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Medieval Churches (Restoration)

Volume 974: debated on Monday 19 November 1979

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asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, what estimate the Commissioners have made of the shortage of skilled stonemasons capable of doing restoration work on medieval churches.

While this matter does not come within the responsibility of the Church Commissioners, in order to help the hon. Member I can tell him that there are now 14 English cathedrals with cathedral workshops employing skilled stonemasons and apprentices, and that a number of substantial private firms do the same. The advent of State aid for churches in use has given a considerable fillip to stonemasonry and the situation to which the lion. Member refers may, therefore, be expected to improve somewhat.

In the light of the detailed correspondence from the Department of Employment that I have sent to the hon. Gentleman and in the light of the anxieties caused by the age of those who can do this extremely skilled work in stonemasonry, would the Commissioners consider lending their weight to proposals that the Manpower Services Commission should undertake a further training programme in stonemasonry?

I recognise the validity of the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. If I may have time to consider the correspondence that he has been courteous enough to send to me, I will gladly see whether, consistent with our responsibilities, it would be appropriate for the Commissioners to make any representations.

What discussions have the Church Commissioners had with the Department of Employment on the training of young people in this vitally important craft? Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that, unless young people are trained in this craft, all the State aid in the world will be no good?

The Commissioners have not had any discussions, for the reasons I indicated in my main answer.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest shortage is not of stonemasons but of stone conservators, who require considerable additional training? I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to see stone conserved. Will my hon. Friend make inquiries in the appropriate Department and find what opportunities there are for expanding the number of places for training stonemasons to become stone conservators?

I will gladly look into that matter, but I repeat—with no discourtesy to my hon. Friend—that, consistent with the duties of the Commissioners, they have no direct responsibility here.