the response—not only in providing money (as in the case of York where over £2 million has been raised) but also in raising local enthusiasm and pride in their cathedral. My noble friend Lord Waldegrave talked about his £2 million appeal for the West Front of Wells Cathedral. I wish him well; and would like to congratulate him on his really constructive and exciting speech, which I would commend to any noble Lords. In particular, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will bring it to the attention of his dean and chapter as being a real example of what sensible self-help can do. I was impressed to hear that they were raising funds of some £60,000. The right reverend Prelates, the Bishops of Rochester and Norwich, and others talked about exciting opportunities. How right they are! The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich talked about super-tours at £1 a head. All these ideas are worth following up. They are sensible and bring enthusiasm in their wake.

That is what we want, my Lords, because the main thrust of my argument is this. Surely, it is reasonable that the tourists themselves, who find much to enjoy and to wonder at in the cathedrals, should help to provide a significant proportion of the revenue needed to maintain them. Two of the aims of the admirable ETB report were to illustrate ways of increasing revenue to support these very expensive buildings, together with the many facilities they provide for visitors; and also to demonstrate ways of effectively managing tourism, so as to minimise the problems it brings for cathedrals. As my noble friend Lord Sandford said, this great modern pilgrimage in numbers far exceeds all other tourist attractions put together.

Taking revenue first, among the figures I the report quotes is one which I found quite illuminating, if not fascinating. It is that the average expenditure by each visitor to cathedrals is 22p. Twenty-two pence, my Lords! And to think that a visitor will probably spend that same sum on buying himself, herself or the children an ice cream once they leave the cathedral precincts! My noble friend Lord Waldegrave said he was not in favour of "milking" the visitors to our cathedrals too heavily. I do not think that he can think that at 22p they are being "milked" too heavily. That is the average. He, I am sure, is "milking" them more successfully at Wells.

Surely there is scope here for cathedrals to raise more funds, either through making an admission charge for visitors or encouraging them to make donations as has been suggested. Those cathedrals that have already experimented with admission charges have found that the vast majority of visitors do not resent paying. Here I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, who said he had a natural reluctance to seeing people pay to go into places of worship. The noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord Sandford, also pointed out that these were places of God. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who pointed out, however, that there could be parts put aside as places of quiet and prayer. In Westminster Cathedral when they have it open for exhibitions, they have the Blessed Sacrament chapel exempted from an entrance charge. Every cathedral, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, has its own problems in finding such a place. The idea in itself is not offensive.

I believe that Lincoln is shortly to introduce such a charge and that Ripon is to operate a "Ministry of Welcome", where each visitor receives a personal welcome to the cathedral and is encouraged in a more persuasive way than was hitherto the custom, to donate to its upkeep. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, referred to this. Some, like Chester, have appointed a tourist liaison officer, while others have organised fund raising events, like flower festivals or concerts. And, of course, as recommended in the report, shops if well managed can provide a useful additional source of extra revenue to cathedrals. I was very glad to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester in his maiden speech say that trading can include the maintenance and spreading of faith among the shoppers. This is a good point. Religious biographies, prayer books and other matters, can bring in a lot of money and give useful literature to the general public. My noble friend Lord Sandford talked about visitor management. This is all part of that.

Turning now to measures to lessen or prevent visitor damage, I was heartened to learn from the report that, although it points out that, with 20 million visitors to our cathedrals each year, there will inevitably be problems of wear and tear, the report does not, in fact, say that visitor damage is yet a major worry. It says at page 11: Whilst the amount of wear and tear caused by visitors has as yet reached serious proportions at only a handful of cathedrals or greater churches, further protective measures will be necessary to safeguard those parts of the fabric most at risk". There is no doubt that, if the very practical advice given in the report is followed, such damage will be reduced to a minimum or obviated entirely, and I endorse this strongly. Among the simple but very practical measures it suggests are the roping off of vulnerable areas, the signposting of recommended routes around the cathedral, restricting access to parts of it, and the provision of copies of brasses for rubbing enthusiasts—a valuable source of revenue, as well.

The Government's view is that the principle to be followed is that visitors should pay for any damage they do. This can be achieved partly through the imposition of entrance fees. Everyone, therefore, would do well to follow the examples of Bath Abbey, Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals, where, as the report says, revenue from tourists is obviating the need for appeals for fabric repair. Grants from central Government towards the repair of visitor damage are not the answer. Apart from anything else, cathedrals would be less likely to follow whole-heartedly the advice of the English Tourist Board's report if they felt that the Government would pick up all, or part, of the bill.

The need for providing facilities such as lavatories, car-parks, et cetera, for visitors is acknowledged, but it is a problem which by its nature must remain in the hands of the cathedrals and local authorities. Moreover, there is the problem that the provision of additional car-parks may, in some cases, be incompatible with the preservation of the architectural and historic integrity of the town and the cathedral area itself.

The points that I have mentioned tonight are some of the areas which, if effectively managed—and the tourist industry, tourist boards, and local authorities, as well as the cathedrals themselves, have their part to play— can provide the finance and the care needed, even in the face of the problem of inflation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, drew our attention.

It would be wrong of me to close my remarks on the tourism issues without drawing attention to the positive ways in which the ETB and the other tourist boards already help cathedrals. Eighty-five per cent, of the national tourist boards' budgets is used for promotion and marketing; cathedrals benefit fully from this and from publicity by the regional tourist boards of cathedrals in their areas; indeed, some cathedrals are already members of their regional board. Under the project scheme, the ETB has assisted tourist facilities at several cathedrals within the assisted areas—for example, toilet facilities at Durham, and an invalid car park and lift in the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool. The ETB undertakes or promotes research into tourism matters to help those involved to plan for the future—the report which prompted this debate is a fine example of such research. And the board can help individual cathedrals with advice on their policy towards their areas sensitive to visitor damage. It can even help with the design of things like notices to advise or inform visitors. This debate will, I hope, encourage cathedral authorities, who have not yet already done so, to make full use of this expertise which is freely available.

Now we come to the third question, VAT. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich wanted my opinion on whether the word "iniquitous" was allowed, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I think, called it "unjust beyond belief". My noble friend Lord Sudeley, though he did acknowledge the many tax reliefs which the cathedrals were able to get from the Government, was uneasy about this question. Of course, nobody likes taxes, and nobody likes the idea of taxing churches—and VAT in this context is another tax, is it not? The strong feelings about the effect of VAT on the maintenance and repair of historic buildings in general, and cathedrals and churches in particular, are recognised.

I am well aware of the high cost of repairing historic buildings, but we have to look at proposals for VAT relief in a broader context. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said about tax anomalies in VAT, but we must remember that VAT was designed as a broad-based tax and reliefs have been limited to those which can be justified on the most stringent social and economic grounds —food, public transport and so on.

On the question of the exemption of new building from VAT, new construction work was treated as a special case from the start of tax to avoid the addition of VAT to the cost of new homes. Building alteration work was zero-rated by analogy, to cover people who extend their homes as an alternative to buying a new one. Repair and maintenance work, particularly of the more routine kind, was not thought to merit special treatment in the same way; and the difficulty of giving relief now is the cost. However, I should like to reassure all right reverend Prelates and noble Lords that my colleagues at the Treasury are well aware of the problems that we are discussing and have undertaken to review them.

Lastly, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that there is a dearth of skilled stone carvers, sculptors, restorers, wall painters and other such skilled men or women, partly because such work is expensive and commissions have been few. Without the prospect of steady work, few are likely to be attracted to such trades and skills. Therefore, the Monuments Training Centre set up at Little Oakley, near Corby, by the Orton Trust is to be warmly welcomed and commended. We, in my department, have several skilled people being trained and used on national monuments of great importance—Stirling Castle, the Royal Banqueting Hall and other such buildings. My noble friend Lord Waldegrave talked about the TOPS scheme and the problems which are surrounding a continuation of the conservation course at the Croydon College of Art and Technology. I will find out more about this and write to my noble friend.

This has been a most useful and helpful debate. We have covered many varied issues tonight, and I hope that the cathedral and other ecclesiastical authorities, as well as the various local and tourist authorities, will consider and act upon the admirable recommendations contained in the English Tourist Board's report; and not least, the valuable and exciting ideas generated in this debate. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for giving us this opportunity.