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Volume 459: debated on Monday 16 April 2007

19. What assessment the commissioners have made of the effect of single stream funding on the operations of English cathedrals; and if he will make a statement. (131440)

The rationale behind the proposal is that funds might be more accurately matched to local priorities if some of the financial decision making were localised. By way of a statement, some dioceses and cathedrals have asked to test the proposal, which is one of a number under consideration as we contemplate the best use of the commissioners’ funds from 2008 to 2010.

The hon. Gentleman may know that a number of cathedrals feel very uncomfortable about that arrangement. Does he agree that diverting funds away from cathedrals to dioceses will weaken cathedrals’ ability to attract people of faith and of no faith at all? Does he agree that a centrally based body, rather than a diocesan-based body, is better positioned to give a strategic view on how funding should apply to cathedrals?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s point will be taken into account in the consultation process. We are consulting the Association of English Cathedrals, the House of Bishops, the Archbishops Council and diocesan representatives about our spending plans, and we will consider very carefully the views put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

Will my hon. Friend say whether he thinks that consultation should take place directly with cathedrals, such as St. Martin’s in Leicester? I agree with the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) that there is a deal of unease that the proposals might weaken the way in which that cathedral has developed its community role in such a magnificent fashion in the past two decades.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to the cathedral to which he has referred. We will write to the cathedral directly and ask for its views. The single stream idea will not be imposed on anybody, but some dioceses have indicated that they might like to have a trial run. I welcome that, because we need to be creative if the Church is to enjoy maximum value from our distributions, as I am sure that he and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) agree.

The English cathedrals have had a double whammy from this Government. First, single streaming will have a damaging impact. Secondly, have the Church Commissioners assessed the impact of the reduction in the basic rate of tax on tax-giving in cathedrals? An unintended consequence of lowering the basic rate of tax has been a substantial loss.

The hon. Gentleman’s question is broad and wide. With your dispensation, Mr. Speaker, I will take up that point with the commissioners and give him a proper answer, which may also end up in the Library.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the great glories of our English cathedrals is the quality of the music that they produce, which is at risk because of the proposals that are being considered?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to music. One of the great features of my visits to Lichfield cathedral is listening to the music, and many cathedrals are renowned for their music. We often discuss the importance of our outstanding cathedrals and their ministry to the whole nation. This House pays tribute to the cathedrals, to their music and to all that goes on within their precincts.