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Bell Ringing

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

2. If the Church Commissioners will hold discussions with the General Synod on policy on bell ringing in churches; and if he will make a statement. (212132)

To my knowledge, the General Synod has no plans to discuss bell ringing. Many bells in England have been heard by their communities for 400 years and they are a cherished English custom. On the rare occasions when there are allegations of nuisance from bell music, it is the Church’s aim always to settle through mediation.

I pay homage to our bell ringers up and down the land. They are conscientious about giving notice of prolonged ringing and use methods to control noise if the bells are so loud as to cause nuisance. In a parish church, the incumbent has the final say about when the bells can be rung. As I said earlier, church bell ringing began in England in the 16th century and it has been a particularly English custom ever since. Church bells are almost always the longest surviving sound in the area—that does not apply in Scotland, of course, where the bagpipes are played. There are more than 40,000 ringers in the United Kingdom. I should add that the Churchcare website gives useful guidance on church bells and the law. There is a law on bell ringers, as there is on most other things.

I am grateful for that reply. Of course, John Betjeman wrote more about church bells than about Sunday hedge-trimming, lawnmowers or football matches. I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all the nation’s bell ringers. It is very much a part of English culture and tradition. Does he share my concern that in some villages and towns in this country, over-eager public officials, some weak-kneed vicars and human rights advocates who take the Human Rights Act 1998 to extremes want to silence this nation’s bells? Will he put on record his concern and the fact that he will join me to fight any proposals to silence them? As he rightly said, they have rung out for more than 400 years—since long before the lawnmower.

We have certainly ranged far and wide today. It is Royal Ascot day, so it is not surprising that the Chamber is not as full as it might be.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a great supporter of churches and cathedrals, particularly Hereford cathedral, which recently celebrated the centenary of the dedication of its west front. He makes a potent and pertinent plea for bell ringers, wherever they are. They render a great service and are a great comfort to many of our majority community, which is Christian, when they hear them rung wherever they are. We are keen to keep that situation going.

The Church Buildings Council has produced a code of practice for the conservation and repair of bells, and many local communities give extremely generously towards the upkeep and refurbishment of bells and the enlargement of groups of local ringers.

I am sure that the bells were ringing loud and clear at Great St. Bartholomew in Smithfield a couple of weeks ago when Rev. Martin Dudley, who is far from weak-kneed, performed a service to celebrate the civil partnership of two members of his congregation.

Around the world, 95 per cent. of the churches whose bells can be change rung—in other words, the order of the bells can be changed—are in England. As the Second Church Estates Commissioner said, it is a peculiarly English tradition. Are the Church Commissioners satisfied that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is sufficiently appreciative of that fact?

Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter, and we would be happy to draw attention to it again. It should be noted and on record that the Church Commissioners and the Church in general work closely with that Department and remind it of its great duties to the Church as well as to secular society, and its duty to maintain the Church in its thinking. We shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman’s comments to its attention.