Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this order is made under Section 73 of the Charities Act 2011 to give effect to the provisions of a scheme settled by the Charity Commission for England and Wales. The purpose of the scheme is to amend the existing trusts of the Incorporated Church Building Society, the ICBS, a charity which gives grants for the building and repairing of Anglican churches and chapels, and to simplify its administrative provisions.
The charity is regulated by the Church Building Society Act 1828 and therefore this order is needed to give effect to the changes to that Act contained in the Charity Commission scheme. Because the 1828 Act is a public general Act, the scheme cannot be made without the draft order first being approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, in accordance with Section 73(4) of the Charities Act 2011.
The ICBS was founded in 1818 and incorporated by Act of Parliament 10 years later. Its purpose was to,
“remedy the deficiencies of places set aside for Public Worship in our towns and cities”.
For the next 100 years, it enjoyed considerable public support and contributed to the building and repair of Anglican churches and chapels. By 1845, the society was assisting with the building of more than 50 churches a year. It was the principal voluntary society for promoting the building and restoration of Anglican churches in the 19th century, the most active period of church building since the Middle Ages, and provided funds via grants and loans.
Over the next century, however, public support waned to the extent that by the early 1980s the society’s activities had shrunk considerably. The then trustees were concerned that the administrative costs of maintaining it as an independent charity, though modest, were absorbing an unjustifiable proportion of its income, which by then was derived largely from investments. To improve efficiency, another charity with similar objects, the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, now succeeded by the National Churches Trust, agreed to administer the society’s affairs for a small fee.
The ICBS was registered with the Charity Commission in 1962. A commission scheme is now needed to enable the National Churches Trust to take full trusteeship of the ICBS. However, due to the statutory basis of the ICBS, a parliamentary order is required to give effect to the scheme, which repeals all but the preamble and four sections of the 1828 Act, and provides for the administration of the charity.
The National Churches Trust is the only independent UK-wide charity supporting and promoting Christian places of worship. It does this through the provision of grants for repairs and modernisation, and through the provision of support, advice and information. The general committee of the ICBS has aligned the use of the remaining funds of the society with the general aims and objectives of the NCT, subject to ICBS funds being used to support those buildings with which the society is associated, namely Church of England buildings constructed from 1818 onwards. To this end, in recent years, and in anticipation of the implementation of the scheme, the remaining ICBS funds are being used to provide repair grants to churches that fall within this criterion.
The proposed scheme, which is being made at the request of the charity’s current trustees, sets out the powers of the new corporate trustee. The 1828 Act specifies that the trustees of the charity are the management committee. This governing body is more than 80 strong and includes the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, 44 diocesan bishops of the two provinces of Canterbury and York and 36 elected lay members of the charity. Members of the charity are,
“anybody who makes a donation of 10 guineas or an annual donation of one guinea”.
The trustee body is too large and it is difficult to know who is currently a member of the charity. The scheme replaces the existing trustees with the NCT, which will be the sole corporate trustee of the charity. The existing trustees are in agreement.
The charity’s objectives set out in the scheme are similar but not identical to the original objectives. In the 1828 Act the purposes are defined as,
“enlarging, building, rebuilding and repairing Churches and Chapels in England and Wales”,
whereas the proposed new objectives refer to churches and chapels of the Church of England. This narrowing reflects the charity’s close links with the Church of England and the fact that its support has traditionally been provided only to Anglican churches.
I declare what is almost an interest here. I am very conscious that Sir Titus Salt, who built Saltaire, not only built two churches in Saltaire for a village with a population of only just over 1,500 people but gave a very considerable amount of money for the erection and repair not only of Congregational and Methodist churches but also of Anglican churches all over the north of England. As I walk around Yorkshire, I am not entirely sure that the “repair” of a number of medieval churches during this period was something of which I entirely approve, but no doubt at the time it was regarded as entirely necessary.
The 1828 Act does not set out the charity’s powers explicitly in the way that modern charity governing documents do, so the scheme also provides the charity with standard powers, most of which are found in the model governing documents on the commission’s website. A significant motivation behind the trustees applying for this scheme was to modernise the governance and governing document of the charity. The scheme provides the charity trustees with the powers that they need to operate effectively and efficiently in the modern world.
I am confident that the new scheme will be beneficial to the charity. It will ensure that administrative costs are kept to a minimum and that a greater proportion of the charity’s funds can be used to fulfil its purposes. I therefore commend this instrument to the Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing a very welcome statutory instrument. As he indicated, the National Churches Trust, the only national, independent charity supporting religious buildings, does a great deal of valuable work. As he outlined, for two centuries it and its predecessor have been key players in the construction and maintenance of a great number of churches and chapels. Its work has provided places for worship, as well as supporting church buildings of historical and architectural value. In recent years, the charity has given Christian places of worship an average of £1.5 million a year in grants, allowing them to conduct vital repairs and modernisation, including increasing access, which clearly we welcome.
The work of the charity goes beyond religion and benefits the whole community. Every year, millions of people use church buildings for a range of activities, including classes for art, music and health—and even Labour Party meetings. The churches are also spaces for people to seek help. More than half of all Alcoholics Anonymous meetings take place in churches, as do 40% of Women’s Institute meetings. I am sure that the Minister, wearing one of his other hats, knows that one polling station in six at the most recent general election was in a church building. I fear that, for some of us, it is the only time we cross the threshold of a church. With pubs, social clubs and libraries closing, churches are often the last remaining community buildings. Therefore it is clear that the Incorporated Church Building Society provides a great deal for people of all faiths and of none.
As the Minister explained, as time rolled on, its constitution sometimes got in the way of its good work. As he suggested, by the 1980s its activities had shrunk and the trustees discovered, as had those of many other charities, that a greater administrative burden and awkward membership arrangements took up a lot of time as they tried to maintain it as an independent charity. The cost of administration became disproportionately high. We hope that the new scheme will address that. The statutory instrument, drawn up at the request of the current trustees, will allow the charity to update its structure. Importantly, as the Minister said, it will make the trustees the sole members, as opposed to the current arrangements which include anyone who donates a guinea. However, I realise that some people will not have his and my age and I thought I should explain that that is £1.05p. Or they could make a single donation of 10 guineas, which I worked out was £10.50p. The change would modernise the trust’s governance arrangements, simplify the administrative requirements and help to free up the charity to concentrate on its core business. I take this opportunity to congratulate the National Churches Trust on its work. We wish it well and are grateful that this SI has been introduced.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his commanding introductory remarks and my noble friend for her youthful remarks. I have read the helpful policy background in the Explanatory Memorandum which the department has composed, and for which I am grateful. Paragraph 7 of the Explanatory Memorandum, headed, “Policy background”, states:
“The purpose of the Charity is to provide for the better collection and application of voluntary contributions for the purpose of enlarging, building and repairing Church of England churches and chapels situated in England and Wales”.
It has occurred to me that those churches and chapels in Wales are not Church of England, they are Church in Wales. So the question I have for the Minister is: has the department come forward with this order not knowing that there is an error in the Explanatory Memorandum? Is it therefore proceeding in error on that basis?
It was nice to hear the Minister refer to churches in Saltaire. St Ethelwold’s of the Church in Wales is a splendid church in north-east Wales in the town of Shotton. Would this order enable the tower of St Ethelwold’s to be completed or allow for that possibility?
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their welcome of the order. I particularly welcome the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on the translation of churches into spaces for the local community. I have experienced shock on one or two occasions when going back to churches in which I had worshipped, or in whose choirs I had sung as a boy, to discover that all the pews had been removed, including one very old-fashioned church which we went to when my father was the local bank manager. The bank manager’s pew was the second one from the front on the right-hand side, and one had to sit in the bank manager’s pew. Thankfully, that has now all gone. The pews have all been removed and it is an open space for all sorts of purposes. As we know, that has happened all over the country. I think that that is part of the transformation of the Church of England in making sure that it does continue to hold together local communities for people of all backgrounds and all faiths.
On the question of churches in Wales, there is a separate Welsh Religious Buildings Trust, which was founded in 1996 to care for redundant historic places of worship of all faiths in Wales. To avoid duplicating the work of the Friends of Friendless Churches, those of the Church in Wales are excluded from this. The trust currently cares for six buildings and is in discussion with regard to a seventh, but I am very conscious, as I know the noble Lord will be, that there are a great many churches and chapels in Wales which are open to the desirability of assistance. There are other comparable charities. I happen to know the Historic Chapels Trust very well because I have good friends in Yorkshire who are actively engaged in that. There is a Scottish Redundant Churches Trust, a Scotland’s Churches Trust and an Ulster Historic Churches Trust, so this is dealing with England partly because the devolved Administrations have parallel and comparable bodies.
Having answered those questions, I welcome the general acceptance that this is a desirable and useful adjustment of an early 19th century charity. We have to modernise charities from time to time and it is entirely within the principle of the public interest of charities that this amendment should be made. I hope that we all welcome the extent to which churches, which are often at the historic centre of communities, are being restored, opened and transformed to provide places where members of the communities can get together. I commend the order.