HL Deb 13 June 1989 vol 508 cc1261-3

2.47 p.m.

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

Whether they will consider making a grant towards the cost of protecting the close and gardens of Ely Cathedral.

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

My Lords, government funding for the maintenance of historic buildings in England is channelled through English Heritage. I understand that a three-year programme of grant aid for the former monastic buildings around Ely Cathedral, including the area known as the "close", was agreed by English Heritage in 1986.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful Answer. Is he aware that the close of Ely Cathedral, which was recently saved from desecration at the hands of the Dean and Chapter only by the generosity of Mr. Paul Getty, is now under threat again from the dean, who proposes to breach the medieval wall and intrude into a garden of the close an office building and a car park? Coming on top of what has been going on at Salisbury and the mishandling of the Mappa Mundi at Hereford, does this not show that deans are dangerous? Would it not be a great help—I am sure that the right reverend Prelate agrees with me—if the Government enabled deans to get on with their proper job, which is that of serving God, and they looked after Mammon?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am aware that there has been a certain amount of discussion and concern with regard to the proposed car park. However, I understand that the dean and chapter intend to discuss their proposals with all interested parties later this month.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend enlarge upon what he first said and tell the House whether the Government through English Heritage, or any other channel, are now willing to give support to the preservation of ecclesiastical buildings?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, we give considerable support to ecclesiastical buildings. However, we do not give direct support to cathedrals. That policy is in line with the Church of England's own view that parish churches should take priority over cathedrals. It is worth pointing out that over an 18-month period Ely Cathedral recently managed to raise some £4 million.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, while agreeing that parish churches have much less recourse to obtaining funds and sponsors than cathedrals have and therefore they should have priority, will the Minister also agree that some of our great cathedrals in this country are really falling down very badly? Does that not mean that some additional funding is necessary to prevent cathedrals such as Salisbury, Hereford and Ely from ruining their essential character in a desperate attempt to raise money for repairs and preservation? Would it not therefore be a good idea to set up an organisation similar to the National Trust, but making it a national trust for cathedrals?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I think that that question would be better put to the Church of England rather than to me. The fact of the matter is that if the Church of England now feels that circumstances have changed as regards the priority of churches rather than cathedrals it can of course approach English Heritage. Last year English Heritage allocated some £5.5 million for church repair grants.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, is not my noble friend aware that a cathedral is in fact a church? Is he also aware that as most of the cathedrals were built at the same time they are all starting to fall down at the same time? Is it not therefore high time that both central Church and state took some part in looking after such buildings properly?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, of course I am aware that a cathedral is a church; I used the differential in definition purely to establish the present existence of the arrangements with English Heritage vis-à-vis the Church of England. It is probably fair to say that any structure which was built in, say, 1100 or 1200 is likely to have been falling down for some considerable period of time. There is a process of constant renewal in preserving the fabric of these great buildings.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend can clarify one further point. Are we right to understand that it is the Government's policy in general not to resist proposals for support for churches if they need repair? Further, do his remarks refer to Scotland as well as to England?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, as I tried to explain earlier, there is a differential which is at the request of the Church of England with regard to the commitment by English Heritage. The differential is that the money should be targeted from English Heritage towards ordinary parish churches, so to speak, and that the cathedrals should be not included in that arrangement because by virtue of their greatness and importance they would find it easier to raise money.

As regards the position in Scotland, I shall have to write to my noble friend on the matter.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House, or write to any person who might be interested, about the organisation Cadw, which was set up by the Welsh Office and which has responsibilities, in association with the Welsh Tourist Board, for preserving all national memorials within Wales? Further, do the rules of that body also apply to the cathedrals?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, if I may, I shall give the same answer to the noble Lord, Lord Parry, as I gave to my noble friend Lord Lauderdale. I would not wish to be inaccurate in answering such a question.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, would it be possible for an Anglican to intervene in this discussion between two Roman Catholics, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale? Is my noble friend aware that some of us are really quite horrified at the attitude of some of the deans and chapters of English cathedrals and how they seem to be neglecting these buildings? That was underlined by the fiasco of the Mappa Mundi sale, the difficulty over the forecourt of Beverley Minster and other instances of desecration which seem to have gone on in the hierarchy of the Church of England. Will he agree that perhaps it may even be possible for a Roman Catholic minister to rescue the Church of England from its own folly?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend Lord Onslow that this is a matter from which I shall keep a considerable distance.

The Lord Bishop of Truro

My Lords, will the Minister agree that while it is most welcome to hear that there is such sympathy for the cathedrals, nevertheless, if there were to be any kind of financial contribution towards their upkeep it should not disturb the delicate balance arranged by the ecclesiastic exemption? I ask that because the discussion which we have had so far perhaps calls in question the future of the ecclesiastic exemption, which is most important to the Church of England. Moreover, because our cathedrals are not subject to faculty jurisdiction they would perhaps be put in a slightly vulnerable position if they were to receive grant aid from the Government. Therefore, I should be most grateful to have the Minister's assurance that such matters will be carefully borne in mind, although one would be delighted to hear a sympathetic reply.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I can certainly give the reply which the right reverend Prelate requires. I can also point out that English Heritage contributes substantially to the buildings which surround most cathedrals in Britain; it is only the cathedral fabric which is not included.