Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the future of English cathedrals.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House notes the future of English cathedrals. In doing so, I cast no aspersions on cathedrals in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland: I wish to concentrate today on the cathedrals of the established Church of England.
I am delighted to have this opportunity and I am most grateful to those colleagues in all parts of your Lordships’ House who have put their names down to speak. I am particularly glad that I will be followed in the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, the distinguished chairman of English Heritage, who has made such a magnificent contribution to causes about which we both care deeply. I am also very glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester has put his name down to make his maiden speech. I am sure the House looks forward to what he has to say.
After I leave the Chamber I shall be going to King’s Cross to catch the train to Newark. It will stop at Peterborough and I will see the cathedral there. If I had the time, I could alight and go and admire the tomb of Catherine of Aragon. I could even get a train to Ely to see that glorious lantern tower rising above the fenland. In fact, I shall get off at Newark and go to my home in Lincoln.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I beg leave to agree with Pugin, Ruskin and Alec Clifton-Taylor that Lincoln is the fairest cathedral of them all. Of course, if I stayed on the train, I could go to York, that most magnificent and greatest in size of all our Gothic cathedrals, and admire the wonderful stained glass windows. I could continue to Durham, where the noblest Romanesque building in this country dominates the landscape—
“Half church of God, half castle ‘gainst the Scot”,
as Sir Walter Scott said.
However, I will not be able to do any of those things today.
I want to reflect briefly on the importance of our English cathedrals. We could all agree that one comes closest to the soul and story of a nation in its great buildings. That is nowhere truer than in our wonderful English cathedrals, especially the pre-Reformation cathedrals and those ancient foundations that were designated cathedrals either in the 16th century or after. However, we are talking not just of noble historic buildings of often unsurpassable beauty but of living, breathing, vibrant buildings, and it is important that we recognise that. They are centres of worship; that is their primary purpose, and those of us who are Christians, particularly those of us who are members of the Anglican Church, will always regard that as their primary purpose.
However, they are centres not just of worship but of music, craftsmanship and of their individual communities. I seek in this debate to underline the continuing contribution of the 42 diocesan cathedrals of England—plus, of course, the two royal peculiars of Westminster Abbey and St George’s, Windsor, which are always taken together—to rejoice at what they are and what they represent, and to stress how crucial it is that their future should be secure. We rightly talk and behave as if they belong to us all, and as cathedrals of the established church they do. Each week around 40,000 people worship in our cathedrals; last Christmas season something like a million people worshipped in the cathedrals of this land.
However, it is not just for their services that we regard them as we do. Last week I had the honour of convening a meeting between parliamentarians from both Houses and deans of English cathedrals. A number of your Lordships who are in the Chamber today were present at that meeting. It was a very interesting occasion because we were reminded by those who have the daily charge of our cathedrals what a key role they play in the social, cultural, civic and national life of England. We heard about Bradford Cathedral—not perhaps the most distinguished architecturally, although it is a very fine building, but a church where people of all communities, and faith communities in particular, are able to come together for mutual fellowship and sustenance.
We heard about Wells Cathedral—Wells, that wonderful small city, surrounded by marvellous countryside that nevertheless has many problems within it. We heard from the dean how Wells ministers to that rural community. We were reminded about how often cathedrals are the centres for concerts, exhibitions and graduation ceremonies. Only three weeks ago I went to Southwell Cathedral. There was a graduation ceremony taking place when I arrived. I went to see the exhibition to mark the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer and the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. I talked to the dean and became conscious of how that cathedral, in a very small city, was the focal point for miles around. We were reminded at the meeting last week of how, at moments of sadness and rejoicing, a cathedral was a place where people came together. One thought of Soham and Ely and, on a much happier note, every cathedral in England this year has had a special service to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen.
However, when all too easily we take for granted the beauty and dignity of our cathedrals and their surroundings, we also tend to take for granted the glory of the music and the excellence of the craftsmanship. Even the fact that cathedrals continuously patronise the arts in the best possible way tends to be taken for granted, too. I was delighted when a couple of years ago English Heritage published a document that concentrated on the new things which have been built in and around our cathedrals, highlighting in particular the sculpture in Lincoln and the magnificent tower at Bury St Edmunds, which people now talk of as if it had been there for centuries. When we take these things for granted, we ought to remind ourselves that they do not just happen; they all come at a price.
I am glad that we do not have the French system where all the fabric of religious buildings is vested in the state. That would be a great pity, and I know of no dean and do not yet know of any bishop—perhaps I will be disabused today—who takes a different view. The pride and sense of local patriotism that leads to fundraising through a sense of belonging to a community are absolutely irreplaceable and beyond price. But we have to recognise that there is no automatic direct funding from the state to support our cathedrals, nor is there such funding from the Church Commissioners. They provide for the stipend of the dean and two canons, but that is about all. To a large degree the cathedrals are still self-financing. As the Dean of Lincoln Cathedral, Philip Buckler, said to me earlier this week, cathedrals value their independence but not their isolation.
Things are better than they were. When I entered another place in 1970, there were no state grants at all. I served on the Historic Buildings Council and we were expressly forbidden to give grants to places of worship. I introduced a Bill to provide state aid for parish churches. The campaign was successful and it was followed by one for cathedrals. We are all glad and grateful for that. We are particularly grateful to English Heritage for what it has done, and I shall say a word or two more about that in a moment. But although things are better than they were, there are still real problems. This year we had the VAT bombshell in the Budget. The Chancellor has responded and we are grateful.
Listed places of worship will continue to benefit, but let us remember that each cathedral is at the centre of a series of buildings. Almost every cathedral has a close, just as we have our minster yard in Lincoln. The cathedral is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of often incredibly important medieval and later buildings. The VAT exemption does not touch anything other than the actual place of worship. It is also limited to the year 2015, so there is no certainty of continuity. That is a pity and a great worry to those who are concerned with these issues. Money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, for which again we are all grateful, can go to interpretive schemes and to new extensions but not to the maintenance of the actual fabric of the cathedral.
All this must be seen in a context where, as we speak, Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of the Church of England, will need £50 million over the next five years. Lichfield, which used to be my diocesan cathedral, has had to raise and spend £5 million over the past five years and will need another £7 million in the five years ahead. At Lincoln we will need £16 million over the next 10 years. All this is in addition to the £50,000 a week that it costs to keep the cathedral open. It is a similar figure in Winchester and many other places.
English Heritage has been put in a very difficult position. It has had its own grant reduced. That has meant that the carefully worked out strategy between it and the cathedrals has been to a degree undermined. That is partly because of diversion of resources to the Olympic Games. We have to face up to that. The Heritage Lottery Fund has also had resources that might have been devoted to some of the causes that are dear to us in the Chamber today diverted to the Olympic project. I wish the Olympics every success but there has been a distortion of priorities in recent years that needs to be put right.
We must recognise in all of this the positive contribution that cathedrals make to the local and national economy, music, craftsmanship and employment. Although it is wrong to define the importance of our cathedrals in terms of tourism, we must remember that those who bring so much much-needed money and, indirectly, employment to our country are attracted by our great buildings. They are attracted particularly to the great country houses and cathedrals of this country.
I make a plea to the Minister that she should discuss this matter with the Chancellor, the Culture Secretary and others. I would like to see a more generous interpretation of the VAT exemptions. That is crucially important. In Lichfield, the dean has pointed out to me that one project alone is likely to cost another £500,000 as a result of recently announced changes. That money is not easily found.
I pitch my request at a very modest level. I would like £50 million provided as an endowment for the cathedrals of England over the next five years, with the money given to and channelled through English Heritage, which has the expertise to liaise and to distribute it. That would be a particularly appropriate gesture in the year of the Diamond Jubilee, bearing in mind that the Queen is after all Supreme Governor of the Church of England. I do not think that many people in the land who appreciate things of enduring beauty and wealth, whatever their religious persuasion, would begrudge that very modest sum. I would like to feel that we could have a promise that that will be discussed. Of course, my noble friend cannot make an exact promise at the Dispatch Box.
There are two enduring images of this country perhaps above all others: Constable’s painting of Salisbury with the spire above the meadows and, from a more recent period, the picture of St Paul’s in the Blitz, rising above the smoke. No nation can afford to call itself civilised if it allows the spire of Salisbury or the dome of St Paul’s to be put at risk.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord and to congratulate him on securing the debate. He has been an amazingly effective champion for aspects of our heritage. I very much welcome what he said today and am grateful for the generous remarks he made both about English Heritage and my stewardship of it. I very much endorse what he asked the Minister for; it is not easy for us to ask in our own name for additional funding. To make such a case is commendable because English Heritage is known to have world-class expertise and judgment in these affairs. If the House will allow me, I will talk a little about our work in respect of cathedrals. Of course, I declare my interest as chair.
It is significant that the idea of the cathedral has a much wider currency than the notion of a building or even of one faith. When we say that something is cathedral-like we mean that it is of extraordinary scale and splendour. It makes us wonder in awe at how it was constructed and by whom. When we see the traces of those early and brilliant builders, designers and engineers, we understand that both faith and genius transcend time. These places are indeed held in trust for ever and for everyone, so they obviously occupy the pinnacle of our work at English Heritage in many different ways. It is a privilege for me, as chair of English Heritage, to have the opportunity to visit so many, and to do so in the company of the people who love, cherish and know more about them: the deans, the conservation architects, the craftspeople, and indeed people from English Heritage itself, who are very fine historians. When I visit them I also get a sense of the challenges that they face, and the ambitions that they hold for the future. In his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, displayed a wonderful balance between celebration and concern about the sorts of issues that cathedrals now face, and the choices before them; choices that include opening the doors ever wider to more diverse, more challenged communities, and the responsibility for those communities that cathedrals have held over the centuries.
In my excursions I go to some very high places, to see for myself the work that is being done on the exteriors of cathedrals. The other day I was clinging on to the Norman ironwork on the great Norman windows of Canterbury Cathedral. When I managed to get down from the scaffolding I went down to the workshops to see how the glass is being conserved, and saw the extraordinary delicacy of the work being done. I also recently crawled over the roof over the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey and saw how the Victorian engineers had tried very hard to improve on what their medieval predecessors had done, and how they had found that the engineering genius of the medieval craftsmen was in some ways so much superior to their own. It is wonderful that we maintain those traditions of celebrating in stone the work of the craftsman. On the Chapter House finial you will now find the faces of the modern stonemasons who did the work—including a Sikh, who led the team—looking very sternly up Whitehall.
The work of restoration and repair—conservation of brick, glass, wood, paintings, silver and so much else—is endless and expensive. The good news is that our cathedrals, due to the loving care and craftsmanship of which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has spoken, have never been in better shape. That makes the scale of the challenge for the future rather immense. The story spans two decades, from the first fabric survey that English Heritage did in 1991, which revealed that £164 million needed to be spent on repair and rescue over the next decade, to our updating survey in 2009, which was repeated in partnership with the Association of English Cathedrals and the Catholic Church’s Patrimony Committee. In 1991, when we did the work, it was perfectly clear that many cathedrals, as measured against our buildings at risk register, were classified as being at risk of loss of their historic fabric—in short, they were buildings at risk. In 2009, the survey revealed that the overall state of repair had improved dramatically.
How had this been done? Well, of course it has taken a great deal of money, and I will give your Lordships some figures. However, it has also required a great deal of partnership and focus to address what needed doing after the alarming diagnosis in 1991. Funding was then made available from the Government, with which English Heritage constructed a dedicated grant scheme, and that ran until the last offers were made in 2009-10. Grants worth £48.6 million were made available to 518 cathedrals. Indeed, five cathedrals, which presented the greatest challenges—Salisbury, Lincoln, Ely, Worcester and Liverpool—received almost £20 million. The partners in this massive effort were the Wolfson Foundation, which helped us toward the end of the scheme, and of course, the Heritage Lottery Fund, which gave £45 million to over 100 cathedrals.
We are, therefore, genuinely all in this together. I pay tribute to the Cathedrals and Church Buildings Division of the Church of England—and in particular to Janet Gough—for the partnerships that it has brokered with partners such as the Wolfson Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and others in order to finance the Cathedral Fabric Repair Fund.
We have done different things. We at English Heritage address the urgent repairs: the high level stonework, the roofing and rainwater goods. It is not glamorous work, but my word, it is very important, because without that, nothing else can be achieved. Many of the Heritage Lottery Fund projects have supported not only conservation, but wider public access, and the enjoyment and understanding of our cathedrals. For example, £10.5 million went to the York Minster Revealed project, which is not only securing the great east window, but is showing every visitor who is interested how glass is conserved, £2 million went to restore Birmingham’s cathedral graveyard to its 18th century design and Durham cathedral has received a first stage pass to celebrate the Venerable Bede and the arrival of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Where are we now? The 2009 survey revealed that there had been dramatic improvements, but that another £110 million was necessary over the new decade for ongoing care and maintenance. For example, £63 million was necessary for just five cathedrals: Canterbury, Chichester, Lincoln, Salisbury and York. English Heritage continues to be engaged with Lincoln because of the scale of the challenge. We have recently given £750,000. However, that grant has finished and we have turned our focus to areas of equal concern to the Anglican church and other faiths—parish churches and churches in the community—and the enormous challenge there, and I am pleased to say that Lincoln is now the only cathedral on the risk register.
So much has depended upon the skill and craftsmanship of the people at work. I have the pleasure of seeing it regularly. For example, in Hereford, in a lean-to shed, three apprentices—apprentices are often female these days, and often young—working just as the medieval stone masons did, carve and do the facing work in front of all the visitors who cross the precinct. It is indeed a medieval scene. These skills are being inspired and nurtured by our cathedrals, and I am delighted to say that there are increasing numbers of schemes for training and recognising these crafts because historic building skills do not belong in the past. They have as much potential for growth and are as much of an assistance to our economy and to the creation of jobs as many of our other building crafts. That is where cathedrals fit in to the national economic challenge. They are places of prayer and watchfulness, but they are also places capable of generating huge prosperity. In 2004, it was estimated that their economic impact was about £150 million.
Facing these future challenges is the way in which English Heritage wants to engage with cathedrals. Our immediate responsibility is for the protection of the fabric, hence our concern about metal theft and the guidance we have produced for cathedrals and places of worship on how to tackle it, our concern about the impact of VAT, which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, described very concisely and well, and our continuing concern with VAT. This is not a problem that is going to go away, particularly in relation to charities that are looking after listed buildings with very little support and scope and even to owners of historic homes.
We also work with cathedrals to help them realise their highest ambitions for the future. For example, our work Creativity and Care celebrated Michael Hopkin’s magnificent extension to Norwich Cathedral, but it also points out that the mundane can be made beautiful: for example, the new fire doors at Winchester Cathedral. The challenge to every cathedral today is to remake itself as the heart and spirit of the community and to provide the cafes, lavatories, bookshops and educational spaces that enable people to feel that they belong there and understand the place and to become what Frank Field called,
“wise and willing midwives to future glories”.
We celebrated that in Creativity and Care. I remember the magnificent Tom Denny windows in Hereford Cathedral and the magnificent new font in Salisbury Cathedral. Our funding may not be what it was, but our spirit is as buoyant and passionate as ever about pursuing the partnership that cathedrals want from English Heritage, and we are happy and proud to provide it.
My Lords, the timing is tight on speeches in this debate, so I would be very grateful if noble Lords will restrict their comments to 10 minutes.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend very sincerely on obtaining this debate, and I am delighted and humbled to take part. By comparison with him, I am a very ordinary Anglican. I am particularly grateful to be able to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, because she has led the English Heritage programme, not just in this field, of course, but in other fields, with great success and distinction. There is wide appreciation, which I share, of the fact that English cathedrals have an historical and continuing role not only as centres for active Christianity in our communities but as great historic buildings of wide architectural and cultural significance.
If I have any right to speak in this debate, it is as a failed architect. I had to draw cathedrals as a student and then went on to be a senior member of the RIBA staff. More importantly, as an ordinary man in the pew, I have had the most extraordinary experiences in various cathedrals. I witnessed the ordination of my two brothers in Guildford and Wells Cathedrals—an interesting contrast there. I remember taking my mother, who lost two of her much beloved elder brothers in the First World War, to a performance of the “War Requiem” in Exeter Cathedral, which was both a great cultural and religious occasion and very moving for both of us. As a humble Anglican, I witnessed a great movement forward when seven women priests were ordained in Truro Cathedral.
My only family connection with your Lordships’ House is my ancestor Bishop Jonathan Trelawny, who was one of the seven bishops who were arraigned for seditious libel and acquitted in Westminster Hall in 1688 and then triggered the Glorious Revolution. He was described by James II as the most saucy of them all. I have suggested to my family that that might be an epitaph when I go. His picture is in the Peers’ Guest Room in the House. He is the one with the Beatles haircut at the far end.
Previously, during the Reformation—I am also a failed historian—Thomas Cromwell persuaded Henry VIII that he could legitimise the nationalisation of the church, its cathedrals and its wealth, removing its temporal power and so making it concentrate on the spiritual needs of the nation. It may be thought from the theme of this debate that there are those who think it is now payback time. I do not believe that that is true, but nevertheless think that it is right for Parliament to take a real responsibility for the future of this great heritage.
There are some important dilemmas for both the church and Parliament. Our established church is the established church only for England, as is apparent from the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. As a good unionist, I think that those who represent other parts of the United Kingdom may have a legitimate reason for expressing some concern about the treatment of the heritage of the different denominations and the different churches. As my noble friend said earlier, the cathedrals belong to us all, but there may be some queries as to who “all” is in that respect.
That is not, however, the big dilemma for either the church or the Government, because the cathedrals are an important part of our heritage. Yet I as an Anglican and the church itself are proud of the independence of the church from the state. We believe, I think rightly, that faith should be an important part of our national life but should not be nationalised by the lay state, the whole body politic of which has to be strictly faith-neutral. Yet the church is rightly looking for recognition of its role in conserving priceless parts of our cultural and physical heritage, as both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, have been saying.
My noble friend referred to the French situation. I do not think that any of us want to emulate that. That is the wrong way to go. The noble Lord’s French history is better than mine, as I know to my cost, but I think that the French situation goes back to Napoleon, who wanted to separate dramatically the state from the church. There is no established church in France, yet there the state recognises its responsibility to its national heritage and therefore its major contribution to the maintenance and conservation of all the French cathedrals.
As has already been said, there is the important issue of the Government’s and therefore Parliament’s treatment of financial support for conservation. The noble Baroness referred, as did my noble friend, to the VAT situation. I will spend only a couple of minutes on that to avoid repetition and to keep within my time limit. The VAT treatment of historic buildings, not exclusively cathedrals, is a sorry saga that goes back many years. In the excellent briefing from the Lords Library on the future of English cathedrals, there are no less than 16 pages of updates on the treatment of VAT on historic buildings, particularly churches and cathedrals. The end of the brief from the House of Commons Library says of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, which is how the Government have sought to square the circle of reducing the exemptions and then having to pay by other means:
“Further details on how the extended scheme will operate will be published shortly”.
The confusion and lack of clarity continue to this day, even weeks after the 2012 Budget, when it was thought that this situation would be clarified and improved.
From my discussions with members of the chapters of various cathedrals I know that they are looking principally for clarity at the moment. On this issue and others, we are often told that we are all in it together. Yes, in a period of austerity it is difficult to find new resources, but the very simplicity or otherwise of such schemes as the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme is having a very disturbing effect on the chapters and on other organisations responsible for historic buildings, not least some of the great parish churches, which are having an equally difficult time and with which I have also been in contact.
I hope that this will not be thought to be so politically correct as to be incorrect in your Lordships’ House, but I welcome the fact that we now see some women being promoted into the responsible positions in the chapters of our cathedrals. They bring new life, approaches and, perhaps, intuition to managing the very difficult situation that many of the chapters face.
The Church of England and those responsible for many other historic and religious buildings deserve from Parliament at least an improvement in the clarity and speed with which decisions are taken by the Government. In that respect at least, I hope my noble friend’s debate today will draw the attention of the Government and my noble friend on the Front Bench to the anxiety that many of us in many parts of the United Kingdom feel. We deserve to do better by those who are responsible for such an important part of our cultural, architectural and religious heritage.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for the opportunity to celebrate the good news of our English cathedrals. He will understand that if you want to find a Birmingham cathedral, you are more likely to come to it by the future HS2 rather than by a leisurely trip up the east coast. What you will find there is a jewel by Thomas Archer, who built St Philip’s parish church on the highest point of the burgeoning new town that would fuel the industrial expansion of Britain. It was built in 1715. That building is now in the heart of the commercial and professional centre of the largest UK city outside London. It is an oasis of prayer to which people, whether visitors or citizens, come day by day to enjoy a beautiful space in which our new dean, Catherine Ogle, says you can do only one thing, and have that enhanced by the magnificent Burne-Jones stained glass windows.
At the same time, as we will probably hear again today, the choral tradition in Birmingham is of a very high standard, to the extent that Hamish Pringle recently commissioned a new choral work, based—the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will be pleased to know—on the King James version of John, chapter 1, verses 1 to 14, which is available for parish churches as well as high days in the cathedral. The work of a new young composer, Alexander Campkin, is thus in the heart of one of our great commercial cities.
Of course, as your Lordships may know, the number of young people applying to join cathedral choirs has increased by 6.8% over the past 12 months. That is the obvious but, across England, a living cathedral is a place of civic, cultural and inter-faith engagement. We find that no less so in Birmingham than across the country. It is also a springboard for, if I may indulge this phrase, growing confident Christians in our urban and rural areas. You will find programmes not just about engagement with the regional bankers and Chatham House seminars, following the difficulties in the debate about capitalism last year, but programmes that encourage practising Christians at work to examine what it means to live well in our local community.
That is just one example of what is happening all over the country in our 42 cathedrals. We are seeing, as your Lordships will again know, a steady increase in regular congregational attendance of some 3% a year. That has been going on over the past 10 years. Furthermore, special events and regular public and civic events are even more popular than they have been for years. In 2011, for example, over 3,000 special services attracted 1 million people, and 1.84 million attended public or civic services. Our cathedrals have approximately 12 million visitors a year. They have 15,000 volunteers, people who give up their time freely to enable these places, about which we have heard that the heritage is so important, to be places of living prayer, worship and community engagement. Over 300,000 children attend our cathedrals for educational purposes during their curriculum learning in term-time.
As you look around the country—I hope that we will hear more about this from others in a moment—you will find particular things happening as the cycle of events goes on. We have heard that Coventry Cathedral has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Of course, it has a distinctive contribution, as so many cathedrals do. In this case, it is the Community of the Cross of Nails, a world-wide gift of reconciliation in a troubled world. In Winchester, the Winchester Bible is now redisplayed. In Truro, the cathedral has been engaged in a county-wide renewal through Inspire Cornwall.
We have heard from several speakers already that this comes with a huge implication for resources. When noble Lords reflect on the age, scale and complexity of the buildings, it will not surprise them that it is estimated that some £100 million over 10 years needs to be spent across the country in ordinary cyclical repairs. I am not talking about the marvellous things that are inspired by English Heritage and other grant-making bodies, but £100 million over 10 years just to keep thing in place. Indeed, since 1991, at least £250 million of repair works alone has been carried out in English cathedrals. Of course, you can follow all this up in the English Heritage Fabric Needs survey. We have been reminded that there is no core state funding for English cathedrals. I am not going to go down that route myself but, while new work and exciting developments are funded generously, routine repairs are much more difficult. There is still a gap between the cathedral’s division grant and the overall cost that has to be paid every year.
Cathedrals are enormous, historic, heritage, prayerful, worshipful places of sanctuary for people who are shy of religion. They are places where people can come and rediscover wonder and awe, both through art and music, and, simply, the power of prayer. Their role in the life of our nation’s cities is immeasurable: civic, cultural and spiritual. It will be a huge boost to the confidence and morale of all these people who are involved, hundreds of thousands of them, in our cathedrals to hear Her Majesty’s Government give a ringing endorsement to our cathedrals in every aspect of public policy.
My Lords, I must begin by declaring my interest as I have recently been appointed chairman of Leicester Cathedral council. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Cormack on successfully achieving this balloted debate. He has spoken clearly and passionately about the important role of English cathedrals in today’s society.
Lincoln Cathedral, built in 1092, stands high on the hill overlooking the city of Lincoln and is, indeed, an impressive building. Its dean claims that it is arguably the finest gothic building in Europe. It attracts visitors from around the world. Some come to see its historic past and enjoy its architecture while others come to find a place of peace and quiet to reflect and pray.
Leicester Cathedral cannot begin to compete as it was only back in 1927 that the parish church of St Martin’s became our cathedral. What we can do is offer a warm welcome to all our visitors, whether they are people of faith or none. Over the years, Leicester Cathedral has become recognised as the place that brings together people from all faiths, a centre that attracts civic services, cultural events and, indeed, only last Saturday held our Armed Forces Day service. I hope the cathedral is seen as being there for everyone in the city and county and not just for Christian worshippers. I believe that we are there to offer a variety of daily services, but also to expand our important mission work and support Bishop Tim in his work throughout the diocese.
You can imagine our great joy when, shortly before Christmas, we learnt that Her Majesty wished to open her jubilee celebrations with a visit to Leicester early in March. Our city is truly multicultural. We have many faith groups within the community and we wished to organise a service of thanksgiving and celebration that recognised that diversity. The day for Her Majesty began at De Montfort University, from there to the cathedral, followed by lunch at St Martin’s House and, finally, a walk through the main streets of the city. It was truly a day to be long remembered and at the heart of the day was the service at Leicester Cathedral. Here, the second poorest cathedral was involved in a remarkable day.
I believe that all cathedrals, both large and small, have a crucial place in today’s society. What we should be is a place where tourists, believers and all those seeking quiet reflection feel equally at home. The cathedral is there for all, open to all, an inspiration to all. Leicester Cathedral is open daily and holds services throughout the day and, of course, is busy at weekends too. However, it is more than simply a place of worship. If one looks at the many projects that the cathedral organises, one is amazed that so few can achieve so much.
We are a centre for Christian education and a base for outreach within the city and county, supporting a wide range of community projects. Christ’s calling challenges us to go out in his name and we do just that. In Leicester, we support particular projects working among asylum seekers and refugees. We run a street pastor scheme at the weekends. The Leicester Cathedral community has developed links with the local ecumenical church charity, The Bridge: From Homelessness to Hope, which recognises significant need in the city where the number of homeless has increased over the past few months.
These are but a few of the projects undertaken by a small staff of only 11.98 full-time equivalents, supported by some 138 volunteers. Our religious education officer continues work with primary schools, through the faith journey, which links the work of the cathedral with our Sikh, Jain and Buddhist near neighbours, enabling members of those communities to talk about their own faith journey and to share in our experiences. The work of our choristers’ outreach programme has enabled 14 schools to host weekly workshops, and more than 500 children came to the cathedral for one of these events.
None of this important work could be achieved without the enthusiasm and dedication of both stipendiary and lay members. I would like to record my thanks to our dean, Vivienne Faull, and her team for their hard work, faith and dedication. The cathedral is a real focus in the city and the county, so it is not surprising that it has been the chosen venue for major services in the city and county, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham said was true in Birmingham. The St Patrick’s Day service, our Armed Forces Day service, which was held last Saturday, the civic service to remember 9/11, 10 years on, and the High Sherif’s service for Leicestershire and Rutland are but a few that I have time to include.
For all this activity, the cathedral faces real challenges, many of them revolving around finance. Unlike some cities, the Leicester Cathedral parish community is small, and we have constantly to look at new ways of running what is a business. That may sound very commercial but, in truth, we have to look at what we do and how we finance our work. This short debate has given me the opportunity to talk about some of the work undertaken by a very small cathedral. It would be lovely to share the experience, and perhaps the difficulties, of Lincoln. But Leicester Cathedral has carved out for itself a real role, and will continue its work into the future.
I add with great pleasure my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—I can hardly restrain myself from calling him my noble friend—for providing us with this opportunity to reflect on the contribution that cathedrals make to our national life and how it can be sustained. For me, personally, it is axiomatic that it is a very important question. I grew up in the cathedral city of Winchester and was educated at the cathedral choir school. I now live in the cathedral city of Norwich, where we have two great cathedrals. Not only do we have the magnificent historic Anglican cathedral, where the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield was dean before his translation, but we are also blessed with the presence of the great Roman Catholic cathedral of St John the Baptist. Canon Duckett wrote to the 15th Duke of Norfolk to tell him of,
“our present great need of a new church”,
and ventured the exclamation and prayer:
“Oh, that God would inspire your grace to build one for us”.
And that is exactly what happened. George Gilbert Scott Jr was the architect—he was the son of George Gilbert Scott Sr, the architect of St Pancras station, which many people also believe to be a cathedral. The great church in Norwich was constructed between 1884 and 1910 in a consistently pure and beautiful early English gothic style, and was finally consecrated as a cathedral in 1976.
Between my beginning and my end, I had the privilege to represent another cathedral city, Newport in Monmouthshire. We were in the diocese of Monmouthshire, and St Woolos is the cathedral of that diocese.
For centuries, the cathedrals have shaped and expressed the spiritual, cultural and civic life of our country. They continue to do so and, as has been noted, they also contribute to our economy in attracting very large numbers of tourists. I am not a religious person, and it is hardly for me to talk of the spiritual value of our cathedrals, but non-believers also value the continuity, calm and beauty that the cathedrals afford us. The magnificence of the King James Bible and the cadences of Cranmer’s collects—on which the most reverend Prelate the Archbishop of Canterbury made some very illuminating remarks in a recent talk—are all part of the ceremony of our national life and our private solace. Of course, there are other vernacular versions, which no doubt rightly have their place.
Forty of the cathedrals of the Church of England are grade 1 listed buildings. Canterbury and Durham Cathedrals are world heritage sites. Our cathedrals are a fountainhead of music. After 60 years, I am still haunted by the extraordinarily beautiful anthem “Remember Now Thy Creator”—the words of Ecclesiastes set to music by Charles Steggall and sung by the choir in Winchester Cathedral—and uplifted when I remember the sounds of Stanford in B flat. When I was Minister for the Arts and Heritage, a brace of deans came to see me from Hereford and Southwark to share with me their anxieties about the cathedral choir schools and the problems of maintaining them. Sadly the Arts Council was deeply uninterested in their problem but the cathedrals found other ways and I understand that now, every week, more than 1,000 boys and 800 girls sing choral services. My successors did better than I did. I am pleased to say that the Government contributed £1 million a year, over four years, from 2008, towards the chorister outreach programme to enable choirmasters and choristers to visit schools. Some 60,000 children have had that benefit and around 1,600 teachers have been trained in how to teach choral singing. It would be good if, even in these straightened times, public funds could be found for a number of scholarships to enable children from poor families to attend cathedral choir schools.
The libraries and archives of our cathedrals are great repositories of the national memory. In Norwich, Camberwell College of Arts students have the opportunity of a placement in which they survey the bindings of the books in the great cathedral library. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, drew attention to the importance of cathedrals in sustaining heritage and traditional skills in this country and I pay tribute to him personally for all that he has done to support the maintaining of these skills.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham drew our attention to the impressive statistic that 300,000 children attended educational events at cathedrals in 2011. There is, I would think, no subject in the national curriculum that it is not possible to teach by using the resources that cathedrals provide. Of course many of our cathedrals—in fact I would imagine all of them—are engaged in outreach and Christian care work. I mention simply one example: the day centre for homeless and vulnerable people within the precincts of Sheffield Cathedral. We use the phrase “cathedral cities”. Cathedrals of this country engage and express the civic and the public realm. Again, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham told us that no fewer than an estimated £1.84 million people attended civic and public events in cathedrals in 2011. It is interesting that the Occupy movement decided that it would base its protests at four English cathedrals—not perhaps a very happy experience for all concerned; the jubilee celebrations more recently were a much better one.
In Britain, as the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Tyler, reminded us, it is not our practice to nationalise our sacred and historic buildings—at any rate, not since the time of Thomas Cromwell. The cathedrals are independent ecclesiastical corporations and take responsibility for themselves. However, there are also responsibilities that should properly fall upon the community and the state. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, told us of the 2009 cathedral fabric needs survey, which found that more than £100 million-worth of repairs needed to be planned for over the next 10 years. I understand that the buildings division of the Church of England is only able to contribute around £750,000 towards those needs, so there is a decanal cash flow problem of formidable proportions in a country that is not getting any richer.
The cathedrals, as we have all acknowledged, provide immense benefits to the secular realm. What is the reciprocal responsibility of the secular realm? The communities, of which Cathedrals are at the heart, rise to this responsibility. Congregations and wider circles of local people are very happy to contribute what they can. I pay a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, who leads the fundraising campaign for Norwich Cathedral. He very much regrets that he cannot be here today because he is engaged in another public duty. The capacities of local communities to raise money to support their cathedrals of course vary. There is an inescapable responsibility on the state.
Over 19 years, English Heritage’s grants for cathedrals scheme contributed, I believe, £52 million towards this very important purpose, latterly supported, with its customary imagination and generosity, by the Wolfson Foundation. English Heritage has now been placed in a position in which it cannot afford to continue with a fund dedicated for this purpose. The Heritage Lottery Fund has also contributed £44.5 million to help the cathedrals since 1995. As our compatriots in these desolate times are consoling themselves by playing the lottery in some considerable numbers, we can anticipate that heritage lottery funding will be quite buoyant, so that is a source of hope.
However, it is not enough for the Government to rely upon the lottery to fulfil the public obligation. The Public Accounts Committee in 2009 urged that the Government should provide core funding for our cathedrals, on the analogy of the grant in aid that the Government provide for the national museums. If we think about it, it is strange to reflect that the National Railway Museum in York is subsidised by the Government to enable it to maintain free entry, whereas York Minster, without public support, has felt it necessary to charge. I admire the National Railway Museum in York but which of these institutions is of greater cultural importance to our country?
No doubt the Minister will say to me that we have a terrible problem with the deficit and that we have to cut it. But I would say that, when there is such a radical recasting of public expenditure, we need to think deeply about the proper responsibilities of the state. I hope that the state will accept that it has an inescapable responsibility to ensure that there is a decent public contribution to support our cathedrals. The public assume that there is. They would be shocked to know that there was not.
I do not want to overrun my time so I will not add to what other noble Lords have said about VAT. However, I hope that the Government will strenuously renew negotiations with the European Union to enable the anomaly between VAT on repairs and VAT on alterations to be removed. As the Government have graciously reconsidered some aspects of their recent Budget, I hope that they will also reconsider their very lamentable decision to increase VAT on alterations to 20 per cent because that will hurt cathedrals very badly, particularly when they come to develop educational or visitor facilities within their listed buildings. I look forward, therefore, to a fully considered statement of the Government’s view of their responsibilities towards our cathedrals when the Minister replies.
For the benefit of the House, I remind your Lordships that this is a strictly time-limited debate and that when the clock says “10” that means that the time limit is up.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a maiden speech today. I begin by expressing my heartfelt thanks to your Lordships for the welcome that I have received. I am very grateful to them, as I am to the staff of the House, for their help.
To make a maiden speech only three days after being introduced into the House might be thought of as being just a little precipitous. However, I like to think that it is providential that this Motion concerning cathedrals should appear today, since cathedrals are very close to my heart and they have been, literally, for most of my life. I spent most of my teenage years living almost within sight of Canterbury Cathedral and then three years living only yards from Durham Cathedral as an undergraduate. I was ordained in the cathedral of the Bishop of Chichester, whose place I take in this House, and who gave stalwart service to both his cathedral and the House. I ministered for seven very happy years as a canon residentiary at Ely and now live closer to my Cathedral in Worcester than anyone else in what I believe is the only private dwelling that has ever appeared on a bank note.
It could be argued that cathedrals loom larger, literally in every sense, in my life than in the lives of most people. However, my experience tells me that cathedrals are a crucial and enriching part of the lives of countless people who have not had the good fortune to be as closely associated with them as have I. Further, cathedrals are a living and precious part of our architectural, historical, cultural and spiritual heritage.
I support pretty much everything that has been said in the debate so far, and I hope that that will be my continuing experience in debates in this House. I take exception to only one thing—I cannot agree with Alec Clifton-Taylor’s assessment of Lincoln Cathedral, glorious though that building is, but I would refer your Lordships to his statement that medieval cathedrals are,
“the supreme expression of English architecture”.
I am sure that he would have had a good word to say also about Birmingham, Wakefield and Leicester Cathedrals—as he would about our great 19th century and 20th century Catholic cathedrals.
My own cathedral of Worcester stands at the heart of a diocese that has been in existence since 680. I am its 113th bishop and the present glorious building dates from 1184 when my sainted predecessor Wulfstan oversaw the demolition of the Saxon building. The iconic view of it from Worcester county cricket ground, standing high above the River Severn, is famous the world over and is dear to countless people in Worcestershire and Dudley—the area now covered by the diocese of Worcester—who feel committed to their mother church. Many of them will, with me, have the opportunity to welcome Her Majesty the Queen to the cathedral in just a few days’ time.
The fabric of the building, like that of most English cathedrals, is arguably in a better state than it has ever been, thanks to mammoth fundraising and indispensable grants from English Heritage, to which reference has been made. What will happen in the future, with no direct government funding, is a source of anxiety, to say the least. The problem with the lottery is that it is as its name suggests. I describe myself as an expert in lottery applications—all of them failed.
Cathedrals are not just architectural gems but hugely significant active symbols of our common religious and spiritual heritage. They are visited each year by increasing numbers of people with varying religious affiliations. I think it could be said that all these people have a real, if not expressly articulated, sense of the spiritual. Cathedrals have been described by the novelist Susan Hill as being:
“At the still point of the turning world”.
Reading the prayers left by those who have lit candles in cathedrals makes it clear that they can enable deep feelings to surface and be articulated. Cathedrals generate many millions of pounds for our economy but are not, of course, simply tourist attractions. They are vibrant hubs of culture and spirituality. Last year in Worcester, the ticket sales for the Three Choirs festival, the oldest of its kind in the world dating from the early 18th century, were higher than they have ever been. That was just one event in very many that included drama and art, as well as much fabulous music and civic occasions.
At the heart of the life of our cathedrals lies their choral tradition, which is one of their most glorious and remarkable features. I remind your Lordships that until the Reformation, choral foundations were universal throughout Europe, but England is now the only country left with such a tradition intact. In France, Spain, Germany and Italy they have all but disappeared. In Italy, an English choir had to be imported to Palestrina’s own church, the Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, to mark a significant anniversary of his death. In this country, cathedral music has not only survived against the financial odds but improved. Alongside the daily round of worship, it enriches myriad special services and events to which thousands come, and during which architecture, words and music combine to provide a feast for the senses which feeds the whole person at a much deeper level than can be articulated in mere words.
Cathedrals are the places where bishops have their teaching seats, and they are great centres of education for people of all faiths and none, to which reference has already been made in this debate. The majority employs a qualified education officer and thousands of children are welcomed each year for outstanding learning experiences. Cathedrals have vast educational potential, much of which is tapped, as a result of their architectural, historical and social significance, their aesthetic and artistic merit, and the fact that they are the home to vibrant Christian communities. Last year, more than 3,000 educational events were laid on by cathedrals. It is not just children and young people who benefit. Debates and lectures are laid on for adults about issues of common concern to church and society. Only just over a week ago the Director of Public Prosecutions gave a lecture in Worcester Cathedral on the law and the media, in which he considered the question of the public interest.
I could wax lyrical about cathedrals for a very long time but the basic point that I want to emphasis is that cathedrals offer something that is most definitely in the public interest in all sorts of areas. They are a precious part of the inheritance of this nation and enrich our common life immeasurably. In conclusion, I repeat my thanks for the welcome that I have received from your Lordships and urge that this House should indeed take note of the future of English cathedrals but, in so doing, I urge that they should be valued, cherished and supported.
My Lords, it is a great honour to be able to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester and to congratulate him on a formidable and elegant maiden speech that blended so perfectly his own experiences with the challenges of public policy. We can see from his speech what a great asset he is going to be to your Lordships’ House.
Indeed, at a time when Members of this House are under a degree of scrutiny, the right reverend Prelate exemplifies the very characteristics that make this House so special, for his range of interests and expertise is as diverse as it is deep. In fact, he began his career as a chemistry teacher, which will suit him well for our debates on scientific issues. He then became a teacher at Harrow School, trying to instil into his pupils—he would have failed with me—the basics of chemistry. That will make him a natural for debates on education, an area on which he touched today. After Harrow, he spent six years as vicar of an inner city parish at St Luke’s, Wallsend, giving him a perspective on inner city issues and social responsibility that will be much valued in this House. He has a deep interest in international affairs, too. As a longstanding member of the World Development Movement, he will be a natural in dealing with international development issues. Finally, he is president of Worcestershire County Cricket Club; he is thereby a shoe-in for sports debates. In short, the right reverend Prelate is an all-rounder whose contributions we look forward to with great eagerness.
We are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for securing this debate, which has relevance and importance for every region of our country, every diocese and every parish. I am particularly pleased to take part because it gives me an opportunity to talk about two cathedrals in Essex close to my heart, and what they can tell us about the future of cathedrals across England.
I am from Brentwood, which is at the heart of the Roman Catholic diocese of Brentwood, a diocese that, quite uniquely, is exactly coterminous with the Church of England diocese of Chelmsford. Both towns have exceptionally fine cathedrals. In Brentwood, the cathedral dates back to 1861, when it was just a parish church. It was raised to cathedral status in 1917. The cathedral in Chelmsford has more venerable roots, with the first church on its site founded over 800 years ago. It became a cathedral in 1914, when the diocese of Chelmsford was created to meet the needs of the urban population east of London. Both cathedrals have changed considerably over time. Brentwood’s magnificent cathedral was substantially enlarged between 1989 and 1991 in the Italianate style by Quinlan Terry. Taking his inspiration from the classical Renaissance, this cathedral is one of the master architect’s greatest works and one of the finest buildings in Essex.
Chelmsford’s cathedral has grown more organically, with new stained glass windows in the 19th century along with a rebuilt nave and enriched porch in 1953 to mark the bonds between America and Britain in the Second World War. It now has, in the 21st century, a magnificent collection of modern art.
Both these buildings underline how cathedrals grow alongside their communities, reflecting the changes in society and constantly updating themselves, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, to remain relevant, vibrant and the focal point of the diocese they serve.
The Bishop of Brentwood, Bishop Thomas McMahon, a man of huge importance to civic life in the towns and villages of Essex, has written that a cathedral takes its name from the Greek word for chair, cathedra, from which the bishop presides as the “shepherd of the diocese”. As well as being the parish church for those who live nearby, cathedrals stand as the fulcrum of worship for local people. In Bishop Thomas’s words, they stand there,
“to proclaim and celebrate the Christian mysteries in an environment of excellence and beauty”.
In other words, they are of vital importance to the cultural and spiritual fabric of our nation and need to be cherished.
However, cathedrals, as we have heard, are not just about buildings so much as the people who are in them. The central point I want to raise, and one on which a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, have touched, is about the importance of church music and the choirs and organists who provide it. Our cathedral choirs are as much a part of the rich heritage that nurtures our communities as the buildings they sing in. At this point I must declare an interest as a member of the Council of the Royal College of Music.
Both the cathedrals I have talked about have prestigious choirs. Brentwood’s was formed in 1984 and over the years has undertaken tours throughout Europe. Just a few weeks ago, a young man who is a member of the choir and a Brentwood schoolboy, Harry John, was one of just 40 young people in the Diamond Choir that sang for Her Majesty the Queen at St Paul’s. In Chelmsford, an innovative choral foundation, formed in 1994, supports the work of its excellent choir, which brings world-class skills right to the heart of local communities. As the very reverend Peter Judd, Dean of Chelmsford, has said,
“when the psalm is being sung … one is privileged to be in the presence of something exquisite—rather like standing in front of an utterly beautiful painting in the National Gallery, except our Choir does not sing in central London, it is happening here in Chelmsford every day”.
Cathedral choirs perform three vital roles in our cultural life. First, they keep alive and flourishing the tradition of English church music, which is one of this country’s shining artistic achievements, dating back to the remarkable output of Byrd, Tallis, Gibbons and Purcell, and in more recent years, of course, Wesley, Bairstow, Parry and Vaughan Williams. Our cathedrals, choirs and organists have all played a central role in fostering that tradition. In the 18th century, a choirboy from Gloucester Cathedral, William Hayes, went on to become a significant composer and a pivotal figure in English musical history. Three centuries later, one of our greatest choral composers, Herbert Howells, an alumnus of the RCM, learnt his musical trade from the organist Herbert Brewer, also at Gloucester Cathedral. Charles Wood had a similar start to musical life at Armagh Cathedral. Their experience, and that of many others, testifies to the importance of local music teaching and experience in nurturing great national talent.
Secondly, they provide for those who worship at cathedrals, or are simply visiting them, something magical and mystical that lies beyond mere words. They enhance the experience of visiting our cathedrals, as indeed so many other churches, in a way nothing else can. Great buildings need great music. And the music—some of the most sublime works ever written—needs these buildings.
Thirdly, they provide real beacons of artistic excellence in their local communities. They attract new audiences to cathedrals, encourage local composers, act as a magnet for visiting musicians and provide a cultural experience that nothing else can in the same way. As Professor Robin Leaver, an internationally recognised hymnologist, has so pithily put it, church musicians are not simply there to produce,
“nice noises at various points in worship”,
but are cultural ambassadors in their own right. Equally importantly, cathedral choirs often give boys, and increasingly girls, their first taste of high-level music-making. Many go on to successful musical careers. There can be no better start to a musical life than experience in a cathedral choir.
However, cathedral choirs face challenges as much as our cathedrals do. They can prosper only if they have secure and comfortable environments in which to practise. As the English Heritage Creativity and Care report, which we have heard about today, highlighted:
“It takes resources to maintain a proud and ancient choral tradition: resources and space”.
They also need a functioning organ—perhaps the most expensive musical instrument to maintain—and dedicated teachers who so often work on a purely voluntary basis. I was delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham talked about volunteers. They are of such huge importance. A cathedral such as Chelmsford depends on 480 volunteers to keep it going and we need to do more to cherish them.
Above all, there is a challenge to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of church musicians entering the profession to meet the needs not just of the cathedrals but the parishes that form the bedrock of the diocese. Across the world, more churches are chasing fewer music graduates. The teaching of music, particularly in our state schools, is a real issue here, although I suspect that is a subject for another debate.
Many of our cathedrals are, quite rightly, moving now to secure the future of church music and they need our support. I think in particular of the new music resource centre at Wells Cathedral, which we have heard about today, and the new Song School at Chester Cathedral. These are just the sorts of initiatives that are required to secure the future of cathedral choirs and of the proud English choral tradition.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has done us a huge service by securing this debate today. Our cathedrals, with their choirs, are one of the jewels in the crown of our national life. It is right that we celebrate them, recognise the challenges that lie ahead and seek to identify ways in which they can be supported. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham said earlier, a ringing endorsement from your Lordships’ House today would be a splendid way to start.
My Lords, I am delighted to take this opportunity to speak today about Britain’s best building. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, with the exception of his very touching, if ultimately misguided, conviction that Lincoln Cathedral is the fairest in the country. You need not take my word for it—in a survey by the Guardian last year, Durham Cathedral came out with a ringing success, with 62% of people voting it the best building in Britain. That capitalised on its success a decade earlier, when the BBC had a similar poll and again Durham Cathedral was Britain’s favourite building. It is not hard to see why. One of the cathedral canons described one of the joys of her ministry as watching one of the many parties of schoolchildren who arrive. They come in a long crocodile, with two children hand in hand at the front. As the first children walk in, they gasp at the sheer scale and stop dead, so that the crocodile piles like dominoes as the rest keep coming in behind them. They struggle to make sense of the sheer splendour of the space. It had a very similar effect on me the first time I walked in. Strangely, the nave of the cathedral is not just enormous, it is somehow intimate. The current and rather wonderful Dean of Durham described the nave as being,
“large enough to lift our vision but intimate enough to hold us and affirm our humanity”.
In some ways, that is what cathedrals do in general, not simply architecturally.
As many noble Lords will know, Durham Cathedral was built on the site where monks bearing the body of the great northern saint, St Cuthbert, came and finally settled after travelling to escape Vikings. They had been moving around with Cuthbert’s relics and the Lindisfarne Gospels—which we look forward to welcoming home soon, at least briefly—and finally stopped after coming to a bend in the River Wear and getting stuck behind a milkmaid and a dun cow. When Cuthbert’s body refused to go any further at that point, they took this as a sign that they had chosen the right place. I am delighted that they chose such a beautiful spot, although I am sure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester would be with me in saying that every now and again one might wish they had chosen a flatter spot. I was delighted to hear his maiden speech. It was eloquent and articulate, and I can only conclude that his undergraduate studies must have served him well. He is most welcome.
Durham Cathedral is more than an architectural marvel; it is a sacred space with a wonderful choir, which sings at eight services a week. However, that tradition is not just for a privileged minority. Durham Cathedral set up a wonderful music outreach programme, in which choristers went out to local primary schools across the county and sang for the children and then with the children. Over a period of weeks, the children would learn the music and then come together with other schools in a wonderful concert in the cathedral, which would be full of proud mums and dads who had never expected to hear their children sing music of this quality in a space such as that. It has been a wonderful developmental experience. In fact, one child who came to the cathedral with his school in exactly that fashion saw this, went back and told his mum and dad that this was what he wanted to do and some time later—two years ago—he became BBC Young Chorister of the Year. Since then, he has sung in Downing Street, at the Albert Hall and with Katherine Jenkins, and all because the school visited Durham Cathedral.
The cathedral draws people to itself from all over the world but it is also a centre for Durham itself. I went to Durham in 2006 to take a course at the university for just a year and I am still there—it has that effect on people. When I came to the end of the course, I graduated in the cathedral—an experience that many people have. During the Lumiere festival—a festival of light—the cathedral was completely filled with sculptures of light and flame, so anyone who thinks that our cathedrals are overly risk-averse or in any way scared by health and safety issues should visit Durham.
Some 120,000 people came to the Lumiere festival but 600,000 go through Durham Cathedral every year. For me, one of the great highlights of the year is the annual Durham Miners’ Gala—or the “Big Meeting”, as it is known locally—every July, when thousands of people descend on the city from across the county. This is where the traditional mining culture and trade union heritage of the county are celebrated. Even though the pits have closed, people come from every village and march through with their own brass band and banner. These are still markers of identity for the communities and the people in them. There is a service in the cathedral, the bands are marched in and the banners are paraded. When there is a new banner, the community brings it in for the bishop to bless. Last year, regrettably, we saw the 60th anniversary of the colliery disaster at Easington, in which 83 men and boys lost their lives. The Easington banner was trimmed with black and it was brought in so that the cathedral could mark that aspect of the community experience as well.
As the right reverend Prelates have said, people also bring their individual and private troubles to the cathedral. Every day, many people come in to light candles, write prayers or just sit in the quiet space. The volunteer chaplains at Durham, as elsewhere, hear all kinds of stories. There might be a soldier coming in to pray before being sent to Afghanistan, or perhaps bereaved people who do not have a faith but do not know where else to take their grief coming to the cathedral, trusting that they can somehow be held in that space. That is what a cathedral can be and what Durham certainly is—at the heart of a community to celebrate its joys, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, and to hold people in times of sorrow, to be with them and to provide a way for them to express that sorrow and be held as a community.
However, none of this is easy. It takes hundreds of staff and hundreds of volunteers. All kinds of people come through the cathedral. I am a tutor at St Chad’s College at Durham University. We, like every other college, have our annual St Chad’s Day service in the cathedral. During the service, students bring to the altar to be blessed emblems of their everyday student life, including sporting equipment, musical instruments, even the odd book, and this year, for no obviously discernible reason, a life-size cut-out of President Obama. All aspects of life are taken up and can be blessed and celebrated.
It seems to me that that role of community-gathering by institutions at the heart of our communities is one that the state has a responsibility to support in some way. Despite the fact that this is Britain’s best-loved building, was founded more than 900 years ago and is, as my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport said, on a UN World Heritage Site, it does not have any regular government funding. The £60,000 a week that it costs to maintain the cathedral and its associated buildings and ministries has to be found by the incredibly enterprising but, surely by now, tiring dean and chapter. I applaud them for being able to do this without charging the public to come into the cathedral. It is an incredibly difficult struggle every single week. However, if people had to pay to get in, it would be hard to see either how the individuals would feel able to use it in the way that I have described or how it could fulfil that role at the heart of the community which is so powerful for our city.
When the Minister considers her response to the debate, can she give us any comfort at all regarding how the state can recognise its responsibilities? I thought that the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was excellent and I would encourage her to reflect on it. Perhaps she could start an endowment to which others could be encouraged to contribute. Durham is a very poor county, yet people find the money to celebrate the cathedral. However, the cathedral is not just for us; it is for the entire nation and it is one of Europe’s architectural treasures.
Finally, I know that the Minister has an interest in Durham, and that might encourage her to visit the city at some point and to look around the cathedral. However, I urge any noble Lord or anyone reading this debate who has an interest in this matter to step into their cathedral, if they have not done so previously, to see what it can provide in an era when the gathering institutions in our communities are under threat. These can be spaces that welcome everybody, raise our vision and, at the same time, affirm and hold us in our humanity.
My Lords, I cannot hope to come up to the same standards of energy and enthusiasm that we have just had from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. However, I begin by saying that, as with my friend the right reverend Bishop of Worcester, whose excellent maiden speech we have just heard, cathedrals lie very close to my heart, so I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for making this debate possible.
I have spent 15 years of my life working in two very different cathedrals. For seven years I was a residentiary canon at Portsmouth, a parish-church cathedral in an urban setting right next to the great naval dockyard. Then, for eight years, I was dean of Norwich, a magnificent medieval cathedral, to which we have already heard reference, and one of the two greatest Romanesque churches in England. I am not vying for it to be the top one but it is certainly as good as Durham.
Cathedrals offer an extraordinary variety of experience, as I shall note later. There is one brief vignette which focuses something of this and which for me seemed bizarre. During my time at Norwich, we celebrated the 900th anniversary of the diocese and cathedral. Anglia Railways kindly agreed to call one of its locomotives “Norwich Cathedral”. That was very good news, but it was the final denouement of this tale to which I want to advert. At the end of the year, I was invited to Norwich station for the denaming ceremony. That seemed to me quite baffling. Most of the Anglia Railways locomotives took their names from significant places in the north-west of England, where they had previously toiled—names such as “Vulcan Foundry” and “City of Preston”. Here was “Norwich Cathedral”, named after the single greatest focus of tourism in East Anglia, with more than half a million people passing through our doors each year, and we were taking the name off the locomotive. That is an interesting reflection on how people do not always see the significance of these great buildings.
For all the talk of the decline of religion, cathedrals remain enormous magnets for all sorts and conditions of people, as we have already heard. In a recent essay on church growth, it was noted that alongside the growth in the size of congregations, mentioned earlier by my friend the right reverend Bishop of Birmingham, the spend was £91 million in cathedrals alone, and the total impact on the wider localities was more than £150 million. However, church growth just touches the fringes of the impact of these places. They are the contemporary equivalent of common ground. They are open to all who come—all can graze in their pastures, as it were. Indeed, the variety of expressions of their impact is clear in the myriad people who consider themselves to be stakeholders.
Many organisations and individuals ask to use our cathedrals—from civic services to Rotary International, and from local businesses to voluntary sector agencies. However, these stakeholders—and there are myriad others—are matched by the diverse reasons for visits by individuals. Some come as tourists; others as pilgrims. Some come for silence and solace in the face of life’s difficulties and challenges. Many is the conversation I have had in cathedrals with people in places of sadness in their lives. Some come with the explicit hope of talking and meeting up with others, so a guide in a cathedral has to be immensely sensitive, knowing when people might want to speak and when they might not. Of course, some come as aficionados of architecture, while others come simply to celebrate the place, the city in which they live.
I remember being in Norwich Cathedral one morning when a chap who had been thrown out of his house by his wife—probably for very good reasons—came up to me and said, “Ooh, it’s a big place you’ve got here, isn’t it?” It was interesting that he had lived in Norwich all his life and had never been in the building before. What was it that brought him there? Well, I just mentioned that.
In Norwich—to focus there a little longer—it is the cathedral, the university and the football team, of course, that somehow give the city its character, its personality and its status. Cathedrals give a city their soul. Cathedrals belong to everyone. In both Portsmouth and Norwich, people of other religions and people of no religious faith will talk of “our cathedral”.
Often cathedrals work with other agencies to nourish a city’s flourishing. In Norwich we co-operated with Delia Smith, the queen of cookery, in a centenary service for Norwich City football club. By good providence we even had what passed for Canaries robes of yellow and green to match the occasion.
Cathedrals, too, have been the seed-bed for the nourishing of music in our nation. We have heard so much already in this debate about the quality of cathedral music. Most significant as well is that so many of our really talented classical musicians, people now at the top of their tree in their profession—not related particularly to church matters—started their musical careers in cathedral choirs. This essential work needs to continue via proper financial support. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, say how important this remains, not just for our cathedrals but for the whole heritage and tradition of good music in our country.
For all these reasons, I am acutely aware of the need to respond to any moves that may undermine these great flagships of the spirit. As we have already heard many times, a month or two ago a change in the VAT regulations threatened to undermine the very breadth of what cathedrals offer. It is the alterations, adaptations and modifications of these buildings that make them speak more effectively to our own generation, so I am very thankful that we are being given respite in that area, at least for three years. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, have said, I hope we can be reassured further that that respite will continue well beyond that time; not only do we not get proper funding, but having to pay VAT would actually take funding away from us. Therefore we are grateful for the shift on VAT and for the extra grants available.
Still, however, the issue of adequate state funding for essential maintenance and conservation is crucial. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack; I would not want the situation to be as it is in France. Nevertheless, as we have heard, English Heritage’s budget is always under pressure and now cathedrals are placed alongside other churches in an open market. We are enormously grateful for all that it has done, and I am enormously grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who has been greatly supportive in our diocese. I look forward to welcoming her again in the near future.
Let us go for the £50 million that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, asked for. If you compare it with the amount of money in terms of the fuel excise duty that has been so much in the news in the last few days, or, indeed, the £1.3 billion that will go to the European Union—doubtless for good reasons—£50 million is as nothing.
Like all organisations, as well as facing outside threats, the Church of England is always capable of shooting itself in the foot. The Dioceses Commission needs to be careful not to threaten to undermine the very raison d’être of cathedrals. Merging dioceses easily dissolves important local loyalties and takes away the point of these buildings as the focus of a bishop's ministry and the character and personality of a locality. Present plans in our part of England aim to keep cathedrals for the moment even if the dioceses merge; but what will be the logic, and for how long could two or three cathedrals be justified in one diocese?
Furthermore such changes seem to ignore the essential reason for the existence of cathedrals. They are the home of the cathedra, as we have been reminded—the seat of a bishop. We need smaller, not larger, dioceses, each with one cathedral, the teaching seat of the bishop who is the focus of unity for the church in that place. As others have said, the essential reason for cathedrals is for the worship of Almighty God; that is the beginning and the end of them.
Let me end with one further telling vignette. It relates to that extraordinary outflow of emotion on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. We opened our doors in Norwich—where I was at the time—from dawn until dusk, and I saw one woman enter the building, light a candle and pray for 10 minutes. On her way out of the cathedral she thanked me for making the great church available and said, “I am not religious or anything, but I had to come”. I reckon that 10 minutes of prayer and a lighted candle feels a pretty religious thing to do. Whatever she thought she was doing, such an act and expression of commitment is but one of so many reasons why we must work even harder not only to preserve our cathedrals but to make their ministry and service to a whole community more effective than ever. I, too, look forward to a great statement of confidence in the Government supporting our cathedrals and I hope that they might think carefully about that £50 million.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for introducing this debate and, indeed, for the way in which he has championed our national heritage over many years. I speak with much less authority on this subject than other speakers, but I am delighted to contribute to a debate that has sparked such knowledge and passion, and to take the opportunity to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester on a moving and illuminating maiden speech.
As has been said already, England’s cathedrals are some of the greatest ancient buildings in Europe. Whether ancient or more modern, each is often the largest, most architecturally complex, most archaeologically sensitive and most visited building in its town or city. While our cathedrals are first and foremost places of Christian worship, they are also cultural centres and tourist attractions. They are at once places of pilgrimage and public buildings that host great national or civic events. They are prayerful spaces that also host community events and busy cafés.
Beautiful and breathtaking their architecture may be, but as the Church of England points out, these buildings are not just heritage landmarks but contribute to the wider community in diverse ways. Often they are the only local space of any size with public access, hosting concerts, lectures and degree ceremonies; and, of course, they are still used for their original purpose. Attendance at regular weekly services in Church of England cathedrals has increased over the past decade, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham said.
The number of volunteers involved in the mission and ministry of cathedrals on a regular basis has increased by 24% to 14,500—an average of 345 volunteers for every cathedral. They are truly part of the big society. Last year more than 250,000 children attended educational events at a cathedral, with Westminster Abbey adding a further 12,000 to that nationwide figure. Just under 10,000 children are being educated at schools associated with cathedrals, and more than 2,000 of these children and adults are involved week by week in providing cathedral music.
Other noble Lords provided many examples of the contribution of cathedrals to the community—I will not repeat them. They all demonstrate our cathedrals’ continuing active role in people’s lives. This also means meeting legislative requirements and offering modern facilities. It is for this reason that I support the long-running campaign by the Church of England’s General Synod to cut the rate of VAT on church repairs and maintenance. The former Council for the Care of Churches argued that,
“charging VAT on repairs … encourages unnecessary alterations and discourages … good conservation”.
The distinction between repairs and maintenance on the one hand and alterations on the other is artificial and complex to administer.
Like other noble Lords today, I welcome the recent rethink by the Chancellor of the ill conceived proposal to introduce VAT on alterations and improvements made to churches and cathedrals. Cathedral deans—who can generally be relied on to speak their minds—were quick to point out that the tax would not mean more money for the Government but less maintenance for historic buildings. Adding 20% to the already fearsome costs of keeping open our great cathedrals—let alone keeping on top of major repairs—would have made this work completely unmanageable.
As the majority of alterations to listed church buildings take place in order to improve access to them and to broaden their use by the wider community, the Chancellor’s U-turn is entirely right and proper. By increasing the annual budget of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme by £30 million and amending its scope to fully compensate churches for the impact of removing VAT relief from alteration work, he has acknowledged the importance of these buildings, which, of course, should never have been overlooked in the first place. However, concern remains. Although the proposals in the Budget will have an impact mostly on alterations to listed church buildings as distinct from repairs, the Church of England is nevertheless concerned that the money available to reimburse churches for VAT charged for repair work will also be affected as a consequence of the extra demands placed on the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme.
I echo the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and ask the Minister how confident she is that the £30 million will cover the additional costs borne by listed places of worship following the VAT change. Can she also be confident that the additional resources will enable 100% compensation for repair and maintenance costs eligible under the current grant scheme? I ask because I want to see more of the life-enhancing alterations so magnificently exemplified by Wells Cathedral in Somerset—a cathedral I love visiting—as well as by others in English Heritage’s report, Creativity and Care.
The report shows how thoughtfully and sensitively some of our cathedrals have been adapted and developed to remain relevant today. I, too, pay tribute to the superb contribution to this work made by my noble friend Lady Andrews. At Wells there are some 1,700-plus services, concerts, educational visits and other events organised by the cathedral each year. That amounts to about five events a day, each attracting a different public. Yet until recently the cathedral had no adequate toilet, no disabled access to many areas of the cathedral church, no education area for visiting school groups and an overcrowded restaurant.
All that has changed following one of the biggest building programmes at a medieval cathedral since the Reformation. Unblocking the pilgrims’ porch—in medieval times the main entrance to the building—has allowed access between the precinct, the cloister and the church. A new cloister provides a reception area, an expanded shop and a first-floor restaurant. It took seven years to get permissions and, in total, the work cost £7 million, much of it coming from the Sainsbury and Garfield Weston Foundations and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The end result is a triumph of 21st-century vision and sensitivity, magnificently balancing the building’s significance with the needs of modern users.
A cathedral in my home county of Yorkshire also supplies a wonderful example of where the money has been found to make alterations that serve a 21st-century community. The Leeds Roman Catholic Cathedral, built in the early years of the 20th century, now has some very modern new facilities. A thoroughgoing clean of the interior in 2005 transformed the grime of my childhood to light-filled glory. Some 25% of the £2.4 million cost was gathered by fundraising within a relatively small and not particularly wealthy diocese. Another example is York Minster, where an innovative project by the York Glaziers Trust has transformed the Bedern chapel, a medieval building in the close which I recall as merely a ruin. Winning a Heritage Lottery Fund bid in 2006 led to new flooring and a new ceiling, and CCTV that allows visitors to watch the work at close hand.
To keep our cathedrals relevant takes money, vision and commitment. This has always been so. As Frank Field pointed out, the process of refitting our cathedrals for the future has never stopped. For that process to continue today, funding is vital, as so many other contributors to the debate emphasised. So, too, of course are goodwill and volunteers.
It is not only our cathedrals that are extraordinary; so are many of the 14,000 listed places of worship in England, as other noble Lords attested. Anglican churches alone form 45% of the grade 1 listed buildings in England. In 2006, necessary repairs to all listed places of worship in England were estimated to cost £185 million a year. It is worth noting that of the money spent on the repairs, 70% was raised by congregations and local communities.
The Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, now totalling £42 million, is only guaranteed for the next three years. We need to know that our extraordinary legacy of cathedral buildings will be safe on our watch and that they will be given the best chance of seeing out the next thousand years. I join with other noble Lords in hoping that the Minister will be able to offer hope that the state will continue to provide its part of the necessary funding.
My Lords, I acknowledge with gratitude the House’s indulgence in allowing me to speak in the gap. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on securing the debate. I shall not attempt to continue his elegantly described train journey through the cathedral cities of east England, but I will speak about the six great cathedrals of Wales.
I declare an interest as chairman of the Representative Body of the Church in Wales and an interest as a grateful recipient of an early education as a boarding choirboy and organ student at the Cathedral School, Llandaff, the only professional cathedral school in Wales. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester referred to in his excellent maiden speech, cathedral music must never ever be underestimated as a core of the cultural life of our country.
Our cathedrals in Wales range in scale from the small but perfectly formed St Asaph, now situated in the United Kingdom’s newest city, to the imposing grandeur of St David’s, a cradle of Christianity in these islands since the 6th century and declared a centre of pilgrimage by Pope Calixtus in 1123. Our newest cathedrals in Brecon and Newport are well established as key places in civic and social life; and Llandaff, a remarkable mixture of old and new, now hosts the largest organ built in this country for the past 100 years. It was beautifully demonstrated this April at a jubilee thanksgiving service in the presence of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen.
However, cathedrals will face even greater challenges in the coming years as they, as centres of excellence, continue the process of adaptation to serve an array of faith, community and outreach projects. The most recent announcements on VAT, while welcome, are still confusing and uncertain, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and others have suggested. If grant provisions for returning in grant the equivalent of VAT are not retained—not only in this Parliament, as promised, but beyond—the implications are most serious. The award-winning creation of the cloisters at St David’s Cathedral, for example, would have been nigh impossible to realise if full VAT had been imposed on all the costs involved.
As the noble Baroness said, cathedrals, like all churches, face serious threats from metal theft. It is vital to continue our efforts to eradicate this crime wave. The Private Member’s Bill recently introduced in the other place is therefore greatly to be encouraged.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on securing the debate and thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it.
I was struck by the suggestion made by my noble friend Lady Andrews that the word “cathedral” has, in some senses, become detached from its relationship to buildings and can be used in other contexts in order to give a sense of scale and impact of the event being described. This debate could be called cathedral-like in the sense that we have ranged wide, with knowledge and expertise, across the histories of our cathedrals and the contribution that they make to our society.
We have benefited tremendously from the expertise around the House today. I have already mentioned my noble friend Lady Andrews, who does so much in her capacity as chair of English Heritage—she has been congratulated on her work throughout the debate—and there were also, of course, the detailed contributions of the right reverend Prelates. They have taken us into the day-to-day living in cathedrals and how that impacts on local communities, and given impressive snapshots of the work that they do.
I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester on his maiden speech. He said that it was providential that he had come up to the House a few days before this event and that he was able to make his maiden speech, unlike so many of us who skulk around for several months wondering how on earth we are going to do it. We wait for an appropriate debate to come along, and what happens? Is it in two or three days? He was able to come up and wow us all with his contribution, which was so eloquent—as it would be, of course, from a fellow chemist.
In my researches for this I was very pleased to note that Worcester Cathedral had a Bishop Wilfrid in the early 700s and again in the 920s. There has been none since then; I am not offering, but it is time that the Wilfrids of this world struck back.
I should declare that as a Scottish Presbyterian, raised in a slightly different tradition, I am probably not the best person to address this topic today. However, we do have cathedrals. I was in Dornoch Cathedral only recently, while on holiday, and I have also in a recent lifetime sung regularly in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and attended concerts in St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. We have also heard about the cathedrals in Wales.
It is clear that, in making speeches such as this, one has to reflect on one’s experiences in these amazing buildings because of their scale, their impact and the contribution they make. Very few of us have been able to avoid addressing that as we have spoken. I suppose that I am to add to that. I now live regularly in England, although I do go back to Scotland; my cathedral highlight was probably singing, as part of a concert, Tallis’s motet “Spem in Alium” in Bath Abbey—not a cathedral in that sense, but close enough to count for this debate. It was a fantastic occasion.
Somehow cathedrals seem to attract people to visit them. We have agreed that there are 42 of them. I happened in my research to come across a story in the Sun newspaper recently about an English Heritage worker who has visited all 42 of England’s Anglican cathedrals and licked every one. He now plans to carry on licking in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. He said:
“We’ve no idea why the bet was centred on licking cathedrals—it just was. I’ve tasted a lot of new places”.
The cathedrals of Britain span the millennium, from the cathedrals dating from the 1100s to the modern cathedrals found in Liverpool and Coventry. As we have heard, they display a wide array of architectural styles, from early English Gothic to the majesty of the Renaissance at St Paul’s and the 1960s modernism in Liverpool. In the Middle Ages and up to the Reformation in the 1500s, the church enjoyed enormous power and wealth, and cathedrals are eloquent symbols of the dominant place it still holds in British society.
This debate has provided three strands of concern. The first is the question of whether our cathedrals can continue to be both ecclesiastical and, as it has been said, “common ground” places for our people. The evidence is pretty good. The worry is how we can continue to fund them in the way they are currently perceived. Many of us have talked about the places of worship scheme and I have some questions for the Minister at the end of what I have to say.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said that the soul of a country was in its buildings and that we could not call ourselves civilised if the spire of Salisbury or the wonderful vision of St Paul’s in London were ever at risk. Cathedrals are living, vibrant buildings, and as we have heard they make a contribution to local communities not just with spiritual and other work but in economic terms. It is very difficult to believe that we would continue to operate in society with our weddings, our funerals, our christenings, our graduations and even in the jubilee without using our cathedrals as a centre of much of the focus of our activity. Several noble Lords have spoken very movingly about the music in cathedrals and the contribution that has been made over the years to the musical life of our country. However, as we have been warned, we must not take this for granted. We must certainly celebrate our cathedrals—we must cherish, value and support them—but we must also express our concerns to those who have the authority to ensure that they continue.
A recent BBC survey found that representatives of almost half the cathedrals in England that responded to the survey were concerned about meeting running costs in two years’ time. Despite financial concerns, only nine of the cathedrals charge a mandatory entrance fee. We have heard a bit about Durham Cathedral already from my noble friend Lady Sherlock. Durham Cathedral does not charge for entry but asks visitors to make a £5 donation towards running costs, which are about £60,000 a week. Despite the request, on average visitors donate 32p each. There is obviously a huge gap. The quandary there—this is my second point—is that the question of what cathedrals are raises the question of whether there should be a charge. The chapter at Durham has obviously discussed the idea of charging for entry “many times”. However, as the BBC report says, the chapter felt that the cathedral was a public place where people should have free access for prayer and worship.
As we have heard, in England cathedrals can obtain funding from a range of agencies, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, or HLF, and English Heritage. On the latest figures, at the last grant announcement in January, HLF had requests totalling £27 million and gave out £10.3 million, so it was oversubscribed 2.6 times. We have also heard that English Heritage has seen the amount that it has to give in grants reduced from £25.9 million in 2010-11 to £15.4 million in 2012-13 as a result of government funding cuts.
There has been an interesting campaign about the way in which VAT is levied on church repairs; a number of earlier speakers mentioned that. I have taken two or three of their points, because I think they are relevant to the general questions about how we address this.
The case was made in a paper from the Church of England’s General Synod that since the largest portion of the grant aid available to support cathedrals comes from public funds, it is rather wasteful that much of the money is then recycled back to the Government through VAT. That is an important point. It has also been pointed out that the Government take more from the VAT charged on restoration works than they contribute in grants through their various bodies. There is also, of course, the more generic point that charging VAT is a disincentive to potential donors, since people are reluctant to give money that they know will end up being paid as tax.
We have some questions for the Minister and would be grateful to have them answered at the end of this debate. One of the problems about funding the church arises from the question of whether there can be a reduction specifically of VAT on church repairs and alterations. I understand that in December 2010 the current Government stated that they saw “no realistic prospect” of an agreement at EU level to allow for historic church repairs to be zero-rated. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have now given up attempting to get this concession?
In December 2010 the Government announced that the listed places of worship scheme will continue until 2014-15, with a fixed annual budget of £12 million. However, in the Second Reading debate on the Finance Bill, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced that he would increase the listed places of worship scheme by £5 million a year to enable churches that have alterations to benefit from the scheme and not to be adversely affected. That took us up to £17 million per annum. I have one more loop before I get to the final figure.
The Church Commissioners said that we had got to “an insecure and inadequate solution” and that the potential VAT cost faced by the Church of England could be as much as £20 million a year. At the start of the new Session, therefore, the Chancellor announced that the Government would provide an extra £30 million a year for this scheme. He said:
“That will be 100% compensation, exactly as we promised in the Budget, for the additional cost borne by churches for alterations. It should also go a long way towards helping the situation on repairs and maintenance, where in recent years they have not been able to get 100% compensation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/5/12; col. 731.]
Could the Minister confirm the exact figure? My noble friend Lady Warwick said that it was £42 million per year. I make it £47 million per year. It would be nice to have an exact figure. In addition, that would make HMT the biggest funder of ecclesiastical buildings in the country, which is great; a slightly novel situation. Again, it would be interesting to confirm two things that relate to that. What did the Chancellor mean when he said that this additional grant would go a “long way” towards helping the situation on repairs? Are all alterations and repairs now to be covered by that, and if so, is it the Minister’s view that the £47 million—or £42 million, whatever it is—is now sufficient?
A final and important point is this: do the Government now believe that they have all funding in place, and will they now let the funding continue to operate, as this scheme was due to end in 2015? We would be grateful for the final word on that.
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Cormack for securing this debate on the important issue of the future of English cathedrals. His background in this area, as others have noted, is formidable. We have also heard from many other noble Lords with great expertise, including the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, the chair of English Heritage, and from those with long personal involvement with cathedrals. That was shown in the outstanding maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester and by many others. We have also heard from two former choristers, as they identified themselves: the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Rowe-Beddoe. There is a huge debt to acknowledge.
Cathedrals represent part of our most important cultural heritage. Our ancient cathedrals hark back to an earlier age of achievement and are an example of the rich architectural treasure that we must safeguard as well as enjoy. For centuries, cathedrals have been very visible signs of our Christian heritage. One need only travel towards Chichester or Salisbury to get some idea of how extraordinary the distant spires must have been in earlier, less mechanised times or industrialised eras, or to see Durham from the train. I am not going to get into a debate as to which of these amazing cathedrals should be at the head of a league table because they all have their wonders and they are all astonishing.
In medieval times they were centres of learning as well as a source of inspiration through art and architecture, and of course they were frequently the goal for pilgrims. Their ravaging at the time of the Reformation must have been traumatising for those around. Their architecture is undoubtedly some of the greatest work this country has ever produced and their impact should not be underestimated. It was excellent to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, about the continuity of craftsmanship that helps to support our cathedrals. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, mentioned the Venerable Bede. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which I read in Latin during my history degree, shows that the cathedral’s role as a home for items of historical significance has hardly declined over the centuries.
Cathedrals are still at the centre of Christian life, serving their local communities and visitors, as several noble Lords said. They help visitors make sense of one strand of our history. Cathedrals work closely with local schools, offering visits and courses. They are also a natural focal point for their surrounding areas and those working in them today often reach out to the wider society around them, seeking to support mothers with young children, homeless people and the local economy. Many noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lady Byford and the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Birmingham, Worcester and Wakefield, outlined the social impact of cathedrals today.
Preserving and maintaining such massive and outstanding buildings, most of which date back hundreds of years, is clearly a significant challenge. I have noted the different way of funding in France that was mentioned by several noble Lords. Speakers said that they did not want religious buildings to be vested in the state. There seems to be general agreement that that is not the way to do this, and therefore we must ask how best the state can engage. Recently, a number of important restoration projects were undertaken. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred to the York Minster Revealed project, which secured the conservation of the Great East Window. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already committed £10.5 million to the project. Earlier this year the fund gave a “first round pass” of more than £10 million to Winchester Cathedral for urgent works. From a total figure of more than £44.5 million of funding to cathedral projects since 1995, more than £25 million has been directed by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the conservation of physical fabric—external stonework, stained glass, internal floors, monuments and screens. Cathedrals are encouraged to apply for funding through the fund’s open programmes, where grants of between £10,000 and £5 million can be obtained.
We have heard quite a bit about what English Heritage has been doing. In 1991 it established a dedicated grant scheme for cathedrals. We heard about how that came about and its amazing effect as it ran through to 2010. It offered £48.6 million, together with an additional £2.9 million from the Wolfson Foundation, which has also been referred to, towards the cost of repairs. Subsequently, English Heritage stopped the dedicated scheme as its 2009 cathedral fabric survey indicated that the overall state of repair of our cathedrals had improved dramatically. It is extremely encouraging to know that. Lincoln remains the only cathedral on the at-risk register, and English Heritage is supporting it. It is therefore important to note that we can be reassured that when the problems were flagged up, Governments of different persuasions took them seriously. English Heritage took forward the work. The position of cathedrals, and to a lesser degree parish churches, has been stabilised, and the debate can be set in that context. This is a very important issue, but at least the situation is more stable than it was at the beginning of the 1990s.
DCMS has a number of schemes that cathedrals can access. This year the department has allocated a one-off £1.1 million capital grant for listed places of worship. This has been allocated to the Church of England and the National Churches Trust to distribute to buildings of all denominations and faiths across the UK. The Heritage Lottery Fund focuses funding on the non-fabric aspects of buildings. For example, a £475,000 grant was awarded to the partnership between Lincoln Cathedral and Lincolnshire County Council to ensure sufficient trainees to conserve the built heritage in the area. That is extremely important.
I will move on to VAT, to which noble Lords referred. In the 2012 Budget, the Government announced that from 1 October of this year the current zero VAT rate for approved alterations to listed buildings would be replaced by the standard rate of VAT. When this was announced, the Government also committed to extending the DCMS listed places of worship grant scheme to cover any resulting VAT costs incurred by listed places of worship for alterations following the change. Listed places of worship, including cathedrals, were already eligible for grants towards VAT costs on repairs and maintenance through the scheme. It was therefore logical to extend the grant scheme to cover alterations in time for when the VAT treatment of alterations and repairs is put on the same footing. The Church of England, on behalf of all faith groups, provided evidence to the Government that further funding was needed to enable the scheme to offset successfully the impact of the VAT change. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London led the discussions with the Treasury, and I thank him for doing so.
Following those discussions, the Government announced that they would provide an additional £30 million of funding per year for the duration of this Parliament for the scheme. This brings the total annual funding available up to £42 million per year and will come into effect when the VAT rate applied to alterations to listed buildings changes. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and others, we are confident that this additional funding will fully cover the additional costs borne by listed places of worship following the VAT change. The additional resources will also enable full compensation for repair and maintenance costs eligible under the current listed places of worship grant scheme from the beginning of this financial year. Cathedrals of all denominations across the country will be able to benefit from this funding.
I think it is best if I proceed because this is a time-limited debate, and I hope that I will cover most of the issues. If I am not able to do so, I will write to noble Lords.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. Will she remind her right honourable friend the Chancellor that if he increases the rate of VAT on alterations to listed buildings from zero to 20%, it will be an irrevocable step? Under European Union law, future Chancellors will not be able to roll back on that. While we are all immensely appreciative of the £100 million that was previously provided to help listed places of worship through the listed places of worship grant scheme, along with the additional £30 million that has now been promised, the continuation of a stop-gap remedy on a time-limited basis is no substitute for a proper policy.
As I mentioned to the noble Lord, this is a time-limited debate. I am coming on to other issues in a minute. I will make sure that all the issues raised in the debate are flagged up not only with DCMS—which I am temporarily covering for in the debate; it is a great pleasure to do so—but also with the Treasury. He can be reassured about that. If there are any issues that I do not pick up in my answers, I will respond to them after the debate.
I want to pick up some of the issues that noble Lords raised in the debate. Music was a key theme in various speeches, if noble Lords will excuse the mixed metaphor. It is probably rare for one to get goose bumps in debates in the House of Lords but as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, mentioned the specific pieces of music that we can hear in cathedrals I am afraid that that is what I got. We all recognise the importance of music in cathedrals. My noble friend Lord Black made the case that great buildings need great music. They certainly have it and we recognise the importance of making sure that it is sustained. As I mentioned, we heard from two choristers. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and my noble friend Lord Black urged support for music.
I emphasise that the Department for Education’s music and dance scheme will this year provide just over £200,000 for around 100 bursary schemes at independent choir schools through the choir schools’ scholarship scheme established in 1991. I hope that noble Lords will be pleased to hear that. Last year the scheme provided funding for choristers at a range of cathedrals including Westminster Cathedral, York Minster, Canterbury, Lincoln and Christ Church, Oxford. I need not say that choristers are a valued part of the music and dance scheme. The Department for Education will continue to support that scheme.
It was also striking to hear what is happening with education in cathedrals. I knew something of this and of course we know of their long history and significance in the medieval period. It was encouraging to hear from my noble friend Lady Byford, the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Worcester, the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Warwick, and others how important cathedrals are in terms of education for today’s children.
We also recognise how important the cathedrals are for our tourism industry. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, emphasised the significance of that and we are acutely aware of it: we value it greatly. I mentioned but will reiterate, particularly to my noble friend Lord Cormack, that I will flag up the concerns expressed today both to DCMS and the Treasury. My noble friend mentioned a £50 million endowment fund for the care of cathedrals which should be given to English Heritage. I noticed the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, welcomed that notion, which did not surprise me. As I mentioned before, the Government have committed an additional £30 million a year to the listed places of worship scheme and £500 million to heritage organisations over this spending period.
My noble friend Lord Cormack and others asked whether the listed places of worship scheme would come to an end in 2015. It is not limited in that way and does not need to end then. It is guaranteed to the end of this Parliament. We have a fixed term and so we know that that will be until 2015, but the scheme may continue after that. I am sure that what noble Lords have said today will feed into the discussions that any future Government may have.
My noble friend Lord Tyler flagged up that he felt that the details of the listed places of worship scheme were not as clear as they might be. DCMS and HMT are currently carrying out a consultation with stakeholders on the details of that extended scheme. It is extremely important that that is happening so that we can make sure that everything is covered as it should be. As one would expect, the Church of England has been closely involved in discussions and the design of the scheme so far.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and others asked how confident we were that the £30 million would be sufficient. The Church of England provided the Government with evidence on the impact of the VAT changes. DCMS, the Treasury and the Church have expressed confidence that this will cover the additional costs following the VAT change and will enable 100% compensation for the repair and maintenance costs currently eligible under the scheme.
In summary, I again affirm that the Government are very much committed to supporting the preservation of cathedrals, just as we are committed to preserving the rest of our historic environment. We offer support for cathedrals through English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the listed places of worship scheme and the DCMS capital grant, as well as schemes run by other departments. DCMS has committed more than £500 million to heritage organisations across the spending period and recently secured an extension to the listed places of worship scheme. The Government agree that it is important that cathedrals are looked after properly and provide a great deal of support for this.
This has been a stunning debate. It has taken us out of the amazing building of the House of Lords and, in our imaginations, around these cathedrals—even if they compete with each other over which is the most stunning. That was an unusual feature for a debate but made this a very important and enjoyable one. There can be no doubting the commitment to our cathedrals of those in the Chamber or of the Government.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I am told that I only have two minutes. I would love to mention every speech but I thank all those who took part in what was a wide-ranging, passionately felt and very well informed debate. I am extremely grateful. I must single out the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, whose presence has been much appreciated by us all. What she said was even more appreciated. I must also mention with great delight the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. As my noble friend Lord Black said in his remarkable speech, it augurs well and we look forward to the right reverend Prelate’s future contributions.
This debate has united the House in expressing concern for these glorious buildings. There might be slight differences of opinion as to which is top of the list but that matters not a jot. We are talking about some of the most glorious buildings not only in this country or Europe but in the world. I derived some comfort when the Minister said that she wanted to ensure that they were safeguarded as well as enjoyed. Grateful as we all are for what she said, I hope that she will reinforce the request for the £50 million endowment. It is a very tiny sum in the national budget, as others indicated. I very much hope that something will come of that. The sums we are talking of are small.
One of the recurring themes of the debate was the wonderful contribution of choral music and the crucial importance of maintaining that tradition, which means so much to us all. When I go to Lincoln for choral evensong, as I do every day when I am there, I come away feeling inspired, refreshed and invigorated by what I have heard, and by the solemnity of the surroundings in which the glorious music took place. I feel the same on a Sunday morning after sung matins. I am delighted by the good Prayer Book services in Lincoln. I thank all noble Lords for what they said in the debate and am most grateful to them for underlining the importance of this glorious built heritage of ours.