HL Deb 05 December 1989 vol 513 cc741-3

3.3 p.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take steps to set up a foundation to help finance the repair of cathedrals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, government money for the maintenance of historic buildings is channelled through English Heritage. In line with a view taken by the Church of England that parish churches should take priority over cathedrals, English Heritage does not currently give repair grants to cathedrals. It would be for the Church, with English Heritage, to put a case to the Government if they considered that this policy should be changed.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that aristophrenic reply. Will the Government consider setting up a fund on the lines of the National Heritage Fund which, within its resources, would make matching grants for money raised by appeals in the private sector? Would not the permanent safeguarding of our cathedrals —the most precious jewels in our heritage crown —not only be worth while in itself but also constitute a fitting commemoration of the coming millenium?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the Government remain willing to consider any justification for a reordering of priorities within the public resources available. I am well aware of my noble friend's views on the matter, particularly that local churches are better supported by local communities than are cathedrals, which he believes are in isolation. I shall draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the proposals which he made in his supplementary question.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, does the Minister agree that cathedrals are a national treasure and that they have depended too much upon the generosity of the public who visit them? Will the Minister say whether the Government will give full consideration to the report of the Select Committee on the Environment which in 1987 recommended that the major importance of cathedral buildings justifies eligibility for grant from public funds? In view of the present situation will that report now be considered more seriously?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, we have always responded to the desires of the Church of England, which believed that priorities were better served by the grant aid from English Heritage going to parish churches rather than to cathedrals. That belief was held on the ground that cathedrals were better able to raise money on their own. An example is the recent successful appeal for Ely Cathedral where £4 million was raised within 12 months.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend and the Government bear in mind the sordid but practical fact that cathedrals are a major attraction of our tourist industry?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am always grateful for an intervention from my noble friend. He is right to point out that the cathedrals of England are among the jewels in the crown of our country.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, is the Minister aware that if the proposal put forward by my noble friend in his Question were to be accepted there are many local small churches of even greater antiquity and importance to the national interest and they should not be overlooked by the Government in their consideration?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I understand that at no point did my noble friend Lord St. John imply that there should be a reduction in the grant already given by English Heritage to the parish churches.

The Lord Bishop of St. Albans

My Lords, at a time when a mere handful of cathedrals are attempting to raise £47 million for their repair bills, will the noble Lord agree that the Care of Cathedrals Measure —which was recently discussed by the General Synod and will shortly come before the Ecclesiastical Committee setting up a cathedral fabric commission to include representatives of English Heritage—represents a better position in which the Government can grant aid to the cathedrals which are in need? Will he also ensure that if money is made available it will be against the background that primarily cathedrals are not museums or tourist attractions but places for the worship of Almighty God?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I entirely endorse the last remark made by the right reverend Prelate. I also confirm the important Measure that he drew to your Lordships' attention; namely, the recent developments with regard to the future approach to the preservation of our cathedrals with the involvement of English Heritage. The department and I are grateful for the progress that has been made.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am greatly indebted to him for his constructive and open-minded reply, which promises well for the future?

Lord Tryon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am chairman of the appeal for Salisbury Cathedral, which has already raised £4 million of the £6 million target that we set? Will he accept from me that the most difficult question which I have had to ask as regards this appeal is: why do not the Government help with this? Will he accept that Continental governments almost invariably help? Will he also accept that there is no doubt whatever that some sort of "match-you" scheme such as that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, would have made the job infinitely easier and certainly would have preserved the cathedral for the next several hundred years?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, of course I am aware of the involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, with the Salisbury Cathedral appeal. However, I must refer him back to my earlier Answer. We have responded to date to the requirements which the Church of England has placed before the department.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, can we not enjoy the advantages as well as the disadvantags of that position and get some money from the state?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I do not believe that I can go any further in answer to the noble Baroness. The department is responding to the request of the Church of England.

Forward to