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Cathedrals Advisory Committee

Volume 385: debated on Thursday 14 July 1977

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider introducing legislation to establish the Cathedrals Advisory Committee as a statutory body, certain members of which would be nominated by a Minister; and to provide that deans and chapters must consult this body before disposing of the books and valuables, or altering the furnishings and fabrics of their cathedrals.

(Baroness Birk)

No, my Lords. This is in the first instance a matter for the General Synod of the Church of England.

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for her flexibility in answering the Question even though it concerns a Church matter, may I ask whether she is aware that, although Wells Cathedral is very much in the public mind, the Dean of Wells is not a member of the Synod? As a circular, following the Civic Amenities Act 1967, requires that planning authorities should consult the Cathedrals Advisory Committee on applications concerning the close neighbourhood of cathedrals, would it not be appropriate for the Cathedrals Advisory Committee to be consulted on the cathedrals, and does the Minister not think that the deans and chapters of cathedrals should be—

Several noble Lords: Speech!

—subordinated to some kind of State control, even though they do not receive any State aid in return?

My Lords, I will do my best to wind up on that. The Cathedrals Advisory Committee is a Church body set up by the Church of England to meet its own needs. The only way in which the Government could do anything to meet the noble Lord's point would be to set up an entirely new body which would have authority over cathedrals. That we certainly would not want to do without the co-operation of deans and chapters, and until the Synod has debated this question we cannot attempt to assess the views of the deans and chapters on this matter.

The noble Lord also raised the point of the advice taken by cathedrals. I am given to understand that, on the whole, cathedrals do consult with the Cathedrals Advisory Committee, and when it comes to any question of planning or local government control I understand that the circular that was put out is being closely adhered to, certainly by most cathedrals; and the planning authorities do approach the Cathedrals Advisory Committee in order to obtain their expert advice. Finally, this really is a matter for the General Synod and at this point it is not a matter for either this House or another place.

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness a further question, especially as this is intertwined with the question of State aid and the Government have already undertaken to give State aid to some ecclesiastical buildings. Would she not agree that, because the Cathedrals Advisory Committee was not consulted and the cathedrals are exempt from the faculty jurisdiction which governs parish churches, Caxton's and other books have been sold from ecclesiastical libraries in breach of the trust of benefactors who thought that their gifts would be treasured for all time, and unfortunately restorations and changes have been made, for example —

Several noble Lords: Speech!

My Lords, I think the noble Lord should really keep his remarks a little shorter.

My Lords, it is true that a few years ago Ely Cathedral disposed of the majority of its library, but this was an isolated case. On the whole, the cathedrals have taken advice; they have their own experts and I think that from an architectural point of view, and with regard to the guardianship of their fabrics and books, they behave quite admirably. It is also true that cathedrals are outside the scheme for proposed State aid because it is felt they are able to provide funds for themselves by voluntary effort. I think that covers both the points raised. So far as books are concerned, the Government have no control over the sale of books from anybody, but when it comes to the export of objects of value the cathedrals are under the same constraints as apply to anyone else.