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Conservation: Historic Places of Worship

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 7 December 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to increase support for the conservation of historic places of worship.

The noble Lord said: My Lords:

“Still they stand, the churches of England, their towers grey above billowing globes of elm trees, the red cross of St George flying over their battlements, the duplex envelope system employed for collections, school mistress at the organ, tortoise stove slowly consuming its ration, as the familiar seventeenth century phrases come echoing down arcades of ancient stone”.

John Betjeman wrote those words in the introduction to the Collins Guide to the Parish Churches of England and Wales in 1958. In the half-century since then, the elms have gone, and the cross of St George has become more readily associated with the new national religion of football. My right reverend informant tells me that the duplex system has fallen into desuetude. The flat prose of the late 20th century has replaced 17th-century cadences. While the churches of England mainly still stand, between 1970 and 2004 the Church of England closed some 1,630, and 85 listed churches were actually demolished. The churches that continue to stand defy financial gravity.

In a predominantly secular age, when innovation is our public watchword, why should it matter to us that our heritage of historic places of worship of all faiths should be conserved? It is a question of respect; another of our watchwords. As Simon Jenkins, the latter-day laureate of churches, wrote in England’s Thousand Best Churches:

“Into these churches Englishmen and women have for centuries poured their faith, joy, sorrow, labour and love … The church marked each event in life’s calendar … It was a patron of community ceremonial [and] a gallery of vernacular art”.

The physical manifestation of the church, more often a cumulative creation than a single expression of architecture and design, with its carving in wood and stone, wall paintings and altarpieces, stained glass, brass and iron work, tiles, embroidery, books, language, its music and bells, its whole ritual and life for centuries has met profound human needs, which we no longer know very well how to meet in communal life. These places remain however, for unbelievers too, landmarks and centres and symbols of communal identity. In 2003, 86 per cent of the population visited a church. Some 24 per cent of city dwellers said that they went into a church to find a place in which to be quiet.

The beauty of this holiness is recorded and exhibited not only in Simon Jenkins’s book but in two wonderful volumes published this year. One is A Glimpse of Heaven, with a learned text by Christopher Martin and glorious photographs by Alex Ramsay, which displays a heritage of Roman Catholic churches that has been too little appreciated, not least, as English Heritage acknowledges, in the statutory listing system. In Jewish Heritage in England: An Architectural Guide, Doctor Sharman Kadish documents historic synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. The former Spitalfields Great Synagogue was originally a Huguenot, then a Wesleyan place of worship. It is now the London Jamia mosque. As Doctor Kadish says, it encapsulates on a single site the immigrant history of east London.

There are 16,151 Church of England parish churches in England—more churches than there are petrol stations, as has been noted by Mr Trevor Cooper, chairman of the council of the Ecclesiological Society. Some 13,000 are listed; 4,000 in grade 1 and another 4,000 in grade 2*. Some 45 per cent of all grade 1 listed buildings are Church of England parish churches. In England, there are 3,465 Catholic parish churches, other churches and chapels, and 625 are listed. There are 5,312 Methodist chapels, of which 541 are listed. There are 1,115 United Reformed churches, of which 290 are listed, and 1,809 Baptist churches, with 283 listed. There are 30 listed synagogues. One purpose-built mosque has been listed. A number of others are in historic buildings already listed.

Some £70 million of funding for major repairs to historic places of worship is raised by local congregations. There are 31 county historic churches trusts. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, I hope, will tell us about the Open Churches Trust, which he has founded. A great deal of private generosity and intelligent self-help goes on. For instance, central Norwich, where I live, contains 32 medieval parish churches, which is the largest surviving group in northern Europe. The Norwich Historic Churches Trust, which my noble and special friend Lady Hollis of Heigham was instrumental in establishing, has found innovative uses for 18 redundant churches, including the puppet theatre housed in St James, Whitefriars, and a martial arts centre in St Peter, Parmentergate.

Since 2004, the Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust, HEART, which has just invited me to serve on its board, has sought to bring together all the churches to explore the advantages of caring for them as a group. Working groups have been set up to bring together the clergy, trusts, the council and others. Funding from the East of England Development Agency has made possible a major study of how the whole set of churches can be made financially sustainable, play their part in the local economy, be educationally inspiring and be fully available to the community and visitors.

There are large uncertainties over the future of some churches that are among the most important in the heritage. Of churches illustrated in A Glimpse of Heaven, St Walburge, Preston, a grade 1 listed building and a vast 19th-century church with the tallest spire of any parish church in Britain, is stranded in an area of urban deprivation, while the diocese is having to consider closing churches. The Government have recognised such difficulties and have done much to help. In their response in October to the Select Committee report Protecting and Preserving our Heritage, they stated in terms:

“The Government is committed to keeping the country’s historic churches in a good state of repair”.

DCMS Ministers need no persuading of the importance of the heritage of historic places of worship. That was made clear in Mr David Lammy’s response to the debate in another place on 17 May.

Funding from government and lottery sources will total around £60 million this year. The Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, which returns the VAT paid on repairs to listed places of worship, provides an average of £1 million a month. The Chancellor announced in the Budget that the scheme would continue until 2011 and would be extended to cover professional fees and repairs to clocks, pews, bells and organs. The joint repair scheme for places of worship, run by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund together, has paid more than £90 million since it began. This week, Dame Liz Forgan has announced that the HLF has agreed a dedicated funding programme for places of worship costing some £20 million a year from 2008 to 2013—a difficult period for the fund.

Support for appropriate new uses for the redundant places of worship in their care is an important element in the work of the Churches Conservation Trust and the Historic Chapels Trust. The CCT, which receives half of its funds from the DCMS and a quarter from the Church of England, now cares for 338 historic churches of distinction. Five more churches, all listed in grade 1, have been added to the CCT’s portfolio in the past year, although the DCMS grant to the trust has remained fixed in cash terms since 2001. Some 206 visits to CCT churches were made in 2005-06 by schools and adult education groups. The Historic Chapels Trust, which has a smaller portfolio of non-conformist chapels, Roman Catholic churches, synagogues and private Anglican chapels, redundant as places of worship but of architectural distinction, received 70 per cent of its funding from English Heritage—and I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, who is a trustee of the Historic Chapels Trust.

Many historic places of worship are in good condition, but the burden of repairs on many other churches is heavy. With the need to support the stipends and pensions of the clergy, there is always a temptation for congregations to defer maintenance work and thus store up expensive future trouble. English Heritage considers that many of England’s historic places of worship are approaching a critical time in their lives. Current annual spending from all sources on major repairs to historic places of worship stood at around £115 million in 2004, with a further £19 million spent on Church of England cathedrals, where much has been achieved in recent years. But that is not enough.

The joint English Heritage/Heritage Lottery Fund repair grant scheme receives applications for twice as much as it is able to disburse. English Heritage’s fabric needs survey indicates that the cost of the repairs that ought to be done in the next five years would be £925 million, or £185 million a year. The gap between that £185 million and the total funds raised by congregations and contributed from the lottery and public sources is approximately £82 million. So what is to be done?

As noble Lords know well, English Heritage has issued a call to arms, Inspired!—a call not only to government but to the denominations and the general public. It is a call to all of us to think afresh about respective responsibilities, ranging from the person of modest means who sweeps the church in the true spirit of George Herbert, to the millionaire who resides in the Old Rectory, who might be a generous donor, but, equally, might assume that the parish church is just part of some eternal dispensation.

English Heritage has proposed a fivefold strategy, to be funded by a package of government support costing £8.84 million a year for three years. A one-off sum of £2.52 million would enable English Heritage to rewrite outdated list descriptions for all grade 1 listed places of worship as part of the current reform of heritage protection. The purpose here is to help congregations to understand the value and significance of the historic fabric in their care and so to make better decisions. A sum of £2 million a year for three years would help to build congregations’ capacity to manage their repair and adaptation projects. The main element here would be the creation of 15 full-time historic places of worship support officer posts. A sum of £4 million for three years would fund a new maintenance grant programme to help struggling congregations to reduce their major repair bills in the longer term. English Heritage wants to place alongside the English Heritage/HLF grant scheme for major repairs a new small-grant scheme. An extra £4 million for three years would double the number of repair projects supported over the next three years. Finally, English Heritage is asking the Government for some increase in funding for the Churches Conservation Trust and the Historic Chapels Trust as important safety nets.

English Heritage is not asking the Government to shoulder all the responsibility and pay for everything. The proposition is that the very modest additional expenditure by the Government of £26.52 million over three years would enable us to move intelligently and decisively in the right direction. This strategy seems to me to be modest but realistic and incontrovertibly worth while.

As Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, has said,

“the key to long-term security for historic places of worship will be about understanding the nature of the problem properly, tackling it rationally and methodically, yes partly through more money, but also by helping people on the ground to help themselves by offering support and expertise where it is most needed”.

As David Lammy said on 17 May,

“we need an effective partnership between government, church denominations, heritage specialists and the public”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/5/06; col. 301WH.]

I look forward to the Minister explaining to us what the Government consider that should mean.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for instigating a debate which is very close to my heart. I declare an interest on two counts. I love British churches, and I am the founder of the Open Churches Trust, whose aim has been to keep locked churches open. Probably all of us here have a love of the Pevsner volumes and remember Nikolaus Pevsner saying that there would have been no point in writing some of the volumes if churches had been locked—his work would have been over. That inspired me to found a trust to keep them open. When I started, two in five churches in Britain were open, compared with four in five now.

I think that that is relevant to the debate because we cannot expect the Government to fund everything to do with churches. We know that local communities and parishes have a responsibility there. We also know that certain local parishes are unable to do that because they have ageing communities, and help is probably required there.

Perhaps I may give some examples from the experience of the Open Churches Trust. I apologise for reading from notes, but I think that what I say may point a way forward. A wonderful example is St Agnes at Sefton Park in Liverpool—a gorgeous church by Pearson. My trust gave financial help to keep it open, and we were most proud of that. At St George’s in Cullercoats, Northumberland, we had to provide a security system. The difference is that at St Agnes, Sefton Park, we got local schools involved, whereas that was not possible at St George’s. At St Andrew in Gretton, we got advice for walkers on how to get to the church, and at St Alfrege in Greenwich, which is next door to the Millennium Dome, dome or not, we got 36,000 visitors in the millennium year.

That is by way of saying that I think that the Government can create a climate. It would be fantastic if they were able to suggest to dioceses around the country that support be provided by someone from a central area who could advise on how to raise funds for churches. I am not expecting the Government to do it, except maybe on specific occasions when a community cannot, but would it not be wonderful if the Government were to say, “We will make the wherewithal available for someone to go through the various ways—not just for the Church of England, but for other areas—to fund things”? That is what we found with the Open Churches Trust. We discovered that we do not need to fund most of the churches that are open. If that were possible, the debate would be thrilling. It would be wonderful if the Government felt that help was possible.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, on securing this timely debate this evening.

First, I declare an interest, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, indicated. I am a trustee of the Historic Chapels Trust. This body was set up at the request of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who was formerly chairman of English Heritage. It was set up in 1993—13 years ago. I was asked to be a trustee a mere four years ago.

There are two elements to the question. There are existing and vibrant places of worship, which may be historic. There are also places that are no longer in use that are also historic. It is a real dilemma for churches, centrally and locally, to be thinking about their real job of saving souls and their other job of conserving buildings. For our heritage it is a good thing that the existing church buildings are mainly preferred as places of worship rather than having people meeting in a shed or a tent. Because of our heritage, it is a wonderful thing that the churches that have been handed down are still thought of as the right places to use.

English Heritage, the main heritage body in the country, should be congratulated on producing the booklet, Inspired! Its concern led to the publication of the booklet, which sets out the problem. It lists a number of churches and chapels, but it misses out one or two denominations, so I reckon that there are more than 30,000 churches and chapels, half of which are listed buildings. It sets out five specific proposals in some detail. As I said, the booklet is called, Inspired!, so I ask the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, whether the Government have the inspiration to accede to the five requests.

I return to the Historic Chapels Trust. Looking across the Chamber at the trio of right reverend Prelates, we have to remind ourselves, particularly in this place, of the existence of non-conformist churches and Roman Catholic churches. It is important that historic places of worship go beyond the Church of England. They should certainly include the Church of England, but should also go beyond it.

As a trustee of the Historic Chapels Trust, I am concerned about those places that are no longer in use for public worship. I shall give a case study. The last place that the Historic Chapels Trust took on is the Wainsgate Baptist Chapel above the hills of Hebden Bridge. A handful of worshippers—six or eight—decided to lay down the cause. The chapel is an important one in the Baptist Church’s history, both nationally and internationally. On Saturday last, we held a public meeting in the school room, and although only six or eight people laid down the cause, well over 50 people turned up to talk about the future of the chapel and the way in which it could perhaps be used for other public purposes. Obviously, the best use of a church or chapel is for public worship and, in our case, we are pleased if that can happen occasionally. My point is that 50-odd people turning up last Saturday night means that heritage—church and chapel heritage—can be a popular cause.

The Historic Chapels Trust is a slim organisation: two full-time staff, volunteer trustees and volunteer local committees for each chapel. When the organisation was set up in 1993, the deal was that English Heritage would put up 70 per cent and the trustees would endeavour to raise 30 per cent for administration and repairs. What has happened? English Heritage has not had the resources to keep up the 70 per cent. For example, we have just finished refurbishing Salem Chapel in East Budleigh, Devon. Although there has been Heritage Lottery Fund money, English Heritage gave a fixed £100,000, and the Historic Chapels Trust has had to raise nearly £200,000. The 70:30 deal was not kept.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has been a new player in this, but that has become increasingly difficult. We understand the need, in giving out lottery grants, for multi-usage, access and education, but that can often conflict with our retention of a historic interior. That can go against the rules that have been introduced. Even trying to hit the rules ramps up restoration costs. For our trust, the more chapels we take on, the greater the financial burden. Other independent grant-aiders are getting to the point of fatigue, and heritage funding, from government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, has been in decline.

The main players are clearly the Government—through the DCMS—the government agency English Heritage, the Churches Conservation Trust and the Historic Chapels Trust. Rather than voluntary bodies chasing around wondering if this or that grant is available and it being so difficult for them, I put it to the Minister that, if these structures exist, it is surely not beyond the wit of the Government to gather these people together and confer, working out a sustainable system to keep some of these splendid historic buildings in place.

My Lords, I declare a substantial interest as chairman of the church buildings division of the Church of England. I admire the work of the Historic Chapels Trust. I am in touch with colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church and friends at the Jewish synagogue listed in west London, which I visited on Monday. The Church of England, however, is responsible for 80 per cent of the listed places of worship in this country, so your Lordships can see why I can hardly be described, in that delightful American phrase, as a “non-remunerated endorser” of the case that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, is making.

We had a helpful description of the present financial regime from the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. Of the money spent on repairs each year, 70 per cent is generated by the local community and parish volunteers, so I do not recognise the somewhat elegiac picture sometimes given of these churches. A huge amount of flourishing community life is centred on chapels and other places of worship. The volunteers make heroic efforts and, in consequence, many churches are in a very good state, but there is still an annual funding shortfall for necessary repairs, exclusive of developments, which we estimate at about £54 million. I think the noble Lord’s figure was rather more.

English Heritage makes a very important contribution, particularly through advice and expertise. We entirely support the aims of the “Inspired!” campaign, but the modest sums being asked for reflect realism about the likely scale of funding for heritage, especially with the Olympic Games in view. At present, English Heritage makes a valuable targeted contribution of 6 per cent to the actual amount spent on the annual repair bill, and we devoutly hope that it will be able to continue support at at least that level.

However, as the debate in your Lordships’ House during the passage of the then Licensing Bill demonstrated, and as the speech of the noble Lord has just indicated, it would be a mistake to consign places of worship—churches—to the heritage category alone, and heritage finance cannot cover the real cost of maintaining historic places of worship as assets for the whole community. There are now more churches than post offices. There is abundant hard evidence of the contribution those buildings make to volunteering and cultural life in communities up and down the land. Churches and places of worship need to be considered as part of the way in which Governments achieve objectives that we all have at heart in the fields of social regeneration and education, and in subjects ranging from choral music to the preservation of craft skills. Churches and cathedrals also make a major contribution to the tourist industry and to local economies, yet that reality and potential is so often edited out when development and educational budgets are discussed.

If you go to the family life centre in Angell Town, Brixton, where the young gather in their pre-school nursery in St John’s Church, or visit the facilities for the elderly in St Leonard’s, Bilston, you will see government policy for the young and the old being made possible by the use of a stock of church buildings that it would take riches beyond the dreams of Croesus to replicate today. We produced a discussion paper, Funding of Church Buildings: Next Steps, which invited Members of Parliament to contribute to the debate on the funding of our places of worship. Shortage of time prevents me laying out those proposals in detail, but I hope that any noble Lord who would value a briefing will not hesitate to demand one.

Various things have already emerged. Many of the avenues for increased support that we have suggested are especially relevant to the inner urban scene and, of course, the challenge is particularly acute in rural areas. But even there there are encouraging developments that suggest that given a more flexible and equitable attitude on the part of those who control existing budgets, we could redress the asymmetrical relationship between private and public support for these community assets. The success of the solar panels on St Aldhelm’s church hall in Edmonton has filled me with enthusiasm and opened up a fresh possibility. The many children who, every day, use the hall can see a digital display which shows how much their church is putting into the National Grid. Who will help us design cheaper and more beautiful technology so that places of worship countrywide can reflect the light of the Sun and transform it into energy for the common good? We need some fresh thinking in this area.

In response to Funding of Church Buildings: Next Steps, I received a useful and critical letter asking why the Church of England did not rationalise its stock of buildings like the post office and dispose of the rural surplus. That takes us to the heart of a common, major misunderstanding. The Church of England is a devolved and thoroughly non-conformist institution. The Church Commissioners, whose board I chair, do not own the buildings, which are in the keeping of the local parish and community. That has insulated us against gusts of planning fashion, thank goodness, and has generated astonishing levels of generosity and hard work. Simon Thurley wisely said that it would lead to disaster to interfere with that passionately felt sense of local ownership. But it does mean that any national policy has to proceed by persuasion and incentives.

The reality is that church buildings are used and valued as community assets by a huge proportion of the population, irrespective of their personal faith. They are cultural centres and depositories for the memories of the local community.

For me churches are sacred places which robe our destinies in stone—I do not want to conceal that truth from your Lordships—but that is not the basis for the church's and the chapel’s appeal for the support of public authority. Places of worship are oxygenating plants in our social life. If we are interested in social cohesion, the mosques in east London as well as the churches of Manchester play a vital part. Clear and articulate public recognition of this fact would be an important prelude to responding positively to the plea made by the noble Lord in his opening speech.

Our aim should be a symmetrical relationship between volunteer effort and public funding with 50 per cent of funding for repairs to listed churches coming from public sources of various kinds, existing budgets being opened up to accommodate this, and with places of worship having equal access to development budgets without any prejudice against them as somehow being connected with “faith groups”.

My Lords, I add one non-conformist’s support to what I now understand is another non-conformist in the efforts to consentise this Chamber to the needs of this important aspect of our national heritage.

I stand here as one who by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London was helped to become a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral and also a member of the cathedral council, which has given a rare opportunity to me as a Methodist minister to see from the inside how some of the questions that have been alluded to here are faced on a regular basis.

There has been a massive refurbishment of the cathedral over the past five or six years costing £30 million. It has transformed the cathedral. It was already not only a national asset but a national icon. But it has surpassed all its previous standards and we see it as we have never seen it before. The skills of those who put the finances together to achieve this refurbishment are considerable.

St Paul’s Cathedral stands at the heart of the City of London. Therefore, accessible to those seeking money are avenues to explore that do not exist for everybody, shall we say. At the same time the combination of church-generated funds and funds sought from the local community—admittedly a rather exceptional local community in this case—have achieved this extraordinary accomplishment.

I have noticed in looking at the revenue spending of the cathedral just how dependent it is on visitor numbers. Eighty-two per cent of its revenue costs depend on how many people pass through the doors. When national events require the floor of the cathedral, the loss to the cathedral revenue is considerable. I suspect that that aspect is rarely thought about.

When we have a 9/11 or a 7/7, the impact on the cathedral’s everyday life is very considerable indeed. We had to watch, for example, an extraordinary educational programme by the St Paul’s Institute cut back very severely for two or three years until visitor numbers were regenerated. The educational programme was not aimed specifically at the worshipping congregation, but at all those people working in the City of London. The community dimension, the asset to the City of London and to our national life represented by the cathedral, has to be borne in mind when we look at the questions before us today.

I am also the superintendent minister of a grade 1 listed building, Wesley’s Chapel, built by John Wesley. The same architect designed the Mansion House and other significant buildings in the City of London. We have a very vibrant and growing congregation and we have never claimed a penny from public funds for anything. We have always paid our own bills. I come from an ethos where paying clergy, dealing with the programme costs and refurbishing and maintaining buildings has always been something to be faced by the local congregation. I am proud to say that that is the case.

In my office at City Road, I regularly see representatives from the large majority of the 50 or so national charities headquartered within a mile of us who come to use our space for one meeting or another. That is a regular occurrence. I see Muslim children coming two by two from schools in the East End of London to acclimatise themselves to how Christians go about their ordinary devotional tasks. During Ramadan, people from local offices came to ask whether, as there was not space in their offices for them to say their prayers, they could say them in our space. We were delighted to accommodate them.

We have an opportunity by contributing space such as that which I manage and am responsible for to contribute to the national well-being and the creation of a new climate in which to address some of the very contentious questions that we face in contemporary society. We do not threaten people, but give them the opportunity to consider those questions openly.

I know that one day, the coping stone will fall off; one day, I know, a bit of a moulded ceiling—our Adams-type ceiling—will fall on our worshippers. One day, I know, we will not be able to generate the funds that we need to keep the building in the state in which it needs to be kept. We have never appealed to anyone beyond ourselves before; but, one day, I know that we shall.

English Heritage has played a significant part in the life of Wesley’s Chapel, but let me tell you what it is. When we find a crack in a piece of York stone, English Heritage does not allow us to make a quick-fix reparation. We have to get another bit of York stone to replace the one that has cracked. That is hugely expensive. One day, I know, I shall be obliged to go cap in hand to English Heritage to say, “Your turn now”.

I recognise the combination of resources that must be brought together. We are looking for a new dean for St Paul's Cathedral. I suspect that we will be looking for someone with entrepreneurial rather than spiritual skills in order to keep on finding the money to face those obligations. I wish that that were not the case. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London can perhaps reassure me, but I am sure that noble Lords will see my point. Surely we must keep our space open. There must be a combination of funding from the worshippers and the locality and a responsible attitude to redundant buildings—that the resources released from their sale may be put to restoration costs—but, in the end, we will look beyond those possibilities to the state.

That is a rounded view of the matter and I suspect that my noble friend Lord Howarth, to whom I offer my thanks for initiating the debate, will want to press the Minister to answer those questions.

My Lords, this is indeed a notable day in the history of the House of Lords—possibly even historic. Never before have two Welsh Methodist ministers spoken following each other in this Chamber—and between two Bishops. What a notable day it is. It is most ecumenical.

I was tempted to ask: what is an historic church? I love the churches that we visit—Lincoln Cathedral and other places. I love the majesty of those buildings. You look at the awe-inspiring interiors, the soaring steeples and, in some places, majestic domes, and you say, “This is a wonderful place”. But in Wales, as in rural England, I guess, we have different historic buildings. The structure may not compare with that of the big cathedrals and religious buildings in Wales, as well as in England. You might come from Aberystwyth to a little chapel at Tre’r-ddol, significant because the Welsh revival of 1859 began there. Unfortunately, Tre’r-ddol chapel is now closed. You might then come to the Conwy Valley, where you would see Penmachno, which I imagine all noble Lords will know. Bishop William Morgan lived there at Ty Mawr Wybrnant when he translated the Bible into Welsh in 1588. The Anglican church is there, but that is also closed.

You might then go to Eglwysbach, which is still open but struggling a wee bit, where John Evans, the giant of the Welsh pulpit in the century before last, was brought up and inspired so many people. You will pass place after place, such as a little chapel at Fforddlas, where Begi Owen, the mother of non-conformity in much of north Wales, came from and worshipped. These chapels are now in danger. Some are already closed, and many more are threatened with closure. The number attending is small. A small number of people struggle on to keep their particular place of worship going. I would call many of these people saints, as they give so much in every denomination. The insurance premium for one chapel used to be about £800 a year. If it has four members, they somehow need to raise £200 a head just for that insurance premium.

Then there is the maintenance of places. The smaller the numbers, the more difficult it is for them, until sometimes you are left with three or four ageing people. They are saints, yes, but they suddenly feel that they cannot continue. The secretary retires and the treasurer moves into an old people’s home. All those sorts of things happen, and suddenly that chapel closes. Some of them would unite with another chapel, although that is not always easy. I have gone white trying to unite chapels in parts of Wales. Some will say that they have struggled year after year and do not want to give up their little chapel. You can respect them, even though you try to suggest that they channel their energies, or whatever is left of them, in a different direction.

We need money, as everyone has said. Perhaps Cadw, the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage, will also be able to help in that direction. However, we often need people more than pounds. A little group of people might not really have anyone to look after the finances. Could we not organise it so that someone could come from outside and give the necessary help in that place?

Then there is the question of property and the weather. We have had gale-force winds even in London in the past couple of days, and the tiles have come off the roof. Mrs Roberts or Mrs Jones cannot climb up on the roof to put a tile back. We need help for property—someone from outside to join the four or five local church members to give them confidence and the help that they need. As I said, we need people as well as pounds. I suggest again very briefly that we could have a partnership—I have mentioned this before in the Chamber—between well resourced and well attended churches that could adopt a chapel or church in their vicinity as part of an adopt-a-chapel scheme. One or two of their people might be willing to go there to help to keep the finances in order and to see that those slates go back on the roof. We know that ministers are in short supply in every denomination. One minister cannot really attend to everything. Is it possible to think of a helpline for small churches and chapels, or an office to which we could go to say, “There is a flood in our grounds. Can you come in and give us some sort of help?”? Could we, as an ecumenical body, establish that facility to help those who are in trouble, cannot attend to the problem or need a hand? With these suggestions, I would ask the Government to help us financially but also help us to come together and to share these ideas. I am sure that the people, as well as the pounds, will help us in the future.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for initiating this debate. I speak not only as a bishop of the Church of England but as chairman of the Churches Main Committee, which represents some 40 Christian denominations to the Government, particularly on legislative proposals affecting churches. With the increased understanding of 20th-century architecture and vernacular architecture, more non-Church of England churches may be listed in future. It is very good to see that the DCMS and English Heritage are increasingly realising the role that an apparently modest Cornish chapel, for example, can serve in the community.

So I too am concerned about the need for funding and the shortfall between the amount spent on repairs and that which needs to be spent. Without churches, central and local government could not deliver many of their worthwhile objectives. It is not unreasonable to ask for further financial help to ensure that the buildings that provide these services can be properly repaired and maintained to the high standards that informed conservation rightly demands.

I wish to stress the community benefit, which others have touched on, and the church’s desire to share in this work of serving the whole community. We have a long tradition. Our hospitals, schools and many social services spring from provision first made by many churches. Church buildings of all denominations and those of other faiths increasingly provide a base from which these activities can be carried out and, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, hinted, the people to provide them.

In my diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, where 21 of our parishes are among the 10 per cent most deprived areas in England, 85 churches offer parental support in the form of toddler groups; 80 churches offer drop-in, lunch and other facilities for elderly and retired people; 26 churches, in a practical way, work with homeless people; 13 churches work with refugees and asylum seekers; 26 churches work with offenders, ex-offenders and their families; and 22 churches support people with drug and alcohol problems. If those volunteers had to be paid, even at the minimum wage, the effect on the public purse would be considerable. In Yorkshire alone, it was estimated in 2002 that the value of social work voluntarily carried out by church communities was between £55 million and £75 million a year, which is more than the annual shortfall we estimate on repairs to Church of England buildings.

Our emphasis today is on support for historic places of worship. These churches also embody the living nature of the historic environment. Over the past 20 years, there has been an increasing recognition that buildings are best preserved if they are loved, looked after and maintained by willing owners and that adaptation by an owner who cares for the building is better than preservation unchanged but lacking use. In almost every community the oldest, most complex and most interesting building still in its original use is likely to be the church.

The Church of England, the Church in Wales, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Reform Church, the Methodist Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain all benefit from what is often misnamed the ecclesiastical exemption. All have a comprehensive system of control over their own buildings which balances the needs of care and conservation with the prime purpose of places of worship as centres of worship and mission. We are conscious of the responsibility that that places on each of these churches. It was good news last year when the Government firmly accepted that the exemption should continue and gave it their confidence. We now look forward to the DCMS proposals for changing the heritage protection regime and hope that the exemption arrangements will receive an equal vote of confidence in those proposals. But no system is perfect, and congregations, like virtually all building owners, are anxious to see simplification, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt. The Church of England is working with English Heritage and local partners in two cathedrals, Canterbury and Rochester, and in one deanery, Taunton, to see how we can work together to simplify the different consents and develop a more streamlined, user-friendly framework.

One further change due to take effect early next year is the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure under which a Church of England church can lease part of its building for other purposes. Previously that could be done only by making the church partially redundant, giving the negative if erroneous message that the church was closing. This new procedure will enable many churches literally to open their doors to good community uses while remaining places of worship. That can only help the increased sense of partnership that we wish to develop for the good of our buildings and communities.

I believe that in 50 to 100 years’ time history will judge us harshly and we will perhaps not be forgiven if, in our generation, we have failed to secure our wonderful heritage of historic places of worship and not enabled them to remain, as they always have been, vibrant places at the very heart of our communities. I hope the Minister will give the House some encouragement in his response.

My Lords, on Monday, my NHS chiropodist showed me a newspaper cartoon depicting a man fleeing a high street festooned with seasonal bunting, entering a church and saying to the surprised vicar, “Can I shelter in your church, vicar? I’m trying to escape Christmas”. That cartoon accurately illustrates today’s debate. In the face of dwindling congregations and diminishing resources, how do we fill our church buildings again and how do we find the resources to repair, maintain, adapt and update our magnificent stock of churches and cathedrals serving local communities?

I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport for taking up the theme of a debate that I moved some two years ago in your Lordships’ House and for so gracefully introducing his debate tonight. I am also grateful for English Heritage’s Inspired! and for the Church of England’s Funding of Church Buildings: Next Steps, which rightly asserts that the church—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London repeated it today—is asking for money not for its mission but for its buildings. The latter is a well argued and welcome document but has some lapses in the evidence presented. For instance, you cannot compare cinema numbers with the numbers of those who come to church. In the one instance people are paying; in the second, some of those coming are attending family births, marriages or deaths.

A further shortcoming is that both documents understandably concern themselves with five-year plans for repairs and attempts to recover the situation and stabilise the problem, but we desperately need longer-term thinking and plans. We need to be much more imaginative about sources of funding and the complementary uses that churches and church buildings might be put to. In developing these longer-term plans the central criterion is the need to maintain sustainable communities, with church and non-church-related activities taking advantage of church buildings which are so often located at the heart of viable or revivable local communities.

I suggest that three interested parties are needed to develop this long-term planning. The first is the overwhelming majority of citizens who, like me, do not go to the local church—I include myself as a loyal member of God’s opposition. We gazers-on from the outside must wake up and get stuck in to save our local churches from falling apart by actively participating in local support groups, supporting local funding or consenting to tax revenues being used by the Government to prevent the dissolution of the fabric and character of our churches and cathedrals.

Secondly, the established church must do more. It must draw upon the £4,600 million tied up in its land assets and use a small percentage for capital purposes. This was true in the 19th century when many churches were built using the capital from those land assets, and it would be a small dent in that land block. It is imperative that it contributes by matching and complementing the work of the wonderful but diminishing congregations who work so hard to find church funds. We must have more imaginative ideas, like civil awards for church wardens, administrators, roofers, builders, gardeners and those who have given their time and skill in lieu of money to save their local church. The local authority could have the responsibility for giving out such awards.

The churches must be more open to non-church activities that are nevertheless respectful of the church as a place of worship. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on the reopened St George’s, Bloomsbury, which, according to the Camden New Journal, is now hosting a chess night for youngsters and another chess night for unsung Boris Spasskys who play chess, like me. In the longer term, when leasing part of the general church estate, the church must be prepared to work more and serve with others in the community who have an interest in using these buildings.

A third group of people concerned is the Government, and I hope my noble friend will respond positively tonight. The Government must play a larger role in thinking about this longer planning. I know there is reluctance on their part because they see what has happened in France, and they are worried because in France the responsibility has fallen almost entirely to the state, but they have to be much more engaged, especially in planning, as well as providing money. They must define the criteria according to which government money is used to ensure that it is for the purposes the agreed parties have in mind and that it is properly accounted for.

I give a final example. I can say that we in this Parliament have started at home. At the kind invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, I attended St Mary Undercroft on Monday evening, on our own premises, to watch young Christians from Ghana singing wonderful hymns and carols and swaying to the music. I was almost encouraged to join in the swaying, if not the singing; after all, although an atheist, I have never understood why God should have all the best tunes.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Representative Body of the Church in Wales, and therefore the representative of the disestablished church that deals with the devolved Government. However, I have been encouraged by the two noble Lords from Wales to speak at this moment.

Our problems in Wales, as noble Lords will readily recognise, are identical to those in England, although on a much smaller scale: 1,100 listed churches out of 1,500 in total. The eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, when he used Betjeman’s words to describe the churches of England and Wales, encouraged me to stand, as did the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, when he talked about British churches.

I am inspired by Inspired! and I hope that there are elements we can take across Offa’s Dyke. I urge the Government to continue their support, as well as that of the Heritage Lottery Fund, because, as we all know and as has been so eloquently said, the heritage is important. The churches are not just heritage; they should be living edifices, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London illustrated. They are vital to the well-being of our community in this country: Wales, Scotland, England and, indeed, Northern Ireland.

In addition to the trusts mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Lloyd-Webber and Lord Shutt of Greetland, could the Government look at matched funding? I suggest that in this debate we have forgotten the enormous contribution of parishioners, in addition to what is given weekly by people of all denominations who attend services, as well as visitors. We have a very good 28 per cent tax relief scheme for our normal donations, but if we could focus on what is required for our buildings and maintenance and then do something innovative such as introduce a form of matched funding, from wherever it may come, we could really make a difference.

As has been illustrated tonight, the gap between what we have and what we need is enormous. We will be dancing around this problem until we can look at it slightly differently.

My Lords, this has been an inspiring debate. I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, for initiating it. We have heard a huge range of expertise, commitment and passion—it has been quite wonderful. We have heard from a number of trustees of the bodies charged with trying to keep up the maintenance of many of our historic places of worship.

Many of us, even though we are not churchgoers, are reminded daily of the importance of places of worship in our landscape and communities. I live in Clapham; I work in the City and here in Westminster, and every day I am surrounded by historic places of worship. Many of us have strong family ties with churches. I was fascinated to hear my noble friend Lord Roberts talk about the chapels of north Wales. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, is charged with the maintenance of many of the historic churches in Wales. The churches in north Wales with which I have a particular connection are Gresford and Wrexham—both very fine; I also have a connection with churches in Westmoreland. It is not just Christian places of worship that are affected. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London mentioned historic synagogues. I welcome English Heritage’s Inspired! campaign, which has inspired this debate.

Before talking about the problems of our churches, it is important to acknowledge that some existing schemes have helped; many of them have already been mentioned. The listed places of worship grant scheme returns VAT on repairs to listed places of worship; it is worth approximately £12 million per annum, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, pointed out. The joint repairs scheme operated by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund is worth £25 million per annum. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, also pointed out that the Churches Conservation Trust receives £3 million in direct funding from the DCMS and funds 335 historic churches. Then there is the Historic Chapels Trust, which my noble friend Lord Shutt talked about so eloquently, and £1 million per annum is directly provided by English Heritage for cathedral repair.

All these are good schemes, but much of the funding has fallen in real terms over the years, particularly that from English Heritage. There are other problems. When St Paul’s applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £6 million to complete a restoration project, it was turned down, it appears, on the ground that it was too exclusive—whatever that means. The money paid out by English Heritage over the years has steadily fallen, in line with its government grant, and now we are down to £1 million for cathedral repairs.

In April 2005, I asked a Question specifically about cathedrals and received a rather rose-tinted Answer. But the poor state of repair of our places of worship is starker than ever. There are some 14,000 listed places of worship. English Heritage estimates that we will need £925 million over the next five years to maintain them. The Church of England estimates that £100 million will need to be spent on our cathedrals in the next five years. There are 42 cathedrals, 38 of which are listed. One million pounds seems a very small sum in relation to those liabilities and maintenance obligations. Cathedrals such as Canterbury, York, Rochester and Salisbury are in very poor shape and clearly need further funding. Those who are responsible for maintaining places of worship are concerned also about the impact of the Olympic Games on grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, particularly as the cost of the Games seems to be escalating.

However, we need constructively to discuss how more funding can be achieved. No particular party, let alone my own, can give an easy promise of further funding in the current climate. We have arguments within, as much as between, our parties about priorities. Faith communities and congregations raise considerable funds. Cathedrals raise funds through entrance charges. I was most interested to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said about fresh thinking. I was interested, too, in what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham had to say on this subject. I recently read an interesting article about a business consultancy called Ecclesiastical Property Solutions which was set up in 2004 by the Reverend Andrew Mottram to assist churches in managing their properties. It is in that context that what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham said about changes in consents and planning was particularly relevant.

The Church of England made a major contribution in 2004 with its report, Building Faith in our Future, which set out what volunteers could do. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, it involves people as well as pounds. Clearly, faith groups need to be responsible, as the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee pointed out, but, for major repairs, we must admit that existing funding through English Heritage—I think that it is common ground among all those taking part in this debate—is inadequate.

Will the Government respond to the recommendations of that Select Committee; namely, that, in real terms, funding for English Heritage should be returned to what it was five to 10 years ago? Will the DCMS make representations—or has it already made them—to the Treasury for a further £26 million as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, to be spent on listing activity, support officers and maintenance, as proposed in the five-point campaign of English Heritage?

We should all listen to the injunction to us by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, to share ideas and come together in trying to solve some of these problems. English Heritage has given a new impetus to this issue. I hope that we will take its warnings very seriously.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for introducing this debate, which has been particularly fascinating. I declare an interest as a patron of livings, a trustee of various church trusts involved in the maintenance of churches and a member of more than one parochial church council. If that is not devotion to the church, I do not know what is.

I am a supporter of the church, but your Lordships must appreciate that the church, like any institution, has to evolve; it cannot stay stationary. Declining congregations will mean declining numbers of churches. Within that context, the church gives to this country a fantastic cultural and spiritual heritage. It would be appalling to think that that could be diminished and done away with.

Much of what I wanted to say today has already been said rather more eloquently than I would have said it. I repeat in particular the endorsement of English Heritage’s initiative by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and many other noble Lords.

It is very easy when looking at this sort of thing to say that the Government should just dish out the cash and all will be all right. The church in this country has a wonderful diversity, with many churches with a wonderful individuality, and it would be a great pity if a funding situation was created whereby we lost the participation of the individuals who give so much and of those volunteers without whom the work would not be possible, because there would simply not be funds available to continue the work done on a voluntary basis, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, pointed out earlier. It is vital and almost as much a part of our heritage as the buildings themselves.

The other benefit of English Heritage’s plan is that it would maintain the individuality of the churches and enable individual solutions to be offered, which is difficult with a central organisation and plan and central government interference. It is fantastic that so much can be done in such different ways under the present arrangements. From my personal experience, I can say that a very modest amount of help and assistance in how to do things enables huge amounts of funding and other contributions to be made to the local parishes. I have funded two trusts for churches, and it has been wonderful to see how those who do not attend churches are prepared to give regularly through bankers’ orders, because they want to be married and buried there. We should take advantage of that, as it is the sort of thing that is more difficult for central government to do.

I do not want to waste your Lordships’ time when so much has been said, but I urge the Government to support the initiative of English Heritage.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Howarth for initiating this debate. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that it has been inspiring and a major debate. What has been particularly interesting about it is the common theme or shared view that perhaps, instead of people just looking to government, government should act as a catalyst. We could all get together and think how we could raise more funds for our churches. That is a very important point, which was made by a number of noble Lords and for which I am very grateful.

I thank the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham for their contributions, which, given their vested interests, were very detached and extraordinarily helpful.

The Government take extremely seriously their responsibilities to maintain our places of worship. We want to be certain that these unique buildings are here to be enjoyed by this and future generations. Here I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, and his trust. He made a very interesting point, connected to the first point that I made, about the Government acting as a catalyst in fundraising. The Church of England has a very good website called churchcare.co.uk. DCMS officials told me after the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, that they will look to see how expertise can be shared further to enable the guardians of all historic faith buildings effectively to tap into resources. So that is an idea that can be developed outside this debate.

We are talking about buildings that are the finest work of master craftsmen. We recognise that they are unique in their contribution to the nation’s heritage and that, for the most part, they have been in the same continuous use for worship for many, many generations.

We also recognise that our places of worship fulfil vital roles in communities. That point was made by practically every speaker, particularly by my noble friend Lord Harrison. As we heard, they are centres for community events where volunteers perform countless valuable functions in society such as supporting elderly people, providing advice and counselling, coffee mornings, lunch clubs and childcare. Several noble Lords mentioned these things. They are the glue that holds many communities together. Cathedrals, too, in addition to operating as places of worship, with growing congregations, and, again, doing vital work in communities, act as a major magnet for visitors to our cities.

While there is a lot of government and Lottery help available towards the cost of major repairs—I shall come to that in a moment—we recognise that, in many cases, routine maintenance and repairs would not happen were it not for the tireless work, both practical and in fundraising, of many volunteers. That point was made many times this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said that £70 million is raised each year and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, described the volunteers as saints. That is a very apt description. These volunteers are selfless in their devotion to their places of worship. This sense of ownership is actually priceless, but it is not, of course, a substitute for necessary grant funding; it augments it.

It is true to say that we know more about the state of our historic church and cathedral buildings than we do about any other group of historic buildings. Two years ago the report, Building Faith in our Future, was published. English Heritage’s Inspired! campaign was mentioned by a number of noble Lords. It was a catalyst for thought. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, mentioned its five proposals. The Government welcome the new data provided by the relevant document. However, the Government allow English Heritage the flexibility to decide how to allocate its grant of £130 million a year among its responsibilities to the historic environment it deems priorities.

English Heritage has also worked with the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church and Jewish Heritage UK to explore the significance of their respective churches and synagogues as part of the nation’s heritage. I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out the unprecedented level of support for the conservation of our historic places of worship that this Government have put in place. More grant funding is dedicated to this sector of the historic environment than any other.

Funding is made available either directly from government or though sponsored bodies. Taken together, funding for conservation of historic places of worship was well over £60 million this year. We have heard about the listed places of worship grant scheme. The scheme makes grants equivalent to the VAT incurred in repairing listed places of worship. Christian denominations benefit more in this instance simply because they have more listed buildings in their possession, as the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of London told us.

We recently passed the milestone of £50 million having been given out under this scheme since 2001. We regularly give out over £1 million per month. Significant sums are put back into listed faith buildings. In fact, over 8,500 buildings—a large proportion of this country’s historic ecclesiastical estate—have benefited. This is a temporary scheme, although it is in place until 2011. While it is in place, the Government have been and are continuing to seek agreement at European level to offer a permanently reduced VAT rate on church repairs.

Noble Lords will also be aware that, in this year’s Budget, additions were made to the scope of the scheme. Another major plank in the funding available is the joint scheme in place from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has been mentioned. This year’s grants total £24.5 million, which takes the total given out under this scheme since it started to almost £90 million. Over 1,000 buildings have received grants. Cathedrals also have dedicated funding in place for repair from English Heritage. Some £42 million has been given out since 1991, and support continues at £1 million per year, which is to be generously matched for the next three years by the Wolfson Foundation.

I should mention also the landfill tax credit scheme, which has not been mentioned this evening. Landfill operators are encouraged and enabled to support a wide range of environmental projects by being given a 90 per cent tax credit against their donations to environmental bodies. Churches within 10 miles of a landfill site can benefit. In fact, over £17 million has been disbursed to faith groups in this way. We have heard about the Churches Conservation Trust, where £3 million a year is given out, and we have also talked about the Heritage Lottery Fund. My noble friend Lord Howarth mentioned that yesterday the HLF renewed its commitment to funding in places of worship with a £20 million grant for 2008, and a dedicated funding programme for places of worship that takes us through to 2013.

A number of noble Lords raised the heritage protection review, and they mentioned the idea that planning matters should be made far simpler. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham asked how we can reduce the administrative burdens on churches associated with adapting buildings to meet future challenges. The Government are keen to assist where possible in reducing those burdens. Already, under the ecclesiastical exemption, the major denominations are exempt from the need to obtain listed building consents for work to their historic church buildings.

The Government have now reviewed the ways in which we protect all our historic buildings, and this will be the subject of a White Paper to be published shortly. The White Paper will set out our proposals for a new heritage system that is simpler, more open and flexible. The White Paper will address a range of issues, including the burden of current consent regimes and the scope for management agreements to reduce that burden. The churches, as they seek to engage more with local communities’ heritage partnership agreements, will provide the opportunity to remove the need for repeated consent applications for the kind of work that crops up regularly over time or which might be needed at different sites. We accept that there is a problem here, and we are going to do something about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, raised the point about St Paul’s Cathedral’s request being rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund. What he said was not quite accurate, but I will give him the note afterwards so that he can read it.

In conclusion, we will continue to work with the Church of England, with the other Christian denomination, and with the other faith groups, both directly and via our sponsored bodies, to explore how we can secure together a sustainable future for all our historic places of worship. As a gloss on that final paragraph, the idea that has emerged this evening from a number of noble Lords about working together, coming up with new ideas, and using the Government as a catalyst is extremely valuable. I am most grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to what has been a really fascinating short debate.

House adjourned at 6.39 pm.